Tag Archive | "Marvel Comics"

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Is Marvel Shelving The FANTASTIC FOUR Comic To Spite Fox?

Posted on 02 June 2014 by William Gatevackes

marvel 75 years Could Marvel Comics be putting one of its longest running comic book properties  properties on hiatus just to get back at Fox? Or could there be another, more sinister reason for their disappearance?

It all started when Bleeding Cool noticed that the Fantastic Four was missing from a bit of promotional art for Marvel’s 75th Anniversary, seen to the left. This was a noticeable omission because the FF were vital to the history of Marvel and should have been definitely included in the anniversary celebration.

This caused Bleeding Cool’s Rich Johnson to do some digging. His sources told him that the omission was deliberate and what’s more, Marvel would be putting its Fantastic Four comics on hiatus, relegating the characters to guest stars in other books. The reason? Marvel’s mercurial CEO Isaac Perlmutter issued an edict prohibiting the FF from being prominently featured or promoted by Marvel while Fox held the movie rights, because it meant promoting a movie franchise where the studio got the lion’s share of the profits and the comic book company got little.

marve artwork guidlinesMarvel, of course, denied this, which caused Johnston to come back with a letter an artist for Marvel’s line of trading cards received. The letter specifically states that the Fantastic Four members, villains and supporting characters are off-limits for inclusion in any set.

One major flaw to this is that the X-Men film license is still held by Fox and Marvel still hasn’t stopped publishing numerous comics featuring those characters. Johnston claims that the X-Books are safe because they are such good sellers. And after all, no mutant characters appear in that image either, and others have noticed supposed slights by Marvel towards the X-characters as well.

Of course, there might be another reason why the Fantastic Four, and only the Fantastic Four, are singled out for this type of hiatus.

On May 15 of this year, Marc Toberoff, lawyer for the Jack Kirby Estate, petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court, asking them to hear an appeal on the case of the Estate Vs. Marvel over rights to most of the Marvel Comics characters. I can’t find anything on the Internet on what the results of that petition were (The Supreme Court site currently only  goes up to April), but what if the Supreme Court decided to hear the case? And what if Marvel’s lawyers informed them they had a very good chance of losing the Fantastic Four in the ruling?

The Kirby Family staked claim to a lot of Marvel characters, some that historians say Jack Kirby had little or no role in their creation. Most of the rest fall under typical “work-for-hire” agreements, but the Fantastic Four might not.

ff#1Kirby claimed in a 1990 interview with The Comics Journal that the Fantastic Four was created solely by him and not as a work-for-hire. Kirby claimed that he came up with the idea and brought it to Stan Lee. Of course, Stan Lee has a different story of the team’s creation, but Kirby’s version of the creation does have a bit of credence to it due to FF’s resemblance to another team Kirby created for DC 4 years earlier–the Challengers of the Unknown. Both teams were a quartet of adventurers who faced off against monsters, aliens and weird villains. And both teams featured a genius scientist, a slow-witted muscle man, and a reckless risk-taker.

And if you made that letter above a little larger, you’ll see that the majority of the characters on the list first appeared between Fantastic Four #1 and #21, the issue numbers specified by the Kirby Estate lawsuit. The only exceptions are Galactus and Silver Surfer, two characters whom even Lee himself admitted were Jack Kirby’s sole creations.

And there is a precedent for this scorched Earth policy regarding these ownership disputed characters. During the brief period when the rights to Superboy were reverted to the Jerry Siegel estate, DC Comics killed off its then-current incarnation of the Superboy character, changed the name of another character from Superboy-Prime to Superman-Prime, and scrubbed out just about all mention of Superboy in DC books.

This is all just a theory of mine. But my theory makes more sense than the one Johnston’s sources are putting out. Of course, a theory doesn’t have to make sense to be true.

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HISTORY OF THE COMIC BOOK FILM: The Non-Comic Book Superhero, Part I

Posted on 08 February 2013 by William Gatevackes

In a multi-part series, Comic Book Film Editor William Gatevackes will be tracing the history of comic book movies from the earliest days of the film serials to today’s big blockbusters and beyond. Along with the history lesson, Bill will be covering some of the most prominent comic book films over the years and why they were so special. This time, we’ll talk about superhero films not adapted from any comic book.  

1980-hero-at-large-poster1Not every movie starring a superhero is adapted from a comic book but each has been inspired by or in turn inspired comic books.  Many of these non-comic book comic book films have sprung up in recent years but they have been appearing in movie theaters for over thirty years. We will dedicate the next few installments to these movies. We’ll try to talk about all of them here, but odds are one or two will slip our notice. Let us know what you think we’ve missed and maybe we’ll include them in a future installment.

One of my most fondly remembered superhero movies was 1980’s Hero At Large.

