Happy Independence Day 2022

Our annual post.

Jim Steranko’s cover to Strange Tales 167

Today, July 4, is Independence Day in the United States.

For this blog, there’s no better image to celebrate the holiday than this Jim Steranko cover from Strange Tales No. 167, published in January 1968. The issue was the climax to a months-long saga that Steranko wrote and drew featuring the intrepid Nick Fury and the forces of SHIELD.

In 2022, there is a lot of division on many political and social issues. But Steranko’s image remains iconic.

For more background, CLICK HERE for a 2000 article that originally appeared on the Her Majesty’s Secret Servant website. Happy July Fourth to everyone.

Oswald the Rabbit makes his (sort of) MCU debut

Oswald the Rabbit, created by Walt Disney, circa 1927

Oswald the Rabbit, a character created by Walt Disney before Mickey Mouse, made his sort-of Marvel Cinematic Universe debut in Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.

It takes a bit of explaining. Let’s just say Oswald is shown on a television screen being watched by the imaginary kids of Wanda, the Scarlet Witch. There’s a later scene where the kids are watching the 1930s Disney version of Snow White.

Oswald (also known as Oswald, the Lucky Rabbit) originally was created in 1927 for Universal.

For decades, Disney (the company) wanted to get the rights to Oswald back. In the 2000s, Disney and Universal negotiated a swap: Universal would grant Disney the rights to Oswald. Universal (whose properties include the U.S. network NBC) would gain the services of sportscaster Al Michaels so the latter could work on NBC’s Sunday Night Football. (Early in Michaels’ career, he had a bit part in an episode of Hawaii Five-O.)

Yes, a cartoon character was swapped for the services of a human being. You can CLICK HERE for an account of the trade.

That’s how big business operates. Michaels this past season finished up his Sunday Night Football contract.

The Johnny Williams era of television

John Williams

John Williams told The Assocated Press earlier this month, that his score for Indiana Jones 5 may be his final movie work.

“I don’t want to be seen as categorically eliminating any activity,” The 90-year-old composer told AP. But a Star Wars score, he said, is a six-month commitment and “at this point in life is a long commitment to me.”

Williams is known mostly for his film scores, which include 51 Oscar nominations beginning in the 1960s for scores and songs. Williams was the composer of choice for director Steven Spielberg, a collaboration that lasted decades.

However, once upon a time, Williams was known as Johnny Williams and his work was all over television in the 1950s and 1960s.

Television Days

Williams played piano on the Peter Gunn theme for Henry Mancini. Williams also played as a musician in film scores such as The Magnificent Seven, Sweet Smell of Success and To Kill a Mockingbird, he recalled in a 2002 tribute to composer Elmer Bernstein.

Before he was famous: John(ny) Williams title card for the Kraft Suspense Theater episode Once Upon a Savage Night (black and white copy of a color original).

Williams was hired in 1958 by Stanley Wilson, music supervisor for Revue television (later Universal), to score episodes of M Squad, a police drama starring Lee Marvin. At that point, the composer was billed as John T. Williams Jr.

Wilson evidently liked the results and kept bringing Williams back for work. One of Williams’ jobs for Revue writing the theme for Checkmate, a 1960-62 series created by Eric Ambler.

Checkmate concerned the exploits of two private eyes (Anthony George and Doug McClure) assisted by an academic (Sebastian Cabot). Williams was now billed as Johnny Williams.

Before he was famous: John Williams title card for the unaired pilot of Gilligan’s Island.

Williams also did the theme (and scored some episodes for) a Revue anthology show, Kraft Suspense Theater. One of the installments he scored, Once Upon a Savage Night, was a particularly tense story about the search by Chicago authorities for a psychopathic killer (Philip Abbott).

In his TV days, Williams was versatile. His credits included the odd sitcom, such as the unaired pilot (plus additional episodes) of Gilligan’s Island as well as the theme for The Tammy Grimes Show, a quickly canceled program in the 1966-67 season.

