Posts Tagged ‘stan lee’

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If there’s one thing we all know, it’s that director Josh Trank’s new Fantastic Four flick just isn’t very good, right? I mean, yeah, the troglodyte faction of comics fandom has been out to bury this one since the day it was announced that an African-American actor, Michael B. Jordan, would be playing Johnny Storm/The Human Torch (of course, if you ask them, racism had nothing to do with their petulant reaction — rather they claim, embarrassingly, that they just wanted the movie to remain true to the “source” material. Which, ya know, came out in 1963 and was aimed at an all-white audience of 12-year-olds. Good luck with that in 2015), but there’s just gotta be more to it than that, right? I mean, the movie only has a 9% score on Rotten Tomatoes and absolutely toxic word of mouth has poisoned its chances at the box office.

Sure, the usual top-down “whisper campaign” from Disney/Marvel, who wanted this movie to tank so that they could buy the rights to the characters back from Fox on the cheap, certainly played a part in this new FF’s immediate DOA status, no question (any movie based on Marvel characters needs to be absolutely pitch-perfect from start to finish, it seems — unless it’s a movie coming from Marvel Studios itself, in which case it can completely suck and people will still delude themselves into thinking it’s good out of sheer, stubborn, stupid brand loyalty), but come on — even that, combined with the ignorance and prejudice of stick-in-the-mud, nostalgia-addled, aging comic book readers still isn’t enough to account for just how reviled this film already is. Any reception this poor has got to be honestly earned on some level, doesn’t it?

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I’ll be honest — for about the first 45 minutes of Trank’s feature, I thought everybody was nuts. And part of me was really hoping that everybody was nuts, simply because if there’s one group of folks that I take great pride in pissing off on a regular basis, it’s the intellectually-stilted, emotionally-subrnormal (thank you Alan Moore) segment of comics fandom who openly “roots” for all these Marvel properties to “come back home,” but who could give a rat’s ass about the fact that  the creative geniuses from whose imaginations they sprung, like Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, got positively fucked by Marvel for decades on end. These are people who are loyal to characters, not creators, and whose reading tastes were permanently arrested at a junior high level thanks to their sleazy and despicable hero, Stan Lee (who at least doesn’t show up for his customary nauseating cameo here — nor are he and Kirby listed as “co”-creators). Never mind that it was Lee’s horseshit skills as a wannabe wheeler-dealer in Hollywood that saw all of these Marvel characters licensed out to other studios at a relative pittance in the first place. So,uhhmm, where were we? — oh yeah,  the first act of Fantastic Four isn’t just good, it’s flat-out great, and I was relishing the chance to come home, sit down, and talk about what a delusional bunch of assholes the majority of the Marvel-loving public is once again.

I admit, I had my doubts going in, as well. The idea of Reed Richards/Mister Fantastic (played by Miles Teller), Sue Storm/The Invisible Girl (Kate Mara), Ben Grimm/The Thing (Jamie Bell) and the aforementioned Johnny Storm/The Human Torch being “re-imagined” as kid geniuses under the tutelage of the Storm family patriarch, Franklin (Reg E. Cathey) sounded like a dicey proposition, at best (I understand that this set-up borrows heavily from writer Mark Millar’s Ultimate Fantastic Four comics series, but not having read that, I can’t say for certain how true that is or not), but damn if Trank and his army of screenwriters don’t make it work — for awhile.

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During the film’s second act, though, the wheels really come off. Or maybe that should be “slowly and gently roll off.” The story sputters along at any ever-decreasing speed until finally grinding to an absolute halt, and while Trank does his best to inject a David Croneneberg flavor into the proceedings by emphasizing the “body horror” aspects of the various characters’ new-found abilities after their trans-dimensional jaunt (an updating of the origin story that actually makes sense given that the idea that “cosmic radiation” would transform space explorers on a cellular level was pretty well shot down six years after the FF’s creation once we sent astronauts to the moon — assuming you believe that we did) and tossing in a very gory-and-nifty homage to Scanners, it’s simply not enough — especially if, like me, you’re one of the few people out there who actually read future MythBusters producer Eric Haven’s fine (but tragically short-lived) black-and-white indie comics series Angryman back in the early ’90s, where he did a much better job of telling more or less the exact same story in a short back-up strip in issue #2. Seriously, hunt it down and you’ll see what I mean.

Anyway, back to the business at hand. Trank tries to kick things back into gear for his big finale, which sees the team going back to “Dimension X” to battle their fifth member (who’s got every reason to be pissed off since they left him for dead), Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell),  but he’s too far behind the eightball at this point to possibly regain all the ground he’s lost. Reed starts talking in extended info-dumps, Dr. Doom’s plot to destroy our reality makes no sense, and the surprisingly cut-rate CGI often borders on the flat-out laughable. Really, for a big-budget movie Fantastic Four starts to look and feel like it was done on the cheap, and by the time we reach the eyeball-rolling “so what should we call ourselves, anyway?” conclusion, you’ll have to admit, as I did, that all those stick-in-the-mud, hyper-conservative fans were right. This just ain’t a very good movie.

