The Time has Come for the Black Widow (a spoiler free review)

You’ve got Ike Perlmutter to blame for the delay, far more than the pandemic.

See, Kevin Fiege –the commander in creativity that’s shepherded the MCU into legendary status — wanted the Widow to have her own film years ago, but Perlmutter –chief penny pinching creep for years before being declawed– vetoed a BW movie saying female lead superhero movies don’t sell.

Mmm.

I just wanted to address the inequities in the system, and god knows there are still plenty. There *is* a certain section of the fan base who indeed do NOT like female lead superhero films in general. That seems to be faulty thinking, considering there are different productions, directors, actors, etc. in each, yet this group automatically dislikes them all, perhaps thinking that any such production is too “woke” or “progressive”. Yeah, I don’t know, I just want a good movie. 

And frankly, if any of these stubborn idiots *don’t* think the character of Natasha Romanov has earned her own movie by now, well, they’re hopeless. 

This IS a good movie. In fact, I’ve already watched it twice.

This film has been such a long time coming, yet I worried that a flashback film might undercut her fate in Endgame. Here, I think, oddly enough, that the pandemic delay may have helped. Instead of the fresh, raw sadness we might have felt revisiting Nat’s past, I was now eager to just see a familiar face after all this time. After a disquieting MCU absence in 2020, being able to settle in for a major film again was nice. I’ll be honest, I expected a solid entry just on the performance of ScarJo, but I didn’t know what else to expect. I was pleasantly surprised, and then some.

First, Scarlett Johansson is a welcome, familiar, commanding presence in this, her *eighth* MCU film. Her supporting cast is impressive–far more entertaining than one could hope. Florence Pugh as Yelena steals most of the scenes she’s in, when David Harbour’s Alexi/Red Guardian isn’t busy stealing his. This “family” dynamic plays to the heart of the characters and their relationship, while set square in the midst of bone crunching action, and spectacular fight choreography. 

As for villains, I shouldn’t say too much except Ray Winston delivers nicely, and Taskmaster takes the comic character in unexpected directions, while maintaining the established abilities.

Now, I was totally unfamiliar with director Cate Shortland, but she’s easily the most impressive of the new crop of MCU directors in recent years. She knows how to handle heart, drama, comedy, and *proper* superhero action, all mixed together. This is not easy to do. 

The director’s of Thor Ragnarok, Black Panther, Captain Marvel, Spider-man: Far from home and Dr. Strange sometimes fell short in certain areas, couldn’t quite get that perfect mix, but Cate Shortland does. This reminded me more of some of the Captain America movies, and any comparison to the Russo bros. is as good as gold in my opinion.

Rewatchability is a big quality factor for me with these films. All the above films I mention that fall short? It took me ages and ages before I rewatched them. I just didn’t care. My friend Eric had to do a special edit of Ragnarok to take some of the stupid out. But Black Widow, twice in six days.

Now the next bit is how to watch the film. Some controversy here.

Kevin Fiege is all about people going to see the films in the theater and is almost dismissive about viewing it on Disney +. I don’t know if Kevin is just a theater elitist, or maybe has his head up his ass, but someone should remind Kev that not *everyone* is salivating to get back to packed movie houses yet. 

Many people have good home theaters that serve perfectly well. Oh, of course not in the opinion of those who live and die by IMAX but just the same, I appreciate the writing, direction, action and score, more than having perfect surround sound tickling the back of my head.

Full disclosure: some of you already knew that I have a low opinion of going to the theater anyway, and have for years. Idiots with cell phones, chattering crowds, wrappers crackling, popcorn munching, etc. many people put up with humanity in these scenarios and even revel in it. I do not.

Disney + was made for me. Really, one $30 payment, the four of us watching it last Friday, … good lord, a family of four pays at least triple that going to a theater, then they have to sit through an hour of commercials and previews. No thanks.

You might wonder, how much money did Black Widow make on her opening weekend in this still partially pandemic influenced climate? 

Well, the domestic box office was $80 mil, the added international was another 75 mil, and Disney + added another 60 mil!  Usually, Disney never puts up their streaming numbers but did so this time. I must conclude that this was way more than they’d ever gotten before in an instance like this. Good!

