Stan Lee, an appreciation

The Spy Commander’s one Stan Lee autographed comic book (left edge)

How much did people like Stan Lee? More than enough to stand in line for a few hours and pay handsomely for an autograph. I saw (and did it) for myself.

Eight years ago, I attended an event where Stan Lee appeared. If you paid $120, you could attend a talk by the former Marvel Comics editor and get a ticket for a personalized autograph. If you paid $40, you go a simple “Stan Lee” autograph. Those who paid $120 got in front of the line for autographs.

Stan, accompanied by an entourage, strode to the desk where he’d sign. “We love you Stan!” someone in line yelled.

Stan, without missing a beat replied. “I love to be loved!” He got a big laugh. He was in his late 80s but his voice sounded strong.

When he died this week at age 95, there was an outpouring of emotion. Some were famous. “I owe it all to you,” Robert Downey Jr., whose career was revived playing Iron man, wrote on Instagram. along with a picture of himself with Lee. Numerous comic book professionals also took to social media to bid farewell to the showman of Marvel.

Stan Lee and friend

Lee had his detractors, particularly on the issue whether he gave his collaborator enough credit. Artists such as Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and Don Heck (and later John Romita Sr., John Buscema and Gene Colan among otheers) did much of the plotting of stories.

However, Lee (who also wore the hat of chief writer for Marvel) provided a common voice. Humor was a big part of it, such as little asides to his readers.

Lee’s dialogue certainly was less formal than at larger rival DC Comics. “That’s the trouble with you commies!” Iron Man said in an early adventure after saving some surprised Soviet spies who were about to be crushed. “You just don’t dig us!”

Stan, however, could be serious, even preachy on occasion. The Silver Surfer was created by Jack Kirby in the middle of a Fantastic Four story. But Lee took a liking to the character. He launched a solo Silver Surfer title in the late 1960s (with Buscema on the art instead of Kirby) and it took a very serious tone.

Looking back at the 1960s comics as an adult, you could see Lee shift his writing with changing audience tastes. In the mid-1960s, some stories still had a very strong Cold War tone.

“Well, you picked the wrong enemy this time, mister!” Tony Stark/Iron Man says while beating up the Titanium Man, one in a series of attempts by the Soviets to come up with their own version of Iron Man. “You made the worst mistake any red can make — you challenged a foe who isn’t afraid of you!”

In 1968, life got more complicated with protests about the Vietnam War and other issues. “If Washington were alive today, we’d call him a protester!” Matt Murdock, the alter ego of Daredevil tells his law partner, Foggy Nelson.

Marvel under Lee did begin credits. The first issue of Fantastic Four had “Stan Lee and Jack Kirby” in script as if the two men had signed it. Before long, inkers (artists who went over penciled art in ink so it’d reproduce more clearly) and letterers got credit. Eventually (after Lee became publisher and gave up his editing job), colorists and others got credits.

However, that’s not the reason all those people stood in line eight years ago.

Lee created a personal connection with the readers of Marvel. That strengthened when Marvel became a force in the movies, with Lee making cameos. In the 21st century, special effects could emulate what Kirby and other other artists put to paper decades earlier.

As a result, when Lee died this week, the loss seemed personal and extended among generations.

Here’s a tribute from artist Bill Sienkiewicz.

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Happy 95th birthday, Stan Lee

Stan Lee on a 1971 episode of To Tell The Truth

Dec. 28 is the 95th birthday for Stan Lee, the long-time editor and writer at Marvel Comics. More recently, he has been part of the marketing of Marvel Studios movies.

Stan (born Stanley Martin Lieber) has outlived many of his collaborators, including Jack Kirby, Wally Wood, Gene Colan, Don Heck and John Buscema. Others, including Steve Ditko and John Romita Sr. are hanging in there. Also, Stan’s wife Joan passed away earlier this year.

As the blog has remarked before, Stan’s legacy is a complicated one. He has been depicted as the creator of the Marvel Universe while Kirby, Ditko, et al. did considerable work in devising those stories.

That legacy remains complicated today. There’s plenty of time to analyze that again later. Today? The blog wishes Stan a happy birthday.

