A longtime showbiz journalist and fan's thoughts on comic books, movies and other cool stuff.

Month: August 2011

Covering ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’

Chris Evans stars in Captain America: The First Avenger.

I should mention that I occasionally write for Newsarama.com, and wrote for them some articles on Captain America: The First Avenger.

These usually involve attending a junket, which consists of some combination of a press conference, roundtable interviews and one-on-one interviews. Nine times out of ten, these junkets are held at the Four Seasons Hotel on Doheny in Beverly Hills, so anyone who’s looking for a star sighting in L.A. could do a lot worse than to hang out at the valet station of this hotel. For example, while waiting for my car after the Cap junket, actor Jason Bateman pulled up and hopped out to meet with some publicists working on, I assume, something related to Horrible Bosses or The Change-Up.

Anyway, in addition to getting to see the movie in 3D a week early on the Paramount lot, I showed up at the Four Seasons for a press conference with the filmmakers. On the panel were director Joe Johnston; screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely; and Marvel Studios execs Kevin Feige and Louis D’Esposito. You can read what came of that session here.

That was followed by roundtables, where a hotel room is set up for groups of journalists — usually around a dozen or so at a time — to interview the talent. These are strictly timed and usually very short, forcing the interviewers to jockey for position to ask their questions before your 10 minutes with Chris Evans is up. For Cap, the actors did the roundtables, and we got a few minutes with Evans, the charming Hayley Atwell and Sebastian Stan. Read what came my group’s short session with Evans here.

Sometimes there even is a takeaway or, more accurately, a gift bag offered to the press. The bag at Cap included an action figure, a collectible cup from Dunkin Donuts, a copy of the soundtrack on CD and a Cap-branded copy of Norton Internet Security 2011 that is useless to me because I only work on Macs. There also are production notes with bios, credits and information on the making of the film for journalists to use as reference.

The third and final piece I wrote from the Cap junket was this review, which most people reading this blog will be able to compare with their own views on the film now that it’s been out in theaters for three weekends.

A lot of sites will take some of these interviews and transcribe them into Q and A style interviews. I’ve tried to do that in the past, but have come to the conclusion that it’s a huge pain in the ass and not nearly as effective as writing a more traditional news story. Writing an article, you can put the appropriate emphasis on what people say in interviews, provide context and get the point across much more clearly. Transcribing an interview is a tedious process that exposes the vast divide between the way people use language when they talk and clear writing. The latter is almost always better, devoid of the filler language most people are never aware is used unless you have to try to write it out. Email interviews are almost always better for quick Q and A’s. Long audio interviews like you’d find in the Comics Journal would require a lot of back and forth, editing and copy editing to get to the published state.

I managed to see Captain America: The First Avenger a second time when my wife and I had the opportunity to leave the house without the baby while some friends babysat for us. I liked the movie more the second time, and even though I enjoyed the 3D on the first viewing, I saw the 2D version the second time and it didn’t affect my opinion of the experience in the slightest.

I think Avengers looks like it’s going to be the blockbuster of 2012, and I’m impressed with how well Marvel Studios has pulled off this big plan to build to it, starting way back with the first Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk. I liked Thor okay and thought X-Men: First Class was terrific, so the summer’s been good for Marvel movies.

I was less impressed with Green Lantern, which was never obviously terrible but was so formulaic in the way it told the origin story and so rigidly followed the conventions of superhero movies that it just never added up to anything memorable. Green Lantern 2 needs to go in a different direction, so I suggest they reduce Hal Jordan to a cameo and make the movie about Guy Gardner, John Stewart and G’Nort. It most likely would tank at the box office, but at least people would have a reaction of some kind to what’s on the screen, even it’s just that two of those three characters are annoying as hell.

Kirby Copyright Verdict Should Surprise No One

I wrote a lot about the copyright case between the family of Jerry Siegel and DC Comics over Superman, but I have a lot less to say about the recent ruling against Jack Kirby’s children. Read the ruling here.

From a legal perspective, nothing should have surprised anyone about either of these cases. The facts in the Siegel case make it an ideal candidate for copyright termination while the Kirby case always depended on making a convincing argument that Jack didn’t work under work for hire rules. The depositions posted at 20th Century Danny Boy a few months back were fascinating for the details they mined about how Marvel operated in the late 1950s and early 1960s. But nothing in that testimony did anything to refute the idea that Kirby was a freelancer doing work for hire.

I wish this had at least gone to trial, so that we could hear the arguments the Kirbys’ lawyer, Marc Toberoff, planned to make in this regard. But Kirby’s life and work have been pretty thoroughly documented by this point and there appears to be not even an inkling of a smoking gun document somewhere that would turn the tables.

The Kirby and Superman cases are similar in at least one way: Neither would have been necessary had the corporate owners of DC and Marvel simply stepped up to the plate and done the right thing by giving credit to and sharing even a sliver of the wealth these artists generated for them.

