Stan Lee and Marvel saved the comic-book industry after the US Congress tried to kill it

Today, superhero movies are the backbone of Hollywood, and comic books, once a marginal and disposable form of entertainment, have transformed into respectable “graphic novels” sold in bookstores.

Movie producers and fans alike love superhero stories for their bold, vivid characters and over-the-top action. But there was a period when comics were wan, tepid things and superheroes had all but vanished, the results of attacks by a puritanical Congress and crippling self-censorship by an anxious industry. It was the ambitious imagination of Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and their collaborators at Marvel who pulled comics back from the brink and forever changed the history of mass-market entertainment.

Superhero comics as we know them debuted in 1938 with Action Comics No. 1, starring Superman. His popularity spurred dozens of other superheroes like Batman and Captain America, and gave birth to what’s now regarded as the golden age of comics. Many stories were set in World War II, and there was an explosion of titles and genres, including mystery, romance, westerns, and horror. Sales were enormous; one estimate put total comic circulation in 1949 at 750 million issues. Comics reached more people than radio, TV, or magazines.

But those numbers began to fall, first slowly as readers tired of superheroes, then abruptly in the early 1950s after the content of some comics—particularly gory horror titles like Tales from the Crypt—drew the attention of concerned parents and church groups. Eventually the US Senate, spurred in part by articles from psychiatrist Frederic Wertham, who declared that comics books were warping young minds, held two days of televised hearings (pdf) on the role of comics in promoting juvenile delinquency.

In the post-war era of McCarthyism, comics were an attractive target for grand-standing politicians eager for villains. Publishers were raided by the police, titles were outlawed in dozens of states, and some communities held public comic-book burnings, according to The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America, David Hajdu’s 2008 history of the period (paywall).

Comic sales plummeted, hundreds of artists and writers lost their jobs, and the terrified industry, fearing further government restrictions, opted to police itself. The publishers founded the Comics Code Authority, which created a standard  for content along the lines of the 1930 Hollywood production code. Risqué and lurid subject matter was banned, as were depictions of creatures like werewolves and vampires. Superheroes largely vanished, save for DC’s Big Three of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, whose adventures were played for laughs.

By the fall of 1961, comic books were sad, lifeless things. Four of the top five titles in the US that year featured Superman, and his “adventures” mainly involved evading Lois Lane’s attempts to learn his secret identity. The top seller was Uncle Scrooge, a comic about a rich duck.

It was in this torpid environment that DC Comics in 1960 created the Justice League of America, a collection of DC heroes who teamed up to fight crime. That title’s modest success led Martin Goodman, publisher of what later became known as Marvel, to ask his editor Stanley Lieber to create a super team of his own. Using the pen name Stan Lee, Lieber joined with ace artist Kirby to create the Fantastic Four, and comics were never the same.

Fantastic Four No. 1, which featured a squabbling family as eager to trade punches with each other as their opponents—as well as titles like The Amazing Spider-Man and The Uncanny X-Men, which soon followed—breathed new life into a genre adrift. The comic books were packed with action, the characters were flawed and human, and the stakes they fought for were big, even galactic.

Gerry Conway, a comic writer who scripted Spider-Man and dozens of other titles over five decades, described the impact of those early Fantastic Four issues in a recent blog entry:

I’ve never been hit by lightning but I have to imagine the shock might be similar to what I experienced reading that early adventure of Reed Richards, Sue Storm, her kid brother Johnny, and Ben Grimm. If you weren’t a comic book reader at that time you cannot imagine the impact those stories had. There’s nothing comparable in the modern reader’s experience of comics–nothing remotely as transformative. … Over a series of perhaps five issues, a single year, Stan and Jack Kirby transformed superhero comics in an act of creative alchemy similar to transmuting lead into gold, and just as unlikely.

Marvel’s sales skyrocketed and the comic-book renaissance Lee and Kirby ignited soon spread to their rivals at DC, who eventually abandoned whimsical plots in favor of more sophisticated stories that tackled racism and drug addiction.

Comics probably wouldn’t have disappeared entirely without the dynamism and energy injected by Lee’s Marvel heroes, but their revival was not assured, and it’s hard to imagine today’s entertainment landscape without them.


In Metropolis, Superman honors the passing of Marvel’s Stan Lee

METROPOLIS, Ill. — He may be a DC Comics hero, but the Superman that stands in Metropolis, Illinois, is honoring a fallen Marvel titan.

Super Museum in Metropolis shared photos Wednesday of a worker strapping a black arm band on the town’s Superman statue.

“Our great city of Metropolis has put an black arm band on the Superman statue to honor the passing of the comic book icon Stan Lee,” Super Museum wrote.

The act shows that even though DC and Marvel have always been rivals, fans — and even the companies themselves — can look beyond their differences to recognize the greats.

Stan Lee, patriarch of Marvel Comics and the real life hero behind comic heroes like Iron Man and the Hulk, died at 95 on Monday .


Metropolis’ Superman honors Marvel creator, Stan Lee

Stan Lee, the creative dynamo who revolutionized the comic book world and helped make billions for Hollywood by introducing human frailties in Marvel superheroes such as Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four and the Incredible Hulk, died Monday.


‘Superman’ Soars In His Best Film With 4K 40-Year Anniversary Release

This December marks the 40th anniversary of a monumental moment in the history of cinema — the true beginning of the superhero feature film genre, when Warner Bros. released the first big-budget modern blockbuster adapting a superhero comic book for the big screen. That picture was 1978’s Superman, and Warner Bros. is celebrating the 40-year anniversary with a fantastic 4K release for home entertainment. This re-release and restoration is a perfect way to celebrate four decades of comic book cinema, as well as honoring the wonder and awe captured in director Richard Donner’s superhero masterpiece.

