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.

Eon’s new normal: Update

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

This isn’t your father’s James Bond film franchise.

Hire a new director? Great! Except, Cary Fukunaga has to deal with a new television project at more or less the same time.

Got your leading man back on board? Great! Except he began filming a movie just a month (or so) before the latest Bond movie originally was to start filming. Thankfully (from the actor’s standpoint, anyway) the Bond film got delayed until March.

Your latest James Bond film project moving ahead? Great! Except we have to get our latest non-007 project (The Rhythm Section) out of the way first.

When Eon Productions started operations, the idea was to make 007 films every year with other project in between. That lasted as far as 1963 (Dr. No, Call Me, Bwana, From Russia With Love).

Eon co-founder Harry Saltzman went off and did non-007 films (the Harry Palmer series, Battle of Britain) on his own. Albert R. Broccoli, the other co-founder, did one more non-007 project (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang) while devoting the rest of his life to the Bond film series.

Saltzman, of course, is long gone, having sold his interest in the mid 1970s. Broccoli, before he died in 1996, yielded control to his daughter (Barbara Broccoli) and stepson (Michael G. Wilson).

Now, the main figures of the Bond series juggle 007 among their various projects. Fukunaga, hired in September to direct Bond 25, is only the latest. Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson have been doing it for years. Writer John Logan juggled various enterprises in 2013 and 2014 before delivering a first draft for SPECTRE.

One reader of the blog pointed out on Twitter that Marvel Studios directors Joe and Anthony Russo are cutting deals for future projects even while the untitled Avengers 4 is in post-production.

That’s true enough. Still, by 2019, the Russos will have directed four movies (Captain America: Winter Soldier, Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers 4) in five years for Marvel. During that same period, there will have been just one James Bond film (SPECTRE).

In the 21st century, the 007 film series is like Paul Masson wine. No wine (or film) before its time.

Marvel’s Feige praises Cubby Broccoli while accepting award

Kevin Feige, the boss of Marvel Studios, had some praise for Albert R. Broccoli, co-founder of Eon Productions, while accepting an award on named after him.

Feige received the Albert R. Broccoli Britannia Award for Worldwide Contribution to Entertainment at the 2018 British Academy Britannia Awards on Oct. 26, Feige has headed Marvel Studios the past 10 years, beginning with 2008’s Iron Man.

“The gold standard is what he and Eon Productions have done with James Bond, a character who is as popular today as he was nearly 60 years ago, when Dr. No first came out,” Feige said. “That’s incredible and we’ve got a half century more to see if we’re (Marvel Studios) anwhere near capable of filling those shoes.”

You can see the entire acceptance speech below.

Marvel’s Feige to get BAFTA’s Albert R. Broccoli award

Kevin Feige of Marvel Studios

Kevin Feige, head of Marvel Studios, will receive the Albert R. Broccoli Britannia Award for Worldwide Contribution to Entertainment at the 2018 British Academy Britannia Awards, the Los Angeles arm of BAFTA announced.

Under Feige, Marvel has produced 20 films the past decade, including three this year. Two of them, Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War, each generated global box office in excess of $1 billion. The Avengers movie surpassed $2 billion.

According to BAFTA, Broccoli award winners “are that rare type of iconic and trail-blazing individuals whose innovative approach has had a profound, lasting impact on the global industry.”

Broccoli, co-founder of Eon Productions, began the James Bond film series. He was associated with the first 17 007 films. Feige is scheduled to receive the award Oct. 26.

Avengers: Infinity War sets U.S. box office record

Avengers: Infinity War poster

UPDATE (April 30): Avengers: Infinity War did better than-expected business on Sunday. Its final weekend figure was $258.2 million, according to Box Office Mojo.

ORIGINAL POST (April 29): Superhero fatigue? Not yet.

Avengers: Infinity War is generating an estimated opening domestic weekend of $250 million, Exhibitor Relations, which tracks box office data, said on Twitter.

That broke the record of almost $248 million for Star Wars: The Force Awakens in 2015.

Meanwhile, Avengers: Infinity War’s estimated global weekend is $630 million, according to the Box Office Mojo website.

The previous highest domestic opening weekend for a Marvel Studios film was $207.4 million for Marvel’s The Avengers in 2012.

Infinity War is the first of two movies intended as concluding story lines that began with 2008’s Iron Man. The next film, currently known as Avengers 4, is scheduled for May 2019.

