Not his Superman

superman78While reading through an old issue of Cinefantastique the other day (the Forbidden Planet double-issue, from Spring 1979, I assume) I came across a capsule review of Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie which I hadn’t noticed before, and which, while I’m accustomed to the somewhat po-faced attitude of that mag’s editorials, quite took me aback. With due deference to its writer Robert Stewart, I quote the following:

“The film fails to explore the possibilities of having a new and modernized Superman tackle the real problems of the world in the late 1970s- assassinations, mass suicides, mindf–kers, famine, the CIA, sexism, racism, provocateurs, ageism, unemployment and economic collapse, corporate takeovers, bureaucratic  psychopaths, etc. Instead, he confronts villains not much different from those of the Batman television show…” 

My initial thoughts were that this guy probably loved Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman: his review seems more a manifesto for Snyder’s films than anything to do with Richard Donner’s film (clearly Donner’s respectful approach to the original comicbooks went right over Mr Stewarts head). It’s one of those reviews which criticises a film more for what it is not, than what it is.

But it did set me thinking, which was probably the point of the review (so bravo, Mr Stewart, wherever you are now). I’ve noted elsewhere that I’ve really not been a fan of the recent Spiderman films and much of this -and it applies to all three ‘versions’ of the character, the Tobey Maguire films, the Andrew Garfield films and Tom Holland’s films- is simply that none of them have really captured what I loved as a kid growing up reading the 1960s/1970s Spiderman comics by Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, John Romita, Gerry Conway and Ross Andru. They are perfectly fine films as they are (well, to varying degree anyway) but none of them capture the characters and mood/spirit of those comics, so its inevitable that, for me, they are lacking something. They are probably more faithful to the comics of the past twenty years (that I have never read, although I did read part of the J. Michael Straczynski run of Spiderman comics drawn by John Romita jr. which are likely indicative) which is fine, and I should maybe give them the benefit of the doubt there. But my question is, am I being fair? Is it a case though of me disliking films more for what they are not than what they are?

Well, not exactly. I do think there are very real issues with the various films; retconning bad guys to be more sympathetic victims of misfortune than genuine villains is one of my pet peeves, likewise I utterly detest all the various Spidey suits of the Tom Holland films, all that nano-tech/Iron Man rubbish, all that metal arms out the back etc that defy reason, physics and gravity. That’s not any kind of Spiderman I want,  just further evidence of the Marvel films increasingly playing fast and loose with comics canon etc (as far as I know, as it could be something featured in the comics, but I doubt it). Likewise some of the writing feels pretty dire, with some fairly shocking leaps of logic, but that’s something evident in much film and television now; the talent pool is pretty weak now because there is just so much content being produced across film/television streaming etc. And yeah, in defence of writers, maybe its all those producers and executive producers interfering with the material- some films and shows I see now have as many as twenty and more producer credits, and I often wonder if the time will come when the number of producer credits will outnumber that of the cast.

I won’t even watch The Eternals; Jack Kirby’s 1970s comicbooks are amongst my very favourites. They possibly haven’t aged very well in some ways, but they were so bold and imaginative, full of the Chariots of the Gods stuff that excited me so much as a kid and was quite popular in that decade. The film, from what I have seen of it in trailers, has nothing in common with those comicbooks other than name (to be more faithful to Kirby’s work, it surely should have looked and felt more akin to 2017s Thor: Ragnarok film, which really captured the feel of a Kirby strip). I do know Neil Gaiman wrote a reboot/continuation and suspect the film has more in common with that than original creator Jack Kirby’s opus but I may be giving the film too much credit even there. Maybe I’ll get to watch it eventually but certainly I have little if any interest in it; the film was made to be something else, not something faithful to the original comics, and that’s surely true of much current Marvel Studios output.

Which is true, indeed, of what Disney is doing with Star Wars. They are making Star Wars tv shows and movies that are increasingly removed from the original film trilogy I grew up with, and they are as much not ‘my Star Wars’ as anything Marvel Studios films and tv shows are- and the same is true of the current crop of Star Trek tv shows. That being said though, some of these shows, certainly the Star Trek stuff that I have watched, are really woeful, regardless of how ‘faithful’ they aren’t in spirit and subject. The second season of Star Trek: Picard is especially diabolically poor, an absolute nadir for the Star Trek franchise.

