Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Unbreakable (4 Stars)

When this film was first released in 2000 the critics were lukewarm. It stood in the shadow of director M. Night Shyamalan's previous film, "The Sixth Sense", which was highly acclaimed as a masterpiece.

In the last few years opinions have changed, maybe because "Unbreakable" is no longer being compared with "The Sixth Sense", maybe because times have changed and it seems more relevant today. Or maybe it just took 15-20 years for film critics to get it?

Quentin Tarantino has called "Unbreakable" the best superhero film ever made. I disagree – I rate Sam Raimi's "Spider-Man" highest – but whenever Quentin Tarantino voices an opinion on a film I sit up and take notice. I rewatched "Unbreakable" today trying to see what he rates so highly.

Here's the film's premise, in a few words. Elijah Price, an avid comic collector, is convinced that superheroes really exist. He sees a connection between Egyptian hieroglyphics and modern comics, and he thinks that there is truth hidden in the pages.

Elijah discovers David Dunn, a simple security guard at a football stadium. He thinks that David has superpowers, and he tries to persuade him to develop his powers. At first David thinks Elijah is mad, but then he starts to notice unusual things about himself which he's always taken for granted.

"Unbreakable" is the first part in a trilogy, continued in "Split" (2016) and "Glass" (2019). 16 years is a long gap between the first two films, but M. Night Shyamalan planned a trilogy from the beginning. The boy in the picture above is Kevin Wendell Crumb, who's played by James McAvoy in "Split".

Overall, the film is very low key. It moves slowly, gradually unravelling the mystery. To use superhero jargon, this is an origin story. The battle between David Dunn and his first evil opponent comes late in the film, and it doesn't last long. That's my biggest criticism. I think the film would have been better if an extra 30 minutes of action had been added.

It's not a bad film. I enjoy it, but I found "Split" better. I'm going to see "Glass" next week, so wait for my review.

Success Ratio:  + 1.3

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Marvel Years 06.06 - June 1966

Fantastic Four #51

Title: This man... this monster!

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby

Villain: unnamed scientist

Guests: Alicia Masters, Wyatt Wingfoot

The mystery man that we saw last issue invites the Thing into his home. He drugs him, then puts him into a device that transfers their features and abilities. The mystery man becomes a copy of the Thing, while the Thing reverts to Ben Grimm. He wants to become as rich and famous as Reed Richards and the other members of the Fantastic Four.

Reed Richards is planning to explore an area that he calls sub-space, which can be used to travel faster than light, like the Earth's other enemies, such as Galactus. In later issues this area is called the Negative Zone. Look at the big machine in the picture. Jack Kirby sure liked to draw big machines.

This is an example of Jack Kirby's photo-realistic artwork, mixing pseudo-photographs with conventional drawing. This style has been greatly praised by comic book fans, but I prefer Steve Ditko's artwork.

The mystery man is impressed by Reed Richards when he sees that he puts his life in danger to protect the human race. He sacrifices his life to save him, and Ben Grimm becomes the Thing again. The story has a great poignancy, showing how an anonymous, unnamed man can become a hero. Unfortunately, writers of lesser skills gave this man a name in the post-canon era.

We find out that the native American student Wyatt Wingfoot is the son of Will Wingfoot, America's greatest ever decathlon star.

Amazing Spider-Man #37

Title: Once upon a time, there was a robot!

Writer: Steve Ditko, Stan Lee
Artist: Steve Ditko

Villain: Professor Stromm

Regulars: Flash Thompson, Harry Osborn, Gwen Stacy, J. Jonah Jameson, Frederick Foswell, Norman Osborn

First take a look at the story's splash page. It's brilliant. This is why I consider Steve Ditko to have been the best artist in the early years of Marvel.

A man called Professor Stromm is released after ten years in prison. It's not stated why he was in prison, and it's possible he was innocent. He wants revenge on his previous employer, Norman Osborn.

Norman Osborn is the father of Peter Parker's fellow student Harry Osborn. This is his first appearance in the comics. We see from the beginning that he has criminal intentions.

It's possible that this unnamed person speaking to J. Jonah Jameson in Amazing Spider-Man #25 was Norman Osborn. What do you think?

Professor Stromm builds a series of robots to attack Norman Osborn's factories. Spider-Man defends the factories, but Osborn doesn't seem very greatful.

The Crazy Credits tell us that Artie Simek cherishes this comic. He's an asset to the bullpen! Stan Lee should appreciate him more.

Strange Tales #145

Title: Lo! The eggs shall hatch!

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Don Heck

Villain: Druid, Fixer

Regulars: Dum Dum Dugan, Jasper Sitwell

Nick Fury and his agents at SHIELD continue their battle against the Druid and his followers.

