R.I.P. Stan Lee

The Marvel Comics legend has died…

RIP Stan Lee

The incomparable legend, Stan Lee (image used for illustrative purposes only and remains the property of the copyright owner).

The Pop Culture world has been shattered by the sad news of the death of Stan “the Man” Lee at the age of 95.  The founding father of Marvel Comics, Stan worked with legendary artists such as Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and Don Heck to co-create a plethora of superhero characters that continue to be loved by millions of fans all over the globe. It all began with The Fantastic Four in 1961 when a bored Stan, on the verge of quitting comics which at that time were dominated by the crime fiction and Western genres, conceived the idea of the titular superhero team when his wife Joan (who passed away last year, also at the age of 95) urged her husband to create the kind of characters and tell the types of stories that he wanted to.  The rest is of course history and a new age of comics was born when Timely Publications evolved into the mighty Marvel where Stan served as President and despite leaving the company in 1972 he continued to be credited as ‘Chairman Emeritus’.

With the genesis of Marvel many more creations followed, including (but not limited to) the X-Men, Daredevil, Thor, the Hulk, Black Panther, Iron Man and perhaps the greatest of all the Marvel heroes: Spider-Man.  Co-created with artist Steve Ditko (who also died earlier this year), Spider-Man is the finest example of what Stan Lee strove for when writing comic books and the colourful characters within their pages – finding the human in superhuman.  By infusing these characters with the same day-to-day trials and tribulations everyone faces, Stan presented stories that were relatable and more relevant to the reader whilst providing hope as the extraordinary people he wrote about surmounted their problems.

Whilst Lee and Ditko parted ways acrimoniously, with Ditko feeling Lee had downplayed his contributions in the creation of Spider-Man, Stan Lee always spoke fondly and respectfully of the artists he worked with and his love for, and work in, the comic book medium together with his boundless and passionate devotion to the fans helped shape the Pop Culture landscape as we know it today.

With Marvel superheroes being more popular than ever, in no small part thanks to the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (in which Stan would regularly make cameos in the various Marvel films, his many appearances commencing with 20th Century Fox’s pre-MCU X-Men feature film in 2000), Stan Lee’s legacy will live on for decades to come and most likely, beyond.

Stan Lee died 12th November 2018 aged 95.

Comic Review: ‘The Invincible Iron Man’ #600

It’s a farewell from Brian Michael Bendis as he caps off his run on The Invincible Iron Man…

 

Inv Iron Man #600

Cover art for Marvel’s The Invincible Iron Man #600 by Chris Sprouse (image belongs: Marvel Comics, used for illustrative purposes only).

 

Warning! Contains Spoilers.

Written by:  Brian Michael Bendis / Art by:  Stefano Caselli, Alex Maleev, David Marquez, Daniel Acuna, Leinil Francis Yu & Gerry Alanguilan, Jim Cheung, Mike Deodato Jr, Mark Bagely, Andrew Hennessy & Scott Hanna, Andrea Sorrentino / Colours by:  Marte Garcia, Alex Maleev, Daniel Acuna, Guru-eFX, Romulo Fajardo, Marcelo Maiold & Rachelle Rosenberg

What’s it about?

“The Search for Tony Stark” Finale : Tony Stark emerges from the shadows as Iron Man returns to face the threat of the Hood and a face from the past…

In review

The 600th issue of The Invincible Iron Man is a milestone for more than one reason, the book’s numeric value aside it’s not only the conclusion to Brian Michael Bendis’ run on the title (which commenced in 2015) but also the prolific writer’s final comic for Marvel (for the foreseeable future at least) as he departs for DC after working at the ‘House of Ideas’ for almost twenty years.

The Invincible Iron Man #600 serves as a fitting, albeit slightly muddled and not overly spectacular final chapter in “The Search for Tony Stark”.  It’s not the greatest comic Bendis has ever written, nor is it an out-and-out classic issue of The Invincible Iron Man but it does the job adequately.  Following the events of issue #599, Tony Stark is back and ready for action as he faces a hostile takeover of Stark Industries, a threat from Hydra and demons from the past as Riri Williams must decide where her future lies now Iron Man has returned and Victor Von Doom seeks retribution.

Where The Invincible Iron Man #600 does succeed is in its revelations, chiefly the resurrection of Rhodey (who had fallen at the hands of Thanos in Civil War II) – this could be a huge spoiler for some (hence the warning at the head of the review) but surely most readers will have been expecting it, given that very few characters ever die and then remain so in comics…notwithstanding that the issue’s cover can be seen as a giveaway.  Anyway, it’s handled brilliantly being both emotionally satisfying and funny and no doubt we’ll be seeing more of Rhodey/War Machine in Dan Slott’s forthcoming run.

There’s a tragic and heart-wrenching climax to Victor Von Doom’s tenure as the ‘Infamous’ Iron Man and one that may precipitate his return to a more villainous path – another area for Dan Slott to explore with the impending Fantastic Four relaunch.  The return of Stark’s biological father (see the International Iron Man limited series), Jude also adds to the drama whilst helping to bring things full circle.

The Invincible Iron Man #600 does become a little jumbled though.  Despite its increased page count there is so much going on and barely enough space, although the pacing never feels rushed.  It can also be a bit of a trying read at times, much of the book is narrated by the A.I. version of Tony Stark and it’s quite dense as Brian Michael Bendis packs in a lot of exposition that serves to both recap events of his entire Iron Man saga and set the stage for the future.

There’s still room reserved for some action, the highlight of which is Stark’s attack on the Hood and his gang as he fights to prevent Stark Industries from falling into enemy hands, Jim Cheung’s beautiful double-page splash featuring numerous past Iron Man armours – evoking memories of Iron Man #300’s Iron Legion.

