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                        Celebrating the Art of Cinema, ... and Cinema as Art


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Fan art by John Mattisson @ deviantart

     Remember Chris Rock’s 2004 stand up special, NEVER SCARED, when he says, "Remember back in the day when we all would argue over who's better, Michael Jackson or Prince?". Then, after citing more than a few of Jackson's at the time personal and legal conflicts and problems, he declared, "Well, Prince won!". In a few years we think people may be saying the same about the D.C. comic-book-to-film adaptations over the Marvel ones.

     “ARE YOU OUTTA YOUR EFFIN’ MIND!”, you say, “Didn’t you see MAN OF STEEL or BATMAN V. SUPERMAN?”. Yeah, we saw ‘em.  That’s why we’re saying it.  Oh, and for the record “back in the day” we actually dug both Prince and Michael Jackson. That is possible, … and kind of the point too. It doesn’t always have to be “Sushi or Cerviche”, “Stromboli or Calzone”, “Conservative or Liberal”. To borrow another Rock-ism (I mean, the guy’s both hilarious and common sense at the same time, is he not?) “No normal, decent person is one thing, OK? I've got some shit I'm conservative about, I've got some shit I'm liberal about. When it comes to crime, I'm conservative. With prostitution, I'm liberal”.
Anyway ... 

     Welcome to the latest installment of our THE INHERENT POWER OF GENRE series, wherein we sprint through the cinematic history of the horror, science fiction and fantasy genres; taking note (and giving them the props they so often fail to receive) in relation to how they, more times than not, can be a more accurate barometer of the angst, mores and general leanings of contemporary society then those films considered more “serious” and “important”. A prime example we’ve used in earlier installments – how say back in 1968 the original PLANET OF THE APES was able, in a far more subversive manner, to make comment on many of the same topics which caused films such as THE DEFIANT ONES and GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER to be protested and banned in many cities.  

     Other examples? Look at how Stephen King / Brian DePalma’s CARRIE (1976) was a terrifyingly accurate depiction (and warning) of the pressure cooker of abuse, repression and bullying / hazing leading to a mass act of school violence decades before Columbine. And most recently – do a double take on BATMAN V. SUPERMAN and CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR. And notice how both films deal with terroristic acts (both foreign / alien and domestic) which leads to normally decent people turning upon one another in an ideological conflict of how to best address the problem. Now, if that doesn’t sound like the 2016 American Presidential primaries (and the citizenry wading through them), then you just haven’t been paying attention. Take a look at the two theatrical trailers embedded below to see what me mean. Chillingly "spot on", aren't they? At any rate …  

     Some might call this installment of THE INHERENT POWER OF GENRE “the Minority Report” as we may be taking a position most consider that of a loony.  But we learned long ago to stick to our guns because, … well, because sometimes it just takes the rest of the world a little time to catch up is all. Is that arrogance or hubris? Nah. It’s just age combined with (lets call it) long-term cinematic memory.

     You’ve seen BLADE RUNNER and John Carpenter’s THE THING, right? They actually opened on the same day – June 25th, 1982. And both at the time were savaged by critics, and ignored by the general public to such an unholy degree that they crashed and burned miserably at the box office, and within two weeks were doubled-billed together in many theaters. We caught ‘em both at such a double feature one Saturday afternoon in Delran, New Jersey.


     To this day one of the most memorable “freak out” movie-going experiences of our entire lives (the energetic audience helped big time), we left the theater both dumbfounded as to how and why both films were so ripped apart by the media of the day, and determined to talk up both to friends, family and like-minded film fans in the hope that neither of these two amazing movies would disappear from memory all together. Imagine our delighted amazement when within a year we started hearing Art Institute classmates going back and forth about how they’d “discovered” this awesome film called “BLADE RUNNER” the night before at a local art house revival theater. 

     Derided in 1982 by many as “style over substance”, “needlessly dark, violent and nihilistic” and more, we saw BLADE RUNNER and THE THING as not only brilliantly made from a technical standpoint, but wonderful examples of the irony of “Kafka-esque optimism”. To a certain degree Terry Gilliam’s BRAZIL (another brilliant film which bombed at the time of its release) falls into this category as well.

