Wednesday, 12 December 2018

The Incredible Hulk (3 Stars)

This is the second film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It features an amusing 15-second cameo by Stan Lee. It's unique among all his cameos, because what he does is relevant to the plot. We see him opening his fridge from a fridge's eye view. He drinks a bottle of Guarana soda that was contaminated by Bruce Banner's blood in the opening scenes. We don't see what happened to Stan, but it must have been something big, because the US army finds out about it. They trace Bruce Banner's location by going to the manufacturer of the bottle drunk by a "man from Milwaukee".

Lou Ferrigno shared a cameo with Stan Lee in "The Hulk". In "The Incredible Hulk" he has his own cameo, a 30-second speaking role as a security guard who likes pizza.

Unlike the non-MCU Hulk film, there's no origin story in this film. We just hear that Bruce Banner became the Hulk five years ago, and he's now in hiding. That's a missed chance. In the other film the Hulk's origin story was completely messed up. It was a completely different story to the one we know in the comics, where Bruce Banner rushed out into the test site of a gamma bomb test to save the life of the teenager Rick Jones. This film could have told the correct story, but it didn't. But then again, it could have been worse. Based on casual conversation in the film, we hear that Bruce Banner became the Hulk after testing a super-soldier serum on himself. That would have been yet another false origin story.

"The Incredible Hulk" isn't a bad film, but it isn't a particularly good film either. It benefits from having better actors than "The Hulk". Edward Norton is a better actor than Eric Bana, William Hurt is a better actor than Sam Elliott, and Liv Tyler is a much better actress than Jennifer Connelly. The film also features Tim Roth, one of my favourite actors, as the Abomination. He would have been a good choice to play Bruce Banner. He might have stayed on for a few films, rather than abandoning the ship like Edward Norton.

It was unnecessary to upgrade Betty Ross by turning her into Dr. Elisabeth Ross. That's a modern trend. Women today are supposed to be strong and intelligent. I have no problems with films being made about intelligent women. The more the better. However, "The Incredible Hulk" isn't a film being written on a blank slate. It's an adaptation of stories written 50 years ago. Why change her now?

I suspect that more Hulk standalone films were intended within the MCU, but none were made. Even the much anticipated "Planet Hulk" storyline ended up being incorporated into "Thor Ragnarok". What not many people noticed, except for Marvel fanatics like me, is that the Leader was introduced in preparation for an upcoming Hulk film. In the film he's called Mr. Blue, though his real name is Dr. Samuel Sterns. He receives an injury to his head, and when he's lying on the floor a sample of Bruce Banner's blood drips onto his wound. That doesn't match his origin in the comics either. A sequel featuring the Leader was never made because "The Incredible Hulk" wasn't a box office success.

The Hulk's CGI appearance is improved over Ang Lee's film – it could hardly be worse – but it still isn't perfect. I have the impression that the film was visually based on the Hulk TV series, not on the comics.

The story is adequate, but the battle with the Abomination is too brief. His appearance was unnecessarily changed in the film. This is what he should have looked like.

"Iron Man", which I reviewed two days ago, shows a lot of respect for Stan Lee's original material. I can't say the same of "The Incredible Hulk". Whenever changes are made, the result is inferior. Always. It's about time the film producers at Marvel Studios learnt that. If they'd made a film closer to the original stories it would have made more money. I can say that with absolute certainty.

Success Ratio:  - 0.2

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Marvel Years 06.02 - February 1966

Fantastic Four #47

Title: Beware the Hidden Land!

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby

Villain: Maximus, Seeker

Regulars: Alicia Masters

Guests: Black Bolt, Medusa, Crystal, Gorgon, Karnak, Triton, Lockjaw, Dragon Man

Triton is left with the Seeker when the other Inhumans are teleported back to the Great Refuge by Lockjaw. They think he's dying, but Mister Fantastic saves him by enclosing him in one of his wife's invisible shields filled with water. After this the Seeker reiterates that Triton is his captive.

Reed and Sue Richards have only just got married, but Reed is already talking like a sexist patriarch. "Stop sounding like a wife, Sue". He should be ashamed of himself.

Dragon Man was freed by the Seeker in the last issue. Now he's going on a rampage in New York City.

This gives the Thing an opportunity to shout his battle cry: It's clobbering time!

The Seeker has been working for Maximus, Black Bolt's brother. Maximus is ruler of the Great refuge, even though Black Bolt is the rightful heir. Black Bolt takes the crown back and becomes the leader. Maximus fires an Atmo-Gun, which will destroy all human life on Earth.

Amazing Spider-Man #33

Title: The Final Chapter!

Writer: Steve Ditko, Stan Lee
Artist: Steve Ditko

Villain: gang members

Regulars: Aunt May, J. Jonah Jameson, Betty Brant, Frederick Foswell

Guests: Dr. Connors

Spider-Man manages to break out of the collapsed building, injuring himself in the process. He barely manages to defeat The Master Planner's henchmen who are waiting for him. He brings the ISO-36 serum to Dr. Connors for testing, then takes it to the hospital. Aunt May recovers after being treated.

The relationship between Peter Parker and J. Jonah Jameson is a running joke in the comics. Here's the latest instalment.

Strange Tales #141

Title: Operation Brain Blast!

