Marvel’s Shang-Chi opens strong

Shang-Chi logo

Marvel Studios’ Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings had a strong U.S. opening, providing hope for theaters that the fall movie season can remain viable despite COVID-19.

The opening also was being watched by James Bond fans, looking for No Time to Die to stick with its Sept. 30 opening in the U.K. and Oct. 8 in the U.S.

Shang-Chi is estimated to bring in $71.4 million for Friday-Sunday weekend and $83.5 million for the four days including Monday’s Labor Day holiday, according to Exhibitor Relations Co., which tracks box office data.

Shang-Chi made his Marvel Comics debut in the 1970s and isn’t as well known to the general public as other Marvel characters. The movie also is opening only in theaters. Black Widow, another Marvel movie, opened in both theaters and as premium offering on the Disney Plus streaming service.

There are still questions related to Shang-Chi. A number of movies released during the pandemic era have fallen off sharply during their second weekend of release. Still, Shang-Chi’s opening seems to bolster Marvel’s reputation of making successful movies featuring lesser-known characters such as Ant-Man.

Last week, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Universal released what they called final U.S. and international trailers for No Time to Die. But there has been speculation the movie may not be out of the woods yet. No Time to Die has been delayed five times, three times because of COVID-19.

Meanwhile, Marvel has another movie, Eternals, featuring lesser-known characters. The Eternals comic book was created by Jack Kirby in 1976, in a title he wrote and drew. Kirby co-created many other Marvel characters such as Captain America, Thor and The Avengers.

Here’s the tweet posted by Exhibitor Relations Co.

Fantastic Four — and the Marvel age of comics — turns 60

The Fantastic Four debuted in 1961. By 1963, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby had created an integrated comics universe

This week marks the 60th anniversary of the first issue of the Fantastic Four.

The modest Marvel Comics, which relied on much-larger rival DC Comics for distribution, decided it needed to get back into superheroes after years of publishing monster and science fiction stories.

The FF were created by Stan Lee (1922-2018), handling scripting and editing, and Jack Kirby (1917-1994), performing penciling and at least half (if not more) of the plotting. The FF at least partially resembled Challengers of the Unknown, a title Kirby worked on for DC.

The title generated sales to encourage more super hero attempts. In 1962, Marvel came out with the Hulk, Thor and Spider-Man. The following year saw the debuts of Iron Man, X-Men and the Avengers.

During the 102-run Lee-Kirby run, the FF proclaimed itself to be “The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine!” For much of that time, at least to impressionable young readers, that wasn’t hyperbole.

By 2008, Marvel decided to make its own movies after years of licensing its characters to others. Iron Man with Robert Downey Jr. was the first attempt and it was a hit. Walt Disney Co. later bought Marvel to take over the characters.

The FF itself has had mixed results in the films. 20th Century Fox (now a Disney property itself) had licensed the FF for films in the 2000s and 2015. The Fantastic Four, once the flagship of Marvel Comics, was almost an afterthought.

But in its prime, the FF was used to introduce characters such as the Black Panther and the Inhumans. The title also became a way to do crossover stories with the Hulk, the Avengers, Nick Fury, Spider-Man and others.

Marvel, the Disney-owned studio, is at a crossroads. It is now about to bring out lesser-known characters. It now controls the fate of any future Fantastic Four movies. How that turns out remains to be seen.

Nevertheless, none of that would even be an issue without the efforts of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, whose collaboration saw the light of day 60 years ago.

Marvel pitches support of movie theater experience

Marvel Studios, the Walt Disney Co. unit, put out a video today in support of the movie theater experience.

Marvel did so while promoting its upcoming releases, some of which have been pushed back because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Here’s the video Marvel put out:

Marvel has its own issues. Black Widow was pushed back from May to July. The movie will be available on both the Disney + streaming service as well as theaters.