Mind, even Star Trek: Discovery and Star Trek: Picard have their fans, I suppose, although those viewers must be especially forgiving of terrible writing, huge plotholes, leaps of logic (and illogic). Indeed I think the shows are fundamentally unforgivable in how crass and stupid they are, and seem to have been written by soap opera and tv sitcom writers rather than anyone actually skilled or knowledgeable of both science fiction or indeed the particular franchise canon (I can’t help but feel this is largely true of the Star Wars and Marvel stuff too, and I don’t know if this is from laziness, ignorance or simply an intent to strike off to pastures new on the back of established IP).

Thank goodness Blade Runner 2049 was sincere and respectful of the original film and extended upon the 1982 original film’s themes and mood thoughtfully, rather than just go the other, easier way, instead making a film about with a Roy Batty Mk.II or an action-based film about a new Blade Runner battling Nexus 7 or Nexus 8 improved, nastier Replicants. After all, it could have been, easily- look how generic the Terminator films became. I may not live to see any more Blade Runner movies, but at least I don’t have to witness what happened with Alien, its Lovecraftian alien creatures turned into spacesuit wearing bald guys in Ridley Scott’s ill-judged Prometheus. The more I think back on Prometheus, the more it actually seems a story about Space Gods akin to Jack Kirby’s 1976 Eternals comics repurposed to fit within the Alien franchise in order to get made (I can well imagine Ridley wanting to make a high-concept Space Gods movie and having to sell it as an Alien movie in order to get it greenlit).

Which I suppose means I should remain absolutely fearful regards that Blade Runner tv series which Ridley is producing. Maybe my luck is going to run out; and certainly, I will feel much more aggrieved regards something spoiling my appreciation and adoration of the 1982 film than I am by some Spiderman film not really being the web-slinger that thrilled me when I was seven years old.

“I’m tired. I’m through… It’ll happen to you too, someday.”

pickup1Pickup on South Street, 1953, 80 mins, Blu-ray

Another Sam Fuller picture, this time a dark crime-noir from 1953 during his spell at Fox, and two years prior to House of Bamboo which I saw back in November. Pickup on South Street his an excellent thriller, in which career-criminal Skip McCoy (Richard Widmark) pick-pockets the purse of Candy (Jean Peters) and inadvertently stumbles into an espionage crisis involving Communist agents and a lot of unwelcome heat from the Feds and cops. To some extent this is a typical cold-war thriller reflecting the West vs East tensions of the time, as as such would ordinarily feel dated and an exercise in propaganda as several noir espionage thrillers of its era that I have seen are.

But of course I’m watching this when world tensions are at a fever-pitch as Russia has invaded Ukraine, and the news is endlessly discussing the collapse of relations between the West and Russia and the return of old Cold-War sensibilities. So there’s an added discomfort in this film’s depicted tensions, and what is old is new again.

Richard Widmark is very good in this, he’d memorably featured as psychopathic killer Tommy Udo in Kiss of Death several years before, and while there’s a similar energised tone to his performance here its thankfully more restrained and grounded; Skip is much less manic than Tommy Udo but none the less convincing. I was particularly taken by the performance of Jean Peters as Candy, reluctant courier for the communists and eventual love-interest for Skip (this romance an inevitable development but one that oddly convinces). Peters is very good and lifts what could have been a one-dimensional part into something much more interesting.  I wasn’t familiar with the actress and looking her up on IMDB, its little wonder-  she only made 23 features, working under contract to Fox between 1947 and 1955 before then pretty much retiring from the screen to be the wife of eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes. There’s worse career choices I guess.

pickup2Possibly stealing the show though is character actress Thelma Ritter, who plays streetwise police informer Moe Williams. I get the feeling that she’s the character that Sam Fuller was most interested in, what could have been a minor role elevated instead to possibly the most critical part in the film. I’m rather seeing that this is a  common aspect of Fuller’s writing and directing, drawn to characters who would ordinarily be in the background or of lesser importance to the usual larger-than-life heroes and villains. I’ve read that Ritter’s performance saw her nominated for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar that year and I’m not at all surprised. Her final scene is outstanding, a sad and broken old lady weary of the world facing her final moments with resigned grace.