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I’ll say this much, though — not only is this better than previous cinematic iterations of the FF (I’m damning with faint praise there, I know) it’s also nowhere near the complete train-wreck its legion of detractors claim it to be. Its chief problem isn’t so much that it’s an abomination of unprecedented proportions as that it’s just a really boring and predictable movie. You know, like Ant-Man. Or Guardians Of The Galaxy. Or The Avengers. Or Iron Man. Or  — well, just about any of ’em, really. Fantastic Four is in no way appreciably different than most officially-sanctioned “MCU” garbage, and during its first act, it’s actually a damn sight better than a lot of its Marvel step-siblings. Unfortunately, it just couldn’t keep that standard — or even anything close to it — up for the remainder of the ride.

As we’ve all seen, the recriminations are coming hot and heavy now. Trank tweeted on the day of his film’s release that he had a version that he was really happy with about a year ago, then implied that meddling from studio higher-ups resulted in the mess we see before us today. Good luck getting work at Fox again, buddy (although, given that he’s only 31 years old, it’s way too premature to say that this movie has torpedoed his chances in Hollywood permanently). Reports are coming out that the set was so fraught with tension that the director and one of his stars, Teller, damn near got into a fist fight (never mind that this kind of on-set drama is actually pretty common, it’s just that when a movie does well, we don’t hear about it until years later).  And more un-substantiated reports of more problems will be forthcoming, I’m sure. So Marvel and their self-proclaimed “zombies” will probably get their wish, and if and when we see the next FF re-launch, it will probably be under the “MCU” banner. Which means that I don’t expect it to be any worse than this — but I highly doubt that it’ll be any better, either.

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Like many an armchair movie critic, once I decide that I’m gonna review a particular film, I browse the web for some pictures of said film to include within the body of my write-up/rant so that you, faithful reader, aren’t just confronted with a “wall of text” if I’m fortunate enough to have your attention long enough to read whatever shit I’ve decided to blather on about. I usually opt to include four or five images with a standard-length review — sometimes more, sometimes less, but generally I find that four or five spaces things out nicely and gives a review a good “look.”

What’s this boring “behind the scenes” info got to do with Avengers : Age Of Ultron? Simply this : when I did a Google image search for pics related to writer/director Joss Whedon’s latest Marvel Studios mega-blockbuster, it was virtually impossible to tell actual film stills (which I prefer to use) apart from  heavily-airbrushed, digitized promotional art issued by Dis/Mar and/or fan-made photoshop art. Seriously. Try this yourself and tell me I’m not wrong — go to Google image search, type in “Avengers Age Of Ultron” and see if you can tell the difference. Even if you’ve seen the movie, I’m tellin’ ya, in many cases you can’t. I know that all film — yes, even documentaries to some degree — is artifice, but seriously : when you can’t discern an “actual” movie still from a promo mock-up, it seems to me that we’ve silently crossed some sort of line and are in new and uncharted territory. How many actual “sets” were used in Whedon’s CGI “epic”  vs. how much was shot entirely in front of a blue-or green-screen I couldn’t say you with any certainty, but, as with last summer’s Guardian Of The Galaxy, which saw Vin Diesel credited as one of the flick’s “stars” simply for doing the equivalent of animation voice-over work, here James Spader is credited prominently for “starring” as the villainous Ultron despite never actually, ya know, appearing on screen at all.

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Now, if you’re at all familiar with my previous appraisals of so-called “MCU” movies, this is probably the point at which you expect me to launch into some diatribe about what a piece of shit this thing is. It’s no secret that, apart from Joe Johnston’s Captain America : The First Avenger, I really haven’t liked many of these at all. I find them to be dull, predictable, repetitious, uninvolving, way too heavy on spectacle at the expense of characterization, you name it. And while Avengers : Age Of Ultron is certainly guilty of all those things, let me let you in on a little secret even though it may threaten to completely ruin my reputation as a loud-mouthed cinematic contrarian — I really didn’t hate this flick as much as I did the last several Marvel offerings and, in fact, I may not have even hated it at all.

Which isn’t to say that I really liked it either — I’m still getting all that sorted out in my head, but this is by no stretch of the imagination a good movie. Maybe I’ve just given up (finally), accepted these things for what they are, and am willing to make some kind of peace with the fact that the public at large seems to really dig the hell out something that I don’t. It wouldn’t be the first time, and it won’t be the last. But who knows?  Maybe — just maybe — this movie is, in fact, marginally better than the rest of its brain-dead ilk. It’s a possibility I’m willing to at least consider.

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Detailed plot recaps of these things aren’t really necessary, of course, because Marvel movies don’t have detailed plots, but if you must know the basics here they are : Robert Downey, Jr.’s Iron Man, Chris Evans’ Captain America, Scarlett Johannsson’s Black Widow, Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye, Chris Hemsworth’s Thor, and  Murk Ruffalo’s Hulk all return as “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes!” to battle a problem of Tony Stark and Bruce Banner’s own creation, a power-mad artificial intelligence “virus” called Ultron that inhabits a bunch of robotic bodies and wants to save the world by — yawn! — destroying it. Newcomers Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and her twin brother, Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) — who can officially appear in Marvel Studios product now that it’s been revealed that they’re not Magneto’s kids and therefore don’t fall under the umbrella of the X-Men properties owned, cinematically speaking, by Fox —switch sides about halfway through the action and join the team, Don Cheadle’s War Machine, Anthony Mackie’s Falcon, and Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury all pop up later to varying degrees when the obviously lily-white (okay, and green) makeup of the main team becomes so obvious that even Marvel can’t ignore it anymore, and Paul Bettany gets to graduate from a disembodied voice to an actual character when a variation of the Jarvis A.I. program he’s been dubbing in lines for takes on  physical (albeit android) form as the MCU’s version of The Vision.