Mind you, I have no idea what this means going forward — if people prefer + to theaters more and more, or if folks are just not ready to return to theaters yet. Hard to even say if + actually *stole* any butts from the movie seats, but I kind if doubt it. I think anyone who was going to see it in theaters anyway, SAW it in theaters. I think adding + just allowed more people to see it, along with those who were not inclined to head back to theaters yet.

We have no idea how bad the Delta wave of Covid’s going to get this fall, but the numbers are already growing. I think having Disney + as an option for the MCU films is probably very very smart, and obviously a money maker too. DC comics movies are relying on HBOMAX for the same reason, and I’m very much looking forward to James Gunn’s Suicide Squad next month. 

I think guys like Fiege are going to have remember the common folk may have to seek more alternatives in the current situation.

But do I recommend Black Widow? Definitely. See it however you can!

8.5 out of 10.

Excelsior!

I was going to put up competing lists of popular catch phrases and well known sayings from both DC and Marvel characters. And to my surprise, DC had very few of note. I mean sure, Perry White was always yelling “Great Caesar’s Ghost!” And there were some exclamations like “Great Krypton!” and “Great Scott!” but not really a lot to sink your teeth into. I suppose there’s always “Shazam”, but that’s a whole other kettle of fish. About the greatest written addition to the DC pantheon is the Green Lantern oath:

“In brightest day, in blackest night,

No evil shall escape my sight,

Let those who worship evils’ might,

Beware my power, Green Lantern’s light!”

—It’s a helluvan oath. The best, as far as oaths go.

No, for battle cries and rallying cries, really, just about *any* dialogue with zing, one must turn to Marvel and Stan Lee in the 1960’s. Right off the bat with the Fantastic Four, whenever the chips were down, Johnny Storm shouted “Flame On!” and became the Human Torch. Whenever the Thing was mixing it up, he’d usually yell “It’s Clobberin’ Time!” and take care of business. Both battle cries still in use to this day, in fact. 

And maybe the mother of them all, only strengthened by the MCU films, even after 60 years….”Avengers Assemble!”

Even now, a couple years after Endgame, when the gang’s all together, Cap gets the hammer, and utters those magic words……..Oh, I’m just feeling waves of chills and tingles just thinking about it. For a non comic fan, it’s difficult to explain just how huge, how all encompassing that moment is. Jeez, I gotta watch that again. Here, you can watch it NOW…

LINK!

Where was I? Yes, memorable battle cries, etc. Yeah, DC never really nailed a good one. In the early ’80’s, Teen Titans comic, Wolfman and Perez tried out “Titans Together!”, but honestly, it always kind of fell flat for me. Didn’t have that flow.

Sometimes, maybe it’s down to syllables. Avengers Assemble is 3 and 3. Titans Together is a 2 and 3. For some reason, it doesn’t mesh as well. I would have gone with a 2 and 2, like say, bad guys are coming, Robin’s in the forefront, and issues the order–“Titans: Take ’em!” Him giving the command is more like Cap giving the Avengers Assemble call, as opposed to all the Titans screaming Titans Together!

They *could* have gone with “Teen Titans Together”, but that sounds a bit unwieldy and even more like a kid’s show and they were trying to play down the “Teen”.

Stan really had a way of picking out just right power words to suit the needs of the story. With a character like Thor, who was very much in the Shakespearean speech mode, Stan really went nuts with little ditties like “For Odin, for Asgard, for the REALM ETERNAL!” Because the almost operatic scenario could warrant that. 

He could also go hog wild with Dr. Strange as well, making up sorcery stuff:

By the Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth!

The Flames of the Faltine!

The Crimson Bands of Cytorrak!

It sounded so important, so official!

Sometimes, it was the little bits, like the Silver Surfer summoning his other half “To me, my board!” The Surfer was another case of Kirby coming up with a crazy character that shouldn’t have worked but did. That was a particular talent Stan had — some silver nut on a surfboard sounded like bad fan-fic by a 9 year old, but somehow, Jack’s images and Stan’s dialogue turned him into one of the most nuanced, tortured, powerful characters in all of comics.

It really makes you wonder how the New Gods would have been received if Jack had done them with Stan. But I digress…

And of course, there was the casual, familiar end of Marvel, where Stan came up for nick-names for the heroes to call each other.  “Wing-head, Shell-head, Goldilocks, Web-head, Stretch-o, Match-head, Horn-head, Green-jeans, High-pockets”, etc. These guys battled in the trenches together and this was an excellent way of showing they were comrades. It was about a decade after Marvel was outselling DC when they decided to try and loosen things up by having Green Arrow get a radical redesign and started calling his JLA teammates by nick-names like “Supes” and “Bats”.