Comics artist Stephen Bissette has written a lengthy post at his blog urging comics fans to engage in a boycott and stop buying any Marvel products derived from Kirby’s work. He’s picked up this idea from the success of one DC fan’s efforts to ask DC creators and execs at Comic-Con why they haven’t hired more female creators or publish more female characters. It didn’t take much — she asked the questions at several panels and it got some buzz in the comics press — but it did result in a statement from Jim Lee and Dan DiDio saying they would hire more women creators. I don’t think most fans will stop buying FF, Thor, Hulk or X-Men comics on those grounds. But bad publicity helped put some pressure on Marvel during Kirby’s art return dispute with the company in the 1980s. It also helped Siegel and Shuster get a deal in the mid-1970s for an annual stipend and health benefits. Maybe it could work again.

It would be the right thing, the moral thing for Marvel to honor Kirby’s contributions with credit and a share of the immense profits it generated.

I’m also interested in this argument Bissette has linked to that questions the legal basis of corporate ownership of copyrights and the entire work for hire concept. The United States is a very friendly place for corporations, so I expect we’ll never see corporations lose their rights to own a copyright. In fact, the opposite is likely — that corporations will get more rights and extend copyrights even further beyond the limited terms called for by the Constitution.

The best lesson for comics creators to take away from all this is to create your own characters, your own comics and don’t sell them to the first publisher that offers to put out your book. Comics as an art form and as an industry needs new ideas and new books. Much of the malaise many fans feel comes from the fact that the market is so dominated by Marvel and DC characters that are, in most casts, between 50 and 75 years old. They’re great characters, but it might be time to make some new ones, or the industry and the art form risk dying off along with the audiences that are still hanging on to ideas that increasingly struggle to be relevant to the lives of readers living in the 21st century.

FF Re-read: The Fantastic Four #8 (Nov. 1962)

“Prisoners of the Puppet Master!”
Script by Stan Lee
Pencils by Jack Kirby
Inks by Dick Ayers
Letters by Art Simek

Some of the formula that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby had figured out for the title was starting to settle in at this point, with the opening argument between the Thing and the Torch being both familiar and executed very well. The argument this time begins when Reed asks Johnny to keep Ben out of his lab. Ben throws a temper tantrum worthy of a 2-year-old and storms off, followed by Sue.

While they argue, they spot the first act of the mystifying Puppet Master, who uses his ability to make people do anything he wants by making little puppets of them from radioactive clay and then making them act out his wishes in miniature play sets. His first act is to make an apparently random man jump from a bridge to his death.

So, yes, the Puppet Master is one of the silliest villains in all of Marvel. Nothing about his power makes sense. Neither does his oddball physical appearance, or the fact that he was married at one point to the mother of beautiful blind sculptor Alicia Masters.

Alicia is the most significant new element introduced in this issue, and she takes on a fairly major role in the life of Ben Grimm and in the Fantastic Four comic book. In this issue, we really don’t learn too much about her, other than that she looks a lot like the Invisible Girl and is blind. And in Stan Lee’s typical melodramatic fashion, the blind girls sees the man behind the rocky visage of the Thing and falls in love with him — just as Reed has made progress on a way to reverse the Thing’s transformation.

This guy is a few years too early for the Gwen Stacy auditions.

The plot gets quite silly. In addition to creating puppets, the Puppet Master can create giant robots and a mechanical flying horse that can outrace the Human Torch. There’s also a prison riot before a simple matter, uh, trips up the Puppet Master, who falls to his death very much like his first victim. That leaves Alicia behind to be consoled by the Thing.

Excellent compostions, lettering —
and no background, but who cares

Reading this issue for the first time in ages, Kirby’s art makes it seems better than it really is. Kirby’s work is more confident on this issue. He has a better grip on who these characters are and what they look like. At the same time, he’s getting better at drawing them using their powers and putting them into action sequences. The Thing in particular gets some nice sequences in which he gets to tear a huge armored door out of the wall and builds a cage around rampaging inmates. Kirby’s chapter splash pages remain particularly compelling, and its worth noting how well he composes these panels.

You can see Kirby get a better grip on techniques like this in this issue.
These three panels sum up a lot of the appeal of early Marvel comics, and shows a lot of heart.

I have no idea what the reaction was to this issue when it came out, but I would think it would be somewhat reassuring to see the quality hold in most areas because so many comics that start out promising hit a wall about eight to 12 issues in and never recover from it.

Excellent storytelling in just three panels! This sequence would fill an annual these days.

The last thing I’ll say is that the cover to this issue is surprisingly weak. It’s very cluttered and uses an unusual shade of orange (at least it’s orange in the Marvel Masterworks version and looks like orange on comics.org). It also has some of that line-thickening that happens when the stats of the original art get a few generations too removed from the original. For example, the issue number and the white copy at the top of the page just turn into block shapes without good definition. That’s a shame considering how much Masterworks cost to buy, but I don’t know how much Marvel could do to fix it without access to the original art or hiring an artist to do some touchup or a re-creation.

Another great splash panel that delivers a sense of both power and scale. 

