Should 007 and Batman share the same cinema universe?

NOT an actual comic book cover

NOT an actual comic book cover

It was reported this week that Warner Bros. may be in a good position to replaced Sony Pictures as the studio that releases James Bond movies. That got some fans to wonder whether 007 and Batman (and Superman and the Justice League) could share the same cinema universe.

Necessary background: 007’s home studio is Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. But, after emerging from bankruptcy, it’s a relatively small company and cuts deals with other studios to release its films.

Sony Pictures’ current two-picture deal with MGM for Bond expires once SPECTRE is released in November. Sony wants to strike a new deal, but the studio knows it’ll have competition for post-SPECTRE 007 projects.

Variety reported Warner Bros. is a leading contender because its executives have a good relationship with MGM’s top executive, Gary Barber.

Anyway, on THE SPY COMMAND’S FACEBOOK PAGE, a reader asked if Warners really does secure the 007 releasing deal whether Bond could be included in a planned two-part Warner Bros. Justice League movie, even if it’s just a cameo.

For the uninitiated, the Justice League is a group of DC Comics heroes, headed by Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman. DC Comics has long been part of Warners’ parent company and the comic book company now is actually part of the studio. Next year’s Batman v. Superman: The Dawn of Justice will help set up the even bigger Justice League project.

It seems like a stretch that Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, the co-bosses of Eon Productions, would go along with such a concept. In AN INTERVIEW WITH COMING SOON.NET, Broccoli and Wilson did not warm up to the idea of Bond sharing a fictional universe with any other character.

Q: The notion of cinematic shared universes are increasingly popular in Hollywood these days. Any chance of seeing the Bond franchise go after something like that?

Broccoli: I think Bond lives in his own universe. I don’t think he wants to share it with anyone else.

Wilson: Like Bond and Mission: Impossible? I think that’s the stuff for comic books. More power to them.

Beyond the Eon leadership, there’s the question of 007 fans.

It’s hard to know how many, but — via Internet message boards and social media outlets — there are a lot of vocal 007 fans critical about “comic book movies.” For these fans, Bond is above that sort of thing. For them, “comic book movies” are glorified cartoons. Except, of course, when director Sam Mendes acknowledged that The Dark Knight, directed by Christopher Nolan, INFLUENCED 2012’s SKYFALL.

Humility is not part of the 007 fan’s DNA. Bond is the best. Any other spy entertainment that has been created since 1962 is merely a “James Bond knockoff.” Bond in the same universe as Batman and Superman, even if it came via a cameo? Untold billions of brain cells around the world would explode.

Meanwhile, a note about the illustration with this post. It APPEARED ON THIS WEBSITE. The actual cover The Brave and The Bold No. 110 LOOKED LIKE THIS.

The rise of the ‘origin’ storyline

Daniel Craig and Jeffrey Wright in Casino Royale

Daniel Craig and Jeffrey Wright in Casino Royale

Fifty, 60 years ago, with popular entertainment, you didn’t get much of an “origin” story. You usually got more-or-less fully formed heroes. A few examples:

Dr. No: James Bond is an established 00-agent and has used a Baretta for 10 years. Sean Connery was 31 when production started. If Bond is close to the actor’s age, that means he’s done intelligence work since his early 20s.

Napoleon Solo on TV: fully formed

Napoleon Solo on TV: fully formed

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: During the first season (1964-65), Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) has worked for U.N.C.L.E. for at least seven years (this is disclosed in two separate episodes). A fourth-season episode establishes that Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum) graduated from U.N.C.L.E.’s “survival school” in 1956 and Solo two years before that.

Batman: While played for laughs, the Adam West version of Batman has been operating for an undisclosed amount of time when the first episode airs in January 1966. In the pilot, it’s established he has encountered the Riddler (Frank Gorshin) before. There’s a passing reference to how Bruce Wayne’s parents were “murdered by dastardly criminals” but that’s about it.

The FBI: When we first meet Inspector Lewis Erskine (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.) in 1965, he’s established as the “top trouble shooter for the bureau” and is old enough to have a daughter in college. We’re told he’s a widower and his wife took “a bullet meant for me.” (The daughter would soon be dropped and go into television character limbo.) Still, we don’t see Young Lewis Erskine rising through the ranks of the bureau.

Get Smart: Maxwell Smart (Don Adams) was a top agent for CONTROL despite his quirks. There was no attempt to explain Max. He just was. A 2008 movie version gave Max a back story where he had once been fat.