     “Kafka-esque optimism” (our own term there, by the way – it’s not copyrighted, so you can go ahead and use it if you want) is where the environment in which the story takes place is so bleak and arguably without hope, that the faint beams of humanity which do exists shine that much more brightly. Not to jump off track during what is essentially an introduction, but BLADE RUNNER isn’t still fascinating today simply because of the brilliance of its art direction, but rather more because the story is about characters desirous of, and covetously clinging to, the concepts of humanity, emotion and love at a time when in their world these commodities are rapidly becoming extinct.

              BLADE RUNNER (1982)

     I recall and love how one article (I don’t remember which, it’s definitely buried in that pile of 30 yr. old magazines up there – probably STARLOG) pointed out that as the created Replicants of BLADE RUNNER continue to gain human emotion, the human Blade Runners themselves – those charged with hunting down and exterminating the Replicants, are rapidly losing theirs. That’s powerful thematic stuff.

     Believe it or not the same “sense of humanity” flows through nearly every blood spattered, shape-shifting frame of THE THING.  Though, not unlike with the recent BATMAN V. SUPERMAN, many are too distracted by other things (no pun intended) to notice. John Carpenter at the time essentially said his movie was about “the beginning of end of the world”. But, after the most intense examination in personal paranoia since the McCarthy era , THE THING ends with the last two survivors – Kurt Russell’s “MacCready” and Keith Davids’ “Childs”, deciding to trust one another, even if it means one of them may be a “thing”. They do the unthinkable (or is it “unTHINGable”? heh! heh!, cue the Crypt Keeper’s laugh!) – lowering their weapons and drinking from the same bottle of scotch, full well knowing that even the tiniest of DNA exchanges (in this case the “backwash” of saliva in the bottle) could be fatal. So (to us at least), THE THING ends on something of a “hopeful” note wherein if the human race will indeed physically become extinct, … it’s spiritual humanity never will. Anyway, ...

              (L to R) Keith David, John Carpenter and Kurt Russell on the set of THE THING (1982)

     Today both BLADE RUNNER and THE THING are considered cinematic classics, and examples of genre film making so influential as to continue to be emulated today both stylistically and thematically. But it isn’t difficult to see, in the context of the world into which they were released, why they initially proved unpopular that filmic summer of 1982. Notwithstanding a few darker films which did prove moderately successful that season (THE ROAD WARRIOR, CONAN THE BARBARIAN and AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN among them) the majority of 1982’s warm weather hits were throwbacks to “more optimistic” times where within the span of three months neighborhood and drive-in movie screens were dominated by an incessantly impressive week to week lineup of titles such as E.T., STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN, POLTERGEIST, ROCKY III, TRON, FIREFOX, FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH, the musicals ANNIE and THE BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE IN TEXAS, the animated THE SECRET OF N.I.M.H. (perhaps the darkest of that lot) and more.

  "It's Your Thing" - 1969 (The Isley Brothers)
            Marvel's lighter ANT-MAN (2015)


     The years have proven that BLADE RUNNER and THE THING weren’t “bad” films as much as they were perhaps out of synch with the current zeitgeist of their era; and the judgements against them based primarily upon popular subjective perception of the day rather than on what would ultimately prove to be objective observation eventually reached via the always more fair leavening agent of the passage of time. Which brings us to the whole “MARVEL VS. D.C.  – is it too dark and / or too pretentious?” debate.

            D.C.'s very dark THE DARK KNIGHT (2008)

     If you wanna save yourself time, we’ll cut things short right now and say it’s our intent to here expose the whole MARVEL Vs. D.C. competition as an apparition; as a fantasy construct which doesn’t really exist except within the fevered minds of a few over-imaginative fans, and perhaps a few more film critics who should know better, … or at the very least do their homework.  Those familiar with the histories of both companies and their catalogs know that over the years a great many artists, writers and more have crossed the street (both literally and figuratively) to work for both. Another “for example”: did you also know that over the last 25 years the films based on Marvel and D.C. comic book properties have taken in a combined $16 billion dollars?!

     Impressive to be sure. But more impressive is the fact that the tally is pretty much evenly split between both companies right down the middle – with each raking in approx. $8 billion of that sixteen. Hmmm? This would seem to indicate that both companies have learned how to work their respective sides of that aforementioned street most effectively, and that neither "schooled" nor "owned" (or the present equivalents of those words) the other, wouldn't it? Hey, it ain't just our opinion. Look at the numbers. The math doesn't lie. This falls under the unfortunately increasingly rare rubric of "doing one's homework", as opposed to social media (and modern day "journalism")'s more common contemporary habit of sloppily passing off personal inclination and opinion (of which each person is surely entitled) as indisputable gospel fact (of which each person is not entitled).