John Ritter stars as Steve Nichols, an underemployed actor who is hired to portray the character Captain Avenger at the opening of a film based on the character. A job that entailed just signing autographs for fans becomes something more when Nichols breaks up a robbery while in costume. The media grabs hold of it, and his life becomes much more complicated. Nichols is compelled to keep fighting crime as Captain Avenger while political interests want to use Nichols for their own interests.

I haven’t seen the film in a while, but it was one of my favorites as a youth. It wasn’t Hamlet, but it wasn’t awful either. Anne Archer, passed over several years prior for Lois Lane in Superman, gets to play a similar part here as Nichols’ neighbor/love interest. Kevin Bacon has a small part in the film as well.

The film made $15,934,737 at the box office that year. That might seem paltry by today’s standards, but it out grossed other, better well known films from that year such as Prom Night, Used Cars, Stardust Memories and Mad Max.

A year later, Disney came out with its take on the superhero, Condorman.

condorman-movie-poster-1981-1020203587Hero At Large might have been cheesy, but it was nothing compared to this film. Condorman couldn’t have been cheesier if it was paired with a beef stick and sold at a Hickory Farms kiosk over the holidays. The film has been all but consigned to the dustbin of history by most (the above trailer was put together by a fan), those that do remember it recall it fondly in a “so-bad-it’s-good” sort of way.   Michael Crawford, five years before he would take the stage as the Phantom in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s production of Phantom of the Opera, stars as Woody Wilkins, a comic book writer of a character called “Condorman” who is pulled into a spy exchange in Europe. Wilkins adopts the Condorman identity, becomes a spy for the CIA, and rescues a Russian double agent played by Barbara Carrera.

In all fairness, the film is more a Disneyfied version of the James Bond-esque spy thriller than an actual comic book, although Crawford does appear in costume as Condorman and uses many Batman-esque gizmos and gadgets. It goes without saying that the film was a critical and commercial flop.

While Condorman probably began with the noblest intentions and wound up at cheesiness accidentally, The Toxic Avenger wallowed in its inherent cheesiness to the fullest extent from the very first day of production, as is the trademark of the studio that released it, Troma Entertainment.

toxic avenger fourWhether it was intended to be or not, 1984’s The Toxic Avenger was like all of the Marvel Comics from the 1960s brought to the big screen all wrapped up in one. Toxie, as he is lovingly referred to, starts the film as a nerdy janitor bullied by his peers (much like Peter Parker was before he became Spider-Man). One day, he has an accidental exposure to radioactive materials (like, well, take your pick: Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, The Hulk, Daredevil, any number of other heroes and villains from Marvel at that time) which causes the nebbish to grow into a superhumanly strong creature (like The Hulk). He uses his new power to fight crime in Tromaville, finding love along the way with a blind woman who loves him for who he is and not what he looks like (mimicking a plot point featuring the Fantastic Four’s Thing and blind sculptress Alicia Masters).

What separated the film from the Marvel Comics of the 1960s was the schlocky, off-center and off-color humor, the violence that was so graphic that it became absurd, and the copious amounts of sex and nudity that is the trademark of the Troma film. But the first film was a success and that spawned a sequel, 1989’s The Toxic Avenger Part II:

When Troma found they shot enough footage for two films, they released another sequel in 1989, The Toxic Avenger Part III: The Last Temptation of Toxie:

And yet another sequel, 2000’s Citizen Toxie: The Toxic Avenger IV:

That last film pulled out all the stops when it came to celebrity cameos, featuring Ron Jeremy, Corey Feldman, Hugh Hefner, and Julie Strain, with Stan Lee serving as narrator.

The Toxic Avenger was also adapted into a short-lived Marvel comic book in 1991 and a stage musical in 2008. A rumored fourth sequel was planned, but might have made way for a PG-13 remake produced by Akiva Goldsman and directed by Hot Tub Time Machine’s Steve Pink.

The next film we are going to discuss was made with noble intentions but became a box office failure. Hollywood Shuffle’s Robert Townsend wanted to make a film that was a counter-point to the popular “gangsta” films such as New Jack City and Juice that dominated cineplexes at the time. So, in 1993, he came up with a film idea that presented a positive black role model that would work to stop black-on-black violence instead of glorify it. That film was The Meteor Man.

1993-the-meteor-man-poster1The film told the story of Jefferson Reed, a Washington, DC teacher who is struck by a meteor and given superpowers. He uses these powers to clean up his neighborhood—stopping gang violence, demolishing crack houses, and stopping robberies. While the Toxic Avenger was a mix of a bunch of Marvel superheroes, the Meteor Man seemed to borrow from a number of DC Comics heroes, most notably Superman (who shares most of the same powers and the “mom-made costume” bit) and Black Lightning (DC’s first major black superhero, who was also a teacher named Jefferson Pierce).

The film featured a veritable who’s who of the best African-American actors America had to offer, including Bill Cosby, James Earl Jones, and Robert Guillaume and did earnestly try to present a more positive African-American role model.  But the film was rather simplistic and the naive (the two gangs in the film, the Bloods and the Crips, put aside their differences to support Meteor Man in his fight against the white drug lord) script led to box-office disappointment.

