Monday, February 19, 2024

Between Books - MCU: The Reign of Marvel Studios

 

Book cover for MCU The Reign of Marvel Studios showing Iron Man flying over the Hollywood hills with a M C U sign replacing the famous Hollywood sign.



I love superheroes!

I love Marvel movies! I loved them before they were cool like broadcast poorly produced Spider-Man movies from the 70s love! And I remember sitting in a theater watching the end credits scene of Iron Man where I saw Nick Fury enter the frame and blow my mind with promises of what could happen next!

And I love history, hence an entire section of this site that is really just an index of books, mostly history. Clearly, MCU: The Reign of Marvel Studios was written literally for me!

MCU: The Reign of Marvel Studios by Joanna Robinson, Dave Gonzales, and Gavin Edwards is a complete and thorough history of Marvel Studios’ projects before its founding in August 1996 under the guidance of Avi Arad. The book outlines how a scrappy studio with a lot of intellectual property and a mission to sell toys, started mainly by leasing characters to other studios and providing some oversight largely to support toy sales. But with 1996 and the coming of Marvel Studios, Marvel looked to make movies itself. Armed with incomplete ownership of their character roster, leadership with a vision, and taking a big bet on itself, the Studio found near-instant success in 2008’s Iron Man. This movie launched the true beginning of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a massive storytelling endeavor under the watchful eye of Kevin Feige. The book details how Marvel Studios came to be, its sudden successes, the long-form storytelling and, the the more recent critical and financial setbacks that the Studio has seen in the 2020s.

MCU: The Reign of Marvel Studios
is deep and wide when it comes to telling the story of Marvel Studios. It is clear writing, despite often detailing complex situations including contracts, legal cases, and personalities. You will not find a more complete one-volume history of Marvel Studios. But that being said, I did often feel like its major accomplishment was bringing together a lot of content in one title and not adding to what fans know about this Disney intellectual properly machine. However, bringing it all together in one read does help refine thoughts on specific themes.

One example that emerges to readers really early is the belief of Marvel Chief Executive Officer Ike Pearlmutter that the purpose of Marvel Studios was to sell toys. Therefore, decisions about the movies supported this belief. This does make sense when you consider that Pearlmutter came from the toy background, not the comics or publishing industries. Therefore, the guidance or interference from Pearlmutter and the Marvel Creative Committee, largely under his influence, looked to support his thoughts on toy sales. And the belief was when you wanted to sell a lot of toys, white male characters sold, not diverse heroes and villains. This drama can seen played out in the characters of Black Widow and Gamora, often hidden in the associated toy lines. This belief would be opposed by Fiege and Disney’s CEO Bob Iger who supported diversity and larger storytelling. While it’s clear that Fiege and Iger found Pearlmutter to be a difficult personality, you can also see how the creative and business beliefs only further pushed this split wider. It is also interesting to watch as the Creative Committee, largely built to act like a Pixar Brain Trust failed to support creativity despite having some talented storytellers included. In the end, the call for toys may have drowned out their voices.

Another emerging theme is how Marvel Studios has strayed from its roots. I don’t mean plausibility, a quality that Jon Favreau sought in the production of Iron Man. Instead they have lost the jazz, the inability for directors, writers, and actors to improv and creatively flex their muscles as productions were in progress. This supported a Fiege principle that the movie mattered more than the whole. But with decades of movies completed and years more in production, the role of Fiege to channel movies and TV to movie together has increased, and play by creative forces now must be limited. Fiege’s role in holding it all together is essential to this endeavor. But it also has the price of limiting creative freedom. Additionally, expensive special effects while visually stunning has blocked the ability to run with a discovered story angle. 


You like superheroes and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Then MCU: The Reign of Marvel Studios by Joanna Robinson, Dave Gonzales, and Gavin Edwards is for you. The book is a complete history with many themes for readers to dive into, with me just skimming a few. The book ends in the recent past, with the future of the MCU at a potential crossroads as real-life legal events have led to a requirement to change story plans, economics have changed the movie and television business, and the MCU has had creative missteps, (I found Secret Invasion to be a giant meh). Maybe someday an expanded or revised volume will detail what comes next. But for now, MCU: The Reign of Marvel Studios provides fans with a handbook of creative achievement and a record of how we got to this enormous financial and creative success…despite itself! 

 

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Monday, February 12, 2024

Between Books - Figment

 






Here it comes again, Between Disney to bully a children’s book!

And to make it even more likely, it’s about Figment. And Between Disney has only experienced the current and least beloved versions of his attraction! What could go wrong?

