Thursday, 31 January 2019

Black Panther (5 Stars)

This is the 18th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, released in January 2018. It's made history by being the first super-hero film to be nominated as Best Film at the Academy Awards. This puzzles me. Why has "Black Panther" been nominated when other equally good films were ignored, films like "Doctor Strange" and "Captain America: Civil War". If I were cynical I'd say that it's a political decision; because of accusations of gender bias in recent years the Film Academy wants to nominate a film which has as many black actors as possible. Or should I call them African American actors? I hate that expression, because it makes an assumption about a person's nationality, even though it's just a way of describing a person's skin colour. What I mean is, if an American sees a dark-skinned person and talks about him to someone else he'll say, "I saw an African American", even if he has no way of knowing whether the person is American or not. It would be much more appropriate to call him black, coloured, dark-skinned or even negro; any word at all that doesn't reference his nationality.

What should we call Stan Lee? A Jewish American? Somehow that doesn't sound right.

What should we call Lupita Nyong'o, who plays Nakia? She lives in the USA, but she holds a Mexican passport. Should we call her an African Mexican? I think you can see the problem.

In this film we find Stan Lee in a casino in Busan, South Korea. King T'Challa makes a bet at a craps table, but walks away without waiting to see if he's won. Stan takes T'Challa's winning chips, offering to look after them. That was wise thinking, because we find out in the following events that he never returns to the table. The scene lasts several minutes, but we only see Stan Lee in the final nine seconds.

I'd never heard of Chadwick Boseman before this film, but he's excellent in the title role. He portrays the dignity that befits the leader of an African nation. He's exactly the hero that we see in the comic books, which is unusual for the MCU films. Most of the characters drift off in the wrong directions.

Let's take Klaw as an example. In the film he has weapons which he's stolen from Wakanda. In the comics he had powerful weapons before going to Wakanda.

In the comics Klaw was able to create giant red jungle animals: red elephants, red gorillas and even red panthers. Why can't he do that in the film? He's just a white hunter stealing African weapons from the natives.

That was only the first step in his development. After jumping into his Sound Converter his body was turned into living sound, meaning he was no longer human. Listen to his own words from Fantastic Four #56.

Okay, I can see why Klaw's powers had to be reduced in the film. The main villain was Eric Stevens aka Killmonger. Klaw is just a minor figure, so he couldn't have been portrayed as the most powerful being on Earth.

Michael Jordan has finally found his rightful place in Marvel films. He was awful as the Human Torch, but he's perfect as Killmonger. It's all about the casting. In the wrong role, even the best actor can look bad.

In the film Wakanda's king is protected by a tribe of warrior women, the Dora Milaje. They first appeared in Marvel comics late in the post-canon years, but they sure look good, especially Okoye on the left.

Okoye isn't just strong, she's beautiful and sexy.

What makes her so attractive? Is it her face, her figure or her spear? I think it's a combination of the three.

Normally I don't like bald-headed women, and I'm totally turned off by tattoos, but in Okoye's case I can make an exception. I can't generalise about women. I never know what attracts me until we're together. I'm glad I've never used any dating sites, because the dating algorithms would never be able to find the right women for me. I'm complicated.

Success Rate:  + 4.4

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Marvel Years 06.08 - August 1966

Fantastic Four #53

Title: The way it began!

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby

Villain: Klaw

Regulars: Wyatt Wingfoot

Guests: Black Panther

Last issue the Black Panther fought against the Fantastic Four. Now he treats them as friends. He says the fight was just a test, so they all shake hands and everything is forgiven.

The Black Panther wasn't testing the Fantastic Four, he was testing himself. Ten years ago, while he was still a boy, a hunter called Klaw entered his kingdom with the intention of stealing the Vibranium, a rare metal found almost exclusively in Wakanda. When King T'Chaka refused to leave the land with his tribe Klaw shot him dead.

Klaw had two deadly weapons. One was a Sound Transformer, a device that could turn sound into matter. I'm sure Albert Einstein could have written an equation to describe how it works. The other was a Sound Blaster, a gun that could fire sound waves. Prince T'Challa, still a young teenager, stole the Sound Blaster and used it against Klaw, destroying his hand. Klaw fled, but vowed to return. The boy, now King T'Challa and the Black Panther, needed to test himself to see if he's strong enough to fight against Klaw when he returns.

In a typical Marvel coincidence, Klaw returns the day after the test. He's now refined his Sound Transformer. He can now use it to create giant red jungle animals that are made of pure sound.