The final outcome of the decidedly non-dramatic “drama” here is never, of course, in doubt — one way or another The Avengers are bound to win — but what I at least found somewhat noteworthy is that between the film’s frankly stupid-as-shit first act and predictably bombastic third, Whedon manages to squeeze in a second act that almost threatens to be actually interesting at times.

From what I gather, it’s this second act that a lot of hard-core Marvel fans have problems with, given that The Vision’s origin is basically nothing like its printed-page progenitor, Hawkeye is given a completely different backstory to the one that’s been established for him in the comics, and the Black Widow/Hulk romance that’s introduced here is a wholecloth invention on Whedon’s part. For my part, I felt most of this was rather plausible enough — okay, apart from the origin for The Vision, which is just plain staggeringly dumb — and certainly found this section of the film to be of far more interest than the CGI extravaganza that both precedes and usurps it, but is it enough to make Age Of Ultron something I’d actually watch a second time? I gotta admit, probably not — but at least it kept me from completely tuning it out the first time I saw it.

Of course, in addition to over-reliance on special effects, many of the same problems from the first Avengers flick are still on glaring display here — Johansson is the least-convincing Russian spy ever and exudes a kind of “negative charisma” as The Black Widow that literally sucks out whatever scant traces of life most of the scenes she appears in might have; we get way too many shots of Downey inside his Iron Man helmet; Ruffalo’s facial expressions run the shortest gamut you can possibly imagine (his looks can best be described as “concerned as shit” and “self-pitying plus concerned as shit”); and at the end of the day the only remotely sympathetic character (Tony Stark, incidentally, graduates from “more or less and asshole” to “complete asshole” as events unfold here) of the bunch is Renner’s Hawkeye. But whatever. As far as two-dimensional ciphers go, Hemsworth and Evans at least appear to be having fun as Thor and Captain America, respectively, and I’ll give Spader some credit for sounding suitably menacing and nuts in his “turn” as Ultron.

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In the end, though, Avengers : Age Of Ultron‘s greatest success in an entirely inadvertent one : the Ultron character him/itself is, you see, a pretty effective metaphor for the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole. Think about it — like the robotic bad guy here, these movies exist not so much to be themselves, but to replicate themselves. An astonishing amount of time in this flick is devoted to foreshadowing/set-up for the forthcoming (and apparently two-part) next Avengers extravaganza, which will finally see them  fighting Jim Starlin’s Thanos character for control of the so-called “Infinity Gems.” And you can bet that once that conflagration takes place, it will be loaded with “hints” about the next big Avengers “spectacular” slated to follow it. And whatever that ends up being will probably be weighed down with “spoilers” for the next. And the next. And the next —

And so it goes. Look, I’m not a sucker (at least, I don’t like to think that I am).  I might have found Avengers : Age Of Ultron to be marginally more to my liking than both its predecessor and most of its “sister” films — and it was nice to see Jack Kirby’s name displayed prominently in the credits this time (even if Stan Lee’s, as always, comes first) — but the creative bankruptcy of Marvel Studios as a whole, as well as the overtly cynical nature of their cash-grabbing ways, are as plain to see as ever here. These aren’t movies that even give a shit about being good, they’re movies that are designed to get you to keep on coming back for more. Fans might argue that “well, if they weren’t so good in the first place, people wouldn’t be coming back for more, so you’re negating your own point, asshole!,” but I don’t buy it. All the public really wants from these films is a sort of easily-digestible, not-too-taxing status quo. Marvel has been succeeding at giving them just that in the pages of their comics ever since true visionaries like the aforementioned Mr. Kirby, Steve Ditko, Wally Wood, and (a little bit later) Steve Gerber left the fold and succeeding generations of “fan creators” with no greater ambition than to tell bigger, noisier versions of the same stories they loved as a kid took over. Now the same thing is happening on celluloid, with bigger bucks behind it and bigger audiences consuming it, but the basic hustle remains the same. As “Stan the Man” himself might put it in that nauseating faux-Shakespearian way of his that people insist is “charming” and “fun” : ’twas ever thus, and so it shall remain.

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By now, you’ve no doubt all seen the news — yesterday, word was handed down from on high that the estate of  Jack Kirby and Marvel Comics, more specifically its parent company, Disney, had reached an agreement to bury their long-standing legal disputes with each other, just as the Supreme Court was considering hearing the case. The details of the settlement haven’t been made public, and perhaps they never will be, but it’s fair to guess that in fairly short order we’ll be noticing some changes — and they’ll probably be changes for the better.

What sort of changes? Well, keep in mind, the very nature of this little article is highly speculative, but we might as well have a little fun while we can, right? But maybe before we go too far down that road, we should clarify a few common misconceptions with some incontrovertible facts — and then we’ll speculate away.