Producer Irwin Allen brought in Williams to work on series such as Lost in Space and The Time Tunnel, which credited Johnny Williams for their themes.

Johnny Williams even showed up on camera in the first episode of Johnny Staccato, a 1959 series starring John Cassavettes and made at Revue. Williams, clean-shaven and with hair, played a jazz pianist. He was listed in the cast as Johnny Williams.

The Johnny Williams era drew to a close by the late 1960s. His credit for the theme of Irwin Allen’s Land of the Giants series listed the composer as John Williams. For Williams, the best was yet to come.

Pierce Brosnan figures into Black Adam trailer

Warner Bros./DC has released the first trailer for Black Adam, a comic book-based movie that’s a starring vehicle for Dwayne Johnson.

Pierce Brosnan, however, figures into the trailer. The former James Bond actor plays Dr. Fate, a sorcerer character who has been around since 1940.

Black Adam will be out later this year. The trailer is below.

Dr. Strange 2 has a big opening weekend

Poster for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness had an opening U.S. weekend of $185 million, according to Exhibitor Relations Co., which tracks box-office data.

The outcome reflects something of a comeback for Walt Disney Co.’s Marvel Studios. Marvel’s Avengers: Endgame, released in 2019, was a huge hit but also saw the death or retirement of important Marvel characters.

Since then, Marvel has released movies with lesser-known characters such as Shang-Chi and the Eternals. The one big exception was Spider-Man No Way Home, but that was a co-production with Sony, which holds the Spider-Man film rights. Marvel can’t do Spider-Man movies without Sony.

The new Dr. Strange movie stars Benedict Cumberbatch as the sorcerer. Cumberbatch was in the first Dr. Strange film in 2016 as well as Avengers movies in 2018 and 2019 and Spider-Man No Way Home.

George Perez dies at 67

Cover to a collection of George Perez art at Marvel

Retired comic book artist George Perez died May 6 at age 67 from complications from pancreatic cancer. His death was reported by the Comic Book Resources website.

Perez announced in December that he had been diagnosed with stage 3 pancreatic cancer and opted to forgo treatment.

The artist retired a few years ago because of health issues related to diabetes. During his career, which began in the early 1970s, he worked extensively at both Marvel and DC.

His efforts included the Avengers, the Justice League of America, and the Teen Titans. His stories helped influence comic book-based movies. He illustrated Crisis on Infinite Earths, a mid-1980s series meant to streamline the DC Comics universe.

DC published a tribute to Perez on Saturday afternoon.

UPDATE: Marvel also came out with a tribute.

Neal Adams dies at 80

Neal Adams cover to The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu magazine containing an article savaging The Man With the Golden Gun

Neal Adams, one of the most influential comic book artists, has died at 80, The Hollywood Reporter reported.

Adams is credited, along with writer Denny O’Neil, with reviving Batman in the 1970s.

The artist died “of complications from sepsis,” THR said, quoting his wife Marilyn Adams.

Adams’ influence on comics cannot be underestimated. Besides his collaborations with O’Neil, Adams also worked on key stories at Marvel Comics, including stories involving the Avengers and Conan the Barbarian.

One of his major Marvel works was a cover painting for an issue of the magazine The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu. The issue contained a long critique of The Man With the Golden Gun (1974).

The O’Neil-Adams run on Batman returned the character to the tone of his earliest tales Those stories appeared after the end of the Batman campy television series starring with Adam West.

Here is an example of Adams’ work on Batman

Cover to Batman 251 from the early 1970s

Can Dr. Strange restore Marvel’s momentum?

Poster for Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

Until 2019, Walt Disney Co.’s Marvel Studios was a juggernaut. The Marvel brand seemingly could do no wrong beginning with 2008’s Iron Man and running through 2019’s Avengers: Endgame.

Since then? Marvel has had more than a few bumps in the road.

Some of that can be attributed to a pandemic. Marvel had to delay some movie releases.

At the same time, Marvel saw some of its best-known characters fall by the wayside. Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron was killed off in Avengers: Endgame. Chris Evans’ Captain America retired in the same movie.

