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Star Trek Discovery: A Slow Beginning to a Promising Series
Damn it’s exciting to have Star Trek back on TV. With last night’s premiere, Star Trek Discovery has finally stepped into the public eye, after years of secrecy, delays, staff changes, and troubling production reports; we finally have something we can actually watch and analyse rather than speculate about…
There is a lot of potential in what Discovery is setting up, but unfortunately the pilot fails to actually set-up the series: bafflingly enough, it reads as a prequel or cold open to the series, but fails to tell us where it’s going or what we should be excited for. While many reviewers received the first three episodes, only the first two were aired last night and the result is confounding. The premiere feels like the cold open of J.J. Abram’s 2009 Star Trek film…but stretched out over two hours. What we do get is an introduction to at least one new classic Trek character in Doug Jones’ Lt. Saru and a potentially interesting lead in Sonequa Martin-Green’s Michael Burnham, though the jury is still out on that one as so far the series has dwelled far too much on her past and not nearly enough on her present (and the alarming similarities to Spock, including be raised by his father Sarek already make her feel like a bit too familiar). We encounter an unfamiliar looking Klingon Empire in disarray (not loving the new design so far…they look a bit like melted orcs) and get a sense of what the antagonists’ goals will be, a couple of twists that would have been incredible had they not been telegraphed by every possible means leading up to the show’s release, and a cliff-hanger that isn’t really all that interesting since we know the lead character ends up on Discovery…a ship and crew that don’t even show up in the first two episodes.
While a fully serialized format is new for Trek, this is an astounding oversight for a pilot as we end the two hours not really knowing where we’re going. We’ve had a neat TV movie that introduces our lead and sets up a war, but not a whole lot else; this might be fine in the first hour, but so much time is burned on flashbacks that ultimately provide a bit of back-story but nothing essential to our understanding of the action, that if the series ended you actually would have a complete, stand-alone film. The style of the show will invariably draw comparisons to Deep Space Nine writer/producer Ron Moore’s excellent Battlestar Galactica and I can’t help but compare this ‘TV movie launch event’ to their’s: where Galactica introduced us to the universe, all the major players, all the initial plots, and managed to get the entire series into motion in two hours, Discovery has yet to introduce most of the cast or the title vessel. In Galactica terms, this is ending the movie before the Cylons attack and blow up the colonies not mentioning a Battlestar. Imagine a pilot to LOST where they don’t board the plane, let alone crash by the end of the episode, or a pilot to FRIENDS that just deals with Rachel leaving her wedding but ends before she enters the coffee shop; you’re asking for a lot of faith from your audience that they’ll tune back in. If it were any other series, I’d probably stop watching around this point: it feels built to binge, but is being released one week at a time (on a streaming service, strangely enough). All I needed is what, from the sounds of things, the third episode brings (an introduction to the main cast and ship), but by denying me that piece of story and set-up I’m instead left feeling dissatisfied and mystified. Not a great way to leave your audience (and a dedicated fan, no less) at the end of your pilot episodes.
Visually, the show is gorgeous, definitely taking everything from its design aesthetic to its camera angles (and, regrettably, lens flares) from the J.J. Abrams-verse (the Kelvin Timeline, for my fellow nerds). While the designs definitely clash with what we traditionally think of as TV Trek, they necessarily take into account modern technology while also acknowledging Enterprise, the black sheep of the Trek family, in its costuming, and will make film fans feel right at home (while us old timey Trekkers and Trekkies grumble about the new Klingons…I’m still not over how distracting the change is). We’ve already seen a tonne of interesting new ship designs and have seen how the show will handle space combat (in a much more fluid way than the technologically-necessary static battles of the past). The alien designs have been fascinating and suggest we’ll be seeing a bunch of interesting new ideas coming out of the show (another thing the Abrams movies did well).
Canonically, the biggest hurdle the show has to get over is the Klingon re-design (yet-to-be-explained, but theoretically that there are different Houses in the Klingon Empire and each is visually distinct. Which I guess also ties into the Enterprise disease that took great lengths to explain the variance in Klingon head ridges over the years). Otherwise, we’re exploring an era of Trek history that is mostly untouched, so the show actually has a lot of freedom; taking place between Enterprise and The Original Series, we can safely meet all sorts of characters without breaking the universe too badly and the show makes sure to use the technology we’ve seen – classic phasers, communicators, etc – alongside new stuff to make sure it fits (again, similar to the new films).
Ultimately, the pilot is failed by leaning too heavily into serialization and embracing a binge model in design but not in practice (if it was all on Netflix right now, I doubt we’d be having this conversation as I would’ve watched at least three in a sitting). Visually, it’s incredibly beautiful and shows what a powerhouse a modern Trek show can be. The performances are a bit uneven, from the already iconic (Jones), to the mixed (Martin-Green balancing a sense of awe and earnest excitement about the galaxy, which is engaging and awesome, with the tired ‘Vulcan baggage’ routine that we’ve seen one too many times now), to the flat out bad (the Klingon leader is not only one-note but also has incredible difficulty speaking Klingon – I think his vocal chords were damaged or somesuch? – and the result is that it’s incredibly painful to listen to him talk and feels like it adds an hour to the show’s runtime. This was happily remedied by the end of the second episode, but it was pretty rough until then). The support cast is all very solid and it’s a joy to see so many local faces on the bridge – still hard to conceive of Star Trek, once squarely stowed away on the Paramount lot in Los Angles being shot locally here in Toronto. It’s super, super cool. The show respects what has come before but is also taking liberties where necessary (jury is still out on the Klingon choice) and already feels more at home than Enterprise did when it launched (originally as long-time Trek producers’ trying to make an accessible show that angered fans and bored new audiences in equal measure before a massive late-series course correction saved the series from being an all-out disaster).
And so, I’m left being uncertain of where we’re boldly going, but, to quote the most disastrous Trek theme of all time, I’ve got faith of the heart*: if the interplay between Saru and Burnham is an indication of how the main cast will play, we’re going to have a fun, interesting bridge crew…I just wish I’d met them by now. Serialization is no excuse for glacial pacing (looking at you, later seasons of House of Cards) but particularly when you’re spreading that serialization out week-to-week, you need make sure we’re all-aboard.
We’ll have a better idea this coming Sunday. Until then, I’m left in the same state as Burnham: uncertain, stationary, and slightly defeated. Here’s hoping the show delivers on the promise it has hinted at and delivers the Trek we hope it can be.
Nevertheless, I can’t overstate how cool it is to be waiting for next week’s episode of Star Trek again: for all its problems and all its successes, there was a very real risk, for a very long time, that Trek would never return to TV, where it can fully explore the kinds of stories, ideas, and characters that made it so iconic. At the very least, Star Trek has completed its voyage home and a welcome return it is.
Here’s hoping Star Trek will continue to live long and prosper.
*My apologies if that stupid song is stuck in your head now. But it is canon, after all…Good news is, Discovery’s theme is much, much better – like a Trekified version of the Westworld theme.
