Tagged: Lone Ranger

Mike Gold: Polishing Icons

lone-rangergreen-hornet-1There was a time when it was generally perceived that iconic heroic fantasy characters such as The Lone Ranger, The Green Hornet, The Shadow and Buck Rogers were so popular for so long that they would be around forever. I think of that whenever somebody alleges Superman and Spider-Man will be around forever. Times change, as do our cultural predilections and venues.

Nonetheless, those heroes have become part of our cultural fabric. Most Americans (at least) who have neither read, seen, nor heard the adventures of these characters have heard their names and have some vague idea of their modus operandi. Just as DC Entertainment has kept Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman “alive” through their comic books while merchandisers and movie producers such as Michael Uslan could enhance their visibility through their more profitable endeavors.

Right now all of the retired heroic fantasy characters I mentioned above are being kept alive by our friends at Dynamite Entertainment, along with such other icons as John Carter, Vampirella, Flash Gordon, and Zorro. I can’t say I’ve read all of these comics as, sadly, I must take time out for eating, sleeping, and the time-consuming effort of trying to catch up with my TiVo. But I have a thing for iconic characters so I’ve read a whole lot of them, most recently the just-completed five-part Lone Ranger / Green Hornet crossover.

This series takes the opportunity to flesh in one of the most interesting concepts in American heroic fantasy. The Lone Ranger was created in 1933 at Detroit radio station WXYZ (Detroit) radio station by station owner George W. Trendle and/or staff writer Fran Striker, accounts differ. A half-dozen Texas Rangers were ambushed by the Butch Cavendish gang, who slaughtered five of the group and were under the impression they killed all six. The Ranger-in-charge, Captain Daniel Reid, was killed but his brother John (a retconned first name) survived and he took upon himself the name and identity of The Lone Ranger.

lone-rangergreen-hornet-2The radio show was so successful that Trendle launched a contemporary themed character named The Green Hornet. It was a modern-time version of The Lone Ranger in all respects: John’s horse Silver was replaced by a car called the Black Beauty, sidekick Tonto was replaced by sidekick Kato, and masked man John Reid was replaced by masked man Britt Reid.

You might have noticed a similarity there. Britt Reid was the grandson of Captain Dan Reid, which means he was John Reid’s grandnephew. Explained in a trio of radio programs after World War II, this was a truly rare and exciting continuity event for its time.

If you do the math and you keep the Green Hornet in his original milieu, it is possible that a rather healthy John Reid could have met his grandnephew and, within a stretch of reason, could have teamed up with his younger relative.

Or so thought comics writer Michael Uslan, who I already noted is a movie producer. He happens to a producer of all the Batman films made over the several decades. But Michael started out (so to speak) as a comic book writer, and has repeatedly proven himself to be one of the best. Our loss has been the movie industry’s gain, and somebody at Marvel Studios owes him one hell of a nice meal.

Michael remains a geek culture expert and a historian, so taking on the Lone Ranger and the Green Hornet allows him the opportunity to dive deep into the waters of comics continuity as well as American history. As he has in past projects, Michael explains the historical links in the back of each issue. I’ve been trying to catch him in a mistake for a long, long time. It’s futile, but I can’t help it. I share his love of American cultural history, and I admire his work.

It’s fun to read this ultimate “What If” story. Artist Giovanni Timpano is certainly worthy of the effort; drawing them horses in the big city landscape ain’t easy. The five-part Lone Ranger / Green Hornet crossover is a good solid comic book story, even for those who could care less about the iconic status of its stars.

But if you do care, it’s even better.

Dennis O’Neil: The Boys Who Film Batman

Boy Who Loved BatmanMessrs. Pisani and Uslan, step into the spotlight, center stage and take a bow!

But before we deliver the plaudits, we should perhaps tell you who they are. Of course most of you already know, but there are always a few… well, I don’t want to call them “retards” because that is not politically correct and a crummy thing to say besides, so let’s just identify them as folk who choose not to mingle either physically or intellectually (by acquiring new information) and thus may not be acquainted with the existence of the gentlemen named above.

Mike Uslan is the possessor of the world’s only doctorate in comics, He is a professor at his alma mater, Indiana University, the recipient of a Daytime Emmy, a writer who once worked at DC Comics and he has a producer credit on every Batman movie released since 1989. (For more information, see Mike’s autobiography, The Boy Who Loved Batman, available from Amazon and other book stores.) Trust me – I could go on.