Next time, we cover three popular movies that might stretch the definition of the superhero, but that had an effect on comic books for years to come.

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Posted on 28 December 2012 by William Gatevackes

In a multi-part series, Comic Book Film Editor William Gatevackes will be tracing the history of comic book movies from the earliest days of the film serials to today’s big blockbusters and beyond. Along with the history lesson, Bill will be covering some of the most prominent comic book films over the years and why they were so special. This time, we’ll talk about how Blade was the true start of Marvel’s dominance of the comic book film.

One way to look at it, he could be the answer to “What if Shaft hunted vampires?” Or it could have very well been a counterpoint to Blacula, which hit theaters the year before. You can make any theory you want, but it seems like Blade’s first appearance in 1973’s Tomb of Dracula #10 played off the popular Blaxploitation trend of the day. It is ironic that a character inspired by a film genre would be the adaptation that would jump-start Marvel’s mastery of the film box office.

bladeThe comic book Blade was created by Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan to be an adversary of Dracula. He was the son of a woman who was attacked by a vampire while giving birth to Blade. This bite passed on certain abilities to Blade, such as not being susceptible to vampires yet being attuned to their genetic makeup, therefore able to track them. Other than that, he was a highly-trained martial artist and fighter with no superpowers.

Before the film came out, Blade typically made only a supporting character in other character’s books, only having one, ten-issue series to his name. Not really the first character you’d expect to be made into a movie, considering Marvel’s most popular titles (X-Men, Spider-Man, Fantastic Four) either were stuck in development Hell or adapted with less than stellar results.

Blade movieBut Blade being the first of this new era of Marvel Comics films was probably the best thing to happen to the genre. Being that the character was so low on the totem pole, there were less preconceived notions about the concept, and, therefore, more freedom. It was brought to the screen by three people with respect for the comic book medium—writer David S. Goyer (a man who has written for comic books), Wesley Snipes (who has been attached to every African-American comic book character being brought to the big screen, from Luke Cage to Black Panther) and Stephen Norrington (who would go on to direct League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and would be attached at various times to the Ghost Rider film and The Crow reboot). These men would set the template of how to make a successful comic book film.

That template boiled down to being respectful to the source material while making the best film you can. Changes to the comic book source material shouldn’t be done arbitrarily, but to make the best cinematic presentation possible.

Blade (1)

Case in point, the film changes Blade’s origin. His mother is still bitten by a vampire, but before she gives birth. But the bite now turns Blade into what is called a “Daywalker,” someone with all the powers and weaknesses of a vampire yet able to walk in the day time. This change adds more weight and pathos to the character, while making him more of a threat to the vampires.

Another part of the template is that Goyer and Norrington left the campiness at home. Blade is a serious work. Wesley Snipes consistently plays Blade as a grim, driven hunter, never with a wink of his eye towards the audience that he thinks he’s above the material.  There are oodles of cyberpunk style layered on, but never to the point of becoming a joke. The project was approached not as adapting kiddie fare; it was approached as a horror concept and treated duly respectfully. And it was released with an R rating, to say that it definitely wasn’t kid’s stuff.

1276357630This first Blade almost tripled its budget, which set up the inevitable sequel, Blade II.

Goyer stayed on to write, but the directorial reins were handed over to a pre-Hellboy Guillermo del Toro. This film sent Blade to Europe in search of a hybrid band of vampire called Reavers, so advanced they hunt normal vampires. Blade is forced to team with a group of vampire mercenaries, one played by future Hellboy Ron Perlman, to eradicate the threat to humans and vampires alike.

Blade II made the most money of the series, and a franchise was born. But the future of the franchise was placed in jeopardy with the next sequel—Blade: Trinity.

819567e8ab1d3ee18573adf8b5ff7ac3David S. Goyer took over the directing duties in addition to his writing job this time around, and decided the Blade franchise needed to branch out. Therefore, he added two new vampire hunters to help Blade out: one from the comics in the form of Ryan “Mr. Comic Book Film” Reynolds’  Hannibal King and one original creation in Jessica Biel’s Abigail Whistler.  The idea was to allow Blade: Trinity to showcase these characters so audiences would fall in love with them and they could spin them off into their own film franchise or in place of the Blade franchise if Snipes retired the role.

There were a number of problems with this. First off, they forgot to ask Snipes what he thought of this. Well, since he was a producer on the film, they probably did ask him. They probably just ignored what problems he had with the idea. Snipes felt Blade didn’t need another partner, he had Whistler (played by Kris Kristofferson in the first two films and written as Abigail’s father in this one) and that was fine. Snipes eventually sued New Line Cinema and Goyer, stating he hadn’t been paid what he was owed and that his screen time was deliberately reduced at the expense of giving the spin off characters more screen time, which hampered the quality of the film.

