Fun trailer for ‘The Force Awakens’

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Today marked the beginning of the latest “Star Wars” Celebration – my attendance at the first few Celebrations is something I should get around to telling you about sometime – and today’s events were marked by a panel of actors from “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” the sequel – Episode VII as the titles will no doubt have it when it opens at the end of the year – and a new teaser trailer.

And have no doubt, the teaser is pretty fun.

The shot of Han Solo and Chewbacca up top there closes the teaser and, judging by the response online, greatly increased the anticipation.

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I’m looking forward to seeing some of the new cast in director J.J. Abrams’ film, including Daisy Ridley and John Boyega (above).

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But what about that narration by Mark Hamill and that shot of Darth Vader’s melted helmet?

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Goosebumps.

Here’s the teaser.

‘Ant-Man’ trailer: Big things, small packages

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A while back in this space I talked about why Ant-Man – oddball character, oddball history, possibly oddball movie – matters to the Marvel Comics universe and the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

I think this summer’s “Ant-Man” movie, while lower on the expectations scale than “Age of Ultron,” could play a crucial role.

We know that Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), the original Ant-Man, passes the mantle to Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), the new Ant-Man.

Based on rumors circulating, we’re going to guess that the movie will bridge some of the gaps in the history of the Marvel universe we haven’t seen on the big screen yet.

The first “Ant-Man” trailer underwhelmed some people.

The new one, released today, was really good, I thought. And yes, there’s a lot of “Iron Man” lurking in the plotline of the new movie.

But that’s okay, because “Iron Man” was good enough to kickstart the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Here’s the trailer. Enjoy.

Vision and The Thing

visionultronConsidering that both “Avengers: Age of Ultron” and “Fantastic Four” come out this summer, we’ve seen surprisingly little of two of the most important characters.

That changed last week when images of Vision from “Ultron” and Ben Grimm – The Thing – from “FF” were released.

That’s Paul Bettany as Vision above and, although the picture was almost certainly retouched for the Vision poster, he looks good.

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And there’s The Thing, which looks better in this picture than an earlier one but still isn’t quite right.

What’s missing?

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His brow, of course. That simple feature, as created by Jack Kirby, made The Thing’s face so much more expressive, so much more human.

‘The Secret History of Marvel Comics’

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“The Secret History of Marvel Comics” missed a great opportunity with its title alone.

“The Secret Origin of Marvel Comics” would have been a more accurate title for Blake Bell and Michael J. Vassallo’s book because it looks at the pre-history, in a way, of the artists and writers who shaped Marvel and its earliest incarnations but specifically focuses on publisher Martin Goodman, who published pulp magazines beginning in 1933 before riding the tide of reader interest into comic books in 1939.

You can tell the authors’ premise with the quote that begins the book. “Fans are not interested in quality,” Goodman is quoted as saying, and as much as that can be disputed – even a World War II-era kid knew the difference between a good Captain America comic and a bad one – it was a mantra that served Goodman well as he moved through the New York publishing world.

The book follows Goodman’s publishing enterprises through western and detective pulps and gives us some beautiful illustrations from covers and inside the magazines.

The text emphasizes, again and again, that Goodman was fairly ruthless in his dealings with artists and writers. Some of them were among the men and women who would go on to become the best in the comics field once it kicked into high gear in the 1950s and 1960s.

They’re all here, from Stan Lee (related to Goodman by marriage) and Jack Kirby – who would team to co-create classic comic characters for Goodman’s Marvel Comics – to Kirby’s Captain America co-creator Joe Simon to the likes of Dennis the Menace creator Hank Ketcham.

Everybody worked for Goodman, it seems, even if many of them came away not particularly enjoying the experience.

Although the first half of the book, with its assessment of Goodman’s character, feels repetitive, the second half is eye-opening, with reproductions of art by artist after artist. Here you’ll see Kirby’s art – raw and edgy – for detective pulps like “Detective Short Stories” and fantasy pulps like “Marvel Stories.”

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Here’s a two-page spread by Kirby and Simon for “Queen of Venus,” from Marvel Stories 2 in November 1940.

The artists reproduced here gave readers an unending parade of gangsters and molls and tough guys and bad girls and aliens and murderers. That’s the best thing that “The Secret History of Marvel Comics” shows us.

Avengers: “Look on my works …”

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I’ve always loved this page, the end of “Avengers” 57, from October 1968.

Along with “Fantastic Four,” “Avengers” was my favorite Marvel comic. I constantly found myself amazed at the ingenuity, the artistry and yes, the poetry.

Although Ultron was to return to plague the Avengers many times over the decades – and does so again in a couple of weeks in “Avengers: Age of Ultron” – this final page from the Roy Thomas-written comic, using Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem “Ozymandias,” to show the mundane outcome of a mighty batlle, left me awed.

Still does.

Heyday of the ‘spook shows’

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I’ve become interested lately in the “spook shows,” afternoon or midnight shows in theaters big and small during the first half of the 20th century. In these shows, some classic – or not so classic – horror film would be screened, a magician or TV horror host would present a live stage show – often one that included “monsters,” AKA guys in masks – and a “blackout” period wound ensue in which glow-in-the-dark figures would appear to fly through the air above the audience.

I never saw a spook show, although I saw a drive-in showing of “Incredibly Strange Creatures” that included guys in monster masks running through the aisles.

I’m intrigued by spook shows, though, and will likely research them and write more about them here in the future.

In the meantime, above is an ad I found online for a spook show.

It’s possible to figure out a few things based on this newspaper ad.

First, we can tell that this spook show likely¬†happened sometime after May 1958, when Hammer’s “Horror of Dracula” was released in the U.S. That movie starred Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, of course, and ushered in a new era of horror movies in color. The ad notes that “Horror of Dracula” was the moving playing onscreen

That’s assuming there’s no mistake in the ad, however. The monster faces used in the ad are from “House of Dracula,” the 1945 Universal monster release. That doesn’t mean all that much: The images could have been used for decades.

The ad promised free copies of Famous Monsters magazine, which began publishing in 1958.

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The show was “presented” by Dick Bennick, who was a TV horror movie host from the 1960s to 1995, although he was in St. Pete after 1973.

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The final bit of information from the ad confirms the St. Petersburg location. the Playhouse was a movie theater in St. Pete that operated from 1928 to 1973.

Wouldn’t it be fun to see this show today?