content by

Keith DeCandido

Fiction and Excerpts [3]

Fiction and Excerpts [3]

“How many F’s in ‘catastrophic’?” — Superman Returns

By 2006, Bryan Singer was a hot property. He put himself on the map with The Usual Suspects, a movie that had some of the best word-of-mouth of the 1990s, one that made “Keyser Söze” a household name. Then he added to his own legend by providing the first Marvel movie to be a mainstream success. It’s easy to forget now, eighteen years later when “Marvel Cinematic Universe” is synonymous with “the most popular movies on the planet,” how impossible that sounded at the turn of the century (though I think this rewatch has illuminated the wasteland that had been Marvel’s movie oeuvre of the 20th century).

Prior to X-Men, the only superheroes that were true mainstream successes starred either Superman or Batman—but it had also been two decades since there was a Superman movie. Warner Bros. wanted to change that, and they turned to the man who had done the impossible to do so.

[“Kitty, what did my father used to say to me?” “‘You’re losing your hair’.” “Before that.” “‘Get out!'”]

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

Incident at Mutant Pass — X-Men: The Last Stand

The revolution had begun. Not only had Fox produced two hit movies featuring the X-Men, but by the time the third X-film hit in 2006, Sony had produced two hit Spider-Man films, and several other Marvel characters had hit the big screen with varying degrees of success: Daredevil, Elektra, the Hulk, the Punisher, and the Fantastic Four, not to mention two Blade sequels.

Suddenly, Marvel heroes were all over the big screen, and they were actually faithful to their comics roots and not goofy or ridiculous. They weren’t all good movies, mind you, but at the very least there had been a sea change, and it started with X-Men.

[“Maybe you should go back to school.” “You never should have left.”]

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

Hooray for Licensed Fiction! — More Star Trek Discovery Stories in Prose & Comics Form to Tide You Over until 2019

Ah, the joys of the interregnum, the break, the between-seasons hiatus. It’s even more pronounced in an era when TV shows are less and less constrained by the seasonal model of seasons, as it were, with new episodes running around the same time that kids are in school.

Plus, seasons are even shorter now, for the most part, which is actually a boon to most shows. It reduces the filler episodes, the flashback episodes, and just generally has a tendency to tighten up the storytelling somewhat. However, an unintended side effect of that is that the actors are free to take on multiple jobs, but that also means it becomes harder to juggle everyone’s schedule, thus making the break between seasons even longer

Luckily, we have something to fill in the gaps: licensed fiction. And Star Trek Discovery is doing a bang-up job in providing us with that, in both prose and comics form from the fine folks at Simon & Schuster and IDW.

[Hey, kids, comics! And books, too!]

“Have you ever tried not being a mutant?”—X2: X-Men United

To the surprise and joy of, basically, everyone, X-Men was a huge hit in 2000. Comics fans loved it, as it was a philosophically faithful adaptation of the long-running series, distilled as it was down to only a few characters.

More to the point, mainstream audiences ate it up, and it was one of the top ten grossing films of 2000, both in the U.S. and internationally.

Naturally, they didn’t wait long to green-light a sequel.

[“What exactly are you a professor of, Professor Logan?” “Art.”]

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

Nifty Mutants in the New Millennium — X-Men

The X-Men were not, initially, one of Marvel’s successes. Part of the wave of superheroes created in the early 1960s by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Steve Ditko, the X-Men never quite captured the reading public’s imagination the way the Fantastic Four, Thor, Iron Man, the Hulk, the Avengers, and Spider-Man did.

In 1975, that changed. Len Wein & Dave Cockrum provided a new team of X-Men in Giant-Sized X-Men #1, and then Chris Claremont took over writing duties with the following Uncanny X-Men #94, and a legend was born. Providing a multiethnic team of mutants along with founding member Cyclops, the title quickly became one of Marvel’s most popular (it’s almost like diversity sells or something!), particularly once Claremont was joined by artist/co-plotter John Byrne, with whom he’d also had successful runs on Iron Fist, Star-Lord, and Marvel Team-Up.

By the late 1980s, there were no comic book heroes more popular than the X-Men. That was when they started the process of trying to bring them to the big screen, but it took a while.

[“Hey, it’s me!” “Prove it!” “You’re a dick.” “Okay.”]

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

We Come in Pieces — Star Trek Discovery First Season Overview

“I dunno,” the Star Trek fan says with a sigh. “I mean, the uniforms are all monochrome, I feel like the timeline’s all messed up, they’re just rehashing stuff they’ve done before, it all feels so military with the metal insignia, and they’re killing characters off, and it just all doesn’t feel like real Trek, y’know?”

