Captain Marvel’s political subtext

Captain Marvel movie poster

If you haven’t seen Captain Marvel, there are spoilers in this post.

Captain Marvel is the latest film from Marvel Studios and it’s cruising to a $1 billion global box office.

But the movie also has a political subtext that isn’t getting discussed much.

Background: The Skrulls, a race of alien “shape shifters” were introduced all the way back in 1961 in issue No. 2 of The Fantastic Four by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.

The Skrulls were classic bad guys. In a later issue, the FF took on the Super Skrull, who could mimic the powers of all four members of the super team.

The Kree, were introduced in 1967 when the FF encountered the Sentry (essentially a giant robot) stationed on Earth by the Kree, another alien race. In the next issue, the FF encountered Ronan the Accuser, a Kree character who’s mad at the FF for what happened to the Sentry.

Some years later, Marvel had a long story arc in The Avengers comic book called the Kree-Skrull War. This story line established that Marvel’s two major alien races were at odds.

How it plays out in the movie: The Skrulls are depicted in the 2019 movie as considerably more sympathetic than they were in their early comic book appearances.

The Kree (the more human-looking characters), it is revealed are the oppressors of the Skrulls. The Skrulls, as it turns out, are simply looking for a homeland/home planet.

It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to view the Kree-Skrull conflict in the prism of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the Middle East.

According to the Palestinian side, they are a people looking for a homeland. Detractors say the Palestinians are terrorists.

In the new Captain Marvel movie, the Kree describe the Skrulls as terrorists. The Skrulls say they’re simply looking for a home.

Movies don’t settle long-running disputes. Still, it looks like Marvel has used real-life conflicts in tweaking the source material in its latest production. Your mileage may vary.

Black Panther wins Marvel its first Oscars

Black Panther poster

Marvel Studios, which has had a major impact on movies since it began making its own films in 2008, won its first Oscars thanks to 2018’s Black Panther.

The superhero film won Oscars for costume design, production design and its score. Black Panther was set in the fictional African nation of Wakanda, which had technology unknown to most of the most of the world.

Wakanda and its ruler T’Challa were introduced in a 1966 issue of Fantastic Four by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.

The film version of the Black Panther character (Chadwick Boseman) was introduced in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War. The Black Panther film was released in February 2018, generating worldwide box office of $1.35 billion.

The movie was also nominated for best film. It lost to Green Book.

Separately, Stan Lee, who died last year at age 95, was included in the In Memoriam segment of the Oscars show.

Marvel’s Avengers: Infinity War was nominated for best visual effects but lost to First Man.

Also of note:

–Daniel Craig and Charlize Theron presented the Oscar for best supporting actor. The James Bond Theme played as they came on stage. Mahershala Ali won in the category for Green Book.

–An instrumental version of Live And Let Die was played following an early commercial break on the broadcast. The title song for the eighth James Bond film was nominated for best song but didn’t win.

–Rami Malek, who reportedly is of interest to Eon Productions to play the villain in Bond 25, won the Oscar for best actor in Bohemian Rhapsody.

Black Panther receives Oscar Best Picture Nomination

Black Panther poster

Black Panther was one of eight films to receive an Oscar nomination for Best Picture, the Academy for Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced today.

Marvel Studios and its parent company, Walt Disney Co., had promoted the 2018 film heavily during the nomination process. Black Panther also received other nominations, including best score, costume design, song and production design. It received no acting, writing or directing nominations.

Still, it was a big moment for Marvel, whose films have had a huge impact on the box office. Black Panther was No. 1 grossing U.S. film last year at $700 million, according to Box Office Mojo.  Worldwide, it was No. 2 at $1.35 billion, behind Marvel’s Avengers: Infinity War at $2.05 billion.

The Black Panther character made his debut in 1966 as part of a Fantastic Four comic book by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. The story introduced Wakanda, a technologically advanced African nation. The film drew also drew upon later stories by various writers and artists that expanded the Panther mythos. Director Ryan Coogler also said last year that the movie drew inspirations from James Bond films.

The other films nominated for Best Picture were BlacKkKlansman, Bohemian Rhapsody, The Favourite, Green Book, Roma, A Star Is Born and Vice.

Also, Rachel Weisz, wife of 007 actor Daniel Craig, was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for The Favourite.