2004_blade_trinity_005He might have had a point there, because the film is the weakest of the three. While I didn’t find it as horrible as some critics, it definitely seemed out of place in style and tone with the two previous Blade films. It attempted to ape the style of the other films, but came off as too glossy and less gritty than the others. The new characters did defuse the focus quite a bit, and while in this film they finally pit Blade against Dracula, the villain is mostly relegated to a background role, making for a wasted opportunity.

Despite the hard feelings, Snipes has repeatedly stated he would like there to be a Blade 4. But the actor’s imprisonment for tax evasion, him being over 50 when released in 2013, and Marvel gaining the rights back from New Line means that any new Blade film will probably be a reboot and most likely not feature Snipes.

Next time, we look at how the new era of comic book films opened the doors for more independent comic books to hit the big screen.

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Jessica Biel Cast As The Viper In THE WOLVERINE

Posted on 13 July 2012 by William Gatevackes

The more I hear about The Wolverine, the more I like it. It has the potential to be one of the most faithful comic book adaptations to date. And the casting of a big name in a major role gives us a little more insight into what the film’s plot may be.

Deadline is reporting that Jessica Biel has been cast as The ViperThis will be Biel’s second Marvel film. She has played Abigail Whistler in 2004’s Blade: Trinity.

The Viper character has had a long and interesting history in comics. She first appeared in Captain America #110, created by writer/artist Jim Steranko. She is an international terrorist, and her plots have brought her into conflict with Captain America, Spider-Man, Spider Woman, and many other Marvel heroes.

I have spoke about her involvement with the comic book storyline The Wolverine appears to be partially adapted from here. Her inclusion will hopefully mean that the partnership of the Viper and Silver Samurai will carry over from the comics, but it also means that unless she only comes in during the final act of the film, the film storyline will have to be very different than the comics that inspired them (her character and the Silver Samurai appears after conflict between Wolverine and Shingen is over).

Also missing, presumably,  will be The Viper’s connection to HYDRA, the Marvel Comics terrorist organization that was brought to the screen in Captain America: The First Avenger. On the surface, her comic book involvement might seem like something that can easily be erased for the film,  but she once was known as Madame Hydra in the comics. Perhaps this could appear as a bit of subtle continuity between the Fox films and the Marvel films if they keep this tidbit intact.

Regardless, between this, her involvement with Blade: Trinity, and her role in the upcoming Total Recall remake, she is developing quite the geek cred.

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Posted on 12 July 2012 by William Gatevackes

Marvel Comics, in its haste to get its properties on the big screen, made a lot of “use them or lose them” deals regarding the rights, meaning that the film studios would keep the rights as long as they kept making films featuring the Marvel characters. This was good at first because it resulted in a lot of great films by top name directors. But now that Marvel is owned by Disney, a company that knows a thing or two about films, you get the sense that the powers that be wish that some of these properties will come back into the fold.

Fox owns the rights to the X-Men and just about all of Marvel’s mutants, the Fantastic Four and Daredevil. The studio is keeping a stranglehold on the lucrative X-Men rights, always having at least one X-film in development at all times. However, Deadline reports that there has been some action on the Daredevil and Fantastic Four fronts, news that might result in one of the properties reverting back to Marvel.

Deadline states that Chronicle director Josh Trank has been officially named by Fox as helming the Fantastic Four reboot. The FF reboot is on the fast track, meaning that it is expected to be the next Marvel film to come from the studio after The Wolverine and Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men: First Class sequel and it will be the much in demand Trank’s next film. It has been five years since 2007’s Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, and while the FF were a financial success for Fox, it was far from a success with the critics. Hopefully, this reboot will address that.

2003’s Daredevil was a similar box-office success yet a critical disappointment, and Fox has been looking to reboot that franchise as well. Since we are approaching ten years since that film came out (time flies, doesn’t it?), if Fox doesn’t act soon, the rights to Ol’ Hornhead will revert back to Marvel. And a recent development might mean that we could see Daredevil’s lawyer alter ego Matt Murdock representing Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner or Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark in the near future.

David Slade has dropped out of the reboot over time constraints. Fox needs the new Daredevil film to start production in the fall to avoid the rights going back to Marvel and Slade, who is directing the pilot for NBC’s Hannibal series, cannot find time in his schedule to work within Fox’s. There is a script that the studio likes and is ready to go, but Fox needs to find a new director that is ready to get started quickly and get a project up and running by the times the leaves turn. It could happen, but considering that Fox chose Brett Ratner as a last-minute replacement for Bryan Singer and Matthew Vaughn on X-Men: The Last Stand, I don’t trust Fox’s judgement on finding replacement directors who can get a project up and running quickly. It might be better to just let Marvel take over.

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1970’s HUMAN FLY Being Adapted For Big Screen

Posted on 27 June 2012 by William Gatevackes

Deadline is reporting that a deal has been reached for the rights The Human Fly, the star of a Marvel Comics comic book which ran for 19 issues from 1977 to 1979. The producers are aiming to bring character to the big screen with an independent release.

