Steve Ditko’s Spider-Man is the only one that really matters

Steve Ditko’s death brought to focus the saying that his Spider-Man is the only true one and everyone after him is a bloke wearing a costume. That’s borne out by the fact that since the early 80’s every single writer who has taken over control of the character always mentions Ditko as an influence but the Peter Parker of today (a wealthy industrialist) is nothing like Ditko’s nebbish, freakish, sad little loser of a boy learning to interact with people and become a decent man who does the right thing.

Peter Parker isn’t a hero when Ditko and Stan Lee (I’ll leave how much involvement Lee had in Spider-Man to others but the title read more and more like Ditko as it progressed isn’t something that should be up for debate) start telling his story but he develops as the title moves on. Even so he’s always struggling with his heroism and the fact he’s a nobody; a loser.

Which brings me to Amazing Spider-Man #33.

Its here that Ditko’s Spider-Man becomes the hero he’s been building up to being, and yes, it’s that few pages of art (forget about the script, it only gets in the way) that over the decades has become so iconic that it can tell Spider-Man’s story in a few pages.Peter Parker is still disliked, even hated but he’s getting better by the end of Ditko’s run.

When Ditko left, Spider-Man carried on and although talents like John Romita and the great GIl Kane turned in some amazing work, they weren’t Ditko producing this odd wee title about a hero who doesn’t think he’s a hero, and in real life is hated by everyone but his aunt.

Other creators have tried; none succeeded. That’s Ditko’s legacy for Spider-Man.

 

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What I thought of Marvel Team-Up

Comixology had a ridiculous sale recently where Marvel trades and masterworks were a fantastic 69p per book so I filled my boots and got all the Marvel Team-Up masterworks. For the uninitiated, Marvel Team-Up was an extra Spider-Man book which featured a ‘special guest star’ each issue, so the issue would normally start with Spidey swinging around New York bumping into a fellow hero and then both team up to fight a baddie.

Essentially most of Marvel Team -Up was fight scenes.

Early issues featured the Human Torch as the guest, but the series moved away from the idea of a fixed guest hero from issue 4 when the X Men appeared as guests at a time when their own book was in effectual limbo reprinting older adventures, however MTU acted within a parallel continuity linked to the the other Spider-Man book.

Those early issues featured some nice art from Ross Andru, but for me it’s the Gil Kane issues that stand out. His Spidey is sadly underrated and MTU allowed his to have fun with the then growing Marvel Universe.

These are superhero comics from a simpler time when the worst thing that would happen to Peter Parker was forgetting a date with Gwen Stacy, or he was on a crap job for The Daily Bugle.

The most stress yoj’d get as a reader is hoping the next issue would feature someone good, or even better, one of your favourites. Marvel Team-Up has returned several times over the years but nothing cries nostalgia as much as that first run of 150 issues. If you are a fan of 70’s superheroics then get yourself these books because they’re an utter joy.

How CGI can suck the drama from a scene

Over the last week I’ve watched two films; the latest Spider Man film, Homecoming released this year and Wolfen, a cult horror film from 1981.Both are good films in their own ways with Homecoming following the Marvel formula down to a tee, while Wolfen is an interesting eco-horror film from Michael Wadleigh who directed Woodstock. If you’ve not heard of it check it out as Albert Finney turns in a nice performance, Wadleigh uses the then new Steadicam to brilliant effect, James Horner tries out his Wrath of Khan score and there’s some nice nasty gore.

While watching Wolfen after Homecoming one scene on both films showed how film-making has changed in the 35 years between films. Both have crucial scenes of exposition and plot that act to push on character too but there’s a difference and here’s why.

There’s a scene in Homecoming after the ferry scene where Peter Parker is bollocked by Tony Stark who feels let down by Peter. There’s a lot going on in this scene and is arguably, the dramatic crux of the film. Both Downey and Holland turn in good performances but have a look at the scene…

The CGI backgrounds jar to the point where the brain doesn’t accept the unreality of the setting of the scene as it tries to process it so what should be the key scene is muted because it’s directed so blandly thanks to the reliance on CGI. At every point in this scene it is clearly two actors in a studio in front of a green screen. Now take this scene from Wolfen where Albert Finney climbs Manhattan Bridge in again, a crucial dramatic scene.

No green screen, just a pair of actors on top of a very, very, very high bridge with the wind in their hair and the incredible background of a very real New York City behind them. Now both are good scenes but what one looks and feels better? It isn’t the one that looks bland.

CGI is a tool. It can help enhance a film, but it has also become a crutch which is a shame as films start to look less like works of cinema than just extended cut-scenes. CGI should help film the unfilmable not just make it so actors just react in studios to as little external stimulus as possible. Look at the Wolfen scene again, both Finney and an incredibly young Edward James Olmos are using their environment to help make their performances, and the scene, better. Holland and Downey are reading their lines and doing the best they can but there’s only so much they can do.

Perhaps filmmakers will return to the idea of filming in the real world wherever they can, but with studios so keen to churn out ‘product’ it seems CGI will continue to be used when better, even cheaper options are available just because they can.