Figment written by Jason Grandt and illustrated by Scott Tilley, Nick Balian, and Jason Grandt is the latest Little Golden Book to catch the interest of Disney fans. The basic plot is that Dreamfinder introduces readers to his newest creation Figment. The two heroes then explore the pages of the book to collect ideas to inspire imagination. The two explore art, science, sound, and more to fill the idea bag. The book ends with the gift of an idea from Figment to Dreamfinder, the type of gift that every parent can understand!

I don’t dislike Figment. I don’t love Figment. I do like the idea of Figment and his boostering of imagination. I do love imagination! But I also was never the right age or saw the right version of the attraction to go deep into Figment fandom.

I do like the book. It’s colorful. The illustrations are delightful. And Jason Grandt, being an Imagineer knows how to give Dreamfinder and Figment all the homages they need with references to the Dream Moblie, Dreamport, and other Disney attractions. I am convinced that future readings will uncover new Easter eggs.

Storywise it’s pretty simple. And the team does use Sherman Brother’s lyrics which eliminates my only real worry. And for a kiddo, it does support the idea to be curious and that inspiration for imagination can come from anywhere…and no one can complain about that!

Figment by Jason Grandt and illustrated by Scotty Tilley, Nick Balian, and Jason Grandt completes the assignment. It introduces kids to Dreamfinder and Figment or keeps them connected if the child met them in the park. The Little Golden Book captures the spirit of the attraction with a call to imagine.

Don’t we all need a little imagination? 

 

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Monday, February 5, 2024

Between Books - Disneyland on the Mountain: Walt, the Environmentalists, and the Ski Resort that Never Was


Book cover for Disneyland on the Mountain displaying Walt Disney and Califronia officials looking at plans for Mineral King outside in the natural setting



Mineral King is a project mentioned in every complete Walt Disney biography. It’s also one mentioned throughout books on the development of the Disney parks. But generally, these mentions are glancing, a paragraph or, a few pages. But now we have a complete look at the history of Disney’s failed outdoor recreation area. As one delves deeper, it becomes clear that this story is about more than Walt Disney and his hopes for the Mineral King Valley.

Disneyland on the Mountain: Walt, the Environmentalists, and the Ski Resort that Never Was by Greg Glasgow and Kathryn Mayer provides a detailed history of the Walt Disney Company’s hopes and failed vision for the Mineral King Valley. In 1966, Walt Disney, after extensive research, announced his intention to develop Mineral King as a skiing and outdoor recreation area. Disney, inspired by European ski villages hoped to bring visitors to the valley’s natural beauty through a ski resort that would bring visitors all year long. But others saw his vision as destroying the valley's splendor by bringing in a cheap Disneyland aesthetic to the Sierra Nevada mountains. The book chronicles the regulatory, legal, and public relations challenges that kept the Walt Disney Company from moving forward on its ambitious plans. Immediately creating obstacles was Walt Disney’s death soon after the announcement, and leadership changes within the corporate structure. Mineral King would be added to the Sequoia National Park in the National Parks and Recreation Act of 1978, ending any options for extensive land development and putting an end to a project that had fatigued many in the company. The book ends with a discussion of the legacy of the fight over Mineral King, both inside and outside of Disney's corporate history.

Disneyland on the Mountain feels complete and is super dense. This is a true serious well well-researched study of the park. The language used is formal and is more than a fan-written history. The 180 pages are misleading, as each page is packed with facts and reports of the action. Glasgow and Mayer also ensure that their writing goes beyond the perspectives of Walt Disney, Card Walker, and other Disney executives. Instead, they look at the issue from the perspective of Walt Disney employees, Sierra Club officials, Mineral King homeowners, a Supreme Court Justice, and many more. The story is made even more complex through all these perspectives making the tale one much more than a Disney story and infused with unexpected drama. For example, some parties in this tale, saw their opinions change as developments moved forward. The authors are fair to all involved voices, leaving room for readers to make their own conclusions about the benefits of the outcome.

This story does what I love about history, using one story to point out greater societal changes within history. Glasgow and Mayer use this incident to point out the growing voice of women in politics, as key members of the movement against Mineral King development were women who were freed by the standards of the day to not only add their voices but also use their voices in leading this movement. Also, it is a good case study, as the authors show, for the growth of the environmental movement. Mineral King serves as one incident in the growth of advocacy groups, lobbying, and legislation that increased environmental protections.

While this book’s beautiful cover features a picture of Walt Disney at Mineral King, due to his death his memory was more active than the man himself. Readers, much like the participants in the story, are often left asking what was Walt’s intent. So while Walt is not always present, you do ask yourself like those who lived the story, what would Walt do?