Marvel also has movies based on characters that aren’t that well-known to the general public. One example is The Eternals, a Jack Kirby title originally published in the 1970s after Kirby returned to Marvel Comics. Overall, Kirby’s Marve return wasn’t a happy one for the artist-writer.

On the other hand, Eternals is directed by Chloe Zhao, who won two Oscars last month, including one as best director. The general public may soon learn a lot about The Eternals.

In any case, the Marvel video does seek to rally support of seeing films in theaters. Over the past year, there has been a repeated trope that No Time to Die will be important to “saving cinema.” After repeated delays, No Time to Die is scheduled for release in Sept. 30 in the U.K. and Oct. 8 in the U.S.

We’ll see. Studios still need traditional theater releases to generate enough revenue to make super-expensive “tentpole” movies worth it.

S.H.I.E.L.D. writer-artist compliments Craig 007 films

Jim Steranko caused a sensation in the comic book world in the 1960s as the writer and artist of Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. It was Marvel’s entry in spy craze and Steranko came up with story telling techniques that seemed experimental at the time.

Nick Fury originally was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. But Steranko came in later and made the strip his own.

Steranko also was a James Bond fan. And it would seem, he still is.

In one 1960s issue (which Steranko drew but only plotted), there’s a supplier of gadgets named Boothroyd. Later, in a 1967 story (by which time he did the full scripting as well as drawing), Steranko provided the Sean Connery version of Bond a cameo. See below.

Anyway, Steranko, now 82, likes to hang out on Twitter. This Sunday night, he indicated he still likes Bond films, specifically the Daniel Craig movies. Take a look for yourself.

Chadwick Boseman dies

Black Panther poster

Chadwick Boseman, who brought to life real-life figures such as Jackie Robinson to life as well as the Stan Lee-Jack Kirby character Black Panther, has died at 43, according to The Associated Press.

Boseman played Jackie Robinson in the 2013 film 42 (referring to Robinson’s uniform number), James Brown in Get on Up (2014) and Thurgood Marshall in Marshall (2017).

The actor also played the title character in Black Panther (2018). He had earlier played the part in Captain America: Civil War (2016) and did an encore in Avengers: Infinity War (2018) and Avengers: Endgame (2019).

Black Panther was the first Marvel Studios film to receive a Best Picture nomination. It was seen as a sign that comic book-based movies could reach beyond their humble origins.

When the film came out in 2018, it had a big impact. Black audience members embraced the phrase “Wakanda Forever!”

T’Challa, the Black Panther, was introduced in 1966 in an issue of the Fantastic Four. The character was the head of an African country with advanced technology. Black Panther ever since has been one of the major characters of Marvel Comics.

News of Boseman’s death was shocking to fans. The actor was diagnosed with colon cancer four years ago, AP reported.

UPDATE (Aug. 29): Here is a tweet on Chadwick Boseman’s Twitter feed announcing his death:

 

Joe Sinnott, Marvel’s ace inker, dies at 93

Splash page to a 1967 Nick Fury story, drawn by Jim Steranko and inked by Joe Sinnott

Joe Sinnott, an inker who contributed to the look of Marvel titles such as the Fantastic Four, died today at 93, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Monthly comic books, because of their deadline pressures, typically had one artist draw in pencil with another going over the drawings in ink.

Sinnott drew particular praise for inking Jack Kirby’s work on the Fantastic Four in the 1960s.

Sinnott’s “smooth, stylized ink work” brought “a new sheen and consistency” to Kirby’s pencils, THR said.

The artist came aboard the FF as the title, primarily plotted by Kirby, exploded with new characters such as the Silver Surfer, Galactus, the Inhumans and the Black Panther.

Sinnott also worked with other Marvel artists, including Gene Colan, John Buscema and some issues of the Jim Steranko written and drawn run of Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Sinnott retired in the early 1990s but continued to appear on the comic book show circuit and do paid commissions.

Writer and artist Walter Simonson issued a tribute to Sinnott on Twitter.