At one point it struck me that for the last several decades, we’ve lost a lot of that magic. Basically, all the best sayings, catch phrases, etc. the best stuff with built in longevity, were created by Stan and his style of writing. Things like “Friendly neighborhood Spider-man” and “With great power, there must come great responsibility” and “Avengers Assemble” have really stood the test of time.

All this is not to say Stan was perfect as a writer. Many a time, he’d throw in a lot of unnecessary dialog to explain actions we could plainly see happening in the panel. A lot of it was who he was working with — I think he’d get inspired by the pencils he’d receive. When you already know the basic plot, then you get 20 pages of art by Kirby, it would definitely get your scripting juices flowing, and you’d want to deliver words to match the visuals.

I know times, themes and the world itself changes and there’s perhaps a level of corniness to Stan’s style–his stuff was absolutely perfect for maybe only the ’60’s. But there was an energy to those words, a power there, that was every bit as potent as Jack’s pencils. And sometimes, it was just top notch, amazing literature.

Sometimes it’s just nice to look back.

True believer. 

Anatomy of a Busy Cover

Over the years, it’s been common practice by DC and Marvel to supplement the covers of their books with ads, sweepstakes, blurbs, etc. Although it is a business, sometimes these ads or gimmicks detract from the beauty, power or importance OF the cover. 

A good example is X-men 137 and the fate of Jean Grey. This was the finale of a huge story, and the top of the cover was designated for some big, screwy sweepstakes ad. This was commonplace back in the day, and we were ravenous to grab the book anyway but looking back all these years later, we’ve still got a great cover marred with a now irrelevant ad. Shame.

And look, I think I’ve made my stance on covers quite clear over the years. No one appreciates a good, powerful, well done cover more than me, so, of course, I have to pipe up about the following mess.

There are bad examples out there, where a good artist is attempting to draw a good cover, but corporate gets in the way. So…..Ladies and gentlemen, I present DC’s All Star Comics #61 from 1976. 


Yes, it was our country’s bi-centennial. It was just one of the many bits of information that management felt was needed on this superhero comic cover. Now, I don’t know WHO in DC was technically in charge of covers during this particular time period. I’m pretty sure it was *after* Carmine Infantino’s time as top dog\art director. He was designing covers for DC in the mid to late ’60’s and knew what he was doing as far as design. Example:


This… has none of that solid design magic. No…. it has the feel of a clueless committee of creatively brain dead suits trying to put out the best (needlessly complicated) cover of all time and failing miserably. 

The unfortunate soul who was tasked with trying to illustrate an engaging cover to draw in the readers was Ernie Chau (or Chan, depending upon the company, book, month or signature.) Ernie was a good artist, I think known more of his work on Hulk and inking John Buscema’s Conan stuff from my POV, but a solid artist. 

At some point, the Clueless Committee–let’s call them Suit, Tie and Vest— had to brief Ernie on what he had to draw– and more importantly, what he had to draw *around*. I imagine the meeting might have gone something like this:

Suit: take a seat Arnie.

Ernie: that’s Ernie 

Tie: okay first, this is going to be a great cover

Vest: I’m excited! we need to get just a couple things added in here.

Suit: Arnie, we need this incredible, amazing battle scene happening over this majestic cityscape.

Ernie: …..

Tie: yes, it’s got to feature the entire Justice Society battling this villain called Vulcan! Green Lantern is subduing him, but Vulcan has to be killing Dr. Fate too! Maybe some of the JSA are riding into the scene in some majestic sky-car! And remember, lots of majestic city with the majestic battle against Vulcan, who has an axe and is incredibly…

Ernie: majestic?

Tie: yes!

Suit: right, now we’re going to need some stuff complimenting the trade dress. You know, make sure there’s no wasted space. 

Tie: GAH! Hate wasted space!

Ernie: well we already have a lot going on with the majestic battle, city, the entire JSA, the…

Suit: no, it’s okay, I’ve been told I’ve got “an artist’s eye”– I can only improve this, and, I’ll make you a better artist too! So, for instance, we should definitely put a big banner across the top to tell people it’s the bi-centennial, so they don’t forget.