With that in mind, here’s one of Stan’s many comic book cameos (along with Joan) in an issue of Daredevil from 1971:

Stan Lee (and his wife Joan) make a cameo in Daredevil No. 79, written by Gerry Conway, drawn by Gene Colan and inked by Tom Palmer

RIP, Joan Lee

Joan Lee, the wife of long-time Marvel Comics editor Stan Lee, has died at 93, according to an obituary published by THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER.

Joan Lee, 93, in some versions of the story, encouraged Stan to try different comics ideas in the early 1960s, when Marvel began creating its line of super heroes.

By other accounts, Joan Lee was an influence in different ways.

Writer Gerry Conway, in Sean Howe’s book Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, described why it made sense to kill of Peter Parker’s girlfriend Gwen Stacy in a 1973 story.

“Only a damaged person would end up like a damaged guy like Peter Parker,” Conway told Howe. “And Gwen Stacy was perfect! It was basically Stan fulfilling Stan’s own fantasy. Stan married a woman who was pretty much a babe — Joan Lee was a very attractive blond who was obviously Stan’s ideal female. And I think Gwen was simply Stan was replicating his wife.”

A more detailed examination of all that is best left to another time. For now, here’s a sequence from a 1971 Daredevil comic by Conway, Gene Colan and Tom Palmer. Not only did Stan Lee make a cameo, but so did Joan Lee.

 

Cameo by Stan Lee and Joan Lee in Daredevil 79 (1971).

Wally Wood’s influence on Daredevil extends to 21st century

Excerpt from Wally Wood's definitive 1965 Daredevil story, In Mortal Combat With Sub-Mariner

Excerpt from Wally Wood’s definitive 1965 Daredevil story, In Mortal Combat With Sub-Mariner

One of the most acclaimed comic book adaptations on television has been the Netflix series Daredevil.

The show, which has run 26 episodes over two seasons, is violent. If it were a movie, some episodes would definitely receive an R rating.

But one person who doesn’t get mentioned much in connection with the series is comic book artist Wally Wood (1927-1981).

Wood worked as an artist on seven issues of the original comic book and did uncredited story work. He did not work on the first issue, which was done by Stan Lee and Bill Everett. However, Wood designed Daredevil’s distinctive red costume (which debuted in issue 7), which has mostly continued on to this day.

But Wood’s primary contribution goes beyond that. In a 1965 story, Wood’s Daredevil tackles a much more powerful foe, Namor, the Sub-Mariner (created in 1939 by none other than Bill Everett), the half-human ruler of Atlantis. Namor had super strength and wings on his ankles.

Marvel (via The Fantastic Four title by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby) revived the Namor character in the early 1960s and established that he wanted to conquer the surface world.

Wood’s take on Daredevil was how the hero (who was blind, but had whose other senses were heightened following an accident) never, ever gave up. In Mortal Combat With Sub-Mariner was issue 7, the first issue with Wood’s red costume.

Wally Wood's cover to Daredevil No. 7 in 1965

Wally Wood’s cover to Daredevil No. 7 in 1965

Over the course of the 1965 comic book story, Daredevil absorbed a beating at the hands of Namor. But DD always kept coming back for more until he finally fell exhaustion. But DD was more heroic in defeat than Namor was in victory.

The Netflix Daredevil series relies on those who followed Wood, especially artist-writer Frank Miller, who worked on the title in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Oddly, Wood is not included among the writers and artists who receive a “special thanks” credit in the end titles of the Netfilx series

Those who do receive recognition (among them Miller, artists Gene Colan, John Romita Sr. and John Romita Jr.) do deserve the credit they receive. But it’s strange that Marvel’s television arm doesn’t note Wood’s contribution. The Facebook page Wally Wood’s Daredevil has called for Marvel to recognize Wood.

Regardless, aging comic book fans who remember Wood’s short, but influential, run on the title are aware of his contributions to Daredevil that have extended into the 21st century.

1976: Daredevil provides a lesson in media literacy

Cover to Daredevil No. 137

Cover to Daredevil No. 137

It’s no secret there’s a lot of emotion concerning this year’s U.S. presidential election. The contest has spurred commentary about the need for media consumers to be on the watch for fake news websites and to be careful before what they share on social media

The thing is this concern isn’t new. Forty years ago, the Daredevil comic book waded into this territory during a run of stories scripted by Marv Wolfman, who  was also the editor in chief of Marvel Comics at the time.

