Friday, 31 August 2018

We are the night (5 Stars)

Ever since "Twilight" was released I've heard people groaning that vampire films are always love stories. I don't understand what they're complaining about. Bram Stoker's novel "Dracula", written in 1897, was a love story. In the tradition of gothic literature love and tragedy are combined. Count Dracula's love for Mina, a woman who doesn't love him in return, leads to his death. This story was retold in the films "Nosferatu" (1922), "Dracula" (1931) and "Dracula" (1958). In all three films the sole motivation for Dracula's crimes was love. Love drove him to the most hideous of acts. Love and vampirism are entwined so tightly that I'd say that a vampire film without love isn't a real vampire film.

In this film the ancient vampiress Louise (Nina Hoss) is searching for her lost lover. He's long dead, and she thinks she can only recognise him by his eyes, whether he's been reborn as a man or a woman. She believes that the young pickpocket Lena (Karoline Herfurth) is the one, so she makes her a vampire in order to live with her forever.

The film flopped at the box office, earning only $1.2 million from an $8 million budget. The only reason I can give for its failure is that people didn't give it a chance. They didn't think it could be good because it was German. That's a mistake many film fans make today. They forget that the world's first vampire film was German. It took a few years for the film to be noticed, and it's now made a profit from its DVD sales.

A few years ago the English Wikipedia page for "We are the night" was almost empty, just a stub. Now a complete article has been written which isn't based on the German Wikipedia page and contains a lot of new information. In the overview it's stated:

"The film explores themes of depression, self-harm, the consequences of immortality, suicide, and explores Valerie Solanas' idea of an all-female society".

That's an interesting summary which contains thoughts not contained in the German page. I drew a connection with Valerie Solanas the first time I watched the film, but I thought it would be going too far to talk about it in my review. Now I feel bolder. Louise tells Lena that there are about 40 vampires in Europe, 200 worldwide, all of them women. The men were too loud and too stupid, so they all ended up dead. Now an agreement has been reached that no more men will be turned. That's a very sensible strategy. If it's not possible to rid the world of men altogether, it's a good compromise to only allow women to be immortal. If a man is annoying, just let him die.

Critics of the film have said that it copies too many ideas from existing films. Why is that a problem? I would say that every vampire film that's been made for the last 50 years is a pick and mix from what's gone before. It's a genre that loses its appeal if too much is changed.

This is a brilliant film. If you're a vampire fan you need to watch it. If you're a feminist you need to watch it. In fact, if you're someone who likes any sort of film you ought to watch it.

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Thursday, 30 August 2018

Aaliyah: The Princess of R&B (4 Stars)

This is a biographical film about the singer Aaliyah, who was called the Princess of R&B during her short life. She might be well known to many of my readers, but I had never listened to her music before watching the film today. I only know her as an actress in two films, "Romeo must die" and "Queen of the Damned". She was playing the role of Zee in "The Matrix Reloaded", but she died before the filming was complete, so her scenes were re-shot with another actress. That's the role that would have made her an A-List actress, but it wasn't to be.

Although Aaliyah (full name Aaliyah Dana Haughton) was an extremely successful singer, her goal was to become an actress. She looked up to Whitney Houston as her role model, but that was a bad example to follow. Whitney appeared in three films, of which only one was successful, after which she returned to singing.

Aaliyah was introduced to the producer R. Kelly when she was 13, and she released her first album when she was 14. It sold over six million copies worldwide. She was involved in a controversy because of her relationship with R. Kelly, who was 12 years older than her. They got married when she was 15 by faking her birth certificate. Her parents had the marriage annulled.

She made her second album with the producer Timbaland. She insisted on having him as producer, even though he was only moderately successful at the time. It was the right choice, and it was even more successful than her debut album, selling eight million copies.

This film has been criticised by Aaliyah's fans, in particular the casting of Alexandra Shipp in the title role. They say that her singing is not up to the quality of Aaliyah's. I have to shake my head. What do they expect? Nobody could possibly have imitated Aaliyah's voice perfectly. After comparing the songs in the film with the originals I have to say that Alexandra did a reasonable job. My question is, if the fans think Alexandra Shipp was the wrong person for the role, who else would they have picked? I can't think of a better actress for the role. She looked enough like Aaliyah to carry the role.

More than anything else, Alexandra Shipp was able to behave like Aaliyah. She studied her mannerisms and perfectly imitated her. She says that she's a big fan of Aaliyah's music, so we can see that she was playing the part with the greatest respect.

