content by

Keith R.A. DeCandido

Fiction and Excerpts [3]

Fiction and Excerpts [3]

“Don’t waste your life, Stark” — Iron Man

Iron Man was part of the huge first wave of superheroes co-created by Stan Lee in the early 1960s, in collaboration with a variety of artists, mainly Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, but also Bill Everett, Larry Lieber, and Don Heck.

While never a headliner in the Marvel Universe, ol’ ShellHead was always a major player at the very least. He was a founding member of the Avengers, a presence in a lot of stories as the inventor (or at least the owner of the company that invented) much of the Marvel Universe’s fancy tech, the financial backing of the Avengers, and the centerpiece of several major events in the comics, from the Kree-Skrull War to the Armor Wars to Operation: Galactic Storm to Civil War.

Since the movie rights to most of Marvel’s biggest names—Spider-Man, the X-Men, Daredevil, and the Fantastic Four—were already gobbled up by other studios, Marvel decided to focus their nascent Marvel Studios endeavor on the Avengers characters, starting with Iron Man.

[You stood by my side all these years while I reaped the benefits of destruction. Now that I’m trying to protect the people I’ve put in harm’s way, you’re going to walk out?]

Series: 4-Color to 35-Millimeter: The Great Superhero Movie Rewatch

Sons of Lei Kung, Daughters of the Dragon — Marvel’s Iron Fist Season Two

Two of the major supporting characters for Iron Fist from shortly after his debut in Marvel Premiere were Misty Knight—an ex-police detective with a bionic arm—and Colleen Wing—a sword-wielding martial artist. The pair of them teamed up as private investigators as Nightwing Restorations, and also have done the superhero thing as the Daughters of the Dragon.

In the Marvel Cinematic Universe (Netflix edition), Wing was introduced in Iron Fist, while Knight was introduced in Luke Cage, and where Danny Rand dated Knight in the comics, he falls into bed with Wing in his series, and they have remained a couple. Wing and Knight finally got thrown together in The Defenders (where Knight lost her arm) and they reunited for two glorious scenes in Luke Cage season two (where Knight got her bionic arm).

Then we have the middle episodes of Iron Fist season two and can we for the love of all that is good and noble in this world have a Daughters of the Dragon series PLEASE?????

[SPOILERS for Iron Fist season two]

“I used to hang out with a lot of losers” — Kick-Ass 2

Both the comic book and the movie Kick-Ass were successes, so each got a sequel. Mark Millar and John Romita Jr. did a more open-ended sequel to the original miniseries, which lasted seven issues, and followed it with a bridge between the two series, Hit Girl, which focused on the breakout character from the comic.

Matthew Vaughn returned to produce a sequel film based on those two new miniseries, tapping Jeff Wadlow to write and direct.

[This is not a comic book. This is real life! When you’re dead, it’s done. There’s no sequel.]

Series: 4-Color to 35-Millimeter: The Great Superhero Movie Rewatch

Punching Upward — First Impressions of Marvel’s Iron Fist Season Two

Wow, this is so much better.

I was not kind to Iron Fist season one when it aired, nor did it deserve it. Show-runner Scott Buck evinced no understanding of kung fu or martial arts in general, nor of the character that Marvel has been producing comics with since 1973, and then he doubled down by casting an actor with no martial arts experience whatsoever to play one of the greatest martial artists in the Marvel canon.

After that, the character appeared in The Defenders—where they leaned into his being a twerp—and an episode of Luke Cage season two—in which Finn Jones acted and sounded more like the Danny Rand I’ve been reading since I was a kid than he had anywhere else.

M. Raven Metzner took over the show-running duties with IF season two, and while I was a bit nervous that they were giving the show to the person who co-wrote the script for the Jennifer Garner Elektra movie, based on the first three episodes, things are looking considerably up.

[SPOILERS for the first three episodes of Iron Fist season two]

“With No Power Comes No Responsibility” — Kick-Ass

Mark Millar sold the film rights to his four-issue comic miniseries Kick-Ass before the first issue was even published, and before the miniseries, which was drawn by John Romita Jr., was completed.

Inspired by conversations Millar had with his friends as a teenager wondering why no one had ever tried to become a superhero in real life, Millar’s goal with Kick-Ass was to take those conversations and see what would happen if a kid decided to actually put that thought to an action. It’s pretty much what the original Nite Owl decided to do in the 1930s in Watchmen, except for the Internet age.

Millar’s comic and Matthew Vaughn’s film both were finished simultaneously, though both worked toward the same general ending.

[Like every serial killer already knew: eventually fantasizing just doesn’t do it for you anymore.]

