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.

 

Happy birthday to one of Marvel’s unsung heroes

A Jack Kirby cover featuring Ant Man, one of the characters scripted by Larry Lieber

A Jack Kirby cover featuring Ant Man, one of the characters scripted by Larry Lieber

Oct. 26 is the 85th birthday of Larry Lieber, one of the unsung heroes of the Marvel Comics universe.

Lieber scripted the earliest Marvel stories involving Ant Man (the Henry Pym version), Thor and Iron Man.

Those characters (especially Iron Man) helped build up the Marvel Studios juggernaut. Yet, Lieber’s name doesn’t resonate with the general public.

That’s ironic because Lieber is the younger brother of Stan Lee, 93, the one person from the old days at Marvel that practically everybody knows. (If case you haven’t guessed, Lieber is the surname the two men shared.)

Stan did the plotting for those early adventures. But it’s generally conceded that Stan’s plots weren’t very detailed and the artists (especially Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko)  did a lot of the heavy lifting in devising the stories.

Still, that left Lieber, actually scripting the stories plenty of leeway. The Bleeding Cool website, in a 2011 post, quoted from a Lieber deposition in a since-settled lawsuit by the Kirby family against Marvel. In the deposition, Lieber says he came up with the name “Uru” for the magical material Thor’s hammer was made of.

Despite all that, Lieber’s name receded. In Thor 158, the bulk of the story is a reprint from the character’s first story. Yet, it was presented as being “Pandemoniously Produced by Stan (The Man) Lee and Jack (King) Kirby,” with no mention of Lieber.

Lieber departed Marvel in the 1970s to edit a short-lived line of new comics. He would later rejoin Marvel and drew the Spider-Man comic strip.

In the 21st century, Marvel is big business (mostly a movie operation that still publishes comic books). A lot of the Marvel stalwarts — Jack Kirby, John Buscema and Gene Colan among them — aren’t with us anymore.

Larry Lieber is, and he is one of those who helped make Marvel big business.

How will the Dr. Strange film handle the creator credit?

Cover to Strange Tales No. 146, featuring Steve Ditko's final Dr. Strange story.

Cover to Strange Tales No. 146, featuring Steve Ditko’s final Dr. Strange story.

We’re three months away from Marvel Studios’ next movie, Dr. Strange, as the studio tells its first mystic story. We’re curious about a non-magical question, namely how will the movie present its creator credit?

Dr. Strange made his debut in Strange Tales 110 in 1963. The comic’s lead feature was solo stories starring the Human Torch of the Fantastic Four. Doc’s first tale was a mere five pages and he wasn’t mentioned on the cover.

That first story, “Dr. Strange, Master of Black Magic!” simply credited Stan Lee with the story and Steve Ditko with the art. But things were more complicated than that.

The Comic Reader No. 16 included a promotional letter from Stan Lee saying Dr. Strange, “‘Twas Steve’s idea.” (Check out the Steve Ditko FAQ page maintained by the United Fanzine Organization and the Dial B for Blog website for more details.)

Moreover, it has become known Ditko plotted stories he drew. With the Amazing Spider-Man he began getting a plot credit with issue 25 and with Dr. Strange, he got one starting with Strange Tales 135. By coincidence, that was the same issue Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. made its debut, replacing the Human Torch (and later Human Torch and Thing) stories.

With Marvel movies until now, Stan Lee has received top billing in the “based on the comic by” credit credit where the lead character’s first comic stories was either plotted or written by him. Also, in interviews, he has said in such cases he should be considered the creator because such characters were his idea to begin with.

With Dr. Strange, that’s not the case. So will the film leave him off the creator credit? Or would he be included but with second billing? (“Based on the comic by Steve Ditko and Stan Lee”)

The guess here is the credit will read, “Based on the comic by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko,” and be consistent with previous Marvel films. But we’ll see.

In 2007, Jonathan Ross hosted a documentary about Ditko, even seeking out the reclusive artist in New York. Here’s the segment concerning Dr. Strange, one of the most unusual characters in Marvel’s roster.

 

UPDATE Nov. 2: People who’ve seen the movie say the credit is “Stan Lee and Steve Ditko.” Can’t say the Spy Commander is surprised.

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.