Category Archives: Spider-Man

Web-Line on the Horizon

Their twelfth studio album is all well and good, but the most exciting U2 news this weekend is their Broadway debut in twelve months’ time:

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I never thought I’d say I’m eager to see a musical production of Spider-Man, but I admit this interview with Mary Jane (Evan Rachel Wood, from Julie Taymor’s own Across the Universe) has me quite intrigued.

So far the only successful attempt at the superhero lament in pop rock form is Chad Kroeger’s “Hero” which played during the credits of the first Spider-Man movie, so I’m looking forward to hearing what Bono and Edge have come up with. I have a hunch their style is going translate well to the theatre.

Hollywood Confidental

Corrie Pikul believes Ms. Dunst played up her teeth in Spider-Man 3 with a bit more than usual scene-chewing:

Every time Mary Jane appeared on screen, I’d find myself ogling her teeth. The jagged incisors peeped out from between her lips when she smiled, and she seemed to talking and pouting around them when upset. I wonder if she was working her choppers extra-hard?

Pikul observes a widespread internet phenomenon of Dunst’s teeth inspiring disproportionate hatred, and quotes as an example one of my least gentlemanly comments in support of the grassroots movement to kill off Mary Jane.

Though the cited post makes no reference to her teeth, I can hardly claim misrepresentation since this blog has admittedly produced its fair share of anti-Mary Jane propaganda, which on a couple of occasions have referred to Dunst’s pebbly hamster teeth.

Pikul analyzes the source of the outrage:

The teeth-haters are furious that Kirsten Dunst hasn’t succumbed to the pressures of Hollywood, because they have . . . .

She doesn’t even seem to be aware that her crooked choppers — LOOK AT THEM!– sometimes protrude when her lips are touching. The nerve of this woman! How dare she! She’s not perfect — she’s not even beautiful. She doesn’t deserve the average person’s money or attention or affection.

Fair enough, but I don’t begrudge Ms. Dunst for making it as an actress — I liked Marie Antoinette actually — just the portrayal of Mary Jane as a model. As I’ve said before:

I wouldn’t criticize an actress just for her looks except that in the movie MJ is not only an actress but, in Spider-Man 2, a MODEL whose face is plastered all over New York. Genetically enhanced spiders and an alien parasite are plausible, but it is the concept of Dunst as a perfume model that strains credulity beyond the suspension of disbelief.

Indeed most of my dislike for the character of Mary Jane is due to her generally unkempt appearance in the second and third films. Her teeth are only the tips of the iceberg that could sink a thousand ships.

The Raimi Code

Unfortunately I’ve realized where Sam Raimi & Co. have been getting all their ideas for the Spider-Man movies. They’ve been pretty much copying everything from the original Superman films.

Superman: The Movie / Spider-Man

This pair differs the most but they both end with the hero facing a “sadistic choice” between saving the lives of many or saving the life of his best girl. But still sufficient plausible deniability on the part of Raimi.

Superman II / Spider-Man 2

Here’s where things get obvious. Hero faces the dilemma of duty vs. personal fulfillment in the form of romance. For a while he thinks his own gratification is more important than his responsibility to the world but he soon comes to his senses and realizes that he can’t put his own interests above others. Along the way he loses his powers but gets them back when he realizes he was being selfish.

Both films also feature mini-Passions, when Clark Kent becomes human and gets the crap kicked out of him (“Blood?!”) and when Spider-Man temporarily expires in a cruciform pose while saving tons of people, followed by a reverential “deposition from the cross”.

Superman III / Spider-Man 3

With the Christ allegories out of the way, it’s time to look inward for an existential crisis. Here the hero becomes exposed to a substance from outer space which encourages him to indulge his inner bastard. The hero starts hitting on chicks and generally being a jerk, accompanied by new hair (5 o’clock shadow or emo-Hitler) and a darker colored suit. Ultimately he confronts and defeats his evil doppelganger.

Superman III gets maximum points for its Fight Club-style rumble in the junkyard, but Spider-Man 3 was a giant missed opportunity. While Evil Superman causes environment-devastating oil spills, Evil Spidey makes an ass of himself dancing down the street. Also, Superman III’s image of a drunk Superman flicking peanuts at beer bottles made me cry and frightened to see the movie again until I was a teenager.

Superman IV: The Quest for Peace / Spider-Man 4

Now that we’ve broken the code we can accurately predict what would happen in Spidey 4. The short version is we cannot allow the Raimi/Maguire/Dunst triumvirate to make a fourth installment unless we want to see Spider-Man condescendingly lecture the United Nations about nuclear disarmament and witness the beginning of the Clone Saga on film.