This post originally appeared on MyEntertainmentWorld.ca
Tom and Miles are joined by special guest comedian, sketch performer, and writer Kat Letwin to discuss the further adventures of Jackie Chan and human air horn Chris Tucker in Rush Hour 2. Tom and Kat were surprised to discover their mutual childhood love of the series but were equally surprised at how much sexism there is and consequently how poorly the film has aged. Miles had never seen it and kinda wishes it had stayed that way. Join us for a crash course in the career and style of Jackie Chan and an impromptu Disney song on this super-sized episode!
In a horrible dystopia where America has succumbed to its worst impulses, a group of heroes resists and tries to restore sanity to a nation. But enough about current events…
Miles and Tom return for Please Sir, I Want Some More Season 2 with their first threequel: The Purge – Election Year! Join Tom and Miles as they navigate the potential and failure of a great premise as Frank Grillo tries to keep Juliet-from-LOST alive long enough for her to become president and end The Purge once and for all.
Seven Siblings’ Titus Andronicus
Puppets? In a Shakespeare play? Madness.
Titus is actually the most requested Shakey-Shake play (usually by people at bars, but often by 30-somethings after seeing a show at Fringe), so naturally I was curious when Seven Siblings announced their Titus featuring puppets. My Entertainment World pretty accurately reflects my feelings about the show on the whole, but here I want to focus on the main reason to see this production, if you’re at all thinking about using puppets in a production: there is a lot at work with the application and execution (literal and figurative) and it makes an interesting case study for how puppets are applied in theatre.
So, why see this play? The individual elements can be quite good: the Saturninus puppet, in particular, is very engaging – three puppeteers operate it in a vaguely bunraku way, using their individual voices and speaking chorally to create a great, otherworldly effect. There are even some physical surprises built in that only come about in the final fight and shows that even on an indie budget incredible puppets are possible. All the puppets look fantastic and the puppeteers generally do very well with them (particularly the criminally underused Sarah Thorpe and Jeff Dingle). Puppets are capable of great and exciting things, particularly on this scale: it’s hard not to feel intimidated when you see a seven-foot-tall puppet backed by three puppeteers looming over an actor or fold out General Grievous-style with two swords to take up most of the stage. The epic scale, despite the depth of the stage at The Citadel – creates instant status and interest and on a scale I rarely see on indie stages. Definitely worth checking out if you’re looking for examples of new ways to integrate puppets on stage.
However, despite the engaging nature of the puppets, their application to this particular script and production doesn’t entirely work.
In this Titus, the puppets are gods that helped the Romans to conquer the Gauls and inhabit the bunker that the play is set in. The gods are sustained through blood-feeding tubes by corpses, creating an ‘in-continuity’ reason for puppeteers to be present on stage. This is a novel approach and solution to the problem of puppeteers that speaks to the cinematic qualities of the production; while we acknowledge that puppeteers must be present in a stage production, in film would seem out of place and thus every effort is taken to obscure them. It would seem to me that the choice to incorporate the puppeteers in this way speaks to a more of a film understanding and less of a stage understanding, but it’s interesting food for thought. However, it does raise more questions than it answers – if the gods require human host bodies, what did they do before the Romans moved in? How did they speak to the Romans and explain that they need blood feeding tubes? It’s a problem which cannot be answered or addressed without adding text. This, ultimately, is the largest problem with the amount of concept being layered onto the play: without adding any lines, the audience is left to infer on their own and go off of directors’ notes. While I fully believe audiences are generally a lot smarter than they’re given credit for and can be asked to fill in the blanks, this asks a lot of an audience already following an Elizabethan play. It also begs the question: what does it add to the story? Visually, it’s a treat and stylistically very interesting. Saturninus in particular is very engaging and enjoyable to watch, but the puppetness doesn’t increase my understanding of the character. This is particularly true when other puppets are introduced: I can understand the royalty being puppets, but why the nurse? Did someone really look at the bumbling messenger mole with his pigeons and say ‘Yes, hook a body up to that guy!’ Obviously I have no issue with puppets and Shakespeare, but the puppet logic here is muddy.
So, my recommendation is this: if you’re interested in puppet technique or application, pay attention to the technical work on display – how the puppets move, how they affect scenes, how they alter status through physicality. Observe how the blood tubes both add and detract from the piece (great for the death of the wolf/nurse puppet, awkward for the death of Saturninus). If you’re thinking of using puppets, consider very honestly the why: is it because they’re cool? Does the script suggest them? Do they help tell the story? In this productions’ case, they certainly add visual interest, but they also complicate the play world. While their method of speaking is engaging, the puppets themselves can’t emote the same way as humans; how does that affect your understanding of Shakespeare’s admittedly archaic text? Do they make it clearer through movement or harder to understand due to their inability to emote? Also, observe which characters are puppets and why – how does this choice affect how we view these characters and their place in the world? Because of the wide variety and application of puppets, Titus is a fascinating case study for how the integration of puppets works and for how it doesn’t. Definitely worth a view if these are questions you’re wrestling with in your own production.
What It Is
In 1993, Martin premiered Picasso at the Lapin Agile, a hypothetical and fantastical meeting between Pablo Picasso and Albert Einstein on the eve of their greatest works being released. The men share a sense of the future, excitement, and optimism about the twentieth century (though both will know tragedy in it). The action of the play follows the comic and philosophical interactions Einstein has first with Picasso’s admirers and the proprietors of the bar and then Picasso himself as they spar over the difference between art and science before coming to a mutual understanding that though they work in different fields they work toward the same purpose: the realization of the future. The play has a great sense of mischief and glee, such as you would expect from Martin’s performances; there’s a sly wink and a smile to the interaction of the characters, most notably a delusional inventor named Schmendiman who insists his incredibly fragile, flammable building material will secure his place in history.
Martin is a smart guy and expertly weaves the philosophical together with the comical (though the script does lean a bit heavily on the philosophy) building to the arrival of the time-travelling ‘Visitor’ (Elvis) and a toast to the arrival of the twentieth century.
Seven Siblings’ production of Picasso at the Lapin Agile, playing now at ROUND Venue in Kensington Market is a collision of two interesting factors: the humour of Steve Martin’s wit and intelligence, and the Michael Chekhov acting technique as practiced and advocated for by Seven Siblings Theatre. The show is fun, with lively performances, the venue is wonderful, and the subject matter is certainly fertile, but the intersection of these two styles (Martin’s and Chekhov’s) isn’t always successful. Nevertheless, the show is a great way to spend an evening and a fascinating look into two things we often don’t see on Toronto stages: Chekhov method and Martin’s plays.