Avengers 4 gets a trailer and a title

Marvel Studios’s fourth Avenger film got a teaser trailer and an announced title (Avengers: Endgame) today.

In the trailer, things look bleak for Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark. He’s traveling in outer space having run out of food and water and about to use up the last of his oxygen.

Meanwhile, Captain America (Chris Evans) moves to rally the surviving Marvel characters after Thanos had wiped out half of all living beings at the end of last year’s Avengers: Infinity War.

Avengers: Endgame wraps up story threads that began with the first Marvel-produced film, 2008’s Iron Man. Avengers: Infinity War had a global box office of $2.05 billion. We’ll see next spring whether the next installment draws the same kind of business. You can view the trailer below.

Stan Lee, an appreciation

The Spy Commander’s one Stan Lee autographed comic book (left edge)

How much did people like Stan Lee? More than enough to stand in line for a few hours and pay handsomely for an autograph. I saw (and did it) for myself.

Eight years ago, I attended an event where Stan Lee appeared. If you paid $120, you could attend a talk by the former Marvel Comics editor and get a ticket for a personalized autograph. If you paid $40, you go a simple “Stan Lee” autograph. Those who paid $120 got in front of the line for autographs.

Stan, accompanied by an entourage, strode to the desk where he’d sign. “We love you Stan!” someone in line yelled.

Stan, without missing a beat replied. “I love to be loved!” He got a big laugh. He was in his late 80s but his voice sounded strong.

When he died this week at age 95, there was an outpouring of emotion. Some were famous. “I owe it all to you,” Robert Downey Jr., whose career was revived playing Iron man, wrote on Instagram. along with a picture of himself with Lee. Numerous comic book professionals also took to social media to bid farewell to the showman of Marvel.

Stan Lee and friend

Lee had his detractors, particularly on the issue whether he gave his collaborator enough credit. Artists such as Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and Don Heck (and later John Romita Sr., John Buscema and Gene Colan among otheers) did much of the plotting of stories.

However, Lee (who also wore the hat of chief writer for Marvel) provided a common voice. Humor was a big part of it, such as little asides to his readers.

Lee’s dialogue certainly was less formal than at larger rival DC Comics. “That’s the trouble with you commies!” Iron Man said in an early adventure after saving some surprised Soviet spies who were about to be crushed. “You just don’t dig us!”

Stan, however, could be serious, even preachy on occasion. The Silver Surfer was created by Jack Kirby in the middle of a Fantastic Four story. But Lee took a liking to the character. He launched a solo Silver Surfer title in the late 1960s (with Buscema on the art instead of Kirby) and it took a very serious tone.

Looking back at the 1960s comics as an adult, you could see Lee shift his writing with changing audience tastes. In the mid-1960s, some stories still had a very strong Cold War tone.

“Well, you picked the wrong enemy this time, mister!” Tony Stark/Iron Man says while beating up the Titanium Man, one in a series of attempts by the Soviets to come up with their own version of Iron Man. “You made the worst mistake any red can make — you challenged a foe who isn’t afraid of you!”

In 1968, life got more complicated with protests about the Vietnam War and other issues. “If Washington were alive today, we’d call him a protester!” Matt Murdock, the alter ego of Daredevil tells his law partner, Foggy Nelson.

Marvel under Lee did begin credits. The first issue of Fantastic Four had “Stan Lee and Jack Kirby” in script as if the two men had signed it. Before long, inkers (artists who went over penciled art in ink so it’d reproduce more clearly) and letterers got credit. Eventually (after Lee became publisher and gave up his editing job), colorists and others got credits.

However, that’s not the reason all those people stood in line eight years ago.

Lee created a personal connection with the readers of Marvel. That strengthened when Marvel became a force in the movies, with Lee making cameos. In the 21st century, special effects could emulate what Kirby and other other artists put to paper decades earlier.

As a result, when Lee died this week, the loss seemed personal and extended among generations.

Here’s a tribute from artist Bill Sienkiewicz.

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Stan Lee dies at 95

Stan Lee’s cameo in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War

Stan Lee, the long-time editor-in-chief at Marvel Comics who co-created many Marvel characters and was a master showman in promoting them, has died at 95, according to The Associated Press, which cited a family attorney.

Stanley Martin Lieber was hired while still in his teens at at Timely Comics, a forerunner company of Marvel, working for publisher Martin Goodman. Goodman’s wife was Lieber’s cousin.