Independent release, you might say? Well, aren’t all Marvel Comics characters that appeared in their comics over the years owned by Marvel, who is owned by Disney, who is a major studio? Yes, they are, unless it was, say, a comic book based on a real-life stuntman that Marvel licensed to cash in on a popular pop culture phenomenon of the day.

The Human Fly was a Canadian stunt daredevil, one of many that rose up in the wake of Evel Knievel. The Human Fly did public stunts, albeit with a twist. He had a comic book costume, complete with a full luchador-style mask that hid his identity, and he would donate a portion of the profits to charity.

As part of the promotional push for The Human Fly, the people working with the anonymous stuntman contacted Marvel Comics to see if they would be interested doing a comic book series about their business associate. Marvel, thinking they were getting into business with the next Evel Knievel, jumped at the chance.  Unfortunately, The Human Fly’s career had no buzz to it (Sorry) and the comic book lasted just over a year and a half before being cancelled.

Deadline’s Dominic Patten makes the film out to be your prototypical superhero film, even bringing up the fact that Marvel characters such as Spider-Man and Daredevil cameoed in the Human Fly’s series. However, a cursory search of the Internet would bring you to thehumanflymovie.com, which, like Patten’s article, lists Steve Goldmann as the director and Tony Babinski as the writer of the film. It also includes the film clip I’ve embedded below, which is a snippet of a documentary account of The Human Fly’s short life on the world stage where Goldmann and Babinski are once again credited as director and writer.

From the looks of the site and the above clip, I doubt that we will be getting a superhero film like Patten thinks but instead either a fictionalized version of the real-life Human Fly’s story or, more likely, a documentary about the costumed daredevil. Also, not to kick a fellow journalist when he’s down. it appears that the Human Fly was not Joe Ramacieri like he stated, as the film clip shows Ramacieri as one of the men behind the gimmick. That same cursory search of the Internet would have told Patten that the Human Fly was most likely a stuntman named Rick Rojatt, a fact confirmed by the man who built one of his stunt bikes.

So, The Human Fly might not be the next comic book superhero film to come down the pike. But that might not be that bad because the real life story seems far more interesting.

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Posted on 04 November 2011 by William Gatevackes

In a multi-part series, Comic Book Film Editor William Gatevackes will be tracing the history of comic book movies from the earliest days of the film serials to today’s big blockbusters and beyond. Along with the history lesson, Bill will be covering some of the most prominent comic book films over the years and why they were so special. This time, we’ll focus how Star Wars went from not being a comic book movie to being a comic book movie.

It seems hard to believe that there ever was a time when putting the words Star Wars on something wasn’t the equivalent of printing money. But that wasn’t always the case. As a matter of fact, the thought of putting up the first Star Wars film was a dicey proposition.

You had George Lucas, a talented yet unproven writer/director with only two films to his name—THX1138 and American Graffiti. He was creating the big space opera that many studio executives didn’t get. It promised to be a big budget production, which scared off many studios. Theaters weren’t that willing to carry the movie, considering that the biggest stars on screen were Alec Guinness and Peter Cushing. Sure, you had Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds daughter in the film and James Earl Jones doing a voice, but it wasn’t like you had Paul Newman and Robert Redford in the film. Some theater owners had to be blackmailed into carrying the film by Fox threatening to withhold the then highly anticipated adaptation of Sidney Sheldon’s The Other Side of Midnight.

So, before it came out, Star Wars wasn’t a slam dunk guaranteed success. But Lucas and his staff came up with an ingenious way of promoting the film—comic books.  They created a pitch and presented their case to Marvel Comics publisher Stan Lee. Marvel would get the rights to publish a comic book based on Star Wars with the only catch being that they would have to publish two issues of the six-issue adaptation of the film before the film was released (to generate buzz amongst comic fans for the film). Lee, being a prudent businessman, did the smart and logical thing.

He told them no. He flat out denied their request.

Perhaps it was due to Lee’s aversion to licensed properties (Roy Thomas had to beg him to agree to license Conan the Barbarian, a property that became a best-seller for Marvel). Or maybe Lee knew that Marvel, a company that was experiencing an uncertain future due to declining sales and a shaky corporate parent in the Cadence Industries, wouldn’t want to risk taking a chance on a science-fiction property (which didn’t sell well in the renewed age of the superhero comic) adapted from a film (which were seldom high sellers, even if the source film was a hit, which there was serious doubt that Star Wars would be). So Lee said no and when he killed an idea, the idea stayed dead.

Unless, that is, Roy Thomas could convince him otherwise.

