TV Review: The Comic Book Greats: Episode 5 – Spotlight on Harvey Kurtzman & Jack Davis (1992)

Released: 1992
Created by: Stan Lee
Directed by: Rick Stawinski
Music by: Rick Stawinski, Rob Stawinski
Cast: Stan Lee (host), Harvey Kurtzman, Jack Davis

Excelsior Productions, Stabur Home Video, 45 Minutes

Review:

This episode of The Comic Book Greats was the first one released in 1992 and was also the first episode of the second run of video releases.

Like the previous episodes, it features Stan Lee as host and interviewer. Here, he brings in legends and friends, Harvey Kurtzman and Jack Davis.

What’s sad about watching this one, is that Kurtzman passed away shortly after this. I’m not sure if this is his last appearance but I’d assume that it probably is. While I enjoyed seeing him here and how he and Stan took friendly jabs at one another, he seemed a bit slower than the other two men on screen.

Sadly, Kurtzman didn’t create any art in this episode but Stan did get Davis to sit down and crank out a couple fun sketches.

This was a slower episode than most but it was still worth watching if you care about comics, cartoonists and artists. Stan does a great job of carrying the show, as the other two men, as talented as they are, don’t have the same level of charisma as Stan.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other episodes in The Comic Book Greats video series.

TV Review: The Comic Book Greats: Episode 4 – Overkill with Todd McFarlane and Rob Liefeld (1991)

Released: 1991
Created by: Stan Lee
Directed by: Rick Stawinski
Music by: Rick Stawinski, Rob Stawinski
Cast: Stan Lee (host), Todd McFarlane, Rob Liefeld

Excelsior Productions, Stabur Home Video, 26 Minutes

Review:

Revisiting this video series from my childhood has been a lot of fun. In fact, this episode is a real highlight in this series, even if it only clocks in at a scant 26 minutes. But unlike me in the early ’90s, you don’t need to spend half of your allowance on this episode just to see it, as these are all streaming on YouTube for free… assuming they don’t get pulled down, at some point.

The first two episodes in this series were interviews with comic book legends Todd McFarlane and Rob Liefeld, this brings both of them back in an effort to create a new character, as dictated to them by Stan Lee.

What’s funny about this, is that this character named Overkill eventually showed up under the name Overt-Kill in Todd McFarlane’s Spawn about a year later. I’m assuming the name alteration, change of color scheme and some artistic tweaking saved McFarlane and Liefeld from any legal shenanigans, as Stan Lee did come up with the name and had some other creative input.

Anyway, this was really fun to watch, especially for me, as I was an aspiring comic book artist the first time I saw this. Todd, Rob and Stan talked through the process and I learned a lot from their insight here and I think any aspiring comic book artist would find this just as useful as I did back in 1991.

This is just a really engaging and fun video series. I’m still glad that Stan Lee did this way back in the day and even if it feels dated, the knowledge gained from these episodes isn’t.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other episodes in The Comic Book Greats video series.

TV Review: The Comic Book Greats: Episode 3 – Spotlight on Sergio Aragonés (1991)

Released: 1991
Created by: Stan Lee
Directed by: Rick Stawinski
Music by: Rick Stawinski, Rob Stawinski
Cast: Stan Lee (host), Sergio Aragonés

Excelsior Productions, Stabur Home Video, 51 Minutes

Review:

This is one of The Comic Book Greats videos that I didn’t own. When I was twelve, I didn’t know much about Sergio Aragonés. However, as I got older and learned who he was, I found out that I had enjoyed his work from Mad Magazine and his long running Marvel comic book series, Groo the Wanderer.

So this was the first time that I checked out this episode. I’m glad I did, though, as Aragonés was very personable and you could see that he and Stan lee were very fond of each other.

Aragonés is more of a cartoonist than the typical comic book artist of the time. He talks about his style and how life led him down the path that saw him eventually work for Mad and Marvel.

He also talked about growing up and moving from Spain to France to Mexico and then the United States. Stan joked around about how many languages Aragonés knew and how he can be difficult to understand in all of them. They exchanged some fun old school ribbing.

The highlight of the Aragonés interview is when Sergio went to the drawing table and created several pieces with almost lightning fast speed.

This was a fun installment and I enjoyed it more than I expected. Aragonés is a unique talent, skilled in his style and it was cool seeing someone outside of the more popular Marvel creators or better known legends get his own episode in this series.

But as Stan Lee said in the beginning, Sergio Aragonés is the guy he really wanted to interview for this series.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other episodes in The Comic Book Greats video series.

 

TV Review: The Comic Book Greats: Episode 2 – Spotlight on Rob Liefeld (1991)

Released: 1991
Created by: Stan Lee
Directed by: Rick Stawinski
Music by: Rick Stawinski, Rob Stawinski
Cast: Stan Lee (host), Rob Liefeld

Excelsior Productions, Stabur Home Video, 40 Minutes

Review:

Since I really liked revisiting the first episode in this series, which featured Todd McFarlane, I definitely felt the urge to revisit this one with Rob Liefeld. Besides, I’m trying to work my way through all of these, as there were many I hadn’t seen back in the early ’90s and the ones I own, haven’t been played in years because PlayStations doesn’t play VHS tapes.