UPDATE (10:35 p.m. New York time): Jim Steranko also issued his own tribute to Joe Sinnott on Twitter.

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Captain Marvel’s political subtext

Captain Marvel movie poster

If you haven’t seen Captain Marvel, there are spoilers in this post.

Captain Marvel is the latest film from Marvel Studios and it’s cruising to a $1 billion global box office.

But the movie also has a political subtext that isn’t getting discussed much.

Background: The Skrulls, a race of alien “shape shifters” were introduced all the way back in 1961 in issue No. 2 of The Fantastic Four by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.

The Skrulls were classic bad guys. In a later issue, the FF took on the Super Skrull, who could mimic the powers of all four members of the super team.

The Kree, were introduced in 1967 when the FF encountered the Sentry (essentially a giant robot) stationed on Earth by the Kree, another alien race. In the next issue, the FF encountered Ronan the Accuser, a Kree character who’s mad at the FF for what happened to the Sentry.

Some years later, Marvel had a long story arc in The Avengers comic book called the Kree-Skrull War. This story line established that Marvel’s two major alien races were at odds.

How it plays out in the movie: The Skrulls are depicted in the 2019 movie as considerably more sympathetic than they were in their early comic book appearances.

The Kree (the more human-looking characters), it is revealed are the oppressors of the Skrulls. The Skrulls, as it turns out, are simply looking for a homeland/home planet.

It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to view the Kree-Skrull conflict in the prism of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the Middle East.

According to the Palestinian side, they are a people looking for a homeland. Detractors say the Palestinians are terrorists.

In the new Captain Marvel movie, the Kree describe the Skrulls as terrorists. The Skrulls say they’re simply looking for a home.

Movies don’t settle long-running disputes. Still, it looks like Marvel has used real-life conflicts in tweaking the source material in its latest production. Your mileage may vary.

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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Stan Lee dies at 95

Stan Lee’s cameo in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War

Stan Lee, the long-time editor-in-chief at Marvel Comics who co-created many Marvel characters and was a master showman in promoting them, has died at 95, according to The Associated Press, which cited a family attorney.

Stanley Martin Lieber was hired while still in his teens at at Timely Comics, a forerunner company of Marvel, working for publisher Martin Goodman. Goodman’s wife was Lieber’s cousin.

The young Lieber wished to save his given name for more literary works. He wrote a text feature in a Captain America comic with the pen name Stan Lee. The alter ego would stick.

Lee became editor after Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, the creators of Captain America, left the company in 1941. Aside from a stint in U.S. Army during World War II, he’d hold the job until 1972.

For much of Lee’s tenure, Timely/Marvel was overshadowed by DC Comics, which published the adventures of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman.

Timely nearly went out of business in the 1950s. Its star characters, the Sub-Mariner, the Human Torch (an android who could catch on fire) and Cap were in publishing limbo.

Groot’s first appearance in Tales to Astonish in a story by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby

By the late 1950s, the company published a handful of science fiction and monster titles. One of the characters created during this period, Groot, a monster made of wood, would eventually be revamped in Guardians of the Galaxy. The first Groot story was a modest one-shot in Tales to Astonish in 1959.

Comeback

Eventually, Marvel (as the company became known) began a comeback in 1961 with the first issue of the Fantastic Four.

Jack Kirby, now on his own from Joe Simon, had rejoined the fold. Kirby did the bulk of plotting for the stories he drew, with Lee providing the dialogue and captions. The Fantastic Four carried over themes from previous Kirby titles such as Challengers of the Unknown for DC.

Beginning with the FF, Marvel began to build momentum. The Hulk (another Lee-Kirby product) followed in 1962. So did Thor (Lee-Kirby) and Spider-Man (Lee and Steve Ditko).

The 1960s surge also enabled Marvel to bring back characters. The Fantastic Four included a new version of the Human Torch and the original returned in a 1966 FF annual. The FF also saw the return of the Sub-Mariner, starting in issue 4. Captain America was revived in issue 4 of The Avengers in 1964.