     These numbers also rather succinctly lend credence to our belief that there's more than enough room on said street for both lighter and darker takes on a genre. Therefore, before diving into this nifty little shindig, how 'bout we first agree to do away with that mythical "verses" shit from the git go, huh?

     Cool beans! Now that's outta the way …

     To those familiar with the Marvel and D.C. films, but perhaps not so familiar with the specific source material from which many of the newer (“darker”) movies are taking plot elements (i.e. BATMAN V. SUPERMAN integrating Frank Miller’s THE DARK KNIGHT RISES graphic novel; CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR doing likewise from Mark Millar’s AVENGERS: CIVIL WAR series, etc.), consider this a primer to gear you up for Marvel’s upcoming “PHASE 2” films – including the aforementioned CAPT. AMERICA, along with DR. STRANGE, ANT-MAN & WASP, THOR: RAGNAROK, BLACK PANTHER and AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR. Also consider it an outline to help guide you through D.C.’s similarly evolving cinematic universe which, kicking off with BATMAN V. SUPERMAN, will also include WONDER WOMAN, JUSTICE LEAGUE, AQUAMAN, THE FLASH and CYBORG.

      On the other hand, if you’re already well enough familiar with the rich heritage of the Marvel and D.C. literary lines (and make no mistake, many of the award-winning publications of both companies over the years have been referred to as such by literary critics), then consider this a nifty retrospective, or a trip down memory lane with a few old friends we’re introducing to a new generation.  Whichever is "'yo' thang", we say …

     From the lite satire of MEN IN BLACK, to the nightmare urban-scape of Chris Nolan’s DARK KNIGHT trilogy. And from the socio-political analogy of X-MEN, to the deconstructionist intent of THE WATCHMEN, whether one is intrigued or put off by the lighter or darker themed nature of current comic-books-to-film, we remind you that (as was the case with BLADE RUNNER and THE THING) often it is less a matter of said adaptation being “good” or “bad” or “too light” or “too dark” per se, and usually more a matter of how they are individually filtered through the societal temperament of the day.


      Let’s take a look-see.


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  BATMAN v SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE (2016) score - "Beautiful Lie" (H. Zimmer / Junkie XL)

  Actress Sarah Miles and husband Robert Bolt (1924 - 1995)


     If we were to ever teach a creative writing or film making class, we’d make damn sure those forwards to Stephen King’s short story and novella collections were a required part of the curriculum.  Simultaneously entertaining and informative (as well as often pretty effin’ funny) you wonder how this guy didn’t end up a million dollar shrink to those in the creative arts. Which, actually, by exorcising his fears, hang-ups, fantasies and other assorted woes, then putting them down on paper, he kinda sorta did. Anyway, over the years his forward to the 1978 collection NIGHT SHIFT has become one of our writer’s Bibles if you will - its words forever etched on the Ten Commandment slabs of our very creative soul. Just as with other ancient philosophical texts, we’ve since passed “Guru-shisya” Stephen King’s sacred writings down to other younger authors and artists.

Mr. King has the floor …

     “Sometimes I speak before groups of people who are interested in writing or in literature, and before the question-and-answer period is over, someone always rises and asks this question: 'Why do you choose to write about such gruesome subjects?'

     I usually answer this with another question: Why do you assume that I have a choice?

     Writing is a catch-as-catch-can sort of occupation. All of us seem to come equipped with filters on the floors of our minds, and all the filters having differing sizes and meshes. What catches in my filter may run right through yours. What catches in yours may pass through mine, no sweat. All of us seem to have a built-in obligation to sift through the sludge that gets caught in our respective mind-filters, and what we find there usually develops into some sort of sideline. The accountant may also be a photographer. The astronomer may collect coins. The schoolteacher may do gravestone rubbings in charcoal. The sludge caught in the mind's filter, the stuff that refuses to go through, frequently becomes each person's private obsession. In civilized society we have an unspoken agreement to call our obsessions 'hobbies.'


