Len Wein, co-creator of Wolverine, dies at 69

Len Wein (1948-2017)

Len Wein, a comics fan turned comics professional, has died at 69, according to multiple posts on social meedia by comics professionals including Mark Millar and Kurt Busiek. .

Wein co-created the mutant character Wolverine while writing The Incredible Hulk for Marvel.

He also revived the X-Men in 1975, with a new cast, including Wolverine. (The X-Men originally were created in 1963 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.)

Wolverine helped make Hugh Jackman a star, both through X-Men and Wolverine movies. Jackman’s most recent performance as the character was in this year’s Logan.

At DC Comics, Wein wrote a number of Batman stories. One highlight was a 1970s story, Moon of the Wolf, illustrated by Neal Adams and Dick Giorddano, in which Batman encounters a warewolf. It would later be adapted in the Batman: The Animated Series.

Growing up in the greater New York area, Wein and friend Marv Wolfman (who would also become a comics professional) would visit the prolific Jack Kirby at his home.

“We came over for mile and cookies on Saturdays,” Wein said in a documentary about Kirby. When they’d see Kirby at his drawing board, Wein said, “His hand was always moving, producing.”

Such experiences presumably explain why Wein went into the field.

After becoming a writer at Marvel, he was named editor-in-chief after Roy Thomas (who had succeeded Stan Lee) stepped down. It wasn’t an easy time for the company. “Wein struggled with the constant cycle of cancellations and launches,” Sean Howe wrote in his book, Marvel Comics: The Untold Story. Wolfman took over.

Eventually, a number of people (Thomas, Wein, Wolfman and others) got deals where they were editors of the titles they wrote. In the late 1970s, these deals were ended and Jim Shooter was put in charge of Marvel’s titles.

Nevertheless, Wein stayed in the field for a long time. Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and director of the first two Avengers movie for Marvel, posted a tribute:

UPDATE (8:55 p.m. ET): Hugh Jackman posted a tribute to Len Wein on Twitter.

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Jack Kirby: Hail to the King, 100 years later

Jack Kirby self portrait

Jack Kirby self portrait (enhanced version, adding other characters from the original drawing)

Hail to the King! Aug. 28, 2017 is the 100th anniversary of the birth of comic book artist Jack Kirby.

“Comic book artist” actually is an inadequate description. Comic book creator is more like it. His nickname was the “King.” It was deserved.

Kirby lived the stories he drew in his mind. The characters he depicted existed in that fertile imagination. At one point his beloved wife Roz banned Kirby from driving. He was so distracted devising new stories he wasn’t safe behind the wheel.

In the 21st century, much of the output of Marvel Studios wouldn’t be possible without Kirby’s contributions: Captain America (co-created with Joe Simon in 1941), the Avengers (co-created with Stan Lee in 1963), Iron Man (co-created with Lee, Larry Lieber and Don Heck, also ’63), Thor (co-created with Lee and Lieber, ’62), Ant-Man (Lee and Lieber, ’61), the Black Panther (co-created with Lee, 1966). Not to mention the X-Men (co-created with Lee, ’63) that are licensed by 20th Century Fox.

Walt Disney Co. reached an out-of-court settlement with the Kirby family that ensured the company would maintain control. Terms weren’t disclosed but ever since Kirby’s on-screen credit in Marvel-made movies is more prominent.

Still, Kirby (born Jacob Kurtzberg) isn’t as well known among the public as Stan Lee is. Stan was the showman and promoter. Kirby was the workhorse at the drawing board who dreamed up much of the story content. Stan gets cameos in every Marvel movie. Kirby got a cameo in one episode of the 1970s Incredible Hulk TV show.

This isn’t intended as a criticism of Stan. For several years in the 1960s, there was a magic every time there was a Stan Lee-Jack Kirby story published by Marvel. It’s just that Kirby deserves more notoriety than he has received.

Kirby has some detractors who note his drawing style wasn’t realistic. In a 2005 documentary, artist Neal Adams said that missed the point.

Paul McCartney and Jack Kirby in 1976

“I don’t think Jack could really draw anatomy,” Adams said. “I don’t think Jack could draw a real car. That wasn’t Jack. He was a visceral animal. (He) drew impressions of things.

“If you sit around with artists and talk about Jack’s anatomy… you would get the artist who was critical. ‘Oh, he doesn’t know how to do anatomy and everything,'” Adams added. “Then you say, ‘But can you do the power that he can do? Can you do it?’ Let’s just say I ask you to do it. Would you know what to do? Wouldn’t you essentially be held back by what you knew?”

Finally, Adams had this thought: “Me as an artist, it overwhelms me to see this gutsy, ballsy thing and in a way say to myself, ‘I can’t do it.'”

No one else could. That’s why Kirby was the King.