Roy Thomas was a respected writer and editor and was Stan’s handpicked successor to become Editor-In-Chief at Marvel when Lee stepped down from the position. Thomas had just resigned as EIC himself to focus on writing when Lucas contacted him through a mutual acquaintance. The acquaintence set up a meeting between Thomas and Lucas’ right hand man, Charley Lippincott, to try once more to get the comic book up and running. Thomas agreed to listen to the pitch with little intention of approving the concept. First, he wasn’t EIC anymore, so he couldn’t get it approved without Stan Lee’s approval and, second, Stan had already passed on it, which made it essentially a moot issue.

Lippincott began telling Thomas the plot of the film, armed with the now famous production drawings of Ralph McQuarrie. He got halfway through the presentation when Thomas stopped him. He had heard all he needed to hear.

Thomas was sold. He saw potential in the story. The film might not do that good, but it would make a great comic book. He immediately went to Stan and convinced him to change his mind. He did and same as Stan rejecting an idea would kill it dead, his approving an idea meant it got published—even if the people working at Marvel were dead against it.

How did the comic do? I’ll let Jim Shooter, editor at Marvel at the time, explain:

The first two issues of our six (?) issue adaptation came out in advance of the movie. Driven by the advance marketing for the movie, sales were very good. Then about the time the third issue shipped, the movie was released. Sales made the jump to hyperspace.

And the title kept on selling. The film was a cultural phenomenon. People lined up around the block just to get into a showing from the day it was released. Theaters that wanted to have nothing to do with the film were now clamoring to house the film as it expanded into wider release. And this adaptation that almost never got made ended up saving Marvel.

The Comic Book Jabba

Star Wars has been published in comics form ever since. Marvel published 107 issues of the series over the next nine years. It adapted Empire Strikes Back in its pages and gave fans its first look at Jabba the Hutt (who Marvel artists drew to resemble a green rabbit/walrus hybrid, not the slug-like Jabba from the films). Marvel also published an adaptation of Return of the Jedi in a separate miniseries. This miniseries got Marvel in a bit of hot water when Luke Skywalker himself, comic fan Mark Hammill, walked into a comic shop and found that some enterprising comic shop owner had started selling the miniseries before not only the predetermined street date but also before the sequel hit movie screens. Ironic that Marvel was getting into trouble for something the studio made them do at the start of the relationship, isn’t it?

The success of the Star Wars comic book not only kept Marvel afloat during a tough time, but allowed them to develop the right creators on the right titles that would give them the lead in market share. Pairings such as Chris Claremont and John Byrne on the X-Men, Frank Miller on Daredevil, Byrne on Fantastic Four, and Walt Simonson on Thor.

The Star Wars license is now at Dark Horse Comics and is a great contributor to that company’s bottom line. But none of it would have happened if Roy Thomas hadn’t taken a chance on the property years earlier. Star Wars might not have been adapted from a comic, but it did appear in comics before it appeared in movie theaters. And I think that’s worthy of inclusion here.

Next up, you will believe a man can fly. Because the actor playing the man is exceptionally super.

Bonus, another form of Star Wars marketing from the era!

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Your Guide To The Inhumans and Guardians of the Galaxy

Posted on 06 October 2011 by William Gatevackes

When Kevin Feige was asked by Entertainment Weekly, “What’s Next for Marvel?,” he gave us five projects. Three we already knew of–Iron Man 3, Thor 2 and Ant-Man. But the other two–Guardians of the Galaxy and Inhumans–caught even the hard-core Marvel Zombie by surprise. Those two properties are obscure to most comic readers, and since Iron Man was often described as an “obscure Marvel character” in the mainstream press, there two could be considered complete unknowns to the non-comic literate.

Well, we are trying to fix that. This post will try to give the non-comic book Marvel film fans a heads-up on the two teams. Both have been in existence for over 40 years and have very twisted and complex histories. We’ll try to distill them down into what filmmakers most likely will focus on when bringing them to the screen.

The Inhumans:

First Appearance: Fantastic Four #45 (December 1965)

Created by: Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.

If you were to pitch it…: Arthurian Legend meets Star Wars meets Game of Thrones with a little X-Men mixed in.

The Skinny: The Inhumans are a reclusive off-shoot of humanity that reside in the Himalayas. A million years ago, an alien race experimented with the DNA of a small group of humans to give them superpowers. Over the years, these test subjects became the race known as the Inhumans, and the giving of superpowers has become a cultural touchstone. When one of the race comes of age, he or she is exposed to something called the “Terrigen Mists.” These mists cause the Inhumans to mutate and develop powers, most often with grotesque alterations to their physical appearance.

Most of the adventures focus on their king, Black Bolt, and his royal family as they fight against the machinations of Black Bolt’s insane brother Maximus, who wishes to usurp Black Bolt and become leader of the Inhumans himself.