4K release of Warner’s “Superman: The Movie”Source: Warner Bros

Before I dive into the historic nature of Superman and this re-release, let me take a few moments to explain the importance and quality of this new 4K restoration. This isn’t just a 4K release, it incorporates Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos that make the film actually look even better than it did upon its original release. The eye-popping richness of colors, the depth and darkness of shadows, the nuance brought out in the background audio of the bustling city streets of Metropolis, are so improved as to make the film’s important visuals and world-building emersion all the more effective. The visual effects look better and more convincing, which helps overcome skepticism and complaints from younger audiences spoiled by today’s hyper-realistic CGI effects.

By bringing a wider palate of color and texture and sound to Superman, this re-release has also revived its relevance and the impact it can have on younger fans. I always stress the importance of viewing films and entertainment in the best possible setting and with the best technology for enhancing the experience, and Superman is a perfect example of how even older movies benefit tremendously when modern technology is brought to bear and helps us see it again with fresh eyes.

If you’ve seen Martin Scorsese’s film Hugo, you’ll recall a scene of an audience scared by their first experience with moving pictures — a train coming right at the camera causes the audience to actually leap out of their seats in fear. Such a scene would be hard for modern audiences to relate to, obviously, but Scorsese smartly employed 3D in Hugo so the train sequence actually sends the train barreling down on us in a way that helps us share that same visceral reaction of the first audiences 80 years earlier. The 4K Dolby Vision release of Superman pulls a similar trick, by demonstrating the power and excitement of the film’s visuals and sets, all practical effects (save the opening credits, which were the first to employ computer graphics) and all the work of a brilliant creative team that figured out how to make Superman soar.

Superman in 4K is gorgeous — the opening sequence on Krypton more ominous, the first reveal of Superman swooping up the side of the Daily Planet to catch Lois Lane more breathtaking, the sequence of Superman racing after the missiles more thrillingly believable. And the Atmos sound deserves enormous praise too — the music soaring until our hearts almost burst with glee, while in the background of many scenes you’ll hear snippets of dialogue and sound effects you probably never noticed before. I’ve been rewatching Superman for 40 years, probably seeing it at least once or twice every year, and watching this 4K version I kept picking up dialogue and other sounds and noises I hadn’t heard in any previous viewing.

This new 4K version is the only way to watch Superman at home, and I’d love to see a theatrical re-release at Christmas for this restored version. Likewise, I eagerly await a 4K Dolby Vision/Dolby Atmos release for Superman II — maybe even one for the Donner Cut?

Now, let’s talk about the legacy of Superman and why it still matters so much today.

If you grew up in the 2000s, when the superhero cinematic genre was reborn into a golden age, you cannot comprehend what it was like to live in an era completely devoid of superhero movies as a staple of summer box office, without modern realistic visual effects, and without any sort of mainstream acceptance of comics and comic book movies as a serious adult form capable of appealing to adult audiences.

You cannot imagine, then, the impact when a film like Superman arrived and not only offered a serious, epic storytelling approach to comic book movies (which basically didn’t really exist as a genre at the time) but did so with cutting-edge visual effects unlike anything we’d seen before at the movies. Let me try to give you some sense of the context in which Superman appeared, why it was revolutionary, and why those of us who lived through that time period consider it such an iconic, important film that’s still one of the greatest superhero movies ever made.

Visual effects were (with only a few notable exceptions) still in their adolescence at the time. From the 1950s through the 1970s, the height of special effects were the sort typically seen in films like Forbidden Planet, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, The Ten Commandments, Journey to the Center of the Earth, Jason and the Argonauts, Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger. Those films have their charms, and I love watching some of them as examples of VFX innovations at their time, but they weren’t on the cutting edge of VFX innovations that exploded onto the big screen in the 1970s.

Films like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Star Wars were rare exceptions when they first appeared in the late-1960s and the 1970s, bringing a believability and realism to cinematic effects we’d never seen before. They’re game-changing status was based precisely on the fact no other movies were doing what they did.

But at that time, nobody was thinking about applying advanced, realistic visual effects to adapting a superhero comic book character. Well, almost nobody. George Lucas’ Star Wars was actually born out of his earlier desire to adapt the Flash Gordon comic strips into live-action movies on a large, impressive scale (when he was denied the rights to make a Flash Gordon movie, he reworked his ideas into an original concept and Star Wars was born). And of course, Ilya Salkind, his father Alexander Salkind, and Pierre Spengler had an idea to take modern effects and apply them to a big-budget superhero movie for Superman.

Superman was only the third feature-length superhero movie ever made. The first was Superman and the Mole Men in 1951, essentially a 58 minute theatrically-released pilot to launch The Adventures of Superman TV show that same year. Then came Batman in 1966, a feature-length version of the popular Batman television series. Neither of those earlier movies, however, were conceived of as a true cinematic treatment for superhero stories, and they did nothing to spawn studio consideration of big-budget comic book adaptations.

So, when Superman was conceived as a big-budget, epic approach to serious superhero storytelling, there was no existing template pointing the way toward success, and few people outside of the filmmaking team took the Salkinds’ and Spengler’s idea seriously. Certainly nobody believed a live-action movie about superheroes would appeal to adults, as comics were largely considered nothing more than cheap entertainment for children.

It was almost crazy that Superman was even made at all, in light of the uphill battle it faced. And a big part of that battle was finding someone who could truly embody such a legendary character as Superman in a serious, believable way that seemed relatable, believable, and inspiring all rolled into one. Another major obstacle was creating a movie in which audiences would believe — even if just for a couple of hours — a man could fly. Again, there was simply no prior template in existence for creating such visual effects and making them look real on the big screen.

The fact Superman created a template for superhero cinema from scratch, and did it so well on the first try that the template it created remains largely unchanged to this day — and has inspired some of the greatest and most widely acclaimed recent superhero origin movies, including Batman Begins, Iron Man, Thor, and Wonder Woman to name just a few — is a testament to the enduring quality and legacy of this spectacular film.