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First off, and probably most importantly, let’s be clear about who was suing who here. The comics press is rife with article after article referring to “the Kirby suit against Marvel,” but in fact, the opposite is true — yes, the Kirbys ended up filing a countersuit against Disney and Marvel, but it was “The Mouse” who sued them first. The Kirby family, under the 1976 copyright act, had every right to file for what’s called a “right of return” on the characters their father created (or co-created, if you’re still buying the Stan Lee/Marvel company line), and that’s exactly what they did. Dis/Mar, not wanting to see the cash cow that Jack’s boundless imagination has become  end up as the property of, ya know, folks he actually loved and cared about, quickly filed suit to prevent said “right of return” from going into effect. The countersuit just mentioned came about as a result of the lawsuit that Dis/Mar initiiated against the Kirby estate, but let’s not keep perpetuating this myth that “the Kirbys sued Marvel” when it was, in fact, the other way around.

Secondly, I’ve noticed a lot of folks in comics fandom, and even some pros in the field (we’ll get to them in a minute), saying that pressure from “us” helped this settlement come about. Nonsense. Much as I wish it were otherwise, the truth is that there aren’t enough ardent Kirby supporters to make much difference to Disney’s bottom line. Don’t think for a moment that I’m not tremendously glad that there have always been a number of us who have been willing to voice our displeasure at Jack’s treatment by the very company he essentially resurrected from the dead, but nothing we said factored into Dis/Mar’s thinking here (just as all our griping hasn’t hurt Marvel one bit at the box office) — they just did the math. Sure, maybe they figured the best odds were that SCOTUS was never going to hear the case, or that if they did, they’d simply let the lower court rulings that went in the company’s favor stand, but there was a chance — just a chance — that they might hear it, and that the Kirbys might win, and rather than risk losing pretty much everything, they settled out of court.

Besides, to fandom’s unending discredit, there are at least as many voices out there who were cheerleading for Marvel to “beat” the Kirby estate as there were on the right side, and some of these folks were pretty loud, as well.

Our last piece of “myth-busting” is saved for the comics pros out there who are hinting that there was enough belly-aching behind the scenes in the freelancers’ community to make this happen. Sorry, but we’ve gotta call bullshit on that, as well. Maybe if this settlement had been reached back in 1989 or something, when the top “A-list” talent was uniformly in support of Jack (and he was still alive), but not these days. When names like Alan Moore, Steve Bissette, Rick Veitch, Mark Evanier, and Frank Miller (back when he still made sense) were taking up the charge for Kirby, that was one thing, but most of those creators have a substantially lower profile in comics these days, or have walked away from the business altogether, and while a handful of newer first-tier creators like Kurt Busiek, James Romberger, and Grant Morrison have. at least to my knowledge, pretty much always been firmly in the “Kirby camp,” as it were, most everyone else has been silent. Not because they don’t have an opinion on the matter, but because they’ve probably never even been asked. This just isn’t the same burning issue for most creators that it was 20 years ago, even if, by all rights, it probably should be, since some of them might be in Jack’s shoes, at least to a certain extent, someday. I’ll never fully understand why this issue failed to remain “front and center” with the comics community at large, I guess, but the fact is that it really hasn’t been for some time. People are more concerned with what’s going to happen in the next issue of, say, Saga (no disrespect intended to that title, which I quite enjoy, I’m just trying to pick a “hot” series to use as an example and that came to mind) than in this actual, “real world” issue.

And, again, while there have been a number of creators who have been willing to speak out in favor of the Kirby family, there have also been some who have done quite the reverse. John Byrne, in particular, has been making an ass of himself on the internet ever since the settlement was reached with his spiteful railing against it, even though he pretty much built his entire career working on Kirby creations like the X-Men, Fantastic Four, OMAC, The Demon, etc. — except for that brief period when he went and screwed up Siegel and Shuster’s greatest character for a few years.

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With all that out of the way, then, let’s get back to guessing about what this means for the future. First off, it’s a pretty safe assumption that Jack’s name will no longer be buried in the end credits of most Marvel Studios films. While I would personally be surprised if he were given an air-quote executive producer credit on the movies like Stan Lee gets — although, for the record, it wouldn’t be the first time a deceased individual was given such a credit — you can bet the words “created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby” will be front and center from now on in the opening credit scrolls.  I’d love it if the order were reversed, of course, or better yet if Lee’s name were omitted altogether, but that just ain’t gonna happen.

Likewise, the printed page will probably see some evolution, as well., with Jack listed as a creator in the titles of most Marvel books. We may even see language along the lines of “Created By Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, Used by Special Arrangement with the Jack Kirby Family “(or their legal entity, The Rosalind Kirby Family Trust) in the credit boxes of future issues of X-Men, Fantastic Four, Thor, Hulk,  etc. books, as we see over at DC in any and every comic in which Superman makes an appearance and we’re told, quite rightly, that “Superman is Created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, Used by Special Arrangement with the Jerry Siegel Family.”

And, of course, some cash has obviously changed hands here. We don’t know how much, or how it’s been (or will be) distributed, but an initial lump-sum payment with sliding-scale royalties to follow for movies featuring Jack’s creations and reprint collections of his comics work is par for the course with settlements of this nature.