This Trek fan is, of course, from 1982 and complaining about The Wrath of Khan.

Yes, I can do this all day.

But I won’t. Instead, let’s look back at a most uneven first season of Star Trek Discovery

[We will not accept a no-win scenario.]

Marvel’s First Theatrical Success — The Blade trilogy

One of the most popular comic books during the horror boom of the 1970s was The Tomb of Dracula, which from issue #7 on was written by Marv Wolfman, with art throughout its run by Gene Colan, both grandmasters of the field. Focusing on Marvel’s version of Bram Stoker’s creation (itself inspired by the historical figure of Vlad the Impaler), Tomb of Dracula had as its heroes a collection of vampire hunters, some of whom were members of the Harker and van Helsing family from Stoker’s novel, as well as (among others) a reluctant vampire named Hannibal King and an African-American vampire hunter who simply went by the name Blade.

In 1998, a feature film starring Blade was released, only loosely based on the comic. It was only Marvel’s second actual theatrical release (after Howard the Duck in 1986, also a product of the 1970s comics market), and first success, as the film was a huge international hit, spawning two sequels in 2002 and 2004.

[“You’re human?” “Barely. I’m a lawyer.”]

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

A Waterskiing Dog — Star Trek Discovery’s “Will You Take My Hand?”

At one point during “Will You Take My Hand?”, the season finale of Star Trek Discovery, Tyler is explaining the ease with which he is able to chat with Klingons in the vicinity of the Orion embassy—which, the Orions being glorified pirates, means it’s pretty much space Vegas—to Burnham. “I’m a human who speaks Klingon. To them, that’s like a dog that can waterski.”

I really doubt that executive producers Gretchen J. Berg, Aaron Harberts, and Akiva Goldsman, who among them wrote and directed the episode, meant that line to be a metaphor for the episode, but it totally fits. Because a dog that can waterski is actually really really cool and would probably be fun to watch. But it’s also something that you kinda stare at and go, “Hang on, why exactly did that just happen?” And there’s a lot of both those reactions in “Will You Take My Hand?”

[All this weapons-dealing is making me hungry!]

Making Will Eisner Dizzy in His Grave — Two Terrible Versions of The Spirit

While there are other people who qualify for the title, it isn’t hyperbole to say that Will Eisner is one of the greatest comic book artists in the history of the world. Co-founder of the Eisner-Iger Studio that produced a ton of comic strips and comic books in the 1930s, Eisner was hired in 1939 by Quality Comics to create a sixteen-page Sunday supplement to the comic strips section that would tell full-on comic-book style stories. Eisner created a masked hero who fought crime nicknamed “the Spirit.” The Spirit quickly became hugely popular throughout the 1940s, and it ran in Sunday newspapers until 1952.

Lots of attempts were made to bring the Spirit to radio, film, and television, but only two actually made it to the screen, only one of which aired in Eisner’s lifetime: a pilot for a TV show in 1987 that wasn’t picked up, and a 2008 feature film.

[Dental and Nazi. Great.]

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

Moving Forward — Star Trek Discovery’s “The War Without, the War Within”

One of the constant complaints about Discovery that I have seen online is that it isn’t “real” Star Trek. We’ve been down this road before, of course. In 1979, people wrote letters to magazines about how they had “Star Wars“-ified Star Trek and how this couldn’t be the same universe as the beloved TV show. Gene Roddenberry spent much of 1982 telling fans to boycott The Wrath of Khan because it wasn’t “real” Star Trek and it violated his vision. Fans howled in 1987 at the notion of a Star Trek TV show that didn’t have Kirk, Spock, and McCoy and how it would never work and it wasn’t “real” Star Trek, and then again in 1993 at the notion of a Star Trek TV show that wasn’t on a starship. And many of the complaints levied against Discovery now were also levied against Enterprise seventeen-and-a-half years ago.

To all those people, I say this: watch “The War Without, the War Within,” and if you don’t think this is real Star Trek, then your definition of real Star Trek is radically different from mine. (Please note that this is independent of whether or not you think the episode is any good.) Because everything that makes Trek special is on display here: hope, forgiveness, acceptance, finding a solution to a problem rather than giving up, love, compassion.

[I can’t get past that.]

More Team-Down than Team-Up — Generation X and Justice League of America

DC Comics rebooted and/or revitalized many of their superheroes throughout the late 1950s, and when that had proven successful, Julius Schwartz and Gardner Fox then provided a new version of the Justice Society of America, now called the Justice League of America, in 1960, which brought all those heroes together in a single team book.

Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created the X-Men in 1963 to serve two needs: provide an easy out for origin stories by creating mutants—people born with powers—and also do a school for superheroes where they learn about their powers in an academic environment.