The film could have been made better with a bigger budget. I miss not seeing scenes with Aaliyah making her films. "Queen of the Damned" is only mentioned in passing, when she says that she's going to play a character from one of her favourite books.

The impression that the film leaves me is that Aaliyah was a beautiful person. She was modest and unassuming, but at the same time she was determined to succeed. Most of all she was a family person. She still lived in the simple room in her parents' house, even when she was rich. If the film has given me admiration and respect for Aaliyah it's done its job.

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

Napoli Velata (4 Stars)

This film, whose title translates as "Naples in Veils", is an intriguing murder mystery. However, the film's atmosphere is just as important as the plot itself. The cinematography is overwhelming. The viewer is seduced by the opulent imagery of the ancient city of Naples.

Adriana is a police coroner. At a private theatre performance she meets a handsome man called Andrea, and she invites him back to her apartment for the night even though he's much younger than her. They arrange to meet at the museum the next day, but he doesn't come. She's called into work to examine a murder victim, and it's Andrea. His eyes have been gouged out.

Shortly afterwards Adriana's apartment is ransacked. The police assume that the murderer was looking for something Andrea might have hidden, but she has no idea what it is.

A few days later Adriana sees a man in the street who looks identical to Andrea. She finds out that it's his twin brother Luca. Nobody else knows that he's in Naples, so Adriana hides him in her apartment, and they become lovers. Despite the identical looks the personalities are very different. Andrea was self-confident and loving, whereas Luca is nervous and jealous. He accuses her of seeing another man whenever she goes out even for a small time.

Adriana's colleague Antonio is assigned to investigate the case. Adriana herself isn't supposed to be told about the case because she's personally involved, but Antonio feels emotionally attached to her and tells her more than he should, helping her to investigate privately.

The film is lusciously set. The superstitious attitude of the citizens of Naples, in particular Adriana's family, confuses the investigations. It's a fascinating film that's worth seeing. So far there's no English language release, but be patient, it's inevitable.

Tuesday, 28 August 2018

Today we kill, tomorrow we die (4 Stars)

This film with the dramatic title is an Italian western made in 1968. I don't know whether it's correct to call it a spaghetti western. It's made in Italy, but it doesn't have the same feeling as the typical spaghetti westerns, which take place in the sweltering heat of the desert. The final shootout of this film takes place in a forest, which is very untypical for the genre.

One other thing that's unusual about this film is that the screenplay was written by Dario Argento. I thought he was only responsible for horror films. I stand corrected.

The film begins with Bill Kiowa (Brett Halsey) being released from prison after a five year sentence. He wants to get revenge on his previous partner James Elfego (Tatsuya Nakadai). When Bill got married he decided to quit crime and go straight. James didn't accept this. He shot his wife and framed him for a large robbery. Now all that Bill wants is to get revenge.

Bill has money that he left stashed with his father. He uses it to hire four men to challenge James, who is now in Nevada. Probably the only one of the four mercenaries you'll recognise is Bud Spencer. Unlike the others, he doesn't like to wear a hat.

Bud Spencer doesn't play the main role in "Today we kill" – I have to shorten the title – but he still gets a lot of screen time. It's not a comedy role, but when he gets involved in fist fights the action is exaggerated.

Brett Halsey was born in 1933 and appeared in his first film, "The Man from Alamo", in 1953. After ten years of playing small roles in Hollywood films he tried his luck in Italy, where he immediately became a big star. Eventually he returned to the USA and appeared mostly in television series, but he'll always be best known for the westerns he made in Italy.

Tatsuya Nakadai was a strange choice to play the villain, James Elfego. He's Japanese, and at the time he appeared in the film he could speak neither English nor Italian. He's still active today, making several films a year.

In the film itself no reference is made to James Elfego's ethnicity. If anything, his name sounds Mexican. However, he repeatedly goes into action with a machete, showing off his Japanese fighting skills.

"Today we kill" has been released on DVD in America, but is now out of print. It's available on Blu-ray in Germany, but only in Italian and German.