The story line first surfaced as a sub plot in Daredevil No. 129, published in the fall of 1975 and penciled by Bob Brown. Matt Murdock and his then-girlfriend Heather Glenn are watching TV news. A newscaster resembling Walter Cronkite comes on with a story about a photo showing John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy apparently alive.

Two issues later, No. 131,  we see a man chained to a console being forced to prepare “another broadcast.” At the start of issue 133, the man (clearly a scientist) is killed by an old DD foe, the Jester. Over the next few issues, the device involved is revealed to be capable of editing real videos into convincing fakes.

All of this reaches a conclusion in issue No. 137, published in 1976 and drawn by John Buscema, subbing for Brown. Toward the end, Our Hero is interviewed by a television newscaster. The device is now in the hands of the authorities. But DD has a word of advice for viewers.

“I can’t voucher for the accuracy of TV news reporting, Wally, but at least the news won’t be altered by criminals,” Daredevil says. “Though, I think all people should learn to get their news from many sources — TV, radio, newspapers, magazines — to prevent this sort of thing from happening in the future. A well-informed public is the best weapon against blatant lies — from wherever they originate.”

Of course, in the 21st century, there are many additional digital media. Also, traditional media outlets are questioned about their ethics, accuracy, etc. Still, the notion that people need to be well read is perhaps more important now than when this comic book story line was first published.

Gene Colan: The Bourne Precursor

Gene Colan self portrait, circa 1970

Gene Colan self portrait, circa 1970

The big movie this weekend is Jason Bourne. Like previous entries in the film series, it features a “shaky cam” technique intended to make the audience feel as if it’s in the middle of the action.

However, some of that concept was pioneered by the work of comic book artist Gene Colan (1926-2011).

Colan worked for both Marvel and DC, including a six-year run (1966-1973) on Daredevil as well as brief runs on the title later in the 1970s as well as the 1990s.

In a documentary for the home video release of the 2003 Daredevil movie, Colan described his approach to the many action scenes he drew.

“If there was a fight scene, I would try to do it in such a way to confuse the reader,” Colan said. “Because in real life, very often you don’t see the details. You’d just see action.”

Colan said you would see “arms and legs and people sailing over tables. But you don’t see the details. And very often it’s done in a dark room where you can see even less. But it’s exciting. It’s more dramatic that way…I wanted the story to be mystifying and sinister.”

As a result, Colan-illustrated stories emphasize movement in their action sequences. Colan drawings simulate the blur of a punch or a kick or other mayhem.

With 2008’s Quantum of Solace, Eon Productions embraced the approach of the Bourne film series. Eon hired Dan Bradley as Quantum’s second unit director, where he’d be in charge of the movie’s action scenes. Bradley was a Bourne film veteran.

Here’s how Bradley described his approach, according to a 2008 post on the Commander Bond website:

“One of the things I really believe is that we shouldn’t try and make everything feel perfectly staged. I’m always saying to my crew, I want to feel like we were lucky to catch a glimpse of some crazy piece of action. I don’t want it to feel like a movie, where everything is perfectly presented to the audience.”

Of course, comics and film are different. Colan drew mostly 20-page stories where action scenes took up only part of the story. Jason Bourne employs “shaky cam” for much of its running time, even when actions scenes aren’t occurring.

Still, the notion of disorienting the audience remains a strong one, given the box office reception, so far, for Jason Bourne. It’s just worth remembering others, including Gene Colan, took a similar path before.

Colan, of course, drew more than just Daredevil. CLICK HERE and HERE and HERE to see his take on Dr. Strange, the mystic character created by Steve Ditko. The good doctor will be the subject of a Marvel Studios movie in November.

The U.N.C.L.E. movie’s Marvel-style promos

On social media, Warner Bros. has been putting out short videos of scenes from The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Except, in these videos, wide lines have been inserted giving the effect of comic book panels.

For example, there’s THIS 13-SECOND VIDEO of Armie Hammer as Illya Kuryakin. Or there’s THIS VIDEO with Henry Cavill as Napoleon Solo.

It’s probably not intentional, but these videos evoke some 1960s art by Marvel Comics artist Gene Colan (1926-2011). Colan had been away from comic books for some time before rejoining Marvel in the mid-1960s.

During this period one of Colan’s favorite techniques was to present separate, but related, panels . Here’s an example from Daredevil, vol. 1, No. 21, published in the summer of 1966:

Daredevil-Owl 21