Happy birthday to one of Marvel’s unsung heroes

A Jack Kirby cover featuring Ant Man, one of the characters scripted by Larry Lieber

A Jack Kirby cover featuring Ant Man, one of the characters scripted by Larry Lieber

Oct. 26 is the 85th birthday of Larry Lieber, one of the unsung heroes of the Marvel Comics universe.

Lieber scripted the earliest Marvel stories involving Ant Man (the Henry Pym version), Thor and Iron Man.

Those characters (especially Iron Man) helped build up the Marvel Studios juggernaut. Yet, Lieber’s name doesn’t resonate with the general public.

That’s ironic because Lieber is the younger brother of Stan Lee, 93, the one person from the old days at Marvel that practically everybody knows. (If case you haven’t guessed, Lieber is the surname the two men shared.)

Stan did the plotting for those early adventures. But it’s generally conceded that Stan’s plots weren’t very detailed and the artists (especially Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko)  did a lot of the heavy lifting in devising the stories.

Still, that left Lieber, actually scripting the stories plenty of leeway. The Bleeding Cool website, in a 2011 post, quoted from a Lieber deposition in a since-settled lawsuit by the Kirby family against Marvel. In the deposition, Lieber says he came up with the name “Uru” for the magical material Thor’s hammer was made of.

Despite all that, Lieber’s name receded. In Thor 158, the bulk of the story is a reprint from the character’s first story. Yet, it was presented as being “Pandemoniously Produced by Stan (The Man) Lee and Jack (King) Kirby,” with no mention of Lieber.

Lieber departed Marvel in the 1970s to edit a short-lived line of new comics. He would later rejoin Marvel and drew the Spider-Man comic strip.

In the 21st century, Marvel is big business (mostly a movie operation that still publishes comic books). A lot of the Marvel stalwarts — Jack Kirby, John Buscema and Gene Colan among them — aren’t with us anymore.

Larry Lieber is, and he is one of those who helped make Marvel big business.

More Fleming ties to the Fleming Timeless episode

Ian Fleming

Ian Fleming

The Timeless episode with a story featuring a fictionalized Ian Fleming has some additional Fleming connections.

–The cast includes Goran Visnjic, a Croatian actor who was screen tested for the James Bond role in 2005, when Daniel Craig ended up being cast for Casino Royale.

–One of the executive producers of the series is John Davis, who was also one of the producers of the 2015 movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. That movie featured a hero named Napoleon Solo, who was given that name by Ian Fleming.

Meanwhile, as depicted in the episode, titled Party at Castle Varlar, Fleming (Sean Maguire) is depicted as a field agent for MI6. Fleming was more of an office man during the war, according to his biography at the website of Ian Fleming publications.

Amusingly, the episode makes a reference to 2012’s Skyfall and 1983’s Never Say Never Again.

UPDATE (10:55 p.m. ET): History, however, has been altered from what it’s supposed to be, concerning a certain 1964 007 movie with Sean Connery.

Here’s a tweet that Maguire posted on Oct. 18.

Dr. Strange gets a surge of early positive reviews

Dr. Strange poster

Dr. Strange poster

Dr. Strange, the newest Marvel Studios movie, is enjoying a surge of positive reviews ahead of its Nov. 4 U.S. release.

The character, created in 1963 by artist Steve Ditko, is one of the quirkiest of the Marvel Comics characters of the 1960s. He was never a huge commercial hit but has long enjoyed a cult following.

It’s early days but the Dr. Strange movie has a 97 percent “fresh” rating on the Rotten Tomatoes website.

What follows is a no-spoilers sampling of the early reviews.

CHRIS NASHAWATY, ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: “There’s nothing particularly new about serious, over-qualified actors being recruited to class up a Marvel movie. But the studio’s latest, Doctor Strange, wouldn’t work as well it as it does (and it mostly works very, very well) without Benedict Cumberbatch and Tilda Swinton — two actors, who in addition to being intelligent, top-shelf stars both project a slightly alien, otherworldy air.”

SCOTT MENDELSON, FORBES.COM: “I don’t know whether an extra reel would have made Doctor Strange more than a conventional ‘fill-in-the-blank’ origin story. It is a hodge-podge of King Fu Panda, Green Lantern and The Matrix. Lacking distinctive characterization, it’s the closest thing the MCU has yet offered to a generic superhero movie.”

TODD MCCARTHY, THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER: “A ’60s cult figure stuck on the periphery of the Marvel Comics universe for 50 years finally spins into orbit to command the world’s attention in Doctor Strange, an engaging, smartly cast and sporadically eye-popping addition to the studio’s bulging portfolio.”

PETER DEBRUGE, VARIETY: “Yes, this new project shares the same look, feel, and fancy corporate sheen as the rest of Marvel’s rapidly expanding Avengers portfolio, but it also boasts an underlying originality and freshness missing from the increasingly cookie-cutter comic-book realm of late. From this second-tier side character, the studio has created a thrilling existential dilemma in which its flawed hero’s personal search for purpose dovetails beautifully with forays into the occult New Age realm of magic and sorcery where Doctor Strange ultimately finds his calling.”

TOM HUDDLESTON, TIME OUT: “There are sequences in ‘Doctor Strange’ that could burn the top layer off your eyeballs, crammed as they are with some of the most unashamedly drug-inspired imagery since the ‘The Simpsons’ episode where Homer takes peyote. But problems arise when ‘Doctor Strange’ tries to tackle the everyday stuff, like telling a half-decent story.

007 Magazine posts conclusion to ‘Search for Bond’

"I'm finally getting my own series, James."

Jack Lord and Sean Connery in Dr. No

The website for Graham Rye’s 007 magazine has posted the conclusion to a new article by Robert Sellers about “The Search for Bond.”