Likewise, Christopher Reeve remains the greatest casting for a superhero lead in history, and once again I’ll note the filmmakers accomplished this feat at the very start of the superhero genre. Many great examples of casting have followed in Superman’s footsteps — including Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man, Chris Evans as Captain America, Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, and Hugh Jackman as Wolverine — but Reeve stands out for his ability to play a character who constantly alternates between two very distinctive personalities, who represents an ideal and entire legacy of what it means to be a superhero for all of humanity, and Reeve had a perfect understanding of what Superman meant to people and what Superman stood for. In every film, no matter how otherwise bad it might be (and Superman IV: The Quest For Peace was pretty bad) Reeve became Superman, all the way to his bones, every time he walked on set, and he never gave less than everything he had.

In the minds of many fans, Henry Cavill is the “best” Superman for live-action. Likewise, those fans tend to feel Man of Steel is the best Superman film. I respect their view, and I realize their experience is different from my own. Indeed, I’ve had plenty of discussions and debates with fans of George Reeves’ Superman from the 1950s who insist he was the one and only “best” Superman, and who argue Christopher Reeve didn’t live up to the standard set by the 1950s incarnation. I realize that for those older fans, George Reeve looked and acted more like the earliest Superman from the late-1930s stories, and it’s their own first experience with seeing what passed for better quality storytelling and visual effects.

All of that said, I think it’s possible to recognize George Reeve and Henry Cavill, not to mention Brandon Routh, did great jobs in their respective versions of Superman, but that Christopher Reeve embodied something transcendent and grander, more iconic, and more timeless in his portrayal of Superman. Even divorcing the assessment from the sheer historic nature of Reeve’s 1978 portrayal and how it changed superhero movies and set a standard, just watching Reeve switch from Clark to Superman and back again — in an instant sometimes, such as at Lois’ apartment when he removes his glasses and almost tells her the truth — and seeing the little subtleties he added to his performance and how he never took it for granted or seemed self-conscious about the costume or worried about the genre, was inspiring. His performance as Superman was as serious and important and immersive to him as a role in a Shakespeare play on Broadway. He didn’t just play Superman, he became Superman.

Superman is the movie that started it all, striving for epic storytelling and a bigger, bolder vision for comic books than anyone dreamed possible. It created new approaches for visual effects, it was one of the first true blockbusters, and it is responsible for giving us a superhero cinematic genre that treats comics as myths every bit as important and in need of being taken seriously as Greek or Roman mythology brought to the big screen, or Biblical epics turned into movies. Now you have a chance to see Superman in its best form, to appreciate how sweeping and towering it is in the history of superhero filmmaking, and I hope every fan will take advantage of this opportunity.

Superman is among the best superhero movies of all time, and one of my favorite films ever made, so happy anniversary to everyone who made it possible, and who made me believe a man could fly.

Box office figures and tallies based on data via Box Office Mojo , Rentrak, and TheNumbers.

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Stan Lee, dead at 95, reinvented the comic book industry


Stan Lee, the creative dynamo who revolutionized the comic book and helped make billions for Hollywood by introducing human frailties in Marvel superheroes such as Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four and the Incredible Hulk, died Monday. He was 95. (Nov. 12)

Stan Lee had his own superpower: longevity.

Like Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, the Hulk, Thor, Black Panther, Iron Man and dozens of other comic book heroes he created, co-created or launched, he seemed, after 95 years, indestructible.

He got into the business in 1939, the year after Superman’s debut. By the 1970s, he was the business.

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Stanley Martin Lieber, age 95, died Monday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. He leaves behind millions of mourning fans, and one of the richest bequests in the entertainment business. Marvel-based movies, as of 2017, have grossed $10,916,958,583 worldwide, according to

“Given his age, I shouldn’t be shocked by his passing, but Stan Lee was someone that I thought somehow, some way, would live forever,” said Joe Caramagna, formerly of Elmwood Park, an inker, letterer and colorist who worked on such Marvel titles as “The Amazing Spider-Man,” “New Avengers” and “Black Widow.”

“I guess in a way he will,” Caramagna said.

Over 80 years, Stan Lee saw his business grow from a shabby stepchild of newspaper supplements to a billion-dollar industry that spanned multiple media, from magazines to movies to TV to toys to clothing to video games.

Over 50 of those years, he became as well known to comics fans as any of his characters, thanks to editorial features like “Stan’s Soapbox.” Long before Twitter, he anticipated the new celebrity culture of the 21st century by interacting constantly with his fans.

“He definitely wanted to seem more accessible to fans, almost like a character himself,” said Reilly Brown, a West Orange artist who worked at Marvel intermittently between 2005 and 2016, on such titles as Spider-Man, “Hercules” and “Deadpool.”

“I was at the Baltimore Comic-Con, and there was some award ceremony, around 2011, 2012,” Brown recalled. “He walks up to the stage, with a cane, this little old man. Then he gave his cane to his handler, and he suddenly straightened up and he leaps onto the stage and gives this speech. It was very much a Willy Wonka thing. I didn’t know which was the act — whether it was the old man or the showman on stage.”

Into his 90s, Lee was still highly active and highly visible, dropping by for cameos in the various Marvel movie blockbusters: a Leonardo popping in to sign his canvas, in case we should forget who was the genius behind it.

“Stan Lee was the most iconic comic creator of all time,” said Ben Lichtenstein, owner of Zapp Comics in Wayne. “There would not be Marvel Comics without him.”

And there would not be a comics industry, as we know it today, without Marvel.

There might be comics, sure: some ghost of Superman and Batman at DC Comics, going through the crime-fighting motions for an audience of grade-schoolers.

Story continues below gallery.