Why You Should See It
If you’re a fan of Martin’s stand-up or writing (his Born Standing Up memoir about stand-up comedy and why he took a break from it was so addictive I read it in a single sitting), Picasso offers a neat window into how an actor who has made a career of playing fun characters translates that experience into populating a play. You can see Martin’s sly sneer in all of these characters, though they evoke the many variations we’ve seen Martin play over the years (with the foppish inventor Schmendiman recalling Martin’s broader comedy in films like The Three Amigos, whereas the cranky bar patron Gaston shares DNA with Martin’s more snarky, self aware characters). Martin is also a lover of art and his passion for the ideas and feeling behind the creation of art and inspiration are evident here, though occasionally the debate surrounding these ideas carries on too long. Martin creates a fun world and Seven Siblings, with their clever choice of venue and lively cast, realize it beautifully. It’s easy to imagine yourself in the technicolor world of optimism and inspiration that the characters live in and certainly a nice way escape the grey doldrums of February.
Also, as evident in Erika’s responses below, this is a play for actors looking to find new entry points into their craft. Chekhov has something of a cult following amongst actors seeking to free themselves from the constraints of naturalism and The Method (wherein actors become the characters; think Daniel Day Lewis’ insistence on being referred to as Lincoln etc when playing the part). Chekhov -from my layman’s understanding- uses movement and archetypes amongst other exercises to offer actors an alternate way of approaching and finding characters. Erika and Seven Siblings Theatre are keen on bringing their experience with Chekhov to Toronto and Picasso is a neat way to see their methodology on display in a practical format. From an audience perspective, it would seem that their exploration of archetypes has created some very approachable and recognizable characters; I’m reminded of Commedia del arte characters, who –despite a variety of plots and lines- are immediately recognizable and familiar. We are very quickly able to place who each of these people are, what is important to them, and what function they are to serve in the proceedings, which is lovely. Where the show suffers a bit is in the text work, where characters often seem to be reciting lines rather than speaking honestly their thoughts and feelings. Interestingly, the characterizations are still very clear and the characters feel real (likely due to their exploration of and execution of archetypes) despite the lines not always reading true. This also causes the pace to suffer, which unfortunately highlights the issues inherent in the script (which occasionally gets bogged down in its own philosophical leanings). Nevertheless, if you’re looking for something new and exciting to help you find character truth, then check out what Seven Siblings are doing! It’s certainly refreshing to see a methodology on display practically rather than just in a classroom setting.
For the theatre producers of the world, I’d also recommend going to enjoy and scout out a new space. The ROUND often hosts music and is usually not configured for theatre, but Seven Siblings saw the potential and thus have unearthed a great space with tonnes of personality and a great beer list. Although the bar itself is, unfortunately, at a bad angle for the audience (hence the production’s decision to create a secondary bar with tables onstage), the space exudes personality and has a great vibe (which Picasso uses to great effect in creating the show’s atmosphere).
So, without further adieu, my interview with the lovely Erika Downie, who has an aura of positive, infectious energy about her that can’t help but put you in a better mood. Below, we discuss her background, the company, and take a deep dive into some of the issues that I always consider both as a theatre creator and audience member. Enjoy!
For those unfamiliar with you and your work, can you give me a brief summary of your background as an artist, your directing style, and how you approached the work?
I am a Bachelor of Fine Arts and Bachelor of Arts graduate from the University of Windsor. I have studied the Michael Chekhov Acting Technique and received a teaching certificate in the technique from Great Lakes Michael Chekhov Consortium under the guidance of master teachers Lionel Walsh, Catherine Albers, Lavinia Hart and Mark Monday. This training has been the foundation of my approach to acting as well as directing. I approach each production with the foundation of the Michael Chekhov technique bringing the Four Brothers (ease, form, beauty and the whole) into each rehearsal process.
What is Seven Siblings all about? Who is the audience you are trying to reach and what experience are you aiming to provide to them?
Will King, Madryn McCabe and I created Seven Siblings Theatre after our first year at Great Lakes Michael Chekhov Consortium. We formed the company because we discovered as actors the technique held value in our own work and we believe that it can give new opportunity for other actors within their creative process. Our audiences benefit from this technique as well as we aim to create a world where they are characters too. The audiences that we try to reach are our contemporaries, young artists who are looking for new theatre experiences. Audiences that are excited to be challenged, educated, entertained and live with us within the realm of the fantastic.
I read about the rather serendipitous way the choosing of the play came about over on Theatre Reader, but I’m curious about the why of it: why this play, why now, and why in Toronto? What value does it bring to your audience?
Steve Martin is brilliant artist and his writing is rhythmic and dynamic and lives in the realm of the fantastic which is why we chose to produce it, it fit within our mandate and values as a company. Making this our first production of our season would allow us to reach out to new audiences and would allow us to step further into the independent theatre scene with a fantastic piece of theatre; it’s also the first production that I was available to do, just finishing my degree, within the company. We are all currently based in Toronto and we believe that this is the best place to begin introducing the Michael Chekhov technique to actors, as well as produce theatre that hasn’t been widely produced which follows the fantastic.
On The Play
What dimensions has this specific bar brought to the performance? Was the choice of The ROUND deliberate for this specific show, or was it an available, suitable space (ie. that it was in a bar was the most important feature, not that it was The ROUND specifically)?
For Picasso, we sought out a venue that was sight specific and that would add to the atmosphere and aesthetic of the play. ROUND Venue allowed us to really focus on the action and movement of the play because we were give the perfect space to play in. We really wanted to make this play sight specific because it adds to the atmosphere, it invites the audience to become something other than an audience.
What was your and the casts’ approach to playing historical figures? What challenges and discoveries did you make in the development and portrayal of these famous people?
Playing historical character takes a great deal of research and study because you want to remain true to who that man or woman was in history, but in their simplest form these characters are archetypes. The challenge became finding the archetype within Picasso and Einstein while continuing to have the historical portrait that many people have with regards to Picasso and Einstein. This is why we use the Chekhov technique; we work through an exercise called Archetypes and find the ones that best fit our interpretation of these men. This approach to character allows for us to build a fully functioning three, maybe even four, dimensional character.
Einstein has been back in the news a lot lately with the confirmation of gravity waves, but both he and Picasso are often known generally by their most famous works and little personally. What does your production have to say about these two historical figures as people and what new insight do you hope an audience gains?
Well this production really focuses on the relationship that these men have with their work, with each other and with other people. It takes place in their youth, which is something we don’t see, because we generally know these men for their later personality. It’s a journey within the “moment before” their lives change and that’s what makes it so exciting. We get to witness the changing of a century and experience how these men brought their work and who they are forward. I can only hope that it inspires the audience to examine what their “moment before” could be and how they may change the world.
On a similar note, what is a play written in 1993 trying to say about these figures compared to what you are trying to say in your 2016 production?
This play is timeless, and these men are timeless. We revere them because of their contributions to art and science, but in this production I tried to focus on who they were before these men became how we know them today. In 1993, just like today, we are still developing art and science, because like decade, in both of these fields respectively, its about how we perceive the world and our function within it. Science and art are ever evolving, just like humanity, and I believe Picasso and Einstein understood this, and worked within this, constantly trying to evolve and therefore solidifying their place in time as being timeless.
On Steve Martin
In your interview with the Theatre Reader, you spoke to the style of Martin’s comedy; known primarily (now, anyway) for his acting rather than his stand-up, can you speak to the style of humor and how it relates to the Steve Martin-style we recognize from film?
His own personal style is very absurd, but in a funny-guy-next-door kind of way. He has a rhythm to his comedy and it is very present within this production. His writing is more like his music rather than his acting, there are brilliant repetitions and cadences within the play that follow a musical quality, just as comedy should, but you can absolutely see this in some of his own work as an actor, especially as a young actor.
I notice in your advertising you are using the classic image of Martin with the arrow through his head, how important is Steve Martin to the marketing of the play?
Steve Martin is very important in the marketing of this play. Not many people realized he was a writer on top of the many other talents he practices. As an artist, he, in my mind, is a renaissance man, and he has been very kind to our company by giving us a leg up on marketing our show after he tweeted us.
Hollywood keeps making sequels, so we figured it was time to get back to analyzing them! Please Sir, I Want Some More returns bi-weekly with new episodes and exciting guest stars!
First up the sequel that proves the name: The Neverending Story Part II: The Next Chapter!
Mourn your dead horses and mount your luck dragons as Miles and Tom crack open the sequel to the childhood classic The Neverending Story. Join us as Tom romps through Miles’ beloved childhood film as our hosts debate the bizarre main character shift from Arteyu to Bastien, the cost of wishes, authorial intent, and invariably end up yelling Atreyu and Falcor. Apologies in advance for putting the theme song in your head again.
The Fun-tastic Four
Dark. Gritty. Bleak.
I’m pretty sure if you ask anyone who has ever read, seen or thought about ‘Marvel’s First Family’ The Fantastic Four to describe them, I highly doubt they’d use these terms. These are, after all, the super heroes who fly around in a vehicle called ‘The Fantasti-car’
I dream only of death.
And so, it’s rather unfortunate that Jonathan Trank’s now infamous Fantastic Four embraced this aesthetic so completely. It’s understandable, given the larger trend in superhero films toward the dark, gritty aesthetic (summed up by Christian Bale’s inability to say more than two lines through his rasp in Dark Knight Rises) that the reboot-response to the fun but toothless 200x Fantastic Four films would be something darker and edgier (particularly given Fox’s success with the darker aesthetic for their X-Men franchise).
I *cough choke* came *cough choke* to stop *cough choke, deep breath* you. *dies*
The dark and gritty approach is good, which is easy to forget given how dominant it has become, however it cannot be applied successfully across the board: it is vital to analyse the franchise that this aesthetic is being applied to. In the case of The Fantastic Four, this is a critical misstep based on the tone of the characters: these are adventurer scientists. They’re more Star Trek than Watchmen. Their abilities all complement each other, their family bond is strong, and together they solve problems and save the day. In fact, the best Fantastic Four movie today, in my opinion, was Brad Bird’s The Incredibles, which pretty much sums up the kind of dynamic and tone that permiates the Fantastic Four characters and adventures.
Hey, looks like Disney owns the rights to the Fantastic Four after all…
So, what went wrong?
Well, pants, for starters.
There are a number of really good resources about the many behind the scenes hijinks that hurt this film here and here but the short answer is: wigs.
Frank Underwood does like blondes…
The long answer is a complex mix of artistic differences, inexperienced directors, nosey studios, pretty much everything that could go wrong did.
But I’m going to focus on something else: the fundamental mistake of applying the grit filter to The Fantastic Four and how the older films, though rife with their own issues, come closer to feel of the franchise. With the new, grim-across-the-board flavour of the DC movie universe, this filter is about to be applied to a lot of franchises and in this post I’m going to flag why this could be problematic.
So, without further ado, let’s dive into Trank’s Fantastic Dour.
You read that correctly. I’ll see myself out.
Part One: What Trank Got Right
First, a confession: I enjoyed Trank’s Fantastic Four a lot more than I thought I would.
I went in like this. “Fantastic Four? More like Fantastic One…star!” OH-HO-HO-HO!
When the movie is working, it works pretty well. The opening which establishes the friendship between Ben Grimm and Reed Richards is really nice. Whiplash and Billy Elliot have great chemistry together and the nature of their friendship (Reed’s aloof brilliance, Grimm’s practical resourcefulness) make a lot of sense as to why the super nerd and the moody Bronx junk yard kid become best friends. Despite an incredibly bizarre decision to give the origin of Grimm’s signature “It’s clobberin’ time!” catchphrase to his older brother who yells it before beating up Ben…
“Hey kid! I AM BATMAN! Cool catchphrase, huh? You can have it.”
…the opening has a neat, grounded, two kids tinkering with science vibe that would be at home in a Spielberg film. Think Hey, Arnold, if they eventually became super heroes.
Football Head Man and Other Guy! (Please note: Helga is given more value and status in this photo than Sue Storm in the entire film.)
It’s when they are enlisted by the Storm family that things start going bad, really, really fast. I know it isn’t much, but that opening bit is really nice. According to most reports, that’s mostly what remains of the original script. So, uh, yeah. High five. While it would be nice to imagine the rest of that script was as good as the opening, it’s hard to imagine the team coming together the way these two friends did. It’s an intimate, grounded set of scenes and that tone can’t quite carry on into a super hero epic…
…and it didn’t.
Part Two: The Rest in a Nutshell (aka The Bad)
Here’s a quick summary to bring up you up to speed before we get to it:
Reed gets into the Storm program to help make a transdimensional teleporter. Franklin Storm has been working on it with a team including his daughter Zoe Barnes (Sue Storm) and a genius counter-culture hacker named Victor von Doom who is moodily playing pre-release Assassin’s Creed Syndicate with his mind while also being pissed off about THE MAN.
…the kids like this, right? -Fox exec
Storm re-enlists the help of Doom and his rebel adrenaline junkie son Johnny Storm (who quickly becomes the ‘backstory, what backstory?’ son Johnny Storm) to help Richards. They quickly build the thing before THE MAN (Kimmy Schmidt’s father, I defy you to view him as anything else once you’ve seen him in that part) shuts down the program, because THE MAN REASONS in a scene that is almost verbatim lifted from Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man (where THE MAN shuts down his Green Goblin program, leading to Norman ‘Holy Shit it’s Willem Dafoe’ Osborne to inject himself with the Goblin formula) and Batman Forever’s Riddler scene (where Ace Ventura offs Stan Sitwell for shutting him down) and seen -yet again- in Ant Man where THE MAN shuts down Peter Russo (and he…shrink goos him…?) So, following the trend, Reed, Johnny, and Doom get drunk and decide to travel through themselves. Reed invites Ben, because they’re BFFs, and no one tells Sue, because her nagging lady-ness will impede their bro-venture.
Above: The Fantastic Three and Doom. Sigh.
So, they take an ill-advised trip to the alternate dimension, Doom touches some evil goo (having clearly seen Prometheus and thinking that this guy was on-point with his ‘taste the evil black goo’ hypothesis)
Alien 5 is on hold for this.
Get blasted by other dimension weirdness (which hits Sue too because she’s nearby. Not on the adventure, but nearby. Near the adventure. As propriety dictates is acceptable for a lady) and make it back, only to wake up in a government facility with powers. Now, THE MAN – having clearly seen X-Men and noting how well the Weapon X program worked out for everyone, decides to militarize the kids.
Just like Vic Hoskins in Jurassic World with the raptors. Right? Remember him? No? Yeah, me either.
THE MAN starts his brilliant process with The Thing (who is EXTRA TORTURED in this one…probably because he is lacking pants. We see his butt. A lot.)
With a tip of the hat to Tina Belcher
THE MAN promises to cure Billy Elliot if he does killin’ work for the military. Reed manages to escape his cell and also promises to help cure The Thing, but needs to escape in order to do so. Thing doesn’t want him to go and believes this to be a massive betrayal because…reasons? Anyway, Reed fucks off (this program is not his tempo) and so, like Doctor Manhattan or Miller’s Superman in The Dark Knight Returns, The Thing gets deployed to war zones and kills a lot of people (entirely off screen).
The Thing of the comics is a lovable mug with a heart of gold, so this brooding murder spree sits a little oddly.
On the other end of the spectrum, The Human Torch, now magically over his daddy issues (never mentioned again) is SUPER EXCITED about being a murder weapon, but Sue (who can now fly and turn invisible, but still isn’t allowed on science adventures) and her dad are really concerned about THE MAN turning Torch into a monster like Thing (despite Torch being the MOST excited about it).
They manage to track down Reed who is now a master of disguise and inexplicably able to change his skin colour as well as stretch his face into new faces.
(Not exactly as shown.)
After capturing him (The Thing is SOOOOO pissed) they bring him back just in time for THE MAN’S team to bring Doom back from the other dimension. His suit is now melted to his face making him look super menacing*
*And by super menacing…I mean like a crash test dummy.
Doom declares that humanity is the worst and starts bursting heads, kills Daddy Storm, opens a portal between dimensions which (unlike every other portal to date) will destroy Earth for some reason. Our heroes pursue him, work together and defeat Doom. Then they decide to name themselves…CUT TO CREDITS!!!
What’s particularly weird about this is the tone shift: we have a film about government overstepping, manipulation, the danger so gaining absolute power without the responsibility right up until Doom returns. Then the film makes an abrupt about-face, about learning to work together as a team. While this is closer in tone tone heart of the characters (in that their greatest strength is working together), this was never presented as the problem beyond Reed’s perceived betrayal of Thing by escaping to find help. The government thing goes away when Doom straight-up murders everyone involved in that plot.
The final line and feeling of ‘look, they’re all pals now!’ doesn’t suit the film that has preceded it. Reed and Sue seem like vaguely cool acquaintances, Thing and Torch seem to genuinely dislike each other, and ultimately they don’t feel like a team let alone Marvel’s First Family at the end of it.
So, now that you have a general overview of this magical dumpster fire of a movie, what about the original?
Part Three: The Fun-tactic Four-gettable First Films
You can be forgiven for not remembering a damn thing about the original Fantastic Four films-
Like the fact that The Human Torch is Captain America…
But in retrospect, the bright and sunny disposition of the original films nails the tone of the characters perfectly. The film accomplishes this by giving all the characters history: Reed and Ben are pals, Ben was Johnny’s commanding officer, Reed and Sue used to date, now she’s with Doom. It immediately establishes the dynamic that in light of the new film we so desperately need: it also jumps right into the action and hooks our characters up with powers very quickly (as opposed to two-thirds of the way tough the film, like Trank’s). Some of this feels rushed, but it gets us to powers and dynamics in a much more reasonable amount of time. The film’s major sin is not knowing what to do with itself after gaining the powers.
We get yet ANOTHER ‘we’re shutting you down’/now I revenge kill you all scene with Doom this time around, but at least this Doom echoes his comics counterpart, donning the iconic mask due to a small blemish on his face (one of the most fascinating elements of the Doom mythology is that he wears the metal mask because he was horribly disfigured; the more exciting take on this is that his vanity is such that a small scar on his handsome features is enough to warrant the mask) but falls flat once he is in costume.
And the film just kind of spins its wheels until the inevitable falling out/coming together finale where they defeat Doom. Where Trank’s is at it’s most plodding when the team is building the dimensional gateway, this one is oddly most boring once they have powers. There’s not really a plot to be found until Doom starts wrecking things, which leads to the film’s entirely forgetable reputation.
But what we do get are generally better characterizations:
Reed Richards and Sue (though Alba remains an odd choice) seem to have a genuine history and (extraordinarily G-rated) love plot of reconciliation; Johnny does very early 2000’s extreme sports, beds lots of ladies, but most importantly teases and pranks The Thing (with whom he shares a genuine begrudging relationship with-thing Gimli and Legolas); and the Thing, though tortured by his appearance, still cares the most about his friends, sacrificing his human form in order to save Reid in the end (a really touching scene-think Samwise to Frodo.)
Maybe I should have just re-watched Fellowship of the Ring…
We also get a bunch of fun stuff from the comics, most notably Thing in a trenchcoat: an iconic, if ridiculous disguise. But dammit, it’s a comic book film so it fits.
Though he somehow looks MORE like a flasher than the other film where he is literally wearing nothing.
With a more substantive and driving plot, this could have been THE Fantastic Four film (though the sequel-which inexplicably has Human Torch becoming Rogue from the X-Men and absorbing people’s powers-reveals the flaws inherent in this lightweight approach. They go from zero to Batman and Robin levels of bonkers bullshit in the blink of an eye). Nevertheless, for all it’s issues, it’s a much more accurate depiction of the characters.
The Future Foundation: What Comes Next
So, where does that leave us? Fox insists that it is moving ahead with a soft reboot, possibly with a different cast (looks like we’re in for a revolving door Hulk film situation), there has been some talk of Marvel reclaiming the rights (seems highly unlikely, but then, so did the Spider-Man deal before the Sony hack and flop of Amazing Spider-Man 2). In the comics, the team has disbanded and the surviving members have joined other teams, but writers like Dan Slott are stoking the flames for an eventual return (he’s read comics before, after all…)
The next film should be tonally somewhere between the X-Men films and Raimi’s Spider-Man 2: playful, big, but with a driving plot. Writers and directors are already chomping at the bit, including Adam McKay (riding high in the wake of his Ant Man rewrite) who seems like he’d be good fit, but I imagine we’ll see Fox focusing on X-Men and Deadpool for a while first (but that’s a story for another night…)
As for Trank’s film, it’s taught us a valuable lesson about the dark and gritty filter: we need to be careful with where we apply it. As we continue to create new versions of our modern myths, we still need to respect the source material. There are fundamental truths about these characters that extend beyond their names and their powers (though, credit where it’s due: race need not be one of them, as evidenced by the perfect casting of Michael B. Jordan as The Human Torch) that need to be present or else the film seems like an odd knock-off that just happens to feature characters with the same names.