In August, the website posted the first two parts of the three-part article. The third part is now online behind a paywall.

Sellers previously wrote The Battle for Bond, which detailed the history of Thunderball.

A free preview on the 007 Magazine website has excerpts of all three parts of the Sellers article

To read the entire story, you have to subscribe to 007 Magazine, which costs 9.99 British pounds ($12.19 at current exchange rates) for a year or 4.99 pounds ($6.09) for a month.

MGM watch: Will studio be affected by media consolidation?

MGM logo

AT&T Inc.’s pending $85 billion acquisition of Time Warner may kick off a new wave of media consolidations, analysts told Reuters.

So where does that leave Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, a small fry on the media landscape?

MGM, the home studio of the 007 film series, emerged from bankruptcy in 2010 as a small company. It’s unable to release its own movies and has to cut deals with other studios. It’s also more of a television production company, making shows for cable networks.

Many bigger studios are already parts of conglomerates, including Warner Bros. (Time Warner), Columbia (Sony Corp.), Paramount (Viacom), Universal (Comcast), etc., etc., etc.

With AT&T’s announced purchase of Time Warner, still subject to regulatory review, even more consolidation is expected. Here’s an excerpt of the Reuters story by David Shepardson and Jessica Toonkel:

Media content companies are having an increasingly difficult time as standalone entities, creating an opportunity for telecom, satellite and cable providers to make acquisitions, analysts say.

Media firms face pressure to access distribution as more younger viewers cut their cable cords and watch their favorite shows on mobile devices. Distribution companies, meanwhile, see acquiring content as a way to diversify revenue.

“The industry needs to consolidate,” said Salvatore Muoio, whose firm invests in a number of media companies, including Time Warner. “You have a lot more competition from the likes of Netflix, Amazon and Hulu.”

“Media content companies” include movie and TV studios.

There’s no telling how this will turn out. AT&T doesn’t expect the Time Warner acquisition to be completed until the end of 2017. Also, the purchase is going to be carefully examined by U.S. regulators.

It’s just worth noting the media business is going through new uncertainty. The Bond film series is tied to a small player in MGM. It may be worth watching how the consolidation unfolds.

Fleming-related Timeless episode scheduled for Monday

Ian Fleming

Ian Fleming (the real one)

The Timeless episode with a plot that includes James Bond creator Ian Fleming is scheduled to air Monday on NBC.

The series concerns a trio of time-traveling heroes trying to prevent a villain from changing history. The Fleming episode, titled Party at Castle Varlar, is set during World War II.

In a brief description ON THE SHOW’S WEBSITE, we’re told the trio “teams up with Ian Fleming.”

An online NBC schedule has a slightly more detailed summary: “The trio land in Nazi Germany and track evildoer Flynn as World War II rages around them. They also meet the man behind a popular figure of literature and they must endure a very uncomfortable party.”

Shawn Ryan, a creator of the show, posted on Twitter that, “You’re going to want to get caught up on” the first three episodes of the series “before next Monday when 007 author Ian Fleming joins the fun!”

The episode is scheduled for 10 p.m. Eastern time on Monday.

‘Playing Monopoly with real buildings’

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

For almost a year, there was supposed to be bidding by studios to be Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s partner in distributing Bond 25 and other future 007 movies. But real life has a way of intruding.

Two of the expected suitors, Paramount and Warner Bros., have seen their respective parent companies involved with real-life dramas.

Throughout much of this year, there was a fight for control at Viacom, which owns Paramount. Viacom’s CEO, Philippe Dauman, who had wanted to sell a big chunk of Paramount to outside investors, got his walking papers. Now, billionaire Sumner Redstone’s National Amusements Inc. wants to merge Viacom with CBS.

National Amusements controls both. At one time, CBS was part of Viacom. Then, they were split into separate companies. Now, they may be one again. (This FORTUNE.COM STORY has a summary of all this.)

On Thursday, Bloomberg reported that Time Warner, parent company of Warner Bros., has had talks with AT&T Inc. concerning “various business strategies including a possible merger.” According to the Bloomberg story, citing “people familiar with the matter,” Time Warner would be willing to sell for the right offer. The company rejected an offer from 21st Century Fox, parent company of 20th Century Fox, in 2014 for $75 billion.

Why should 007 fans care? Change of ownership or major structural change tends to be unsettling. It’s harder to make long-term moves if your company’s ownership may change. The separate intrigue at Viacom and Time Warner, may affect the ability of Paramount and Warner Bros. to do a Bond deal with MGM.

For now, there is nobody to release Bond 25. Sony Pictures, through its Columbia brand, has released the last four 007 films. But its most recent contract expired with SPECTRE.

At this point, neither the Viacom-CBS merger nor an AT&T-Time Warner deal have occurred (AT&T and Time Warner declined to comment on the Bloomberg story).

Still, all this wheeling and dealing recalls a line from Diamonds Are Forever about how reclusive billionaire Willard Whyte was said to be “playing Monopoly with real buildings.”

UPDATE (Oct. 21): The Wall Street Journal reported today that AT&T is in “advanced talks” to acquire Time Warner and that a deal could be reached as early as this weekend.

UPDATE II (Oct. 21, 10:20 p.m. ET): Reuters reported Friday night, citing people it didn’t identify, that AT&T has reached “an agreement in principal” to acquire Time Warner for $85 billion.

UPDATE III (Oct. 22, 7:40 p.m.ET): AT&T announces it has agreed to acquire Time Warner for $107.50 per share for a total of $85.4 billion. Time Warner shareholders will receive half in cash and half in AT&T stock, according to the statement disclosing the sales accord. AT&T said it expects the deal to close before the end of 2017.