Vest: yes, that is now! That is exciting!

Tie: of course, we’ll the price point, issue no., month, comics code authority stamp…

Vest: and the DC button! With a big burst that says “the biggest and the best!” ‘cuz we are!

Suit: since we’ve got this second bar of info under the bi-centennial reminder, let’s add in some tiny figures of a few JSA members flying and running. This reenforces that this book features the JSA.

Ernie: well, we are going to have right there in battle…

Suit: yes, I’d say add three of them, oh, with Powergirl. Definitely Powergirl.

Tie: we’ll need details there.

Vest: let’s also put the All Star Comics logo up there small!

Ernie: ah, so to save space, you just want the comics masthead smaller and tucked up in there?

Vest: no, no, no, we’ll also have it repeated again large just below it, just so the fans realize that this is All Star Comics! That must also be reenforced!

Tie: we also need to add the JSA logo…

Vest: and the Super squad!

Ernie: who’s the Super squad?

Suit: the JSA of course!

Ernie: we’re calling the JSA the Super squad now? Why….

Suit: we’ve also got a couple word balloons to tell us what we’re already seeing, and another box to mention the theme and title!

Tie: very important

Vest: oh, and don’t forget to leave space for the bar code box!

Suit: great, all settled. OH! Don’t forget to add the number 17!

Vest: yes, vital!

Tie: we’re all very excited to see what you come up with! 

Vest: we’re looking for something simple, pure, powerful…

Ernie: and majestic?

Suit/Tie/Vest: YES!


In the end, I think Ernie did the best he could, given the situation. 

Had a revelation, so SHAZAM part 2!

Forgive the analogy but it hit me like a lightning bolt. 

The biggest mystery to me was why the original CC Beck version of Captain Marvel has been the only one to really hit the towering heights of popularity?

Sure, you could SAY the style was very much of its time… but it really *wasn’t*. As I said in yesterday’s entry, Beck wanted to provide superior, clean, bold, simple, powerful illustrations to set Captain Marvel APART from its contemporaries.

One might also say, hey, there have been some great artists who’ve drawn the character in the decades since Beck left, and one would be correct.

Alex Ross, Jose Luis Garcia Lopez, Jerry Ordway, Don Newton, John Byrne, Gary Frank, just to name a few. 

BUT BUUUTTT BUT….. here’s the thing….

Beck’s Captain Marvel wasn’t your typical superhero that could alter his look from artist to artist. Superman was still Superman after Wayne Boring stopped drawing him and Curt Swan started! Batman is still Batman whether he’s drawn by Dick Sprang, Neal Adams or Frank Miller. 

***Beck treated Cap’s look like it was animation. There was a specific look, where the illustrations had to *on model* that all artists working with and under Beck had to adhere to!

And as wonderful as all those above mentioned DC artists are, ***They were simply OFF MODEL!***

Look at it this way — imagine Jack Kirby drawing the Simpsons in his style. Imagine Neal Adams drawing the Flintstones realistically. Imagine Frank Miller redesigning Family guy. With animation, if even ONE line is out of place from the established model, characters like Bart Simpson, Rick & Morty, or the Venture Bros. don’t really look like the characters you know. They look…”wrong”.

Part of the problem was DC not paying attention to the MODEL guide, and trying to treat Captain Marvel like any other DC hero. Big mistake.

But it was also the DC writers chosen to pen Cap’s new adventures in the ’70’s, like E. Nelson Bridwell and others. DC did finally hire Beck to illustrate the new series but he left not long after due to creative differences. Writers like Bridwell simply didn’t “get” the type of stories that fit Cap. 

Beck had even said that back with the Binder stories, he could always work with the stories to build them up, do great things with them. In these new stories, there wasn’t much he could do to make them work.

For decades, everyone and their mother has thought they had a good, new take on the character, me included at one point, but it was all nonsense.

We never stood a chance, any of us, because we didn’t realize Captain Marvel was a very specific, whimsical, superhero fantasy that was an animated series masquerading as a comic book. 

Well, *I* thought it was quite the revelation. 🙂

“Shazam” will always be Captain Marvel to me

The horrific stormageddon that appeared out of nowhere got me to thinking—naturally, about the original Captain Marvel. Once upon a time, there was a superhero called Captain Marvel (originally Captain Thunder). It was all about a kid named Billy Batson. Whenever there was trouble, Billy would shout SHAZAM!, bringing down a bolt of lightning that would transform young Billy into the World’s Mightiest Mortal! The Big Red Cheese! Captain Marvel!

SHAZAM was actually the name of an old magical wizard who lived in a cave who imbued Billy with the power of the gods, whose first initials made up his name.

Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles and Mercury. 

A bit odd but it was 1939.

Captain Marvel was created for Fawcett comics by a guy named Bill Parker. He handed the writing chores primarily over to Otto Binder, but artist CC Beck is the man with the longest association to the character, creating the cartoony look of the character and his rogues gallery. This included his evil analog Black Adam, the troll-like scientist Dr. Sivana and the super-mentally powered Mr. Mind (a tiny worm under glass).

I’d be hard pressed to think of a superhero strip that was more fun than Captain Marvel. It was definitely geared more toward kids, with characters like Tawky Tawny, the tiger– a tiger who was sentient, walked upright, and wore a suit.

There was also the Marvel family, including Mary Marvel (Billy’s sister Mary), Captain Marvel jr. (Freddy Freeman, Billy’s best friend), and Uncle Marvel, who had no powers, just put on the suit.

Odd side note: While Billy’s transformative magic word was Shazam, Freddy’s magic word was instead “Captain Marvel!”, which, considering his superhero name was Captain Marvel Jr., that had to be awkward. That always kind of bugged me. A superhero who can’t even say his own name without lightning coming down? How does one mingle at parties? But I digress. 

Beck’s artwork has always appealed to me. When they started the comic, Beck was adamant that they don’t do the same type of cliched superhero stories. He wanted to add more fun and whimsy to the production. It really was a grand, fun, CLEAN style, with some epic whimsy thrown in. The art looked much sharper and sophisticated than anything coming out in monthly superhero comics of the time, which had to have a huge impact on its sales and popularity.

Beck and co. created quite the unique world for Captain Marvel, with big storylines across a fair sized line of comics. It was a really long running and hugely profitable enterprise for Fawcett that went for years, outselling even Superman through the 1940’s! They had movie serials, you name it. 

And DC had to go and screw EVERYTHING up. 

At this juncture, I’d just like to point out the importance of GOOD legal council.

Evidently, National Comics (eventually DC comics), had top notch lawyers, because National brought forth a suit saying Captain Marvel was a rip off of Superman- an infringement on their copyright. It seems National just couldn’t stand some other comic making so so SO much more money than THEIR comic. Initially, Fawcett won in court but National appealed and got lucky on the second go round. The alleged likeness or “infringement” on National’s copyright was rubbish of course, but somehow, some way, National’s legal team convinced a judge and possibly a jury. I’m *guessing* that to the average person on the street, with no knowledge of the characters, one guy flying around in a cape looks just like the next.

Post war sales had declined and it reached a point where prolonging the legal battle was just not worth it so Fawcett settled out of court, paying off National.

By 1953, Fawcett shut down the Captain Marvel line. 

Eventually, DC licensed the property from Fawcett and ran old issues in the ’60’s. Then, DC or Fawcett somehow managed to fall asleep at the wheel regarding holding onto the copyright for the name of Captain Marvel. During the late 1960’s, Marvel Comics came up with their own Captain Marvel (the Kree soldier, Mar-Vell), and by some legal chicanery, DC could no longer call their Captain Marvel… Captain Marvel. It was no longer their name. Marvel had the copyright, and has successfully managed to keep a hammer lock on the name for the last 50 years.

Between the ’60’s and present day, DC has tried numerous times to reboot the character, now known simply as Shazam. Different writers and artists have rendered the character over the years to varying degrees of success. The latest adaptation was the Zachary Levy movie, which was fun and did modestly well in cinemas. Somehow, none of the comic attempts have ever quite managed anything near the heyday of the Beck era. 

I’m sure part of it is that NO comic has been able to come anywhere near the sales back then. These days, only the biggest, hottest comics can sell 100,000 copies. Back in the ’40’s, Captain Marvel could command one MILLION copies sold each month. In fact, at one point, Cap’s adventures were being put out bi-weekly, selling 1.3 million copies every two weeks. Yep. At their highpoint, they were averaging 2.6 million copies a month.

Remember that back then, comics were the only game in town as far as personal entertainment, aside from movies and radio. Television wasn’t even really a thing yet. These days, comics have a ton of competition, with video games, the Internet, tv, iPhone, streaming services, etc., etc.