For Card Walker, leading Walt Disney Productions, he was left with a charge and moral obligation to honor Walt Disney’s hopes for Mineral King. As a reader, we find that Walker was very concerned with the impact of the struggle on the company’s public image which placed the company as the villain looking to destroy natural wonder. The incident strained the company's image with the state and federal government along with California citizens. And one wonders how the story will be reflected in more recent legal struggles with the state of Florida. I will say one lesson that I took from the story was that for the company this incident passed and is now very much today mostly locked away in the Disney Archives.  

Disneyland on the Mountain: Walt, the Environmentalists, and the Ski Resort that Never Was by Greg Glasgow and Kathryn Mayer expands the story that many Disney fans just see as a paragraph or rare failure in Disney history. However the book goes beyond just telling the story of Mineral King by presenting a case study that demonstrates changing societal norms in American society. 

 

Review Copy Provided by Rowan & Littlefield.

This post contains affiliate links, which means that Between Disney receives a percentage of sales purchased through links on this site.  

 

Thursday, February 1, 2024

Introducing Between Pints

 

A pint of dark Sow Select Dunkle

There have been a lot of changes in Betweenland recently. And it has given me more opportunities to explore theme parks and the beers of Central Florida on a regular basis.  New opportunities is allowing me to launch a new blog, Between Pints, where I will review and catalog beers found near and in Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando Resorts.

 

You can find the new blog at www.betweenpints.com

And you can follow new posts on Facebook

 

Cheers! 

Monday, January 29, 2024

Between Books - Star Wars Omnibus: A Long Time Ago....Volume 5

Cover for Star Wars Onmibus: A Long Time Ago Volume 5 showing a stormtrooper brandishing a blaster with assorted aliens in the background.



Star Wars Omnibus: A Long Time Ago...Volume 5 published by Dark Horse captures the final issues of Marvel's original Star Wars comic run, with issues 86 through 107.  But would this final volume capture the same magic of earlier volumes.

Star Wars Omnibus: A Long Time Ago....Volume 5 continues to deal with the Rebellion's decisions after the end of the Galactic Civil War.  The Rebellion has become a Republic, and they no longer have the clear cut villains of The Empire.  Instead, the Rebels attempt to create a new galactic government in the face of new violent planetary struggles.  Finally the Republic is forced to come back together to face a new enemy to freedom in their universe, the Nagai.  But the Nagai's history may not seem to be all that it is!

The ending of the Marvel Star Wars comics is mostly helmed by writer Jo Duffy with typically Cynthia Martin providing pencils.  Honestly, this duo somewhat is lacking from me.  I continue to applaud Duffy for her attempt to create a story of what happens to the rebels after victory.  I honestly love much of Duffy's Marvel contributions.  But in the end she is forced to create a new enemy, like other writers, to unite our heroes.  But at times the results seem somewhat comical with the Tofs and Hiromi.  If anything it at times appears and feels cartoony with the Martin pencils.  And maybe that was the point with the title taking on a more kid focused approach, like a Saturday Morning cartoon.  And in the end, I guess comics are for kids...mostly.  And perhaps in an attempt to conclude the story, the final issues at times feel rushed and with plot holes.  And I know it was the 1980s, but there is an attempt to link a female character romantically with her former male abuser that makes my skin crawl.

I do have to say that the opening issue, "The Alderaan Factor" written by Randy Stradley who would go on to be a Dark Horse Star Wars comic legend is fantastic.  The story is emotional and dark, leaving adult readers satisfied with a well-told and thought provoking story!

These Dark Horse editions are well out of publication with Marvel taking publication rights for these stories back and including them in their Epic Collections.  Today a paperbook copy of this collections costs over $200.  That leaves me recommending the Kindle version, unless one is a competitionist!

Star Wars Omnibus: A Long Time Ago...Volume 5 is honestly not as strong as earlier contributions to this series.  One at times feels as if writers were struggling to tell a story in a new and unworn path in the post Return of the Jedi galaxy.   One has to applaud the efforts.  But in the end it is easy to see why this series was one that Marvel no longer saw as a key title after over 100 issues.  Perhaps, there were simply too many Zeltrons! 

 

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Monday, January 22, 2024

Between Books - Star Wars: Crimson Climb

 

Audiobook cover showing Qi'ra standing in front of the Crimson Dawn symbol, a red circle half filled



Am I the bad guy in fandom? Star Wars High Republic titles have failed me. It’s left me feeling like I’ve been sitting on my front porch yelling at the kids to get off my Star Wars front yard! For Pete’s sake, I’ve been reading Star Trek books! Can my Grumpy Dwarf attitude ever find relief?