The film is also blessed by some wonderfully moody, waterfront locations that brought to mind early-sixties Spider-Man strips drawn by Steve Ditko, the eight-year old kid in me getting ridiculously excited seeing those scenes and remembering the web-slingers encounters with the mob in Ditko’s finely-drawn panels of criminal-infested waterfronts. The film is, typically of Fuller, very gritty and convincing, and indeed some of the action is quite shocking, particularly scenes of Candy getting beaten and the offscreen denouement of Moe is very effective. You can certainly tell its a Sam Fuller picture. As I have noted, in other hands a film such as this could have been just a typical anti-Commie propaganda piece of its time but Fuller lifts it into something much more. Its a very effective thriller with a great cast and screenplay, an excellent noir.

Conan Omnibus Vol.3

conanomni3I’ve received the latest Conan the Barbarian Omnibus this week. Collecting the original Marvel series during its lengthy John Buscema era (the definitive comics Conan for me), this third volume features issues 52-83, a few annuals and other material. Its a wonderful blast from the past. Glancing through it my attention was caught by the cover of issue 57, and its date of December 1975.

1975! Wow, just imagine that. Thinking back to what the world was like that back then, the movies that came out, the tv shows, the music, just imagining how it all was back when John Buscema was drawing those issues, and Roy Thomas writing them. Geeks of my generation tend to think of the world as pre-Star Wars and post-Star Wars. Its stupid I know, but that film is such a powerful, iconic moment in pop culture its a seductive way of thinking- things were so very different then, pre-1977: not worse, not better, just… different.

The run of issues collected in this third omnibus dates from 1975 to 1978, back when I was a young lad reading various Marvel monthlies. I loved them, it was a means of escape, long before Marvel Studios made it so ‘easy’ putting them up on the big screen (I can only imagine what it must be like for ten-year-old kids having all those Marvel films to watch now). One of my pleasures in reading these collections has been the letters pages, the occasional notes in them from the editor (in Conan’s case, Roy Thomas) and the detailed forewords etc to these books (the stories behind the scenes of these comics is really illuminating). Looking through the issues from 1976 really felt a little like a time machine. I remember 1976 well, I was ten years old. I remember the long hot summer; one of the hottest on record- we had a drought here, and I was deep into my Marvel comics that year. It was the year of the American Bicentennial, which meant very little to most kids here in Blighty, but to me swept up by the coverage in the Marvel comics (particularly the Captain America comics of that year) seemed so important and colourful. It was the  year of Howard the Duck (which I bought in an Omnibus collection a few years ago), and so many other wonderful four-colour Marvel mags. I’ll make myself feel really old by recalling Abba’s Dancing Queen hitting the charts, Batman reruns on network television, Starsky & Hutch on tv Saturday nights, or Brotherhood of Man’s ‘Save Your Kisses For Me’  winning that years Eurovision. Gotta love those 1970s.

XX7.TIFFAs I’m a huge fan of John Buscema’s work, its a great pleasure reading these issues from when he was in his prime. Reading editorials later in this collection regards John’s absence in later issues reprinted in this book (several instead drawn by a pre-Star Wars comics adaptation Howard Chaykin), it was poignant to read the explanations of John being busy on art duties on Captain Britain, a comic published by Marvel over here directly targeted at the UK market. I don’t think any of that stuff got published in America at all, certainly not until a collected edition years later. The original run for that character is largely forgotten now, and it hasn’t likely dated well at all, but I remember being wowed by those issues drawn by John Buscema and amused by the very frequent times when it was blatantly obvious that it was drawn from an Americans idea of what London and the police etc. looked like, not the reality. Its funny, because everything I imagined America looked like came from those Amazing Spider Man comics drawn by Steve Ditko and John Romita and so many others, and I’m sure that was as skewed as that weird Britain pictured in that comic. Somehow the real America never really lived up to the imaginations of those Marvel artists. I haven’t seen those Captain Britain strips in decades, I guess they would be kind of cute now. Or horrifying!

1976, the Batmobile, A Star is Born, Jack Kirby and all that

1976 was a pretty good year. I was ten, buying four-colour Marvel comics voraciously; the American monthly comics (rather than just the UK weekly reprints) which were printed in runs for the UK market, being cover-priced in pence rather than cents (no idea if this meant the comics were/are worthless to collectors). It was the Bicentennial in America, something the comics were full of and which almost felt like a holiday/event for me too. Jack Kirby was drawing Captain America, full of patriotic Stars n’ Stripes and I almost felt more American than British (and of course the four-colour Anerica of the comics was a world away from living on a Council Estate in the Black Country in 1970s Britain).

