Happy Birthday Stan!

“Mayhap the day will come when men think of truth – of right – of love for all their fellows.  I pray it will come soon! For not till then will humanity fulfil its promise – nay, not till then – will man and god – be one” (Thor 173 February 1970)

Happy Birthday Stan!

Stan Lee of Marvel Comics fame is ninety years old today, which only goes to prove that comics and staying young at heart give you a long life.  And maybe a good core of moral values helps too.

It has been several generations since kids took much notice of what their parents seriously tried to teach them and spiritual and moral values have been increasingly promoted through the media, especially children’s media like comics and films.  Not that the idea is new.  Moral storytelling is as old as the ancient Greeks if not earlier.  There have always been stories where ignorant, nasty people get their just deserts.  Nowadays the boundaries have blurred considerably to the point where nasty criminals become heroes and everything is measured with a confused bundle of values that must make us wonder what we’ve done when some fruitcake goes on a killing spree with a machine gun. All of which brings us back to Stan The Man Lee and Marvel Comics…

All those years ago Stan Lee made superheroes human.  Superman and Batman were too perfect, too far removed from the problems and sufferings of ordinary people.  It is said that kryptonite was invented to give the actor a break when Superman was broadcast on the radio but without kryptonite Superman is so invincible it is hardly worth having a villain present.  In fact, they might as well give up.  Stan Lee’s new breed of superhero were powerful but not too powerful and flawed in any number of ways just like anyone but, and it is a big BUT, when the chips are down they know what is right and the best values of human nature shine through – honesty, commitment, self-sacrifice, generosity etc etc.  Stan Lee has given several generations of kids all over the world a massive input on moral and spiritual issues and made it fun at the same time.  And it isn’t moralising us such most of the time.  Yes, the odd hero like Thor (who lets face it can be a bit starchy at times) does give forth with a slice of moralising like the one at the top of this article but mostly Stan had us think about it and decide for ourselves.  There were moral dilemmas.  Do you choose to save the one you love and allow the villain to get his nasty weapon working that may enslave all mankind or do you let your loved one die for the sake of humanity?

I’ve been reading Marvel comics since a time when I had no idea I was reading Marvel comics.  Howzat you ask?  Well, I was ten years old when a brand new comic was advertised on TV – ‘Fantastic’ it was called and I spent almost a whole day bicycling around every newsagent in the area until I found a copy.  The X-Men knocked me out.  I’d never seen anything like it in my short life so far (although not a lot since to be honest either!) and Thor and Iron Man …O Wow! … this was “Eureka” time all right!  And it was British too, it said so right across the top – “The Best of British Comics” – and it was a few years until I found out that the best of British comics was in fact American and that I’d been reading all these stories in cheap black & white print when they had originally been published several years earlier in the USA in full glorious colour.

As you might expect since I run Artists UK it was the art that grabbed me most but the stories were excellent and I’m sure that the moral and spiritual content was a bigger influence on me than anything that my teachers or parents said.  My big favourite was actually Dr. Strange, possibly because I like magical stuff and possibly because I found all the thumping and smashing of more physical characters could get a bit boring.  It could go something like Hulk hits Thor, Thor hits Hulk, Hulk hits Thor, Thor hits Hulk, Hulk hits Thor, Thor hits Hulk … zzzzzzzzzzzzzz.  I’m still waiting for a Dr Strange film and hope that characters like Eternity and The Living Tribunal are in it …

Anyway, what I’m trying to say amongst all this babbling is that, when you think about it, given the influence Stan The Man Lee has had via Marvel comics on so many generations of kids aged 9 to 90 all over the world, possibly we are looking here at the ninetieth birthday of the greatest superhero of them all and the true and unrecognised saviour of the world.  I doubt Stan is going to read this but if you do, thank you so much for all these amazing comics that I enjoy as much today as I did at ten years old when I had no idea they were Marvel comics.

Avengers Assemble – AWESOME!