Cast of Characters:

Black Bolt, leader of the Inhumans and king of their royal family. His power is his voice which is awesomely destructive. A whisper has the force of a category 5 hurricane, a shout the destructive power of an atom bomb. Thereforey, he cannot speak, ever. Medusa, wife of Black Bolt and the one who puts his wishes into words. Her power is her hair, which is prehensile and that she is able to control. Crystal, sister to Medusa with the power to control the elements (fire, water, air and earth), Gorgon, cousin of Black Bolt whose exposure to the Terrigen Mists left him with bull’s hooves instead of feet, which can cause earthquakes when he stomps them. Triton, a merman cousin to Black Bolt who breathes water and is able to survive underwater for extended period time, Karnak, another cousin of Black Bolt that was never exposed to the Terrigen Mists. Therefore, he has no superpowers but is an extremely advanced martial artist, his skilled honed to the point that he can identify the weak point of an person or object. Maximus the Mad, brother to Black Bolt who is a powerful telepath. And, finally, Lockjaw, an enourmous, dog-like creature (whether he be a mutated human or mutated animal is left in some doubt) with the power of teleportation.

Possible connections to the current slate of Marvel film continuity?:

Well, the aliens that gave the Inhumans their superpowers, the Kree, are the comic book arch-enemy of the Skrulls, the rumored villains featured in The Avengers. In addition, the comic book Inhumans have had numerous contacts with the Avengers, with Crystal even serving as a member for a short time.

Possible plus and minuses of a film version:

Well, the concept leads itself to an epic scope and granduer. Being that the entire race of Inhumans are mutated and they live in a hidden kingdom, the visual imagry could rival that which was featured in Green Lantern. However, the concept needs to have a human focus that can introduce us to the Inhumans and that can vicariously act as our guide. In the comics, this role was filled by the Fantastic Four, but since the rights to the FF are still owned by Fox, that won’t happen here.

And good luck on finding an actor to take on the role of Black Bolt, especially if they keep the costume similar to the comic book version. Not many actors would be up to the challenge of acting while having half of their face covered and lacking the ability to speak.

Also, this is a concept co-created by Jack Kirby. While this property wasn’t included in the termination of copyright filed by the Kirby children (who only included characters created up to Fantastic Four #21 in the termination), there is no guarantee the Kirby heirs might not file another one for these guys. So far, the courts have ruled against the Kirby heirs, so we have to see how successful their appeal is before we get an understanding of how they can threaten this property.

Guardians of the Galaxy:

Created by: Arnold Drake and Gene Colan.

If you were to pitch it…: Star Wars meets V meets The Terminator meets The Dirty Dozen by way of the A-Team with a little Planet of the Apes and The Great Escape thrown in for good measure.

The Skinny: In the 31st century, a reptilian alien race known as the Badoon has conquered most of the solar system. In a prison camp, four men,  the last of their race, meet. Together, they manage to escape and become a commando force against the Badoon, gaining allies along the way, and begin to fight back against the Badoon oppression. NOTE: This is the backstory of the original Guardians of the Galaxy. There was a more recent incarnation of the concept with different characters and which took place in the “present day” of Marvel continuity. Since the blurb in EW made reference to the characters being the “last fo their kind,” that leads me to believe that this version is the one that they are bringing to the big screen.

Cast of Characters:

Vance Astro, a 21st century astronaut who is put into suspended animation in order to explore the far reaches of the universe. When he wakes up a millenium later, he finds his homeworld overrun by the Badoon. He possesses telekinetic powers. Charlie-27, a citizen of an Earth colony on Jupiter who was biogenetically engineered to withstand the increased gravity on Jupiter. A side effect of this bioengineering is superhuman strength and invulnerability. Martinex, a citzen of an Earth colony on Pluto biogenetically engineered to withstand the environmental extremes on the planet. This bioengineering gives his body a crystalline appearance and the ability to generate blasts of heat and cold from his body. And Yondu, a native of the planet Centauri IV with limited SP and the ability to control the path of his arrows through whistling. Later, the team would add Starhawk, a powerful manipulator of energy from Arcturus IV and Nikki, the last known survivor of the Earth colony on Mercury who inherited her parents’ biogenetically engineered ability to withstand intense heat and radiation.

Possible connections to the current slate of Marvel film continuity?:

The characters in the comics followed a human given god-like powers by the Badoon by the name of Korvac back into the past and defeated him with the help of the Avengers. That seems to be a bit of a stretch to happen in the Marvel film universe, but it is a possibility.

Possible plus and minuses of a film version:

On paper, this concept seems like a great idea for a film. It is chock full of a bunch of familiar tropes–alien invasion, prision escape, loners uniting for a common cause, small band of rebels fighting against an oppressive empire–that has been very successful before. But this is going to be a CGI heavy piece, therefore very expensive. There might be corners cut to get the property up on the screen, which usually doesn’t result in a great movie.

Also, Vance Astro technically is a mutant and Fox, through their X-Men rights, supposedly owns the screen rights to any mutant that Marvel ever published. Should be interesting to see if that becomes an issue.