This one is like the previous one in that it is hosted by Stan Lee and he interviews a single comic book pro: Rob Liefeld.

Liefeld talks about what inspired him to get into comics and the really unorthodox story at how he got his foot in the door, which seemed really easy compared to the stories of other pros.

This also gives a good rundown of his art style, his creations and also his earliest work on DC Comics’ Hawk & Dove, as well as Marvel’s The New Mutants and X-Force titles.

While Rob would go on to help found Image Comics a year later, along with McFarlane and others, there isn’t any mention or allusion to that here. Well, other than Rob drawing Diehard, who would become a character in Youngblood. I think that more Image stuff does come up in later videos, however, as Stan Lee has a few of the other Image creators in later episodes and Liefeld and McFarlane also return in one of the 1992 video releases.

I love revisiting these, thus far. I hope the other installments continue to be as engaging. Especially, since some of the later episodes feature some old school legends.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other episodes in The Comic Book Greats video series.

TV Review: The Comic Book Greats: Episode 1 – Spotlight on Todd McFarlane (1991)

Released: 1991
Created by: Stan Lee
Directed by: Rick Stawinski
Music by: Rick Stawinski, Rob Stawinski
Cast: Stan Lee (host), Todd McFarlane

Excelsior Productions, Stabur Home Video, 50 Minutes

Review:

I didn’t have all of these VHS tapes when I was a kid but I did have a lot of them. Luckily for me, and all of you, these are on YouTube. I’ve wanted to revisit these for ages but I haven’t had a working VCR since the Bush II administration.

I was going to review the series as a whole. However, after watching the first episode, which featured Stan Lee interviewing Todd McFarlane, I felt that each episode probably deserves its own review.

This was great to see, twenty-seven years later, as I’m no longer twelve and I had a much greater appreciation of this now than I did back then.

First of all, it was fantastic seeing Stan Lee, still with some youthful vigor, interviewing Todd McFarlane and discussing art techniques and the history of the business, as well as Todd’s career.

It’s pretty clear that Todd would have been a great teacher, as he shows the how and why he employs the techniques he does. For those wanting to get into drawing comics, this is a pretty valuable tool and I’m assuming the other episodes in this series are too. That’s actually why I bought a half dozen of these back in the early ’90s.

All in all, I liked hearing Todd and Stan share stories of the comic industry. Watching them shoot the shit for an hour was a lot of fun.

McFarlane is one of the all-time greats and what makes this even more interesting, is that it came out when he was transitioning away from Marvel and Spider-Man and just gearing up to establish Image Comics and his greatest creation, Spawn.

I really enjoyed this episode and I hope the others live up to the precedent set with this first one.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other episodes in The Comic Book Greats video series.

TV Review: X-Men: Pryde of the X-Men (1989)

Original Run: 1989 (first-run syndication, 1 episode)
Created by: Lee Gunther, Margaret Loesch
Directed by: Ray Lee
Written by: Larry Parr
Based on: The Uncanny X-Men by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby
Music by: Robert J. Walsh
Cast: Michael Bell, Earl Boen, Andi Chapman, Pat Fraley, Ron Gans, Dan Gilvezan, Alan Oppenheimer, Patrick Pinney, Neil Ross, Susan Silo, Kath Soucie, John Stephenson, Alexandra Stoddart, Frank Welker, Stan Lee (narrator)

Marvel Productions, New World Television, Toei Animation, Baker and Taylor Entertainment, Metrolight Studios, Disney-ABC Domestic Television, 1 Episode, 22 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

Pryde of the X-Men was a pilot for a proposed X-Men animated series in the late ’80s. As far as I know, only one episode was ever produced.

The episode appeared on television in 1989 but I never got to see it until the VHS was available to rent in my local video store.

While the failure of this pilot eventually led to the development of the spectacular X-Men: The Animated Series in 1992, it’s hard to say which version of an X-Men cartoon would have been better because this pilot was damn good.

Also, the great X-Men arcade game from the ’90s was modeled after this cartoon and not the better known 1992 one.

I loved the style of this, as it was very similar to the early seasons of G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero and Transformers. All three of these shows were made by Marvel and Toei. The animation is basically done in the same style and this show even uses some of the same voice talent that were featured in G.I. Joe and Transformers.

This show, at least this one episode, is centered around the arrival of Kitty Pryde to the X-Mansion. The X-Men team here consists of Professor X, Cyclops, Wolverine, Storm, Nightcrawler, Colossus and Dazzler. Lockheed, the dragon, is introduced in this too.

The episode also features the villains Magneto, Emma Frost, Juggernaut, Pyro and the Blob.

Pryde of the X-Men hits all the right notes and is a really cool experience if you grew up in the ’80s and ’90s and had a love for X-Men and the other Marvel/Toei animated shows. Man, I really wish this would’ve at least gotten a full season run because this setup was well done and left me wanting more.

