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.

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.

Happy 94th birthday, Stan Lee

Stan Lee's cameo in Captain America: Civil War

Stan Lee’s cameo in Captain America: Civil War

Stan Lee turns 94 today.

Over the past few years, Stan’s legacy at Marvel Comics has been re-examined in books such as Sean Howe’s Marvel Comics: The Untold Story and a detailed article in New York magazine early this year. This blog even did a modest post on the subject a year ago.

Today’s post is merely intended to wish “Stan the Man” (one of his many nicknames when he was Marvel’s editor-in-chief) a happy birthday.

Marvel was a lot more than Stan Lee. But he is one of the few survivors of the 1960s when the stories were done that laid the foundation for the Marvel Comics film universe.

That doesn’t mean Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko (another survivor), Wally Wood and others weren’t important. Their contributions were enormous (their plotting in addition to their art) and they should be better known than they are.

Still, for many fans, Stan remains endearing. He still shows up in cameos in Marvel films. Comingsoon.net said in September said Lee has filmed additional cameos in advance.

So, once more, excelsior, Stan Lee.

A few thoughts about Spider-Man 3.0’s trailer

Steve Ditko's cover to Amazing Spider-Man 33

Steve Ditko’s cover to Amazing Spider-Man 33

The official title is Spider-Man: Homecoming but a more accurate moniker might be Spider-Man 3.0.

The 2017 movie will be the sixth film, and third different version, of the Stan Lee-Steve Ditko character since 2002. It’s also the first Spider-Man movie produced by Marvel Studios, though it will be released by Sony Pictures, which made the five previous Spidey movies.

The latest actor to play Spider-Man, Tom Holland, 20, was introduced in Captain America: Civil War in May. Once again, Peter Parker is in high school. This time, his Aunt May (originally drawn by Ditko as elderly) is younger in the person of Marisa Tomei, 52.

The first trailer for Spider-Man homecoming was unveiled on Jimmy Kimmel’s late night talk show on ABC Dec. 8.  What follows are a few reactions:

Hedging your bets: The Marvel-Sony combo isn’t taking any chances, making sure to include an appearance by Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark.

In Captain America: Civil War, Peter Parker was already active as Spider-Man. Stark provided him an upgrade in his uniform and equipment. This, of course, is a major deviation from the original 1960s comic books but fit the plot of Civil War.

Downey is in the new trailer. Presumably, the actor will only have a cameo appearance. After all, the movie is supposed to highlight Spider-Man, not Iron Man.

What happened to Aunt May?: Tomei appears only fleetingly in the first trailer. The guess here is she’ll show up more in later trailers. One of the more amusing bits of Civil War was Downey’s Stark commenting how surprised he was by Aunt May being so hot.

Michael Keaton’s villain: Keaton, now 65, played Batman in Warner Bros. films released in 1989 and 1992. Here, he plays the Vulture, one of the earliest Spidey villains. The character was introduced in Amazing Spider-Man No. 2, published in 1963. The Vulture hasn’t yet made an appearance in the Spider-Man movies.

One tidbit not in the trailer: Spider-Man: Homecoming’s IMDB.COM ENTRY lists six writers. That can be an indicator of scripting turmoil. It remains to be seen how many actually get a credit once the Writer’s Guild of America is consulted. WGA have a bearing on the final credit.

Anyway, here’s the trailer if you haven’t seen it.

UPDATE (10:05 p.m. ET): Here’s the international trailer. While shorter, it has more Tony Stark footage, including an interesting shot toward the end.

Dr. Strange conjures an $85M opening weekend

Dr. Strange poster

Dr. Strange poster

Marvel’s Dr. Strange movie conjured up an $85 million estimated opening weekend in the U.S. and Canada as the studio successfully introduced another one of its characters to the screen, according to a Twitter post by Exhibitor Relations, which tracks movie box office figures.

That was better than initial projection for the film with Benedict Cumberbatch as the title character to open up at $55 million to $75 million.

Since then, there was a surge of positive reviews. Dr. Strange has a 90 percent “fresh” rating at the Rotten Tomatoes website. Dr. Strange was the 14th Marvel film to open at No. 1, according to Exhibitor Relations.

The U.S. opening was another example of how Marvel has reached deep into its roster of characters and translate them to the screen. The Walt Disney Co.-owned studio previously adapted The Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man, both relatively unknown to the general public, into financially successful films.

Meanwhile, Dr. Strange also is doing well in international markets. The movie has generated international ticket sales of $240.4 million, according to Box Office Mojo. Its worldwide total is $325.4 million, according to the website, which compiles box office information.

Dr. Strange was created in 1963 by artist Steve Ditko. The Sorcerer Supreme’s first appearance was a five-page story by Ditko and Stan Lee in Strange Tales No. 110.

Here’s the tweet by Exhibitor Relations.

 

Dr. Strange: Marvel conquers the mystic realm

Dr. Strange poster

Dr. Strange poster

Last month, this blog ran a post saying the Dr. Strange move was a test whether Marvel’s movie juggernaut would continue.

The studio’s answer, essentially, was, “C’MON, MAN!”

That’s because the movie starring Benedict Cumberbatch successfully translates one of Marvel’s quirkiest characters to the screen while still retaining the studio’s basic style, which includes a health amount of humor (without going overboard).

Put another way, Dr. Strange is a movie you can enjoy without every having read a Dr. Strange comic book story or, for that matter, having watched another Marvel-produced film.

The Scott Derrickson-directed film uses the eight-page Stan Lee-Steve Ditko Dr. Strange origin comic story (the sorcerer’s third appearance in Strange Tales) as a springboard for a much larger epic.

Dr. Strange also is an example of how computer effects are integral to the movie. Realizing the mystic realms devised by Ditko (the artist created the character) would be impossible without them. At the same time, the Dr. Strange movie tells an actual story, complete with an arc for its lead character.

James Bond film fans should take note. The lead villain is played by Mads Mikkelsen (Le Chiffre in 2006’s Casino Royale). Another sorcerer, Mordo, is portrayed by Chiwetel Ejiofor, who was in the conversation to play Blofeld in SPECTRE before Christoph Waltz was cast. Readers of the original Dr. Strange comic book will recognize the significance of the Mordo character name.

This being a Marvel film, Dr. Strange makes a (brief) connection to the rest of the Marvel movie universe. There are two brief scenes in the end titles. If you’re one-and-done with Dr. Strange, you can pass them by. If you’re a Marvel film fan, you’ll want to see them.

By now, Marvel has shown it can adapt virtually any of its characters successfully to the screen. The ride continues. GRADE: B-Plus.

Happy 89th birthday, Steve Ditko

Dr. Strange as drawn by Steve Ditko

Dr. Strange as drawn by Steve Ditko

Nov. 2 is the 89th birthday of artist Steve Ditko, one of the “founding fathers” of the Marvel Comics universe. His co-creation, Spider-Man, is the leading  character in that universe.

He’s more than that, of course. Ditko produced stories for other publishers and created other characters.

His birthday this year takes place the same week that the Dr. Strange movie, based on the Ditko-created character, comes out in the United States.

Ditko doesn’t do interviews. There are very few photographs of him. He’s the opposite of the outgoing Stan Lee, who makes a cameo in all movies based on Marvel characters.

To his many fans, however, Ditko is unique. The Dr. Strange movie wouldn’t have been possible without his unique vision. So, happy birthday Mr. D.