The Avengers shout "Avengers assemble!" when they go into battle. The Human Torch shouts "Flame on!" Jasper Sitwell picks a battle cry for SHIELD: "Don't yield! Back SHIELD!" Somehow I don't think it will ever catch on.

After defeating the Druid in hand-to-hand combat Nick Fury goes to the Avengers to ask them about Them (sic).

Irving Forbush polishes badges? Is that all the Crazy Credits have to say about him? I thought he was the alter ego of the superhero Forbushman.

Title: To catch a magician!

Writer: Dennis O'Neil
Artist: Steve Ditko

Villain: Mr. Rasputin

This is the fourth part of the epilogue after the 12-part Dormammu-Mordo-Doctor Strange epic.

The new young writer Dennis O'Neil, who was hired on the recommendation of Roy Thomas, was thrown into the deep end. He was only 26 at the time he was hired, and he had no previous experience of writing comics. He became one of the biggest and most popular writers for Marvel and DC, although some of his storylines were controversial. Roy Thomas was a Stan Lee clone – which I say as a great compliment – but Dennis O'Neil went off in his own direction. He was best known at Marvel for making Tony Stark an alcoholic, and he was best known at DC for making Green Lantern a racist.

In this story Doctor Strange fights against a sorcerer called Mr. Rasputin, a descendent of Grigori Rasputin, the friend and adviser of the last kings of Russia. Unable to best him by magic alone, Mr. Rasputin shoots him with a gun.

The Crazy Credits called Artie Simek's lettering laconic once before, in Fantastic Four #39. I still think it's an inappropriate way to describe his work.

Tales of Suspense #78

Title: Crescendo!

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Gene Colan

Villain: Mandarin, Ultimo

Iron Man defeats Ultimo by burying him in an erupting volcano. When he returns to America he finds that all his factories have been shut down, by order of Senator Byrd.

Gene Colan is using his real name this month. Has he stopped working for DC?

The Crazy Credits are shown in the form of a scroll. After heaping praise on the other three collaborators we're told that Artie Simek's lettering is lonesome. A letterer's life is a lonely one. He doesn't get the same praise and adulation from fans as the writers and artists, but he's just as essential to create the comics we love.

Title: Them!

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby

Villain: Them

Guests: Nick Fury

Nick Fury visits the Avengers Mansion to ask if they know anything about the spy group called Them. Couldn't he just have phoned? Maybe the Avengers aren't listed in the phone book. Only Captain America is present when Nick Fury walks in. How did he walk into the training room so easily? Was the front door left unlocked?

From the brief conversation we can assume that this is the first time they've seen one another since World War Two.

In the previous issues I assumed that the group was called Them because their real name wasn't known, but now we find out it's their official name. Them are more than just super-spies, Them are scientists who are able to create artificial life. This gives Jack Kirby the opportunity to draw his trademark Kirbyesque monsters. No other Marvel artists could have drawn this picture.

For the record, I shudder at having to write sentences like that. It's offensive to my sense of aesthetics. The sooner that Them are given a new name the better!

This month's Crazy Credits have to be memorised, so I'll do my best to comply.

Wondrous words by Stan Lee. Yes, they are. There will never be another writer like him.

Awesome art by Jack Kirby. I agree. Even though I preferred other Marvel artists such as Steve Ditko, Gene Colan and Werner Roth, I still think he was a brilliant artist.

Incredible inking by Frank Giacoia. Yes, it is, and I'm glad that he's using his real name this month.

Lop-sided lettering by Artie Simek. No, no, no! I shan't memorise that description, I'll forget that I ever read it. His letters stand up straight and proud, and if they ever slant it's for dramatic effect.

Tales to Astonish #80

Title: To the death!

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Gene Colan

Villain: Puppet Master, Krang, Behemoth

Regulars: Dorma, Vashti

Prince Namor battles against the Behemoth, which is under Warlord Krang's mental control. An electric shock from multiple electric eels destroys the Puppet Master's puppet, making the Behemoth mindless and easy to defeat. Krang makes one last deception. He lies to Lady Dorma and says he is still controlling the Behemoth. He says he will cease to fight if she will promise to marry him. She agrees.

Everyone knows that Stan Lee smiles all the time, but the Crazy Credits tell us that Sam Rosen snarls. He needs to snarl to stand up for himself in the bullpen.

Title: They dwell within the depths!

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Bill Everett

Villain: Tyrannus, Moleman

Regulars: Betty Ross, Major Talbot, Rick Jones

The Hulk, whose intelligence has almost completely faded, is resting in a cave. He's sucked below the Earth's surface by a ray used by Tyrannus, who we last saw in Incredible Hulk #5. Tyrannus is now ageing rapidly because his fountain of eternal youth has been captured by the Moleman. Tyrannus has taken Rick Jones, Betty Ross and Major Talbot as hostages. He says he will only free them if the Hulk helps him win back the fountain of eternal youth from the Moleman.