I’m glad that we got the 1992 animated series but this could have been good and maybe even great. We’ll never know but this show certainly started off on the right foot.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: X-Men: The Animated Series, as well as G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero and Transformers.

Talking Pulp: Stan Lee is Gone but His Legacy is Immortal – How He Impacted Me

It’s been a few days since Stan Lee passed away. The Internet is full of tributes to the man but I really needed some time to process it and to reflect on his life before writing about what Stan meant to me.

Stan Lee had an immense impact on me and to be honest, that’s an understatement. Alongside George Lucas, Lee was responsible for creating a vast mythos that was instrumental in shaping my life. I would say that Lee had an even larger impact than Lucas’ Star Wars, which was the biggest thing in the world to a kid of the ’80s.

Lee eclipsed Lucas because by the time I discovered his creations, Marvel had already expanded into a universe much larger than what Star Wars was or would ever be.

Stan the Man created more characters and things that I grew to care about than any other great creator throughout the history of time. Maybe that’s because of the time I grew up in or because I was just drawn to comics, being that I’ve been an artist and a writer since I could hold a pencil.

My very first Marvel experience came in the form of television, as I became a huge fan of the Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends cartoon, which ran from 1981 to 1983. I was four years-old in ’83 and I probably discovered the show right at it’s end but it would go on to be replayed beyond its cancellation.

I remember vividly, the day that I saw the Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends episode that featured the X-Men. I immediately fell in love with those characters and it wasn’t long before I had issues of The Uncanny X-Men in my hands. Then there was The Amazing Spider-Man and my first mega event, Secret Wars. Everything branched out from that but it was the foundation of Stan’s creations that brought me to a fantasy world where I could escape and spend my time.

Marvel was the first comic book company I discovered and even though I loved DC Comics’ Batman more than any other comic book character, I spent 90 percent of my time reading Marvel over DC. I was fascinated by the X-Men, I loved Spider-Man and his large rogues gallery. I really got into Captain America, dug the hell out of Iron Man and followed all versions of the Avengers teams from the mid-’80s and onward.

I was very aware of who Stan Lee was, as he was always a prominent figure in comics and his name was in the credits of nearly every Marvel book, if not all of them back then. When I would see Stan do interviews or pop up in other places, it was always a treat. He had charisma and an infectious personality. He was wise, creative and fatherly but in a way that was way cooler than any dad on Planet Earth.

When the Marvel Comics trading cards came out my first year of middle school, all the boys I knew were trying their damnedest to collect the full set. This was my first experience in trading cards with friends and a lot of the sixth grade boys at my school started becoming a bit of a club or community. Collecting these cards educated us on Marvel history and led us down new avenues with new characters and major stories to check out. We started trading and lending out comics. It was a really cool time to be a kid, especially for one that loved superhero comics.

By the way, my favorite Marvel trading card was always the Stan Lee one from the first series.

When you think about all the things that Stan Lee created and then take into account the scale of what those creations have become in pop culture, he may be the most prolific, successful and inspiring writer of his generation. Most of his creations are beloved and many of them have become big business in film, television and video games. Not to mention toys, trinkets and just about anything you can throw the Hulk or Thor’s mug on.

Stan Lee’s work has generated billions of dollars in revenue. It’s damn near impossible to find anyone who doesn’t know at least one of Lee’s creations.

I’ve seen Stan Lee in person but I never got to speak with him. But regardless of that, I always felt close to the man, as did many fans. He seemed accessible and he always seemed to love the people as much as they loved him. He always had his best face on, publicly, and I’ve never met a fan that had a bad experience in meeting him.

Stan Lee’s passing wasn’t unexpected. I think that everyone knew it was coming in the near future based off of the loss of his wife and the terrible things he went through since then but that doesn’t mean that it didn’t hit me like a dagger to the gut.

I don’t usually get down or upset about celebrity deaths. Sure, there are people that I know I’ll miss and dwelling on their deaths is a downer but Stan’s death was different. Stan was a major part of my life.

Without Stan, I might not have discovered comics in quite the same way and I probably wouldn’t have such a passionate love for them that didn’t just end in childhood but has carried over into adulthood.

Without Stan, I probably wouldn’t have ever drawn my own comics as a kid. By the time I was in 7th and 8th grade, I had formed my own company with some friends and we were putting out comics regularly, first selling them to other school kids and then kids from other schools we didn’t even know. I loved that time in my life and it was Stan that guided me to that great place. Plus, his book, How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way was my bible during this period of creative exploration.

Without Stan, I may have walked away from comics. However, he was always a presence in the industry and every time I saw him trucking along, putting out new projects and popping up in movies, it always brought me back to that place where I always felt most comfortable. Stan Lee was like a piece of home for me, a dear relative that lives far away but pops back up into my life every so often.

A world without Stan Lee just doesn’t seem like a world I want to live in. I don’t mean that to sound depressing but he was always a beacon of light and enthusiasm, exuding positivity and imagination. The world is truly missing something great without Stan Lee in it.

But we all have to do what Stan Lee would want us to do. Move forward, live life and try to be the best version of ourself, everyday.