The Fantastic Four help the Black Panther defeat Klaw. At the last moment Klaw leaps into his Sound Transformer, not knowing what will happen.

This is another Jack Kirby splash page. I find it much better than the splash page of the previous issue.

The Thing yells his battle cry: it's clobbering time!

The Crazy Credits tell us that the native dances were supplied by Irving Forbush's dance troupe. "Terpsichorean" is my new word of the week.

Amazing Spider-Man #39

Title: How Green was my Goblin!

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: John Romita

Villain: Green Goblin (Norman Osborn)

Regulars: Aunt May, Flash Thompson, Harry Osborn, Gwen Stacy, J. Jonah Jameson, Ned Leeds

The Green Goblin stages a robbery by a group of thugs to attract Spider-Man's attention. They have been equipped with a gas bomb that takes away his spider sense. This means that Spider-Man doesn't know the Green Goblin is watching him when he changes back to Peter Parker and visits the Daily Bugle. In the evening the Green Goblin attacks Peter Parker in front of his house, then carries him back to his lair. The Green Goblin unmasks and reveals that he's Norman Osborn, the father of Peter's classmate.

Was the possession of guns really illegal in 1966?

Once more the Crazy Credits call Artie Simek adorable. That's a back-handed compliment. It makes him sound like he's Stan Lee's pet dog in the bullpen.

Tales of Suspense #80

Title: When fall the mighty!

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Gene Colan

Villain: Sub-Mariner

Regulars: Pepper Potts, Happy Hogan

This is a landmark issue. It's the first time that a story in one comic continues in another. This is usually called a crossover story. After the introductions were told in parallel  in the previous two comics (Tales of Suspense #79 and Tales to Astonish 81), this story begins in Tales of Suspense #80 and continues in Tales to Astonish #82. This crossover is made easy by the same creative team working on both stories.

At the end of Tales of Suspense #79 Iron Man was attacked by Sub-Mariner. This is because Sub-Mariner was enraged by Iron Man driving Warlord Krang's ship away when he wanted to attack him to get revenge.

Tony Stark manages to put on an undamaged replacement suit and fully recharge his armour. Sub-Mariner uses this time to return to the sea and regain his full strength by immersing himself.

This month the Crazy Credits call everyone who works on this comic royalty. Even Artie Simek is a lord!

Title: He who holds the Cosmic Cube

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby

Villain: Red Skull

AIM has created something called the Cosmic Cube that turns a person's thoughts into reality. That's the most outlandish device that any 1960's scientists have ever made! The Red Skull steals the cube from AIM.

Once more the Crazy Credits praise Artie Simek, even though it's not correct to describe his lettering as luminiferous. The opposite is the case. His letters are as black as the night.

I wonder why Irving Forbush was doing fund-raising. Did Stan Lee need extra money so he could go on holiday?

Tales to Astonish #82

Title: The Power of Iron Man!

Writer: Stan Lee, Roy Thomas
Artist: Jack Kirby

Villain: Iron Man

This story continues from Tales of Suspense #80.

Prince Namor and Iron Man are both at their full fighting strength. They continue their battle at the Stark Industries factory, but Iron Man is distracted by not wanting top priority weapons developed for SHIELD to be destroyed. Sub-Mariner almost wins, but then he catches sight of Warlord Krang's ship resurfacing and breaks off the fight.

My ardent readers have probably noticed that I called Sub-Mariner the villain in Tales of Suspense #80, but I called Iron Man the villain in this comic. It's all relative.

There's a lot revealed in this month's Crazy Credits.

Stan Lee has finally found time for a vacation after handing over his writing chores to his new writers, Roy Thomas and Dennis O'Neil. This is his first vacation since 1961, maybe much longer. I wonder where he went. I hope it was something better than Disneyworld. He should visit Bavaria and the Balkans, so that he'll finally know that they're not the same country.

Gene Colan caught the flu after drawing the first two pages, and Jack Kirby had to finish the story. This is obvious when you read the story, because they have very different styles. My question is: did Gene really catch the flu? It can't be a coincidence that he didn't call in sick until Stan Lee was away on vacation. When Stan is away the whole bullpen falls apart.

There's no mention of the letterer. Did the comic letter itself? My guess is that when Stan Lee isn't in the bullpen yelling at Artie Simek nobody even notices he's there.

Title: The Battle Cry of the Boomerang!

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Bill Everett

Villain: Boomerang

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

When is a splash page not a splash page? – When it isn't!