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Comic book creator Stan Lee, left, poses with wife Joan in 2011.
FILE – In this Jan. 4, 2011, file photo, comic book creator Stan Lee, left, poses with his wife Joan after he received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles. Lee and his family announced that Joan Lee died peacefully on Thursday, July 6, 2017, and asked for privacy. Stan and Joan Lee had been married for 69 years, and the famed comics creator had credited his wife with being supportive during an early part of his career when he was struggling to create superheroes he and audiences would care about. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello, File)
Chris Pizzello, AP

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  • Stan Lee sat down with USA TODAY several years ago to talk about comics and more.2 of 10
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  • Chris Pizzello/APComic book creator Stan Lee, left, poses with wife Joan in 2011.FILE - In this Jan. 4, 2011, file photo, comic book creator Stan Lee, left, poses with his wife Joan after he received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles. Lee and his family announced that Joan Lee died peacefully on Thursday, July 6, 2017, and asked for privacy. Stan and Joan Lee had been married for 69 years, and the famed comics creator had credited his wife with being supportive during an early part of his career when he was struggling to create superheroes he and audiences would care about. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello, File)7 of 10
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But superheroes as they are today — dead center of the pop culture world, the biggest tentpole in the Hollywood big top, an artistic medium that has attracted A-list talent like Neil Gaiman, John Cleese and Ta-Nehisi Coates — are inconceivable without the push that Stan Lee gave them, starting in the early 1960s.

Comics aren’t just for kids

Before Lee, comic books were for kids. Or for juvenile delinquents, if anti-comic crusaders like Dr. Fredric Wertham were to be believed.

“What DC was aiming for was the kiddie books at the five-and-dime,” said Leonia’s Anthony Snyder, owner-operator of Anthony’s Comic Book Art. “Stan Lee upgraded the whole market.”

After the initial burst of creativity that sparked Superman (1938) and Batman (1939) and Captain America (1941), and a brief moment of glory during World War II when they were let loose on Nazis, comic books had faltered, declined, become formulaic.

“When you look at comics before Marvel, in the late ’50s and early ’60s, they were very bland, very vanilla,” Lichtenstein said. “I like Superman. In his own way, he’s perfect. But he’s boring. You can only see him save the world so many times.”

Enter Stan Lieber.

Actually, he had entered much earlier. Born in Manhattan in 1922, and coming of age in the Bronx, Lee got into the comics business when he was only 17, working for a company then called Timely.

He came from Romanian-Jewish stock, which is significant. Many of the early comics pioneers were Jewish, as author Michael Chabon pointed out in his 2000 novel “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier  Clay.” The super-savior — call him Samson or Golem — was a familiar figure in Jewish lore. He also had a new urgency in the era of the Nazis.

In May 1941, Lieber made his first editorial contribution, to a story called  “Captain America Foils the Traitor’s Revenge.” He signed himself “Stan Lee.”

But it wasn’t until Timely, having briefly become Atlas in 1951, turned into Marvel in 1961 that Lee came into his own.

His big breakthrough in 1961 was the Fantastic Four, created with artist Jack Kirby. Some credit is apparently due to Lee’s wife, Joan Clayton Boocock (she died in 2017; the couple had two children).

“His story is, he was going to quit,” Snyder said. “And his wife said: Why don’t you do a book the way you want, before you quit. That was when he did FF1.”

Superheroes, before this, had mostly been white-bread: Boy Scouts in capes, with movie-star profiles, who went around righting wrongs. The Fantastic Four were a quartet of reluctant superheroes who had very human frailties. They fought. They bickered. They had doubts and anxieties. And one of them looked like a big pile of rubble.

“He introduced a completely new dimension to superheroes,” Lichtenstein said. “They weren’t perfect. They weren’t supermen.”

Lee followed that up, in 1962, with three even more unlikely heroes.

Spider-Man, created with Steve Ditko, was a teenage nerd whose accidental acquisition of superpowers from the bite of a “radioactive spider” didn’t make him any more popular with his boss, with the girls, or with the public-at large. The Hulk, created with Kirby, was a Frankenstein monster with muscles. Thor, created with Kirby and Larry Lieber, was a Norse god who spoke in thee’s and thou’s. Four years later, in 1966, Lee and Kirby created comicdom’s first black superhero: Black Panther.

Comics hit the campus

Lee’s characters were aimed at older, more sophisticated readers than those of earlier comic books. In fact, they found their widest readership, as the 1960s went its chaotic way, with college students. 

“The characters he developed, like Fantastic Four and the Hulk and even Thor, were definitely geared for a higher intellect,” said Tony DeMarco, owner of AS Comics in Teaneck and North Bergen. “Smaller kids might not have had the maturity to understand them.”

And Lee reached out to these new readers in a new way. He made sure that they knew who was writing, drawing, inking all of the panels they read. And he made sure they knew him.

“He was the first one to give a lot of credit to the creators,” Lichtenstein said.

If news from the Marvel “bullpen” was thrilling to the casual reader, how much more did it inspire young, would-be comic book artists and writers who rifled through the pages of “The Amazing Spider-Man,” “Avengers,” and “The Incredible Hulk”? Brown was one of the lucky ones who actually got to work there.

“I was an intern at college then,” said Brown, who is currently working on a new title, “Outrage,” with “Deadpool’s” Fabian Nicieza, for LINE Webtoon. “I did work in those offices. It was cool. It was kind of laid out like a regular office with cubicles, but each worker’s cubicle was like a fortress, or a clubhouse. It was a lot of fun.”

If Stan Lee jump-started the comics industry, comics jump-started the movie industry.

Superheroes had been seen on the screen as early as the 1940s, but the early “Batman” and “Superman” serials had been poky, and even the successful “Superman” series, beginning in 1978, didn’t change the whole industry

But by the 2000s, digital special effects had evolved to the point where Hollywood could make Iron Man convincingly fly, Mr. Fantastic convincingly stretch like a rubber band, and Spider-Man convincingly career from building to building. When Marvel characters met Hollywood know-how, starting with “Spider-Man” in 2002, it became a game-changer for the movie industry. What was Marvel Comics became Marvel Entertainment — and its tentacles, like Doc Ock’s, reached everywhere.

“Comic books were the medium of limitless imagination,” Snyder said. “Now technology has caught up with comic books, and they’re able to put it out there.”