Stan Lee and his wife Joan make a cameo in a Daredevil comic written by Gerry Conway, drawn by Gene Colan and inked by Tom Palmer. (Joan Lee died in 2017.)

Both Kirby and Ditko did much of the plotting when it came to stories. Another key collaborator was Lee’s own brother, Larry Lieber. Lee’s sibling scripted the first outings of Thor and Iron Man from sketchy Lee plots.

Yet, Lee provided a common voice for the growing collection of Marvel characters. He had a way of making readers feel they were part of a club that “got it.” Marvel was less stuffy, less formal than DC. That included the use of catchphrases such as, “Excelsior!” Many fans felt they were on a first-name basis with Stan.

Stan Lee Becomes a Star

By the mid-1960s, Marvel was on a roll. The Marvel characters, especially Spider-Man, began to draw attention from a wider audience.

Stan Lee was now Marvel’s real-life star, giving interviews and making appearances.

Stan Lee on a 1971 episode of To Tell The Truth

Some of Lee’s collaborators didn’t like it. Wally Wood, who had revamped Daredevil, including a new design for his costume, left in 1965. Ditko, who demanded and received credit for his plotting, followed in 1966. Both eventually returned but didn’t work with Lee directly.

The biggest departure was Kirby. He exited Marvel after drawing (and probably doing most of the plotting for) 102 issues of Fantastic Four as well as many issues of Thor and Captain America.

Kirby, too, would come back to Marvel for a few years in the 1970s, but mostly wrote and drew his own comics. One exception was a 1978 Silver Surfer graphic novel that reunited the Lee-Kirby team.

Eventually, Lee became an executive, handing over the editing chores at Marvel to Roy Thomas, his one-time assistant.

A New Generation

A new generation of writers and artists carried on with the comics. One of them, writer Gerry Conway (b. 1952), had taken over writing Spider-Man in the early 1970s. He penned the story where Peter Parker’s long-time girlfriend Gwen Stacy was killed off.

Gwen Stacy “was  basically Stan fulfilling Stan’s own fantasy,” Conway told author Sean Howe in the 2012 book Marvel Comics: The Untold Story. “I think Gwen was simply Stan replicating his wife.” (Joan Lee died in 2017 after almost 60 years of marriage to Stan Lee.)

The story was one of the most controversial Marvel had published up to that time. Conway’s basic plot was used in the 2014 movie The Amazing Spider-Man 2. 

Meanwhile, Lee’s duties included trying to strike deals for TV and movie adaptions of Marvel characters.

Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1965

For years, that produced a mixed bag. The most successful was a Hulk TV series produced by Universal and telecast by CBS starring Bill Bixby. One episode even had a cameo by Jack Kirby as a police artist.

Eventually, Lee had his own departure from Marvel. Still, Lee had a deal where, once Marvel characters finally reached movie screens, he’d make cameo appearances in the films. That was reinforced in 2008 when Marvel began producing its own films beginning with Iron Man.

Such film cameos mimicked Stan appearances in Marvel comics stories years earlier.

Mixed Legacy

Stan Lee has a mixed legacy. Fans of Kirby, Ditko and Wood feel those collaborators did the heavy lifting at Marvel.

In 2014, the Kirby family reached a legal settlement with Walt Disney Co, which had acquired Marvel. Since then, Kirby has received more prominent credits in Marvel Studios movies released by Disney.

Toward the end of his life, and after Joan Lee’s death, there were controversies involving Stan Lee’s personal life.

The Daily Beast published a March 10, 2018 story depicting Lee being victimized by various hangers on. It was titled, Picked Apart by Vultures’: The Last Days of Stan Lee. The Hollywood Reporter published an April 10, 2018 story with a similar theme. That article, titled Stan Lee Needs a Hero, also included details about allegations concerning Stan and Joan Lee being assaulted by their grown daughter, J.C.