     Sometimes the hobby can become a full-time job. The accountant may discover that he can make enough  money to support his family taking pictures; the schoolteacher may become enough of an expert on grave rubbings to go on the lecture circuit. And there are some professions which begin as hobbies and remain hobbies even after the practitioner is able to earn his living by pursuing his hobby; but because 'hobby' is such a bumpy, common-sounding little word, we also have an unspoken agreement that we will call our professional hobbies 'the arts.'”

(excerpted from NIGHT SHIFT by Stephen King / orig. pub. Doubleday – Feb., 1978) 


     We’ve always been lucky in that our mesh has always been a dual one - split in two right down the middle, as if nature pulled a psychological prank on our childhood, originally intending this to be a cruel joke preventing us from any degree of “normalcy”. And for a time we felt it was, till later discovering it was actually more of a creative gift.

     Our biological father was an outspoken member of the Black Panthers back in the 1960s and 70s; then he eventually became a member of the New York State Legislature. How’s that for dual irony? And my mother (always introspective and spiritual) would become an ordained minister. Yeah, I know. How the two of them ever got together, … anyone knows. But to this day, half of our personality is 100% outspoken “By Any Means Necessary” social radical, while the other 100% is quiet and observant student of nature and human nature. Hell, even that ‘ol paragon of peace and love himself, Mahatma Gandhi once said …

     “It is better to be violent, if there is violence in our hearts, than to put on the cloak of nonviolence to cover impotence”.

     Wrap your noggin around that one if you will, because it’s really not ironic, complex or opposed to logic in any way if you can be, … if you are … one of Robert Bolt’s “MEN FOR ALL SEASONS”. And yes, hang on, this is still about “Marvel vs. D.C.”. We’re doing that nifty English comp “inductive reasoning” thing wherein you lay out a series of examples then string them all together into that elegant necklace of inescapable logic at the end. We promise you’ll dig this big time by the time we get there. Anyway …


     The late great playwright / screenwriter Robert Bolt (1924 – 1995) emerged as one our personal all-time favorites upon discovering how closely we personally identified with pretty much ALL of his character creations. While the multi-award winning dramatist of theater, radio, television and film left behind an innumerable list of credits, he’s perhaps best known for his collaborations with David Lean on LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (1962), DOCTOR ZHIVAGO (1965) and RYAN’S DAUGHTER (1970), as well as the non-Lean directed THE BOUNTY (1984), THE MISSION (1986), and perhaps most tellingly, the Oscar winning A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS (1966) – based on his own earlier BBC radio and stage drama. 

  Robert Bolt quadrilogy (clockwise): LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (1962),

     A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS tells the story of the 16th century England’s Lord Chancellor Sir Thomas More (in the film portrayed by Paul Scofield), who was venerated as a Catholic Saint … while also being a renowned lawyer, philosopher and Renaissance humanist. Wow! Talk about another “dual mesh”. Maybe his dad was in the Black Panthers too, huh? Anyway, the play and film’s title, a reference to More’s rare but essential mental / spiritual duality, is taken from a quote about about him by a contemporary of his, British grammarian Robert Whittington:

     “More is a man of an angel's wit and singular learning. I know not his fellow. For where is the man of that gentleness, lowliness and affability? And, as time requireth, a man of marvelous mirth and pastimes, … and sometime of as sad gravity. A man for all seasons”

     If you take a close look at Robert Bolt’s characters throughout cinematic history, you notice they are ALL either one person psychologically split down the middle, like Lawrence and Yuri Zhivago, or two men representing opposing sides of a single conscience (or consciousness), like Rodrigo and Father Gabriel in THE MISSION, and certainly in Bolt’s interpretation / depiction of Fletcher Christian and William Bligh in THE BOUNTY.

     So, from Chris Rock, to Gandhi, to Stephen King, to Robert Bolt we kind of / sort of see the necessity (or mother nature’s penchant) for duality in life in general and the creative arts in particular.

      You see where we’re headed with this, right?

SUPERMAN creators Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster (circa 1977)


     Most concur that the birth of the superhero, as well as the comic book as we know it today, was with the creation of the “Man of Steel”, SUPERMAN – the legendarily artistic offspring of BFFs Jerry Siegel & Joe Schuster.  Interestingly, while the world is very familiar with Kal-El’s later day exploits against a panoply of larger-than-life super villains (General Zod, Braniac, Mr. Mxyzptlk and Doomsday among them), many are to this day unaware that the earliest published Superman adventures had him tangling ass with what were then considered the greatest villains of the era of the Great Depression - slum lords, who’s dangerous tenements risked the lives of many; gangsters who preyed upon the weak; corrupt politicians and millionaires responsible for criminal activity in third world nations, and more.