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby

Villain: Hydra, Mentallo (unnamed), Fixer

Regulars: Dum Dum Dugan, Gabriel Jones

The Supreme Hydra is about to destroy the Hydra headquarters with Nick Fury inside, but he's interrupted by his personal guards. He isn't wearing his imperial robes, so they they don't recognise him. They shoot him, saving Nick Fury's life.

Back at SHIELD, a new division is being trained to defend against psychic attacks. They fear an attack from a former SHIELD agent who has the ability to read minds.

This former agent is telepathically observing a criminal called the Fixer escape from prison.

The Crazy Credits tell us that Sam Rosen does his job reluctantly. Maybe Stan Lee should offer him a pay rise?

Title: Let there be victory!

Writer: Steve Ditko, Stan Lee
Artist: Steve Ditko

Villain: Dormammu, Baron Mordo

Regulars: Ancient One, Hamir, Clea (unnamed)

This is the twelfth part of the Doctor Strange-Dormammu-Baron Mordo epic. Dormammu expresses his rage against Mordo by trapping him in another dimension. Doctor Strange defeats Dormammu in a renewed battle with the pincers of power. Doctor Strange returns to Earth a victor, but Dormammu gloats by showing him that he has imprisoned Clea (not yet named) for daring to help him.

One of Mordo's servants plans to kill Doctor Strange by planting a bomb in his Greenwich Village sanctum.

This is the first issue in which the Ancient One's servant Hamir is named.

Lettering and more lettering. We all know that a letterer's work is ever done. If all of a letterer's letters were stacked end to end they would reach to the Moon and back. If the font size is increased enough they would reach to the Sun and back.

Tales to Astonish #76

Title: Uneasy hangs the head!

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Gene Colan (as Adam Austin)

Villain: Krang

Regulars: Dorma, Vashti

Prince Namor fights against Krang and easily defeats him. He is crowned as ruler of Atlantis in a lavish ceremony. He allows Lady Dorma to stand by his side. Vashti, ihe old man who has selflessly helped him in the last few issues, is made Grand Vizier. This means that he's the highest ranking official in Atlantis after Namor himself. As a sign of clemency Krang's only punishment is exile from Atlantis.

Shortly after the coronation ceremony there are earthquakes on the sea bed. Namor surmises that they are the results of nuclear tests, so he decides to travel to the surface to hold the human race accountable.

Title: I, against a world!

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Scott Edward

Villain: Executioner

Regulars: General Ross, Major Talbot

The Hulk has been sent 500 years into the future by Bruce Banner's T-Gun. Society has degenerated, despite the invention of new weapons. There are small kingdoms struggling to survive. They live in fear of someone they call the Evil One. At the end of the story it's revealed that he's the Asgardian God, the Executioner.

The Executioner was last seen in the utterly chaotic Fantastic Four Annual #3, but he's still alive in the 25th Century, so he must have done a lot since then.

If the Executioner, one of the minor Gods, is still alive, where are all the other Gods? Shouldn't Thor be on Earth fighting against him? Only Stan Lee knows the answer to that question.

I have absolutely no idea who Scott Edward is. This is the only story that he ever drew for Marvel, and there's no record of him working for DC. Maybe it's a pseudonym for another artist.

Tales of Suspense #74

Title: My life for yours!

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Gene Colan (as Adam Austin)

Villain: Happy Hogan

Regulars: Pepper Potts

No, I haven't made a mistake. I really have moved Happy Hogan from the Regulars slot to the Villain category this month. Read on!

Iron Man is too weak to leave the Black Knight's castle because his transistor power has run down. He rings up his office for help. Pepper Potts receives the call and drags him into her car. (She must be stronger than she looks). On the way back he gives himself an initial charge via the car's cigarette lighter. Back in his laboratory he gives himself more power.

He's told that Happy Hogan is back in hospital and will be treated with an device invented by Tony Stark called an Enervator. It hasn't yet been tested, so Iron Man fears that there will be negative side effects. He doesn't get to the hospital on time. Happy is transformed into an aggressive giant who goes on a rampage.

I agree that only Stan Lee and Gene Colan could have created this story. The Crazy Credits are right in that regard, although Roy Thomas will one day soon be able to carry the torch. But why is Artie Simek described as a frantic scribbler? I would rather refer to him as a ferocious calligrapher.

Title: The Final Sleep

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: George Tuska

Villain: Nazis

It's time for the third Sleeper to be awakened. Captain America hurries to an army base near the town where it's due to appear.

Captain America draws a sketch of the first two sleepers. He may be a good crime fighter, but he can never replace Jack Kirby.

He's right about the third Sleeper. It's the head.

Now I understand why the Sleepers weren't used as a means to win the war in 1945. They're not intended to help one country defeat another, they've been built to destroy the whole world. They're an emergency weapon that would only be used if Germany lost the war.

I don't think the lettering is burnt-out at all, whatever the Crazy Credits say. Artie Simek has created pristine lettering for the printed page, as he always does.

Journey into Mystery #125

Title: When meet the Immortals!

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby

Villain: Demon, Hercules

Regulars: Odin, Heimdall, Balder, Jane Foster

Thor defeats the Demon in a short fight before delivering the norn stone to Odin in Asgard. Thor asks permission to return to Earth, but Odin forbids it because he's angry about Thor revealing his identity to Jane Foster last month. Thor has to fight his way through dozens of Asgardian warriors, before finally defeating Heimdall to cross the Rainbow Bridge.