If you're wondering when we last saw the Moleman, it was a brief appearance in the chaotic confusion of Fantastic Four Annual #3.

The Crazy Credits tell us that Artie Simek is the pride of Hulkdom. I always knew it!

Thor #129

Title: The Verdict of Zeus!

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby

Villain: Pluto

Regulars: Odin, Balder, Jane Foster

Guests: Zeus, Hercules

The title of this story is deceptive. It should be called "The Trickery of Pluto".

Zeus recognises the contract signed by Hercules as valid, and he must now spend all eternity as the ruler of the Netherworld.

There's only one way to avoid this fate:

"Find ye one who will fight in thy stead! One who will risk the Netherworld itself to save thee!"

Only the Gods would write clauses like this in their legal contracts. Only the Gods would write the small print of a contract in fire. I doubt Pluto included this paragraph in the contract he wrote himself. It's probably a standard contract written by Zeus that overrides all minor contracts.

Who would be selfless enough to battle Pluto and the forces of the Netherworld to save Hercules from his fate? I'll give you a clue: this comic is named after him.

But let's backtrack a few hours. Jane Foster introduces her new roommate, Tana Nile.

Marvel lives on coincidences. Tana Nile isn't a random art student or company intern, she's a woman with evil intentions.

But don't you think her round face makes her look like Betty Boop?

Title: The Hordes of Harokin!

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby

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

Now that it's been revealed that Loki will be responsible for Ragnarok he's placed in suspended animation. What I don't understand is that the whole story began with cracks appearing in the Odinsword. It's never been said that Loki made the cracks, so why does putting him in suspended animation solve the problem?

Thor and the Warriors Three (Fandral, Hogun and Volstagg) are sent on a new mission to fetch the Warlock's Eye from the Temple of the Mystics in Muspelheim. Unfortunately, this mission has been announced too late. A warrior called Harokin has already stolen the Warlock's Eye and is using it as a weapon to conquer a series of kingdoms.

The Crazy Credits tell us that Artie Simek's lettering is the final work done. Does anyone doubt that?

The Avengers #29

Title: This Power Unleashed!

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Don Heck

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

Villain: Black Widow, Swordsman, Power Man

Goliath recovers after collapsing at the end of the last isue, but he's told that any attempt to change his size will be fatal. He has to remain at his current height of ten feet (305 cm) for the rest of his life. The following issues repeatedly deal with his sorrow over being a freak.

The Black Widow (last seen in Tales of Suspense #64) returns from Russia to destroy the Avengers. She's been brainwashed by someone called Dr. Yen to erase any last sympathies for America and her love for Hawkeye. To assist her she recruits Swordsman (last seen in Avengers #20) and Power Man (last seen in Avengers #22).

Now this is hitting rock bottom. The Crazy Credits say that Sam Rosen's lettering is lethargic. I insist that it's the opposite. The letters of every comic jump out of the pages with action and excitement.

Most letters on the letters pages are addressed to Stan Lee, sometimes co-addressed to the artist, but this month a letter was written to Artie Simek. I'll reprint it here in full, because I totally agree with it.

X-Men #21

Title: From whence comes Dominus?

Writer: Roy Thomas
Artist: Werner Roth (as Jay Gavin)

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

Villain: Lucifer

Regulars: Professor X

The Dominus mentioned in the title isn't an enemy. It's a huge computer which Lucifer intends to use to conquer the Earth by turning its inhabitants into mindless slaves. Professor X is captured by Lucifer, so the X-Men have to fight without his assistance.

Once more, the information given by the Crazy Credits is wrong. There's nothing at all exasperating about Artie Simek's lettering. Has Stan Lee already forgotten the letter written by the Bethany College students?

Irving Forbush's name might be missing from the credits, but he's mentioned within the story itself. Before you doubt my capabilities, I know how to spell "Irving Forbush". It's easy. I... R... V... ummm... let me start again. I... V... I... N... G... oh wait, I forgot a letter. Give me time, I'll try again tomorrow. But have you noticed? Artie Simek never has any trouble spelling his name! He's a literary genius!

Daredevil #17

Title: None are so blind!

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: John Romita

Villain: Masked Marauder

Guests: Spider-Man, Aunt May, J. Jonah Jameson

Regulars: Foggy Nelson, Karen Page

The story begins with Spider-Man threatening Foggy Nelson, because he suspects that he's Daredevil. After Spider-Man leaves Foggy gives subtle hints that he really is Daredevil in order to win Karen Page's affection. That's a foolish way to attract a woman, but he doesn't realise just how foolish it is. At the end of the story the Masked Marauder overhears Foggy and Karen talking, and he too becomes convinced that Foggy is Daredevil.