Over the years, both the Justice League and the X-Men went through numerous permutations—and also subsidiary teams. In the latter case, in 1982 Chris Claremont and Bob McLeod created a new team of mutant students. The X-Men at that point had moved far past the school notion, so the New Mutants were created. In 1994, Scott Lobdell and Chris Bachalo created Generation X, which was also a team of mutants learning how to control their powers.

Both teams had TV movies intended as series pilots aired in the 1990s, though Justice League of America never actually aired. Neither went to series.

[“I told you what would happen if you ever invaded my mind.” “If I invaded your mind, you’d never wake up.” “Neither would you.”]

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

“We will not accept a no-win scenario” — Star Trek Discovery’s “What’s Past is Prologue”

My introduction to Michelle Yeoh was when Jackie Chan’s third Police Story movie was released in the United States in 1996, retitled Supercop. It was released here to cash in on Chan’s newfound American popularity following Rumble in the Bronx. I went to see the movie for Chan, but was completely captivated by Yeoh, who was as good as Chan as a choreographed fighter and as an actor. In fact, she was a better actor, and Chan’s actually quite good…

I’ve followed her career with assiduity ever since, from her amazing turn in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon to her being the primary reason why Tomorrow Never Dies is the only Pierce Brosnan James Bond movie I like. Her movements are elegant and beautiful, and ones I’ve grown to appreciate more the last thirteen years since I started training in martial arts.

So I freely admit that my second-favorite moment in “What’s Past is Prologue” is when Lorca throws a knife at Georgiou, and she uses an inside roundhouse kick to knock it aside. I totally cheered.

[A future where we together will make the empire glorious again!]

Better Off Unreleased — Captain America (1990) and Fantastic Four (1994)

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Marvel Comics kept trying to do their characters in Hollywood. In 1981, Stan Lee moved from New York to California to head up Marvel’s screen department. There were tons of false starts and poor attempts, as Marvel sold their film rights to any number of companies that made a pig’s ear out of it, or never got the film out. (I lost track of the number of Spider-Man films in development in the last two decades of the twentieth century, one of which was supposed to be directed by James Cameron.) We’ve already covered two of the disasters that got made: The Punisher and Howard the Duck.

Two more that were actually filmed, after long and tumultuous production histories, were never released theatrically in the U.S. Captain America, starring Matt Salinger, was released to theatres in the UK in 1990, but didn’t see the light of day in the States until 1992 on home video. Fantastic Four, executive produced by schlockmeister Roger Corman, never even got an official release, and Marvel denied its existence for a while until bootlegs started showing up on VHS.

[Holy Freud, Batman, I think you’re right!]

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

You Can’t Go Back to the Way Things Were — Star Trek Discovery’s “Vaulting Ambition”

There are three separate-but-connected things going on in this week’s Star Trek: Discovery, and the heart of each and every one of them is embodied by the line of dialogue I borrowed for the headline, a line spoken directly by both Emperor Georgiou and by Lieutenant Stamets. Everyone wants to go back to the way things were. Stamets wants Culber to be alive and the two of them to be happy. L’Rell wants Voq not to suffer (for all that she insists that Voq’s sacrifice was voluntary and necessary). Georgiou wants her foster daughter back. And everyone on the U.S.S. Discovery just wants to get home.

The one person who does get things back the way they were? Lorca. Go fig’.

[Kelpians — THEM’S GOOD EATIN’!!!!!!!!]

Trapped in a World They Never Made — Howard the Duck and Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.

The 1960s was the decade of the secret agent: James Bond, Our Man Flint, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Danger Man, The Avengers (the British TV show, not the American super-team), and so on. Marvel decided to cash in on this trend by taking the star of their World War II comic Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos (which debuted in 1963), aging him 20 years and making him a colonel, and putting him in charge of the Supreme Headquarters of International Espionage, Law-enforcement Division, or S.H.I.E.L.D. for short. (It was later changed to Strategic Hazard Intervention Espionage Logistics Directorate.)

The 1970s was the decade of wackiness: mainstream comics took their superheroes into different places, from martial arts to horror to blaxploitation to just plain crazy. One of the particularly crazy ones came from Steve Gerber and Val Mayerik, who gave us the world’s most obnoxious funny-animal character in Howard the Duck, introduced in a Man-Thing story in a 1973 issue of Adventure into Fear.

Both characters developed cult followings, the former due in particular to the iconic, stylish artwork of Jim Steranko, the latter due to just being totally batshit. Both were made into live-action films that did not live up to their cult status even a little bit.

[“Any questions?” “Yeah, where are my pants?”]

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