To read about the 1976 meeting between Jack Kirby and Paul McCartney, CLICK HERE to read a post from the Jack Kirby Museum website.

To view frequently asked questions about Kirby, prepared by his biographer Mark Evanier, CLICK HERE.

UPDATE (2:45 p.m., Eastern time): Evanier, who once worked as an assistant to Kirby, has his own tribute you can view by CLICKING HERE.

Kevin Feige, president of Marvel Studios, sent out a post on Twitter on Monday afternoon.

 

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Justice League’s soap opera

Justice League movie logo

Justice League, still almost three months from reaching audiences, has generated behind-the-scenes drama the past few months that may be tough for the film itself to match.

Examples:

–Director Zack Snyder took himself off post-production duties because of a family tragedy, the suicide of his 20-year-old daughter in March.

–Even before that, it became known that Warner Bros. brought in Joss Whedon to revise the story. Whedon previously directed the first two Avengers movies for rival Marvel Studios.

–Whedon took over directing of extensive reshoots, estimated by Variety at $25 million, beyond the normal level that occur after principal photography has ended.

–One of the movies stars, Henry Cavill as Superman, can’t shave the mustache he grew for the unfinished Mission: Impossible 6. So his reshoots will involve digitally erasing said mustache. Naturally, this led to people coming out of images of Cavill’s Superman with a mustache.

–In the midst of this, Whedon’s ex-wife, Kai Cole, wrote a guest column for TheWrap on Aug. 20 about the writer-director’s marital infidelities. “I want to let women know that he is not who he pretends to be,” she wrote. While this doesn’t affect the film, it’s not the kind of publicity a studio likes about an expensive project.

The thing is, Warner Bros. and its DC Comics unit are on a roll after Wonder Woman generated both good reviews and a global box office of more than $800 million.

Of course, if the movie is a hit most of this will end up as a footnote. In 1975, for example, everybody forgot production woes and cost overruns of Jaws.

Atomic Blonde comes in at No. 4 this weekend

Atomic Blonde poster

Atomic Blonde, the spy movie starring Charlize Theron, finished fourth at the U.S. and Canada weekend box office, according to data compiled by the Box Office Mojo website.

The film generated box office of $18.6 million, finishing behind Dunkirk, Christopher Nolan’s World War II drama in its second weekend ($28.1 million); The Emoji Movie ($25.7 million); and Girls Trip ($20.1 million).

Atomic Blonde is based on a graphic novel titled The Coldest City. It had a 75 percent “fresh” rating on the Rotten Tomatoes website that aggregates critic reviews.

The movie was also the third consecutive spy movie to get a release date in the final weekend of July. Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation had the spot in 2015 and Jason Bourne did last year. Each finished No. 1 in their opening weekends.

Mission: Impossible 6, currently in production, will be slotted in the final July weekend in 2018.

A Sampling of Early Atomic Blonde Reviews

Atomic Blonde poster

Atomic Blonde, this summer’s spy movie, has received mostly positive back in March when the film was shown at the South by Southwest film festival.

The film, starring Charlize Theron, had a Rotten Tomatoes score of 81 percent because of those reviews. It remains to be seen how the score may change with newer reviews that come in ahead of its opening this week.

Regardless, here are some non-spoiler excerpts of reviews.

ERIC KOHN, INDIEWIRE: “The first solo effort by ‘John Wick’ co-director David Leitch, ‘Atomic Blonde’ exists in the same realm of hyperstylized action built around the cold ferocity of an unstoppable action star. It only falters when attempting to tie more story around her….Oscillating between the relentless energy of ‘John Wick’ and the dense plotting of a John Le Carré novel, ‘Atomic Blonde’ never quite finds a happy medium between the two. But when Theron goes back to kicking ass, nothing else matters.”

JOHN DEFORE, THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER: “The more obvious comparison, of course, is with the latest, earthily violent incarnation of James Bond. As enjoyable as Atomic Blonde can be at times, its main utility may be its demonstration that Theron deserves better than this. If not a reincarnation in which James becomes ‘Bond, Jane Bond,’ then at least something with more staying power than this actioner, which looks good and gets some things right, but is as uninterested in its protagonist’s personality as its generic name suggests.”

ANDREW BARKER, VARIETY: “Lifted from Antony Johnston’s graphic novel ‘The Coldest City,’ ‘Atomic Blonde’s’ heroine is a blank slate of emotionless efficiency. A master of cold stares and even colder line readings, (Theron character) Lorraine’s entire diet appears to consist of frozen Stoli on the rocks…Leitch seems uninterested in developing relationships between his characters, leaving them to scamper about on parallel tracks until the hazy machinations of the plot conspire to bring them together.”

