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.

Steve Ditko, co-creator of Spider-Man, dies at 90

Steve Ditko’s cover to Amazing Spider-Man 33

Steve Ditko, co-creator of Spider-Man and a key member of the Marvel Comics “bullpen” of the 1960s, has died at 90, TMZ reported.

Ditko was found dead in his New York apartment on June 29, TMZ said. The website said the chief medical examiner listed the cause of death as “arteriosclerotic and hypertensive cardiovascular disease — basically, a heart attack brought on by clogged arteries.”

The Hollywood Reporter, in a separate obituary, said Ditko may have died two days earlier.

Ditko co-created Spider-Man with writer-editor Stan Lee. He took over the assignment after artist Jack Kirby had taken on the project. Ditko drew, and later took plotting credit for, the earliest Spider-Man stories, lasting from 1962 into 1966.

The character has been the subject of six movies from 2002 to 2017, with another set for 2019. He also appeared in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War and this year’s Avengers: Infinity War.

Nerdy Hero

Spider-Man’s true identity was nerdy teenager Peter Parker. While other heroes were admired, Spider-Man was feared, thanks to publisher J. Jonah Jameson. Parker had to worry about making ends meet for himself and his aunt May.

Things happened to Ditko’s Spider-Man that other heroes didn’t experience.  In Amazing Spider-Man No. 25 (the first to carry a Ditko plot credit) Spidey was forced to ditch his primary costume. But Aunt May also found his spare costume.

Peter came up with an explanation but May kept the costume. In the next issue, Peter buys a costume but it gets stretched out. He’s forced to use his webbing to keep it in place.

Memorable Sequence

One of Ditko’s most-remembered Spider-Man sequences Amazing Spider-Man No. 33. the climatic installment of a three-issue story arc. Spidey is underneath “tons of fallen steel” while a serum Aunt May needs “laying just out of reach.”

The artist used the first five pages to depict Peter working up the strength to lift the steel. The final page was a full-page panel where Spider-Man finally throws off the steel.

In later interviews, Stan Lee acknowledged the idea was Dikto’s. Lee likened his scripting to doing a crossword puzzle to come up with the right dialogue and captions for the moment.  The sequence was adapted in 2017’s Spider-Man: Homecoming.

Dr. Strange as drawn by Steve Ditko

Ditko also created Dr. Strange, who had his own Marvel film in 2016 and who also appeared in Avengers: Infinity War. The artist also also helped to revamp the Hulk when that character (created by Lee and Jack Kirby) got revived in the mid-1960s (in Tales to Astonish) after an initial comic title of his own was canceled after six issues.

In the 1960s, Ditko’s politics were far different, and much more conservative, than his many college-age fans. The artist was an admirer of author Ayn Rand, and that influenced much of his post-Marvel comic book work with characters such as Mr. A.

‘J.D. Salinger of Comic Books’

Ditko was known for being a recluse. Writer J.M. DeMatteis once called him ” the J.D. Salinger of comic books.”

In 2007, British television show host Jonathan Ross reported a documentary about the artist. The program went into detail about how much Ditko extensive contributions to the early Spider-Man and Dr. Strange stories.

The show’s climax was Ross finally getting in to see Ditko (with the assistance of writer Neil Gaiman), but that moment took place off-camera. “It was quite magical, actually,” Gaiman says on the documentary. “It was really, really cool.”

Ditko abruptly quit Marvel after clashes with Lee. He’d eventually return but it wasn’t the same as his 1960s stint.

As news of Ditko’s death spread, there were tributes by comics professionals influenced by the artist’s creativity.

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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).

Happy 88th birthday, Steve Ditko

Steve Ditko's cover to Amazing Spider-Man 33

Steve Ditko’s cover to Amazing Spider-Man 33

Today, Nov. 2, is the 88th birthday of artist Steve Ditko. In an era when Marvel Comics characters are big business at the movie, Ditko was one of the people who made that possible.

Ditko co-created Spider-Man, already the subject of five movies from 2002 to 2014 and about to become part of the movie “universe” of Marvel Studios.

