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….

My top 20 Comic Book films-17-Spider Man

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 Crow and 18, Heavy Metal.

At 17 it’s Sam Raimi’s first Spider Man film.

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Raimi takes his inspiration from the Steve Ditko era of Spider Man, rather than the later Stan Lee/John Romita run. That’s mainly because Raimi sees the Ditko Peter Parker/Spider Man to be more interesting than Lee’s ‘not that fucked up really’ Peter Parker/Spider Man.

That’s how it should be because the Ditko Spider Man is the first real superhero in the post-modern era. Other Marvel characters had ‘realism’ over their DC counterparts because they had a limp, or blind, or had a bat heart and a pencil moustache but they were always brilliant doctors, lawyers or just millionaires. Peter Parker was a lonely boy with no mates who only had his sick aunt to help him grow up after his complete and utter selfishness saw his Uncle Ben die. It’s this guilt that drove Spider Man and Raimi’s film captures this though it does tone down Ditko’s Peter Parker who was a pretty alienated and at times, objectionable teenager to more like the Lee/Romita version where you at least feel some sympathy for him.

For two thirds of the film, it’s a perfect superhero film. We get the set up asPeter moves from hated loner to how he gains his powers. We see him explore those powers. We see Peter’s responsibility for his Uncle Ben’s death and his birth as Spider Man. Then the Green Goblin turns up and things get a bit tedious, partly because the Goblin design is so bloody awful and Willem Dafoe stops any pretense of acting and hams it up like a right old dear for the rest of the film. This is a problem with a lot of superhero films that spend two thirds of the film explaining the origin and then lose it when they realise there’s no ending.

Tobey Maguire does a great job of making Parker/Spider Man work, with a great bit of support from Kirsten Dunst but there was a better Spider Man film begging to be made. Thankfully we didn’t have to wait long for that at all….

Next time, some assembly will be required…..

Stan Lee at 91

It was Stan Lee’s 91st birthday the other day.

Stan-Lee

I grew up reading Marvel Comics that Lee wrote, or more than likely, provided the dialogue for. His Shakespearean gibberish was something I loved, and still do because it was fun nonsense. It does read badly if you’re older than 14, but Lee changed comics, though I do like Alan Moore’s description of Lee changing comics from a one-dimensional medium to two-dimensional. I also tend to agree with Moore’s comments about who actually created what for Marvel in the early and mid-1960’s.

There’s an incredibly easy way to work out if Lee was the creative mastermind behind Marvel Comics in the 1960’s. Read his work before and after this time. Take The Fantastic Four after Jack Kirby left as an example.

Go on, have a read, I’ll wait here. It’s pretty poor isn’t it? Of course Lee seems to realise this so people like Roy Thomas and Marv Wolfman get more to do because they’re at least more capable of doing the heavy creative lifting that Lee’s shown he can’t do when he’s not got a Kirby knocking out characters like the Silver Surfer, or Steve Ditko with Doctor Strange and Spider Man.

Lee creatively is nothing after Kirby leaves Marvel, and eventually goes off to do other things. All this is outlined in Sean Howe’s excellent Marvel Comics: The Untold Story which can’t be recommended too highly.

The fact is that from very early on Lee was claiming himself to be the creative soul of Marvel, even though he was still gushing praise on people like Ditko and Kirby as this old bit of archive shows.

I’ve met Lee three times. Once was as a kid when he was in Glasgow doing a promotion for Dez Skinn’s Hulk Comic for Marvel UK. The second was at a UKCAC in 1991 or so where I had a reasonable chat with him when I was still somewhat in awe of him, so I got him to sign a few old Marvel Comics I’d picked up which sadly I no longer have for a variety of reasons. This was also the UKCAC where I saw a piece of Kirby art with dialogue everywhere. It wasn’t this piece, but it gives you an idea of what Kirby did at Marvel.

This was a bit of an awakening for me as like Alan Moore in the video above, I’d believed the Marvel Bullpen stories of Jolly Jack happily writing Lee’s scripts, and that his leaving Marvel for DC was down to a personal  dispute between him and Lee who he parodied as Funky Flashman in his DC work.It took me a bit longer to realise that this series of panels was Kirby attacking Lee and Roy Thomas.

I don’t want to make this all about Kirby or Ditko but they were done wrong by him, by Marvel, and now by Disney. However Lee refuses to give full credit where credit is due.

The last time I met Lee was in the late 90’s again at a convention, this time at the NEC in Birmingham. This was a nice brief chat while having a cup of tea and I mentioned that I met him during the promotion he did for Hulk Comic some 20 years earlier to which he smile, shook my hand and joked that he didn’t feel a day older. I walked away thinking he was the Best Guy in the World before sitting back down behind our tables and remembering about how Kirby was shafted.

This is the thing. Lee’s an amazing salesperson. In fact ever since I’ve been making my primary living through sales over the last decade or so I’ve unashamedly nicked some of Lee’s tricks and made them my own. Cheers Stan!

So I do wish Lee well for making it to 91. It’s a remarkable age to be still doing even half of what Lee does every year, but then again it helps if you’re incredibly wealthy thanks to Marvel and Disney making sure you remain wealthy. Kirby, Ditko and the other artists who supported Lee’s rise throughout the 1960’s were, on the whole, far from wealthy. They deserved their share of the glory and the money. Steve Ditko should be a millionaire and not someone scraping a living well into his 80’s,

Lee should be remembered as the man who sold Marvel. He’s the man who made people like Kirby famous because he was, and is a great salesperson. Without Lee Marvel may well have got nowhere as he was the face of the company, but his great failing is not to share the glory. Had Stan Lee fought to ensure his fellow creators the rights they morally deserve, history will look better upon him. He didn’t so his legacy will forever be tainted because of it.

I despair of those fans, mainly under 30, who unashamedly stick up for Lee because he’s the face they see in the Marvel films, and hey! He created Spider Man!! That overrules any facts or anything!!

Happy birthday Stan, Thanks for the fun when I was a kid. Thanks for those kind words on those occasions when I met you. Please now, before it’s too late, give credit where credit is due so those people and their families can get what they deserve.