Monday, 27 August 2018

Bomber (3½ Stars)

Bud Spencer plays the role of Bud Graziano, a retired heavyweight boxer. For years he was unbeaten, but after losing a match to Rosco Dunn he retired and went to live a life of obscurity as a fisherman in Pisa, Italy. Sometimes the past has a way of catching up with you. Years later he recognises Rosco on the beach in Pisa, because he's now a sergeant in a nearby American army case. The old rivalry flares up. They're both trainers in boxing clubs. Rosco has a few skilled boxers in his club, but Bud only has one boxer that he can rely on, a skilled amateur called Giorgio Desideri.

Bud sees the upcoming amateur title match as a chance to get revenge over Rosco, but Giorgio is bribed a large amount by the Mafia to take a dive in the second round.

This is a difficult film for me to rate. It's like two films stitched together. The scenes that take part in the ring are gruelling battles, with hard hitting punches that made me cringe. The scenes outside the ring are pure comedy, the sort of film that we're used to from Bud Spencer. I loved the comedy scenes, but I hated the boxing. I've never liked films about boxing. I can't say why, I just don't.

Maybe it's the realism of the boxing matches in films like "Bomber" that disturbs me. The fights looked genuine. In contrast, the fights that took place outside the ring were exaggerated and comical, like the fights in the Hercules TV series. Whenever Bud hit someone the person flew through the air. Fights like that are fun.

Maybe my readers will enjoy this film more than me. Watch it and make up your own mind, but only if you can understand Italian or German. The film has never been released in English.

Sunday, 26 August 2018

The World's End (5 Stars)

After watching "Christopher Robin" yesterday, I thought it would be a good idea to watch another film about not growing up. Whereas "Christopher Robin" is about never being too old to dream, "The World's End" is about never being too old to go wild and have a good time.

Gary King (Simon Pegg) grew up in the sleepy little town of Newton Haven. When he was 18 he went on a pub crawl with his four best friends. The intention was to drink a pint of beer in each of the town's 12 pubs, from the First Post to the World's End. (Click here for a gallery of the pub signs in order). The boys never finished. By the ninth pub they were too drunk to continue, but Gary considered it the best day of his life.

School was over, and Newton Haven isn't a place people stay if they don't have to. They moved away. They moved on.

Peter Page (Eddie Marsan) has become a self-employed car salesman.

Steven Prince (Paddy Considine) owns a building company.

Oliver Chamberlain (Martin Freeman) is an estate agent.

Andrew Knight (Nick Frost) is a corporate lawyer.

The other four have successful careers, but what about Gary? We're never told what he's done with his life for the last 20 years, but the suggestion is that it's nothing. Even if it was something, Gary's life has amounted to nothing. After 20 years he's still the same person he was when he left Newton Haven. He drives the same car, he listens to the same cassette tape (made for him by Steven), and he still wears a black leather jacket and a Sisters of Mercy T-shirt.

Gary King looks cool while the others look boring. They've adapted to society as they've grown older. Gary is still 18 in his heart.

More than anything else, Gary wants to regain the magic of his youth. He wants to repeat the legendary pub crawl, but this time he wants to succeed. His former friends are reluctant to relive this day, but he persuades them. After all, he's the King, while the others are only the Prince, the Chamberlain, the Knight and the Page. Gary has a charismatic power that the four businessmen don't.

It's not just charisma. Gary has a strength of character that the others lack. When they discover that Newton Haven is the site of an alien invasion, Gary is the only one who can save the world. However, that's only his second priority. The most important thing for Gary is to finish the pub crawl.

I can relate to Gary, to a certain extent. As a teenager I didn't live a life as wild as his, but I certainly lived an eccentric life. I promised I would never let myself grow old. I kept my promise for a few years. Then I got married, and it was hard to stay a teenager at heart when I had a wife and children. Like the four friends, I became a businessman. I advanced in my career and became the development leader of a small electronics company, responsible for 30 employees. Then things fell apart. First my marriage broke down, then my career, then my health. I considered it a tragedy at first, but then I came to my senses. Was it all such a bad thing? I needed to be knocked down to remind me that I'd broken the promise to myself. I'd let myself grow old, but it was now time to return to my youth. Not 18, I like to think of myself as a 16-year-old, or even younger. When I was 14 I had a naive attitude that I wish I'd never lost.