Through it all, Lee was always there: doing cameos in movies, appearing at conventions, Quite literally, a legend in his own lifetime. And now, Brown says, beyond it.

“For so long, it was so cool to think this guy who created my favorite characters was still alive,” Brown said. “Now he just feels more like a legend than he ever was.”


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RIP Stan Lee, the Man Who Made Comics Cool

Stan Lee, the avuncular, controversial longtime writer and publisher of Marvel Comics, died Monday in Los Angeles. He was 95 years old.

Popping a big character death on people like that was just the kind of thing Lee liked. “Stan Lee—dead! No! No, it can’t be!” The man who first understood that with great power there must come great responsibility? The man who alongside comics greats like Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko created or co-created basically half of comic-book superhero-dom? Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, the Hulk, Iron Man, Black Panther, Thor … I could go on! Lee certainly would have.

These days, when four of the top 10 grossing movies of all time are based on characters from Marvel Comics, it’s hard to imagine what the scene was like in 1940 when Lee got his first gig—at Timely Comics, which would become Atlas, which would become Marvel. The idea of something called a “comic book” was just a year or so old; Batman and Superman—products of Bob Kane and Bill Finger, and Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster, over at what would become DC Comics—had jump-started an entire medium. There was no such thing as a “graphic novel.” We could argue, I guess, about when human beings first paired static images with spoken dialog and sound effects (was it cave walls 40,000 years ago, or newspaper comics in the early 1900s?) but let’s not fight about what happened when Lee took over Marvel in the 1960s.

Comics had already died and come back to life once—1950s fights over whether they were too violent and too gay led to their bowdlerization. But then DC, Marvel’s archnemesis, resurrected two dead heroes from the distant past, the Flash and Green Lantern, in more up-to-date costumes and with more science-y powers, as befitting the atomic age. Lee was encouraged to try the same. He added a new superpower: angst.

A prolific consumer of high art and pulp, Lee understood that heroes like Superman were fundamentally boring. If nothing can hurt the guy, what’s the challenge? Lee and his collaborators realized their conflicts could be internal. Spider-Man: a geeky, bullied teen granted awesome powers and burdened with the lesson that he can never use them to enrich himself or avenge personal loss, but only to help others. The Fantastic Four: a team, a family, one of them turned monstrous thanks to the scientific hubris of the father figure. The X-Men: teenagers hated and feared by society, even their own parents, thanks to biological forces outside their control. Iron Man: a millionaire playboy who can never remove the armor around his heart. This is pulp as high art.

Lee had found, buried in the fantasy-pulp midden comics had become, a central metaphor. These stories about men and women in garish tights hitting each other were also about more. DC’s heroes were gods and oligarchs, confident white men of privilege; Marvel’s heroes were outcasts, the victims of prejudice, trapped in moral webs stronger than anything Spider-Man ever thwipped. And they appealed to people who felt the same, even before Lee and the other Marvel creators published the first African American heroes, the first Asian-American heroes, and strong, leading-character women in numbers large enough to populate a dozen summer crossovers.

As Marvel Comics grew in popularity and sophistication through the 1960s, Lee realized that his stories never had to end. They could have, as he construed it, the illusion of change—a villain unmasked, a mad scientist’s island lair destroyed, shapeshifting aliens sent scurrying back to their home galaxy—but the heroes’ fundamental personal problems would only get worse. It was a potentially never-ending story of cliffhangers and kraka-thooms. Lee had unlocked a key to serial drama—the foundation of today’s forever franchises. Without Lee, there’s no Harry Potter, no Star Wars.

Probably as a matter of necessity with so many monthly stories to write, Lee developed a writing method that became known as the Marvel Method. He’d write a short synopsis of a story with key beats, and an artist would lay out the actual story on the page, leaving room for dialogue. Lee would them come back in and fill in the bubbles, often with melodramatic, pseudo-Shakespearean tripe. His business approach to it all didn’t make him popular. Lee’s longtime partnership with Jack Kirby dissolved in acrimony, Kirby feeling—not unreasonably—that Lee took too much credit for their shared achievements. The artists were doing a lot more than drawing.

Meanwhile, Lee was doing a lot more than writing and editing. He was also writing a monthly column that appeared in every Marvel book, touting the wacky fun of the “bullpen,” a mostly fabricated Marvel office where all your favorite writers hung out, bantering about groovy superheroes. He called fans “True Believers,” members of the “Merry Marvel Marching Society.” All the artists and writers got nicknames. (Kirby was the King.) Lee would make live appearances, narrate records. By the 1970s, the modern incarnation of the X-Men was a massive hit, and a decade later grimmer, grittier comics aimed at an older and more cynical audience were all the rage—made possible, in part, by the more mature themes Lee and his co-creators inserted in their work. But by then he was mostly a figurehead; in the 1980s he narrated a Spider-Man cartoon. Even into his dotage, rarely writing, he appeared in cameos in multiple Marvel movies. For comics fans of a certain age—my age—Lee was very much the face of the medium.

Wrapped up in all the anger at Lee was, of course, money. Everything anyone had created for Marvel was work-for-hire; Lee’s dual role as creative and spokesperson made him money that other writers and artists did not. It all made Kirby so nuts he actually left Marvel for DC, and among other craziness created a villain based on Lee: the vapid, vain, cash-grubbing Funky Flashman. Today, when superhero movies generate wealth that would make an Asgardian blush, the creators of those characters are still fighting for fair recompense.

In late life, Lee’s creative output perhaps didn’t match what he’d done in the 1960s and 1970s. Stripperella, the character Lee created in collaboration with the actress and model Pamela Anderson, seems unlikely to have the staying power of, say, the Black Widow. He worked with other entertainment companies, and ended up in financial and legal fights with some. In the last year, people in the industry worried that Lee’s caretakers were taking advantage of him—something he denied.