He also created Dr. Strange, another Marvel character that’s about to get the big-screen treatment. Ditko also helped to revamp the Hulk when that character got revived in the mid-1960s (in Tales to Astonish) after an initial comic title of his own was canceled after six issues.

In the 1960s, Ditko’s politics were far different, and much more conservative, than his many college-age fans. The artist is an admirer of author Ayn Rand, and that influenced much of his post-Marvel comic book work.

Ditko keeps to himself. In the 2000s, British television show host Jonathan Ross did a documentary about the artist. The program went into detail about how much Ditko contributed to the plots of those early Spider-Man and Dr. Strange stories. In short, it was a lot.

The show’s climax was Ross finally getting in to see Ditko (with the assistance of writer Neil Gaiman), but that moment took place off-camera. Somehow, it seemed appropriate.

Regardless, Ditko was, and is, an original. Here’s wishing Mr. Ditko a happy birthday.

Amy Pascal’s soft landing

Steve Ditko's cover to Amazing Spider-Man 33

Steve Ditko’s cover to Amazing Spider-Man 33

Last week, Sony Pictures announced Amy Pascal was stepping down as a studio executive but would get a producing deal. It didn’t take long for her next project to surface: helping produce a new Spider-Man movie as part of a JOINT MARVEL/DISNEY-SONY PROJECT.

Here’s an excerpt from the press on Marvel’s website released issued late Feb. 9:

(Culver City, California, and Burbank, California February 09, 2015) – Sony Pictures Entertainment and Marvel Studios announced today that Sony is bringing Marvel into the amazing world of Spider-Man.

Under the deal, the new Spider-Man will first appear in a Marvel film from Marvel’s Cinematic Universe (MCU). Sony Pictures will thereafter release the next installment of its $4 billion Spider-Man franchise, on July 28, 2017, in a film that will be co-produced by Kevin Feige and his expert team at Marvel and Amy Pascal, who oversaw the franchise launch for the studio 13 years ago. Together, they will collaborate on a new creative direction for the web slinger. Sony Pictures will continue to finance, distribute, own and have final creative control of the Spider-Man films.

Marvel and Sony Pictures are also exploring opportunities to integrate characters from the MCU into future Spider-Man films.

Pascal drew criticism after hacking of Sony documents revealed how she criticized actors and made racially insensitive remarks about U.S. President Barack Obama. The hacks also included business dealings, including how Sony and Marvel were negotiating about jointly making future Spider-Man movies.

The hacks also included a draft of the script for SPECTRE, the James Bond movie currently in production, and how it stands to be one of the most expensive movies of all time. One email also showed that Pascal preferred Idris Elba as the next James Bond after Daniel Craig.

UPDATE: Meanwhile, according to A STORY IN VARIETY, Marvel’s Kevin Feige may end up doing most of the heavy lifting in this partnership. The story has more details how the deal came together.

RE-POST: What was happening in 1962?

Almost a year ago, we posted about some of the events that transpired in 1962, when Ian Fleming’s gentleman spy, James Bond, made his film debut. In honor of New Year’s Day of 2012, the start of the cinematic 007’s golden anniversary year, we’re re-posting that information, about events large and small.

Jan. 15: NBC airs “La Strega” episode of Thriller, starring Ursula Andress, female lead of Dr. No, which will be the first James Bond film.

Jan 16: Production begins on Dr. No, modestly budgeted at about $1 million. Fees include $40,000 for director Terence Young and $80,000 each for producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, not counting their share of profits. (Figures from resarch by film historian Adrian Turner). Star Sean Connery tells Playboy magazine in 1965 that he was paid $16,800 for Dr. No.

Inside Dr. No, a documentary made by John Cork for a DVD release of the movie, says about 10 percent of the film’s budget went to the Ken Adam-designed reactor room set, where the climatic fight between Bond and Dr. No takes place. (Date of production start from research by Craig Henderson’s For Your Eyes Only Web site.

Jan. 17: Jim Carrey is born.

Feb 3: U.S. begins embargo against Cuba.

Feb. 20: John Glenn becomes first U.S. astronaut to orbit the Earth.