Hercules has travelled to New York City to have a good time. Wasn't there a mission he had to fulfil? He must have forgotten about it. Jane Foster sees him from a distance and mistakes him for Thor. Hercules invites Jane Foster for a milk shake. When Thor sees them together a fight begins.

The Crazy Credits praise the comic's creative team, while merely saying that Artie Simek is bashful. Stan Lee knows all about being bashful, so he must know it's a great virtue. Most of his young super-heroes are bashful.

Title: The Queen Commands

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby

Gods: Thor, Loki, Balder, Fandrel, Hogun, Volstagg

The quest continues to find the one responsible for damaging the Odinsword. Queen Ula of Thryheim has sent her flying drones to attack Thor's ship, but Thor offers peace. Loki is impatient and attacks the drones, so battle is inevitable.

The Crazy Credits say that Stan, Jack and Vince are unique and indispensable in creating this comic, but Artie Simek is a pussycat. Why's that? Is it because he backs down and letters everything he's told to? That's his job. Stan Lee should respect him for what he does.

The Avengers #25

Title: Enter Dr. Doom!

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Don Heck

Avengers: Captain America, Hawkeye, Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch

Villain: Doctor Doom

Guests: Reed Richards, Sue Richards, Ben Grimm, Johnny Storm

Doctor Doom has been waiting for the Avengers to return from the future, where they were kidnapped by Kang. Isn't that a futile waste of time? When time travel is involved he has no way of knowing when they'll return. It might be immediately, ten years from now or before they left. While waiting he sits twisting his mind around the possibilities that he and Kang might be the same person. This has been perplexing him since Fantastic Four Annual #2.

Doctor Doom has invented a Scanner-Scope, with which he can watch everyone and everything on Earth. I'd love to have one of those. Every day I'd be sitting watching the world's most beautiful women having a shower or lying naked on faraway beaches. I'd never get bored. Maybe Doctor Doom does it as well, but he's not man enough to admit it.

Doctor Doom has no enmity towards the Avengers. He merely wants to trap them to use them as bait to lure the Fantastic Four to Latveria. He writes a letter to the Scarlet Witch, claiming to be an aunt. This excites her, because she's always considered herself an orphan. (In the post-canon years it was written that Wanda and Pietro were Magneto's children). The Avengers travel to Latveria, forgetting that Doctor Doom is the ruler. They should watch the news more often.

In the battle one of Hawkeye's arrows dissolves Doctor Doom's armour. Hawkeye boasts that he almost beat Iron Man in the past. Stan Lee might have forgotten when this happened, but I haven't. Hawkeye is referring to Tales Of Suspense #64, a battle in which he also used arrows to dissolve Iron Man's armour.

The Fantastic Four hear on the news that the Avengers are in Latveria and want to go to rescue them. They apply for flight clearance, but their request is denied. The government says that Doctor Doom is the head of state of a friendly nation, so they don't want the Fantastic Four to cause a diplomatic crisis. Let that be a lesson to them. In future they should never ask for permission when they're heading off to an adventure in another part of the world.

Fortunately the Avengers win the battle without the Fantastic Four's help.

Where does this story fit into the Fantastic Four continuity? I honestly don't know. I'll let you work it out for yourself.

X-Men #17

Title: And none shall survive!

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Werner Roth (as Jay Gavin)

X-Men: Cyclops, Angel, Beast, Iceman, Marvel Girl

Villain: Magneto

Regulars: Professor X

Don't you love this month's cover? It's very different to anything Marvel has done before. As far as I know the cover was drawn by Dick Ayers, not the usual artist Werner Roth.

The story starts immediately after the battle against the Sentinels. The Beast and Iceman are injured and need to go to hospital. The Beast leaves hospital after a few days, but Iceman is still drifting in and out of a coma.

A mysterious person has entered Charles Xavier's school while the X-Men were away. He defeats the X-Men one by one as they return. I remember reading this comic when it was new, and the last two pages made me gasp. It happens when Warren Worthington's parents drive to the school to visit him.

How can it be Magneto? Wasn't he captured by the Stranger and taken back to his planet in X-Men #11? Come back next month for the explanation.

Daredevil #13

Title: Sightless in a Savage Land!

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: John Romita

Villain: Plunderer (Lord Parnival Plunder), Ka-Zar (Kevin Plunder), Swamp Men

Regulars: Foggy Nelson, Karen Page

In the last issue Daredevil lost his powers. Ka-Zar has gone to get ju-ju berries which will cure him. While he's gone Daredevil is attacked by a savage man-ape called Maa-Gor. Daredevil is at his mercy, but the Plunderer shoots him. He reveals that Ka-Zar is his long lost brother Kevin, but his motive for seeking him isn't noble. Before his death their father gave them each half of a medallion made from a strange metal with destructive powers as a weapon. The Plunderer wants both halves of the medallion for himself.

In later comics this metal is called Vibranium.

The Plunderer takes Daredevil and Ka-Zar back to his castle in England. Ka-Zar runs away, in possession of the medallion, not knowing how far away he is from Skull Island.