Lee was every bit as complicated as the characters he created—or co-created, or present at the creation of. His creativity and ideas cast a mystical field over the popular culture of the 20th and 21st centuries, and taught generations of nerds of every flavor and stripe about responsibility, morality, and love. And in a sense, his death can’t be any more permanent than one he might have written for a comic-book character, because the stories he began are all to be continued, forever.

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Buffalo Soldiers ride on through comic book artist, writer

LYNCHBURG, Va. (AP) – Immersing himself in the wild western adventures of the African-American Buffalo Soldiers has been a return to some familiar themes and narratives for graphic designer and comic book artist Stan Webb.

Webb and writer Dion Lee released the first issue of the comic book “Buffalo Soldier” in early October. But the characters and storyline have stuck with them for close to 20 years, since the two originally published the first four books of “Buffalo Soldier” in the early ‘90s.

Webb recalled the work involved in traveling along the east coast to independent comic expos and conventions, spreading hype about “Buffalo Soldier” the old-fashioned way.

“You printed up a bunch of books and then you hit the road and sell them, and that’s how we did it,” he said. “But life got in the way as we got older; I got married, (Lee) got married, we had kids and life got in the way.”

The duo had collaborated on comics since their school days. Webb said they were big fans of comics like Superman and Spider-Man growing up and would work on ideas for their own comics during summertime.

Webb honed his skills at Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art in New Jersey, where he also learned about animation and graphic design.

“It was a real treat to have a teacher who was actually in the comic book business and I really learned a lot from that school as far as illustration was concerned,” he said.

When he’d come back home to Lynchburg from college, Webb recalled visiting the late teacher and historian Henry Powell, a family friend, on Saturdays to listen to him wax on about history – national to local. One of the discussions that particularly caught his ear compared the Tuskegee Airmen, the decorated African-American pilots who flew during World War II, to the Buffalo Soldiers, a group of African-American army men who fought Native Americans to help settlers move west in the late 1800s.

Webb said he was familiar with the Tuskegee Airmen but knew nothing about this other black military unit that wasn’t mentioned in textbooks. The Buffalo Soldiers piqued his interest and Powell loaned him more niche history books to learn from.

“The more I read up on it, the more I like the history behind it,” he said.

Powell asked Webb if he’d be willing to draw illustrations for a children’s book that’d introduce them to the Buffalo Soldiers. Webb said the two met for months brainstorming ideas for the book, and eventually the prospective project morphed into a comic book he and Lee dreamed up, based on the historical material Powell provided them. He said Powell thought pursuing the comic route was a great idea and the first book in the “Buffalo Soldier” is dedicated to him.

For their comic, Webb and Lee filled the Buffalo Soldiers‘ historical narrative with characters they thought up themselves, like the hero, Tom Wilson.

Most of the Buffalo Soldiers were illiterate and couldn’t record their own exploits, Webb said. He said white cavalry units in the same areas as the Buffalo Soldiers – largely from the Dakotas down to Texas, as far out as Arizona – didn’t keep good records of the black units and there isn’t much historical literature about the 10th Cavalry unit. So, Webb said he and Lee decided to focus their story on what is known about the 10th Cavalry.

“We might embellish a few things here and there, but we try to stick as much to the history (and) what was in the history books at the time that we can pull from,” he said.

With the Civil War right behind them, Webb said the soldiers fought through segregation, prejudice and disadvantage. At the time, the U.S. Army refused to integrate and instead pushed segregated black units – later becoming known as Buffalo Soldiers – out west, into America’s no man’s land.

“Anybody that was . out west and going into dangerous territory, they requested the Buffalo Soldiers because they had a really good record and they knew they would be in good hands,” he said.

When Webb and Lee decided to stop publishing “Buffalo Soldier” in the ‘90s, they said they still kept the ideas and storyline flowing over the years as they kept in touch.

Besides their kids transitioning into adulthood, Lee said the white supremacist-led Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville last year and the political climate surrounding that rally helped energize him to try and push the Buffalo Soldiers‘ little-known story back into the spotlight.

“I thought that we needed to inject something different, something more positive, something new into the current climate,” he said.

Lee, who also lives in Lynchburg, said he sees “Buffalo Soldier” as counterprogramming to history on U.S. slavery and as another, different perspective to black history.

“There’s a gap between what you hear about slavery and the Tuskegee Airmen,” he said. “. So to fill that gap and to fill that void and to provide new information and some history that a lot of people didn’t know about . you combine the lack of knowledge with Mr. Powell’s passion and Stan’s passion about the project: that’s what made me want to pursue it.

While there have been a few African-American heroes from comic book giants like DC and Marvel over the years, Webb said he hasn’t seen a lot of change in the same white heroes stealing the show. Even within the independent comics scene – made more accessible than ever now with technology and the internet – he said black comics typically see more of a cult following.

“You’ll see some that’ll pop up every now and then but you still don’t see it as much as you should, I think. I don’t know what the real reason why you really don’t but it’s unfortunate,” he said.

Webb said he’d like to publish 10 issues of “Buffalo Soldier” – one or two 60-page issues a year – and see where the series takes him and Lee from there. Next year, he said he’d like to tap up comic conventions and expos nearby to reintroduce the comic to new audiences. A few readers, like members of Buffalo Soldier associations, have asked Webb to keep them in the loop for the reboot.

He and Lee are also exploring new, innovative ways to bring their story to readers: a side story for “Buffalo Soldier” is online in an interactive format and the two are hammering out the best digital medium for “Buffalo Force,” a futuristic sci-fi spinoff of their original creation. For “Buffalo Force,” he said they’ve experimented with using cellphone scanning apps to help tell their story.

A graphic artist for Dayrich whose work can be seen in the Lynchburg Museum, at Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest and at Amazement Square, Webb said he’ll sometimes pepper in some comic art during his typical work day: filling in some ink or color on a panel, drawing up a quick sketch or jotting down an idea as it comes to him.