Avengers: Infinity War features not only Avengers-related characters but also Spider-Man, Dr. Strange, Black Panther and the Guardians of the Galaxy. The movie’s villain, Thanos, has been teased for years in Marvel films but this is his first time as the primary antagonist.

Marvel already had a huge 2018. The Walt Disney Co.-owned studio in February came out with Black Panther, which generated global box office of $1.3 billion. Marvel has another film, Ant-Man and the Wasp, coming out this year.

Footnote: Kings, a drama with Daniel Craig and Halle Berry, had an opening U.S. weekend of $173,000, Exhibitor Relations said in a separate tweet.

Here are Avengers tweets from Exhibitor Relations.

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Avengers: Nothing exceeds like excess

Avengers: Infinity War poster

Avengers: Infinity War is too much of a good thing, even if you’re a fan of Marvel Studios films.

There are more fights, more action…more everything. (To quote a James Bond trailer from the 1960s.)

Well, not quite more everything. Not enough drama. What humor is present mostly works. But it gets overwhelmed by the action set pieces.

Avengers: Infinity War is the beginning of the end (or so we’ve been led to believe) for the first decade of the studio’s inter-connected movies.

The movie brings together not only the Avengers-related characters but also the Guardians of the Galaxy and Dr. Strange. They’re up against Thanos, a villain who wants to commit genocide on a cosmic scale.

The character has been teased for years but here he’s the main attraction. As a result, the movie changes scenes not only between Earth locales but ones in deep space.

Spoiler follows. 

Initially, this movie was announced the title was going to be Avengers: Infinity War Part I, with a 2019 film titled Avengers: Infinity War Part II. They would be filmed back to back.

Somewhere along the way we were told the  movies really would be different. So next year’s installment is simply known as Avengers 4 for the moment.

However, it would have been absolutely appropriate if Avengers: Infinity War ended with, “TO BE CONTINUED,” not unlike the original serialized Marvel Comics stories. But in the 1960s, you only had to wait a month to see how things turned out. Here, the audience will have to bide its time for a year.

That said, Avengers: Infinity War isn’t a lost cause. The likes of Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man and Chris Evans as Steve Rogers/Captain America and many other cast members are pros. But the movie is more exhausting than thrilling. GRADE: C.

Critics weigh in on Avengers: Infinity War

Avengers: Infinity War poster

Marvel Studios, with one $1 billion-plus hit this year already (Black Panther), is looking for another one with Avengers: Infinity War.

The third Avengers film is intended as the beginning of the end of what we’ve come to know in the film franchise that began in May 2008. Following the movie’s premiere this week, reviews are coming off embargo. So here’s a non-spoiler sampling.

ALONSO DURALDE, THE WRAP: “If you’re a viewer who binges TV dramas because you can’t wait a week to find out what happens, the implied ‘to be continued’ at the end of ‘Infinity War’ may drive you batty. But if you’ve been solidly along for the Marvel ride up to this point, you’ll enjoy this leg of the journey even if it hasn’t yet reached the terminal.”

OWEN GLEIBERMAN, VARIETY: “So is the movie a jumbled, top-heavy mess of cynical franchise overkill? Sort of like the bloated and chaotic ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ taken to the second power? Far from it. It’s a sleekly witty action opera that’s at once overstuffed and bedazzling. The directors, Anthony and Joe Russo, as they proved in the two ‘Captain America’ sequels, are far more stylish and exacting filmmakers than Joss Whedon, who made the first two ‘Avengers’ films.”

ADAM GRAHAM, THE DETROIT NEWS: “‘Infinity War’ quickly turns unruly. It’s like if ‘We Are the World’ had to squeeze in three more verses to give Prince, Van Halen, Duran Duran, Phil Collins, Elton John and Madonna time to shine.”

A.O. SCOTT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: “‘Infinity War’ is a chunk of matter in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a vast entity that long ago expanded beyond the usual boundaries of sequelization and brand extension.”

MARK HUGHES, FORBES.COM: “Avengers: Infinity War is the most ambitious, most audacious, most mindblowing superhero film ever produced. It is visually sumptuous, spectacularly entertaining, emotionally shocking and resonant. It is the perfect fulfillment of a promise Marvel made 10 years ago, and everything fans are hoping it could be.”