The face of Marvel Comics leaves behind a lifelong legacy of superheroes and sequential art
On the morning of Nov. 12, legendary comic creator Stan Lee was rushed to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center where he passed away. The news was broken by TMZ, who spoke with his daughter, J.C. Lee.
It feels weird to write an obituary on a man many comic fans know so well already.
Stanley Martin Lieber’s career in comics started when he was only 17 years old as an assistant at Timely Comics. His duties included refilling inkwells and erasing pencil lines. Two years later, using Jack Kirby’s and Joe Simon’s Nazi-fighting war hero, Lieber got his chance to write his first story called “Captain America Foils the Traitor’s Revenge.” Lieber used the pen name “Stan Lee.” The story was only a two-page text story in Captain America #3, but it was the story where Captain America first used his iconic shield-throwing maneuver. Two issues later, Stan Lee got his first comic break with “Headline Hunter, Foreign Correspondent,” which also showed Lee’s love for names with alliteration. Lee’s first superhero co-creation was Destroyer in Mystic Comics #6 (1941).
Plus: Another view of Marvel’s Northrop Grumman Comic, Palmiotti and Conner say goodbye to Harley Quinn, and was New York Comic Con too big?
Top Graphic Novels: Viz takes half the slots in the September BookScan top 20 chart, which measures sales of graphic novels in the book channel: Vol. 12 of One Punch Man was the top seller, followed by the all-in-one edition of Death Note (a 12-volume omnibus—yes, it’s a brick). Perennial best-sellers Fun Home, March, and Watchmen all make the chart, as does Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight: Master Race, vol. 3 of Tom King’s Batman: Rebirth, and Avatar’s limited edition of Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows’s Providence: Act 3. Interestingly, there is not a single Image title on the list.
A writer predicts the demise of Marvel comics, but the DC honchos are bullish on their medium. Plus: Sitting down with Los Bros Hernandez.
Let’s kick things off with some doom and gloom! At the Disney theme park fan site The Kingdom Insider, Thom Pratt asks “Will Disney Stop Publishing Marvel Comic Books?” Pratt makes some good points: The Marvel universe most people are familiar with comes from the movies, not the comics; the comics themselves are not really accessible to most people, both literally (because of the uneven distribution and quality of comic shops) and figuratively (because the storylines cross over and the continuity is complex); and the profits are low relative to what a large corporation like Disney expects. Of course, this is all unvarnished speculation, with no insider knowledge, but there’s food for thought here—and as Pratt points out, Marvel is already outsourcing its digests to Archie and its young-readers Star Wars comics to IDW.
Plus: Big Hero 6, DC saves the day, Graphix winners, Best comic shops in the US, Todd Klein’s SDCC, and Spider-Man mows a lawn!
Fly the confusing skies: While at the San Diego airport on Sunday morning, Twitter user @AdiChappo sent out a warning to other Comic-Con attendees about a comic book ban on flights. Recently, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) suggested passengers needed to remove books from luggage for inspection, so this idea wasn’t out of the ordinary. Despite the fact that the pilot project was trashed due to civil liberty concerns, this was the message that greeted travelers:
Plus news and updates on Jules Feiffer, MegaCon’s ‘Love is Love’ auction, Sophie Labelle and more.
Tee Franklin knows something that seems to eluded all of the Marvel honchos: How to make money on a comic by and about people of color. Franklin’s Bingo Love Comic, the story of a long-simmering romance between two black women, blasted past its Kickstarter goal of $20,000 in just five days and ended up with over $57,000 worth of pledges. This all happened just a few weeks after Marvel vice president David Gabriel told ICv2 “What we heard was that people didn’t want any more diversity …They didn’t want female characters. That’s what we heard, whether we believe that or not.” Although he backpedaled a bit, Gabriel’s comments raised a ruckus, but Franklin has some advice for him and the rest of the Marvel team: Draw inspiration from the women around you, hire people of color for your creative teams and advertise in channels that actually reach your prospective audience.
Today, on The Grumpy Color! Movies, TV shows and how hardcore can you make Aquaman before he just starts looking like Rob Zombie? Let’s join our discussion, already in progress…
Tom Bondurant: So since we’re talking movies and TV, how much has the comics’ Marvel U changed to resemble the Marvel Cinematic Universe?
Carla Hoffman: Not enough? I mean, it’s a good thing, don’t get me wrong. We have a female Thor kicking butt and a Sam Wilson Captain America three separate Avengers teams that are nothing like the movie’s roster, all with their own agendas and purposes. Comics are brilliant in that it costs so much less to take chances with and do big radical shifts of character, tone and setting that the current ANAD Marvel shouldn’t look like the MCU. On the other hand, the Inhumans are now more prominent than ever in the books, more even than mutants were. There is, in fact, an Ant-Man solo series that has adjusted somewhat for the movie. Brian Michael Bendis is trying his best to write dialogue for Robert Downey Jr. It’s different enough, but not jarring. That being said, an Agent Carter series would be a no-brainer, don’t you think?