I Spy: Kelly Robinson (Robert Culp) and Alexander Scott (Bill Cosby) have been partners for awhile, using a cover of a tennis bum and his trainer.

Mission: Impossible: We weren’t told much about either Dan Briggs (Steven Hill) or Jim Phelps (Peter Graves), the two team leaders of the Impossible Missions Force. A fifth-season episode was set in Phelps home town. Some episodes introduced friends of Briggs and Phelps. But not much more than that.

Mannix: We first meet Joe Mannix (Mike Connors) when he’s the top operative of private investigations firm Intertect. After Joe goes off on his own in season two, we meet some of Joe’s Korean War buddies (many of whom seem to try to kill him) and we eventually meet Mannix’s father, a California farmer. But none of this is told at the start.

Hawaii Five-O: Steve McGarrett (Jack Lord) is the established head of the Hawaiian state police unit answerable only to “the governor or God and even they have trouble.” When the series was rebooted in 2010, we got an “origin” story showing McGarrett (Alex O’Loughlin) as a military man, the unit being formed, his first meeting with Dan Williams, etc.

And so on and so forth. This century, though, an “origin story” is the way to start.

With the Bond films, the series started over with Casino Royale, marketed as the origin of Bond (Daniel Craig). The novel, while the first Ian Fleming story, wasn’t technically an origin tale. It took place in 1951 (this date is given in the Goldfinger novel) and Bond got the two kills needed for 00-status in World War II.

Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, co-bosses of Eon Productions

Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson

Nevertheless, audience got an “origin” story. Michael G. Wilson, current co-boss of Eon Productions (along with his half-sister, Barbara Broccoli) wanted to do a Bond “origin” movie as early as 1986 after Roger Moore left the role of Bond. But his stepfather, Eon co-founder Albert R. Broccoli, vetoed the idea. With The Living Daylights in 1987, the audience got a younger, but still established, Bond (Timothy Dalton). In the 21st century, Wilson finally got his origin tale.

Some of this may be due to the rise of movies based on comic book movies. There are had been Superman serials and television series, but 1978’s Superman: The Motion Picture was the first A-movie project. It told the story of Kal-El from the start and was a big hit.

The 1989 Batman movie began with a hero (Michael Keaton) still in the early stages of his career, with the “origin” elements mentioned later. The Christopher Nolan-directed Batman Begins in 2005 started all over, again presenting an “origin” story. Marvel, which began making movies after licensing characters, scored a big hit with 2008’s Iron Man, another “origin” tale. Spider-Man’s origin has been told *twice* in 2002 and 2012 films from Sony Pictures.

Coming up in August, we’ll be getting a long-awaited movie version of U.N.C.L.E., this time with an origin storyline. In the television series, U.N.C.L.E. had started sometime shortly after World War II. In the movie, set in 1963, U.N.C.L.E. hasn’t started yet and Solo works for the CIA while Kuryakin is a KGB operative.

One supposes if there were a movie version of The FBI (don’t count on it), we’d see Erskine meet the Love of His Life, fall in love, get married, lose her and become the Most Determined Agent in the Bureau. Such is life.

Goldfinger: the first ‘A-movie’ comic book film?

Goldfinger poster

Goldfinger poster

Here’s a thought as Goldfinger celebrates its 50th anniversary. In a way, the third James Bond film may have been the first “A-movie” comic book film.

Before Goldfinger, comic book films existed as serials. Lewis Wilson, father of Eon Productions co-boss Michael G. Wilson, played Batman in a 1943 serial, for example. Serials would run for weeks in 15-minute or so installments ahead of the main feature.

Goldfinger, of course, was based on Ian Fleming’s novel, not a comic book. Still, some Fleming novels seem to draw their inspiration from pulp adventure stories (also a source of inspiration for comic books).

In Fleming’s novel, Goldfinger’s henchman Oddjob was already over the top. With the film, that increased. A gold bar bounced off his chest without causing Oddjob harm. Harold Sakata’s Oddjob crushed a golf ball to show his displeasure with Sean Connery’s Bond. The henchman used his steel-rimmed hat to kill with precision. Oddjob, for a time in the Fort Knox sequence, bats Bond around like a cat playing wth a mouse.

Nor did the comic book style action end there. Bond’s tricked out Aston Martin became the inspiration for “spy cars,” with far more weaponry that a few extras the novel’s Aston had. The deaths of both Oddjob and later Auric Goldfinger could be described as comic book like. It was as if Jack Kirby of Marvel Comics drew the storyboards.