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Surprising No One, Kirby’s Heirs File Appeal In Rights Lawsuit

Posted on 15 August 2011 by William Gatevackes

The Hollywood Reporter states that Marc Toberoff, left, attorney for the children of Jack Kirby, has filed an appeal with the New York State Second Circuit Court of Appeal to overturn a recent summary judgement in favor of Marvel Comics and a rejection of the the summary judgement of the Kirby family.

This is not surprising as Toberoff admitted an appeal was in the offing when the decision as per summary judgement was handed down a little over two weeks ago.

The case is controversial amongst the comic book world, with Pro-Kirby factions believing, among other things, that Marvel should be punished for their truly abysmal treatment of Kirby over the years, and the Pro-Marvel side saying, among other things, that the Kirby children (Lisa, Barbara, Susan and Neal) shouldn’t get any money from their father’s creations because they had no hand in creating them.

As emotionally charged as those arguments get, the meat of this case is whether Kirby’s work for Marvel from 1958 to 1963 were “work-for-hire,” or, in other words, work done at the behest of the copyright holders (a.k.a. Marvel) and not original ideas that he sold to them. The court two weeks ago said they were work for hire. It is up to Toberoff to do a better job than he did in the original filing to prove otherwise.

This is the wording from the original complain as per the Kirby Estate’s claims that their father’s work wasn’t work for hire.

22. During this period, Kirby was not an employee of any of Marvel’s Predecessors and was not paid a fixed salary or wage by any of them. Marvel’s Predecessors were not financially obligated to Kirby, kept their options open, and thus never committed to any written agreement pursuant to which Kirby was to create his works. Like many others during this difficult economic time, Kirby worked solely on a freelance basis out of his own home, with his own instruments and materials and thereby bore the financial risk of creating his copyrighted materials. At completion, such material was submitted to Marvel’s Predecessors, and if they accepted it for publication, they purchased Kirby’s material at a perpage rate.

The “Marvel’s Predecessors” refers to the fact that Marvel was known as “Atlas” when Kirby started working for them in 1958.

The main problem with the argument presented above is that presents an not entirely accurate depiction of the way things worked back then. Stan Lee was writer/editor-in-chief at Marvel at the time, and the accepted belief is that he would provide a plot outline (which could have been as simple as “The Fantastic Four fights aliens for three issues”) to Kirby and then he would run with it. It wasn’t the other way around often, or at all. This means that Kirby’s work was A)part of a collaborative/collective work and B) specifically ordered by Lee.

The only shaky part of the definition of “work-for-hire” as it applies to this case is the C) part–that there must be a written agreement as to the nature of the work. Kirby never signed anything between 1958-1963 stating that his contributions were work-for-hire, only doing so in 1972, and under duress. The previous court found that 1972 agreement sufficient. This is where Toberoff will have to focus his efforts–to discredit that agreement or argue that after-the-fact judgments are not valid.

How will the appeal turn out? Will this keep The Avengers from coming out next year? Well, copyright law is a mess. It seems Marvel currently has a good leg to stand on, but it will depend on what the appeals court thinks of that 1972 agreement. Regardless, I doubt this case will be settled before May 4 of next year.


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Kirby Lawsuit Decided In Favor Of Marvel Comics

Posted on 29 July 2011 by William Gatevackes

Deadline Hollywood revealed yesterday that the Federal Court for the Southern District Of New York has granted summary judgements asked for by Marvel and denied the Jack Kirby Estate’s cross request for summary judgements in their lawsuit against many rights holders of Kirby co-creations. What this means, basically, that the courts say that Kirby’s work for Marvel was “work-for-hire” (Marvel’s claim) and therefore the Kirby estate has no right to terminate their copyright (The estate’s claim was that they could).

As we reported here back in 2009, The Kirby Estate sent notices of copyright termination to 45 entities, including Marvel, Disney, Sony Pictures, Universal Pictures, 20th Century Fox, and Paramount Pictures. Since most of Marvel’s film output was co-created Kirby(Captain America, The Fantastic Four, The X-Men, The Avengers, Iron Man, Hulk, The Silver Surfer, Black Panther and Thor), this would have put Marvel’s successful run at the box office in jeopardy.

Marc Toberoff, the lawyer who successful represented the Siegel Estate in a similar claim, states he will appeal the ruling to the Second Circuit, so the issue isn’t completely over.

I’m not a lawyer, but if I had to come up with a reason why the Siegel lawsuit succeeded and Kirby lawsuit did not, it would have to do with when the characters were created. Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created Superman prior to their involvement with DC Comics (they originally tried to approach newspaper syndicates to get a comic strip starring the character in newspapers everywhere), so they did not create the character while working of DC Comics. Jack Kirby, on the other hand, co-created all those characters after being an employee for Atlas/Marvel for three or more years, and a lot of the work was done in conjunction with Atlas/Marvel editor-in-chief Stan Lee. Any work he did on those characters was as an employee of Marvel at the request of or with the direct input of its editor-in-chief. That’s just my opinion, and probably a wrong one at that.

More to come.

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