Series: 4-Color to 35-Millimeter: The Great Superhero Movie Rewatch

A Brief History of Iron Fist in the Comics

In 1966, Masutatsu Oyama, the founder of Kyokushin—an Okinawan karate style that still exists and thrives today—sent one of his best students and teachers, Tadashi Nakamura, to New York City to bring karate to the United States. Nakamura was but one of many people who came from Asia to the United States to bring martial arts to a country that was growing ever-more curious about it. I mention him in particular because there’s a direct line from Oyama sending Nakamura to America and my own study of the martial arts. In 1976, Nakamura formed his own karate style, Seido, and one of his best students and teachers—William Oliver—formed his own in 2001, Kenshikai, and that’s the discipline that I study today.

The same year that Nakamura traveled to New York City to open a dojo here, a young man named Bruce Lee co-starred in a TV show called The Green Hornet. While the show only lasted a season, Lee’s impact was tremendous, and he quickly rose to prominence as an action star. Lee pioneered his own martial art, Jeet Kune Do, and he soon became immensely popular both in acting circles and martial arts circles. His tragic death in 1973 only served to enhance his legend. And it was in part because of that legend that Iron Fist was born.

[Read more]

Old Man Jackman — Logan

In 2008, Mark Millar and Steve McNiven did an eight-issue storyline in Wolverine’s solo book entitled “Old Man Logan,” riffing on an appearance by a future version of Logan that same year in Fantastic Four (also written by Millar). Postulating an alternate future where super-villains won and killed most heroes, the older Logan in a dystopia proved hugely popular, and he got his own title, and was brought into the present of the Marvel Universe after the present-day Logan was killed.

When Hugh Jackman and James Mangold sat down to figure out the third and final film in the Wolverine trilogy, Old Man Logan was a natural starting point.

[“He’s a friend of mine.” “A friend with a big mouth.” “I hear that a lot.”]

Series: 4-Color to 35-Millimeter: The Great Superhero Movie Rewatch

Big in Japan — The Wolverine

In the late 1970s, DC experimented with the notion of a limited series: a comics series that wasn’t an ongoing monthly or bimonthly, but had a set number of issues (usually four or six). The notion proved successful, and it wasn’t long before Marvel did the same, using the shorter-form to spotlight characters who might not have been able to support an ongoing (or who they wanted to test the possibility of an ongoing), or to tell a story that wouldn’t work in any particular monthly book. Now, of course, limited series are the most common form of comics storytelling, but it was brand new and very experimental forty years ago.

One of the first ones Marvel did was to team up two of their hottest talents—Uncanny X-Men writer Chris Claremont with the guy who revived Daredevil, Frank Miller—on the most popular member of the X-Men, Wolverine. This was in 1982, and the four-issue miniseries in question proved to be hugely successful. It remained one of the definitive Wolverine stories, one that has been riffed on, copied, and satirized hundreds of times since—up to and including being the basis of the 2013 movie The Wolverine.

[“How did you know there was a pool down there?” “I didn’t.”]

Series: 4-Color to 35-Millimeter: The Great Superhero Movie Rewatch

Weapon Blech — X-Men Origins: Wolverine

Wolverine was introduced in 1974 at the end of Incredible Hulk #180 by the late, great Len Wein & Herb Trimpe, inserting himself into a battle between the Hulk and the Wendigo. A Canadian secret agent, codenamed Weapon X, Wolverine spent issue #181 fighting both Hulk and Wendigo, failing to stop either one. A year later, Wein used him as part of his new team of X-Men introduced in Giant-Size X-Men #1, and he quickly became the most popular of those new characters; his combination of snotty-brawler personality, tendency to explosive violence, and mysterious past proved to be incredibly compelling, particularly in the hands of Wein’s successor, Chris Claremont, and his longtime collaborator, Canadian artist/co-plotter John Byrne. He became Marvel’s most popular character, matching, if not supplanting, Spider-Man as the company’s flagship hero in the latter two decades of the 20th century.

When the X-Men hit the big screen in 2000, the character did likewise for the growing series of X-films.

[“Are you Remy LeBeau?” “Do I owe you money?” “No.” “Then Remy LeBeau I am!”]

Series: 4-Color to 35-Millimeter: The Great Superhero Movie Rewatch

Reductio Ad Absurdum — Watchmen

Charlton Comics was never one of the heavy hitters of the comics industry, but the company had a long and respectable run as a publisher from the end of World War II until the early 1980s. They had a reputation as a “minor league” comics company, as a lot of people who became well regarded artists for Marvel and DC started out doing work for Charlton: Steve Ditko, Sal Trapani, John Byrne, Roger Stern, Denny O’Neil, Jim Aparo, Sam Grainger, Bob Layton, and Mike Zeck, among many others.