The Crazy Credits attack Sam Rosen once more. I'm the only one who rises to his defence. His lettering isn't at all dilapidated. Just look at his noble letters in the credits box itself. The letters stand upright, proud and firm.

Other comics published this month:

Millie the Model #135 (Stan Lee, Stan Goldberg)
Modelling with Millie #45 (Roy Thomas, Stan Goldberg)
Patsy and Hedy #104 (Roy Thomas, Al Hartley)
Rawhide Kid #50 (Larry Lieber, Larry Lieber)
Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos #27 (Stan Lee, Dick Ayers)

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Brain On Fire (3 Stars)

This is a true story, based on a book written by the journalist Susannah Cahalan about her own experiences. She suffered from a rare disease called Anti-NMDA Receptor Encephalitis, which is easy to cure once diagnosed, but it's very difficult for even experienced doctors to recognise.

After graduating Susannah went to work at the New York Post. Within a few months her high skills promised her a successful career, but then things changed. The first symptoms were tiredness and blurred vision. Then she began to see and hear things that weren't there. She had seizures that looked like epileptic fits. Finally she could hardly move and was unable to talk.

The doctors in her hospital made contradictory diagnoses. One called it the result of alcohol withdrawal. Another called it a bipolar disorder. Another called it a psychosis. She was close to being admitted to a psychiatric hospital, when a doctor discovered that the right side of her brain was inflamed. His diagnosis was Anti-NMDA Receptor Encephalitis, an immune disorder in which a person's antibodies attack the brain.

This illness is regarded as rare, but it's possible that it commonly occurs and is incorrectly diagnosed.

The film was intended to go straight to video, but Netflix has acquired the exclusive rights, so you won't be able to find it on disc. It's a brilliant performance by Chloe Grace Moretz. She's one of the best actresses alive today, and her role as Susannah Cahalan gives her a chance to put her acting skills on display.

Nevertheless, I've given the film a relatively low rating. If I were judging the film on Chloe Grace Moretz's acting alone I'd have to give it five stars, but there's more to it than that. The film is too clinical and too distasteful for me. This is a subject matter that I would be able to read about in a book, but when I watch it on screen I have to turn my head away. I admit that I would never have picked up Susannah Cahalan's book, so I needed the film to educate me about this exotic disease. As an educational film it's good, but I expect films to entertain me. "Brain on Fire" has no entertainment value.

Monday, 10 December 2018

Widows (4 Stars)

A thief called Harry Rawlings steals $2 million in cash from Jamal Manning, a gang boss in Chicago. After a police chase the getaway van is destroyed, killing Henry and his three accomplices and burning the money in a fire. The next day Jamal, who wants to go straight by being elected as alderman, threatens Harry's wife Veronica. He says he'll kill her if she doesn't pay him back the $2 million within a week. He tells her the police won't help her because they don't care. She's a black woman and they won't listen to her.

This is the biggest plot hole in the story. Why would a gang boss think that Harry's widow would have so much money lying around? In her position I would have run to the police regardless, and if they didn't help me I would have left town as quickly as possible. Even if she doesn't have $2 million in cash lying around Veronica is fairly affluent, so she could easily afford to rent a hotel room in another town, preferably somewhere where the police are less racist.

Veronica gives in. She promises to deliver the money that she doesn't yet have. In her husband's notebook she finds details of a crime he intended to commit, a robbery of $5 million in cash. She contacts the other three widows and asks them to help her. Two of them agree. Then they begin to make plans.

This is a complex story with many minor details, but I won't say any more about the plot. It's a tough, gritty film with harsh violence. Viola Davis puts on an Oscar winning performance as Veronica Rawlings. If she's not at least nominated for an Oscar I'll be severely disappointed. I was also greatly impressed by Colin Farrell as the alderman candidate Jack Mulligan. I've seen him in a lot of films, and this is a very untypical role for him. His face is easy to recognise, of course, but his stance and his mannerisms are so different from anything I've seen him do before.

This isn't a perfect film by any means, but if you want to spend two hours watching a good action thriller, you won't be disappointed.

Sunday, 9 December 2018

Iron Man (4½ Stars)

Stan Lee said that this was his favourite cameo. It's a non-speaking role, only five seconds long, but there's something special about it. Tony Stark walks into a party and sees a man with his back to him that he greets with the words "You look great, Hef". When the man turns round we see that it's Stan. What the scene means is open to interpretation. Maybe it was Stan Lee himself, and Tony Stark mistook him for Hugh Hefner. Maybe Stan Lee was playing the part of Hugh Hefner. In a deleted scene (available on my Blu-ray disc) Tony apologises for his mistake, to which Stan replies "That's okay, I get this all the time". That would have removed the ambiguity. I believe the director removed this line of dialogue because he wanted to leave it open for the fans.

"Iron Man" is the film that kicked off the series of Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) films. It was a brilliant marketing strategy that other film franchises are jealous of. It was all building up to the Avengers. The team members were introduced one by one in a series of films, and finally they were placed together. The MCU films are built on continuity, which was the strength of the 1960's Marvel comics. The same actors played the same characters from film to film, with only two notable exceptions:

Edward Norton played the Hulk in his MCU solo film, but he was replaced by Mark Ruffalo in "The Avengers". Supposedly Norton didn't want to be tied to one character for years, but if he hadn't wanted that he should never have taken the role in the first place. It's also the fault of the producers for not making him sign a contract that specified a minimum number of films.