      Even the man who would come to be known as Superman’s greatest foe, that super-intelligent dastard Lex Luthor, didn’t make his first appearance until 1940 – two years after Superman’s debut in the first issue of ACTION COMICS (June 1938).  We mention this to inform you that the Superman canon you think you know, isn’t necessarily the Superman canon you thought you knew. Heh, heh!

     ACTION COMICS was the fourth magazine title published by DETECTIVE COMICS, which after several name changes over the years would eventually revert back to its original designation – or at least the initials of said earlier designation, in the form of “DC COMICS”. Tada!

After the resounding success of SUPERMAN, the company later to be known as “DC” launched THE BATMAN (Detective Comics #27 / May 1939). Created by artist Bob Kane and writer Milton “Bill” Finger, the nocturnal avenger, later to be known alternately as “The Caped Crusader”, “The Dark Knight” and simply “Batman”, borrowed considerably from Emma Orczy’s earlier THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL (1903) and Johnston McCully’s ZORRO (1919) in that the hero would bear the dual identity of a wealthy aristocrat who dons a mask in order to bring justice to the masses.

      Unlike ZORRO’s Don Diego de la Vega or the PIMPERNEL’s Sir Percy Blakeney, THE BATMAN’s Bruce Wayne would have a much more grim motivation for his crusade, … along with a much darker modus operandi in bringing it to fruition.  As a child, young Wayne witnesses up close the murder of his parents, and as a result becomes fiction’s first anti-hero. Long before Popeye Doyle, Frank Bullitt or John Shaft, the scared psyche of The Batman (also often referred to as “The World’s Greatest Detective”) would make him as violent and as feared within the nocturnal alleys of Gotham City as the criminals to whom we was determined to mete out justice in brutal / near-Biblical “eye for an eye”-like fashion.

Leslie Howard - THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL (1934) / Tyrone Power - THE MARK OF ZORRO (1940)

     Both “the Bat” and the Man of Steel would (for lack of a better term) soften over the years - first a little, then a helluva lot.  For Superman the “little” was between 1940 – ’43, when the character went from extraterrestrial outsider / borderline Christ-figure to surrogate big brother / father upon starring in both a radio show and a series of popular Fleischer Studio cartoon shorts aimed squarely at kids. Actor Bud Collyer provided the hero’s voice for both incarnations.  Then in 1940 The Batman would undergo a similar “paternal”-like downshift with the introduction of a newly minted kid sidekick – Robin, later also known as “The Boy Wonder”. (Detective Comics #38).

     The “helluva lot”, for not only Superman and Batman but the entire comic book industry, happened in September 1954 with the creation of the CMAA (Comics Magazine Association of America) and the introduction of the “Comics Code”. It was a response to the near McCarthy-like “Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency” wherein, fueled by the theories of Fredric Wertham’s 1954 book “Seduction Of The Innocent”, comic books (rather than drugs, alcohol, or a post war society in flux) were blamed for the increase in juvenile criminal activity.

     The “Code” - a self-censorship body created to keep comic books from being banned all together, stripped werewolves of their claws, detectives of their whiskey and guns, femme fatales of their curves, and superheroes (many still believe) of their huevos (English trans. – “eggs”).

     After the introduction of “the Code”, Superman, who had in the past battled so-called authority figures, became one himself - most notably in TV's THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN, starring George Reeves, which ran in first run syndication for six seasons between 1952 - 1958. And meanwhile in the comics Batman and Robin began spending more time with women (to quell rumors of a homosexual relationship), and even Wonder Woman (originally created as a female Superman) started to cut back on her Amazonian agressiveness, and began doling out more romantic quality time to Steve Trevor in order to prove she was redoubtably a 1950s era gentlewoman to whom polite little girls could indeed look up.