Jack Kirby being back at Marvel was a big deal over the pond but I didn’t understand why, but I was loving his work on 2001: a Space Odyssey and The Eternals and the Black Panther, fantastic comics that exemplified all that was marvelous about Marvel, especially to a ten year old. It was also the year the film Logans Run came out, a film I would not see for a few years but I read the Marvel comic adaptation, which was really exciting and better than the movie, as it would turn out. Had great art by George Perez as I recall. His name is an indelible part of my childhood reading all those comics he drew for Marvel – I think he also worked on The Avengers comic and several others. Of course 1976 was the year of Howard the Duck running for president.

1976It was a long hot summer that year in the UK; we had a huge drought and terrible water shortages, but for a ten-year old lad it was fantastic, no rain, lots of play. The kids in my street had a fad for go-karts that summer and our parents built us go-karts; invariably deathtraps, really. Batman re-runs were on television that year and the kart my brother and I had was painted black and we called it the Batmobile. My Dad was no engineer and it was a shaking, rattling accident on over-sized pram-wheels just waiting to happen, which was a tad ironic- a lad up the street, Stuart, had a go-kart that was built like a tank, a beast of a wooden kart it looked like it would last forever, but we had an accident in it late one evening racing down a steep alley near our school entrance and he lost some of his teeth (it was the same alley down which I would later break my arm skateboarding, but that was another craze in another year). His go-kart of course was in better shape than he was. If he’d had the crash in our Batmobile it would have been in pieces everywhere, but our Batmobile actually lasted the summer, somehow, and whenever I think about the Adam West show, my thoughts often turn to that rattling Batmobile and I wonder that it didn’t kill or maim me.

So why do I write about 1976? Well, two things really. Partly it’s because I watched the Bradley Cooper/Lady Gaga film A Star is Born yesterday, which triggered a conversation regards the two earlier film incarnations from 1954 and 1976 neither of which which I’ve seen (I didn’t even realise there was an original 1937 film until I checked). My mother-in-law recalled the 1954 film starring Judy Garland very well, but other than a song I think all I remembered of the 1976 film was a review of the 1976 version commenting on the dire hands of megalomaniac star Barbra Streisand and producer boyfriend Jon Peters ruining it. The new version thankfully isn’t the disaster that 1976 film apparently is, I’ll perhaps post a review soon (A Star is Born perhaps isn’t the usual kind of film I’d watch, but it was Claire’s birthday yesterday…).

marv1But as usual, I digress. The other thing that has me reminiscing about 1976 is that I recently read a fascinating book by Sean Howe, Marvel Comics- The Untold Story, which for an old Marvel kid like me, proved to be a sobering read, confirming all sorts of tales and comments I’d read/heard over the years.  When you’re seven or ten or thirteen, you don’t care about the real-world stories behind the comics, you’re just loving the comics, but it’s pretty shocking in places what went on behind the scenes. It would make for a brilliant movie, but I doubt Marvel Studios would be keen on seeing that in multiplexes- which is a pity, it’s a very human story behind those four-colour daydreams of my childhood.

The crux of the issue is what became known as ‘the Marvel Method’ which I assume infers that those DC comics that I never read were created in some other way. How Marvel did it, was that Stan Lee, usually attributed the title of creator and writer of the comics, assigned plot summaries to artists like Jack Kirby (Fantastic Four) or Steve Ditko (Spider-Man) and they would go away to plot and pencil the comic. When this artwork returned, Lee would then write dialogue over their work. Now, when I was kid reading those UK reprints of the 1960s Spider-Man, I always assumed Lee wrote the stories in detail and that Ditko just drew what Lee thought up- but of course this was far from the truth. In penciling the layouts and pages the artist was responsible for the pacing of the narrative and the details of the heroes battles with the bad guys. Indeed, pretty much the whole actual story beyond the rough plot outline from Lee. In the case of the Fantastic Four, Jack Kirby got increasingly disheartened by being given what he saw as insufficient credit. In one often cited example, an increasingly sidetracked Lee (remember he was writer/editor of the majority of the Marvel line) gave Kirby the premise “the Fantastic Four fight God” and Kirby came back with the classic saga of Galactus the World Eater and the Silver Surfer, characters who went on to become major figures in the Marvel Universe, in an epic story that still gives me tingles thinking back on it (it’ll be a great movie one day, no doubt).