Terrence Howard played James Rhodes in "Iron Man", but he was replaced by Don Cheadle in the subsequent films. The reason for this is well documented. He was too greedy. He was the highest paid actor in "Iron Man" with a salary of $4.5 million. For "Iron Man 2" he was only offered one million dollars. The reason was that Robert Downey Jr was still a relatively unknown actor when the first film was made, but he became famous as Iron Man and could demand more money for the second film, so Howard's salary had to be reduced to stay within the budget. Terrence Howard walked out, meaning the studio had to scramble to find a replacement actor. He didn't reckon with the consequences of his actions. Before "Iron Man" he was being paid between one and two million dollars per film. After refusing to appear in "Iron Man 2" he was never offered more than $500,000 for films, and most offers were closer to $60,000. Within a few years he was earning so little that he had to accept parts in television series. I'm not saying he's a bad actor; he's a very good actor. To be honest, I'm surprised at the reaction. Hollywood is ruled by greed, so why was Terrence Howard picked out as the one to be punished?

"Iron Man" has a lot in its favour. Despite being moved from the 1960's to the present, the story is faithful to the comics. If you don't believe me, read Tales Of Suspense #39 (March 1963) for yourself. Tony Stark is the same millionaire playboy (maybe a billionaire, due to inflation). He's an erratic genius. The only real change in his personality is that in the comics he continued to manufacture weapons, whereas in the film he turns pacifist. That's a sign of the times. In the 1960's Americans like Stan Lee believed that peace could only be achieved by force. Today people are more naive and think that peace can be achieved by negotiation. I'm glad that Adolf Hitler isn't alive today, otherwise pacifist leaders would be negotiating non-stop while he marched across Europe.

I don't consider Robert Downey Jr to be a good actor, but he was born to play the role of Tony Stark. He's an actor who can only play himself, but this "himself" fits the role of Tony Stark perfectly. It's like he jumps out of the pages of the comics.

One character who seems to have been born by accident is SHIELD agent Phil Coulson, played by Clark Gregg. He never appeared in the comics. He was only introduced into the films as a minor character running errands for Nick Fury. I don't think that the producers realised how popular he was until the fans complained when he was killed in "The Avengers". He had to be brought back. He had to be given bigger roles. He was made the lead character in the MCU television series "Agents of SHIELD".

The music in "Iron Man" shouldn't be underestimated. Tony Stark is a rock music fan, and this is shown in the film's soundtrack. There's no namby-pamby rap or r&b. That's all that today's generation of weaklings can handle. Tony Stark is a strong, hard-hitting man, and he likes powerful music. The film starts with AC/DC and ends with Black Sabbath.

This film also introduces one of the most important features of the MCU films: the after-credits scenes. Almost all of the films have a scene after the credits, of varying length and importance. These scenes are intended as a hook to introduce following films. Mostly. "Iron Man" has an example of a good after-credits scene. Nick Fury speaks to Tony Stark about forming a group called the Avengers.

Success Ratio:  + 2.2

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Saturday, 8 December 2018

The Hulk (2 Stars)

What went wrong?

That's the question that everyone has to ask who sees this film.

Ang Lee is one of the world's greatest living directors. He's made many brilliant films in his life, including "The Life of Pi" and "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk" and "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon". He's won two Academy Awards as Best Director, for "The Life of Pi" and "Brokeback Mountain" (which I still haven't seen).

So how could Ang Lee produce this awful piece of trash? When it was complete he realised what he'd done. He felt so depressed that he wanted to give up filmmaking, but his father convinced him to carry on. Fortunately. This would have been a poor film to end his career. Two years later he won his first Academy Award as Best Director.

So what's so bad about the film?

First I'll say what's good. There's a nine-second Stan Lee cameo. It's actually a double cameo. Stan is shown walking out of a building with Lou Ferrigno, the bodybuilder who played the Hulk in the television series from 1978 to 1982. Both of them are security guards, one tougher than the other. Stan tells Lou that they need to beef up security. Never a truer word was spoken.

The other thing I like is the cinematography. Ang Lee uses imaginative split screen images frequently throughout the film. Sometimes different scenes are shown side by side; sometimes the same scene is shown from different angles; sometimes we see different phases of the same scene, seconds or minutes apart, being shown simultaneously. Sometimes it's even a fake split screen, i.e. there's a line across the screen, but something crosses the line. Here are a few examples.

Beautiful. It looks even better on screen, because the frames aren't static. The lines wander across the screen, changing the size of the images relative to one another. This is the only reason I've given the film a two-star rating. It's the only thing the film has in its favour.

It would be too difficult for me to name all the film's faults. I'm sure I would forget some, so I'll stick to the biggest errors. Just look at this screenshot of the Hulk. What did Ang Lee spend his $175 million budget on? Obviously not the CGI. The Hulk looks like a cheap plastic children's toy. It's embarrassing. He didn't even look that bad in the television series made 20 years earlier.

The Hulk's clothing has been a recurring joke since he first appeared in the comics in the 1960's. When he grows in size his shirt is shredded, but he never loses his underpants. They're a revolutionary brand that can stretch to four times the size without being damaged. When the Hulk turns back to Bruce Banner his underpants shrink back to their previous size. I'm not naive. I know the reason for this. It would have been inappropriate to draw a completely naked green monster in the 1960's.