TB: Do you think the Marvel U books are helped by those sweet, sweet Star Wars sales?
CH: ARE WE EVER! I wasn’t going to mention that either, because I feel kind of bad that a good chunk of Marvel’s sales success is thanks to some really awesome Star Wars titles. Yeah, I’m pretty sure I could slap a sticker of Darth Vader’s helmet on a phone book and send it out the door, but Marvel is not treating these books lightly as a lot of really good creative teams are coming together for some pretty cool stories. The Force Awakens has blown the lids off of fanboy’s brains and we’re going to move a lot of Star Wars merch, that’s for sure. Let’s here it for our corporate Disney overlords!
TB: For that matter, how’s small-screen Marvel been treating you? Have Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s fall episodes turned into a warm-up for the second season of Agent Carter? I’m only two episodes into Jessica Jones, so no spoilers; but did it meet your expectations?
CH: This is kind of what I was getting at in an earlier question; I’m… not very good at keeping up with the small screen. I haven’t even finished Daredevil yet! But I have seen Aveggies: Age of Bon-Bon a dozen or so times, let me tell you…
Marvel has always captured a college aged audience, a groovier crowd if you will, and the new Netflix series are drawing that same set of eyeballs in a new and fresh way. Personally, I wanted to like Jessica Jones but it wasn’t my cup of tea. I felt that Alias had time for a much more likable and approachable character and didn’t get to that Purple Man punch until the end of the series. But at time same time, I don’t have to watch Jessica Jones to enjoy the MCU. Or even the M, err… NU? When Luke Cage gets his series, Jessica Jones can be there but under a completely different script and director, so maybe I’ll enjoy her more. It’s even a good thing that the show wasn’t a straight adaptation because fans can now (hopefully) go into a comic shop and get a book that has a familiar story, but more detail and rich artwork that enhances their Netflix experience. Something new, couched in the familiar….
TB: And — you knew this one was coming — their 55th anniversary is in 2016, so whither the Fantastic Four?
CH: Hoo boy. Dead? Reed and Sue and the kids, I think, are ‘gone’, leaving Ben in the Guardians and Johnny Storm kissing another man’s wife over in Uncanny Inhumans. It’s weird, but I’m kind of interested on seeing where they take Marvel’s first family without the actual family and how Human Torch and the Thing survive without the essentials that brought them together. Not that this is their first time at the solo rodeo, but there’s an expectation that these four characters are going to orbit each other. Maybe this time next year, we’ll be doing the think pieces and tributes that always follow a big change in the FF for an anniversary lap, then sale decline, then back on the shelf. Sigh. I’d say maybe a summer event is in order on getting the band back together, but you know. Civil War II.
Side note: Oh man, why I am this excited for a Civil War II? Just six months ago, typing those words out would have made me nauseous, but maybe it’s the power of the upcoming Captain America movie (I’ll get into that later) or the incredible job that Charles Soule did with the Battleworld book set in Civil War, but coming back to that idea or heroes conflicted over ideology based around current events, but this time not from Mark Millar or as clumsily done now that event books have more of a framework in modern comics, this is actually kind of exciting!
Maybe there is more synergy at work between comics and movies than I thought. Speaking of the big screen, are you ready for the grimace fest of the century? Superman vs. Batman! Wonder Woman is also here! And Aquaman… for some reason! Why not just call it Justice League and be done with it?
TB: It makes me very nervous that Warner Brothers is depending so heavily on a movie which they’re promoting (at least in part) with grim, serious photos of Aquaman.
CH: And a weird looking Aquaman at that! DC really can’t have their cake and eat it too with that design, you know. Either he’s the blonde guy in an orange shirt that everyone knows and loves or go whole hog and bring back the Old Man and Sea look from Peter David’s run and .. they’re doing the latter, aren’t they? I just took a look at a recent comic cover for Aquaman and yeah, orange shirt is in the trashcan. They have to balance the look of what’s on comic stands and what’s on the silver screen; there’s been a lot of that balance with Marvel so that when you look at the covers of the comics, you can right away know who is in what book…
TB: I did like the most recent trailer — the one that ends with Wonder Woman saving Batman — and I’m maybe looking forward even more to the Wonder Woman movie.
CH: Note how you didn’t say saving Superman as well. Those two make such a weird couple….
But yeah, I think it’s a bad idea to stuff Wonder Woman in a movie that has two huge personalities that should sort themselves out first, but that’s me. Over here. With a franchise that made sure to introduce all the big heroes in individual movies first before combining them all together. Because that sells more books and develops characters better.
TB: As for the title … well, the actual title is clunky and pretentious, and it only really works if you know it’s basically a “zero issue” for the Justice League series. It’s like The First Avenger subtitle, in that everybody just called that movie Captain America.