What does Dis/Mar get out of the deal, besides the continued ability to profit handsomely off the fruits of Kirby’s labor and genius? More than likely a complete cessation of future legal filings and some sort of written agreement that the company always owned these characters even though Jack created them. That”s probably why this has been characterized in some quarters, depressingly but accurately, as something of a  “win” for the work for hire system — but WFH is dying on the vine, anyway, as evidenced by the fact that there are probably 50 or 60 creator-owned books out there that are better than even the best corporate-owned Marvel and DC comics right now.

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In answer to the question I posed about “what does this mean?” at the outset, then, right now the most specific answer we can offer — lacking any real, ya know,  specifics — is “who knows yet?” But the Kirby family seems happy, Marvel has stated that Jack’s contributions will be acknowledged more publicly, and all in all it seems the good guys won. It may be far from the complete and total victory many of us were hoping for, but it’s a step in the right direction, and does two things that are very important — provides financial security for future generations of the Kirby family , which was the number one thing most near and dear to Jack’s heart, and helps set a precedent for present and future creators so that, hopefully, they never find themselves in a situation where they do all the work, and their publishers make all the money. Time will tell, of course, as it always does.

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I won’t mice words — I fucking hate the games Marvel is playing with all the numbering on their titles these days. Issue numbers like “27.Now” are stupid enough, but when we’re getting books marked with big red “#1″‘s in the upper right-hand corner that then say they’re actually number 23 in the lower right-hand corner, well — things are getting pretty out of hand. Add in the constant relaunches of long-standing titles, the re-launches of less-long-running-titles that still make no sense (Wolverine ran 13 issues before starting over at #1 —with the same writer continuing the same storyline, while Daredevil ended its last run after 34 issues before starting all over again with the same writer and artist both), and one could make an argument that the situation isn’t just dire, it’s well and truly out of control.

Marvel’s argument is that the constant re-numbering is essential for providing new “jumping-on points” for the new readers they’re trying (and still largely failing) to attract, but I call bullshit on that. If you were walking into a comic shop for the first time, what would you be more likely to pick up? An issue clearly marked as being #46, or one that was marked as #46 and #1 on the same cover? The former, at least, you can understand — the latter will just confuse the hell out of you. Marvel provides a full-page recap of the ongoing story on the first page of all their books anyway, so this whole “let’s make  a new number one every year so new readers won’t feel lost” line of “reasoning” is patent nonsense, anyway.

Still, allow me to offer a humble suggestion for a solution to this whole dilemma — rather than try to make it easy for new readers to “get into comics” by pumping the market full of endless phony “first” issues, bring in new readers by making sure each issue of every comic you make is good so that people actually want to buy it. What’s more likely to make a long-term reader out of somebody — a 53rd issue that’s got great story and art and hooks them for the long haul, or a horseshit issue #1 with a lame story and generic art that people feel ripped off for ever having bought? It doesn’t matter what the number on the front cover says to either a new reader or an already-existing one — if a book sucks, people will drop it, and if it’s good, they’ll be back for more.

Marvel’s outrageous $3.99 cover prices and the shoddiness of their physical product aren’t helping matters any, either — their books don’t even have glossy covers anymore and are printed on the same flimsy, barely-better-than-newsprint paper as the interior pages. I’d rather pay, say, $1.99 for a book with a glossy cover and newsprint on the inside than shell out four bucks for what amounts to a lower-quality, cheaper product. Seriously, these comics they’re cranking out now are more disposable-looking,  and crummier, than old-school 50-cent newsprint books ever were.

But here, perhaps, I may have digressed a bit — let’s get back to this ongoing numbering fiasco. Hot on the heels of the newly-relaunched Amazing Spider-Man #1, a book which replaces the just-over-a-year-old Superior Spider-Man on the stands (and which wrapped at issue #31, for those keeping score at home) comes a five-issue min-series-within-a-series called “Learning To Crawl,” which takes Peter Parker (who’s just made his less-than-triumphant return in the “main” Spidey book after being kicked out of his own body by Doctor Octopus for the past year) back to his humble beginnings and purportedly gives us “new insight” into his formative years. The numbering for this series is guaranteed to perplex these largely-non-existent “new readers” Marvel is trying to attract, though, since it’s not numbered as The Amazing Spider-Man #2, or even as Spider-Man : Learning To Crawl #1, but is going out, for reasons I can’t even begin to fathom, as The Amazing Spider-Man #1.1, with subsequent issues being #1.2, #1.3, etc. Meanwhile, right next to it on the stands, The Amazing Spider-Man will continue to proceed with its standard increasing numbering, with issue #2 slated to arrive in stores next week, followed two weeks after that by #3, and two weeks after that by — well, you get the idea.

Just remember — all this is supposed to make getting into comics “easier” for new readers than it would be if they just had a book with numbering that actually made sense.