Since then, Marvel has, mostly, relied on lesser-known characters in its catalog. Shang Chi. The Eternals. The one major hit was Spider-Man No Way Home, which Marvel made for Sony (which holds the film rights to the character). That 2021 film was a huge success, generating almost $1.9 billion at the global box office.

On May 6, Marvel gets another shot with Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.

Dr. Strange is an unlikely choice to hang the future of a big franchise. The character was created by artist Steve Ditko in the early 1960s. Even in those days, the sorcerer was never the most popular Marvel character.

Still, Dr. Strange was a significant character in Spider-Man No Way Home as well as two Avengers films plus his own 2016 movie.

The leaders of Marvel Studios may or may not have chosen Dr. Strange to spearhead a comeback for the studio. But it has worked out that way.

As ever, we’ll see how it plays out.

Batman, despite pandemic, remains a box office draw

Poster for The Batman

The Batman, Warner Bros.’ latest take on the iconic comic book character, got off to a rousing start at the box office despite the lingering COVID-19 pandemic.

The Matt Reeves-directed film generated an estimated $128.5 million at the U.S. box office (including preview showings), according to Exhibitor Relations Co. The company tracks box office data.

Globally, The Batman is on track for an opening weekend of $248.5 million, ERC said.

In 2021, Warner Bros. was used by owner AT&T to drive business to streaming service HBO Max. Warner Bros. would release movies at the same time in theaters and on HBO Max.

Since then, AT&T has agreed to combine its WarnerMedia properties (including Warner Bros.) with Discovery. That deal is expected to close later this year.

Regardless, when I saw The Batman on Thursday night, it was preceded by a Warner Bros. trailer emphasizing how its major 2022 releases would be “only in theaters.” That trailer suggested an apology for 2021.

The Batman’s opening weekend reinforces Batman’s prominence in Warner Bros.’s collection of movie properties.

The Batman goes even darker

The Batman poster

Minimal spoilers

The Batman, Warner Bros.’ latest take on its most popular comic book character, goes even darker than previous incarnations.

Prime example: The Riddler, the movie’s primary villain, has traded in his bright green outfits for a much darker uniform. Also, this version of the Riddler really enjoys killing his enemis.

Beyond that, scenes are relentlessly dark. Anyone who watches a matinee showing will really squint their eyes after they leave the theater.

Besides more darkness, Gotham City is even more corrupt than before. The mob has its fingers into everything and seemingly everybody.

Still, director/co-screenwriter Matt Reeves finds a way to make Batman (Robert Pattinson here) his own. For example, Reeves plays up Batman’s role as a detective.

In the comics, Batman was billed as “the world’s greatest detective” and we get at least some of that here. However, the Riddler provides one clue that Pattinson’s Batman is slow to pick up on. Many members of the audience will be ahead of the game.

Pattinson seemed to be an unusual choice to play Bruce Wayne/Batman. Supposedly, he and Reeves had disagreements during production. But Pattinson is just fine, although you’d think a rich guy like Bruce Wayne could afford a hairbrush.

Reeves wisely avoids a detailed flashback of how Bruce Wayne’s parents were killed. Those events are referenced but there are no falling pearls as some movies have depicted when Martha Wayne got killed.

Also, Reeves sets his story two years into Wayne’s career as Batman. The relationship between Batman and Lt. James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) is established when the movie begins.

One big plus for the movie is the score by Michael Giacchino. The composer has done scores for a number of Marvel films, including Spider-Man No Way Home. But Giacchino’s score for The Batman is nothing like that. His takes on two very different comic book characters are appropriate for each.

Is the movie flawed? At almost three hours, it’s too long.

At the same time, Reeves isn’t concerned with making Batman fit into a connected film universe. Everything is focused on Bruce Wayne, his personal issues, and a grim story.

The movie is worth seeing unless you hate comic book-based films on principle. It is ambitious. For me, it fell short. But fans of a dark, dark Batman will be enthusiastic. GRADE: B.