     Ironically, while the Comics Code was the near death knell for the industry, it was also the chrysalis which would ultimately allow it to reawaken in a more adult and socio-politically-aware version of its former self.  Many felt that by the 1960s a creative malaise had set over the once mighty D.C. empire. And while, under publisher Julius Schwartz, the company produced a few successful new wrinkles on old favorites, such as a modern reworking of the fastest man alive – “The Flash”, and the uniting of its most popular characters (incl. Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman) into the “Justice League Of America”, for the most part the former publishing giant lay inert save for two extremely popular TV adaptations of its two tentpole characters.

     THE NEW ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN was produced by Lou Schimer’s Filmation Studios - the Reseda, California based animation house also responsible for those two iconic animated fixtures of Saturday morning TV, FAT ALBERT & THE COSBY KIDS and THE GROOVIE GHOULIES.  The Filmation SUPERMAN cartoons - a series of 68 fast moving, six-minute animated shorts, ran for three original seasons (and one consisting of repackaged reruns) on CBS television from 1966 – 1970. While Superman episodes were the primary anchor, over the series' four-year run (alternately as both a half hour and one hour broadcast) a new generation would also be introduced to animated versions of other D.C. Universe characters such as Aquaman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Hawkman, Green Lantern, the Atom, and (of course) Batman.

Adam West as TV's BATMAN (1966 - 1968)  

     Developed for television by screenwriter / playwright Lorenzo Semple Jr. (THE RAT PATROL, PAPILLON, THE PARALLAX VIEW, THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR) and produced by 20th Century Fox Television, the live-action BATMAN TV series ran for three seasons on ABC beginning in 1966. It famously (some would say infamously) starred Adam West as Batman / Bruce Wayne, and Burt Ward as Robin / Dick Grayson.

     With a panoply of famous stars appearing as recurring villains (incl. Burgess Meredith as “The Penguin”, Caesar Romero as “The Joker”, Frank Gorshin – “The Riddler”, Otto Preminger – “Mr. Freeze”, and alternately both Julie Newmar and Ertha Kitt as “Catwoman”), it was a campy, tongue-in-cheek ratings smash which some felt, with its pop art-like “Bam!”, “Boffo!” insert cards flashing on screen during fight sequences, forever painted the comic book as kiddie fodder.

     During the same decade of the 1960s, the 50+ year “MARVEL VS. D.C.” smackdown began, with the character catalogs of the two competing comic book companies “leap frogging” and switching crowns as the “Most Popular” every other decade hence. 

     Via an intro by his uncle, young Stanley Martin Lieber (later to be known to the world as “Stan Lee”) came to work as an assistant / gofer at publisher Martin Goodman’s New York-based “Timely Comics” – founded in 1939. The comic book off-shoot of Goodman’s print empire (which also included men’s magazines “Stag” and “Swank”, and pulp mag titles such as “Uncanny Tales”), over the years “Timely” would undergo a name change to “Atlas” before finally becoming “Marvel” in 1961.

"Smilin'" Stan Lee (... and friend)  

  CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER (2011) score - "Farewell To Bucky" (A. Silvestri)


      Timely had little success with late 1930s versions of THE HUMAN TORCH and THE SUB-MARINER, but it hit paydirt in March 1941 with Jack Kirby & Joe Simon’s creation of CAPTAIN AMERICA. CAPTAIN AMERICA was the story of Steve Rogers, the proverbial 90 lb. weakling who, eager to serve his country during WWII, volunteers for a “super soldier” experiment wherein he is injected with a serum which transforms him into the war era version of “The World’s Greatest Athlete” - his strength and reflexes heightened to near Herculean levels.  When the creator of the serum is assassinated by Nazis, Rogers, originally intended to be the first (prototype) super soldier, becomes the one and only.

     When Kirby and Simon departed Timely following a disagreement with Goodman, 19 yr. old Stanley Lieber was promoted to the position of “Interim Editor”; that “interim” ending up being 30 years as Editor-in-Chief and principal Art Director. Kirby would return to Timely (now called “Marvel”), then in 1961 he and Lieber, who’d since legally changed his name to “Stan Lee”, would create what most consider to be the first modern superheroes in THE FANTASTIC FOUR (first issue – Nov. 1961).

 (Left photo) Jack Kirby - seated, Joe Simon - standing (Right photo) Steve Ditko 

      Genetically altered during a space mission, Reed Richards, Susan Storm, Johnny Storm and Ben Grimm acquire super human traits which (and this was the modern twist) they didn’t want! With no secret identities (a’la Clark Kent, Bruce Wayne, or ZORRO’s Don Diego de la Vega) behind which to hide, they must nakedly deal with the extremes of public celebrity, both in unwanted adoration as well as negatively fearful backlash, all the while wading through the all-too-common minefield scenarios of an average dysfunctional American family.

