The Marvel/U.N.C.L.E. crossover (sort of)

Cover to Tales of Suspense No. 80

As a result of some banter on Twitter (thanks @AgentSoloUNCLE), we discovered how Marvel Comics and a popular line of Man From U.N.C.L.E. paperback novels shared a similar McGuffin.

That would be a cube. But not any cube. The Cosmic Cube (introduced in Tales of Suspense Nos. 79-81) and the Power Cube (in the U.N.C.L.E. paperback The Power Cube Affair) were sought after bad guys seeking world domination.

The Cosmic Cube came first, in 1966 in a three-part Captain America story by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee.

The story brought the Red Skull, a Cap villain from World War II, into the “present day.” The villain is such a part of Cap history, he was made Cap’s foe in the first Marvel Studios Captain America movie, Captain America: The First Avenger, in 2011.

In the 1966 story, the Skull was found by a villainous organization (Adanced Idea Mechanics, or A.I.M.) and revived from suspended animation.

The group is developing the Cosmic Cube, an “ultimate weapon,” which can generate objects from mere thought. A.I.M. thinks the Skull is working for them but, being a Nazi, has his own ideas how to use the cube.

Eventually, Cap has a showdown with the Skull. Despite the fearsome weapon, Cap prevails. The Skull appears to have drown while wearing golden armor he wished into existence while wielding the cube. But Stan Lee, understandably, couldn’t resist bringing the Skull back in other stories.

The Power Cube, based on reviews by David Munsey of the U.N.C.L.E. tie-in paperbacks on The Fan From U.N.C.L.E. website sounds very similar.

Cover to The Power Cube Affair

The Power Cube Affair was the 19th of 23 U.N.C.L.E. paperback novels published by Ace. The novel, one of three in the series written by John T. Phillifent, came out after the Captain America story.

Here’s how David Munsey described the proceedings in his review:

In this one there is a hunt to find and assemble 27 parts of a power cube that would give the possessor-what else?- world domination. This is familiar enough, it reminds one of Dr. Who’s hunt for the six segments of the Key to Time and the Red Skull’s quest for the Cosmic Cube. (emphasis added)

By the time the novel was published, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television series was running out of gas (it was canceled in January 1968). The Ace novels were published in the U.K. and The Power Cube Affair was the 15th published there.

REVIEW: Captain America in a 1970s spy movie

Captain America: The Winter Soldier's poster

Captain America: The Winter Soldier’s poster

Minor spoilers

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is Marvel Studio’s take on a 1970s-style spy movie: dark and more than a little paranoid.

For the most part, it works. Put another way: It’s probably not a coincidence that Robert Redford, star of Three Days of The Condor, plays a prominent role in the film.

In this case, Redford has traded in his role of the semi-naïve lead (held down here by Chris Evans’s Cap) for the Max Von Sydow part.

For the uninitiated, 1970s spy movies had a much darker take the bulk of their 1960s counterparts, which tended to be escapist, led by the James Bond series produced by Eon Productions.

The ’70s were a time of real-life scandals involving the CIA and FBI and a U.S. president (Richard Nixon) forced to resign from office. Lest anybody miss this connection, the new Captain America film includes a long shot of SHIELD’s Washington headquarters where the Watergate apartments can be seen in the background.

To get a flavor of 1970s spy/political thrillers, consider this: Another of the era’s movies of note was 1974’s The Parallax View. It featured Warren Beatty as a reporter who investigates a conspiracy to assassinate political candidates. As a reviewer wrote at the time, Parallax is like having Cary Grant fall off Mount Rushmore at the end of 1959’s North By Northwest.

In translating ’70s style spy movies for the 21st century, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, directed by Anthony and Joe Russo offers a bit of something for everyone. For those who’ve watched the Marvel-produced films that began with 2008’s Iron Man, a lot of what you thought you knew has been turned on its head. But for newcomers, you don’t need to know all the background.

Suffice to say that Cap, the living legend of World War II (as he was billed during a 1960s comic book revival), has a lot of trouble figuring out who his friends and enemies are. Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury keeps things from him as does Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow. Meanwhile, Redford’s Alexander Pierce hovers, much like Van Sydow did in 1975’s Condor movie.

Fans of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television series particularly may appreciate the 2014 movie’s main plot. Without giving too much away (except for hard core U.N.C.L.E. fans), it’s as if the villain’s plot in the first episode of the dark fourth season had succeeded, except it occurred a long time ago.

Put yet another way: this Cap movie realizes the potential of the notion the Bond movies had with the villainous organization Quantum in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace.

The Russos clearly like shaky cam, but viewers can keep track of what’s going on. At 136 minutes, the movie is a trifle long, but generally satisfying, except for those who hate comic book-based movies under any circumstances.

Be warned: there are *two* epilogue scenes that take place during the end titles. The first is a teaser for 2015’s The Avengers 2. The other is a teaser for Cap 3, which currently is scheduled for May 2016, opposite Warner Bros.’s Superman-Batman movie.

If Cap 3 is as good as Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Warner Bros. executives may want to reconsider that Superman-Batman release date. GRADE: B-Plus.

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.

Skyfall sets 007 record for U.S. opening

UPDATE (Nov. 12): The revised final figure for Skyfall’s opening weekend is North America is $88.4 million according to a story at BLOOMBERG.COM.

ORIGINAL POST: Skyfall, the 23rd James Bond film, sold $87.8 million in tickets in the U.S. and Canada this weekend, breaking the previous 007 record of $67.5 million for 2008’s Quantum of Solace.

Daniel Craig in Skyfall scores a 007 U.S. box office record.


Here’s an excerpt of a story at BLOOMBERG.COM

“Skyfall,” the latest James Bond film and the third starring Daniel Craig, led the U.S. and Canadian box office with a franchise-record $87.8 million in ticket sales for Sony Corp. (6758) and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc.
(snip)

“They’ve done an amazing job keeping the brand strong and relevant,” Gitesh Pandya, editor of BoxOfficeGuru.com in New York, said in a telephone interview. “It’s the oldest brand out there in the movie industry so the fact that 50 years later they’re doing record business shows that they’ve handled the property very well.”

Pandya expects the installment to gross more than $900 million globally in theaters.

For some perspective, Skyfall’s U.S. opening was higher than some recent popular comic book-based movies, including Captain America ($65 million), and Thor ($65.7 million), both released in 2011. If Skyfall can secure $900 million in worldwide ticket sales, that would get it close to the likes of The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises, each of which generated $1 billion in ticket sales. Sam Mendes, the director of Skyfall, has said The Dark Knight helped influence Skyfall.

Meanwhile, the Box Office Mojo Web site estimates that Skyfall has total worldwide ticket sales to date of $518.6 million, including $428.6 million outside the U.S. and Canada.