Look at this great artwork, in which Jack Kirby begins the story with a non-splash page. Usually I talk about Jack Kirby in comparison with other artists, saying they're better than him. I do that as a reaction to other Marvel fans who over-emphasise his importance in the early years of Marvel. Not this time. Just look at this fantastic artwork. It's a masterpiece.

Apart from that, Jack Kirby is reliable. He was in the bullpen while other members of staff were calling in sick.

In the last issue the Boomerang captured Betty Ross to use her as a hostage to force General Ross to hand over the Orion Missile. The Hulk gets Betty Ross back, allowing Boomerang to return to the Secret Empire. How many global evil organisations are there in Marvel Comics?

The Crazy Credits tell us that all the story was inspired by an unknown muse. Who was that? Could it have been Irving Forbush? They call him the poor man's Shakespeare.

Strange Tales #147

Title: The enemy within!

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Don Heck

Villain: AIM

Regulars: Dum Dum Dugan, Jasper Sitwell

AIM is trying to drive a rift between Nick Fury and the army. They suggest that he's unfit to run an organisation as important as SHIELD. To quote Count Bornag of AIM:

"We find his very appearance offensive. The idea of America's highest priority counter-espionage leader going around in his shirtsleeves, unshaven, unkempt and making a mockery of your own language. Shocking!"

I have no problems with Nick Fury not shaving, not combing and dressing casually, but as for making a mockery of the language, maybe he should make more of an effort. However, I don't like the generals being told that it's their own language. It's not America's language, it's England's language, and after hundreds of years Americans still have problems spelling correctly.

It's been hinted for a few issues, but now it's finally stated that AIM and Them are two parts of the same organisation. SHIELD still doesn't know.

An attack is staged on the barber shop that acts as the secret entrance for SHIELD in New York. Nick Fury frees the hostages with the assistance of Dum Dum Dugan and Jasper Sitwell. This operation ran as planned by AIM. By risking his own life instead of sending others Nick Fury has proved that he's unfit to head a large organisation.

I'm sorry to say that Jasper Sitwell's slogan, "Don't yield! Back SHIELD!", hasn't died out as soon as I hoped it would. It's used three times in this story. Three times in 12 pages! Awful! Not even the Thing says "It's clobbering time" that often.

The Crazy Credits tell us that the weapons is the story are props supplied by Irving Forbush's toy store, Forbush Novelty Co. The man does everything!

Title: From the nameless nowhere comes Kaluu!

Writer: Stan Lee, Dennis O'Neil
Artist: Bill Everett

Villain: Kaluu, Mordo, Dormammu (flashback)

Regulars: Ancient One, Wong, Clea (flashback)

This is a new start for Doctor Strange, in more ways than one. In the comic he's getting adjusted to life after spending 12 months fighting Dormammu and Baron Mordo. For Marvel, it's a new start with a new artist after Steve Ditko's departure. Bill Everett wouldn't have been my first choice as Steve's replacement, but he does a good job of imitating his style.

Here's a question for eagle-eyed Marvel fans: is the man in sunglasses on the left of the splash page Bernard the beat poet who performs in the Greenwich Village club that the X-Men sometimes visit?

Wong has been unable to pay Doctor Strange's bills in his absence, because there was no money left in the bank. No problem. Wong is told to sell a few trinkets from the safe. If only it were that easy for me!

Before getting down to work Doctor Strange conjures up an image of Clea. Something about this seems creepily voyeuristic, but is it really that bad? I'd do the same if I were the Master of the Mystic Arts, and I'd probably look at her with less clothes. I have the marvels of modern technology in my hands, so I can look at videos of beautiful women. It's just the same.

Stan Lee says that this is a quote from Goethe, but I haven't been able to find what he's referring to.

This scene from the clash between Dormammu in Strange Tales #146 is repeated several times in the following issues. This emphasises its importance. It also stops us forgetting Dormammu, because... spoilers!

The Ancient One visits Doctor Strange to warn him about an impending attack from a powerful sorcerer called Kaluu, who was once his mentor.

The Crazy Credits tell us that the creative team for this issue are all gifted magicians. Sam Rosen is naive. Why? Is it because he expects a raise?

Irving Forbush is called a stowaway, but if he weren't in the bullpen who else would have time to polish amulets? Certainly not the overworked letterers!

Thor #131

Title: They strike from Space!

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby

Villain: Tana Nile

Regulars: Odin, Jane Foster

Guests: Hercules

Odin finally allows Thor to love Jane Foster, but it's too late, because she has already been forced to leave New York by her roommate, Tana Nile.