CH: They added in that First Avenger tag line to make sure a movie entirely focusing around a nationalistic hero played well in other countries, but point taken.
TB: I suspect the general public is about as aware of the Justice League in 2015 as they were of the Avengers in, say, 2007. Man Of Steel 2: Batman vs. Superman probably would have been better (if about as clunky), because this movie won’t be the Justice League. I don’t think you can call it a League until there are at least five members and a headquarters.
CH: But here’s the thing and I’m going to try to tie it back into comics as best I can without going full Hollywood on you here: I agree that it’s not the Justice League; it’s not even the Super Friends as no one in this movie seems very friendly. I think DC stepped into the role of Very Serious Movie makers with Batman Begins and held to it all through the Nolan trilogy. Stepping outside the ranks with Superman Returns didn’t fare very well, nor could it make a cohesive Cinematic Universe. When you go super serious, you’re kind of in all the way. So it brings about the problem you mentioned before, where when a comic is good and the characterization is what you want to see, it feels weird when you read another book with them in it and they’re practically a different person.
The faces change, the costumes are different, they might even be different people in some respects, but Marvel has this consistency that follows through comics to movies through tones of storytelling that is making this cinematic universe work. Mind you, we’re lucky that there hasn’t been any new actors replacing older ones yet (wait, Ruffalo replaced Norton; but I won’t count it), but you should know who that hero or villain is no matter where you see them.
Yeah, no one knows what a Justice League is right now, but if you do it right, you will know its component parts well enough to handle a contrived title like the Avengers. And to be honest, Joe and Joan Q. Public know about a Justice League movie because there was an Avengers movie already released. We know the song and dance.
TB: I do notice (thanks to this handy chart) that Justice League 2 — where I presume they finish fighting Darkseid — is supposed to come out a month before Avengers: Infinity War 2, where I presume they finish fighting Darkseid knock-off Thanos. Something for the Grumpy Color 2019’s agenda!
CH: 2019!?!? Good grief.
TB: Getting back to comics — I know this will sound like the ultimate DC conspiracy theory, but bear with me. It almost seems like Marvel is using its commanding market presence to sustain an air of invincibility which can absorb whatever missteps it might make. Put another way, the combination of dominating top-sellers (including Star Wars) and sheer volume practically guarantees that Marvel will have a market-share advantage. Since that’s how we tend to keep score, Marvel keeps winning, and whatever it does either adds to its winning ways or at least doesn’t get in their way. It has much more room for error than DC does, so it can take more risks, and I would argue that those risks are minimized because of all the successes. Conversely, DC’s risks (Doctor Fate, say) are magnified because they’re seen in the light of overall market strategy, and each DC book has a greater responsibility to perform because there are fewer of them.
So my questions are 1) am I way off-base? and 2) will we ever hit Peak Marvel, where there’s just too much product coming from the House of Ideas?
CH: For the first part, I totally agree, but I don’t think this makes Marvel as bullet proof as that. Mistakes are made that can tarnish story lines and creative teams and books can tank hard (I’m giving ANAD about three months to sort itself out to what the stands are going to look like for realsies). Yeah, Star Wars is helping to keep the lights on, but I can’t really name a sure fire hit for my store off the top of my head. There was a time when Ultimate Spider-Man was just going to sell like gangbusters no matter what and now… well, Ultimate Spider-Man doesn’t really exist anymore and every title gets a new make-over every September, making longevity a thing of the past.
For the second part, no? Product I don’t think is the problem as series come and go rather regularly at this point. We keep sampling dishes and Marvel keeps taking the plates away, even the dishes we like and want more of (Mark Waid’s Daredevil could run for a thousand years, you guys). I think comics readers could get dizzy after awhile with the turn over rates and might yearn for a more regular ongoing series with less creative change-ups, but then boom! A new series will debut or suddenly NOTHING WILL EVER BE THE SAME, etc. Comics are more malleable than ever and I think that’s going to change the way we read and consume them in some respects.
Now, I’m not saying it’s a perfect business model and everybody should try it but let’s face it, folks: it works at Image. Yeah. Think on that.
TB: Sounds like a good note to go out on! 2015 was wild and wacky, but at least it gave us plenty to discuss. Here’s hoping 2016 is at least equally eventful!
Smash Pages contributors Tom Bondurant and Carla Hoffman continue their end-of-year tradition, looking back at the year in Big Two superhero comics and looking forward to 2016.
[Smash Pages contributors Tom Bondurant and Carla Hoffman continue their end-of-year tradition, looking back at the year in Big Two superhero comics and looking forward to 2016.]
Carla Hoffman: Time to get off the couch, put down the Ben and Jerry’s and stop listening to Moonlight Sonata on repeat, it’s the end of the year! Marvel and DC have cast their nets wide through event books, new titles, TV shows and movies to reel in new readers, viewers and mass market appeal and somebody’s has to sort through it all, sir! For somebody, read: us.