How to change continuity and play fair with audiences

A 1960s Captain America story explaining how the Red Skull was still alive.

A 1960s Captain America story explaining how the Red Skull was still alive.

As readers of this blog know, the Spy Commander has written about how Quantum of Solace, in terms of continuity doesn’t match up with Casino Royale.

Essentially, we’ve argued that Quantum of Solace didn’t bother to be consistent with Casino Royale.

Eon Productions co-boss Michael G. Wilson said during production that Quantum took place “literally an hour” after Casino but in that time it appears M (Judi Dench) has gotten a new office and agent Mathis has gone from being “sweated” to having a villa with a live-in girlfriend. Also, Casino took place in 2006 while Quantum took place in 2008.

Unless Q found a way to tamper with the space-time continuum…on wait, there was no Q in either movie!

Readers who dispute this say the two movies could have taken place two years apart. Except, cell phones act as a GPS device. So, at the end of Casino, it wouldn’t have taken Bond (Daniel Craig) very long to track down Mr. White.

The script for Casino certainly didn’t suggest that. As written, it makes it sound as if Bond dealing with Vesper’s death took place only a short while before he caught up with Mr. White.

203 UNDERWATER

The laptop shorts out and the last image of Bond and Vesper disappears. It lands on the bottom of the rock bay.

204 ON BOARD THE YACHT

Bond watches it disappear. He looks down at the few personal items of Vesper’s that remain and wonders if he has the strength to throw them in as well.

Then he picks up her cell phone, hits a button, checks the address book…and understands why she left the phone, and is overcome with emotion.

205 EXT MEDIVAL VILLA — day

Through the stand of cypress trees we spy a car pull up into the courtyard of a villa. A man steps out with a briefcase, Mr. White. His cell phone rings, he answers it.

When Mr. White answers, he’s shot in the knee and is confronted by Bond. The script indicates the two scenes took place a short while apart.

Reader Craig Arthur offered the following:

Obviously when CR was made that scene wasn’t set two years later but we have to accepted the revised timeline once QOS was made – just as we have to now accept that le Chiffre and White were working for SPECTRE even though that wasn’t the intention back in 2006 and 2008.

Except, Quantum made no attempt to explain the change or even say there had been a change.

Meanwhile, in SPECTRE, there is an explanation that the four Daniel Craig 007 films were connected. The audience is told this by Q (Ben Whishaw) who’s had the chance to analyze a ring Bond has recovered.

That’s called playing fair with the audience. It’s similar to comic books. Popular villains appear to have been killed, so there has to be an explanation when they come back.

Here’s an example: In Tales of Suspense 79-81, in stories by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the Red Skull made his first “modern” appearance in Captain America. Until then, stories involving the villain took place in World War II.

At the end of TOS 81, it sure looks like the Skull is gone for good.

Except….It’s hard to keep a good villain down. In Tales of Suspense 88-91, the Red Skull returned. In issue 89 (by Lee and Gil Kane) there’s an explanation on page 2 of the story how the villain survived after all.

In other words, Stan Lee & Co. played fair with the audience. Quantum, on the other hand, totally disregarded the film that preceded it.

Normally, Bond films don’t rely on continuity much. But Eon hyped the movie as the first “direct sequel” in the Bond film series. To make that boast, you’re asking for more scrutiny than usual.

Quantum doesn’t hold up to such scrutiny. Director Marc Forster and others on the Eon team would have been better off if they had studied some comics if they wanted to play the continuity game.

Stan Lee at 93: a complicated legacy

Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1965

Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1965, during happier days.

Stanley Martin Lieber, aka Stan Lee, turns 93 today. People who’ve never read a comic book have heard of him. Lee co-created the Marvel Universe of comic book characters, starting in 1961 with the Fantastic Four.

He is famous because of that and also through his own commercial sense and self promotion.

Stan (it’s hard not to call him that for anyone whoever read Marvel titles in the 1960s and ’70s) broke out from writing and editing comic books long ago. His IMDB.COM ENTRY lists 91 acting credits (though most are cameos or consist of voice over work) and 156 “self” appearances.