The expanded roster of artists is a little tricky, granted some of Marvel’s strongest talent has been engaged here and it’s a particular pleasure to see David Marquez contribute but it’s a shame that the whole book couldn’t have simply been divided up between Stefano Caselli and Alex Maleev in the same manner as previous issues, but it’s perhaps partly necessitated by the jump to 42 pages.  Still, it’s fairly consistent overall but the random jump between artists can be a little jarring.

In the end, it feels like Brian Michael Bendis may have had more up his sleeve for Marvel’s Iron Avenger but with his time at Marvel now up we can only see what’s in store with Dan Slott’s Tony Stark:  Iron Man.  The Invincible Iron Man #600 isn’t perfect but Bendis has produced a memorable run on the character (and given us Riri Williams in the process) and although it’s not as fulfilling as it could have been, there are certainly some good moments within.

The bottom line:  “The Search for Tony Stark” comes to an end in Brian Michael Bendis’ flawed but enjoyable final issue of The Invincible Iron Man.

The Invincible Iron Man #600 is published by Marvel Comics and is available in print and digital formats now.

Film Review: ‘Fantastic Four’ 2015 (spoiler free)

Marvel’s First Family return…

Starring:  Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Bell, Toby Kebbell, Reg E. Cathey

Directed by:  Josh Trank / Written by:  Simon Kinberg, Jeremy Slater & Josh Trank / 100 minutes

What’s it about?

A group of young pioneers build a machine that will allow them to transport to other dimensions, the results of which change them all forever…

In review

By now it’s well known how badly Fox’s new big screen iteration of Marvel Comics’ Fantastic Four has been received (some may say it was even predicted), both from a critical and commercial perspective.  It’s a shame because in the opinion of this reviewer, it’s not the disaster it’s made out to be, sure there are flaws and rumour is rife that much of the blame may rest with studio 20th Century Fox, who reportedly hijacked the production in a frantic effort to rework the film’s third act into something more commercially viable.

Serving as a reboot of the Marvel franchise, director Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four is a darker, more realistic and cerebral take on the titular superhero team – this is certainly not Guardians of the Galaxy and far removed from Fox’s previous lighter and more colourful efforts from director Tim Story (2005’s Fantastic Four and 2007 sequel 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer).  It’s actually a welcome reinvention of the FF universe and works much better than initial trepidations suggest, given the overall lighter tone of the comics.  Although largely lacking the humour of the source material, much of the imaginative science fiction and pioneer elements reminiscent of the earliest runs of the Fantastic Four comics by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby are present and neatly melded with character drama and some Cronenberg-lite body horror that juxtaposes the fantasy of the future super team’s transformations (which proves particularly effective in the case of The Thing).

Taking its lead from Marvel’s Ultimate Fantastic Four line of comics, we are presented with younger versions of the iconic superhero team and the reimagined origin of their abilities (resulting from trans-dimensional teleportation instead of the bombardment of cosmic rays as depicted in the original comics and the 2005 Fantastic Four film).  As Reed Richards, Miles Teller embodies the right mix of nerdy awkwardness and wide-eyed enthusiasm and is arguably the best of the cast, while Kate Mara (House of Cards) provides an interestingly subtle and introspective interpretation of Sue Storm, adoptive daughter of scientist Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey) who seems slightly at odds with his reckless son Johnny Storm (played by Michael B. Jordan, whose casting was the source of much controversy).  Given less focus is Jamie Bell’s Ben Grimm who doesn’t get enough screen time before his transformation into the rock creature eventually known as ‘The Thing’ (now brought to life in CGI), which is a shame as the friendship between Richards and Grimm forms part of the FF’s family dynamic, which we only just see beginning to blossom by the closing credits.  Tim Blake Nelson’s gum chewing Dr. Allen aside, the villainy of Fantastic Four is unleashed via Victor Von Doom (aka Dr. Doom) played by Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ Toby Kebbell.  Kebbell is perhaps not as well served by the script as he could have been but non-the-less provides enough danger and high stakes for the heroes to unite against.

Going back to those aforementioned rumours of studio meddling, this becomes evident as Fantastic Four approaches its climax and shifts from modestly paced character drama and coming of age origin story to something more reminiscent of a straightforward comic book action vehicle.  It does make the overall production feel a little disjointed but despite some hasty studio implemented reshoots, Fantastic Four ultimately delivers a suitable finale.

There are some decent ideas in Fantastic Four, as I’ve cited it channels those SF/pioneer elements of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s original concept and the U.S. government’s exploitation of the team’s newfound abilities, although not wholly original, adds some interesting dramatic layers (most significantly in the case of The Thing).  Perhaps not enough time is taken to establish the key family dynamic of Marvel’s ‘First Family’, yet this is after all an origin story and there is certainly some foundation that could be built on with any sequels (which now seem unlikely, given disappointing opening weekend box office returns).  Despite a relatively short running time, there are moments when the film’s pacing feels a little sluggish, it’s been suggested that Fox cut three proposed action set-pieces as Fantastic Four began production and had they committed to their inclusion and allowed Trank (who had already previously delivered an excitingly fresh take on the superhero concept in Chronicle) to fulfil his original vision it could have received a much more positive reception and any kinks worked out with subsequent instalments.

The bottom line:  Fantastic Four has its flaws but for those who prefer a more cerebral take on the genre, it certainly has something to offer.

Fantastic Four is in cinemas now.

Marvel Comics' first superhero team are reimagined for 20th Century Fox's 'Fantastic Four'.

Marvel Comics’ first superhero team are reimagined for 20th Century Fox’s ‘Fantastic Four’.