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All that aside, I guess the main thing folks want to know about The Amazing Spider-Man #1.1  is whether or not it’s actually any good and whether there’s really anything to be gained by going back and revisiting Spidey’s origins one more time. After all, Steve Ditko (and, I guess to some extent — though not nearly as great an extent as he’s always claimed — Stan Lee) did a pretty good job of things back in issue #15 of Amazing Fantasy, and this is definitely a story that doesn’t, in any way, need to be told again, does it? But comics going “back to their roots” has been positively de riguer  ever since Frank Miller and David Mazzuchelli’s Batman : Year One nearly thirty years ago, and while that still remains the “gold standard,” in my book, for revisionist origin stories, the fact is that, much as I hate to admit it, some fairly decent yarns have been spun by other creators who see  value in taking yet another look at a super-hero’s formative years. Usually, strangely enough, these tend to be Batman stories — think of Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s seminal Batman : The Long Halloween and Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s currently-ongoing (and really pretty damn good) Batman : Zero Year — but hey, there’s no reason why it won’t work for other characters if the right folks are driving the bus, right?

Unfortunately, it’s Dan Slott at the wheel of this “Spidey Year One,” and you pretty much know what you’re going to get from him — mediocrity, angst, and clumsy dialogue. All of which is in evidence here in the first chapter of “Learning To Crawl,” which largely focuses on Peter Parker’s efforts to make it in the world of show business in order to financially provide for his ailing Aunt May now that her husband is out of the picture thanks to our guy Pete’s cowardly and egotistical inaction. How can he juggle school, freelance work for the Daily Bugle, being a super-hero, and being the man of the house, all while feeling sorry for himself for letting the guy that would go on to murder his uncle escape?

Dear God — who cares? We’ve seen seen this done before, we’ve seen this done better, and we’ve seen this done in 15 pages. What’s there to be gained by shoe-horning into continuity some “story that’s never been told” over the course of five issues (or five .issues as the case may be)? So far, nothing that I can see. Our opening chapter ends on a cliffhanger that shows some confused rich kid who’s been “inspired” by his new idol, Spider-Man, into donning a mask and costume himself in order to join the “war on crime,” but it’s not enough to keep the average reader on pins and needles waiting for the next installment. I guess it’s a “new wrinkle” and all, but it comes after 20 pages of Uncle Ben’s funeral, Peter blowing off a party at Liz Allan’s because he’s got to perform as Spider-Man on TV, Aunt May making breakfast, Peter getting in trouble for missing classes — the usual shit. All played out against a backdrop of “I’m the most lonely, confused, misunderstood teenager in the fucking world, and no girl is ever gonna like me.” We’ve been hearing that one for, what? 50-plus years now?

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Still, things are at least better on the art front here. Penciller/inker Ramon Perez absolutely knocks it out of the park as he presents this story in a heavily revisionist, Ditko-esque style that pays homage to what’s gone before while adding a pleasing, but hardly overbearing, modern twist. This book looks like it would be just as at home in 1964 as it is in 2014, and Perez has, not to sound too grandiose, produced some genuinely timeless imagery. I may not ever want to read this comic again, but it sure is fun to look at over and over. Wrap it all up in a cover by supposed “living legend” Alex Ross that I actually like (I can’t say that about a lot of Ross’ work. although I know that puts me in a tiny minority), and you’ve got a visual feast on your hands here, people. It’s just too bad it amounts to little more than putting lipstick on a pig.

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All in all, it’s fair to say that events in the “Spider-verse” in general are leaving me cold lately. While I actually enjoyed The Amazing Spider-Man 2 more than a lot of folks seem to have, and frankly more than I was expecting to, the printed-page exploits of everyone’s favorite wall-crawler are definitely headed in the wrong direction. We’ve got Peter Parker back just as things in Superior were threatening to make the character interesting again, a totally unnecessary (if lavishly well-illustrated) “previously untold” origin story with stupid issue numbering, another relaunch of the main title that probably won’t last two years before they do it all over again, and Dan Slott still in place as the franchise’s chief “caretaker.” Honestly, it’s  hard to imagine a more depressing scenario.

And that, I think, is my cue to wrap this review up. I’m whining so damn much that I’m starting to sound eerily like Peter Parker.

Here’s a piece I wrote earlier today for Geeky Universe marking the occasion of Jack Kirby’s 96th birthday that I thought I’d share here —

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It strikes me as being both strange and sad how disconnected today’s comics “culture” is from its roots. Case in point : today would have been Jack Kirby’s 96th birthday, and here at Geeky Universe there hasn’t been one mention of it yet (it’s nearly the end of the day). Now, maybe I’m just the old guy (42 at last count) in the room, but for a site ostensibly devoted, in large part, to comic books, you’d think Jack’s birthday would be big news. After all, there would be no “Marvel Universe” without him. I’m not criticizing anybody else for not marking this momentous occasion sooner, mind you, just remarking on the irony inherent in the fact that if the lead role in a new movie based on one of Jack’s characters had been announced today, you can bet it would have been the top story, while the birthday of the man who created the character Hugh Jackman/Ben Affleck/whoever it might be would ostensibly be playing in this hypothetical scenario doesn’t get a mention until the tail end of the evening.

Roll call of Kirby creations : the Fantastic Four. The Inhumans. Thor. Iron Man. The Incredible Hulk. The X-Men. The Avengers. The Silver Surfer. Captain America. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, and for only one publisher : over at DC, Jack created the Challengers Of The Unknown; Kamandi; OMAC; The Demon; Darkseid, Orion, and the rest of the Fourth World characters — you get the picture.

