Superheroes postsSaturday July 07, 2018
Steve Ditko (1927-2018)
The man who first made Spider-Man swing (all gangly-like) died yesterday at the age of 90. In a way—to me anyway—the real news was that Steve Ditko had been living all this time. He was so long out of the limelight. He coveted none of it: no premieres, no cameos. I'd like to say he was noble in this but he was a bit of an odd duck.
The Steve Ditko-penned Spideys were always my favorites. When I was collecting in the ‘70s, and “The Amazing Spider-Man” hadn’t even reached #150, his were the ones I coveted, in cheap plastic bags at Schinder's in downtown Minneapolis, or in sleeker plastic bags at Comic City in Uptown. I got a lot of them. I think at one point I had like Amazing Spider-Man #8 all the way to the present. Not bad for a teenage wallflower.
I liked how unheroic Ditko made everyone look—particularly Spidey—at a time when I felt decidedly so. Spidey looked like the least likely superhero. His feet were often so twisted in midair, he looked like he'd trip himself.
Back then, I'd assumed it was Ditko's geekiness, his nerdiness, that eventually got him booted off of Spidey. I assumed they wanted Spidey handsomer and more heroic. Not so, according to Douglas Wolk's review of Blake Bell's 2008 biography of Ditko:
He split with Lee and Marvel in 1966. By then, he’d fallen under the spell of Ayn Rand and Objectivism, and started producing an endless string of ham-fisted comics about how A is A and there is no gray area between good and evil and so on. “The Hawk and the Dove,” for instance, concerns two superhero brothers who … oh, you’ve already figured it out.
And in case you haven‘t, mouse over the above image.
A few years back, my colleague, Ross Pfund, said, RE: Ditko’s Objectivism, “How much must he hate it that his most famous creation's most famous quote is ‘With great power comes great responsibility’?”
This morning, my friend Jason Lamb wrote the following: “I've read thousands upon thousands of comics books over the course of nearly 50 years, but nothing has impacted me more than the images here. Thank you and R.I.P., Steve Ditko.”
Then he posted this. I know it well: Spider-Man #33:
That last panel is actually a partial of a full page. And the whole scene was re-done on the big screen in “Spider-Man: Homecoming”—more than 50 years after he drew it.
What a moment in time.
‘Not a Recipe for Artistic Renewal’: The IP taking over Hollywood
“People who are nothing like us rescuing a world that is nothing like ours...”
I'm going to miss the print New Yorker when it goes. This is the online hed/sub for Stephen Metcalf's piece on what has happened to Hollywood and the movie-star system in the age of the superhero film. It's straightforward. It's a straight arrow:
How Superheroes Made Movie Stars Expendable
The Hollywood overhauls that got us from Bogart to Batman.
Here it is in print:
How superheroes killed the movie star.
How perfect is that? Succinct, clever, resonant. It's both The Thing's longtime catchphrase and what superheroes—though not the Fantastic Four, interestingly—have made of traditional movie stars. Because it's open-ended, it also makes you wonder what else is getting clobbered? What other parts of our lives? The online headline is specific and designed to get clicks. It's actually part of the problem the article is delineating.
I was actually dismissive of the piece before I read it. I was like “No shit, Sherlock, we were all writing about this 10 years ago.” The early going didn't help much. Metcalf calls it a “startling fact” that the biggest movie in China in 2005, “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” pulled in just $12 mil vs. nearly $400 million for last year's “Fast and Furious” sequel. Startling ... unless you read me. More, “Fast & Furious” was only the second-biggest hit in China last year. The biggest, “Wolf Warrior II,” grossed half a billion dollars more.
But then, in reviewing four books (The Big Picture“ by Ben Fritz; You‘re Only as Good as Your Next One” by Mike Medavoy; “Powerhouse: The Untold Story of Hollywood’s Creative Artists Agency” by James Andrew Miller; and “Representing Talent” by Violaine Roussel), Metcalf gives a great overview of the various stages of the star system, and who held power in Hollywood during those stages: from Thalberg to U.S. v. Paramount to the rise of the super-agent. Who could force the cut-rate on whom? It used to be studios on the theaters: If you want this A picture you need to pick up these three B pictures. Then it became the agencies over the studios: If you want this A star, you need to hire these three B- or C-list clients.
Now the hot hand is the intellectual property—divorced from the star. The power is in the copyright. And the powerless? Those without IP, as “The Big Picture” makes apparent. Also maybe us. “Today,” Metcalf writes, “the major franchises are commercially invulnerable because they offer up proprietary universes that their legions of fans are desperate to reënter on almost any terms.” This, too, will fade, though, because everything does. We can't be desperate forever.
Metcalf closes well.