“Right now it’s a little harder getting back into it because I’ve got to pull out my old drawings of the characters and all . getting back into drawing horses again, and people on horses, so it takes a little bit,” he said. “But I try to work on it every day.”


Information from: The News Advance,

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.


DC Black Label Adds ‘Watchmen’ and Other Classics to Library (Exclusive)

DC Black Label, the comic book imprint focusing on continuity-light evergreen comics featuring DC’s core characters, is more than a boutique line of new material from creators including Brian Azzarello, Frank Miller and Kelly Sue DeConnick. It’s also the new home for some of the most iconic titles in DC’s back catalog.

The line, which launched last month, will be responsible for new editions of classic titles, such as Watchmen, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and All-Star Superman, creating a library of titles immediately recognizable and accessible to newcomers to the medium as well as longtime fans. More than 20 new editions will be released in 2019 alone — including a new “Modern Classics” edition of Watchmen, featuring new slipcase art from co-creator Dave Gibbons.

“The DC Black Label line will house the best and most evergreen stories from DC,” publisher Dan DiDio told The Hollywood Reporter. “The company has a long history that includes some of the most recognizable and renowned storytelling in comics and we want to honor that history by putting them under one banner.”

The announcement of the DC Black Label library follows the release of the imprint’s first title in bookstores, the collected edition of Sean Murphy’s Batman: White Knight, last month. The release topped both the BookScan graphic novel bestsellers list — which tracks point-of-sales for book retailers including Amazon, Barnes Noble, Target and independent stores — and Diamond Comic Distributor’s graphic novel list, which tracks retailer order numbers for the comic book store market, for October; DC has announced the collection is going back to print for a second edition.

The imprint is continuing to move forward with new material, with the second issue of Batman: Damned due in December, and Academy Award-winner John Ridley’s The Other History of the DC Universe launching in January.

The full list of initial DC Black Label backlist releases, with release dates and format, is:

All-Star Superman by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely (Trade Paperback, Dec. 4, 2018)
DC: The New Frontier by Darwyn Cooke (Trade Paperback, Feb. 19 2019)
Watchmen (DC Modern Classics Edition) by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (Hardcover, March 26, 2019)
Kingdom Come by Mark Waid and Alex Ross (Trade Paperback, Apr. 23, 2019)
Frank Miller’s Ronin by Frank Miller (Trade Paperback, May 6, 2019)
Batman: Year One by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli (Trade Paperback, June 11, 2019)
All-Star Batman Robin, The Boy Wonder Vol. 1 by Frank Miller and Jim Lee (Trade Paperback, June 11, 2019)
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller and Klaus Janson (Trade Paperback, June 18, 2019)
Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again by Frank Miller (Trade Paperback, June 18, 2019)
Batman: The Dark Knight — The Master Race by Brian Azzarello, Frank Miller and Andy Kubert (Trade Paperback, June 25, 2019)
Luthor: 10th Anniversary Edition by Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo (Hardcover, July 9, 2019)
The Joker: 10th Anniversary Edition by Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo (Hardcover, July 9, 2019)
Batman: Arkham Asylum by Grant Morrison and Dave McKean (Trade Paperback, Aug. 13, 2019)
The Joker by Brian Azzarello: The Deluxe Edition by Brain Azzarello and Lee Bermejo (Hardcover, Sept. 10, 2019)
Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland (Trade Paperback, Sept. 17, 2019)
Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (Trade Paperback, Sept. 24, 2019)
Batman: Year 100 by Paul Pope (Trade Paperback, Oct. 8, 2019)
Superman: Red Son by Mark Millar, Dave Johnson, Andrew Robinson, Killian Plunkett and Walden Wong (Trade Paperback, Oct. 22, 2019)
Batman: The Long Halloween by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale (Trade Paperback, Nov. 5, 2019)
Black Orchid by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean (Trade Paperback, Nov. 12, 2019)
Batman: Dark Victory by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale (Trade Paperback, Nov. 26, 2019)
Batman: Haunted Night by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale (Trade Paperback, Dec. 17, 2019)
Catwoman: When in Rome by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale (Trade Paperback, Dec. 31, 2019)


DC’s Injustice tie-in comics are some of the decade’s best

Injustice: Gods Among Us — NetherRealm’s 2013 fighting game featuring the heroes of the DC Universe — opened with Superman murdering the Joker. Things just got darker and bleaker from there. The game was a hit, but for many comics fans, the authoritarian take on Superman and the Justice League was a step too far, earning Injustice a reputation of being home to a twisted version of the DC Universe.

And yet, the digital tie-in comic to the game spent its recently wrapped five-year run morphing into a love letter to DC Comics. The Injustice: Gods Among Us comic is one of the best superhero comics of the last five years. Yes, really.

Superman versus Batman and beyond

After the murder of the Joker, the Injustice: Gods Among Us game jumped forward five years into a future where Superman and the Justice League had become the “One Earth Regime,” an authoritarian world government that was opposed by a Batman-led Insurgency. The comic tie-in to the first game filled in that gap, revealing how the world fell so quickly to Superman’s rule.

The long scope of time, combined with the blank canvas of an out-of-continuity DC Universe allowed writers Tom Taylor and Brian Buccellato to do pretty much whatever they wanted — they introduced dozens of characters and plot-lines absent from the game.

Organized in long story arcs that were each set in a different year, featuring a different sub-section of the DC Universe standing against Superman, the book was a whistle-stop tour of DC’s every corner. From the Green Lantern Corps in space to the magical side of DC with Constantine, Zatanna and Detective Chimp and even the Gods of Olympus clashing with the New Gods of the Fourth World.

From Injustice 2, DC Comics.

Batman confronts Highfather of the New Gods.
DC Comics

Tom Taylor (All-New Wolverine, X-Men Red) isn’t the only writer to work on the Injustice comic, but he has spent more time in this universe than anyone, writing most of the prequel comics for Injustice: Gods Among Us and the entirety of the ones for Injustice 2, which are set in between the first and second games. It’s with Injustice 2 that Taylor and his collaborators — including Bruce Redondo, Daniel Sampere and Xermanico — really explored their version of the DC Universe, by digging into the aftermath of the first game.