Tana Nile reveals her true identity. She's a coloniser from Rigel who has come to claim the Earth as her own.

This is her real appearance. I preferred her when she looked like Betty Boop.

Holy bureaucracy, Batman! This is how to colonise a planet? Just stake a claim, then it's checked if it's still uncolonised.

Thor is captured by a team of inspectors from Rigel. He's encased in a transparent casket and put in a space ship bound for Rigel. On the journey he breaks out and overpowers his guards, but he remains in the ship.

This issue shows the brilliance of Stan Lee's imagination. The story begins with diverse mythologies, a Norse God visiting Mount Olympus, then it continues as a science fiction epic.

According to the Crazy Credits Irving Forbush offers celestial guided tours. How does he have time for it alongside all his other jobs, like selling novelty items, managing a dance troupe and arbitrating conflicts in the Marvel bullpen?

Title: The Warlock's Eye!

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby

Gods: Thor, Fandrel, Hogun, Volstagg

Thor captures the Warlock's Eye and ponders what to do next.

So little happens in each of the instalments of the Tales of Asgard. The stories are only five pages long, and the individual pictures are so big, never more than four per page. That's the wrong way to go. In short stories there should be more panels, not less. I have a theory. Even though Stan Lee is still the writer, he allows Jack Kirby free reign what to do with this series. He can draw whatever he wants. This reduces the quality of the stories, but they're glorious examples of Jack Kirby's artistic skills.

The Avengers #31

Title: Never bug a giant!

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Don Heck

Avengers: Captain America, Hawkeye, Goliath, Wasp, Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch

Villain: Keeper, Prince Rey

Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch are still in their home country in the Balkans, waiting for their powers to return to full strength.

Worried by Goliath's disappearance, the remaining Avengers travel to South America to look for him. He's in a hidden kingdom populated by descendants of the Incas.

In the last issue Goliath was rescued by Prince Rey, the rightful leader. The throne was usurped by the Keeper, the priest who looks after powerful ever-burning cobalt flames. The Keeper is threatening to use this power to conquer or destroy the world. Goliath begins to mistrust Prince Rey, because he thinks his motives are no better.

I'm really enjoying Don Heck's artwork. He seems to be able to draw beautiful women better than any of the other artists at Marvel.

We don't need the Crazy Credits to tell us that Artie Simek is adorable. I always knew!

Irving Forbush is responsible for the bugle calls. What does that mean? Does he wake up everyone after the bullpen worked late and fell asleep at their desks?

X-Men #23

Title: To save a city

Writer: Roy Thomas
Artist: Werner Roth

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

Villain: Count Nefaria, Plant Man, Scarecrow, Porcupine, Eel, Unicorn

Regulars: Professor X

Finally Werner Roth uses his real name as artist. There's no need to hide from DC any more.

Count Nefaria encloses Washington DC under an impenetrable dome and demands $100 million dollars to free them. Is it just me, or does that sound like a ransom demand from Austin Powers?

The X-Men free themselves from their imprisonment. They want to attack the Count, but Professor X telepathically advises them to pretend to serve him. They say they'll pick up the ransom money from the government if they're given a cut.

The X-Men enter the dome and collect a briefcase with the money. His underlings rebel against him, wanting the money for themselves. They attack the X-Men to steal the briefcase.

Using mechanical legs, Professor X walks into Count Nefaria's lair and disables the dome.

The Crazy Credits say that everyone who contributed to the story did so in utmost concentration, except for Artie Simek, who did his lettering in a lawn chair. Is that at all physically possible?

Daredevil #19

Title: There shall come a Gladiator!

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: John Romita

Villain: Gladiator, Masked marauder

Regulars: Foggy Nelson, Karen Page

The Masked Marauder frees the Gladiator from the police station. Together they want to take revenge on Daredevil, who they now know to be Foggy Nelson. In fact, everyone knows.

Daredevil's secret identity has been revealed on the front page of the Daily Bugle, and we all know that the Daily Bugle never lies.

The Masked Marauder sends his henchmen to Foggy Nelson's apartment, but Daredevil is there to protect Foggy. When they're seen together it's obvious that Foggy isn't really Daredevil. That means poor J. Jonah Jameson has to print a retraction tomorrow.

It's too dangerous pretending to be a super-hero. I would never pretend to be Spider-Man, even though I'm sure I ccould get away with it.