March 2: Wilt Chamberlain scores 100 points as his Philadelphia Warriors team defeats the New York Knicks 169-147 in a game played in Hershey, Pennsylvania. Chamberlain achieves the feat by scoring 36 baskets and, perhaps most amazingly, by hitting 28 of 32 free-throw attempts. (Chamberlain was a notoriously bad free-throw shooter.) The player averaged 50.4 points per game in the 1961-62 season.

April 16: The Spy Who Loved Me, Ian Fleming’s latest 007 novel, is published. The novel takes a radical departure from previous Bond novels. The story is told in the first person by a female character, Vivienne Michel, with Bond not appearing until two-thirds of the way through the story. Fleming, in his dealings with Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, specifies only the title is to be used for any movie. Broccoli (after Saltzman departs the film series) does just that in the 10th film of the 007 series, which comes out in July 1977.

May (publication date, actual likely earlier): The Incredible Hulk, created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, debuts in the first issue of his own comic book.

June 1: Nazi Adolph Eichmann executed in Israel.

July 3: Future Mission: Impossible movie star Tom Cruise is born.

July 12: Rolling Stones debut in London.

August (publication date actual date probably earlier): Amazing Fantasy No. 15 published, debut of Spider-Man by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, with cover art by Jack Kirby and Ditko.

Aug. 5: Actress Marilyn Monroe dies.

Aug. 6: Michelle Yeoh, who will play Chinese secret agent Wai Lin in the 1997 Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies, is born.

Aug. 16: Future Get Smart movie star Steve Carell is born.

Aug. 16: Ringo Starr joins the Beatles.

Sept. 26: The Beverly Hillbillies debuts on CBS. In a later season, Jethro sees Goldfinger in a movie theater and decides that being a “Double-Naught” spy is his life’s calling.

Oct. 1: Federal marshals escort James Meredith, first African American student at the University of Missippi, as he registers at the school.

Oct. 1: Johnny Carson, a few weeks short of his 37th birthday, hosts his first installment of The Tonight Show. He will remain as host until May 1992. At one point during Carson’s run on the show, he and Sean Connery reference how Carson’s debut on Tonight and Connery’s debut as Bond occurred at around the same time.

Oct. 5: Dr. No has its world premier in London. The film won’t be shown in the U.S. until the following year. The movie will be re-released in 1965 (as part of a double feature with From Russia With Love) and in 1966 (as part of a double feature with Goldfinger).

Oct. 14: A U.S. U-2 spy plane discovers missile sites in Cuba, beginning the Cuban Missile Crisis. The crisis will bring the U.S. and Soviet Union to the brink of World War III.

Oct. 22: President John F. Kennedy makes a televised address, publicly revealing the presence of Soviet missiles in Cuba.

Oct. 28: Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev announces the U.S.S.R. is removing its missiles from Cuba. (for a more detailed timeline of these events, CLICK HERE.)

Oct. 29: Ian Fleming begins three days of meetings with television producer Norman Felton concerning a show that will eventually be known as The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (source: Craig Henderson) Fleming’s main contribution of the meetings is that the hero should be named Napoleon Solo.

Nov. 7: Richard Nixon loses race for governor of California, tells reporters “you won’t have Dick Nixon to kick around anymore.” He’ll be back.

Freddie Young and David Lean


Dec. 10: The David Lean-directed Lawrence of Arabia has its world premiere in London. The film’s crew include director of photography Freddie Young and camera operator Ernest Day, who will work on future James Bond movies. Young will photograph 1967’s You Only Live Twice. Day would be second unit director (with John Glen) on The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker.

For a more comprehensive list of significant 1962 events, CLICK HERE.

One list of top 15 anticipated 2012 films excludes Skyfall

The Wrap, one of the big U.S. entertainment news Web sites, excluded Skyfall from its list of the top 15 most-anticipated films of 2012.

What made the list? Here’s part of it:

–Three major superhero movies (two based on Marvel Comics characters including THIS ONE, while the other features one of DC Comics big hitters).

–Two films featuring Abraham Lincoln as a character (including one where Honest Abe hunts vampires.

–Yet another remake of The Great Gatsby (a 1949 version was produced and co-scripted by 007 film scribe Richard Maibaum).

–A film remake of a gothic horror television soap opera.)