 

What I thought of The Amazing Spider-Man #200

Anniversary or ‘event issues’ are ten-a-penny nowadays. Blink and you’ll miss a dozen of the bastards. Back in 1980 they were actually a big thing, and the 200th issue of The Amazing Spider-Man was a big deal even if it had (and with all due respect) less than a stellar creative team of Marv Wolfman writing and Keith Pollard and Jim Mooney on artistic chores.

We start with some good old fashioned Spidey angst as he’s lost his powers after a battle with Mysterio. Aunt May is facing death and the burglar that started all this way back in Amazing Fantasy #15 is back for his own revenge.

This is a pretty formulaic anniversary issue for Spidey as in addition to the angst, there’s a recap of his origin, and a reminder of how it all started which leads to Spidey/Peter Parker getting angry as he finds his purpose again.

Only problem is he’s powerless.

Of course Spidey doesn’t die, otherwise one of Marvel’s prize assets would be gone. We do however get a scene that shows Peter Parker has learned from his mistake that led to his Uncle Ben being murdered.

After a fight with Uncle Ben’s killer Peter is captured, tied up and we get some medium level threat.

After much fannying about, a powerless Spidey confronts the burglar and loses.

Eventually we get to the big climax where it’s revealed Aunt May isn’t dead, Spidey has his powers back and we get a climatic, not to mention cathartic, fight.

Which leads to Spidey telling us he’s learned a what is now, familiar lesson.

This was the Marvel of editor Jim Shooter so it’s basic stuff, even for what it is it’s actually well done. Wolfman turns in a decent script that looks back and sets up Spider-Man for the rest of the 80’s while Pollard’s pencils are good though they suffer from Mooney’s drab, bland inks. This though may well not be an especially memorable anniversary issue but as a good solid bit of Marvel superheroics it’s readable stuff, and most of all accessible. Anyone could have picked this up and got the story just by reading this issue without having read 17 years worth of comics as is the case so often today.

What I thought of Captain America:Civil War

I finally caught up with Captain America: Civil War yesterday after I felt safe enough to venture out after my recent surgery.As a companion piece to the dismal Batman versus Superman it’s interesting as it touches on the same sort of themes but does so intelligently in a way that this is a film where there’s no clear villains, just people with their own motivations to do what they think is right, even if that involves creating mayhem. This isn’t a film where you have no idea why people are doing things because the script is a garbled mess. From here on in it’s SPOILERS, so if you’ve not seen it you’ve been warned.

Civil War starts with an Avengers mission in Lagos that ends up going horribly wrong as Wakandan diplomats are accidentally killed. This causes the United Nations to propose a system to regulate The Avengers called the Sokovia Accords because having an unregulated, unanswerable group of superhumans flying around the planet causing mayhem, even if they save more lives than are lost, isn’t a good idea.

This splits the team in half. Captain America is against the plan thinking that The Avengers need to have the freedom to do what it has to without being answerable to governments because they ‘have agendas’ and ‘agendas change’. Iron Man on the other hand wants to keep the team in check so innocent lives are saved and those people that fear superhumans feel safer. Falling with Cap are The Falcon, Hawkeye, Ant Man, Scarlet Witch and The Winter Soldier, who is being framed for a massive terrorist attack on the day the Accords are signed. While falling in with Iron Man are War Machine, Vision, Black Widow, Black Panther and Spider Man.

A huge battle takes place in Germany before Cap and the Winter Soldier track down the culprit, Zemo a survivor of Ultron’s attack on Sokovia, of the attacks in Siberia and joined by Iron Man, they look set to team up to take down Zemo, but there’s a final twist that sets our heroes against each other as Tony Stark discovers the Winter Soldier murdered his parents. Eventually the battle ends but The Avengers are split in half, friends are turned against each other and a number of suerhumans are criminals on the run.

Compared with the previous Captain America film, The Winter Soldier, this isn’t as a complete entity as the ending is clearly left dangling for future films to resolve but this is almost Bond in the scale and span of it. What Civil War does well is to make the case for both Steve Rogers and Tony Stark. Steve’s motivated by his distrust of people who want to curb what he sees as personal freedom while Tony wants to curb The Avengers to make not just people feel safer, but to make them democratically accountable to the people. So Steve’s pushing a libertarian point while Tony’s pushing a more socially democratic point. One would think the positions would be reversed seeing as Steve’s a 1930’s lad and a democrat and Tony used to be a capitalist warmonger.

However this all serves the purpose of the film which is to split Iron Man and Captain America up as a unit that held The Avengers together thus making The Avengers weak as after all, the only ones left by the end of the film are Iron Man, Vision and Spider Man. All of Tony’s team have either betrayed him or moved on by the end and as for Cap’s team they’re either in hiding or on the run so the planet is left vulnerable which is setting things up for The Infinity War in a couple of years time. And that’s the big problem with Civil War. There’s no real resolution that’s satisfactory, just dangling plot threads that’ll be tied up in various films over the next three years and I understand the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is taking influence from it’s comic origins by doing this but it makes for a bit of a cheat in otherwise what is one of the best examples of the super hero film that’s been made so far.