I don’t know exactly how to identify Ken Pisani. I met him a decade or so ago when Marifran, a camera guy, and sound guy and I joined him on a cavernous sound stage in lower Manhattan. The occasion was Ken’s interviewing me for a History Channel documentary on comics. The interview was extraordinarily good and Ken and his lovely wife Amanda have been friends ever since. I’d like to see Ken’s resume because I’m pretty sure he’s done a lot I’m not aware of – he does keep busy being a TV producer, a comic book writer/creator, a screenwriter, a novelist, an art director, a cartoonist…once upon a time, he even worked for Phil Seuling, the man who virtually invented the comic book direct sales market. Amanda knows the full catalog of Ken’s accomplishments. I, alas, do not.

Anyway, that’s Mike and Ken, and I hope they’re taking that bow.

The reason I mention them now is that Ken recently sent me some DVDs from a TV series that ran on Turner’s movie channel. The subject under discussion was the relationship of comic book to early movie serials. The format was the master of ceremonies talking with the comics expert who was – aw, you guessed it – our own Mike Uslan. After a few minutes informative conversation the MC screened two chapters of the serial we’d just heard Mike commenting on. The shows were educational and entertaining – more feathers for the Uslan cap – and they may have taught us comics geeks stuff that we didn’t know. This kind of historical background may not help us do stories, us creator types – I really haven’t decided about that – but it’s kind of nifty to know it.

By the way, in case you’re really out of touch… movie serials were short films shown with main features telling a story over 12 to 15 chapters, each chapter ending with the hero or other good guy in some kind in some kind of horrible quandary. The idea was, you’d return the following week to see how the hero escapes the quandary. Theoretically, you could return to see the hero squashed like a bug, but I don’t think that ever happened. At least, Mike didn’t mention it.

(Editor’s Addendum: Mr. Uslan has been back at writing comics every once in a while, and once again has given us some of the best stuff on the racks. His six-part Lone Ranger / Green Hornet series will be released by Dynamite Comics in July.)

John Ostrander: Walking Tall On the Small Screen

I was not always a big fan of Westerns. My knowledge/memory of them were largely drawn from TV shows of my childhood – and not always the best ones. They were dominated by The Lone Ranger, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry (although I was never a big Autry fan) and shows like them. Westerns dominated TV in those days in ways that I don’t think any genre dominates any more.

It was my late wife, Kimberly Yale, who really schooled me in movie Westerns and the difference between a John Ford Western, ones by Howard Hawks, and Budd Boetticher’s Westerns. I finally learned and grasped what powerful movies they were, Just a few years ago, I got to see John Ford’s masterpiece The Searchers on the big screen and it was only then that I really understood how powerful it was and why its star, John Wayne, was such an icon. In the close-ups, where Wayne’s face is two stories high, he seems like a figure off Mount Rushmore. And the famous final shot, where his character is framed by a closing door, is haunting. It’s also interesting to note that both here and in Howard Hawks’ Red River he plays something of a bastard.

It’s only been in recent years that I’ve returned to some of the Western TV shows and rediscovered them. What I discovered was some very good writing and acting, especially in the half hour shows. Have Gun, Will Travel, starring Richard Boone, featured him as a traveling gunslinger, Paladin, and a memorable and haunting title song. Wanted: Dead or Alive starred a young Steve McQueen right around the time that he broke out in films in The Magnificent Seven.

Of all of them, my favorite discovery has been The Rifleman starring Chuck Connors. Connors was a 6’6” former athlete, playing basketball for the Celtics and baseball for the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Chicago Cubs. In the show he played Lucas McCain, a homesteader who was fast with a special rapid fire Winchester. McCain was a widower although he had a son, played by Johnny Crawford. His best friend was the Marshall of the town of North Fork, Micah Torrance, played by Paul Fix. (Trivia note: Mary and I so liked the name “Micah” that we gave it to one of our cats.)

The show was also a proving ground for actors, writers, and directors who would later go on to other things. Sam Peckinpah directed several episodes and wrote a few, too. Budd Boetticher directed an episode, as did Ida Lupino. Richard Donner, who would later direct the first Superman movie with Christopher Reeve, directed seven episodes.