The Crazy Credits tell us that complaints about the story have to be sent to Irving Forbush. He's the only person in the bullpen who takes complaints seriously. But don't worry, I have no complaints. This issue of Daredevil is incredible, and it's exciting to see how the Foggy-is-Daredevil storyline will develop.

Incidentally, I had to look up "irascible" in the dictionary. Who says you can never learn anything from reading comics?

Other comics published this month:

Millie the Model #138 (Dennis O'Neil, Stan Goldberg)
Modelling with Millie #47 (Dennis O'Neil, Stan Goldberg)
Patsy and Hedy #106 (Dennis O'Neil, Stan Goldberg)
Rawhide Kid #52 (Larry Lieber, Larry Lieber)
Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos #31 (Roy Thomas, Dick Ayers)

It's interesting to see that the new Marvel writer, Dennis O'Neil, has also taken over Marvel's girly romance stories. There will be a few more shake ups in the Marvel bullpen next month. Keep reading so that you won't miss anything.

Monday, 14 January 2019

Thor: Dark World (5 Stars)

This is the eighth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, released in November 2013. I had my doubts about the film at first, but after repeated viewing it's grown on me, and I now consider it to be one of the best MCU films.

The Stan Lee cameo scene lasts for 56 seconds, but we only see him for the last eight seconds. Dr. Erik Selvig was arrested for running through the Stonehenge stones naked. I'm not certain that a person would really be arrested for that. There are a lot of hippies who congregate at Stonehenge, especially on the summer solstice, so I expect that nudity is common at Stonehenge. Dr. Selvig is being held by the police for psychological evaluation. In this scene we see him holding a lecture on the upcoming convergence of the nine worlds to the other inmates.

Dr. Selvig uses two shoes to demonstrate how the convergence will take place. The light coloured shoe was borrowed from one of his listeners: Stan Lee. In the cameo Stan asks if he can have his shoe back.

Other reviewers have written in more detail about the notes written on the blackboard, because they're an interesting mix of scientific theories and Marvel mythology. I'll just point out three small details:

In the centre we have the tree Yggdrasil, which connects the nine realms (of which only eight are shown).

Above the tree we see the label "616 Universe", referring to Marvel's current habit of calling the main Marvel Universe Earth-616. I wonder how Dr. Selvig came up with this magic number.

In the bottom right there's a sketch of the Nexus of All Reality. This is the cosmic portal guarded by the Man-Thing. There was a film about the Man-Thing made in 2005, but it didn't include any references to the Nexus. It would be good to have a second film about the Man-Thing set within the MCU.

This is the company that Stan Lee is keeping. I wonder why he was arrested. Maybe it's because he's been accused of impersonating Larry King and Hugh Hefner.

There's some smart product placement in the film. Here's Darcy Lewis with an empty Vimto can. It's well known in the UK, but how many people from other parts of the world have tasted Vimto? It's delicious.

Here are more typical British products: Shreddies and McVities Digestive Biscuits. Dr. Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) is more interested in Kat Dennings' chest. That's understandable. I'd stare at any girl with a 34DD chest, and since she's only 5'3" her breasts look even bigger.

I mentioned in my review of "Thor" that the hammer Mjolnir isn't extremely heavy. It can't be picked up because of a magic spell, but it's still light enough to be hung in a coat rack.

Once more, Tom Hiddleston's performance as Loki is overwhelming. However evil he might be, he's a tortured soul, and we can't help feeling sympathetic when his words are emphasised by his sorrowful face.

When Loki laughs mischievously we laugh with him instead of worrying what he's laughing about.

Kat Dennings has a beautiful smile as well, although I suspect it's her real smile, not something she put on for the film. It's beautiful enough to tear my eyes away from her chest. Briefly.

I love the pictures shown at the end, during the final credits. They're the sort of pictures I'd like to frame and put on my wall. It's a shame that most of the pictures are covered with text.

When the film was released I read comments in a newspaper saying that it wasn't like a normal superhero film. Whoever wrote that is ignorant of Thor's origins in the comic created by Stan Lee. All of his other heroes were new creations. Thor was an adaptation of existing legends. His modernisation of the old Norse myths is one of his greatest successes. This gave the Thor comics a slightly different style to the other comics, resulting in a different type of film, but all of Stan Lee's comics were original. I'm still waiting for a big screen adaptation of Daimon Hellstrom, the Son of Satan. That will be a very different type of superhero film.

Success Ratio:  + 1.8

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