No other creator in any medium — film, television, novels, video games, you name it — has left a creative footprint in his or her chosen field as large as Kirby’s. It’s no exaggeration to say that comics as we know them today would simply not exist without this man’s boundless creativity and singular imagination. The word “visionary” gets thrown around much too freely these days, and the reason I say “too freely” is entirely because of Jack Kirby. He  was the very definition of a visionary, and left behind a body of work that will never be equaled because it can never be equaled.  His legacy well and truly is the comic book as we know it. We wouldn’t have ’em without him.

I know the ever-evolving Marvel line has gone something like this over the years : first Stan Lee and Jack Kirby (along with Steve Ditko, Bill Everett, Wally Wood, Carl Burgos, and Don Heck) all created the “Marvel Universe” together, working in tandem as one big, happy bullpen. Now, however, we’re told — both in Lee’s public statements and in court transcripts obtained from the lawsuit Jack Kirby’s heirs recently brought against Marvel and its parent company, Disney — that the entire Marvel Universe sprung whole-cloth from the incredible imagination of Stan Lee, and that Jack, Steve, Bill, Wally, Carl, and Don were just the guys the company hired to illustrate all these wonderful concept that literally poured out of the fertile and creative mind of “Stan The Man.”

Don’t buy it for a second. Stan Lee got in at Marvel (them Timely) because his uncle owned the company, and he had a dismal, two-decade-long track record of failure after failure until the services of Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko fell into his lap after they found themselves on the outs with their former publishers. Of all the folks there at the beginning stages of the “Marvel Revolution,” it should be noted that it was Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and Wally Wood, in particular, who had an established track record as creators of successful characters and series well before they ever met Stan Lee, and they went on to create memorable and lasting work without him. Lee, for his part, never had one idea that worked in 20 years in comics before teaming up with them, and when they both left Marvel, he soon got out of Dodge, as well. Quick — name me one memorable, or even good, single issue written by Stan after those two gentlemen left.

You can’t because there isn’t one.

But the point of this piece isn’t to “bash” Stan Lee so much as to show just how integral the contributions of Jack Kirby and the other artists there at the time were to making what we think of today as some of the greatest super-hero comics ever made. I humbly submit that somebody else could have written these books and the only difference would have been a more toned-down, less-self-congratulatory and sensationalist tone. No “Face Front, True Believers!” or any of that. But if somebody else had drawn  them, then Marvel wouldn’t be around today, dominating both the comic shop racks and the box office.

Those who follow these things will know that Marvel’s way of “thanking” the man to whom they owe their entire existence as a company was to freeze him out at the end of his career, refuse to give him back his own original art pages (like they started doing for everybody else in 1978),  and to deny, with the assistance of a veritable army of high-priced lawyers at their beck and call,  any and all claims of intellectual propriety and ownership brought forth both by Jack himself, while he was living, and his children, since he passed away.

So far, sadly, it’s worked. Jack barely got a mention as a “co”-creator at the end of the credits for Marvel’s The Avengers, a movie that raked in over a billion dollars worldwide based on concepts and stories that came right from the limitless Kirby imagination. Classy move there, guys. And they continue, in the press and in courts of law (aided and abetted by their most famous stooge, Stan Lee) to promulgate the idea that all Jack amounted to was a talented draftsman who was able to put down on paper ideas that were in Stan ‘s head — even though the very concept of having writers knock out a one-page synopsis and then turn it over to the artist to plot, pace, and illustrate  the entire story (you know, the so-called “Marvel Method”), a practice that continues at the “House of (stolen) Ideas” to this day — came about as a direct result of the Kirby-Lee partnership. How does it even logically follow that a creative process that leaves that much of the storytelling responsibility to the artist was the brainchild of a writer  who thought up everything we see on the page himself?

Of course, literally billions of dollars are at stake now — Jack’s four-color creations are all one color now, green, and Disney/Marvel are going to keep fighting tooth and claw to make sure that for every billion-dollar movie they base on a Kirby concept, his kids don’t get so much as one thin dime. And as the years go by, they will belittle Jack’s contribution more and more until they whittle it down to almost nothing — but only if we let them get away with it.

I humbly suggest, in honor of the birthday of the man who is rightly called “The King,” that we redouble our efforts within the fan community to make sure that his legacy is never minimized and that his posthumous legal battle can continue. Go to heroinitiative.org and donate to the “Kirby 4 Heroes” campaign to help  destitute former artists and writers  who were also screwed over by the so-called “work for hire” system. “Like” the Jack Kirby Museum facebook page and help spread the word about their efforts to get an actual, brick-and-mortar building to house and showcase Kirby’s work for future generations. And if you really want to go the extra mile, even consider skipping any future Marvel movies and stop buying their comics until they finally treat Jack’s memory with dignity and respect rather than issuing nothing but sunny — and ultimately hollow — platitudes when it’s convenient for them to do so. I know that’s a tough thing to ask of many fans, but if we hit ’em in the pocketbook in large enough numbers maybe they’ll finally listen. No sound is louder to a corporation’s ears than empty cash registers.