A number of famous (or to be famous later) actors also appeared – Agnes Moorehead did a turn, as did Martin Landau, Buddy Hackett, and Harry Dean Stanton. Sammy David Jr. acted in the series twice, once as a gunslinger. There was a time that I would have questioned the probability of that but my later researches into the history of the West revealed that there were a number of black gunslingers in the Wild West.

Connors was a better actor than I remembered and the stories were varied and almost always interesting. His Lucas McCain was a stern father but a loving one and usually reluctant to be drawn into a fight. The stories weren’t the simple good/bad confrontations I knew from shows like Roy Rogers. The characters were more complex which made the stories more interesting.

You can catch the shows on DVD and I would guess on Netflix or Hulu. They’re worth a shot. So to speak.


The Law Is A Ass

Bob Ingersoll: The Law Is A Ass #329: THE LONE RANGER RAINS IN THE LYNCH MOB

tumblr_mvv6jfObOq1ssmbizo1_500The answer to the legal question posed in The Lone Ranger v 2 # 22 is: I don’t know, either.

There, that was short and sweet. I answered the question, so we can all move on to other things. Me, I’ve got Baseball playoff games to watch. And you…

And you, you’re not satisfied.

Okay, guess it’s time to make a short story long.

The Lone Ranger v 2 # 22 “Rainmaker.” It started in 1870 in a “rural town at the edge of what would become the Oklahoma Territory.” Actually, it started quite a bit earlier. It started whenever the drought started; however many weeks, months, or years that was. The drought which turned the earth dry, killing the crops and the cattle of this rural town alike.

It started because the good people of this rural town were so desperate for the saving rain that they paid an elderly Indian woman who claimed to be a rainmaker a small fortune in gold. She promised that, if paid, she would do a rain dance and it would rain. They paid. She danced.

It didn’t rain.

Not that day. Not the next. Or the day after.

Eight days later the town didn’t love her. It still hadn’t rained and the people were up in arms, although for a western town in 1870, surprisingly few of them were armed. The townspeople believed they had been cheated, swindled, their money stolen by a fraud. They tracked the old rainmaker down, brought her back to town, and were getting set to lynch her.

That’s when the Lone Ranger and Tonto stepped in. Or rode in. When the third most important character in your series is, “a fiery horse with the speed of light,” named Silver, you don’t step into a story. You ride.

The Ranger stopped the lynching and then he, Tonto, and the local sheriff took the old woman off to the local jail. Because where else is the local sheriff going to take her? Sing Sing was out of his local jurisdiction. Alcatraz was still a military prison in 1870. And Shawshank was, well take your pick; not built yet, in Maine, or entirely fictitious.

The Lone Ranger and the Sheriff talked about the situation and basically spend pages six, through eight telling each other and the readers the same stuff that they and we had already learned in pages one through five. The town paid the woman money for a dance guaranteed to bring rain and it didn’t rain. (See, I can do it, too.) The Ranger asked, “Sheriff has a law been broken?” and the Sheriff answered, “Well … hell I don’t know.”

And, as I said back when I was trying to make this column like a stack of two pancakes – short and sweet – neither do I.

Why don’t I know? Because I have no idea what laws existed in some rural town at the edge of what would become the Oklahoma Territory back in 1870, that’s why. Can I conjecture? Sure, I can take the fairly standard elements of criminal fraud as they exist today, pretend that whatever law existed back in 1870 was similar, and go from there. It won’t do any good, but I can do it.

Still, as I’ve already blown my hope of making this my shortest column ever, I might as well. Just be warned, it won’t do any good.

Criminal fraud consists of five basic elements. They are that a person 1) made a false statement of a material fact, 2) knowing that the statement was untrue, 3) with the intent to deceive the victim, 4) into relying on the false statement, 5) resulting in some injury – physical or financial – to the victim. Some of the elements are easy to deal with. So let’s deal with them easily.

The townspeople did rely on the rainmaker’s promises of rain and they paid her money to dance and produce rain. So far it hadn’t rained. Those would satisfy elements four and five, reliance and injury. If elements one, two, and three were also met, we’d have a criminal fraud. So were elements one, two, and three met? I don’t know. That’s why my applying the elements of the present day crime of criminal fraud to our story won’t help. I have no idea about those first three elements.

Oh, we know the old woman made a statement of a material fact. She said if she were paid she would dance and it would rain. But in order for it to be criminal fraud, it would have to be a false statement. And the rainmaker would have to know it was a false statement.