Good Nonfiction Books About Comics, Part 1

Finishing the Blake Bell book on Steve Ditko reminded me that I really enjoy nonfiction books about comics, comics creators and the comics industry. I also realized I have quite a few such books and they might make for an interesting post. Then I started listing them and realized it might take several posts.

So here’s the first one, focusing on books that offer historical overviews or essays about comics as a medium or specific comics characters

All in Color for a Dime and The Comic-Book Book, both edited by Dick Lupoff and Don Thompson. These are very influential books in comics history, being collections of essays about all kinds of topics from Jingle-Jangle Tales to Captain Marvel. All in Color was first published in 1970 and became a rare and expensive find by the time I learned of it, so I had to wait for the 1990s re-issue. The Comic-Book Book was one of the first books on comics I got, as it was commonly available in used bookstores. I picked it up the first time because of Don Thompson, whose reviews in Comics Buyers Guide I enjoyed reading quite a bit in the last few years before he died.


Superman: The Complete History, Batman: The Complete History and Wonder Woman: The Complete History, all written by Les Daniels and beautifully designed and filled with amazing images by Chip Kidd. These are really solid and fun books to read and look through, even though there’s something about them that feels restrained and somehow corporate in tone. The book on Wonder Woman was the most interesting to me as her history is written about less frequently, even though it’s perhaps the most oddball and interesting of them all.

The Comic-Book Makers by Joe Simon with Jim Simon. I checked this out of a library and then had to return it before I finished reading it because I was moving. But it was interesting enough for me to seek out when it came back into print years later. An excellent look back at what it was like to work in the Golden Age of comics from one of the most-accomplished creators of that time.

The Comic-Book Heroes, by Will Jacobs and Gerard Jones. The original, 1984 edition of this was a book I coveted for a long time before I got to read it. I first saw it in the Waldenbooks at Paradise Valley Mall in Arizona sometime in late 1986. I desperately wanted to read it because it was the first history of comics I had seen that covered the era I was most interested in — the superhero books from the Silver Age on. Being a broke teenager, it took me a while to come up with the cash to buy the book, by which time the sole copy at the store had been sold. I didn’t see another copy until a few years later when I was in college and one turned up at the excellent Bookman’s store in Tucson. I devoured the book and loved it, especially for how compelling it was in recounting not just what happened in the books but the companies and people who were creating them. It also had some great criticism of a lot of comics of the time. Needless to say, I re-read this book several times and was thrilled when an updated version came out in 1996. That version was even better than the original, expanding the original book to cover everything that happened in the 1980s and up through the insanity of the speculator market and through the crash. Jones, of course, saw much of this first hand as a prolific scripter for both Marvel and DC, and the book is full of interesting details. If a third version were to be produced, I would be first in line to buy it.

Perhaps even more compelling is Jones’ Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters and the Birth of the Comic Book. This one goes all the way back to the dawn of the comics business and focuses in particular on Harry Donenfeld and Jack Liebowitz as they start and build DC into the industry powerhouse. This is full of well-researched details and exposes a shadier side of the industry. The battle over Superman waged between DC and Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster is central here, and the details are both fascinating and heartbreaking. There’s plenty of other great stuff from the Golden Age and even a look at the circumstances that created the comic book in the first place. Another absolute must-read.


Marvel: Five Fabulous Decades of the World’s Greatest Comics and DC Comics: A Celebration of the World’s Favorite Comic Book Heroes, both by Les Daniels, seem like they’d be natural bookends. The Marvel edition is a surprisingly solid, warts-and-all history of the publisher from the days of Martin Goodman up through the heyday of superstar artist Todd McFarlane. It does a very good job of covering all the bases and features lots of very nice cover reproductions and vintage photographs of creators. There’s even an illustrated “how-to-make-comics” section and annotated reprints of some vintage stories. The DC version, however, is nowhere near as interesting because it doesn’t weave the details into as interesting a narrative. Instead, it’s episodic and focuses a lot on how successful DC characters have been in other media. The Marvel book is better, but the DC version is still interesting for the photos and artwork.

I already wrote a ways back about Watching the Watchmen by Dave Gibbons, and had a chance to talk to Dave about the making of the book. I wish this kind of documentary evidence was readily available for more seminal comic book series. Basically, Gibbons kept every drawing and every scrap of paper related to the series and presents here in astonishing detail the work that went into making this important book. Gibbons also writes down his recollections, and it all adds up to a fascinating look at what creating comics can be like.

One more for this post: The Photojournal Guide to Comic Books, photographed by Ernie Gerber. There were four volumes in this series, with the third and fourth devoted exclusively to Marvel. These were very hot and expensive when they first came out, featuring color photographs of the covers of thousands of comics. It wasn’t comprehensive, but it included all the historically significant books from the Golden Age up through the 1980s. Today, the internet does this kind of thing better with extensive online photo galleries that can be searched and viewed with ease. But I still admire these and pull them out on occasion to thumb through because I always spot something interesting I hadn’t noticed before.

Next: Great comic book interviews.

Page 2 of 2

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén

%d