                                                                                                                                FANTASTIC FOUR (Nov., 1961)  
     With FANTASTIC FOUR Lee and Kirby had made the “super” much more so by setting it within (for lack of a better term) a mundane everyday “bickering family” environment to which the majority of readers, both young and old, could identify. While THOR (Marvel’s later near Christ-like Hercules from another galaxy), IRON MAN’s Tony Stark (a wealthy vigilante / inventor), and Diana Prince (D.C.’s powerful Amazonian super goddess WONDER WOMAN), represented wish fantasies to readers, within Reed and Susan Richards’ challenges as a married couple, and Johnny and Ben’s constant love / hate sibling-like bickering, audiences could actually see more realistic (“down to earth” if you will) mirror versions of themselves. And this was unique for the era.

      While the 1960s Filmation ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN helped transform D.C.’s former Man Of Steel into “The Big Blue Boy Scout”, and TV’s BATMAN turned the once dark and dangerous Caped Crusader into a campy anachronistic punch line, over at Marvel, Lee, Kirby and a rebelliously creative cadre of artists and writers such as Bill Everett and Steve Ditko, were busy creating the counter-culture version of the modern hero.

     Their list of all-too-humanly-flawed, soon-to-be-iconic characters came to include Bruce Banner / THE INCREDIBLE HULK - who, doused with radiation, turns into an enormous green monster when angered; Tony Stark / IRON MAN - a former war profiteer industrialist who creates an iron suit to keep his heart alive after a near fatal kidnapping; the blind Hell’s Kitchen lawyer turned vigilante Matt Murdock / DAREDEVIL; the Evel Knievel-like stunt motorcyclist Johnny Blaze – who sells his soul to Lucifer, then turns against him to become an agent of justice as GHOST RIDER. And (of course) famous High School science nerd, Peter Parker, who can’t get a date to save his life, but who, empowered with super abilities after being bitten by a radioactive spider, dons the mask of the justice-seeking SPIDER-MAN.


     Discovering, much to their surprise, that their books were being read by not just kids, but politically active college students and adults, throughout the remainder of the 1960s / early 70s Stan Lee took Marvel into even more adult thematic waters with the introduction of cosmic philosophers THE SILVER SURFER and HOWARD THE DUCK – both perfect for the current “Age of Aquarius” generation. And, at the height of the Civil Rights and Black Power movements, Marvel would introduce the first super heroes of color in the form of the popular LUKE CAGE, BLADE, BLACK PANTHER, and THE FALCON.

     Partnered with a Steve Rogers / CAPTAIN AMERICA - who is awakened from a 30 year cryo-sleep, and doesn’t completely understand the 1970s world in social flux around him, Rogers and Sam Wilson / THE FALCON, while battling evil side by side, often ironically became audience “stand ins” - debating the at times controversial “Left” and “Right” political views of a nation’s citizens who searched for a common ground as they too battled the evils of modern day life side by side.

     In fact, so in touch with the socio-political tectonic shift of the era, in nationwide college campus surveys, Marvel characters such as THE HULK and THE SILVER SURFER were found to be as equally popular as contemporary counter-culture icons Malcolm X and Che Guevara.  In a 2005 Radio Four interview, WATCHMAN, THE KILLING JOKE author Alan Moore gave his opinion as to why Marvel’s characters of the 1960s / 70s caused a publishing revolution:

     “The DC comics were one dimensional characters whose only characteristic was they dressed up in costumes and did good. Whereas Stan Lee had this huge breakthrough of two-dimensional characters. So, they dress up in costumes and do good, but they've got a bad heart, or a bad leg. I actually did think for a long while that having a bad leg was an actual character trait”.

     While Marvel dominated the 1960s and 1970s publishing arena, the ever-leapfrogging “MARVEL VS. D.C.” popularity competition would flip like a coin during the 1980s with Mighty Marvel nearly going bankrupt, and D.C. flying high once again with popular cinematic versions of its two most iconic characters … courtesy of directors Richard Donner and Tim Burton.

BATMAN V. SUPERMAN - "Who Will Win?"

Pg. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

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