Let’s suppose, for example, your buddy Bernie  made off with some other peoples’ money – a boatload of money; hell, an Exxon Valdez load of money — in a fraudulent Ponzi scheme. Bernie was promising huge monetary returns, if people gave him their money to invest for them then pocketing much of it. Now I know we’re not supposed to suppose, but let’s further suppose that you honestly believed what Bernie was telling people was true and you convinced new investors to join Bernie’s wealth management fund by repeating Bernie’s material misrepresentations. In that case, would you be guilty of fraud making false statements that bilked people of their money?


You may have made false statements, but you did not commit criminal fraud, because you believed the statements were true. To be guilty of criminal fraud, a person must make the false statements while knowing that they’re false. If the person mistakenly believes the statements are true, even though they’re false, then the person has not committed criminal fraud. Oh the person may have committed some tortuous negligence, but not criminal fraud.

Which brings us back to our story. Did the old woman knowingly make a false statement? Did she know her dance would not produce rain and was hoping she could get away before the town realized that soon it wasn’t going to rain? If so, then she made a false statement. If, however, she honestly believed her dance would produce rain, then she did not knowingly make a false statement and she didn’t commit criminal fraud.

So which kind of statement did she make? I don’t know. The story didn’t give us this information.

I do know this, later that night – eight and one-half days after the rainmaker danced her dance – it rained. The townspeople were satisfied and let the old woman leave with her life. And her money. So was she a fraud who just happened to luck out when it actually rained? Or was she a mystic of some kind, a rain king who hoofed like Ann Reinking and called the water out of the sky?

Like I said, I don’t know.

Which, I suppose, is a good thing. People call me a know-it-all. A lot. But now I have formal and printed proof that I ain’t.

Mike Gold: Will There Always Be Superman Comics?

Gold Art 131120Over a decade ago the head of what was then called Tribune Media Services told me that as far as the producer of the Little Orphan Annie musicals was concerned, he did not need the comic strip around in order to keep his Annie franchise successful. I responded, “Well, somebody’s figured out what Disney’s been up to.”

Walt Disney used to say that he always reminded people that the whole thing started out with a mouse. And to this very day – the 85th anniversary of the first Mickey Mouse cartoon was last Monday – Mickey has remained the (usually silent) Disney spokesmouse. So… riddle me this, Mousemen. Outside of a few direct-to-DVDs and a couple teevee shots, how many Mickey Mouse cartoons were made in the past 60 years?

There was not a single Mickey Mouse cartoon produced between 1953 and 1983. There’s been maybe four true Mickey cartoons produced since then, plus the short-lived House of Mouse show, some video games and a few cameos.

And tons of merchandising which, obviously, was not dependent upon the character’s presence on the large or the small screen.

Two of the biggest superhero characters of the 1930s through 1950s were The Shadow and The Lone Ranger. Both remain icons, but neither are vital forces in our cultural marketplace – despite what seems to have been a contest to see who could produce the worst Lone Ranger feature film. If this were, say, 1940, I suspect most people would say these guys would remain strong in one form or another for a long, long time. In The Shadow’s case, that would be until his radio show was cancelled on December 26, 1954. The Lone Ranger lasted on teevee until September 12, 1957; there was an animated series that ran for 28 episodes in the mid-60s.

So, I ask you: as a comic book, how long will Superman last? Or Spider-Man, or Batman, or the X-Men… you get the idea. In the 1940s, Superman was successful in comic books but even more successful as a radio series and a newspaper comic strip. The comic books were kept alive by the success of the Superman television series in the 1950s. National Periodical Publications, predecessor to DC Comics, didn’t need comic books to make a profit. In fact, if they didn’t own their own distribution network they might have canned the print operation when sales plummeted during the mid-50s.

Warner Bros. (DC comics) and Disney (Marvel comics) do not need the comic books in order to sell merchandising and produce movies and television shows, although producing good movies and teevee shows is always challenging.

The good folks at DC’s New York City office – including the vast majority of their editorial departments – have but a few more weeks to decide if they are going to move to Los Angeles in the spring of 2015. It’s a tough decision.

As a member of DC’s historical family, indulge me as I offer this piece of advise. If you want to move to Los Angeles, do so. But as soon as you get there, keep an eye out for other jobs. Warner Bros. and Disney do not need to publish comic books in order to keep their stockholders happy.

Just don’t tell them so.