On April 12, Lee denied hew as a victim of elder abuse in a video shared with TMZ. Lee granted an interview to The New York Times for an April 13, 2018 story. ““I’m the luckiest guy in the world,” he told the newspaper. “Nobody has more freedom.”

However, the article included some troubling details. For example, it described how a number of paintings were no longer at his home. When Joan Lee was alive “she had so many paintings, all over,” Stan Lee told The Times. “Most of them have left now. My daughter took a lot of them, and a lot of them have gone elsewhere.” It wasn’t clear what “gone elsewhere” meant.

For fans of the 1960s Marvel comics, such articles were a difficult and painful read. That also applied to long-time comics professionals. Artist Neal Adams penned an “open letter” about Stan’s situation.

The situation stabilized. In October 2018, Lee gave an interview to The Daily Beast. He denied he had been abused by his daughter, who was present for the interview.

“There really isn’t that much drama,” the comic book legend told the website. “As far as I’m concerned, we have a wonderful life. I’m pretty damn lucky. I love my daughter, I’m hoping that she loves me, and I couldn’t ask for a better life. If only my wife was still with us. I don’t know what this is all about.”

Stan Lee, ever the showman.

Excelsior

How will Stan Lee be remembered?

In 2007, Jonathan Ross reported and hosted a documentary about Steve Ditko that included a Stan Lee interview. He presented his own appraisal about Stan Lee.

“Now, it would be easy to make Stan Lee out to make the villain of the piece but I can’t bring myself to do that, not least because it would be unfair,” Ross said.

“He co-created all of these characters,” Ross added. “He wrote some of the greatest Marvel comic books of all time. And the fact he takes the credit for doing so is absolutely right. I just wish he’d share it out with the guys he worked with a little more.”

Nevertheless, Lee was the face of Marvel for decades. From modest beginnings, to a movie juggernaut, Stan Lee was a huge presence in popular culture.

“Stan is right up there with Walt Disney as one of the great creators of not just one character, but a whole galaxy of characters that have become part of our lives,” George R.R. Martin, author of Game of Thrones, told The New York Times in its April 13, 2018 story.

“Right now, I think he’s probably bigger than Disney.”

Martin had a personal connection to the Stan Lee days at Marvel. He had a letter published in Fantastic Four No. 20 in 1963.

Excelsior, Stan.

Kirby and Wood draw a historian’s attention

Jack Kirby self portrait, circa 1970

Long-time comics artists Jack Kirby (1917-1994) and Wallace Wood (1927-1981) have received some attention from an unlikely source — the Twitter account of a prominent historian.

Michael Beschloss, who specializes in U.S. presidential history, put out a tweet on Sunday that referenced a work by Kirby and Wood without mentioning their names.

“Comic strip called ‘Sky Masters of the Space Force’ was launched 60 years ago next month,” Beschloss wrote on Twitter. The post included some Sky Masters artwork by Kirby and Wood.

Beschloss most likely wrote the tweet because the Trump administration has proposed the creation of a new branch of the U.S. military to be called Space Force.

The Sky Masters strip ran from 1958 to 1961. Kirby penciled, with Wallace Wood inking. The scripts were written by Dave Wood, no relation to Wallace Wood.

Kirby was also doing work at Marvel Comics. In 1961, he co-created the Fantastic Four with Stan Lee and Ant-Man with Lee and Larry Lieber. Other Kirby co-created characters soon followed, including Hulk, Thor, X-Men and the Black Panther.

Wallace Wood also worked at Marvel for a time. He took over art on Daredevil with issue No. 5. For the cover of No. 5, Kirby penciled with Wood inking. On the inside art, Wood both penciled and inked.

Wood soon redesigned DD’s costume. With Fantstic Four No. 39. Daredevil was the guest star. But Kirby was unaware about the new DD costume. Wood redrew the Daredevil figures (without credit) for the issue.

Here’s the Twitter post by Michael Beschloss.

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