RIP Stan Lee

It was a very strange day for the To Watch Pile.

Yesterday, I found out that a friend of mine, whom I met through a fellow love of movies, records, comics and Doctor Who, had passed away and that led to a restless night, and I awoke to find out the comics legend Stan Lee had also passed away.

Stan Lee is known as the father of Marvel Comics and there is no doubt he was an innovator whose editorial and organisational skill was outstanding, and his collaborations with comic greats like Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and John Buscema have become literary classics greater than comics fans of the 60s, 7os and 80s could ever have dreamed.

He had become so ingrained in the editorial voice of Marvel that comics fans all knew of Stan’s legend and recognisable image, but more recently he achieved more mainstream popularity from his appearances in the Marvel films, and stuff like Big Bang Theory.

You will be missed, Stan, thank you so much for co-creating such a layered playground for so many writers and artists to play in and entertain we, the fans.

Marvel Masterwork: The Fantastic Four Volume 1

MARVEL MASTERWORKS: THE FANTASTIC FOUR VOLUME 1

Ask any comics fan what is the most important ‘modern’ comic, and most will say Fantastic Four issue 1. It’s the comic that put Marvel on the map and for years was known as ‘The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine’ and for years, it was!

The creation of the Fantastic Four was instigated by publisher Martin Goodman, when he heard that DC’s Justice League of America was doing well, so he asked one of his writers, Stan Lee, to create something similar. Lee’s concept was to instead of making the members ‘super-friends’, he would instead create a super-family so the connection between the members was more permanent. The one member who wasn’t ‘family’ was made to think of his powers as a disability, and stayed with the team to get a ‘cure’. Lee created this by using older characters mixed with new ideas, and comic legend Jack Kirby was called in to co-create not just the team, but what would become the Marvel Universe.

The Fantastic Four is a super hero/ adventuring group consisting of four people with extraordinary powers bestowed on them by cosmic rays that washed over them: super intelligent Reed Richards aka Mr Fantastic, who has a stretchy, malleable body, the powerful Sue Richards, aka The Invisible Woman (though in this particular collection is Invisible Girl) who can turn invisible and create invisible constructs, pilot Ben Grimm, aka the Thing, a man with a literal rocky exterior and young hothead, John Storm, the Human Torch, who can burst into flames and fly.

These four are essentially explorers (like DC’s Challengers of the Unknown, a comic Kirby worked on) but end up in situations where they have to use their powers to perform acts of heroism.

Unfortunately for Lee and Kirby’s greatest creation, the FF has been cinematically mistreated over the last few years with three films that contained some gross miscasting, bad storytelling and even just daft realisations of classic comic imagery. Actually, Galactus from Rise of the Silver Surfer is probably one of the top three badly realised comic to movie bad guys ever (he’s like a giant cosmic fart), the other’s being Green Lantern’s undulating vomitus, baby faced Parallax and Doctor Strange’s pan-dimensional burp version of Dormammu… seriously, three of comicdom’s greatest villains reduced to various excretions.

These have of course, caused Marvel to stop production of the comic after several awesome relaunches by major writing and artistic talents! For me, the Marvel universe is a lesser place without Reed, Sue, Ben and Johnny, and even though Johnny is now a member of the Inhumans and the Thing has been a Guardian of the Galaxy and an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. (well, kind of), it’s not enough. 

I impatiently await their return…

Story: Stan Lee’s writing of this period may seem hokey now, but it was revolutionary at the time. His depiction of a family in crisis as they become more than adventurers, and their subsequent battles as they get used to acting as a fighting team and become accustomed to their powers is wonderful, and the jargon is a fun read too. This collection sees the FF get their powers, and then come up against the threats of the Mole Man, Skrulls, Miracle Man, Doctor Doom, the Sub-Mariner, Kurrgo…. and many more! It’s a roller coaster of fun which has time travel and adventure of all types. The best thing about this collection is that it kept some of the little mistakes made when these comics were first published, like when the first time Sue, the Invisible Girl, becomes ‘invinsible’…

Score: ****

Art: Jack Kirby is my favourite comic artist of all time, but I prefer his work from the 70s to his sixties work. That’s not to say this isn’t amazingly detailed art, it’s just not as much for me as what he was doing in OMAC, 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Demon, which was blockier, but for me more dynamic.

Score: ****1/2

WIRIA: It where the comics we read today come from, so how could I not revisit it regularly. Revolutionary.

Fantastic 4 (2015) Review

If he had still been alive, comics legend and creative genius Jack Kirby would have been 100 this month, so to celebrate a centenary of ‘The King’, the To Watch Pile is going to commemorate his creative output with a selection of reviews of Kirby’s creations that have made it to screen.
Thank you, Jack Kirby, for the amazing characters you created or co-created: Captain America, the Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Ant-Man, Etrigan the Demon, Darkseid, Groot, Kamandi, OMAC, etc etc.

The comics community became a lesser place with your passing, and we owe you everything.

One from the re watch pile…

Fantastic 4 (2015)

The Australian Bluray cover


Film: You think it wouldn’t be hard, and yet for some reason, production companies seem to find it difficult to do 100% of the time. I don’t get how writers or directors of films based on comics (or books for that matter) can have a problem making a good superhero movie, and I especially don’t understand how someone can take an established franchise like the Fantastic Four, the cornerstone of the entire Marvel Universe, part of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s literary and artistic legacy, and screw it up.