Dennis O’Neil: The Obese Lone Ranger

O'Neil Art 130711I’m hungry. Gimme a plate. No, a bigger one. Bigger. Bigger! Big as a house, a stadium. Now, lemme eat. Eggs and cheese and pork chops and ice cream and popsicles and pickles and brownies and doughnuts and cake and candy and pies and french fries and hot dogs and hamburgers and cinnamon rolls and marshmallows jelly beans and and and…whatever else you got. Gimme!


…don’t feel so good…

And there he goes galloping off into financial ignominy. We, of course, refer to The Lone Ranger and our first paragraph was what we English majors call a “metaphor” – a very bloated metaphor – for what we think is mainly wrong with the much maligned entertainment of the same name.

It got greedy. It wanted too much.

It wanted to be an action blockbuster and a cowboy picture and a kiddie picture and a comedy and a tale of mythic heroism and a satire and, by making the title character a well-meaning doofus with a cruel streak and his Comanche sidekick the real hero, it wanted to acknowledge the shabby treatment Native Americans have often gotten from our popular culture. Go ahead – try to get all that into one movie, even a long one,

Pertinent digression: Back in the sixties, I read work by a journalist named Gene Marine who used the term “engineering mentality,” by which he meant the conviction that if we can build something, we should build it and piffle on the consequences. So we can put up this dam and let’s not bother ourselves with the fact that there may be other, cheaper ways to accomplish whatever this dam is supposed to accomplish without disrupting the environment for miles in every direction. Give a fella a huge budget and by golly he’ll do something with it.

The Lone Ranger had a huge budget.

It might have benefitted from a smaller one. With less money to spend, the film makers might have been forced to decide on exactly which movie they wanted to make and focused plot and action accordingly. Less might have been more.


A final item for all you conspiracy mavens out there: in the embryonic continuity that The Lone Ranger’s creators were devising way back in the 1930s and 40s, probably with no idea that they were doing so, the Lone Ranger had a descendant, Britt Reid, who rode a big car (instead of a big horse) and had an Asian sidekick (instead of Comanche sidekick) and wore a mask and, yes, fought crime. Now: a couple of years ago there was a Green Hornet movie in which the white dude is the klutz and his non-white partner is the real ass-kicker.

One of the Hornet movie’s production team said there wouldn’t be a sequel because of a disappointing ticket sales and the news media are full of the woeful information that The Lone Ranger bombed big time at the box office. Coincidence? You decide.

And one other thing: urp


FRIDAY MORNING: Martha Thomases


Marc Alan Fishman: OK WB, Now What?

Fishman Art 130622I’ve little to no doubt by the time I write this article everyone on this site, and every other comic-ish site will have weighed in on Man of Steel. For what it’s worth? I liked it a whole bunch. Disaster porn? Sure. The controversial ending? Made complete sense to me. And I’m not even a pessimist. I found the flick to be a popcorn chomping, scenery eating behemoth on par with Marvel’s Cap or Thor. Feel free to disagree with me. This li’l op-ed though isn’t about Man of Steel as much as it’s about what it means for DC in the near and not-so-near future.

The fact is the movie is making money. Good money. The most money to come in for the month of June in fact. And with no “big” weekend coming to theaters presumably until The Lone Ranger bombs, DC should be on the road now to adding some serious shekels to their calamitous coffers. Many nerds (myself included) all figured that all this time Marvel was running away with all the sick-movie profits. But let’s look at the tale of the tape:

According to Box Office Mojo: Iron Man 1 and 2, Captain America, Thor, The Incredible Hulk, and The Avengers totaled roughly 1.75 billion dollars domestically. In the same amount of time Nolan’s Batman franchise, Watchmen, The Losers, Jonah Hex, and Green Lantern earned 1.45 billion. All things considered? It’s not necessarily a run away gravy train for Mickey now is it?

We all know the old adage: war is won with a single battle. Man of Steel rights a train derailed with Green Lantern. The fact of the matter is in the last five years of blockbusters, Mickey was laying foundation while DC merely rented a timeshare. It’s no secret (especially if you read comic book movie news on the Internet) that the Brothers Warner wanted Man of Steel to be the initial volley towards a larger franchise universe of their own. It’s fair enough to consider the movie to be a success. So, what’s next?