It's not about drinking. When I was young I drank a lot less alcohol that I did in my 30's. I drank almost no alcohol at all until I left university, although I did have a weird experience when I was 18. I was on holiday in Neuengeseke, Germany with my sister Shirley. In the afternoon we went to a Schützenfest (just a beer tent, a typical German excuse for drinking). I drank seven beers, only 300 ml glasses, but that was still a lot for me. Later in the evening we went to a smaller party. My friend Ulrich Goltsche challenged me to a drinking contest. Which one of us could drink the most shots? I accepted the challenge. We were drinking shots of potent German schnapps. The drinks kept on coming. Everyone was cheering when I downed each glass. After 18 glasses I saw Shirley arguing and punching people. I asked what was wrong. She told me that the drinking contest was a fake. They just wanted to get me drunk. I was drinking schnapps, but Ulrich was only drinking water. Ulrich admitted it was true. I was annoyed. I drank the 19th glass that had already been set in front of me, and I began to run. The others tried to catch me, but I was too fast. I ran and I ran. I hardly knew the area, but there were street signs. It was almost pitch black, so I had to stare closely at the signs and feel them to make out what they said. It was at least two miles, but miraculously I found my way back to the house in Neuengeseke.

I don't know how I did it. I was intoxicated, but I wasn't too drunk to get home. I've never drunk so much in one day since then. When I was in my 30's I sometimes drank two liters of wine, but never 19 shots. I stopped drinking while I was in America, and when I started drinking again a few years later my tolerance to alcohol had lessened. I can't drink that much now. Half a liter of wine is comfortable, and one liter is my limit. I'm not the drinker I used to be.

Not that I really want to be a big drinker. I don't drink often nowadays, and when I do drink it's to lessen my inhibitions and reach a golden moment when everything in the world makes sense. If I can reach this point without spending a lot of money I'm happy.

Unlike Gary, I've never saved the world. Not yet, anyway.

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Saturday, 25 August 2018

Christopher Robin (4 Stars)

After "Goodbye Christopher Robin" this is the second film in quick succession that shows the life of Christopher Robin Milne. Whereas the first film showed him as he really was, this is a fictionalised version of his life that strongly diverges from the facts. More of that below.

The cinema today was full mostly of young children with their parents. When I sat down with my friends, all of them adults, I overheard a young boy in the row behind me, probably about five years old, ask his mother, "What are they doing here?" Her reply was, "They want to see Winnie the Pooh as well". "Christopher Robin" features children's characters, and the posters make it look like a children's film, but it's actually a film that has a message only adults can understand:

"However old you are, always remain a child".

That's an easy message to understand, and many adults might smile and accept it in theory, but it's a very difficult philosophy to put into practice. Society expects adults to act like adults. Anyone who doesn't is considered either foolish or insane. Children have great imagination. Children can dream. I sometimes watch my grandson playing with a simple toy, and I can see from the concentration on his face that he's totally involved in what he's doing. Any adult who can't do this has lost something.

The film begins with Christopher Robin saying farewell to Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Eeyore, Piglet and his other friends. They're his stuffed animals, brought to life by his imagination. He has to leave to go to boarding school. He promises Winnie that he will never forget him, even when he's a hundred years old. That's an easy promise for a child to make, but it's a tough promise for an adult to keep. 25 years later he's an executive for a suitcase manufacturing company in London. He doesn't even have time to spend with his wife and daughter, so how can he find time to sit and remember his childhood friends?

Christopher Robin might have forgotten his fantasy friends, but they haven't forgotten him. Winnie the Pooh comes to visit him in London, and Christopher Robin returns to his childhood home in Hundred Acre Wood.

I have a personal attachment to the life of Christopher Robin and can relate to him more than most of my readers. He grew up in a remote house in the woods, where he had no friends of his own age, and he spent his time with his father and his stuffed animals. I grew up in a house on the grounds of Little Aston Hall, and there were no other children around me. I spent my early years walking alone through the fields and meadows, alone with my dreams and my fantasies. In retrospect, I'm surprised that my mother wasn't worried about me when I was gone for hours. When I was eight years old my parents moved to a large town (Walsall), and I changed. I was no longer the same person.

After watching "Goodbye Christopher Robin" two months ago I read up on the life of A. A. Milne and his son Christopher Robin, so I was jolted in the early scenes when the character's biography was changed. To name the things that I noticed:

Robin wasn't his surname, it was his middle name. His correct name was Christopher Milne.

The names of Christopher's wife and daughter are changed, from Lesley to Evelyn and Clare to Madeline respectively. Maybe that's because Lesley Milne is still alive and doesn't want her real name to be used. I wonder what she feels about Hayley Atwell's portrayal of her.