But with each new attempt at a new incarnation of “Shazam”, we’re reminded of just how unique CC Beck’s take was of the character and his world. As it is, in the comics, Shazam’s often depicted as a cocky, somewhat unlikable teenager in a super adult form. Your writing mileage may vary, but for me, the best representation of the character by DC was in the Justice League animated series. 

Bottom line, I believe there was simply a specific magic in the golden age with Binder’s scripts and Beck’s art that just worked. A perfect storm that hasn’t been replicated since.

One wonders what might have happened to Captain Marvel, if National hadn’t stepped in? One might think Shazam would have petered out on its own at some point, but then again, look at Archie comics. Somehow, some way, that franchise is still thriving after well over a half century, which is mind boggling. So who knows? 

Maybe someone, somehow, will some day hit the right note again with the character. Shazam! Fury of the Gods will be the second movie entry and maybe it can improve on the original. The costume changed to more closely resemble the Beck version.

Of course, maybe the most annoying bit is the fact that once again, you’ve got a hero who can’t even say his own name without bringing down the Lightning. There goes the mingling at parties…..

…oh, and if you wondered how that nasty storm just ended….

…you’re welcome.

Fantastic Four Omnibus Vol. 4

So, if the cover’s not enough…

I was digitally skipping around Amazon when I saw the solicitation. I can only guess they’re putting out the next giant Omnibus continuing the FF’s adventures because the MCU is slowly, ever so slowly prepping the next FF movie. 

Volume 3 came out not too long before the Josh Trank/Fox movie came out. The Omnibus was the one good thing to come out of that scenario. 

To be fair, if Fox didn’t screw with the second half of the film and let Trank do what he wanted to in the first place, it would have been a pretty good film. It might not really be a Fantastic Four film, but a good horror film on its own.

But what ho, you might ask “Rick, wouldn’t the FF issues contained within a Vol. 4 (#94 – 125) be well past the golden era of the best Stan Lee and Jack Kirby stuff?”

Yes, but there are very different *good* things in *each* of these four volumes.

In Vol. 1, we see the characters and personalities forming, fascinating new villains introduced and the birth of the Marvel age of comics. The whole book is still “cooking” and a work in progress. Stan’s giving the gang personalities, but hasn’t reached his narrative peak yet, delivering the epic stories that would soon come.

Conversely, Jack was delivering a lot of condensed action in nine panel pages, but hadn’t fully jumped in the deep end with his signature bigger than life shots. The inking was also a bit inconsistent as they hadn’t settled on a main guy yet. But even in its embryonic stage, the magic and magnificence is there. Vol. 1 covers issues 1 – 30 and some annuals.

Vol. 2 sees Lee and Kirby at their best with their most momentous story lines, such as “The Coming of Galactus” and “This Man, This Monster”. More and more Big villains and guest stars are introduced (the Inhumans, Black Panther, etc.) —  this is Stan and Jack at their peak, and if you could *only* buy one volume, I’d say vol. 2 is the way to go. Vol. 2 covers issues 31 – 60 and a couple annuals.

In Vol. 3, they turn the page– it’s here that Jack opens things up. This was around the time when Kirby wanted a raise. Publisher Martin Goodman refused, so Stan told Jack to maybe draw fewer panels, basically, doing less work. Jack did so, and things just became more visually epic as the panels got bigger and even more pulse-pounding. Larger panels and splash pages meant that much more Kirby energy and power. Kirby and Sinnott are at their best in this volume, even if the stories aren’t quite as historic as some of the earlier entries. Vol. 3 includes issues 61 – 93 plus annuals.

That brings us to volume 4. Here’s the link. For me, the art’s the driving force in vol. 4. Now yes, shortly after issue 100, Jack Kirby was on his way out, so we only get 8 or 9 issues from him. But after Jack leaves, we get three issues from John Romita sr., who’s no slouch, then a couple issues later, we get the strangest hybrid ever. A piecemeal, very unique issue which has art by Kirby, Romita *and* John Buscema. But the best is yet to come. John Buscema becomes the regular artist with Sinnott inking. This takes us from about 109 or so, through FF #112 (Thing vs Hulk), and all the way through to the end of this volume. 