The young Lieber wished to save his given name for more literary works. He wrote a text feature in a Captain America comic with the pen name Stan Lee. The alter ego would stick.

Lee became editor after Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, the creators of Captain America, left the company in 1941. Aside from a stint in U.S. Army during World War II, he’d hold the job until 1972.

For much of Lee’s tenure, Timely/Marvel was overshadowed by DC Comics, which published the adventures of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman.

Timely nearly went out of business in the 1950s. Its star characters, the Sub-Mariner, the Human Torch (an android who could catch on fire) and Cap were in publishing limbo.

Groot’s first appearance in Tales to Astonish in a story by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby

By the late 1950s, the company published a handful of science fiction and monster titles. One of the characters created during this period, Groot, a monster made of wood, would eventually be revamped in Guardians of the Galaxy. The first Groot story was a modest one-shot in Tales to Astonish in 1959.

Comeback

Eventually, Marvel (as the company became known) began a comeback in 1961 with the first issue of the Fantastic Four.

Jack Kirby, now on his own from Joe Simon, had rejoined the fold. Kirby did the bulk of plotting for the stories he drew, with Lee providing the dialogue and captions. The Fantastic Four carried over themes from previous Kirby titles such as Challengers of the Unknown for DC.

Beginning with the FF, Marvel began to build momentum. The Hulk (another Lee-Kirby product) followed in 1962. So did Thor (Lee-Kirby) and Spider-Man (Lee and Steve Ditko).

The 1960s surge also enabled Marvel to bring back characters. The Fantastic Four included a new version of the Human Torch and the original returned in a 1966 FF annual. The FF also saw the return of the Sub-Mariner, starting in issue 4. Captain America was revived in issue 4 of The Avengers in 1964.

Stan Lee and his wife Joan make a cameo in a Daredevil comic written by Gerry Conway, drawn by Gene Colan and inked by Tom Palmer. (Joan Lee died in 2017.)

Both Kirby and Ditko did much of the plotting when it came to stories. Another key collaborator was Lee’s own brother, Larry Lieber. Lee’s sibling scripted the first outings of Thor and Iron Man from sketchy Lee plots.

Yet, Lee provided a common voice for the growing collection of Marvel characters. He had a way of making readers feel they were part of a club that “got it.” Marvel was less stuffy, less formal than DC. That included the use of catchphrases such as, “Excelsior!” Many fans felt they were on a first-name basis with Stan.

Stan Lee Becomes a Star

By the mid-1960s, Marvel was on a roll. The Marvel characters, especially Spider-Man, began to draw attention from a wider audience.

Stan Lee was now Marvel’s real-life star, giving interviews and making appearances.

Stan Lee on a 1971 episode of To Tell The Truth

Some of Lee’s collaborators didn’t like it. Wally Wood, who had revamped Daredevil, including a new design for his costume, left in 1965. Ditko, who demanded and received credit for his plotting, followed in 1966. Both eventually returned but didn’t work with Lee directly.

The biggest departure was Kirby. He exited Marvel after drawing (and probably doing most of the plotting for) 102 issues of Fantastic Four as well as many issues of Thor and Captain America.

Kirby, too, would come back to Marvel for a few years in the 1970s, but mostly wrote and drew his own comics. One exception was a 1978 Silver Surfer graphic novel that reunited the Lee-Kirby team.

Eventually, Lee became an executive, handing over the editing chores at Marvel to Roy Thomas, his one-time assistant.

A New Generation

A new generation of writers and artists carried on with the comics. One of them, writer Gerry Conway (b. 1952), had taken over writing Spider-Man in the early 1970s. He penned the story where Peter Parker’s long-time girlfriend Gwen Stacy was killed off.

Gwen Stacy “was  basically Stan fulfilling Stan’s own fantasy,” Conway told author Sean Howe in the 2012 book Marvel Comics: The Untold Story. “I think Gwen was simply Stan replicating his wife.” (Joan Lee died in 2017 after almost 60 years of marriage to Stan Lee.)

The story was one of the most controversial Marvel had published up to that time. Conway’s basic plot was used in the 2014 movie The Amazing Spider-Man 2. 

Meanwhile, Lee’s duties included trying to strike deals for TV and movie adaptions of Marvel characters.

Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1965

For years, that produced a mixed bag. The most successful was a Hulk TV series produced by Universal and telecast by CBS starring Bill Bixby. One episode even had a cameo by Jack Kirby as a police artist.

Eventually, Lee had his own departure from Marvel. Still, Lee had a deal where, once Marvel characters finally reached movie screens, he’d make cameo appearances in the films. That was reinforced in 2008 when Marvel began producing its own films beginning with Iron Man.

Such film cameos mimicked Stan appearances in Marvel comics stories years earlier.

Mixed Legacy

Stan Lee has a mixed legacy. Fans of Kirby, Ditko and Wood feel those collaborators did the heavy lifting at Marvel.

In 2014, the Kirby family reached a legal settlement with Walt Disney Co, which had acquired Marvel. Since then, Kirby has received more prominent credits in Marvel Studios movies released by Disney.

Toward the end of his life, and after Joan Lee’s death, there were controversies involving Stan Lee’s personal life.

The Daily Beast published a March 10, 2018 story depicting Lee being victimized by various hangers on. It was titled, Picked Apart by Vultures’: The Last Days of Stan Lee. The Hollywood Reporter published an April 10, 2018 story with a similar theme. That article, titled Stan Lee Needs a Hero, also included details about allegations concerning Stan and Joan Lee being assaulted by their grown daughter, J.C.

On April 12, Lee denied hew as a victim of elder abuse in a video shared with TMZ. Lee granted an interview to The New York Times for an April 13, 2018 story. ““I’m the luckiest guy in the world,” he told the newspaper. “Nobody has more freedom.”

However, the article included some troubling details. For example, it described how a number of paintings were no longer at his home. When Joan Lee was alive “she had so many paintings, all over,” Stan Lee told The Times. “Most of them have left now. My daughter took a lot of them, and a lot of them have gone elsewhere.” It wasn’t clear what “gone elsewhere” meant.

For fans of the 1960s Marvel comics, such articles were a difficult and painful read. That also applied to long-time comics professionals. Artist Neal Adams penned an “open letter” about Stan’s situation.

The situation stabilized. In October 2018, Lee gave an interview to The Daily Beast. He denied he had been abused by his daughter, who was present for the interview.

“There really isn’t that much drama,” the comic book legend told the website. “As far as I’m concerned, we have a wonderful life. I’m pretty damn lucky. I love my daughter, I’m hoping that she loves me, and I couldn’t ask for a better life. If only my wife was still with us. I don’t know what this is all about.”

Stan Lee, ever the showman.

Excelsior

How will Stan Lee be remembered?

In 2007, Jonathan Ross reported and hosted a documentary about Steve Ditko that included a Stan Lee interview. He presented his own appraisal about Stan Lee.

“Now, it would be easy to make Stan Lee out to make the villain of the piece but I can’t bring myself to do that, not least because it would be unfair,” Ross said.

“He co-created all of these characters,” Ross added. “He wrote some of the greatest Marvel comic books of all time. And the fact he takes the credit for doing so is absolutely right. I just wish he’d share it out with the guys he worked with a little more.”

Nevertheless, Lee was the face of Marvel for decades. From modest beginnings, to a movie juggernaut, Stan Lee was a huge presence in popular culture.

“Stan is right up there with Walt Disney as one of the great creators of not just one character, but a whole galaxy of characters that have become part of our lives,” George R.R. Martin, author of Game of Thrones, told The New York Times in its April 13, 2018 story.

“Right now, I think he’s probably bigger than Disney.”

Martin had a personal connection to the Stan Lee days at Marvel. He had a letter published in Fantastic Four No. 20 in 1963.

Excelsior, Stan.

Marvel’s Feige praises Cubby Broccoli while accepting award

Kevin Feige, the boss of Marvel Studios, had some praise for Albert R. Broccoli, co-founder of Eon Productions, while accepting an award on named after him.

Feige received the Albert R. Broccoli Britannia Award for Worldwide Contribution to Entertainment at the 2018 British Academy Britannia Awards on Oct. 26, Feige has headed Marvel Studios the past 10 years, beginning with 2008’s Iron Man.

“The gold standard is what he and Eon Productions have done with James Bond, a character who is as popular today as he was nearly 60 years ago, when Dr. No first came out,” Feige said. “That’s incredible and we’ve got a half century more to see if we’re (Marvel Studios) anwhere near capable of filling those shoes.”

You can see the entire acceptance speech below.