The difference, of course, was this all occurred in a $3 million A-movie where the audience could see the story all in one night.

Goldfinger’s success certainly was felt in the 007 series. In Thunderball, Bond flew a jet pack and in the climatic underwater fight had an oversized air tank that had additional weapons. You Only Live Twice included a helicopter snatching a car with a giant magnet and Blofeld’s volcano headquarters set that cost more than it took to produce Dr. No.

The success of such movies demonstrated audiences had an appetite for such uber-escapist sequences when executied in an entertaining way. You could make the case that Goldfinger blazed a trail that the likes of Star Wars, Indiana Jones and, yes, movies based directly on comic books, exploited.

The path from Connery’s Bond to, say, Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man may be shorter than it appears.

The most obvious sign: director Christopher Nolan, a self-described 007, adapted Bond bits (the Bond-Q briefing evolved into Bruce Wayne getting new equipment from Lucius Fox) into his three Batman movies. Director Sam Mendes in Skyfall returned the favor, saying Nolan’s 2008 The Dark Knight influenced the 2012 007 film.

Writer Lorenzo Semple Jr. dies

Lorenzo Semple Jr. scripted the Batman pilot and 1966 feature movie

Lorenzo Semple Jr. scripted the Batman pilot and 1966 feature movie

Lorenzo Semple Jr., a writer best known for the 1960s Batman television show but who also did spy-related scripts including Never Say Never Again, has died at 91, according to an obituary in THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER.

Semple wrote the pilot for the 1966-68 Batman series as well as the quickly made 1966 feature film starring Adam West and Burt Ward. When executive producer William Dozier decided on a less-than-serious take, Semple devised a simple format for other writers to follow.

The opening of Part I would establish a menace. Batman and Robin would be summoned by Police Commissioner Gordon. The dynamic duo proceeded on the case, ending with a cliffhanger ending. Part II opened with a recap, the heroes escaped and eventually brought the villains to justice.

Among Semple’s memorable lines of dialogue: “What a terrible way to go-go,” and “Some days, you just can’t get rid of a bomb!”

Never Say Never Again's poster

Never Say Never Again’s poster

Semple always was drawn more than once to the spy genre. In the 1950s, he worked on drafts of a script based on Casino Royale, the first 007 novel, but nothing went before the cameras. Decades later, he was the sole credited writer on Never Say Never Again, a Thunderball remake not produced by Eon Productions but starring Sean Connery. Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, writers brought in by de facto producer Connery, did uncredited rewrites.

Between Semple’s Bond work, he scripted films such as 1967’s Fathom with Raquel Welch (featuring a Maurice Binder-designed title sequence), 1974’s The Parallax View with Warren Beatty (a movie about a conspiracy to assassinate political candidates) and 1975’s Three Days of The Condor, a serious spy film with Robert Redford.

In The Hollywood Reporter’s obituary, Semple is quoted about the ups and downs of film production. Here’s a passage involving Never Say Never Again:

Semple met with Sean Connery in Marbella, Spain and sold him on his 70-page treatment for Never Say Never Again, which saw the aging actor return as 007 in the much-litigated Warner Bros. film based on Thunderball. But when some action scenes were cut as a cost-saving measure, the producers pacified an angry Connery by blaming — and then booting — Semple.

“I was quite relieved; I really didn’t want to go on with it,” he said. “I also agree a human sacrifice is required when a project goes wrong; it makes all the survivors feel very good.”

To read the entire obituary, CLICK HERE. There’s one mistake. It says Semple only wrote the first four episodes of Batman. He wrote or co-wrote 10 episodes during the first season, though he penned fewer in the final two seasons.

Happy 100th birthday, Bill Finger

One of a number of productions that would have been impossible without Bill Finger

One of a number of productions that would have been impossible without Bill Finger

Feb. 8 was the 100th anniversary of the birth of comic book writer Bill Finger, who probably should be credited as the co-creator of Batman. Without him, a number of productions, including 2012’s Skyfall, the most recent James Bond movie, wouldn’t have been possible.

Artist Bob Kane had an idea, of a Bat-themed character. But it was Finger who, among other things, changed a plain mask to a cowl, devised the Bruce Wayne true identity, the Batman back story, the Robin back story, and….well, you get the idea. It was Finger who devised much of the Batman mythos.

Without Finger, there wouldn’t have been Batman serials in the 1940s, no Batman television series in the 1960s, no Batman movies in the 1980s, ’90s and 21st century — at least nothing remotely in the form that people know them.

Indirectly, the 007 film crew also owes Finger a debt. Sam Mendes, the director of Skyfall, is on record as saying 2008’s The Dark Knight, directed by Christopher Nolan, inspired elements of the 2012 007 film. That extends to Thomas Newman’s score, which in places sounds similar to the Batman music Hans Zimmer produced for Nolan.

Thus, without Bill Finger, there’d be no Nolan Batman movies and Skyfall wouldn’t be the same film fans remember today.

Finger, who died in 1974, less than a month before his 60th birthday, still doesn’t get officially credited as creating Batman. (Although there is a campaign to try to change that in time for Batman’s 75th anniversary.) But there’s little doubt Finger’s impact lasts long after his death.

Warner Bros. and its priorities

Ben Affleck in 2003's Daredevile

Ben Affleck in 2003’s Daredevil

It doesn’t appear that The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is at the top of priority list for Warner Bros’s publicity department.

The studio put out a press release that Ben Affleck will play Batman opposite Henry Cavill’s Superman in a movie with a July 17, 2015 release date. Affleck played Daredevil in a 2003 20th Century Fox movie based on a Marvel Comics character who made his debut in 1964, the same year The Man From U.N.C.L.E. premiered.

Cavill played Superman in this year’s Man of Steel movie. Cavill is also the studio’s choice to play Napoleon Solo in a movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. that is scheduled to start filming next month. Warner Bros. has yet to make an official announcement about that movie, even though Cavill and Armie Hammer, slated to play Illya Kuryakin, have said that will be their nest project. Robert Vaughn and David McCallum played Solo and Kuryakin in the 1964-68 television series.

"Mr. Warner, when do I rate a press release?"

“Mr. Warner, when do I rate a press release?”

Batman and Superman are two of the most lucrative characters controlled by Time Warner, the parent company of Warner Bros. Author Bruce Scivally wrote a book called Billion Dollar Batman tracing the history of that character from the comics through movies directed by Christopher Nolan.

It would appear Warner Bros.’s U.N.C.L.E. project isn’t at the top of its list while the Batman-Superman project for 2015 is. Such is life. Variety has reported the U.N.C.L.E. movie’s budget was reduced to $75 million after Tom Cruise departed the project, paving the way for Cavill to get the Solo role.

Carmine Infantino, notable comic book artist, dies

Carmine Infantino's cover to Flash No. 123, "The Flash of Two Worlds."

Carmine Infantino’s cover to Flash No. 123, “The Flash of Two Worlds.”

Carmine Infantino, one of DC Comics’ main artists during the Silver Age, died the other day at the age of 87. He helped popularize a concept that the makers of James Bond movies would use when rebooting the franchise in 2006.

Infantino, as noted in AN OBITUARY IN THE NEW YORK TIMES, was assigned to work in a revamp of the Flash in 1956. Instead of bringing back the original Flash character, DC started over with a different character in a new costume.

Infantino, according to various accounts, would draw potential covers and show them to editor Julius Schwartz (1915-2004) — in effect daring the editor to devise a story line to match the drawing. In 1961, five years after the new Flash debuted, Infantino showed Schwartz a drawing of the new and old Flashes racing to save the same person.

That became the basis of a story embracing the concept of alternate universes. Flash No. 123 wasn’t the origin of the idea but it helped popularize it and DC would soon use the notion to bring back old versions of other characters. As we’ve written before,, Eon Productions adapted the idea when it decided to start the series over with 2006’s Casino Royale while retaining the services of popular actress Judi Dench as M. Dame Judi simply played a different M than the one she portrayed before.

Carmine Infantino's cover to Detective Comics No. 327 in 1964, which introduced the "New Look" Batman

Carmine Infantino’s cover to Detective Comics No. 327 in 1964, which introduced the “New Look” Batman


Also, as noted in the New York Times obituary, Infantino was assigned to draw Batman in 1964 when DC, facing falling sales, decided to revamp the character. Infantino’s Batman was more realistic at least compared with versions published up until that time.

Here’s how it was described in the Times’ obituary:

In 1964, Mr. Infantino and the writer John Broome were asked to work similar magic on Batman. In Mr. Infantino’s hands, Batman took on an urbane, Bondian aspect. This “new look” Batman, as he was known to the trade, inspired the ABC television series starring Adam West and originally broadcast from 1966 to 1968. (emphasis added)

Infantino later became a DC Comics executive before leaving the company while continuing to draw for other publishers.

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