We know there’s talks to get Supes back in the multiplex as soon as late next year. Unless they actually know how to reverse time by flying around the Earth though? Color me doubtful. And the rumor mill has also turned out gems like a possible Batman / Superman team up. Or a Justice League movie that will spin-out into single character franchises. I envision the execs over at the Warner lot looking at a pile of New 52 books, with a sweaty Dan DiDio and Geoff Johns (no doubt wearing a dunce cap over his Green Lantern: The Movie cap) doing their best to help them plan. And somewhere behind two-way glass, Christopher Nolan sits in his private Inception pod (yeah it’s a pod now) smugly scoffing.

Enough pussy-footing around. If the reigns were in my hands, I’d bank on what made Warner money. While every comic-classicist sharpens their knives I boldly say the unthinkable. If you made money going real and dark? Go real and dark. There was optimism, hope, and smiles to be had in Man of Steel. Seriously. If DC uses that at it’s base, and builds a Justice League that stands with Big Blue in their front court? Those are big shoulders to do it with. Add in Jospeh Gordon-Leavitt’s Batman (heresy!) and introduce the movie-going public to Flash, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and Cyborg? Well, it’ll sure give Whedon and his Bro-Vengers a little competition. Put the movie in the hands of a capable comic-inspired director. Say… Brad Bird. And if Nolan can assist in crafting a picture that isn’t just filler, quips, and a fifty minute fight sequence… you’ve got yourself the making of a real counter blow to the powerhouse mouse.

At the end of the day, Man of Steel was a solid start to a new beginning. While many our brethren ball their fists and curse at the wind, many others are finding a new take on a familiar face. I hope sincerely that DC and WB figure out what worked (Optimism. Confidence.) and what didn’t (Wanton destruction.) and use it to find solid footing on a new course. The world needs a Justice League movie. We need a great Wonder Woman franchise. They need a movie DCU. It’s time to look up, up, and away from the past and soar towards a more profitable future. And I for one will be looking forward to the movies.

Because you know, their comics sure ain’t doing it for me right now.*

*My apologies to Scott Snyder and Gail Simone who totally get a pass

SUNDAY: John Ostrander

MONDAY: Mindy Newell


New Lone Ranger Trailer Unveiled

New Lone Ranger Trailer Unveiled

So, in case you missed it, there’s a new Lone Ranger movie coming out in a few weeks. Walt Disney has released the final trailer to entice you into the theater. Just seeing Johnny Depp in that makeup should be enough, unless you prefer Armie Hammer in a mask.

From producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Gore Verbinski, the filmmaking team behind the blockbuster Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, comes Disney/Jerry Bruckheimer Films’ The Lone Ranger, a thrilling adventure infused with action and humor, in which the famed masked hero is brought to life through new eyes.  Native American warrior Tonto (Johnny Depp) recounts the untold tales that transformed John Reid (Armie Hammer), a man of the law, into a legend of justice—taking the audience on a runaway train of epic surprises and humorous friction as the two unlikely heroes must learn to work together and fight against greed and corruption.

The Lone Ranger also stars Tom Wilkinson, William Fichtner, Barry Pepper, James Badge Dale, Ruth Wilson and Helena Bonham Carter.

A Disney/Jerry Bruckheimer Films presentation, The Lone Ranger is directed by Gore Verbinski and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and Gore Verbinski, with screen story by Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio and Justin Haythe and screenplay by Justin Haythe and Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio. The Lone Ranger releases in U.S. theaters on July 3, 2013.

Mike Gold: U.N.C.L.E. S.H.I.E.L.D?

Gold Art 130515Hoo boy. My Uh-Oh sense is screaming its fool head off.

Here’s the inevitable backstory. In the late spring of 1965, Nick Fury Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. replaced The Human Torch in Marvel’s Strange Tales monthly. I liked the Human Torch in Fantastic Four, but this series was sadly second-rate. I also liked Nick Fury and his contemporary appearance in the just Big-Banged Marvel Universe. But I really loved the teevee series The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (damn; typing all those damn dots is gonna wear real thin) so the new Nick Fury was met with a minor adolescent fangasm.

Timing is everything. U.N.C.L.E. was just ending its first season, and the next two would suck the chrome off of a mid-sixties Buick. Over at Marvel, Stan and Jack were just warming up. A couple years later Jim Steranko would take S.H.I.E.L.D., and comics, to a whole ‘nother level. My feelings towards U.N.C.L.E. remained positive, but in a more hopeful sense. That hope actually paid off in the show’s final half-season, and the series remains iconographic to this day.