Anyway, right after watching the Trank film, I was trying to track down the original films. It’s actually damn hard now, as Fox tried to erase them from existence right before the new film’s release (luckily, cable TV still runs it regularly). What I found was this gif, which if nothing else survives the original film, manages to capture the spirit of the team (for context: the team is going stir-crazy while Reed tries to cure them, so Johnny sets about pranking the Thing in classic ‘shaving cream in one hand, then tickling the face’ fashion):
It’s simple, it’s classic, and the joy of Chris Evan’s reaction captures the mood and tone of the team. This is the Fantastic Four. Hopefully next time we see them on screen, they’ll feel more like themselves again.
People of the internet! Megan Miles and I have launched a brand new podcast where we delve deep into sequels!
Join us as we explore…
-Continuity: Does the sequel respect the original?
-What Did We Want in a Sequel?
-What Did They Give Us?
-What Did We Love? Hate? Begrudgingly accept?
-Does the Cheese Stand Alone? (Or is it entirely reliant on the previous film?)
And finally, we ask the big question:
Did we actually want more???
A new, weekly podcast! We begin with a return to the pirating antics of Captain Jack Sparrow in…
Here’s a little festive collaboration between myself and the me of 2011 (who on December 24th ALSO tried to write this and didn’t quite make it all the way through. He also didn’t have a rockin’ cool beard, but he was still a pretty cool dude.) It’s about Santa and some zombies. Apologies for the occasionally wonky rhyming scheme. Best of the season! -Tom
‘Twas The Night of the Living Dead Before Christmas
A Festive Zombie Tale by Tom McGee
’twas the night before Christmas and all through the town,
Not a creature was stirring, neither to smile nor to frown.
As he made his way across the cloudless starry night,
Santa Claus in his sleigh felt ill at ease; something just was not right.
Landing atop the first rooftop with care,
He unsaddled his bag and shook out his hair.
There is a strange scent to the breeze tonight, he thought,
As he checked his list to make sure no child was forgot.
Only two urchins at this place, he nodded and grinned
An easy start to a night he had hardly begin’d.
Down through the chimneys he flew like a flash,
Appearing next to the Christmas tree’s ample gift stash.
Digging into his bag for loot and for cheer,
He didn’t exactly notice the first zombie appear.
As Santa placed a CD dubbed “Nickelback” in bad Timmy’s stocking,
The creature shambled forward, a fat, red-suited meal he was stalking.
But then Santa heard it, the dragging and groans,
He wondered if it was Timmy, here to atone.
“Too late, young man.” He said, not looking up, “You should have been nicer all of the year,
But since coal is so damn expensive now you get this: here!”
And as he thrust out the disk, the zombie did sway,
Poor Santa Claus just couldn’t give those damned Nickelback CDs away.
“Brains!” the beast cried with all of its might,
And only then did Santa realize he was in for a fight.
“Wait a minute!” Santa exclaimed, noticing its slack jaw,
“You’re one of them zombies from that show that I saw!”
But the creature said nothing, not seeming to care,
Wherever zombies come from, they don’t have AMC there.
“Well shit,” muttered Santa, uttering a rare Christmas curse,
(Though horror fans know: only zombies? Santa could have done worse!)
The creature lurched forth, tongue wagging to-and-fro,
Santa straightened himself up and uttered an Ash-like, “Let’s go.”
He began with a jolly old shove of his hand;
Decapitation by terrible, multi-platinum selling album was the plan.
The CD case hit, full of aplomb and of grace,
As Santa stabbed the stupid zombie right in his stupid zombie face.
And with that hit the creature released such a howl,
CD cases sometimes turn out to be as powerful as trowels.
“I hope that’s your brain!” Santa boomed with some glee,
“And that somewhere Bruce Campbell would be proud of me!”
Then Santa pulled back, with one great mittened fist,
But for all of his beginner’s luck, just then the zombie swayed, and Santa missed.
The fist flew wide and the zombie lurched,
Forcing Santa to fall back toward the fireplace…where a fire-poker was perched.
For not the first time, Santa thanked glory and grace,
That some people still had a real, honest-to-goodness fireplace.
As the zombie closed in, Santa grasped at the poker,
Wishing that along he had brought Walking Dead’s Michael Rooker.
Teeth gnashing, head bleeding, the zombie moved in,
If it still had the right tendons, that zombie would grin.
But lo and behold old St. Nick found the poker in his mitt,
And thus the poor zombie’s head Santa began to mercilessly hit.
And he hit it, and hit it, and hit it again…
Until finally Santa’s hundred-year-old-elf arm felt the strain.
Panting and sweating, Santa let the iron fall,
Muttering an action hero-ey “Merry Christmas to y’all.”
But since zombies are like cockroaches, so large in number,
Over to his bulging bag, Santa began to lumber.
For his night was not through, nor Christmas at all saved…
So Santa dragged out his best zombie-killing glaive.
He had meant it for Bruce, or maybe for Romero…
Oh well, Santa thought, there’s always to-marrow!
[…They can’t all be winners, folks.]
Then with a finger to his nose up the chimney he flew,
The halls to deck with the zombies he slew.
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his works,
And filled all the stockings with dead zombie jerks.
Up and down the lane-way he went,
And from nave to chaps, the zombies he rent:
The Wilsons’, the Davis’, the Ferguson’s, and more,
He killed each and every zombie; through their corpses he tore.
When finally, blood-soaked, from head down to toe,
He arrived at the house of a fella named Moe.
“Dammit, Santa!” Moe yelled from his porch, “Where ya been?
I’ve already killed fifty-five fucking zombies…what a scene!”
And to this the gore-soaked Santa merely sighed,
“I’m Santa Claus, motherfucker, and I just re-killed everyone who has ever died.”
Moe had not considered this horrible task,
But he still had one thing more of Santa to ask.
“Fair enough, Mr. Claus, and I’m sorry to ask, it’s true,
But you don’t happen to have a zombie cure in that sack, do you?”
And at that very moment, Santa had such a fright,
For it was then that he saw Moe’s infected zombie bite.
“I’m sorry, dear Moe,” Santa said with a frown,
“You’re on my nice list, only forty five names down;
“And whilst my gift this year might seem as though I’ve lost track…
My gift for you, dear Moe, is to make sure you don’t come back.”
And with that, Santa sank his blade deep in Moe’s forehead,
Ensuring that no more zombies would rise before bed.
With a satisfied nod, Santa stowed his weapon away,
Having learned a double meaning of the term ‘to sleigh.’
He’d left a path of destruction both wide and deep,
And now was the hour that he could safely head off to sleep.
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like a festive heat-seeking missile.
It had not been the Silent Night that he’d thought,
Nor did he deliver all the presents (that all the parents had bought),
But dammit, he thought, this was a Christmas for the ages,
A zombie slaying Christmas for the history pages.
He’d fought the good fight and killed all the ghouls-
Would that he could have stopped those Umbrella Corp. fools!
But what was done was done, and indeed so was he,
After placing a decapitated head atop the gore-soaked tree.
And to the twice-dead zombie horde he yelled ‘ere he drove out of sight,
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good zombie-free night!”