Christopher's father didn't die when he was a child. A. A. Milne died in 1956. The early death in the film puzzled me more than any other change to his life story.

Christopher is shown meeting his wife before the Second World War and leaving for war while she was pregnant, so he didn't see his daughter until she was six. In reality, he got married in 1948 and his daughter wasn't born until 1956.

These are Christopher Milne's stuffed animals, on display in the New York Public Library.

"Christopher Robin" is a very good film, especially if you're old enough to appreciate it. The acting by Ewan McGregor and Hayley Atwell is impeccable. I didn't get a chance to talk to the boy sitting behind me. If I'd spoken to him I would have said, "Remember this film and watch it again when you're 50".

Friday, 24 August 2018

The Wall (2012) (5 Stars)

What's "The Wall" about? It's difficult to say. You can watch it a dozen times and every time you'll have a different answer.

It's a one-woman film. Martina Gedeck is the only person on screen, with the exception of a few minutes at the beginning. Most of the dialogue is spoken in voiceover, which is appropriate because she has no one to talk to. Who is "she"? She's never named. She's a woman. She could be any woman. If you're a woman sitting watching the film, the woman is you. If you're a man, I'm sorry, it's not you. The place of man is lying dead on the floor.

What happens? Is it the end of the world? That's possible, but it's not important. This is a feminist masterpiece. It's one of the best films ever made. Sit and watch it. You'll be in awe. When the final credits roll you'll be sitting open-mouthed asking yourself what you've just seen. There's no other film like it.

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The 51st State (5 Stars)

This is another one of the films that I've forgotten for the last eight years, i.e. I haven't watched it since I began writing my blog in September 2010. I have to say "forgotten" in inverted commas, because I can still remember it well from the many times I watched it before then. The film is a masterpiece. In fact, I'd go as far as to call every film made by the director Ronny Yu a masterpiece.

It's all the more surprising that the film was a box office flop. Alone the big name actors, Robert Carlyle and Samuel L. Jackson, should have drawn the crowds into the cinemas in droves. However, if you google for the film or its pseudonym – it's called "Formula 51" in America – you'll find many fans who call it underrated or even one of the best films ever made. That's what qualifies a film as a cult film.

The film begins in 1971 with Elmo McElroy (Samuel L. Jackson) driving away from his graduation as a qualified pharmacist. He's pulled over by a policeman who discovers marijuana in his car. He's sentenced for drug possession, which makes it impossible for him to work as a pharmacist.

30 years later we see that he hasn't been idle. He's spent all this time perfecting a new recreational drug that he calls POS 51. He's developed it for an American drug lord, a pompous man who calls himself the Lizard and only refers to himself in the third person, but he thinks he can get a better deal if he sells the formula to a buyer in England.

The Lizard employs an expert hitwoman, Dakota Parker, to get rid of his enemies. He sends her to kill the English buyer. The story is complicated by the fact that Dakota's ex-lover, Felix DeSouza (Robert Carlyle), works for the English drug lord. Then there's a corrupt policeman who's anxious to get a percentage of whatever new drugs there are on the market.

Add to that football, skinheads and nightclubs, and the film degenerates into pure chaos.

This was only the second film in which I saw Rhys Ifans, after "Little Nicky". It established him as one of my favourite actors. He's simultaneously so cool and so evil as the nightclub owner and wannabe drug lord Iki.

There's something about a girl with a gun. Emily Mortimer combines the look of a girl next door and a smouldering sexpot.

Robert Carlyle and Samuel L. Jackson can only look on in amazement.

The story is well written, and Ronny Yu doesn't put a foot wrong with the fast paced directing. The character mix is so ideal. It's easy to believe that people like this could really be walking the streets of Liverpool. The humour is secondary to the action, but when it's used it's effective. "The 51st State" is a magnificent work of art, and it's difficult for me to believe that anyone wouldn't like it.

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Thursday, 23 August 2018

The Post (3½ Stars)

This is a true story about the efforts made by the Washington Post to publish details from the so-called Pentagon Papers, a report on the American involvement in Vietnam from 1945 to 1967. These papers contained information never revealed to the American public that showed why the American control of Vietnam was so important. It also contained claims by the government adviser, Bob McNamara, that the war in Vietnam was unwinnable, but it had to be continued for the sake of American prestige.