Like Kirby, Ditko (something of an odd character himself, truth be told) got into an increasingly bitter feud with Lee over his work on the title and left the Amazing Spider-Man comic and Marvel altogether – Ditko’s run on the comic regarded as the classic defining run of the comics history. Lee of course would continue to be considered the creator of Spider Man and the web-slinger would go on to make Marvel a fortune, and millions for the film studio when the later films came out… but not for Ditko.

Kirby had long battles with Lee and Marvel for recognition of his own work in creating stories and characters, and this long-running saga is infamous in the industry. Marvel treated artists as ‘work for hire’ and held that their art was owned by the company- by the late 1960s it became increasingly obvious that the real value of the artwork wasn’t actually in the comics but was in the licensing and merchandising of the content of the comics, revenue that Marvel earned but the artists didn’t. Kirby fought for years to get his artwork back, seeing it used on tee-shirts and toys and other merchandise and himself not earning a dime. Disney later bought Marvel for $4 billion and would go on to make billions of dollars from a line of movies based directly on Jack Kirby’s work of the 1960s.

The thing that struck me most though from reading the book- whatever the details of his creator credentials, it’s clear that Stan Lee saw the future for Marvel’s roster of superheroes, and it resided in Hollywood, and the movies we watch today. He spent years out in LA trying to get studios onboard with making films of Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four etc. All of the 1970s, pretty much, and into the 1980s. The studios just didn’t get it. Ironic, now, considering how much the Marvel Studios output is dominating the movie industry (news broke this past weekend that Avengers: Endgame may finally have surpassed Avatar at the global box office and become the biggest film of all time). I suppose that film technology had to catch up with the wild four-colour fantasies of those Marvel artists. But Stan Lee saw it. For years he just couldn’t sell it. He must have felt so vindicated after all those years when they took over the world’s cineplexes.

Sean Howe’s book is a great read and I recommend it to anyone even mildly interested in the real history of Marvel and its creations. For readers of those comics, especially those of the 1960s and 1970s, the book is essential reading.

 

 

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

verse1Some have described this as the best Spider-Man film yet. I’m not so sure about that- I suppose that really depends upon your own history with the character, which has been in print now for over fifty years. For myself, well I read the run from 1963 through to the late ‘seventies, from the Ditko years through to the Romita and Andru years and all had their own pros and cons. For myself, the definitive Spider-Man would be one set during the 1960s, like an episode of Mad Men sprinkled with Ditko’s noir-ish sensibilities, full of period songs and stylish fashion and design. Something like the Batman tv show but done all adult and serious. Clearly, thats never likely to happen, and Spider-Man films are made for today’s readers carrying all the baggage of the 1980s run to the present, which I’m utterly ignorant of (hence my rather clueless bemusement of the Venom film and a strange distance from much of what goes on in recent Spider-Man films- a young ‘hot’ Aunt May? Wtf?).

But you never know- if there’s one thing that Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse demonstrates, anything can happen.  Quite a few times while watching the film I had to ask myself if this thing was real, where it had possibly come from. Its an exciting, exhilarating, breathlessly entertaining and imaginative slice of comic-book joy. Its an absolute blast. Back when the film was announced, I wondered what the hell they were thinking of (maybe my thoughts were shadowed by memories of that awful cheesy Spider-Man animated show of the 1960s) but this thing… well, it’s quite gorgeous, and it has a witty script… its great, a real treat. Its a slice of genius really, how it manages to press some kind of ‘reset’ button on everything that’s come before it, and make everything seem so new again- it does make me wonder, infact, where the live-action Spidey movies go without seeming old-fashioned and almost redundant. I’m quite ignorant of the character of Miles Morales having his own comic-book series but I gather he does, no doubt part of all the mythology in the comic I’ve missed since I stopped reading it decades ago. I have the feeling that I had the Spider-Man of my generation, that we deserved back then, and it’s somebody else’s now. I’m fine with that, and while I’d not really be interested in reading the current comics, it’s fun to watch something like this and get a glimpse.

I’d also love to read a Spider-Man Noir book (at last Nicolas Cage is brilliant again, who’d have guessed his true destiny was self-deprecating voice casting? His career could be revitalised for years). This guy deserves a spin-off movie… but then so does Spider-Gwen; it’s part of the genius of this film, how it can appeal to so many different groups of people not naturally ‘into’ the usual Spider-Man.

