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.

 

Dr. Strange gets a surge of early positive reviews

Dr. Strange poster

Dr. Strange poster

Dr. Strange, the newest Marvel Studios movie, is enjoying a surge of positive reviews ahead of its Nov. 4 U.S. release.

The character, created in 1963 by artist Steve Ditko, is one of the quirkiest of the Marvel Comics characters of the 1960s. He was never a huge commercial hit but has long enjoyed a cult following.

It’s early days but the Dr. Strange movie has a 97 percent “fresh” rating on the Rotten Tomatoes website.

What follows is a no-spoilers sampling of the early reviews.

CHRIS NASHAWATY, ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: “There’s nothing particularly new about serious, over-qualified actors being recruited to class up a Marvel movie. But the studio’s latest, Doctor Strange, wouldn’t work as well it as it does (and it mostly works very, very well) without Benedict Cumberbatch and Tilda Swinton — two actors, who in addition to being intelligent, top-shelf stars both project a slightly alien, otherworldy air.”

SCOTT MENDELSON, FORBES.COM: “I don’t know whether an extra reel would have made Doctor Strange more than a conventional ‘fill-in-the-blank’ origin story. It is a hodge-podge of King Fu Panda, Green Lantern and The Matrix. Lacking distinctive characterization, it’s the closest thing the MCU has yet offered to a generic superhero movie.”

TODD MCCARTHY, THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER: “A ’60s cult figure stuck on the periphery of the Marvel Comics universe for 50 years finally spins into orbit to command the world’s attention in Doctor Strange, an engaging, smartly cast and sporadically eye-popping addition to the studio’s bulging portfolio.”

PETER DEBRUGE, VARIETY: “Yes, this new project shares the same look, feel, and fancy corporate sheen as the rest of Marvel’s rapidly expanding Avengers portfolio, but it also boasts an underlying originality and freshness missing from the increasingly cookie-cutter comic-book realm of late. From this second-tier side character, the studio has created a thrilling existential dilemma in which its flawed hero’s personal search for purpose dovetails beautifully with forays into the occult New Age realm of magic and sorcery where Doctor Strange ultimately finds his calling.”

TOM HUDDLESTON, TIME OUT: “There are sequences in ‘Doctor Strange’ that could burn the top layer off your eyeballs, crammed as they are with some of the most unashamedly drug-inspired imagery since the ‘The Simpsons’ episode where Homer takes peyote. But problems arise when ‘Doctor Strange’ tries to tackle the everyday stuff, like telling a half-decent story.

Dr. Strange a test whether Marvel’s juggernaut continues

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.

For the past eight years, Marvel Studios has been a juggernaut. The natural question is how long can this last? Next month may provide an answer.

The Walt Disney Co.-owned brand’s next movie up is Dr. Strange, Marvel’s master of the mystic arts.

The good doctor has been more of a cult hit than a mass-market one. He began as a backup feature in Strange Tales, the creation of artist Steve Ditko, who turns 89 on Nov. 2, two days before the movie’s U.S. release date.

Dr. Strange operated in alternate dimensions. As portrayed by Ditko, they were visual striking but looked nothing like our own. Strange had once been a talented, but arrogant, surgeon. He could no longer be a surgeon following an accident, but those events would lead him to his true vocation.

Some college age fans in the 1960s were convinced Ditko was on drugs. He wasn’t. His politics were considerably different than the ardent followers of Dr. Strange.

Dr. Strange wasn’t the commercial success of other Marvel characters. Ditko departed Marvel in 1966, with his final Dr. Strange story appearing in Strange Tales No. 146. While Ditko would later return, he refused to illustrate stories featuring Spider-Man or Dr. Strange, where he made his mark.

Various talented artists and writers took up the Dr. Strange mantle over the decades, including Gene Colan, Frank Brunner, Roy Thomas and Steve Englehart among others. For some, though, it would never be the same without Ditko.

The character was the subject of a 1978 TV movie, but not much came of it.

Now, 53 years after his debut, Dr. Strange hits the big screen in the person of actor Benedict Cumberbatch.

Marvel has had some unlikely hits, including 2015’s Ant-Man, based on one of its lesser known characters. But Ant-Man was still a super hero, Marvel’s bread and butter. Dr. Strange….well, he’s something different.

At this point, it’d be foolish to bet against Marvel. Still, it’s going to be interesting to see how one of the company’s quirkiest characters, devised by one of its quirkiest creators in Steve Ditko, translates to the screen.