Ang Lee tries to fix this problem, but his botched attempt makes things even worse. When Bruce Banner turns into the Hulk the first time he keeps his stretch pants. Then he turns back into Bruce Banner a short distance away from Betty Ross. He's shown completely naked from behind. Ah ha! So his underpants fell off because they were too loose after being stretched? That makes sense. Almost. The next camera shot shows him walking towards Betty, and his underpants have magically re-appeared, guaranteeing the film a family-friendly rating. This is a stupid continuity error. At the very least the camera angle could have been changed to only show Bruce Banner from the waist up. Didn't Ang Lee notice his blunder?

The acting is lacklustre, even from Eric Bana (Bruce Banner), who I usually admire. Josh Lucas (Glenn Talbot) and Sam Elliott (General Ross) are annoyingly shallow. Jennifer Connelly (Betty Ross) is an actress I've never liked. She can't express the slightest emotion on screen, so her performance in "The Hulk" is typical for her.

The film's biggest problem is the story itself. From what I've read, there were problems with the screenplay, and the re-writing made it worse. The original story should have shown Bruce Banner battling Crusher Creel, better known as the Absorbing Man, while attempting to find his father. This was re-written, making Bruce's father the Absorbing Man. So Bruce has to battle his evil father? This is a ridiculous story, even for those who don't know the original comics. Why not just stick to what Stan Lee wrote in 1962? Stan knew what he was doing. He was a genius. The new generation of Marvel screenwriters are high-school dropouts who have no idea how to write a good story.

Even worse, the Hulk's origin runs through the whole film, new details added through things remembered in dreams from scene to scene. Using dreams to solve a mystery is bad storytelling. Ang Lee should have thrown this script in the trash can where it belonged.

When I last watched this film in 2014 I said I probably wouldn't watch it again. After Stan Lee's death it floated to the top of my to-watch list in a list of Marvel films based on Stan Lee's creations. It was difficult for me to watch the film today. I found myself getting bored, wondering when it would finally end. Now I can say with certainty that I won't watch it again. I'll keep it in my collection, because I'm a completist. I need to have all the Marvel films on my shelf, neatly ordered. I know that's obsessive, but it's the way I am. Maybe the person who inherits the films after my death will enjoy it. Probably not.

The film was a box office failure, deservedly. Supposedly it was a success in the first week, but then dropped in popularity. This was probably when people started telling their friends how bad it was.

I can only think of one value that Ang Lee's Hulk film might have: it can be shown at film schools as an example of a big budget film by a successful director that went astray. Students can write essays on the film's faults and attempt to explain how they happened. I'm sure that there's a psychology behind bad films. There has to be an explanation why directors are blind to a film's faults until after completion, when it's too late.

Success Ratio:  - 0.2

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Marvel Years 06.01 - January 1966

Fantastic Four #46

Title: Those who would destroy us!

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby

Villain: Seeker

Guests: Black Bolt, Medusa, Crystal, Gorgon, Karnak, Triton, Lockjaw, Dragon Man

"The world's greatest comic magazine" continues to develop into a super-hero soap opera. It's living up to its title.

In the battle with the Inhumans the Fantastic Four discover that Black Bolt is unbeatable due to his strength, speed and agility. However, this is only temporary. He absorbs his energy through his antenna from the air. When the energy is used up he has to rest.

The Inhumans are hiding from someone they call the Seeker. He wants to capture them and take them back to a place called the Great Refuge. They are members of another race that has always inhabited the Earth but has remained hidden. Through genetic engineering they all have great powers.

Triton is encased in a sack of water because he's incapable of breathing air for more than a few minutes. The sack breaks , so he flees into the sea, where he's captured by the Seeker. The Seeker also captures Dragon Man after incorrectly assuming him to be an Inhuman.

The Crazy Credits praise the comic's creative team, except for Artie Simek. He's only a letterer.

Amazing Spider-Man #32

Title: Man on a Rampage!

Writer: Steve Ditko, Stan Lee
Artist: Steve Ditko

Villain: Doctor Octopus, gang members

Regulars: Aunt May, J. Jonah Jameson, Betty Brant, Frederick Foswell, Ned Leeds

Guests: Dr. Connors

Peter Parker's Aunt May is still in hospital with an unknown sickness. Now he receives the diagnosis. She has a radioactive particle in her blood stream.

Peter assumes that the particle is a result of donating blood to her. Stan Lee might have forgotten when this was, but I can tell you. It was in Amazing Spider-Man #10.

Are you wondering what the no-prize is that Stan Lee promises? The reasons for awarding it varied over the years, but in its essence it's an intangible prize. Nobody knows a person has it except for Stan Lee and the person himself. Probably not even Stan knew it, because he was forgetful. In retrospect I wish that I'd done something to win a no-prize. I could tell people that I have a no-prize, and nobody would be able to prove it's not true, but I would know I'm lying, and that's all that matters.

Peter Parker turns to Dr. Connors for help, who we last saw as the Lizard in Amazing Spider-Man #6. He suggests an experimental new serum developed on the west coast called ISO-36. This is shipped to New York by express delivery, but it's stolen by men working for the Master Planner.