In response to both DC and Marvel reviving the superhero comic book in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Charlton created their own superhero line, including Captain Atom, Blue Beetle, the Question, the Peacemaker, Nightshade, and Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt. That line eventually petered out, and Charlton did mostly licensed comics in the 1970s.

This all relates to Watchmen, trust me.

[I used to be a masked avenger too, you know. I’m used to getting up at three in the morning and doing something stupid.]

Series: 4-Color to 35-Millimeter: The Great Superhero Movie Rewatch

“A vestige of the vox populi” — V for Vendetta

Warrior was a British anthology comic book in the 1980s edited by Dez Skinn and which rivaled 2000 A.D. (the source of Judge Dredd, among other things) in terms of critical acclaim for its stories, but never had the same sales as the other magazine. The contributors to the title were a who’s who of British creators in the 1980s: John Bolton, Steve Dillon, Garry Leach, Steve Moore, Grant Morrison, Paul Neary, Steve Parkhouse, John Ridgway, and many others—notably Alan Moore, who ran The Bojeffries Saga, Marvelman, Warpsmith, and V for Vendetta in the magazine.

At least until it was cancelled.

[This valorous visitation of a bygone vexation stands vivified, and has vowed to vanquish these venal and virulent vermin vanguarding vice and vouchsafing the violently vicious and voracious violation of volition.]

Series: 4-Color to 35-Millimeter: The Great Superhero Movie Rewatch

“You’re the devil’s baby mama” — Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

While Ghost Rider wasn’t exactly a huge critical hit, it did well at the box office, and a sequel was green-lit right away, with Nicolas Cage signed up to return as the title character. However, he was the only one to return. Nobody else from the 2007 film came back for the 2012 sequel, not even the actors whose characters are retained, as Ciarán Hinds replaced Peter Fonda as the devil, while Ionut Cristian Lefter played the younger Blaze instead of Matt Long.

[These guys are gonna lift my curse? They don’t even have shoes…]

Series: 4-Color to 35-Millimeter: The Great Superhero Movie Rewatch

“We’re not going to have a meaningful conversation, are we?” — Ghost Rider

Marvel’s first character called Ghost Rider, appearing in 1967, was a cowboy in the Old West named Carter Slade who rode a horse and wore a costume that made him appear to be a ghost. It was actually based on a 1940s comic on which the copyright had lapsed, and Marvel jumped on it.

A few years later, Roy Thomas, Gary Friedrich, and Mike Ploog all collaborated to create a new contemporary Ghost Rider. Originally conceived as a Daredevil villain, Thomas decided he needed his own storyline, and the character—this time riding a motorcycle, inspired by the popularity of Evel Knievel and his ilk—debuted in Marvel Spotlight in 1972, later getting his own title.

The character was hugely popular for a while before flaming out (sorry), and his title was cancelled. But a guy named Nicolas Cage was a big fan…

[I feel like my skull is on fire…..]

Series: 4-Color to 35-Millimeter: The Great Superhero Movie Rewatch

“Victory has defeated you” — The Dark Knight Rises

Christopher Nolan wasn’t a hundred percent sure that he wanted to return to the Batman well, as he was worried that he’d lose interest. He also was struggling to come up with third films in series that were well regarded. (Just on the superhero end of things, you’ve got Superman III, Batman Forever, X-Men: The Last Stand, and Spider-Man 3 as cautionary tales.) But once he and his Bat-collaborators David S. Goyer and Jonathan Nolan hit on the notion of using the “Knightfall” and “No Man’s Land” storylines from the comics for inspiration for, in essence, the end of Batman’s career, he found the story he wanted to tell.

[“My mother warned me about getting into cars with strange men.” “This isn’t a car.”]

Series: 4-Color to 35-Millimeter: The Great Superhero Movie Rewatch

Long Live the Chief — Marvel’s Luke Cage Season 2, Episodes 9-13

One of the issues with pretty much all of Netflix’s Marvel offerings is an inability to come up with stories to fill thirteen episodes. The Punisher‘s inaugural season was the first one to really feel like it earned the whole baker’s dozen with its storyline, and Jessica Jones season two dealt with the problem by having several smaller plots instead of one big one.

Having finished the second season of Luke Cage, I look back and see a strong season with no draggy parts (which plagued season one) and no major missteps (like killing Cottonmouth and replacing him with Diamondback). It wasn’t perfect by any means, but it overall worked better than most.

(Check out my reviews of episodes 1-4 and of episodes 5-8.)

[SPOILERS for the various Marvel Netflix shows in general and all of Luke Cage season 2 in particular]

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