Al Brodax, cartoon producer, dies at 90

Art for a home video release of Cool McCool

Art for a home video release of Cool McCool

Al Brodax, a busy cartoon producer in the 1960s, has died at the age of 90, according to an obituary posted by The New York Times.

Brodax was in charge of the motion picture of King Features Syndicate. In that capacity, he produced Popeye cartoons for television as well as cartoons based on King Features comic strips such as Beetle Bailey, Snuffy Smith and Krazy Kat.

Broadax also became involved with the 1960s spy crazy with Cool McCool, which originally aired on NBC on Saturday mornings from 1966 to 1969.

Brodax co-created the show with Bob Kane, the co-creator of Batman. This took place at the height of popularity for the Batman television show on ABC. Thus, Kane’s involvement gave Cool McCool a foot in two popular genres of the day.

Cool McCool was closer to Get Smart than James Bond as its hero bumbled his way through assignments from the unseen “No. 1” (voiced by Chuck McCann). No. 1 often lost his cool with McCool (voiced by Bob McFadden) and used an ejector seat (or similar device) to send the operative on his way.

A half-hour show would consist of three cartoons. The first and third featured McCool against a variety of Batman-esque villains such as the Owl, Hurricane Harry (“with all the wind he can carry” according to the catchy title song) and the Rattler. The second cartoon was about McCool’s father, Harry, who had been a cop.

The obituary by the Times focuses on one of Brodax’s biggest successes, the 1968 animated Beatles film Yellow Submarine. However, he also had a notable flop, the 1968 live-action Blondie situation comedy on CBS. It only aired a half season.

Batman v Superman turns into a Batman movie

So when did Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice turn into the newest Batman movie?

Warner Bros. came out with its final trailer for the movie that’s intended to launch a “shared universe” of characters from DC Comics. However, from the looks of the trailer, it looks more like a new Batman movie with an expanded cast. Or, put another way, there’s a reason Batman gets top billing in the title.

This trailer opens with Ben Affleck, the newest incarnation of the Bob Kane-Bill Finger character, in action along with an assist from the new Alfred, Jeremy Irons.

More importantly, it ends with a shot showing a surprised Superman (Henry Cavill) when an armored Bats is able to block a punch. Somehow (Kryptonite, anyone?), Batman has found an edge in what logically would be a rout.

If 2015 was “The Year of the Spy,” then 2016 is “The Year of the Superhero,” as Warner Bros. ramps up its output against rival Marvel/Disney. Warners and DC have had common ownership for decades, but DC now is directly a part of the studio. DC even moved from its long time home in New York to Warners’ digs in Burbank, California.

The studio has a lot riding on Batman v. Superman, especially after a sour 2015 at the box office.

Warners originally scheduled Batman v. Superman for July 2015 but delayed it to May 2016. But the studio slotted it for the first Friday in May, a date Marvel/Disney has owned more or less since 2008’s Iron Man. Marvel didn’t back down. It went ahead and scheduled the third Captain America movie — now Captain America: Civil War, which is more like The Avengers Part 2.5 — into the slot.

So Warners rescheduled again, moving Batman v. Superman to March, not your typical month for a blockbuster “tentpole” (in studio speak).

One shouldn’t read too much into trailers. Yet, it appears Warners is playing the Batman card heavily. From the trailer, it also looks like director Zack Snyder owes more than a little to Frank Miller’s 1986 The Dark Knight Returns comic book.

Bill Finger to get credit on Batman adaptations, THR says

Gotham promotional art

Gotham promotional art

Bill Finger, widely viewed as the co-creator of Batman, is to get a credit for his work on Batman-related adaptations, THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER SAID.

Finger will begin receiving a credit on the Gotham television series “beginning later this season,” according to a statement from DC Entertainment published by THR. Finger (1914-1974) will also get a credit in the 2016 film Batman v. Superman: The Dawn of Justice, DC said in the statement.

Bob Kane has received sole creator credit for Batman since the character debuted in 1939, including seven Warner Bros. movies released since 1989.

Finger’s contributions to the character include major revisions to Kane’s original costume (such as the cowl and gauntlets as well as a dark color scheme), the Bruce Wayne true identity, Bruce Wayne back story, the original Robin, the original Robin’s back story, etc. Finger wrote the first Batman story published in Detective Comics No. 27 and many other early stories.

In 2014, illustrator Ty Templeton did a cartoon showing what Batman would have been like without Finger’s contributions.

DC said in the statement published by THR it and Finger’s family “reached an agreement that recognizes Mr. Finger’s significant contributions to the Batman family of characters.”

In addition to Batman, Finger also co-created the original version of Green Lantern, which debuted in 1940. Finger also co-wrote a two-part story in the 1966 Batman television series.

DC has long been owned by the various parent companies of Warner Bros. DC now is part of Warner Bros. and moved to Burbank, California, from New York, the comics company’s long-time home.

‘Mr. Warner’ and creator credits

Sam Rolfe, circa 1964

Sam Rolfe, circa 1964

Fans of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television series, for the most part, weren’t happy to see that Sam Rolfe — the major creator of the 1964-68 television series — didn’t get a credit with the movie that debuted this month.

Rolfe (1924-1993) created Illya Kuryakin, Alexander Waverly as well as the U.N.C.L.E. organization and format. The main element he didn’t create was Napoleon Solo, which had been hashed out by executive producer Norman Felton and 007 author Ian Fleming.

Felton (1913-2012) did receive an “executive consultant” credit in the U.N.C.L.E. film.

The series didn’t carry a formal creator credit. Instead it was either, “Developed by Sam Rolfe” or “The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Developed by Sam Rolfe,” depending on the season of the show.

While Rolfe not getting a mention is understandably disappointing, Warner Bros., aka “Mr. Warner” on this blog has an interesting history.

In the early days of Warner Bros. television, the real-life Mr. Warner (Jack) had an aversion to bestowing a creator credit. Roy Huggins didn’t get a creator credit for either Maverick or 77 Sunset Strip. Charles Larson (the person who most likely deserved one) didn’t get a creator credit for The FBI, a co-production with Quinn Martin. On the other hand, When Maverick became a Warner Bros. movie in 1994, Huggins did get on-screen recognition.

Warner Bros. also controls DC Comics. The studio gives credit for movies based on DC characters where it has an obligation. Superman movies, for example, have a creator credit for Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster. Warner and DC only agreed to that in the 1970s as the first Superman film with Christopher Reeve was being prepared and there was a big public relations campaign for Siegel and Schuster.

Warners also gives Bob Kane the creator credit for Batman, although there’s evidence that uncredited Bill Finger really did the heavy lifting. In 2014, cartoonist Ty Templeton drew what a Batman without Bill Finger would look like. Anyway, Warners/DC also credits Charles Moulton (real name William Moulton Marston) for Wonder Woman.

Other than that, though, no creator credits. The 2011 Green Lantern, for example, movie didn’t credit John Broome and Gil Kane. The current Flash television series doesn’t credit Robert Kanigher and Carmine Infantino.

Put another way, Sam Rolfe — who wrote the U.N.C.L.E. pilot and produced the show’s first season — has plenty of company. Also that “developed by” credit probably gives the studio legal leeway in not including Rolfe in the movie’s credits.

Will creators be remembered for 2014 comic book movies?

John Romita Sr.'s cover to Amazing Spider-Man No. 121, written by Gerry Conway

John Romita Sr.’s cover to Amazing Spider-Man No. 121, written by Gerry Conway

There’s a spoiler concerning Amazing Spider-Man 2 in the post below.

April 4 is the start of the comic book movie season with Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The presence of SHIELD, Marvel’s spy organization, merits inclusion of the subject here. The film’s arrival raises the question how much recognition those who created the original source material will receive.

Movies made by Walt Disney Co.’s Marvel Studios have settled into a pattern. The comic book creators aren’t included in the screenplay credit. But, for the most part, they show up in the long “crawl” of the end titles. Those who did the original comic story get a “based on the comic book by” credit and later there’s a “special thanks” credit for those who worked on stories the film’s writers used in crafting their story.

Example: the first Captain America film in 2011 had a credit for Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, who wrote and drew the original 1941 comic book. The “special thanks” credit included Kirby and Stan Lee, among others, who did various stories that helped form the final movie.

Meanwhile, movies where Marvel licensed characters haven’t even done that much. The X-Men movies and the 2003 Daredevil movie released by 20th Century Fox never mentioned the comic book creators, for example.

For that matter, DC Comics-based movies only reference comic book creators where Warner Bros. is contractually obligated to do so. So you’ll see Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s names on a Superman film as well as Bob Kane on a Batman film. But you won’t see Bill Finger, Mark Waid, John Broome, Gil Kane or others who did comic book stories that the movies used. Jerry Robinson got a consultant credit on 2008’s The Dark Knight that didn’t say he actually created The Joker.

Which brings us to Amazing Spider-Man 2, which Sony Corp. will release early next month, having licensed Spider-Man from Marvel. The Spider-Man movies released since 2002 do include Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, the original creative team on Marvel’s most successful character.

Gerry Conway, who wrote Spider-Man stories in the 1970s, has taken to HIS TWITTER FEED to let folks know one of his stories — arguably his most important Spidey tale — figures into the 2014 movie.

I see in Entertainment Weekly that Spider-Man 2 is, in fact, based partly on my Amazing Spider-Man 121. Waiting for invite to premiere.

The Los Angeles Times noticed and a post on its Hero Complex blog. Conway’s original story included the death of a major character and there have been hints that will replicated with the 2014 movie.

In any event, many millions of dollars are riding on all this as Disney/Marvel, Sony and Fox all come out with superhero movies this year, with more scheduled for 2015 and 2016. None of those films would be possible without the comic book creators who, for the most part, aren’t with us. The likes of Kirby, Simon, Kane, Finger and others have died. Creators, such as Lee (91) and Ditko (86), are at an advanced age.

Only Stan Lee, with his gift of self promotion, is remembered by much of the population. Outside of comics fans, not many are aware the likes of Kirby, Finger, Larry Lieber (Stan Lee’s brother), Don Heck, Dave Cockrum, Len Wein, Chris Claremont, Herb Trimpe, etc., etc., etc., created the characters that are the foundations of the movies.

It’d be nice if that changed in 2014. But don’t count on it.

UPDATE (April 3): Gerry Conway says on Twitter he has been invited to the premier of Amazing Spider-Man 2.

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.