As always, in addition to the stories looking their very best in this prestige format, you also get the original letters pages, which boasts some now famous creators. Art Adams provides a crazy fantastic cover for this book as well (above), based on Kirby’s original illustration for issue #100. In the end, well worth it. 

In fact, I’m looking forward to Vol. 5, as it covers the rest of the Buscema/Sinnott era, containing some of their most beautiful work ever, alongside some crazy stories. No idea when Vol. 5 might even come out, but considering the new FF movie probably won’t hit screens until late 2023 at best (guh), I’d say that’s probably when the next one gets the nod. 

Time to go back and re-read volumes 1, 2 and 3…

About that Javy play…

And of course every baseball fan knows what I’m talking about. sure, it’s been talked to death, but I had to add a bit of context about an aspect that a lot of people seem to be missing.

Cubs/Pirates last week, 1-0 Cubs, 3rd inning, 2 outs, Contreras on 2nd.

Baez at the plate, grounds to 3rd. Easy out, end of the inning. But no, throw’s wide to 1st. 1st baseman Craig catches the ball in the base path in front of Javy. Baez stops. He starts slowly retreating back to Home plate. Craig moves forward to tag him, but Javy keeps retreating bit by bit, just dangling himself as tagging bait for Craig, who instinctively follows his lead.

Only then does Craig realize that Contreras had rounded third and was sliding toward the plate. He flips the ball to the catcher to tag Contreras, but Willson’s safe. Then Javy busts *back* down the line toward 1st, where no one’s covering, ball’s thrown into right field, Baez ends up on 2nd, and the internet atomizes into crazy disbelief.

The elephant in the room was that since there were two outs, all Craig had to do was step on 1st and none of this craziness or the run would count.

Of course, 1st baseman Craig is being crucified, by fans, commenters, broadcasters, you name it, saying he’s either an idiot or just forgot there were two outs. “Oh, he should go coach little league!” “Why wasn’t every member of the Pirates both on the field and in the dugout screaming for him to just step on the bag?!?!?!”

Hmmm, why do you think that is?

I’ll tell you why. A big part of the equation was expecting a player to do what a player normally does in a situation like this. You can say many things about Javy Baez but him being a “normal” player isn’t one of them. there’s a legit reason he’s called El Mago (The Magician) No one foresaw how this would play out.

It’s really easy to criticize from your couch or the booth when something seems obvious to you, even though you’re not facing the actual situation as the 1st baseman. I think folks are being a little too hard on ol’ Craig. Let’s examine it from his perspective.

Javy hits the grounder to third, you’re Craig moving off 1st to catch the ball and right there in front of you is Javy. Now THINK.

99.999999999% of the time, what’s the baserunner going to do in that scenario? Give up. You’ve got him dead to rights. He’s got nowhere to go. He could leap out of the base path but then he’d be called out. Sure, you could walk back a couple steps and step on the bag, but the runner’s RIGHT THERE, and he’s *obviously* going to give up and let you tag him. Like always.

But then this runner does the unexpected and moves back. Craig expects normal human behavior and if he forgets *anything*, it’s not that there are two out but that he’s facing Baez, who’s the king of the unexpected. Now, he’s retreating but he’s still right there, while the base is getting farther away.

Things are suddenly kicking into another gear as Craig and Javy get closer to home and suddenly Craig notices where Contreras is! At that moment, Craig might very well think “Well, this guy keeps squirming away, I’ll flip to the catcher to nail contreras, helluva play! This’ll make highlight reels!” But then he’s safe and everything is insane. A perfect case of circumstances spiraling out of control.

Because of El Mago. He baited Craig with his deer caught in the headlights maneuver, just trying to stall until Contreras got home. Now, it’s possible, very likely in fact, that *Javy* forgot there were two outs. He was just doing what he does, creating havoc on the base paths. It did work like a charm though.

I don’t think I’ve EVER seen a play go viral like this and be talked about so much. The Pirates manager said that was on him, but really, it was a crazy case of things going sideways fast. Craig’s actually a good player who’s been doing this a while. He just got caught in Javy’s latest spell. He’s human, it happens.

Gotta say, the most hilarious part about the whole thing was when Contreras slid in, the umpire called him safe, but Javy *also* did the “SAFE” move before remembering that the play’s still live and he had to get to first. I laugh every time it gets to that bit. Classic Javy.

Different Artists, Same Thing

To close out the gala event that’s been the ALL THING WEEKEND, I’d like to end with a nod to some of the different artists over the years who’ve drawn or sculpted the character. Every artist has his or her own visual take on the character. Here are a few of my favorites…

Here’s a black and white sampling of the great John Buscema, who drew the FF for a number of years back in the early to mid ’70’s. We see a few snippets here of John’s art with the wonderful inking of Joe Sinnott.

Next up, one of the masters of manic detail, Art Adams.

This is one of the Eaglemoss statues—I don’t know who the sculptor is of this mini statue, but I like his take on Ben.

Here’s a statue from the Randy Bowen studio, which has produced loads and loads of the finest superhero statues. This particular one looks to be the Thing based on the art of John Byrne.

Of course, no Thing list is complete without an addition by the King—Jack Kirby.

Finally, *maybe* my favorite take on Ben Grimm, by Jim Cheung. I’m constantly amazed by the work this guys puts out. Just a subtle line full of life and dynamic. Kudos to Mr. Cheung.

There are of course thousands of other artists out there who’ve drawn the Thing —several good ones in fact. I just wanted to end the Thing weekend with a look at some fun options.

Anyway, that’s it for now— go do things.

More Thing weekend, more Thing pieces from The Collection!

Today, we feature some of the wonkier bits and pieces from the Thing collection. Some, you may have seen before but frankly, who can keep track…

First, this trio from different countries — the front and right figure were, I think, from fast food giveaways, possibly from other countries— I currently have one on the way from Australia so anything’s possible. The one on the left was a Japanese figure, part of a set. I’ll be damned if Benjy doesn’t look a *bit* like Godzilla around the face a bit.

This duo features a pewter figure from an old Marvel miniatures collection for an RPG on the left (or it might be some chess piece—can’t remember), and on the right, of course the Thing head ring, just waiting for some honyok to scream out “THING RING, DO YOUR THING!”, because it’s important that we never forget the horror that was the old Thing cartoon.

This poor thing is what’s left from one of my old sculpts. It didn’t survive the oven, but I saved a few bits including the face, as I think I got pretty close to a Kirby look.

This is an angry lil bobblehead Thing on the left and I think his even littler buddy on the right might be an eraser to go on the end of a pencil.

This old bugger was my first sculpting attempt at a Kirby Thing a number of years ago. Although I think I got pretty close to the facial resemblance, I somehow really went way way way too big on the feet and hands. The old fella’s really falling apart too. Already had to glue certain chunks back on. Can’t let him disintegrate though, he keeps my count current in the collection!

Finally, a Mexican bootleg import which has a clear plastic upper body, so when you press the button on the back, his organs light up. I’ll bet you didn’t know the thing could do that, hmm? Well, he couldn’t before, but I always marvel at the innovative nature of Mexican bootleg figures and their view of reality.

(Mego Thing screams!) This has been another edition of the Thing is… a collection!

All of Alex Ross’ Things spring from Lou’s Head

Comics artist Alex Ross’ realistic painting style is dependent upon photo reference for detail, surface texture, lighting, etc. 

In the case of the Thing, who he’s painted many times…

…he relies on one source and one only, the sculptures of Lou Cella. Years ago, if memory serves, Lou did one Thing bust and I was so impressed with it, I kept bugging him to show it to someone, get it produced, I was a nuisance as usual. Probably all for nothing as I think Lou was already showing it to Alex Ross, who he had met previously. I ended up with one of the original prototypes which had the cigar–later eliminated for the public. The public version, and a few other variants were the ones utilized to this day for Ross’ reference. Lou and Alex have worked together in regards to many of his sculpts since.

I’ve got a few of Lou’s Thing pieces, and some have been mass produced for sale over the years. 

I even did one illustration of a raging Thing that I had transformed into a patch for a jacket…

…which Lou turned into a sculpt…

…that Alex turned into a painting.

Side note: way back in the early ’90’s, after Alex’s book Marvels came out, he was doing a signing at Graham Crackers comics. To this day, it’s the only time I ever met him, but we talked about his book. I complimented him on the fine work and related a story to him about a friend’s dad who really liked the chapter during the WWII era. His dad had been around at the time and really liked the authentic look. 

That nameless friend in question was Lou Cella, who’d Alex would meet years later and forge their sculpting bonded friendship. Small world. 

The Thing. Bringing people together. Yes.

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