Stan had a way of making readers feel they were part of a club that “got it.” Marvel was less stuffy, less formal than arch rival DC.

One example is an Iron Man story in Tales of Suspense No. 84 in 1966. Tony Stark has suffered a heart attack just as began testifying about the Iron Man armor.

Outside Stark’s hospital room, reporters are present when Happy Hogan and Pepper Potts (yet another example of Stan’s alliterate character names) show up. “It’s Miss Potts, Stark’s private secretary!” says one. “And Happy Hogan, his right-hand man and trusted confidant!” says another.

The later quote has an asterisk that refers the reader to a caption. “We know people don’t really talk this way…but we wanna bring any newcomer up to date! —Smiley.” Smiley, of course, is one of Stan’s nicknames.

By the mid-1960s, general awareness of Marvel was taking off. Stan Lee was the face of the Marvel.

The problem was, Marvel was a lot more than Stan Lee. Artists Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and Wally Wood, among others, largely plotted the stories.

Kirby, in a Fantastic Four story, created the Silver Surfer on his own. Ditko created Dr. Strange on his own and actually began receiving the plotting credit for Amazing Spider-Man starting with issue No. 26. Wood felt he did as much writing on Daredevil, if not more, than Lee did. (Wood was credited with writing one issue shortly before exiting the title.)

All three left Marvel by 1970. Fans of the artists make the case none of them, and others, got the due they should have received.

In a visual medium, it was Kirby who brought the FF, the Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, The Avengers and the X-Men to life in a two-year span. Earlier in his career, Kirby had co-created Captain America. As a result, Kirby laid the groundwork for much of the Marvel movie universe.

In the past few years, there has been a re-examination of Marvel’s early days, such as Sean Howe’s 2012 book, Marvel Comics: The Untold Story.

Still, there’s no question there’s something about Stan that appeals to the public. In 2010, Lee made an appearance at a comic book gathering in Dearborn, Michigan. There was a long line of people. All had purchased tickets to receive a Lee autograph, each ticket costing at least $40. Lee, accompanied by bodyguards, began making his way to the desk where he’d write out the autographs.

“We love you, Stan!” somebody in the line yelled.

Lee, without missing a beat, replied, “I love to be loved!” It got a big laugh.

So, excelsior, Stan Lee. Below is an early 1970s installment of the syndicated To Tell the Truth show. Stan is the contestant in the second game.

S.H.I.E.L.D. at 50: bigger than it has ever been

Jack Kirby's cover for Strange Tales 135 in 1965

Jack Kirby’s cover for Strange Tales 135 in 1965

This summer is the golden anniversary of S.H.I.E.L.D., Marvel Comics’ answer to the spy craze of the 1960s.

Marvel was barely hanging on at the start of the 1960s. Starting with The Fantastic Four in 1961, the comics company began a comeback. With new characters and revamped version of old characters, Marvel had momentum in the mid-1960s.

One obvious trend was the spy craze. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby already had launched a World War II war comic, Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos. The duo decided to also bring Fury into the “present day” of the 1960s and, an issue of the FF, established Fury survived the war and now worked for the CIA.

With S.H.I.E.L.D., Lee and Kirby took the concept a step further, establishing their own spy agency, which recruited Fury to be its new leader. S.H.I.E.L.D. even relied on Tony Stark to supply it with futuristic weaponry.

From its inception, S.H.I.E.L.D. had an uneven run. Lee hired Jim Steranko on the basis of his raw talent. Steranko chose S.H.I.E.L.D., in part because the comic wasn’t a huge success.

Steranko made his mark but was gone before the end of 1968. After his departure, there were attempts at revivals but none really took hold.

All of that changed in the 21st century. Marvel decided to make its own movies, starting with 2008’s Iron Man, starring Robert Downey Jr. S.H.I.E.L.D. was there at the start and, in an epilogue after the end titles, the audience saw a new Nick Fury in the person of Samuel L. Jackson.