… and it’s been done by more than one creative team too. I can only imagine this means there is far too much ego involved, as what Stan and Jack created all those years ago was perfect. Sure our knowledge about science has extended so we know that travelling through ‘cosmic rays’ (do those things even exist) won’t change us into mutated heroes with the powers to stretch, turn invisible, burst into flames or become a massive stony thing, but surely with solid foundations, something strong can be built

Do I really need to go to far into the origins of the comic? Maybe a brief word: the original FF comic told of a scientist, Reed Richards, his pilot friend Ben Grimm, his girlfriend Sue Storm and her brother Johnny who steal a rocket to go into space but the experiment backfired, and the four of them end up with superpowers which they use to further their experiments, explore alternate universes and of course, fight against villains who may step in front of them, like Mole Man, Namor and Doctor Doom.

This film takes the core elements and both updates it socially and scientifically which is a great idea. In this film, Reed Richards (Miles Teller) has discovered, as a teenager, a way to send things to an alternate dimension. He and his friend Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell) enter the device in the school science fair where they are visited by Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey) and his adopted daughter Sue (Kate Mara) who take Reed as a student at his school/ think tank as he has solved a problem they had with creating a dimensional gate.

They are almost completely finished the gate, with the help of Storm’s natural son Johnny (Michael B. Jordan) and ne’er do well Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell) when the group funding the project decide to hand it over to NASA before they can send a human occupant. Johnny, Victor, Reed, who insists on bringing Ben, get drunk one night and decide to use the device first, but it has desperately horrible results.

Kate Mara as Sue Storm


First the planet in the other dimension starts to fall apart, and Doom is lost, and upon the return home, the rest of them, including Sue who is still on earth, are irradiated by the alternate dimensions energy, and they end up with powers: Sue can become invisible, Reed can stretch to impossible lengths, Johnny can set himself on fire (and is resistant to it) and Ben has become a horrible stone creature.

The government starts experiments on them and using them for secret missions, but not before Reed escapes, trying to find a cure for their ‘diseases’.

He is recaptured and they return to the other dimension where they find that Doom is now in complete control, and wants to destroy Earth…. It will the FF over come Doom’s evil scheme?

Probably.

I’d like to compliment this film on a couple of things. The production design is fantastic. The whole film looks ‘realistic’ and even the alternate dimension looks like something real, and not an over coloured, over saturated CGI experiment gone crazy, like in Doctor Strange for example.

Another thing I liked about this film was it treated a Fantastic Four story as a story about science and exploration, and not about superheroes. If the FF never had gained superpowers, they still would have been scientists and explorers, and that is the core of the group.

I liked the fact that even though this is a Marvel comics film, it’s not a Marvel Cinematic Universe film (it’s not produced by Disney, is why) which means that it doesn’t have the weight that all Marvel films have now. You miss one Marvel film and half the time you won’t know what’s going on or who some of the characters are in the next one, which is a clever way to make sure consumers inhale all your products. This you can sit down and watch and walk away from… and you probably will.

Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm


The last thing I like about it was the modernising of the family dynamics, in having Sue being a Caucasian adopted into an African American family is barely even dealt with, and that was cool. I have no real problem with characters having their ‘race’ changed if there is a story device to it, and not just for social constructs and approval. In actual fact, I don’t care about a person’s race in playing a character as long as they play it well. Did this part of the story need to be updated for today? Probably not, but it works.

A little bit of updating is fine, but another issue I have with some comic movies is the need to adapt the villain into the heroes origin. I didn’t like it in Tim Burton’s Batman, and I don’t like it here where Doctor Doom was merged into the FF’s origin, much like they felt the need to do in the previous incarnation of the characters. What is really frustrating is that with the change here with pan-dimensional travel, the door was open to use a completely different villain from the FF’s history, Annihilus, instead of retreading Doom’s ground.

The problem with this film though is the pacing. The build up should be slow and deliberate, which for either a first film in a franchise or a science fiction film is ok as the ‘physics’ of the universe in which the main characters exist needs to be established, but this build up needs to have a powerhouse payoff… unfortunately FF doesn’t only have weird pacing throughout the film, with a lot of false starts, it also just… stops. The big battle against the antagonist just finishes with no real payoff: it feels like they ran out of money or something and just said’ yeah, that’ll do, pack it up’, which is sad because there is SO much potential.

I feel this film commits the worst crime a film can commit: it’s a missed opportunity.

Score: **1/2

Fantastic 4 Australian Bluray menu screen


Format: This film was reviewed on the Australian region B Bluray, which runs for approximately 100 minutes and is presented in an impeccable 2.39:1 video with a matching DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack.

Score: *****

Extras: A few extras on this disc.

The disc opens with an auto play of a trailer of Maze Runner: The Scotch Trials, before going to the main menu.

The main extras include:

Powering Up: Superpowers of the Fantastic Four shows the effects of the powers of all the FF, and how the accident caused all their powers to manifest differently. Basically it explains outside the confines of the film why they all got different powers.

The Quantum Gates looks at the special effects development of the portal to the other dimension.

Planet Zero sees how the cats and effects people made a convincing alternate dimensional world.

The Score interviews director Josh Trank and composer Marco Beltrami about the soundtrack for the film.

There is also concept art for Planet Zero and the Quantum Gates but if I want to look at still pictures, I’ll buy a book. No sale.

Score: ***1/2

WISIA: I like the look of this film, but the pacing is all over the place and it just doesn’t sit well. If I watch it again it will be just for the production design and Kate Mara.

Miles Teller as Reed Richards