Black Panther gets raves as critics weigh in

Black Panther poster

Black Panther, the newest Marvel Studios film, received a surge of positive reviews as critics began to weigh in on the movie.

The character, the ruler of a technologically advanced African nation, was introduced in a 1966 issue of the Fantastic Four by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) became part of the Marvel movie universe with 2016’s Captain America: Civil War.

What follows is a non-spoiler sampling. The movie is due out Feb. 16.

TODD MCCARTHY, THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER:  “With uncanny timing, Marvel takes its superheroes into a domain they’ve never inhabited before and is all the better for it in Black Panther…(T)his entry sweeps you off to a part of it you’ve never seen: a hidden lost world in Africa defined by royal traditions and technological wonders that open up refreshing new dramatic, visual and casting possibilities.”

MANOHLA DARGIS, THE NEW YORK TIMES: “Part of the movie’s pleasure and its ethos — which wends through its visuals — is how it dispenses with familiar either/or divides, including the binary opposition that tends to shape our discourse on race. Life in Wakanda is at once urban and rural, futuristic and traditional, technological and mystical.”

IRA MADISON III, DAILY BEAST: “To describe Black Panther as a black superhero film doesn’t do enough to praise how utterly disinterested it is in appealing to a white audience. At its core, (director Ryan) Coogler’s film feels like a love letter to every black person who will step into the movie theater to see it, be they of American or African descent. It is a film that honors the history of black bodies on our entire continent, from the kingdoms they built, to the bondage they were shackled in, to the world that has treated them with cruelty at every possible turn.”

PETER DEBRUGE, VARIETY: “Coogler makes good on the landmark project’s potential by featuring a predominantly black ensemble, casting some of the best young actors around — from Chadwick Boseman (who proved his dramatic chops playing James Brown, Jackie Robinson, and Thurgood Marshall in recent years) to Michael B. Jordan (even more buff, and twice as charismatic, than he appeared in the director’s two previous features, “Fruitvale Station” and “Creed”) — as well as such legends as Forest Whitaker and Angela Bassett. But historical significance aside, what superhero fans want to know is how ‘Black Panther’ compares with other Marvel movies. Simply put, it not only holds its own, but improves on the formula in several key respects, from a politically engaged villain to an emotionally grounded final showdown.”

JIM VEJVODA, IGN: “It may utilize the mix of action and humor that now defines the Marvel movie formula, but Black Panther refuses to blend into the crowd of superhero films. It stands out boldly, in part by opening up a beautiful new corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but also with its topical themes. Not everything works across the board, but when it sets this fantastic cast of relatable heroes on one side of real-world ideological debates and the MCU’s most compelling and dimensional antagonist in years on the other, a huge amount of it works wonderfully.”

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Jack Kirby’s version of The Prisoner gets official release

Splash page to Jack Kirby’s comic book adaptation of The Prisoner

Jack Kirby’s 1970s comic book adaptation of The Prisoner has been scheduled for an official release by Titan Comics, The Hollywood Reporter said.

Titan also is releasing a new comic book series based on The Prisoner. Here are the details about the Kirby material:

In July, Titan will also release The Prisoner: Original Art Edition, a hardcover edition of previously unreleased work by Kirby, (artist Gil) Kane and writer Steve Englehart from their attempt to adapt the pilot episode of the TV show to comics during the 1970s. In addition to featuring the complete Kirby artwork for his unpublished issue — six pages of which were inked and lettered by his long-term collaborator, Mike Royer — the collection will also feature 18 pages of Kane’s pencils, and the complete script for Kane’s issue by Englehart.

Background: Kirby (1917-1994) returned to Marvel — where he co-created many of the classic Marvel characters of the 1960s — in 1975 after spending a few years at rival DC.

In the ’70s, Kirby wrote, drew and edited most of his projects. In the previous decade, Kirby did the heavy lifting at Marvel with plots while editor Stan Lee did the scripting.

Jack Kirby self portrait, circa 1970

With his second stint at Marvel, Kirby took over Captain America (a character he co-created in 1941 with Joe Simon) and went about mostly creating new characters.

Beginnings: Steve Englehart, 70, a one-time writer at Marvel, described the origin of The Prisoner project in a post on his website.

“I plotted an adaptation of the first episode, and Gil Kane handled the art (with Joe Staton providing his layouts),” Englehart wrote. According to the scribe, it was put on the shelf by Marvel. (Kane died in 2000, at the age of 73.)

“Sometime later, remembering they’d paid for the rights, they got Jack Kirby to do an issue,” Englehart wrote. “I always thought Patrick McGoohan looked like a Kirby character, with his nice brow ridge, but apparently they didn’t like Kirby’s version and it, too, went on the shelf.”

Kirby themes: Charles Hatfield, in a detailed article on the Two Morrows website, said the original Prisoner series, starring Patrick McGoohan, was a great match for Kirby.

“It’s not hard to see why The Prisoner appealed to Kirby,” Hatfield wrote. “Indeed, the series’ concept, which Kirby glossed as ‘an individual’s stubborn attempts to wrest freedom from subtle but oppressive power’ makes perfect sense within Kirby’s oeuvre. Its paranoiac, Orwellian premise dovetails with the dystopian future of Kirby’s OMAC (1974-75), as well as the Orwell riffs in Kirby’s ‘Madbomb’ saga in Captain America #193-200 (1975-76).” (OMAC was one of the titles Kirby created at DC in between his stints at Marvel.)

Pages from Kirby’s one issue of The Prisoner has been seen before online, including the Forces of Geek website.

Still, this year is the the 50th anniversary of The Prisoner being shown in the U.S. Also, Kirby’s original work has been getting renewed attention thanks to Marvel Studios movies that rely heavily on Kirby-created characters.

Marvel’s next movie is The Black Panther, which is being released next month. The title character was introduced in a 1966 issue of The Fantastic Four by Lee and Kirby. The film version of the character was introduced in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War.

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

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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Rich Buckler, comic book artist, dies at 68

Rich Buckler

Rich Buckler, part of the second-generation of Marvel Comics artists, has died, according to an announcement by Marvel on Twitter. He was 68.

In the 1970s, writers and artists who had been fans a decade earlier, were brought on by Marvel. Buckler was among them, as well as artists such as George Perez and writers such as Len Wein, Marv Wolfman and Steve Gerber.

Buckler, during the 1970s. was the artist on the Fantastic Four, the title that began the Marvel revival in 1961. Buckler also created a cyborg character, Deathlok, as well as doing work for DC Comics, according to the Bleeding Cool website.

Cover to Fantastic Four (vol. 1, No. 142), drawn by Rich Buckler

In the 1970s, Marvel was in transition. Stan Lee moved to an executive position. Jack Kirby, who created or co-created much of the Marvel Comics Universe, was away. Roy Thomas, initially Stan’s successor as editor-in-chef, would soon give up the post.

During this time, younger talent took on many of Marvel’s main titles.

Sean Howe, author of Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, provides many more details in his book. Suffice to say, former fans were now actually coming up with the new stories that would sustain Marvel.

Buckler (born in 1949 in Detroit) was among those newcomers who made a mark. The Fantastic Four was among Marvel’s flagship titles, and in 1974 (13 years after the FF’s debut) Buckler was its artist.

His run on the FF lasted about two years. Still, it was a sign that Marvel — and comics in general — were now in the hands of a new generation.

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.