Eventually, the Jackson version of Fury appeared in several Marvel movies (most recently in Avengers: Age of Ultron). Marvel, after it was acquired by Walt Disney Co., expanded into television. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been renewed by ABC (another Disney property) for a third season.

S.H.I.E.L.D. now is bigger than it has ever been. Middle age is treating the Lee-Kirby creation pretty well.

The nemesis of S.H.I.E.L.D. from the start was Hydra, a villainous organization. Lee has said (as early as the mid 1970s) that S.H.I.E.L.D. was inspired by James Bond movies and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. In 2015, there’s an U.N.C.L.E. movie but no Thrush (the villainous organization featured in the original 1964-68 television series).

Yet, in both movies and television, Hydra is still going strong. Meanwhile, with 007 movies, SPECTRE has been on the inactive list because of legal disputes until this year’s 007 film SPECTRE. Life can be funny.

WSJ on M:I and U.N.C.L.E.; new Kirby-Steranko story

Logo for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie

Logo for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie

Here’s a roundup of some Other Spies developments.

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL has a story about making movies based on television series, specifically looking at Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie.

One excerpt:

Why does TV continue to inspire movie dreams?

It is partly because of the extra time and money a feature can offer filmmakers. More fundamentally, even an aged television series can provide brand-name recognition, which acts as a commercial safety net—although an unreliable one.

(snip)
For every successful adaptation, though—from “Star Trek” to “21 Jump Street”—there’s the risk of turning out “The Lone Ranger.” The 2013 film with Johnny Depp as Tonto was rejected by audiences, who were uninterested in the plot, unfamiliar with the 1950s television show and more mystified than intrigued by Mr. Depp wearing a dead-bird headdress. The film led to a nearly $200 million loss for Disney.

The story includes quotes from M:I director Christopher McQuarrie about watching the original Mission: Impossible in returns (“It was sort of iconic to me.”) and U.N.C.L.E. movie co-writer Lionel Wigram, who says Warner Bros. wasn’t “interested in a contemporary story. But we could do a ’60s spy movie that appeals to a modern audience, and is very much the zeitgeist of ‘Mad Men.’”

Nick Fury

Nick Fury

COMIC BOOK RESOURCES reports that Marvel Comics plans to run a previously unpublished Jack Kirby-Jim Steranko art in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. No. 9 coming out in August.

Here’s text from a press release in the Comic Book Resources story:

First, this August, S.H.I.E.L.D. #9 answers a question half a century in the making. A mystery that lies at the heart of the origins of S.H.I.E.L.D. – who is the “Man Called D.E.A.T.H.”?! Written by Mark Waid with art by Lee Ferguson – this special, oversized anniversary issue features a never before published S.H.I.E.L.D. sequence penciled by Jack Kirby and inked by Jim Steranko! Plus – Al Ewing brings you a second story featuring the return of Dum Dum Dugan and the birth of the new Howling Commandos! Along with the very first S.H.I.E.L.D. story from 1965 and the original sequence that inspired S.H.I.E.L.D.’s creation – this is not one to miss!

Jack Kirby and Stan Lee both co-created Nick Fury (as the start of a World War II comic book) and S.H.I.E.L.D. (where an older Fury takes command of the agency). Steranko took over S.H.I.E.L.D. in 1966, first as artist and then as writer. Steranko’s early S.H.I.E.L.D. efforts had him doing finished art over breakdowns by Kirby.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.’s comic book sensibility

"It's a memo from Stan Lee, sir."

“It’s a memo from Stan Lee, sir.”

MeTV on April 26 is scheduled to show The Foxes and Hounds Affair, a second-season episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. that’s one of the best of the series, that includes Vincent Price as a villain.

It also has a whopper of a “McGuffin” at the center of the story — a mind-reading device which, if it falls into the wrong hands, will cause all sorts of problems.

Of course, mind-reading machines didn’t exist then (1965) or now. U.N.C.L.E., during its 1964-68 run, embraced comic book-style science fiction concepts, giving its stories, on occasion, a taste of the fantastic. Here are some other examples.