What Civil War does is provide some intellectual substance to the MCU, especially after the misfiring Age of Ultron and the light, fun antics of Ant Man. That though isn’t what gets people’s arses on seats, it’s people in costumes hitting each other and Civil War fulfils it’s part to the letter with some splendid action scenes as it not just introduces The Black Panther to cinema (nice to see another strong black character too) and Tom Holland’s Ditko-esque Spider Man. Both characters have their own films coming out next year and off the basis of this both could be very good indeed.

Civil War is a fine example of how to make good superhero films with a bit more to it than action and violence. It’s also a film that can be watched so you think Iron Man is right or Cap is right and you experience the film differently. For me, Cap’s acting like a dick and needs a slap as it doesn’t take a genius to work out that a group like The Avengers can’t go flying around in the semi-real MCU because of the body count, and when Cap says ‘agendas’ he’s talking about democratically elected governments in most cases. Stark is at least admitting there needs to be a compromise and indeed, at several points Cap nearly goes with Stark to work out the problems with the Accords.That sort of mental meat was entirely absent from Batman versus Superman, or if it was in there I missed it in all the grimness watching ‘heroes’ let people die with no remorse or kill people for kicks. IN Captain America’s world there’s remorse and consequences of innocent people dying, They’re not just background noise.

I do hope Marvel continue this standard with Doctor Strange later this year, though without too many dangling plot threads. As for Civil War it is a turning point but as we long time comic readers know, the status quo will return. Steve and Tony will team up again and The Avengers will regroup because that’s how it is.

Overstreets World of Comics-Comic book documentary from 1993

This is a cracking find. Overstreet’s World of Comics is a documentary based around the San Diego Comic Convention in 1993 and details the world of comics as they were in those days just before the great comics bubble of the early 90’s went POP! It’s a fascinating watch to see how people thought that comics were going to be a huge investment for the future, and that comics coming from the likes of Valiant were massive investments. They weren’t. The entire market went down the toilet and a number of the companies featured in this film like Topps, went under, and companies like Marvel nearly went bankrupt.

What is striking is how comic focused San Diego was then as opposed to the big pop culture event it is. It’s about the medium of comics and there’s a lovely bit in the film about Golden Age artists like Murphy Anderson, a history of EC Comics, as well as a great interview with Jack Kirby, the man who built the house that Marvel are now exploiting for their films like The Avengers and Captain America.  It is however, Todd McFarlane who hogs a lot of time on the film because at that time Spawn was the biggest selling comic in the world, selling around a half a million to a million copies on average per issue. There’s a certain sad irony looking back at this seeing McFarlane talk with such idealism; something that vanished when the money started flooding in.

The film does have some amazingly tacky music running through it that makes it feel like a health and safety training video you see on the first day of a new job, If you can ignore that then this is a great bit of archive, if only to see Stan Lee say with a straight face that he hates taking from what other people have done….

My top 20 Comic Book films-11-Spider Man 2

I did my top 20 horror and SF films last year, and found doing the lists to be more fun than expected, so in a massive bit of logic here’s my top 20 films adapted or inspired from comics. I need to point out I mean comics, not ‘superhero comics’ which is a lazy, and incorrect way to describe a wonderfully varied medium and it’d also cut out some bloody good films!

Previously, in this list at #20, X Men19The Crow18Heavy Metal, 17, Spider Man ,16The Avengers, 15Danger: Diabolik, 14The Dark Knight Trilogy , 13A History of Violence and 12, Kick Ass.

As we get to the cusp of the top ten, only Spider Man 2 stands before us!

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What Sam Raimi manages to do is create the template for the perfect superhero sequel, so we as an audience now know who Spider Man is, so there’s no messing around with any more time-wasting explanations and it’s right in with a near perfect recreation of late period Ditko Spidey, with a big chunk of Romita era Spidey thrown in. Raimi is allowed to make Alfred Molina’s Doctor Octopus a tragic, but yet brutal figure in a way Stan Lee would approve of.

Yes it’s all a bit two-dimensional. Yes, it’s camp. However the action scenes are extraordinary, especially the fight on the train between Spider Man and Doctor Octopus which isn’t only just the best directed bit of superhero action you’ll see, but gets the whole Lee/Ditko/Romita vision of Spidey in a way that the rebooted version hasn’t.

Spider Man 2 is what a good superhero film should be. It’s well acted, with effects that don’t get in the way and Raimi directs it all with a joy that’s lacking from many superhero films in this last decade since Spider Man 2 came out. It has a story to tell and it sticks to it. No setting up another three films, or referencing films that came previously to the nth degree, nope, it’s just tremendous fun and more enjoyable than these sort of blockbusters had been in some time.

Sadly the third film in Raimi’s series was on the whole, pretty poor to average, but this is at least something which is going to last for as long as the superhero film continues.

Next time we penetrate and thrust into the top ten….