And while we’re going on about this serious business, please — let’s remember to have some fun. Dig out your old Kirby books or your collected reprint editions (it’s worth noting here that at least DC pays sliding-scale royalties based on sales of their Kirby books ; it ain’t much, but Marvel doesn’t cough up a penny) and soak that stuff in. This is work that still has just as much  power to “wow” you  the 1,000th time you’ve seen it as it did the first. Know that as long as we keep our our own awe and wonder of Jack’s awesome and wonderful work alive, it can never really die no matter how badly Marvel wishes it would. Celebrate the life, legacy, and work of Jack Kirby every chance you get, by all means. Blog about about how much you love Jack’s work and why. Show your Kirby books to your friends. Tell new comic fans all about him. Read Kirby comics on the bus or train and strike up conversation with the guy who (and it will happen, trust me) tells you “hey, ya know, I think I used to have that one.” Jack created this stuff to be enjoyed forever, so make sure you do just that — and promote that enjoyment to others, as well, while you’re at it.

But please, always remember — that’s only half the story. The fun part. The easy part. The part we all want to do. But if you care about Jack’s legacy in any kind of “real-world” sense, beyond the printed page, then never give up the fight, either. He wouldn’t have, and those of us who owe so many of our fondest childhood memories to his work owe him at least that much.

Jack Kirby’s body of work is the comic book industry’s greatest triumph, and the treatment he received — and continues to receive — its greatest shame. Let’s all work together to see what we can do to correct that, shall we?

 

So, the story goes that director Kenneth Brangah, distinguished Shakespearean actor that he is, had never so much as opened a single, solitary “Thor” comic book before agreeing to direct Marvel Studios” mega-budget blockbuster adaptation of said material. He dutifully then spent all of 15 minutes perusing old 1960s back-issues of the book before deciding more or less immediately that Jack Kirby was an absolute genius and dictating to his as-yet-unformed visual effects team that his primary goal was to adapt as much of the Kirby “look” as possible for his film.

Now, your friendly neighborhood TFG just happens to be a massive Jack Kirby fan and the one thing I hate above all others about the marvel cinematic boom of recent years is that Stan Lee, a no-talent hack whose uncle got him his job at Marvel, seems to be getting all the credit for “creating” the Marvel Universe, while The King Of Comics himself seems to warrant nary a mention. Thor, however, goes some way toward redressing the balance on this score — in addition to being a whole ton of fun, it’s the first honest-to-God Jack Kirby flick from top to bottom. Oh, sure, Stan “The Man” makes his usual pointless cameo, but everything from the dialogue to the epic scope of the story to the overall visual aesthetic of Asgard to the bold, bad-ass character portrayals is pure Kirby. in fact, you could argue that the look, feel, and even the story itself of Thor all bear a lot more resemblance to Kirby’s later magnum opus for DC, The Fourth World, than they do to anything he did for Marvel, but that’s another matter for another time, I suppose.

As such, given that he’s passed onto the land beyond and can theoretically now observe everything that’s happening, I thought it would be interesting to see if I could find out what Jack himself had to say about the film, so with that in mind your host broke out his trusty Ouija board and kept firing questions into the ether until I found The King’s spirit. Once I started to get responses with lots of quotation marks and exclamation points, I knew I’d found him (and those who wish to be pedantic and point out that a Ouija board features neither exclamation points nor quotation marks can now duly fuck off).

And so, without further ado, I hereby present my dutifully transcribed notes on what the spirit of the late, great Jack Kirby himself had to say in regards to Kenneth Branagh’s film Thor

Greetings and salutations dear reader! You and I are about to embark on an epic journey together of “block-buster” proportions! For truly never has a saga such as this one unfolded on our local neighborhood movie theater screens!

Yes, friends, the “silver screen” is alive with magic and awe-inspiring, “earth-shattering” wonder! Never before has the much-maligned “comic-book industry” given rise to such a mighty spectacle of awe and cosmic wonder! The scale is unparalleled! The action “non-stop!” The splendor and majesty truly the stuff of legend!

I’ve worked before in the field of animated productions, but never have I seen my work so faithfully and expertly adapted in a “live-action” motion picture as director Kenneth Branagh has done here with “Thor!” I am awed,amazed,and humbled by his sheer dedication and faithfulness! Mr. Branagh, “The King” salutes you, sir!

As for the acting, well, truly never has such an “all-star” cast been assembled! Chris Hemsworth shines as the God of Thunder himself! Natalie Portman is enchaning as his love interest! Anthony Hopkins is majesty and wisdom incarnate as Odin! And the supporting cast of Kat Dennings, Stellan Skarsgard, rene Russo, Colm Feore, and especially Idris Elba as the stoic Heindall, reign supreme!!!!!!!!!

I am ecstatic at the sheer splendor and scale of this mighty, mythological epic and couldn’t have written a better script for this “motion-picture spectacular” myself! “Thor” is the perfect summer movie full of grand and mighty feats of destruction, devastation, love, and most of all, heroism! It smashes all that has come before and reaches spectacular new heights of soon-to-be-legendary grandeur! “Comic-book movies” have never looksed so good or seemed so real! You will be “blown away,” dear friends — and you’ve got the word of Jack Kirby on that!!!!!!!!!!

And with that, my Ouija board overloaded from sheer excitement and and fast letter-pointing (or whatever you call it), burst into flames, and the spirit of Jack left the room. And since I heartily agree with everything he had to say about Thor and couldn’t possibly put it any better than that myself, I won’t even try. See it now if you haven’t already, and see it again if you have.