Apologies about the formatting, will fix tonight!
The Mr. Spock on my streetcar is violating the Prime Directive several times over.
Rather than the clever combo of a fisherman’s cap to cover the ears and awkward
racial commentary to cover the eyebrows and eyes, which has been used to great effect
in past to hide the presence of an alien on 21st Century, pre-First Contact Earth, he’s
just hanging out. Hanging out and playing Candy Crush on what must seem to Vulcan
eyes to be a hopelessly outdated piece of technology.
I guess he ran out of game time, though, because he swears most un-Vulcanly and
makes a phone call. I guess he missed the whole ‘A Vulcan will show no emotion’ part
of his education (or he was in the heat of Ponn Farr. It’s hard to tell, sometimes.)
We’re getting off at the same stop, so I flash him a ‘Live Long and Prosper.’
He gives me the finger.
If I can find a working communicator at Fan Expo this year, I’m totally going to report
him to Starfleet. Maybe it’ll lead to one of those awesome court martial episodes, where
Kirk has to defend him to a by-the-book admiral.
It’s a fitting start to Fan Expo 2013.
Every year, I make a pilgrimage of sorts to the sweaty, crowded, and infinitely
nerdy (and hallowed) halls of Fan Expo. For the uninitiated, Fan Expo serves as
Toronto’s largest pop culture event; serving the fervent fandoms of film, TV, horror, sci
fi, comics, anime, video games, super heroes, fantasy characters, and collectors (and,
most bizarrely this year, sports fans). The Metro Convention Centre is now entirely
consumed by the event, which has spread across both the north and south buildings
and hosts hundreds fans and celebrities every year.
For many, Fan Expo is about costumes (and indeed some Cosplayers work all year
on elaborate costumes; I have seen some who never enter the Expo itself, instead
installing themselves at the foot of the escalator for adoration and photo ops) or about
scoring rare merch (or in some cases, hilariously nostalgic merch…I saw the mint
condition, unopened Ghostbusters firehouse I spent countless hours playing with going
for $400 today. Glad I still have -and played with- mine). It’s often an orgy of spending
But for me, this is my writer’s retreat; this is where I go to hear my favourite authors,
actors, directors, and effects people unfold their craft. To hear stories from people who
I respect and admire about struggling with writer’s block, or to find acting work.
It’s a reminder that every nerd icon started out (and often still is) just a fan with big
ideas and the ability and perseverance to follow through on them.
The gorgeous women in skin-tight nerd costumes don’t hurt either.
So here I am, embarking once more unto the nerd breach to be inspired, revitalized,
and to nerd right the frak out,
…and also, to have my patience tested by anime fans wearing 6′ wide metal wings
who give exactly zero fucks about crowd control, and nerds with delusions of grandeur,
who really really want to talk at their favourite celebrity while a room of 200 people
wishes a speedy and efficient death upon them.
Game on, Fan Expo.
Fan Expo begins, as is traditional, with a massive ticketing clusterfuck.
Hobby Star, the fine people behind Fan Expo, make a yearly habit of under-estimating
just how many people are coming and -perhaps more importantly- how irate people in
fully leather costumes get when waiting in line.
Ain’t no rage like a nerd rage.
Following the signs to tickets, I blare the Pirates of the Caribbean theme (cuz
I’m cool like that, savy?) which quickly proves to be both highly anti-climactic, though
strangely appropriate. As I am continually rebuked (“No, you need to go down the
street, past Steamwhistle, to a mysterious parking garage.” “No, you have a premium
pass, that’s the north building.” “Oh, that’s actually just your receipt. You had to
click ‘1 of 1’ to open your ticket, then print that.”). Anti-climactic, because by this point
I had played the song four times (each time leading to another dead end, despite my
determination to the contrary). Strangely appropriate, because if viewed from afar, I
was the determined looking guy marching back and forth futility in a highly Captain Jack
Rum would have helped, mind. Why is the rum always gone…?
But finally, I had my printed ticket in hand (leaving my fiancé in line for the shady
underground parking garage, which over my time away had somehow turned into a line
of infinite sadness.)
What followed, was an almost perfect re-enactment of the ‘Jerry gets upgraded to
first class, Elaine does not’ episode of Seinfeld. I arrived to a short line to pick up my
Premium pass (behind an aggravatingly dense nerd in a suit, who repeatedly asked the
ticket lady -who was in the process of giving him his wristband- if she could get him his
ticket. Entitled Suit Nerd earned the coveted position of ‘First Punchable,’ which refers
to the list I will be running of people I want to punch at the Expo.). Got my pass and a
nice, quiet priority entrance, bypassing the frustrated masses (the fiancé, at this point,
was exactly where I left her, as they were processing same day purchases with the
majority of their windows, leaving only one for fools who want to buy a day in advance.)
We premium pass holders get in two hours early, so I was able to take in the sights of
the Expo at my leisure and scoop up a long sought after graphic novel (only to realize I
was a rube minutes later when I found it for my $25 purchase for $4 elsewhere.)
My fiancé, meanwhile, still languished in line.
Then I went to the Premium Lounge. Now, this is a lounge in the most rudimentary
sense; it’s a big fucking subterranean room with a bunch of round tables, but dammit,
it’s our room. (I had secretly hoped to be served drinks by R2-D2 while Slave Leias
danced to Cantina music…but I guess that’s the separate VIP lounge…). I even got to
watch some plebeians kicked out by the awkward 15-year old who was handing out our
premium loot bags. Bwahahaha! Nerd privilege.
The fiancé, by this point, had finally been told a second window had opened, only to
be told by said window that they were only selling same day tickets and to get back in
line for other tickets. This led to a verbal sparring match the likes of which…
Who am I kidding. The nerds revolted and the poor site manager sold them their
Nevertheless, I was feeling pretty happy with the premium tickets by this point. I kept
this to myself.
If you’ve never been, here’s the sight that greets you when you finally pass all the
hurdles and make it to the hall.
PHOTO COMING SOON
The space is roughly divided into a large retail space (in turn sub-divided into comics,
collectables, and costumes), Artist’s Alley which is an incredible place to find some truly
beautiful art or purchase commissions from a favorite comic artist (and responsible for
the majority of the art in my apartment), and large demo areas for new video games and
film memorabilia/displays. Present in this space, one finds horror, sci fi, comics, anime,
and some gaming. There is also a food court, with a surprising amount of options (a far
cry from the ALL PIZZA PIZZA, ALL THE TIME philosophy of years gone by).
In the hallway, smaller rooms are reserved for screenings, games, seminars, and
Q&A’s (which are the core of my experience). This year, the festival wisely spread into
the second convention hall building, moving the celebrity signings and big guests into
the larger space. This also allowed for the addition of perhaps the largest ‘times they
are a-changing’ section of the Expo: the sports section. Was a time nerds and sports
fans were oil and water; now we’re sharing wristbands.