Star Wars: Crimson Climb by E.K. Johnston starts right where the movie Star Wars: Solo ends. Han Solo’s first love Qi’ra has made her move to take the leadership of the criminal organization Crimson Dawn. We enter the immediate moment after, right at the top of the syndicate. What happens next is not the question that Johnston explores! Instead, this book answers a question that we may have had when we watched the movie, how did Qi’ra move from a human scumrat in the White Worms of Correllia, where she met Han, to the right-hand of the leader of a powerful crime family? Star Wars: Crimson Climb moves the readers from Solo’s escape from Correllia and the impact it had on Qi’ra’s standings in the White Worms. From that moment, we follow her as she ages, leaves the White Worms, and matures from the savvy girl to the wise and powerful woman that Han meets again years later. Johnston takes us into Qi’ra’s mind as she navigates the capers and obstacles in her way, and we better understand the character's depth.

I liked it. But why?

I think a big piece of it is simply, it’s well-written. Johnston does a great job of giving us a story with tension, action, internal struggle, and emotional depth. Could this book work outside of the Star Wars galaxy? I think a lot of it could and would. It does help that we already have an introduction to Qi’ra and unanswered questions, but maybe that just allowed for some shortcuts for setup. But honestly, I was tense and stressed, and Johnston even gives us the ending of the book by having the start and end align with Star Wars: Solo and I’ve read comics that go beyond that moment.

I also think that using Qi’ra who moviegoers have already seen as smart and conflicted and tied to one of the big three Star Wars heroes helps a lot. We may never get a sequel to payoff events on the screen for Star Wars: Solo but the movie left us with questions and maybe a desire to know more. Now with Marvel Comics, who have featured an older more powerful Qi’ra, and this book which fills in gaps with the movie, we can find some satisfaction in open questions. Additionally, having seen her and supporting characters and settings on screen, I think it really helps to settle the mind by providing mental images that help tell not distract from the story.

Confession time! The High Republic brought me to a point where I also didn’t read this volume but listened as an audiobook. Narrator Olivia Hack does a wonderful voice of changing voice tone, dialect, and volume to the extent that you sometimes forget it’s unjust one narrator. Additionally, the production includes a soundtrack and audio cues that make this a super enjoyable audio adventure.

Yes, I do like Star Wars, see how I feel about Star Wars: Crimson Climb by E.K. Johnston. It’s a story full of tension, especially emotional, set in the high-paced Star Wars criminal element! I enjoyed the adventure, especially as an audiobook full of audio production elements that supported a solid story. 

 

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Monday, January 8, 2024

Between Books - it's a small world (Disney Press)

 


Coverful book cover from it's a small world book showing cute playful children of the world around a it's a small world facade



Recently I read the Little Golden Books offering honoring the classic it’s a small world. I found myself disappointed, yes I know it’s a kids book! But part of my frustration is because of the existence of the Disney Press book honoring the Sherman Brothers and their attraction masterpiece.

it’s a small world
with words and music by Richard Mr. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman and illustrations by Joey Chou provides a literary tribute to the Disney attraction. The book matches the lyrics of the Sherman Brothers with Chou art that do not provide direct lifts from the attraction scenes but interpretations that match the fun and meaning and the words and sets. The hardcover also comes with a CD which has a copy of the song.

This is a really successful way to bring the attraction to kids and Disney adults. The book relies on the song lyrics, with every line but “it’s a small world” refrains included in the song in the correct order. The scenes are cute and fun, which while not Mary Blair figures do stay in the spirit of fun and play. I do love Chou art, with these easily being prints in a child or adult’s room. I think everyone in the Between house has an item with Chou Disney art. The scenes keep to an order that will help kids learn the pacing of the ride, with really only the last page being Chou’s take on an ending in unity instead of him presenting the white room finale. This version is also from 2011, which can explain the CD inclusion. I mean, do you even know where the CD player is in your home?

This book is colorful, the same as the Little Golden Book. But this is the winner for me. It’s just more expensive being a larger hardcover and out of print. I’d like to say there’s room enough for both versions, but you really need to use some or all of the lyrics to pull off small world packaging for me! 


it’s a small world with words by the Shermans and art by Joey Chou is a fun and cute presentation of it’s a small world. It presents the classic words to the audience in an enjoyable fashion to help kids and adults stay connected to the attraction. 

 

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