After going on a rampage, beating up crooks throughout the city to find out the Master Planner's location, he finally tracks him down and discovers that he's none other than Doctor Octopus, who was last seen in Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1. After a hard battle Spider-Man is left to drown under a heavy collapsed building.

The Crazy Credits tell us that Artie Simek is a kibitzer. That's a good thing. He should take his work seriously and do a lot more than mere lettering.

Strange Tales #140

Title: The End of Hydra!

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Don Heck

Villain: Hydra

Regulars: Dum Dum Dugan, Gabriel Jones

Guests: Tony Stark

When Dum Dum Dugan and Gabriel Jones arrive the battle turns in Nick Fury's favour. In the meantime Tony Stark flies into space in the Brainosaur to defuse the Betatron Bomb.

When he sees that the battle is lost, Hydra's supreme leader decides to detroy Hydra's base with Nick Fury and the other SHIELD agents inside.

The Crazy Credits say that Sam Rosen is responsible for booboo-bulging balloons. If anyone knows what that means, please let me know.

Title: The Pincers of Power!

Writer: Steve Ditko, Stan Lee
Artist: Steve Ditko

Villain: Dormammu, Baron Mordo

Regulars: Ancient One, Clea (unnamed)

This is the eleventh part of the Doctor Strange-Dormammu-Baron Mordo epic. Dormammu fights in person against Doctor Strange. In his arrogance he doesn't fight with mystic power, a battle he would easily win, he demands a duel with mystic pincers. In this battle it isn't about power, it's all about skill. The winner is promised the mastery of the Earth.

Tales to Astonish #75

Title: The End of the Quest!

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Gene Colan (as Adam Austin)

Villain: Krang

Regulars: Dorma

As the title says, the quest to find Neptune's trident comes to an end, and Prince Namor is given his prize. He swims back to Atlantis with Lady Dorma, who is still unconscious. Before challenging Krang he brings Dorma to a machine that can cure her.

With Stan Lee's famous alliteration the Crazy Credits tell us that Sam Rosen is sagacious. Stan must have been in a good mood. At least he didn't say that Sam is silly or sloppy.

Title: Not all my power can save me!

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Mike Esposito (as Mickey Demeo)

Villain: Leader

Regulars: General Ross, Major Talbot, Betty Ross, Rick Jones

Guests: Watcher

After the Leader's death the Hulk puts on the Ultimate Machine. This results in him hearing Rick Jones' voice pleading to be allowed to go to the White House to talk to the president.

General Ross fires a weapon called a T-Gun at the Hulk. Bruce Banner invented it without telling anyone what it does, but the general is foolhardy enough to use it anyway. It sends the Hulk into the distant future.

In this issue we see that the Hulk's intelligence is slowly degrading. He's no longer able to think like Bruce Banner.

The Crazy Credits tell us who does what, and it's the reader's job to enjoy the comic. Wow! That means I have the best job of all.

Tales of Suspense #73

Title: My life for yours!

Writer: Stan Lee, Roy Thomas
Artist: Gene Colan (as Adam Austin)

Villain: Black Knight

Regulars: Pepper Potts, Happy Hogan

Happy Hogan is still recovering in hospital after being injured by the Titanium Man. When Iron Man goes to visit him he finds that he's been kidnapped. A hoof print on the window sill tells him that the Black Knight is responsible. He pursues him to a castle 30 miles outside of Washington D.C. Iron man wins the battle, but he's badly hurt by electric bolts from the Black Knight's lance. At the end of the story he's lying injured, barely able to move.

Roy Thomas wrote the script, based on a plot by Stan Lee. In the next few years other writers joined the Marvel bullpen, but none can be compared with Roy Thomas. His style and imagination is second only to that of Stan Lee himself. His strength is that he imitated Stan Lee. Unless you know who wrote a story, it's difficult to tell the two apart. Their styles were so similar.

Title: Where walks the Sleeper!

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: George Tuska

Villain: Nazis

Captain America fights with the Sleeper, but it escapes. In a nearby town a second Sleeper emerges from the ground, a flying robot with the form of a manta. It combines with the first Sleeper into a single robot.

I don't know why the Crazy Credits say that Artie Simek's lettering is in stereo. That would hurt my eyes. I can guarantee that his excellent lettering is 100% mono.

Journey into Mystery #124

Title: The Grandeur and the Glory!

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby

Villain: Demon

Regulars: Odin, Jane Foster

Guests: Zeus, Hercules

Despite the prominence of Hercules on the cover, he hardly appears in the comic itself. We see him briefly in Olympus. Zeus sends him to Earth on an unspecified mission.

We saw Hercules three months ago in Journey Into Mystery Annual #1, but we can assume that the story took place many years ago, maybe even hundreds of years ago.

I've reprinted the comic's splash page to show the detail in Jack Kirby's artwork. There are three Marvel comics on sale at the news stand. If you examine them carefully you'll see that they're Amazing Spider-Man #33, Fantastic Four #47 and Strange Tales #141, all of which will be released next month, February 1966. It was usual for Marvel to design comic book covers in advance, so that they would be available for publicity purposes, if needed. In the 1960's they were drawn a month in advance, but in later years they were drawn three months in advance, before the stories had even been plotted, leading to occasional discrepancies between the cover and the stories.