Did I say it was gorgeous? Its like one of those old Motion Comics (remember them? I tried watching the Watchmen one and retired to the original book in confusion), but on steroids. Its breathtaking really, riddled with all sorts of clever touches, whether it be squiggles or comic panels and lettering, different styles, as if somehow a comic-book drawn by different artists was brought to animated life by some kind of Frankenstein cine-sorcery. I’m sure having only seen it once there’s all sorts of touches/details/geek easter-eggs (I spotted a few) that I’ll pick up on repeated viewings. Its wild and nuts and beautiful.

Its funny, DC could have done something like this with its Batman series- have the old matinee-serial b&w Batman meet up with the Adam West Batman and the Michael Keaton Batman etc. Its a funny thing how even the movie mythologies of these comic-book characters are as convoluted as the original comic ones are. I guess it’s all those years, decades going by.

Into the Spider-Verse almost makes all those reboots and remakes make sense. Maybe it’s making some kind of commentary on the industry and how all these franchises twist and turn in an effort to keep themselves relevant and topical, and, er, make lots of money. I suppose a sequel would be almost an afront, like selling-out almost..

 

Venom (2018)

venom1I liked it. I think. Well, it was that old chestnut of ‘reduced expectations’ again- I gather from when the film originally came out at the cinema that the critics were not at all impressed, nor some of the comic book fans, really. Regards the fans, I can’t really comment, as I know nothing of the original comics, so I’m likely not best suited to comment on the film anyway. Although I’m a huge Spider Man fan, having grown up in the 1970s reading the weekly UK reprints of all the 1960s/1970s American comic books (from the Steve Ditko era through John Romita and to the Ross Andru years- I guess that’ll only mean anything to older comics readers, so hey ho) I’m not familiar with anything of the 1980s onwards. Venom, I gather, is a huge fan-favourite Spider Man spin-off but I have no idea how faithful this film is or how many liberties it has taken.

I gather it got some flack from fans for not being an R-rated picture, as the original comic book would apparently lean more towards more of a Deadpool-type adaptation- seriously violent and graphic and foul-mouthed. This is clearly not that kind of movie, and while it’s not a PG Deadpool kind of situation, I think that it strangely disturbs even more. This film is surprisingly violent and even drops at least one F-bomb, but to manage the more kiddie-friendly certificate (it landed with a 15 rating) it seems to show the violent acts but not the results. Venom is seen throwing a SWAT team through walls and in the air etc which likely leaves the guys crippled and dying painful deaths but we don’t see those consequences of Venoms actions- I think he bites heads off at times but without hardly any gore etc. I don’t know why, but that actually makes the film seem worse than Deadpool in some ways, as if its unintentionally showing the action in some kind of painless videogame kind of context which does more harm than good.  Which makes me wonder, are comic book films such as this more of a danger to kids watching them (lets face it, now it’s in the home domain this film will be watched by 8-year olds or younger still) precisely because its showing violence as entertainment and even as something funny but without showing the outcome of that violence?

I’m likely just ignoring/misremembering how violent most comic-book films are in general, but something just feels off about Venom.

Maybe that’s another discussion. I just mention it because I had to look at the certificate of the film as I was watching it. The violence doesn’t feel as intense as, say, it did back in Blade Runner even back in 1982 but I can imagine an extended, rawer cut being released showing all that gore and battered twisted body parts and the film being a different beast entirely, but also maybe that would be more honest? At any rate, the film made a fortune at the box-office in spite of critics panning it so the film-makers succeeded in what they were attempting, financially anyway.

To me, the film was some strange, daft comic book flick possibly leaning more towards the campiness of 1960s Batman than the usual Marvel film does – I suspect that was a way to dilute the darkness of the character but it does make the whole feel odd, really. I did enjoy Tom Hardy, he brought an awful lot to the character he played and is a huge part of the film’s success- I certainly doubt I would have enjoyed the film at all with someone else starring in it. I wonder what the film might have been like with a big brash pop score like Queen’s Flash Gordon, for instance (“Venom! Ahhh-ahhh! He’s come to devour us!”) – that would have been wild.

Oh well. I kind of enjoyed Venom– certainly well worth a £1.99 rental. Which is likely deservedly damning it with faint praise, but there you go…

…and another…

ditko.jpgWoke up this morning to more sad news; the American comicbook artist Steve Ditko, co-creator of Marvel’s Spider-Man, has passed away at the age of 90. Its the kind of news that can’t help but colour the remainder of the day.