Have you seen the Marvel Avengers Assemble film yet?  We went yesterday and it was mind-blowingly awesome.  Marvel have pulled off the biggest stunner so far with the Avengers film.  Given how good the films of Marvel’s individual super-heroes The Hulk, Thor, Iron Man and Captain America were it isn’t that surprising I suppose.  Apart from still trying to come to terms with a black and too young Nick Fury the Avengers and the villains are all very well-played and at least fairly well cast.  The Black Widow getting ready to face down the alien menace with a handgun did seem a bit daft though.  Couldn’t SHIELD have kitted her out with a better weapon than that?  I don’t want to give any Avengers film spoilers but the film is worth watching just for when the Hulk gets up close and personal with Loki.  That is a real laugh.  In fact in some respects The Hulk steals the show.

The Avengers forming as a team is well done and the Avengers infighting and misunderstandings that were always a trademark of Marvel’s all-too-human superheroes are there and well done.  Each Avenger has such a clear personality and the Avengers film makers have clearly set out to provide the definitive version of each Avenger.

I wasn’t sure about Loki but he won me over in the end.  There is a real slimy nasty menace about Loki and a kind of suave and arrogant way too.  Sadly, he reminded me of too many politicians.  As in the Avengers Marvel comics, it becomes clear who is the boss of the Avengers and Captain America is really impressive.  At first glance he is the weakest of the four Avengers but, as in the Marvel comics of the Avengers, ultimately he is the strongest in what counts – skill and intelligence.

The special effects are with all the stops pulled out in Avengers Assemble.  The jaw-dropping global effects from 2012 are there and plenty of others.  If you haven’t seen the Avengers Assemble film yet then don’t miss Marvel supremo Stan Lee’s cameo at the end where he says that the idea of super-heroes in New York is ridiculous.  Of course it is Stan Lee’s 90th birthday this year, which only goes to prove that Marvel comics keep you young and you live longer.

There are a question or two of course on the Avengers film that you might want to comment on.  Whatever happened to the Avengers Giant Man / Ant Man and The Wasp who were members of the original Avengers line-up?  In a way it seems odd to have Hawkeye and the Black Widow around and leave them out.  I always thought Giant Man was a great Avenger.  That would also have paved the way for Hawkeye to have done his Goliath bit and the Avengers comics of that period had an interesting take on what happened when Hawkeye became Goliath.  We also miss out on Giant Man as Yellowjacket of course who was a real character in the Marvel Avengers comics.   If they felt the need to turn Nick Fury black to introduce a little balance into the predominantly whitey world of Marvel superheroes then why didn’t they bring in The Black Panther?  He’s a rich African tribal chief for goodness sake!  Last but not least there’s The Vision and his unlikely romance with another Avenger The Scarlet Witch (also not included in the Avengers here and nor is her brother Quicksilver).  There are still many poignant, exciting, meaningful and world-shattering moments from the history of Marvel’s Avengers comics that could be put into a film.  Let’s hope some of them make it into the next Avengers Assemble film and if I’ve missed a few ideas I’m sure you’ll put me right in the comments.

Mighty Thor indeed!

Thor in 3D – Wow!  Thor the Norse god, Thor the comic hero and now Thor the film star!

The THOR film is literally magnificent. The special effects for THOR are the best yet.  Asgard looks stunning and is still based on the artwork from when Jack Kirby drew Thor at Marvel comics some 60 years ago (The Mighty Thor). The storyline is not the original Marvel Thor comic book origin story but what they have done with it works very well. Anthony Hopkins is fabulous as Odin and the other characters are well cast.  My only gripe would be the modernisation of Thor’s Asgardian language. Thor speaks a little in the Old English style he had in the Thor comics but it kind of gets forgotten later on and Thor ends up saying things like, “Well, maybe I had it coming” and that seems rather odd. Thor and the other Asgardians do seem a bit too human for the most part but these are minor gripes for what is one of the best Marvel adaptations so far.  THOR is certainly on a par with the Spiderman and X-Men films.  The Destroyer, resurrected from the Thor comics, is totally awesome and far outstrips the Thor comic version.  Yep, thumbs up – go see THOR, especially in 3D!