When Donald Blake visits Jane Foster in hospital she reacts sadly to him, saying that she loves him but accusing him of keeping secrets from her. In response he reveals to her that he's Thor by changing form in front of her. Odin sees this from his vantage point in Asgard and is enraged. He swears that there will be a punishment.

Unaware of Odin's wrath, Thor flies to Asia to challenge the Demon.

The Crazy Credits tell us that Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Vince Colletta are royalty, whereas Artie Simek is merely Sugar Lips. At least his wife is happy, if he can spend enough time at home to kiss her. Stan Lee is a slave driver, only letting Artie out of his cage when the work is done.

Title: Closer comes the Swarm!

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby

Gods: Thor, Loki, Balder, Fandrel, Hogun, Volstagg

The quest continues to find the one responsible for damaging the Odinsword. Queen Ula of Thryheim sends her flying drones to attack Thor's ship.

So what are the Crazy Credits saying about Artie Simek this time? Why has he even been selected to work alongside the greats in the bullpen? If it means anything, I respect him!

The Avengers #24

Title: From the Ashes of Defeat

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Don Heck

Avengers: Captain America, Hawkeye, Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch

Villain: Kang

In the last issue Princess Ravonna rejected Kang's love, because he is only a commoner. It seems like class structures will be alive and thriving in the 40th Century. As a result, Kang sends his armies to attack the kingdom of Ravonna's father, King Carelius. The Avengers help to defend the kingdom, but they're too few to resist the attack of so many soldiers with advanced weapons.

After defeating the kingdom Kang spares Ravonna's life because he loves her. His commanders consider this an act of weakness and rebel against him. They battle against Kang, so he makes a deal with the Avengers. If they help him, he will return them unharmed to the 20th Century. In an amazing turnaround the Avengers fight side-by-side with Kang.

After defeating the rebels Kang honours his promise. As the Avengers are departing Baltag, the rebel leader, attempts to assassinate Kang. Ravonna reveals her love for Kang by leaping in the way to protect him.

Kang sits mourning over Ravonna as she lies dying, but I have to ask why. He's a time traveller. Couldn't he easily go back in time to five minutes ago to protect her? Stan Lee didn't think it all through. I deserve a no-prize if anyone does!

X-Men #16

Title: The Supreme Sacrifice!

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Werner Roth (as Jay Gavin)

X-Men: Cyclops, Angel, Beast, Iceman, Marvel Girl

Villain: Sentinels

Regulars: Professor X

In the last issue the X-Men were captured by the Sentinels, but now they escape and continue the fight. It's impossible for them to defeat the Sentinels, because the Sentinels are already intelligent enough to have invented new weapons in the weeks or months since they were first created.

Professor X discovers that the reason one of the Sentinels collapsed in X-Men #14 was the interference in its electronics caused by a giant crystal on a nearby rooftop. He convinces an army unit to fly to the Sentinels' fortress in a helicopter, dangling the crystal beneath it.

One thing I've noticed while re-reading the early 1960's Marvel comics for the first time in years is the quality of Marvel's lesser known artists. For me the 1960's were all about the big two artists, Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby. The only other artist I could have named was Gene Colan. Now I'm discovering other artists, like Bob Powell and Werner Roth. Werner's artwork throughout this issue is so breathtaking that I feel tempted to show it all, but I'll restrict myself to the splash page. The rest is just as good, trust me.

The comic's cover was drawn by Jack Kirby. Compare it with the splash page to see the difference in their styles. Who do you prefer? I like Werner Roth more. He can draw facial expressions much better than Jack Kirby.

Daredevil #12

Title: Sightless in a Savage Land!

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: John Romita

Villain: Plunderer (Lord Parnival Plunder), Ka-Zar, Swamp Men

Regulars: Foggy Nelson, Karen Page

John Romita is an artist who worked for Atlas Comics, Marvel's predecessor, from 1951 to 1957. He returned to Marvel after a few years working for DC. His first work after returning to Marvel was the cover of last month's Avenger #23. He's often called John Romita Sr. to distinguish him from his son John, who started work at Marvel in 1977 and became one of Marvel's most important artists.

The issue begins with Matt Murdock embarking on a long cruise and thinking about how he wants to continue his life.

Does he know what he wants? On page 2 he thinks that his first love is law, so he doesn't want to continue life as a super-hero.

And yet he thinks the exact opposite on page 4.

Matt Murdock's cruise ship is attacked by a pirate who calls himself the Plunderer. Daredevil surrenders when the Plunderer threatens the lives of the other passengers. Rather than wanting to harm Daredevil, he respects his fighting skills and offers him a position on his ship.

The ship continues on course to a place called Skull Island, which the Plunderer has recently discovered and claims to be the most unique place on Earth. What he doesn't know is that it's the home of Ka-Zar, who we last saw in X-Men #10. Ka-Zar is currently involved in a fight with the Swamp men.

Here's an example of Stan Lee's humour in the yellow editorial box. I love him!

Other comics published this month:

Millie the Model #134 (Stan Lee, Stan Goldberg)
Kid Colt Outlaw #126 (Steve Skeates, Jack Keller)
Two Gun Kid #79 (Larry Lieber, Dick Ayers)
Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos #26 (Stan Lee, Dick Ayers)