By all accounts, Ditko was something of a recluse who shunned publicity and harkened from a time when artists and creators were ill-rewarded for their work- his creation of Spider-Man in the 1960 with Stan Lee should have made him fabulously rich, but didn’t (Marvel of course has gone on to make a fortune from the character over the decades from the comics, merchandising and movies). Ditko also co-created Doctor Strange, and I noted with some satisfaction that the recent Doctor Strange movie had visuals that referenced the trippy images that Ditko conjured up for that comic. Like a lot of comic artists of that era (Kirby, Buscema, Kane, Colan etc) Ditko had a unique visual style all his own.

Ditko’s original Spider-Man strips are likely the definitive Spider-Man (although as I grew up I preferred the John Romita period for the more ‘sophisticated’ stories of their time, today the DItko era is clearly the most evocative). If I find time today I will reach for my Marvel Omnibus of the Amazing Spider-Man that features Ditko’s run on the strip and re-read one of those glorious issues that I loved so much as a kid reading the British reprints in the early 1970s.

But yes, sad news, and again, as I noted in my previous post, another great icon/name of my youth and cultural-scape has passed. I know its an inevitable side-effect of my own ageing, but it remains awfully depressing that so many of them are fading away. Two consecutive posts such as this are lousy reasons to write here, and I sincerely hope a third is a long time in coming….

Marveling at Dr Strange

dr strange12017.15: Dr Strange (2016),  Blu-ray

They make it look so easy, don’t they? It must piss those boys at DC right off, seeing Marvel Studios parading its expertise at putting comicstrip adventures up on the big screen. Its pretty amazing really. When you really think about it, all this superhero nonsense is inherently juvenile, silly nonsense, but its actioned with such earnestness and conviction that audiences just lap it up. Why audiences are so ready for tales reduced to base concepts of good and evil and larger than life heroes and villains, modern mythologies to replace the Gods and Devils of old, I don’t know. I suppose that in this fairly-new millennium these superhero films function the same way as the Bonds and Star Wars of before, perhaps even on a bigger scale. The appeal, after all, is pretty universal- these films are hugely successful worldwide, across all kinds of racial and territorial boundaries. In an increasingly complicated and uncertain world, there is perhaps an appeal to simple heroes and villains.

So yeah, we can go about this review in two ways. On the one hand, Dr Strange is terrific entertainment with an engaging cast and pretty remarkable spectacle. On the other, well, its fairly routine Marvel Studios stuff. The film seldom really surprises and pretty much telegraphs much of what happens well in advance, particularly if you are familiar with Marvel’s output. Of course, that familiarity might be part of the charm of these films- all together they represent the Mother of All Box Sets, and there is an undeniable comfort blanket in losing yourself within this Marvel Studios universe, in just the same way as the comic Marvel universe had an escapist charm through my childhood. Barring a few missteps, those 1960s strips that I read in the 1970s weekly reprints of my childhood have been brought to vivid life- and most of those missteps are a personal thing regards updating 60s strips to our modern world. Yeah, I can’t help that, its just a personal thing- Spiderman’s New York will always be a 1960s Mad Men episode to me; it just feels odd in a modern world of mobile phones and computers seeing guys dressed up in funny costumes.

Heres the elephant in the room of course- its all looking so easy for Marvel, and yet DC seems to be finding it all so difficult. Likely that apparent ease is nothing of the sort and hides some really tricky work in the background, but up to now they have pretty much pulled things off very well. We have not seen Marvel blunder into making an artistic and commercial dud. At this stage, I doubt we will; if Marvel Studios ever does begin to stumble for success, it’s all the more likely it will be from audience fatigue rather than bad movies.

dr strange.jpgSo Dr Strange is a pretty strong Marvel movie and another addition to its roster of cinematic heroes. It isn’t perfect but it is reliable fun. And yeah, when I think about those 1960s strips by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, and how so much of them have been transposed to the movie screen here, it is frankly astonishing, how well it comes off without feeling camp or silly. Other than that, I don’t have much to really say, other than I really need to watch it again, as some of those big effects sequences were so busy I sometimes lost track of what the hell was going on- I kept thinking of that line from Jedi – “There’s too many of them!” There was so much going on in some of those mind bending effects shots.