Welcome back to the social club. This outing comes with a tinge of sadness as – at the suggestion of our esteemed correspondent Jo-Ann Titmarsh – we honour the late, great Stan Lee. A titan if ever there was one, Lee created iconic characters that promoted inclusiveness, humanity and empathy and that have (and will) stand the test of time. Rest in peace Stan. Excelsior!
Jo-Ann Titmarsh – SPIDER-MAN
As a kid, I watched the Spider-Man cartoon religiously (and can still sing the theme tune if you ask nicely) so my favourite Marvel film is Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man. With Tobey Maguire as nerdy Peter Parker and Kirsten Dunst as the girl-next-door, this first foray into the Marvel universe has a lovely innocence about it. Who knew it would spawn a Marvel movie-spewing behemoth? But back to that innocence: there’s Peter’s hilarious home-made pyjama outfit in his first outing as Spidey, the upside-down kiss in the rain, Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin, and the great line from Peter’s uncle (Cliff Robertson): “With great power comes great responsibility”. There’s humour, romance and great visual effects, and something very old-school about the film and its message about honour, family and duty. Then there’s the cameo from the great man himself: Stan Lee asks Peter: “Hey kid, would you like a pair of these glasses? They’re the kind they wore in X-Men”. Stan, we’d all like a pair of those glasses, because your vision was simply amazing.
John Bleasdale – CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER
I can’t stand Robert Downey Jr. I find his schtick as funny as cold sores. So that means – by default – I’m Team Cap. And it helps that the First Avenger gets such an entertaining origin movie with Chris Evans as Steve Rogers, the weakling who becomes the superhero via a serum and some mad science. Joe Johnston’s film is the unironic go get ‘em adventure story in keeping with the period of World War II. The action is well done and the relationship feel real but I also love the way even as a superhero, Captain America has to escape his first incarnation as a dumb patriotic icon and actually become something more. Chris Evans helps with a charismatic turn; Hugo Weaving’s demonic Red Skull makes for a lurid villain and the ending is so effective they copied it in Wonder Woman. The sequels would prove the most consistent as well, so you can stick Iron Man up your Tony Stark.
Mark Grassick – MALLRATS
I’ve never been a Marvel fan, save for the better X-Men films and the first Guardians of the Galaxy, but I swear I’m not picking Mallrats out of sheer contrariness (not totally anyway). There’s no question that Lee was a master of his craft and that his characters will endure as long as there are comic books and movies, but the most memorable character Stan Lee ever created was Stan Lee. In Kevin Smith’s (unfairly maligned) Mallrats, Lee plays himself as a charming, kind-hearted old dude with a great moustache, which sounds pretty close to the real thing. And if anyone could get through to acerbic, emotionally stunted comic book geek Brody (Jason Lee, no relation) and convince him to save his relationship with Shannon Doherty, it’s Stan Lee. The story he tells Brody of ‘the one who got away’ is a beautifully delivered ode to unshakeable regret, and even though the whole thing is a fabrication, I still can’t help but think of Lee as a man creating superheroes to try and exorcise the pain of his lost love.
Greg Wetherall – THE INCREDIBLE HULK
As a child, I was fascinated by Bruce Banner’s capacity for flicked-switch, pumped-up devilment. I could see him as being a bit like Popeye but much more satisfying and, instead of green spinach he just became green himself. As a veg-dodging kid, of course I loved it. For a certain generation, Lou Ferrigno remains the ultimate Hulk in the lengthy list of Hulks, so his nod of approval for the casting of Edward Norton in Louis Letterier’s salvage operation (after Ang Lee’s misfire) gave healthy heft to this necessary 2008 reboot. Norton rewrote chunks of Zak Penn’s original script and I would wager that the resultant work, alongside Iron Man, set much of the blueprint for the Marvel franchise juggernaut that we’ve all come to know and love. Maybe nostalgia and sentiment has carried over and informed my choice of Letterier’s film on Stan Lee’s creation of a raging, muscular monster. I’m not so sure though. This is solid stuff. “You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.” Thanks to how entertaining his moods are, were and always will be, I like him just fine. A kind of Jekyll and Hyde-style ride for the modern age. Now, where’s that next standalone instalment?
Adam Lowes – DOCTOR STRANGE
With their huge green titan, superpowered foursome and teen webslinger – amongst many others – Marvel had built up a reputable bank of characters by the 1960’s. The introduction of Doctor Stephen Strange in the summer of 1963 heralded a new kind of hero, however, albeit with Lee’s insistence in using yet another alliterative name (it’s been said this was an easier way for him to keep tabs on all of his creations, due to a self-professed terrible memory). While Strange’s character trajectory was hardly untapped comic book territory, even back in that time – an arrogant man humbled by an accident, then rebuilds his life to become the ultimate defender of earth – that mystical slant Lee and co-creator Steve Ditko brought to their superhero was an alluring pull for readers, and even predated the Psychedelic era by a couple of years. It’s easy to see why Strange has remained one of Lee’s most enduring characters, and Scott Derrickson’s 2016 big screen adaptation did solid justice to the character before he became one of the stand-out figures amongst his super colleagues in this year’s brooding Avengers ensemble.
Stefan Pape – X-MEN
I didn’t read comic books when I was a kid. I passed the time with a Panini sticker album instead. Naturally I had little desire to see the superhero movies as I had no connection with the characters and the universes they inhabited. X-Men changed that. Dragged along because my younger brother demanded it, I became beguiled by this world Stan Lee had created. Next thing you know, I was queueing up in Woolworths to buy the merchandise (turns out sticking knives in between my knuckles wasn’t deemed safe – thanks Mum). As youngsters, we all feel a little misunderstood, trying to figure out our place in the world. Naturally, answers aren’t easy to come by, but X-Men spoke to us on that front. This is about people who are different, and Lee gave them all the power. Suddenly being an outsider was cool. The talent attached helps: Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Jennifer Lawrence, Hugh Jackman, Michael Fassbender… some of the biggest stars in the world helped these films transcend your typical blockbuster fare, making them respected artistic endeavours that are impossible to dislike.