The main characters in the film are Meryl Streep as Katharine Graham, the publisher of the Washington Post, and Tom Hanks as Ben Bradlee, the chief editor. I'm surprised that Meryl Streep received an Oscar nomination for her role while Tom Hanks didn't. Maybe I'm confusing the actors with the characters that they play. Ben Bradlee was a shrewd, dynamic businessman. Katharine Graham was a naive woman who had inherited the newspaper from her husband and had to rely on the opinions of her advisers. She wasn't a strong woman, but if mistakes were made she was the one that everyone would blame.

We see Katharine Graham throwing dinner parties for her rich friends, while Ben Bradlee is the one doing the work. It's difficult for me to have sympathy with her.

Her biggest business worry is that the uncovering of the Pentagon Papers was at the same time that the Washington Post became a public company on the New York Stock Exchange. There was danger that the investors would pull out and the newspaper would be bankrupted. That was a real problem for her. She loved the newspaper, and she wanted it to survive at all costs, because it was the legacy of her father and her husband.

I found the portrayal of a newspaper company fascinating because my father worked for a newspaper, the Walsall Observer, for almost 20 years. He wasn't a newspaper professional as such. His qualification was as a carpenter, but he also had skills as a plumber and electrician, so he was well-suited as an all round handyman. If anything was broken Jack Hood would fix it. Since it was a small company, much smaller than the Washington Post, he rubbed shoulders with the bosses. After my father's death in 1983 the Walsall Observer's owner visited me and praised my father greatly, for his work and for his personality.

The film takes place in 1971, the good old days when printing was an analogue business. Typesetting was just what the word says. Metal letters were set on blocks and slotted together for printing. Isn't it so much easier today, now that we can type text on a computer?

The 1971 Pentagon Papers scandal is over-shadowed by the bigger Watergate scandal that began a year later. They both have a common issue: is the press free to print whatever it wants? My answer is Yes. It's a big subject, but I have a very simple answer. It's summed up in the words of Justice Black:

"The Founding Fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to fulfil its essential role in our democracy. The press was to serve the governed, not the governors".

That applies to any other country just as much as to the USA. The freedom of the press is essential in a democracy. The rulers of a country must never be beyond criticism. It's possible that a newspaper might make mistakes. It's possible that a newspaper might be politically biased and write one-sided stories. It doesn't mean that newspapers like this should be banned. They can be balanced out by the reports of other newspapers.

So what happens if someone – a whistleblower – gives state secrets to a newspaper? That's a crime, so should the newspaper be forbidden to tell the story? I say No. If it's a crime, the whistleblower should be prosecuted and punished to the full extent of the law. That person has broken a contract and should be treated appropriately. However, the newspaper should be allowed to do whatever it wants with the information it has received. Newspapers aren't bound by legal contracts, and they can print whatever they like.

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Marvel Years 04.04 - April 1964

Daredevil #1

Title: The Origin of Daredevil

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Bill Everett

Villain: The Fixer (a boxing promoter)

Regulars: Foggy Nelson, Karen Page

This is the big comic of the month in April 1964. It's the introduction of Daredevil, the man without fear. The gimmick of this character is that he's blind. Matt Murdock was hit by a barrel of radioactive waste when he saved the life of a blind man crossing the road. As a result his other four senses have been sharpened, and he's been given a radar sense to replace his eyesight. He also has enhanced skills of agility and balance.

This comic finalises the core of the early Marvel super-heroes.

  • Fantastic Four (November 1961)
  • Hulk (May 1962)
  • Spider-Man (August 1962)
  • Thor (August 1962)
  • Ant-Man / Giant-Man (September 1962)
  • Iron Man (March 1963)
  • Doctor Strange (July 1963)
  • X-Men (September 1963)
  • Captain America (March 1964)
  • Daredevil (April 1964)

There might have been other heroes who were created later, but these are the main names connected with Marvel, even now, 50 years later.

With the exception of Captain America, all of these super-heroes were created by Stan Lee. Will there ever be another creative genius like him again? I doubt it.

Fantastic Four #25

Title: The Hulk vs the Thing

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby

Villain: Hulk

Regulars: Alicia Masters

Guests: Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, Giant-Man, Wasp, Rick Jones

Crossed paths. The Avengers travel to New Mexico to find the Hulk, and the Hulk travels to New York to find the Avengers. When he arrives the Hulk fights briefly with the Human Torch, followed by a lengthy battle with the Thing.