I don't know where Stan Lee went on holiday, but it must have been somewhere where they don't sell comics.

Stan Lee has awarded this comic a seal of approval. Nobody is as honest as the man who judges himself. Or is he?

The Crazy Credits tell us that the comic's creative team excels in so many different ways, except for Sam Rosen, who's merely melancholy. That kinda shakes me up.

Other comics published this month:

Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos Annual #2 (Roy Thomas, Dick Ayers)

Millie the Model #140 (Dennis O'Neil, Stan Goldberg)
Modelling with Millie #48 (Dennis O'Neil, Stan Goldberg)
Patsy and Hedy #107 (Dennis O'Neil, Stan Goldberg)
Rawhide Kid #53 (Larry Lieber, Larry Lieber)
Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos #33 (Roy Thomas, Dick Ayers)

Wednesday, 30 January 2019

Thor: Ragnarok (4 Stars)

This is the 17th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, released in November 2017.

Those familiar with Norse legends will recognise that the Ragnarok shown in this film is a mini-Ragnarok. In the film it has to do with the destruction of Asgard. In the Norse legends Midgard (the name for our planet Earth) is also destroyed.

The film combines two stories. The first story is about Hela, Thor's older sister, attempting to conquer Asgard after Odin's death. The second story is about the Hulk fighting in an arena on a distant planet. The stories could have been told in two separate films, but I think Marvel Studios was too afraid that a Hulk solo film would fail at the box office. As it is, the stories blend well into one another.

Stan Lee appears as a barber on the planet where the Hulk lives. He's responsible for cutting Thor's hair short, so he can comfortably wear a helmet in the arena. Poor Thor. When I was 23 I let my hair be cut short because it's what my fiancée Elke wanted. When I got home and looked at myself in the mirror I cried. Needless to say, I never married Elke. Any woman who tries to change a man before they're even married doesn't deserve to have him. The reverse is also the case. If I fell in love with a woman with certain characteristics, inside or outside, why would I want to change her?

This is Thor with his beautiful long hair.

This is Thor with his short hair. His face alone says that he's not happy.

Most men lose their hair as they get older, so they're forced to cut their hair short. That's different. By the time I was 40 I had a large bald patch, but I could still have worn my hair long into my mid thirties. I should have done so, but after splitting up with Elke it was difficult for me to grow it long again. There was a mental block which I should have tried to overcome.

Thor has no respect for the man who forcibly cut his hair. When asked by Bruce Banner what had happened to his hair he replies "Some creepy old man cut it off". That man might have been the great Stan Lee, but Thor's attitude is understandable. I could never respect any man who cut off my long hair.

Loki is allowed to keep his long hair. As the God of Trickery and Mischief he must have found a way to keep Stan Lee's hands off him.

Doctor Strange has never had long hair. He should try it some time.

Cate Blanchett plays the role of Hela. I've always liked her as an actress, but I considered her appearance plain. But what's happened to her now? She's 47 years old, and this is the sexiest she's ever looked.

Maybe it's just me. I like women to look dark and evil. If makeup and hair dye can achieve this look, all women should do it. It would make the world a much more beautiful place.

I'm not so enthusiastic about her headgear that out-maleficents Maleficient, but her skin-tight outfit is incredibly sexy, and the double swords round off her look.

Hela deserves to wear the Infinity Gauntlet. It's a shame it's a fake.

Hela's face is beautiful when she smiles...

but she's even more beautiful when she scowls...

and best of all is her mean, mocking laugh.

"Thor: Ragnarok" uses the incredible "Immigrant Song" by Led Zeppelin. It's played twice, at the beginning and during the final credits. This is a much better song than "Brandy" in "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2". There were a few super-groups at the beginning of the 1970's. Rock music was made with a fever that was previously unknown. Many consider Led Zeppelin to have been the best of these groups.

Immigrant Song by Led Zeppelin

We come from the land of the ice and snow,
From the midnight sun where the hot springs flow.
Hammer of the gods will drive our ships to new land
To fight the hordes and sing and cry
"Valhalla, I am coming".

Always sweep with threshing oar,
Our only goal will be the western shore.

We come from the land of the ice and snow,
From the midnight sun where the hot springs flow.
How soft your fields so green. Can whisper tales of gore,
Of how we calmed the tides of war.
We are your overlords.

Always sweep with threshing oar,
Our only goal will be the western shore.

So now you'd better stop and rebuild all your ruins,
For peace and trust can win the day despite of all your losing.

Success Rate:  + 2.7

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