Project Earthsave (The Double Affair/The Spy With My Face): The possibility that Earth might be invaded “from beyond the stars” was real enough that major nations funded something called Project Earthsave.

It’s apparently an energy source to use against aliens (it’s not explained in detail). Something that powerful, of course, is bound to interest villains.

Regenerating serum (The Girls of Nazarone Affair): A professor, who died under mysterious circumstances, invented a serum which causes the body to regenerate from even the most severe injuries or wounds.

The serum has fallen into the hands of villainous organization Thrush. It tests the serum on one of its operatives, race driver Nazarone, by shooting her with machine guns. She survives.

Regeneration is one of the powers of Marvel Comics character Wolverine (who didn’t make his debut until an early 1970s Hulk comic book). With the serum, you could have an army of Wolverines (minus the claws, of course). However, something Thrush didn’t foresee comes into play.

Vaporizer (The Arabian Affair): Thrush is developing a vaporizer that disintegrates items or people. In the pre-credits sequence, it’s tested on an unfortunate Arab man. So the Thrush scientists involved with the project wear special white outfits, similar to the radiation suits worn by Dr. No and his men.

We’re told the white outfits are “inter-molecular,” which prevents the wearer from being disintegrated. That sounds similar to the “unstable molecules” devised by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby used in the costumes of the Fastastic Four.

Age-reversal device (The Bridge of Lions Affair/One of Our Spies Is Missing): Another scientists has constructed a device (which includes the head of Robby the Robot from the MGM prop room) that can old men young again. As you might guess, this could cause problems if it falls into the wrong hands.

Cyborgs (The Sort-of-Do-Itself-Dreadful Affair): Part human, part machine they can really cause problems.

The Gurnius Affair
Mind-control ray (The Gurnius Affair): Thrush has invested $4 billion with some neo-Nazi types to perfect a mind-control ray.

The problem for Thrush: Nazis are prone to pursuing their own agenda, as Thrush operative Mr. Brown (Joseph Ruskin) finds out the hard way.

Return of the mysterious, shadowy organization

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation's teaser poster

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation’s teaser poster

It’s like the mid-1960s all over again.

–Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation unveiled its teaser trailer this week, in which a mysterious, shadowy organization called the Syndicate is trying crush the Impossible Missions Force.

–SPECTRE, the 24th James Bond film, is in the midst of production, featuring a 21st century take on the organization that opposed 007 in the early Bond films.

–Avengers: Age of Ultron, the latest Marvel Studios film is coming out May 1 and may include the latest appearance by Hyrdra, a vast group that infiltrated SHIELD in last year’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

–The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie is due out Aug. 14. It, too, features a mysterious organization. The question is whether it will be Thrush, the “supra nation” that opposed U.N.C.L.E. in the original 1964-68 series.

At this point, all we need Galaxy (two Derek Flint movies) and BIGO (three of four Matt Helm movies) to come back. KAOS, may be lurking as well (having been included in a 1980 theatrical movie and a 1989 made-for-TV film).

The notion of the huge group that, in some cases, was like a shadow government fell out of favor after the 1960s. Bond was the last man standing by 1971 and 007 encountered mostly one-off independent menaces (though some were affiliated with unfriendly governments). At the same time, the cinema Blofeld was the subject of jokes in Austin Powers movies.

What’s more, there were legal disputes about SPECTRE, with producer Kevin McClory saying the rights to the criminal organization belonged to him. A specific reference to SPECTRE boss Ernst Stavro Blofeld was taken out of the script of 1981’s For Your Eyes Only. The script had a line where a mysterious guy who resembled Blofeld said this was the 10th anniversary of his last encounter with 007. Even though it didn’t make the movie, it was too late to take it out of the Marvel Comics adaptation.

SPECTRE teaser poster

SPECTRE teaser poster

By 2012, Eon Productions said it wasn’t even interested in SPECTRE.