The quality of film acting has never been higher, and there is still a craft in scriptwriting and directing that makes one regularly bow in awe. But a minimal standard of human relatability is not being met, on a routine basis, in the medium's most dominant genre. People who are nothing like us rescuing a world that is nothing like ours is not a recipe for artistic renewal. ...
The benchmark for a good movie was once coherence, and this meant more than a competently executed three-act script. It meant the unity of story with character, of character with star persona. The whole shebang was given life by a highly improbable marriage between our narcissism and our idealism. In this model, the movie theatre was a special kind of institution, where a primitive instinct for action and drama came together with a desire to banish our residual cruelty, if for no other reason than that it wouldn't play.
Hollywood was always called a dream factory. One wonders what kind of world we might create if we all woke up.
Feel-Good Photo of the Day
Gal Gadot at the San Diego Comic-Con with a young fan:
These movies matter pic.twitter.com/V5Sz7lFwiE— Scott Derrickson (@scottderrickson) July 22, 2017
Remember the 1970s “Wonder Woman” theme song? “All of the world is waiting for you.” Certainly half of it.
Related: This weekend, Gadot's “Wonder Woman” passed “Guardians of the Galaxy 2” to become the highest-grossing movie of the summer.
From the DVD of the 1941 movie serial “The Green Hornet Strikes Again!” The reference is to the radio serial of 1936 to 1950:
Clint Eastwood should have done more with this aspect of Hoover in his biopic. Or maybe it could be its own movie? “J. Edgar in Hollywood.” OK, HBO movie.
Rotten Tomatoes Ranks the DC Superhero Movies
“Ranks” is key there, since only two movies (“The Dark Knight,” “Superman”) are above 90% and half of them are rotten, and that's a generous reading by RT and critics. I mean, “Swamp Thing” is fresh? Because of Adrienne Barbeau? C'mon, boys, grow up.
Here's their list with RT numbers and any thoughts I might have. (Links go to my reviews.)
- The Dark Knight (94%): My No. 2.
- Superman (93%): My number one. With a faster-than-a-speeding bullet
- Superman II (89%): Way too high. Please see the Donner cut.
- The Dark Knight Rises (87%): Too high.
- Batman Begins (84%): About right. Has problems, but it's not bloated the way “Rises” is bloated.
- Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (82%): Haven't seen it.
- Batman (1966) (80%): I'm so glad this is way up here. I'd probably have it higher but I'm shocked critics/fanboys love it as much as I do.
- Batman Returns (80%): Really? Have people seen this recently? It's absurd. You hardly see the title character for the first 45 minutes. It's all Penguin/Catwoman origin. Per Tim Burton, it's a movie of misfit toys.
- Superman Returns (76%): Has its faults but has charms, too. It's not made by louts, for one.
- Batman (1989) (72%): Higher. I know post-Nolan it looks chincey, but it remade supehero movies for a decade. Respect your elders, kids.
- Watchmen (65%): Blech. Dock it even more for abusing Leonard Cohen.
- Swamp Thing (64%): Adrienne Barbeau's cleavage ain't all that.
- Man of Steel (55%): I'm not exactly a Zack Snyder fan, but I'd have it higher for: 1) the reimagined origin; 2) the fear a superpowered alien would inspire; 3) Henry Cavill.
- Constantine (46%): Never seen it.
- Batman Forever (40%): About right.
- The Return of the Swamp Thing (33%): DC should be embarrassed that this is even on the list.
- Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (27%): Below both Swamp Things!! Take that, Zack.
- Green Lantern (26%): There are six DC movies worse than “Green Lantern”: ouch.
- Superman III (26%): This sucks but it's better than “Green Lantern.”
- Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (12%): This should be lower. Possibly basement. Look what they did to my boy. More than the “Death Wish” movies, Golan and Globus have this to answer at the pearly gates.
- Steel (12%): Never seen.
- Batman & Robin (11%): Ice to see you.
- Catwoman (9%): Never seen. Should I?
- Supergirl (7%): The list ends with the two girl/woman movies, and I'd like to think that's sexism, but... no.
RT put the list together because a new DC movie, “Suicide Squad,” DC's attempt to do a kind of “Guardians of the Galaxy,” is opening tonight. Even the early August release date is the same as “Guardians,” but (unlike “Guardians”) it's getting slaughtered by the critics. I'm no fan of the Post's Kyle Smith but he has a good line in his review:
The question isn't whether “Suicide Squad” is as good as “The Avengers,” but whether it's as bad as “Green Lantern.”
According to the consensus, nearly. It's at 29%, which puts it between “The Return of the Swamp Thing” and “Batman v Superman.” But that's bad enough for fanboys who are circulating an online petition urging that RT be shut down because it's mean to bad movies like “Suicide Squad.” Talk about shooting the messenger.