Dennis O’Neil: The Mighty Marvel Movie
Hey there, true believer, when you book to the multiplex to see the new Thor flick, you won’t be seeing just a movie, or even just a superhero movie – you’ll be seeing a Marvel movie! And you’ll know it almost from the moment the feature begins to unreel. How? Easy! The word MARVEL will be splashed across the big screen, white letters against a red field – no point in being subtle, here. There may be references to other Marvel movies as the drama unfolds and, count on this, after the end credits – and you are going to stay for them, aren’t you? – there will be a brief final scene that hooks you into another Marvel movie! Or two, maybe.
Almost like it was all planned from the beginning, this creation of the Marvel brand, and in a way, it was. And by “beginning” I don’t mean…oh, say 2002, when Tobey McGuire put on the Spidey suit and began slinging webs. No, we’re referring to the 1960s when Stan Lee was busy revolutionizing the comic book biz. He once told me that he wanted everything Marvel to support everything else Marvel, and he made that happen, insofar as it could happen back in the dark ages. (No Internet? No smart phones? iPads? Google? Facebook? Not even – you gotta be kidding me! – fax machines?)
So Smilin’ Stan Lee created the Marvel Universe, a mirror image of our universe, but a universe not quite so beholden to life’s drearier realities – one in which superheroes could and did exist. Characters from one title popped up in another title and all the costume wearers seemed to know, or at least know of, each other. It was a cohesive fictional construct, this Marvel Universe, and it was given to us almost whimsically; footnotes and text pages and even cover copy emphasized fun and hinted that we didn’t have to take anything in a Marvel book too seriously. Y’know, just hunker down and enjoy. Oh, and you didn’t have much doubt that you were reading, not just a comic book, but a Marvel comic book.
The movie and television folk seem to have learned from the smilin’ one. They’ve taken Stan Lee’s paradigm, adapted it to their media, and achieved marketing success and, recently, a fair degree of artistic respectability. What Stan might call “the Marvel manner” has survived metamorphosis from cheap pulp magazine filler to the stuff of hugely elaborate and technologically sophisticated cinema.
Those cheap pulp magazines? Well, they’re not pulpy anymore and, let’s face it, not so darn cheap, either. But they’re still comic books – Marvel comic books. Somehow, the publishing arm of the Marvel empire has preserved some of its identity though decades of varying ownership and turnover of personnel in both the marketing and the editorial offices. And a lot of artists and writers, including your humble correspondent, have worked for and/or at both Marvel and its rival DC, and still at least a ghost of Stan Lee’s vision persists.
I haven’t mentioned Marvel’s television show, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Well, the lead character has mentioned his appearance in Marvel’s big screen Avengers and the word on the street is that S.H.I.E.L.D. will have some connection to the next Captain America flick. ‘Nuff said?
THURSDAY AFTERNOON: The Tweaks!
FRIDAY MORNING: Martha Thomases