“I mean, we’ve talked about Blofeld over the years,” Eon Productions co-boss Barbara Broccoli said in an interview with CRAVE ONLINE. “The thing is Blofeld was fantastic for the time but I think it’s about creating characters that are, villains that are more appropriate for the contemporary world. It’s more exciting for us to create somebody new.”

Eon whistled a different tune after a 2013 settlement with the McClory estate secured the rights to Blofeld and SPECTRE. Recently, Broccoli acknowledged to Empire magazine that SPECTRE is a new take on the old villainous organization. The cast of SPECTRE includes Jesper Christensen, who played Mr. White, an official of a group called Quantum in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace (the name wasn’t revealed until Quantum of Solace).

Marvel Studios also was bringing back the vast villainous organization. In 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger, set during World War II, viewers were introduced to Hydra, formed by Hitler but a group that has its own ambitions to take over for itself. In the 2014 Captain America movie, we see Hydra is alive and well and moving forward on its ambitions.

Hydra in the comics made its debut in Strange Tales 135 in a story by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby that introduced Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. Later, writer-artist Jim Steranko connected Hyrdra to Fury’s World War II past, establishing that Hydra’s leader was Baron Wolfgang Von Strucker, a World War II foe of Fury’s.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. teaser poster

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. teaser poster

With M:I, the existence of the Syndicate was teased at the end of 2011’s Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol. In the original television series, the Syndicate merely was an alternate name for the Mafia. The trailer unveiled this week makes clear the Syndicate is a much larger animal.

Which brings us to Thrush, which U.N.C.L.E. was waging war against in that television series. (At one point, WASP and MAGGOTT were considered as alternate names.) Thrush had vast resources, with thousands of employees on the U.S. West Coast alone. In the show’s final season, Thrush spent billions of dollars in various failed schemes. The Thrush name, however, wasn’t mentioned in the teaser trailer that came out in February.

Why the surge in popularity for such organizations?

Well, Hydra has been part of successful Marvel movies. Also, naming specific countries as being responsible for mayhem can be tricky. In 2002, Die Another Day had the North Koreans as villains. In 2014, North Korea was the leading suspect for being responsible for hacking at Sony Pictures, including leaks of SPECTRE’s script. What’s more, no studio wants to offend China and its vast market for movie goers.

Thus, what is old is new again. Don’t bet against the return of Galaxy and BIGO.

Our scorecard on comic book creators and ’14 movies

John Romita Sr.'s cover to Amazing Spider-Man No. 121, written by Gerry Conway

John Romita Sr.’s cover to Amazing Spider-Man No. 121, written by Gerry Conway

Sorry, Gerry Conway.

Last month, we carried a A POST wondering if comic book creators would get their due with 2014’s bumper crop of comic book-based films.

So far, the creators are 1-for-2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier carried a creator credit for Cap (Joe Simon and Jack Kirby) and included a “special thanks” credit for a number of comic book writers and artists, including scribe Ed Brubaker who devised the Winter Soldier storyline that’s the spine of the movie.

This weekend, saw the release of Amazing Spider-Man 2. Stan Lee and Steve Ditko got a “based on the comic book by” credit, as they have with past Spider-Man films. But others, mainly Gerry Conway, who authored an early 1970s story whose outcome is incorporated into the movie, didn’t get a mention. The closest reference in Amazing Spier-Man 2 is how there’s a “Principal Conway” character.

Also going unmentioned is John Romita Sr., co-creator of the Rhino; a much different version of the character appears in Amazing Spider-Man 2.

This isn’t that surprising. Movies produced by Marvel, now a Walt Disney Co. unit, have for the most part provided some kind of recognition for those who created characters and stories used by film writers and directors. Studios that license Marvel characters, such as Sony with Spider-Man, haven’t been as diligent.

Later this month, Fox will release another X-Men movie. Much of that film is based on a Chris Claremont-John Byrne story. The X-Men were originally created in 1963 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, and a 1975 reboot with a number of new characters was started by Len Wein and Dave Cockrum. It remains to be seen whether any of them will get a mention in the 2014 film.

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