All of this was before me, as I entered the Expo…but Thursday is new and a bit slow. I
picked a couple events and made my way…
SKETCH DUEL, LEE BERMEJO VS RYAN STEGMAN
This is a unique and often under-attended event at Fan Expo and one that only
came to my attention last year (when I had been following comics enough to actually
appreciate who these people were).
The concept is a neat one: two or three artists are given an hour to draw a character
picked by the audience live, while answering questions from the audience. At the
end of the hour, the two drawings are given away by raffle. It’s an incredible way to
score some free work from top artists while also getting a peak at their process and
personality. Unfortunately, due to the time constraints, the process often proves more
enlightening than the forced responses to questions that are really only distracting them
from what they are doing, but it’s a cool process nevertheless.
The two I wanted to see are a couple of my favorites, though their styled wildly differ.
Bermejo is the artist behind Joker, Luthor, and most recently Batman: Noel, with an
incredibly detailed, almost oil painting style (which he admits is heavily influenced by
Norman Rockwell, which was a revelatory ‘THAT’S what it reminds me of’ gasp from
me). Stegman, on the other hand is a regular artist on my favourite Spider-Man comic,
using a much more cartoony style influenced heavily by Todd MacFarlane’s runs on
Spider-Man and Spawn.
One of my favourite parts of such duels is the chance to see artists draw someone
they never do (I saw the incredible Amanda Conner draw a mash-up of Daenerys
Targaryen and Marvel’s Squirrel Girl. Which was awesome beyond explanation).
This year, the requests were Lex Luthor holding Krytonite (easy for Bermjo, who did a
whole book on Luthor), Hawkeye, ‘a totally legit’ Aquaman, Dr. Who (shot down by both
artists), and finally Spider-Man as requested by an adorable little dude holding a Spidey
Stegman applauded this, so it was chosen, which is a bit of a bummer, since we see
his Spidey on a bi-monthly basis, but nevertheless the two drew awesome Spider-Men.
Part of the problem with interviewing visual artists as they work is that they often aren’t
that talkative to begin with, let alone when working. The conversation was fairly stilted,
though there were a few awesome moments between the artists, where they spoke
about each other’s work, and a great anecdote from Stegman about finding out the
entire top secret arc about Doc Ock taking over as Spider-Man from the writer Dan Slott
in a pizza place during a comic expo, where basically the scoop of the year was being
loudly discussed but went entirely unnoticed.
The end results went, improbably, to 395914 and 395915 (who were dour and moody
in victory), but were all made worthwhile by the little suggestion dude, who literally
gasped in awe when the image was displayed, “It’s Spidey!’
There isn’t a lot at these expos just for kids, but in a lot of ways, this duel was. And
There were a bunch of highly specific comic nerd things that came up during this, that
I have neglected to mention, but if you’re interested, let me know and I’ll give you the
HOLY SHIT, IT’S STAN LEE.
I got chills when Stan Lee strode epically onto the stage. At 92, the man has more
energy and wonder in him than half of audience (I’m looking at you, jaded asshole
circling his guidebook instead of listening). The man is a legend, having created
Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four, the X-Men, the Hulk, Iron Man, Black Panther, Doctor
Strange, and countless others. Particularly since the advent of the Marvel film universe,
the man’s creations have had an incredible and lasting effect on popular culture and
seeing the legend in the flesh was damn inspiring.
Stan is basically a cross between a kindly, eccentric, elderly uncle and an old-timey
vaudevillian showman. He is unabashedly honest about the real driving force behind
all of his greatest creation being financial (“It was my job. I had to come up with super
heroes or I’d get fired. Your boss says come up with a super hero, you damn well
better come up with a super hero.”), but is also so proud of the stories he’s told that
he practically glows. His voice, if you haven’t heard it, bares a striking resemblance to
George Carlin’s, though with a twinkle in his eye and constant sense of bemusement,
that the gruffer more cynical Carlin lacked.
He is also full of quips and glee, handling many questions with a flippant remark and
a shrug (among the best: “I wasn’t in Wolverine because it was shot in Australia and
it was too far to swim,” Question: “You’re 92, what’s your secret for living so long?”
Answer: “Don’t die.”)
But the true brilliance of Stan Lee lies in his simple, clean understanding of how to tell
a super hero story. He speaks of giving legendary artists Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko
the story, without dialogue, which he broke down into: the story, who the villain was,
what the villain was doing, how the hero would stop them, and the ending. Reflecting
on older comics, this model is everywhere and helped shape and define the genre. Its
a useful, reductionist attitude for a writer like myself who is generally insistent on wildly
over complicating my outlines.
I also found it found particularly interesting that Stan would only add dialogue after
receiving the art, to ensure that it synced up perfectly with the images (unimaginable in
the industry today, where scripts often resemble film scripts). This proved particularly
useful when Kirby added a random naked silver guy on a surf board to a panel involving
Galactus, since he thought a world eating super alien ought to have a sentinel that
would scout worlds for him. By accident, the Silver Surfer was born.
In his creation, Stan talks about looking at what hasn’t (or hadn’t) been done.
Spider-Man was born of a lack of teenage heroes and heroes with problems (quoteth
Stan “Superman’s biggest problem was that if he took off his glasses, everyone would
know he was Superman or some damn thing.”). Even this was too revolutionary for his
editor who killed the idea stating that people hated spiders, teenagers could only be
sidekicks, and that super heroes didn’t have problems because they were super heroes;
so Stan dumped it on the final issue of a dying book (Amazing Fantasy) and after wildly
successful sales, Spider-Man got his own book. But he’s always looking to fill a gap
which has led to some awesome, awesome characters.
Iron Man, for instance, was born of the idea of taking a character no one liked and
making him likeable. In the height of the 60s, he took all the things his audience hated
-the military industrial complex, wealth, capitalism- and combined them into Tony Stark
(who he based on Howard Hughes, a fact so obvious it has become obscure again).
The response from smitten female readers was through the roof. It was yet another
successful gamble (and he could not be more about Robert Downey Jr as Iron Man.)
When pressed to pick a favourite, he begrudgingly goes with Spider-Man (his Mickey
Mouse), but loves them all. At Expos like this, you sometimes see indifference to things
people created or starred as, but Stan Lee lights up naming all of his characters. He
absolutely loves them, which is inspiring and truly touching. I suspect he loves these
heroes as much as we do.
“I’m my own biggest fan,” he grins.
And he leaves us with one final tidbit, which I think might be a Q&A first for him since
it came so far off the cuff, but he admitted that he has a terrible time with names in life
and writing, so almost all of his characters have the same letter begin their first and last
name (Bruce Banner, Reed Richards, Sue Storm, Peter Parker, Matt Murdock, Scott
Summers, Stephen Strange, Warren Worthington, Otto Octavious, Dr. Doom, Green
Goblin…) because he could use the letter of their first or last name to spark his memory
for the other name.
As a fan and a writer, there are few more inspiring things than seeing someone who
has created all these wonderfully arresting things, still be as excited about them as you
are; and when he left the stage yelling his trademark “Excelsior!” You can’t help but be
the true believer he always called you in the narration boxes of his comics.