If Injustice: Gods Among Us was about how the DC Universe can slide into a fascist state, Injustice 2 was about people willing to stand up and rebuild after its fall.

More than just a tie-in

Where the Injustice games were grim and dramatic, Injustice 2’s comic adaptation is hilariously funny; whether it’s Batman naming each item in an empty room that is actually Plastic Man’s son or a Green-Lantern-ring-wielding Lobo drop-kicking a Red Lantern cat across the galaxy, Injustice 2 doesn’t take itself too seriously. Particularly in the case of Batman, Injustice 2 embraces the Caped Crusader’s role as the straight man in a world of weirdness, especially when paired with the likes of Green Arrow, Harley Quinn or Booster Gold.

In many ways, Injustice 2 is reminiscent of J.M. DeMatteis, Keith Giffen and Kevin Maguire’s 1987 run on Justice League International, famous for being the “funny” Justice League book. Justice League International could be absolutely brutal to its characters, and the highs of the comedy only helped to make the lows of the tragedy that much more painful.

Injustice 2 follows proudly in that tradition; Booster Gold is often the comic relief, but you’ll cry as he grapples with the knowledge that even a time machine can’t give him the power to stop his friend’s death, only to be there for him at the end. Taylor follows Hal Jordan as he works through the guilt of his betrayal of the Green Lantern Corps, and makes it a genuine and sincere look at the effects of PTSD on a person with the ability to instantly create anything their mind can imagine.

Above all else, Injustice 2 feels like DC’s experimental and hugely successful weekly series 52, which placed D-List characters like the Question, Elongated Man and Steel in a world without Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. Each issue built a feeling that the DC Universe was a living, breathing place where things kept ticking even in the absence of its greatest heroes. Injustice 2 does the same thing. Some issues might focus Superboy’s attempts to redeem the “S” shield — and some issues might focus on the blossoming romance between Killer Croc and Orca the Whale Woman. And there’s never a sense that Injustice 2 isn’t going somewhere or that what is happening doesn’t matter; a rare feat for the format.

From Injustice 2, DC Comics.

Killer Croc and Orca’s long-awaited wedding.
DC Comics

Injustice 2 casts aside any preconceptions you might have about the game franchise and the DC Universe, and boldly moves forward with a creativity and inventiveness unmatched in most mainstream superhero tales. Most of the stars of Injustice 2 don’t even make it into the video game, allowing Tom Taylor and his collaborators to do whatever they want, a freedom that drives the series’ best moments.

If you judged the world of Injustice based on what you knew about when the first game came out, I don’t blame you. I had no idea the comic was one of my favorite kinds of stories: A DC Universe filled with a network of superheroes who have friendships, relationships and a living history. Injustice 2 scratched that itch for me in a way nothing has in a long time. As a reader for whom the New 52 universe still lacks the shared history its previous incarnation, Injustice 2 hits that sweet spot. It’ll feel instantly recognizable to any longtime fan of the DCU — and instantly lovable.


Comics Superstar Writer Grant Morrison Inks TV Deal With UCP

Universal Cable Productions has inked a deal with New York Times bestselling author Grant Morrison, a signature name in the American comic book scene since the 1980s and a writer with a flair for supernatural and sci-fi material that veers into surreal, absurdist and psychedelic territories.

With the studio deal, Morrison, a native of Glasgow, Scotland, will develop and produce premium original content for television networks as well as streaming platforms.

Production is already underway on Season 2 of Happy! — the subversive Syfy series that adapts the namesake Image Comics series launched n 2012 by Morrison and artist Derick Robertson. The show stars Christopher Meloni (Law Order: SVU) in the role of Nick Sax, a former corrupt cop living a bleak, decadent life as a hit man — until he meets a tiny, blue winged-horse named Happy (voiced by Patton Oswalt) The insufferably optimistic and hovering Happy becomes Sax’s companion but remains invisible to others. Executive producers are Neal Moritz, Pavun Shetty, Toby Jaffe, Meloni and showrunner Patrick Macmanus.

Morrison’s newest project with UCP is developing and writing the television adaptation of his long-running comic series The Invisibles, a near-future tale centering on an elite and mysterious international cell of occult freedom fighters who employ time travel, magic and more traditional weapons to defend our world from a covert inter-dimensional invasion by the Archons of the Outer Church.

UCP, in conjunction with Amblin Television, is also working with Morrison, Taylor and David Wiener on an adaptation of Aldous Huxley’s iconic sci-fi novel Brave New World. Set 500 years in the future, Brave New World presents a society where happiness is mandatory and forced by drugs, conditioning, entertainment and rigorous promiscuity. Morrison is both a writer and executive producer on the project.

Morrison joins notable names already on UCP’s overall deal roster, among the Sam Esmail (USA’s Mr. Robot), Nick Antosca (Syfy’s Channel Zero) and Gale Anne Hurd’s Valhalla Entertainment (AMC’s The Walking Dead).

Morrison is a self-stylized shaman, music DJ and has the fashion sense of a super-villain — he essentially played one, too, as an actor in futuristic music videos made by the platinum-selling band My Chemical Romance. Morrison and artist Dave McKean delivered one of the biggest commercial successes in DC Comics publishing history with Arkham Asylum in 1989, a Batman tale that influenced the hero’s Hollywood films and gave name to the mega-selling video game franchise.

His other notable comics credits include All-Star Superman, Animal Man, Joe The Barbarian and Batman Incorporated.

Morrison’s nonfiction bestselling book Supergods was published by Random House in 2011 and de-constructs the mythology, meaning and literary ancestors of the American superhero. Morrison is also an award-winning playwright and in 2012 was presented with an MBE (Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) by the Queen for his services to film and literature.

He is repped by ICM Partners and Ginsburg Daniels.


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