Until Avengers #3 Bruce Banner had changed to the Hulk and back with the help of a gamma ray machine. Now the changes have become sporadic.

Another change is that Bruce Banner is now called Bob Banner. Was this a mistake, or an attempt to change the name of the Hulk's secret identity? Probably the former. After this comic he's called Bruce again.

This story continues in the next issue.

Now it's Sam Rosen's turn to be picked on in the Crazy Credits box.

Amazing Spider-Man #11

Title: Turning Point

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Steve Ditko

Villain: Doctor Octopus

Regulars: Aunt May, Betty Brant

Doctor Octopus is freed from prison at the end of his sentence, and we find out he has a connection with Betty Brant. Betty's brother Bennett is a lawyer, but he's in debt to an imprisoned criminal, Blackie Gaxton. Under pressure from Blackie, Bennett had to pay Doctor Octopus to free Blackie, so Betty had to take out a loan to pay the missing amount.

The Crazy Credits box doesn't actually say anything bad about the letter Sam Rosen, but sometimes saying nothing is just as bad as saying something. It's all about how you don't say it.

Tales to Astonish #54

Title: No place to hide

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Don Heck

Villain: El Toro

A man called El Toro ("The Bull") has won a surprise victory in the Central American kingdom of Santo Rico. The American government asks Giant-Man to go and check if the election results were faked.

There's another Crazy Credits box that's polite to everyone. Sort of.

Title: Conquest

Writer: Stan Lee, Larry Lieber
Artist: Larry Lieber

The Wasp has to babysit for one of her friends, so she tells the son a bedtime story. I wonder if Tommy is old enough to have a crush on his Aunt Jan. He'll probably be begging for her to babysit again every night until he's 18.

I suppose the Crazy Credit box is innocent enough.

This issue also contains a short anthology story.

Journey into Mystery #103

Title: Menaced by the Enchantress and the Executioner

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby

Villain: Loki, Enchantress, Executioner, Zarrko (flashback)

Regulars: Odin, Jane Foster

This story begins immediately after Thor's return from the 23rd Century.

Odin is still searching for a way to stop Thor loving Jane Foster. Loki suggests that Thor be offered a more beautiful woman, namely the Enchantress, the most beautiful woman who has ever lived. Thor resists her, so she asks for the assistance of the Executioner.

Crazy Credits: Sam Rosen's lettering is understated, but so is Chic Stone's inking.

Title: Thor's Mission to Mirmir

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby

Gods: Thor

This is the Norse legend of the creation of man. Thor delivers a piece of Yggdrasil to King Mirmir, out of which he makes the first two humans, Aske and Embala.

Crazy Credits: Artie Simek is praised almost as much as the writer, artist and inker. Almost.

This issue also contains a short anthology story.

Tales of Suspense #52

Title: The Crimson Dynamo strikes again

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Don Rico

Villain: Black Widow (Natasha), Crimson Dynamo (Boris)

Regulars: Pepper Potts, Happy Hogan

The man in the Crimson Dynamo suit isn't Anton Vanko, who we saw in Tales of Suspense #46. It's Boris, a Russian spy who comes to America with Black Widow.

Tales of the Watcher

Title: The Failure

Writer: Stan Lee, Larry Lieber
Artist: Larry Lieber

The story narrated by the Watcher is supposedly based on the life of Steve Ditko. Those who know him can say if it's in any way accurate.

This issue also contains a short anthology story.

Strange Tales #119

Title: The Torch goes wild

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Dick Ayers

Villain: Rabble Rouser

Regulars: Susan Storm, Reed Richards, Ben Grimm, Doris Evans

Guests: Spider-Man

I like this splash page a lot. Dick Ayers has excelled himself.

A public speaker has a wand which brainwashes people to believe whatever he says.

Title: Beyond the Purple Veil

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Steve Ditko

Villain: Aggamon

Regulars: Wong

Aggamon is the leader of a kingdom in another dimension. He enslaves everyone who enters his kingdom, whether it's accidental or deliberate.

Crazy Credits: No insult here. On the contrary, it's praiseworthy that Artie Simek works late at night.

Other comics published this month:

Modeling with Millie #30 (Stan Lee, Stan Goldberg)
Patsy Walker #114 (Stan Lee, Stan Goldberg)
Patsy and Hedy #93 (Stan Lee, Al Hartley)
Rawhide Kid #39 (Stan Lee, Dick Ayers)