Meanwhile, S.H.I.E.L.D. became a critical part of the Marvel Universe – but attempts at maintaining it as an ongoing series proved unsuccessful. It attracted some great talent, but not great sales. I doubt most humans were aware of the organization until Iron Man 1 came along.

Maybe it was the success of the Marvel movies that finally got the Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie off the ground. I hope so, as that appeals to my sense of Cosmic Balance. Guy Richie is directing it, and Tom Cruise and Armie Hammer are starring as Napoleon Solo and Ilya Kuryakin, respectively.


I can’t say anything about Mr. Hammer except that his great-grandfather, Armand Hammer, became the world’s wealthiest man by selling lots of stuff to the Soviets. This appeals to my Cosmic Balance thing. Nonetheless, he is barely noticed in the trailers to the upcoming movie The Lone Ranger, in which he plays the lead but Johnny Depp plays the Star. But I can say a lot about Mr. Cruise.

Tom Cruise is, in my opinion, a good actor. Sometimes great. He stars as the continuing lead in the Mission: Impossible series. He stars as the continuing lead in the Jack Reacher series. In both series, as well as most of his movies I’ve seen, he doesn’t play the character, he makes the character Tom Cruise. That’s fine for M:I – his character is original, even though the series is not. But, as noted, I have a fondness for Napoleon Solo, the human being spy who kidnapped other human beings to engage them in adventures that even Alfred Hitchcock would find amazing. If the movie is called The Man From U.N.C.L.E., I want to see Solo on the screen and not Cruise.

I also have a fondness for S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Phil Coulson, who earned those feelings in a whole lotta recent Marvel movies. The same guy, Clark Gregg, is playing the character in the new teevee series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Perhaps that Cosmic Balance can be described by the old sawhorse “What goes around comes around.” But I gotta tell you, my fanboy reaction to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is one of great anticipation.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie? Not so much.

But I hope I’m wrong.

THURSDAY: Dennis O’Neil

FRIDAY: Martha Thomases


Dennis O’Neil: Much Ado About Iron Man

Iron-Man-II-Tony-StarkMaybe you’ve been on a vision quest in the Himalayas, or maybe you’ve just been in a coma, so I’ll try too negotiate the next few hundred words without dropping any spoilers. The subject is the movie that looks like it will be the summer’s monster, Iron Man 3, and by now, most of you have seen it, or are planning to see it, or have at least read reviews. As a lowly scribe who once wrote the Iron Man comic book – yes, kids, it was a comic book first – I might be expected to have an opinion about it and I do. But I did promise no spoilers and to state what I liked about it would probably constitute a spoiler…

What’s a fellow to do?

Go at the problem from another angle? Okay: What I did not like about the movie was all the kabooms. Lots and lots of fireworks. Big explosions. Then more big explosions. Hey, no elitism here: I understand the entertainment value of pyrotechnics and to complain about explosions in a film designed to be a summer blockbuster is kind of like attending the opera and bitching about all the screechy singing. But maybe a little moderation? I wearied of all the noise and shrapnel and flame coming at my 3D glasses. Enough was enough. Less might have been more. Anything stuffed down your throat will eventually make you gag.

There you have my major kvetch: the explosions.

I guess I could complain that the villain’s motivations could have been more thoroughly explained, but you might not agree. And if we got rid of a few explosions, the movie would have been been a tad shorter and that might have benefitted it. But none of this constitutes major inadequacy. You pay for your ticket and you get what you paid for, that special kind of summer respite that only happens in cool theaters on hot days. It has been significant pleasure in my life for some 40 years and it still is. (You think I’m not going to see The Man of Steel and The Wolverine and even The Lone Ranger when they grace the multiplex in a month or two? Ha!)

But superhero movies are maturing, as did westerns and badge operas and science fiction before them. While still delivering the spectacle and fantastic heroics that characterize the genre, they’re being put to other uses, too. They’re telling the kind of stories that help us define ourselves, which is something stories have always done. First, there was The Batman trilogy, which was, beneath all the swashbuckling, a tale of redemption.  Now, we have the Iron Man movies, which, if you squint a little, also constitute a trilogy and use the character of Tony Stark to…

Whoa! I promised no spoilers. So, if you haven’t already seen it, watch for the scene in which Tony mentions a cocoon and the shot of Tony standing on a cliff. They’ll tell you what I think the movie is really about.

FRIDAY: Martha Thomases

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman