Meeting Stan Lee

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 15 July 2014.

Stan Lee June 2014

In comic book fandom, there is only one true living legend. Spider-Man, Thor, Iron Man, the Hulk, the Fantastic Four and the X-Men are just a few of the co-creations of Stan “The Man” Lee. At the spritely age of ninety one, Lee was recently on our shores for his farewell world tour, and I was one of 50,800 fans who attended the Supanova Pop Culture Expo just to be in the same room as the creator of the Marvel Universe. I actually did a little better than that, also having the opportunity to have a photo with and obtain an autograph from “Smilin'” Stan Lee.

As the Game of Thrones travelling exhibition proved (I came, I saw the queue, I went home), being a lover of pop culture often means enduring long waits, and Supanova was no exception. Even with my reasonably expensive “True Believer” pass, I was still subject to queues which snaked across the immense concrete floor of what is normally the food pavilion of the Royal Easter Show. It was impossible to get lost. There was a plethora of kooky volunteers to prod you into a single file, and the seemingly never ending masking tape arrows at your feet would see you to the superstar guest of you choice, eventually.

I was quite amazed at the efficiency of the celebrity photography outfit at Supanova. It was literally get in, drop your bags, get drenched, er, I mean smile, get out and collect your glossy photo. Proudly sporting my new lycra Spidey tee, I approached Mr Lee who was comfortably seated on a bar stool. I posed, we smiled, there was a flash and a treasured memento for my living room was made. I was quite chuffed when Stan muttered, “Good work.” Hey, who is going to turn down positive feedback from the revered co-creator of Doctor Strange?

The autograph process was much the same. Luckily for me, my pass allowed me to bypass the extremely lengthy general admission queue and join the “True Believer” queue. Sigh. Standing in line at a pop culture convention is never boring. There are always interesting geeks, who know more about Doctor Who than should be legal, to converse with, as well as costumed cosplayers to admire (or not as the case may be – portly Picard I’m talking about you).

At the head of the line, I hastily unfurled my limited edition print (Stan fighting off a Mars Attacks alien with a typewriter) and was waved on to meet “The Man” again. Seconds later I was on my way with an authentic Stan Lee signature (I paid extra for a sticker that says so) and a brief story about how the typewriter on the poster is a depiction of the original typewriter that he used until his ex-wife broke it, and that was why she was his ex-wife. I assume that was a joke.

The highlight of my day was a filled to capacity Q & A session where Lee bounced around the stage, captivating the audience with tales of Marvel’s early years, the origins of now iconic super heroes and his favourite creation (for the record, it is Spider-Man). I just hope that when I am ninety one, I will still have such passion for my work. Forget that, I hope that I still have a passion for anything. I also hope that thousands of geeks will pay hundreds of dollars to get my autograph and have photos with me, as I relax in a chair. Excelsior!!

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Published in: on October 5, 2014 at 15:02  Leave a Comment  
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Superhero going stale? Reboot!

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This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 10th May 2011.

Next year will see the cinematic release of The Dark Knight Rises, the third film in Christopher Nolan’s Batman Trilogy. With stars Christian Bale and Gary Oldman returning, along with new cast members Anne Hathaway as Catwoman, Tom Harding as Bane and Joseph Gordon-Levy as an unnamed character, the film is sure to be a major box office hit for Warner Bros and DC Entertainment. However, with Nolan and Bale confirming that they will not be back for a fourth film in the franchise, rumours are rife that Batman will be rebooted with a new director and star.

In cinema, a reboot is where all previous continuity in a series is discarded and begins anew. In the Caped Crusader’s case, Tim Burton’s original series, which began in 1989 with the box office smash starring Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson, had petered out to a kiddie friendly mess by 1997 with Batman and Robin, directed by Joel Schumacher (The Lost Boys), when the big red reboot button was thankfully pressed.

Batman isn’t the only comic superhero to undergo a reboot. The Man of Steel has been revised once, and is soon to be revamped again. Following four films starring Christopher Reeve, each one sillier than the next, reaching rock bottom with the anti-nuclear rubbish that was Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, X-Men director Bryan Singer was given the reins to reboot the franchise. Starring Brandon Routh and Kevin Spacey, Superman Returns essentially eliminates the original third and fourth films and picks up from where the second film ended.

Superman Returns, which was shot in Sydney, was not the mega success anticipated by Warner Bros, and now the rebooted Superman: The Man of Steel, which will premiere in 2012 and star Henry Cavill in the blue tights, will begin production soon.

Marvel comic characters are also not immune to a reboot or four. Mr Fantastic, the Invisible Woman, the Human Torch and The Thing make up the Fantastic Four, who were successfully translated into cinematic gold in two films produced between 2005 and 2007.  Starring Jessica Alba and Julian McMahon, both movies were profitable for Fox. A much more superficial take on the superhero genre compared to Christopher Nolan’s Batman franchise, the Fantastic Four are due to be rebooted soon.

Sam Raimi’s very successful Spiderman trilogy has made a fortune for Sony Pictures. Following the critically panned Spiderman 3, which starred Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst, Sony has announced a reboot, The Amazing Spider-man, to be directed by Marc Webb (no pun intended) and starring Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker and Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy.

The dilemma with reboots is where to take a renewed franchise. After the serious Gothic style of Michael Keaton’s Batman to the silliness of Val Kilmer’s Caped Crusader to the craptacular Bat-nipples on George Clooney’s Bat-suit to the super dramatic gravelly tones of Christian Bale, where to next for the Dark Knight? You can’t really go any darker than Health Ledger as the Joker and you can’t get any campier than Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr Freeze (unless Adam West is looking for work). The choice in my opinion is simple, a musical spectacular on ice in 3D. Holy reboot Batman!

Unlikely Musicals

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 20th July.

In November this year, the most expensive musical in history might hit Broadway. “Spider-Man, Turn Off the Dark” has a reported budget of US$52 million. With music and lyrics by U2’s Bono and The Edge, and under the direction of Julie Taylor, the mastermind behind The Lion King stage show and the musical film, Across the Universe, Spidey on stage promises to be a spectacular production, with plans for the webslinger to soar across the New York skyline. How we can see his lips move when singing is yet to be determined.

With so much at stake, the production has been troubled to say the least. Marvel, owner of the Spider-Man character, has already renewed the licence for the show five times. Veteran theatre and film producer, Tony Adams, who initiated the project, suffered a stroke and died in October 2005 just days after signing The Edge. Two of the advertised stars, Evan Rachel Wood (Mary Jane Watson) and Alan Cumming (Green Goblin), have pulled out due to frustrations with the lengthy developmental period. In August 2009, all work on the show, including set building and preparation of the Hilton Theatre, was suspended when the ledger showed that the budget was US$25 million in the red.

If, and that’s a big if, Spider-Man’s curtain rises this year, the show will have to be a mega-success to avoid it being an expensive flop. My spider sense is only mildly tingling.

Spider-Man may seem like a strange choice for a musical, however, there are several productions out there based on unlikely characters and subjects.

American Idiot, based on the album of the same name by Green Day, opened on Broadway in April this year. Essentially the whole album, with a few extra songs from the 21st Century Breakdown record, the one act show centres on a group of disaffected youths struggling to find meaning in their suburban, middle-class lives. Opening to mixed reviews, the first few months of the production have generated strong box office takings. The measure of success on Broadway is longevity so the jury is still out on American Idiot.

The Toxic Avenger was a trashy, B grade film from Troma Entertainment in 1984. Following the adventures of a bullied janitor who is exposed to toxic waste and becomes a superhero, the film became a cult favourite and spawned two sequels and a cartoon series. In 2009, the rock musical opened off-Broadway (this means that the theatre is located in Broadway but has less than 500 seats) with positive reviews and ran for 300 performances.

Evil Dead: The Musical, is based on the 1981 comedy horror film which starred popular B movie star Bruce Campbell and was directed by Sam Raimi, who would go on to helm two more Evil Dead movies, The Gift, A Simple Plan, Drag Me to Hell and all three (non-musical) Spider-Man films. Following the movie’s premise of four college students trapped in an isolated cabin in the woods whilst an evil power possesses them one by one, the musical is reportedly a great laugh and features what is known as the “splash zone”. The audience in the first four rows is encouraged to wear old clothing as the stage blood from the comedic violence tends to fly into the stalls. Evil Dead opened off-Broadway in 2006 and ran for a year. It continues to dismember its cast to the delight of audiences in local productions across the US, Canada and Korea.

A musical based on a man with super spider abilities may seem ridiculous, but I suppose it is no weirder than roller skating trains (Starlight Express), copulating puppets (Avenue Q) or actors (such as myself a few years ago) prancing around in body stockings (Cats).