JOANNA ROBINSON, VANITY FAIR: “In Atomic Blonde, (Theron’s) Cold War-era spy character, Lorraine Broughton, brutally dispatches Russian and German agents without ever losing an inch of style. She’s the captivating eye of a rather messy plot storm, and you won’t be able to keep your eyes off her for a second. The film had a triumphant, ecstatic debut at SXSW on Sunday night, but won’t debut in the U.S. until July 28. All other summer blockbusters should just surrender now.”

MEREDITH BORDERS: BIRTH. MOVIES. DEATH:Atomic Blonde gives us so little to actually care about, an exercise in style over substance where even the style starts to grate after a time.”

Flo Steinberg, Marvel Comics stalwart, dies

Flo Steinberg

UPDATE II (5:55 p.m. ET) The New York Daily News says Flo’s age was 78.

UPDATE (5:30 p.m. ET): I don’t have a specific age for Flo. Apologies.

ORIGINAL POST: Florence “Flo” Steinberg, at one point Stan Lee’s “Girl Friday” at Marvel Comics and later a comic book publisher, has died, according to the Newsarama website.

Today, Marvel is a part of Walt Disney Co. and known mostly for its movies. When Steinberg worked there in the 1960s, Marvel was a modest operation. It had nearly gone out of business in the 1950s. It actually relied on a sister company of much larger rival DC Comics for distribution.

She gained the nickname “Fabulous Flo.”

Steinberg departed Marvel in 1968. Here’s an except from the Newsarama obituary about what happened next.

Steinberg was also a key figure in the independent comics scene, launching what many consider to be the link between “underground” comics and modern-day “alternative comix” with the 1975 one-shot Big Apple Comix. Featuring work by such luminaries as Neal Adams, Wally Wood, Mike Ploog, and Marie Severin, Big Apple Comix broke ground in employing “mainstream” comics creators in stories featuring more sexual and real-world elements than most typical fare of the time.

Another website, The Comics Beat Culture, also posted a tribute. Heidi MacDonald wrote, “Flo returned to Marvel in the 90s as a proofreader, where I met her, as did many Marvel staffers of the era and she become an icon all over again.”

Flo didn’t receive regular credits in Marvel Comics published in the 1960s. But she was a presence in a 1965 record. That year, Marvel started a fan club, the Merry Marvel Marching Society. The record was part of what you’d receive if you joined.

The record is part of this YouTube video:

Some tributes to Steinberg were posted Sunday afternoon by comic book professionals past and present.

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Warner Bros.’s Batman PR problem

Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill in a Batman v Superman poster

UPDATE (July 22): Ben Affleck said at the San Diego Comic Con today he’s still playing Batman, according to numerous reports.

Among the outlets reporting on Affleck’s remarks: COLLIDER.COM, the New York DAILY NEWS and THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER.

It was the latter, in a story on Friday, that said Warner Bros. was ready to ease Affleck out of the role.

ORIGINAL POST (July 21): Just when Warner Bros.’s DC Extended Universe seems to get on track, it’s undergoing a public relations problem during the San Diego Comic Con.

You remember when the DCEU finally was getting good PR? It was just last month when Wonder Woman generated both ticket sales and positive reviews.

Just weeks later, the buzz is that Warner Bros. (aka “Mr. Warner,” this blog’s nickname for the studio) is getting ready to ease the current Batman, Ben Affleck, out of the role. At least’s that’s according to a story by Kim Masters in The Hollywood Reporter.

Affleck got top billing in 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. That movie introduced Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman. It did good (but sub $1 billion worldwide) business while getting terrible reviews.

Still, Affleck’s Batman created a buzz. First, it was the actor would write, direct and star in a solo Batman movie titled The Batman. Then, well, he wasn’t going to direct after all.

A new director, Matt Reeves, was hired. Initially, the buzz was that Affleck’s script would be used. Then, this month, the news came out that Affleck’s script was being jettisoned and things would start over.

Now, Affleck himself may be out. Here’s an excerpt from The Hollywood Reporter story:

(A) source with knowledge of the situation says that the studio is working on plans to usher out Affleck’s Batman — gracefully, addressing the change in some shape or form in one of the upcoming DC films. Exactly when and how that might happen has yet to be determined, but it would be wise to bet against Affleck starring in The Batman.

The thing is, the massive San Diego convention has become a forum for studios to promote upcoming films, and not just movies based on comic books.

Justice League is the next DCEU film and a followup to Batman v Superman. It’s supposed to address some of the faults (i.e. too gloomy) present in the 2016 film.

In Batman v Superman, Affleck, who turns 45 on Aug. 15, played an older Batman. It was very much influenced by the 1986 mini-series The Dark Knight Returns by writer-artist Frank Miller. In that story, Batman comes out of retirement.

We’ll see how all this turns out. Still, it’s doubtful Mr. Warner appreciates the “Affleck is out” buzz generated by The Hollywood Reporter story.