SPIDER-MAN 3: A Study in Syrup and Molasses

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The syrup is provided by Christopher Young whose score nearly ruins the movie. At the beginning it’s annoying but excusable, but near the end when one character forgives another, the would-be poignant moment is ruined by the emotions-dictating music intruding right on cue.

The molasses is provided not just by the sticky alien symbiote but by the editor and probably the screenwriters, who keep the movie as slow and boring as possible. This effect is produced despite the first few minutes randomly cutting from character to character like a soap opera that keeps tabs on multiple characters without logical transitions. (The first act of Batman Begins is still a clinic on maintaining continuity between short scenes that aren’t even chronological.) Thus it establishes a three-ring circus’ lack of focus from the beginning, long before Eddie Brock is even introduced in the second act.

The best part of the movie, undoubtedly, is the first emergence of Sandman like the creation of Adam formed from the dust. It deserves appreciation as a short film in its own right that, without a word of dialogue or human acting, conveys more emotion than the rest of the film put together. Too bad it’s over within the first fifteen minutes.

The character best served by the film is Harry Osborne, whose dedication to the franchise has finally paid off in the form of more screen time after his disappointing role in Spider-Man 2 was made worse with one-note acting. But finally James Franco has been given a chance to demonstrate his breadth as his character doesn’t merely return to his personality in the first movie but shows a completely new side of him.

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Unfortunately Kirsten Dunst doesn’t halt the trajectory of the last movie but is, impossible though it may seem, actually less attractive than she was in Spider-Man 2. In the first sequel she merely looked like a drowned rat, but in the new one there’s no doubt her groomers were instructed to make her look as unattractive as possible in order to heighten the contrast between her and Gwen Stacy, most obvious in the scene at the French restaurant.

Words are insufficient to describe Gwen. Among the movie’s stars Bryce Dallas Howard is simply the sun: whenever she’s in view you can’t even see them.

The movie ought to be called “Peter Parker 3” because Spider-Man is rarely in it. I know everyone says the Spidey movies are so good because they focus on characters first and action second, however Spider-Man 2 was not only dramatically superior to 1 and 3 but it also had two of the best superpowered fights ever filmed. Spider-Man 2 retained the visual brightness of the first movie, which I used to feel were collectively just a bit too colorful (unlike the carefully limited palettes of Batman Begins and Superman Returns) but now, when compared to the visual darkness which makes the action so difficult to follow in the new film, the action in Spider-Man 2 remains superior simply because you can see it.

The result is that the best action sequence in Spider-Man 3 doesn’t involve him fighting any villains but only rescuing a falling girl early in the film — simply because it’s during the day. It is exceptional because most of the film takes place at night, which achieves both a thematic and a practical: visually it reflects the hero’s psychological descent into darkness assisted by the black alien symbiote, but it also helps to disguise the extensive digital effects employed in the action sequences.

The first two acts of the movie are the most fun, if only in contrast to the tedium of the last act. The final obligatory fight between all the characters is both huge and a huge disappointment, and venerable Los Angeles anchorman Hal Fishman’s incredibly un-Fishman-like delivery as a New York newsreader adds to the cheese rather than the tension of the proceedings.

Therefore (for me) the battle royal achieved interest primarily as an image of metacinema, in which an audience like us of entertained bystanders watch the fight which is itself filmed and televised for the world to see on screens, reflecting the movie’s global same-day release. However both X-Men 3 and Superman Returns already depicted similar images of theater more subtly and innovatively.

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I don’t necessarily look forward to a fourth installment by the same filmmakers because I doubt they have another Spider-Man 2 in them, but since Sony is intent on milking their spider to death (so to speak) we can only hope that the Lizard will finally rear his ugly and much-teased head.

But I don’t think a Spider-Man 4 would be the unqualified financial success that Sony seems to think it would be, because in franchises the first weekend’s box office is always a reflection of the public’s approval of the previous installment: thus the record-breaking hauls of The Matrix Reloaded and Pirates of the Caribbean 2.

Accordingly I predict that The Dark Knight will double the opening box office of Batman Begins, but Spider-Man 4 would be lucky to earn half that of its predecessor. After achieving practically instantaneous saturation point, expect a huge second-week drop-off for Spider-Man 3 as ambivalent word of mouth spreads.

Top Ten Spider-Man Covers of the 1980s

The Eighties experienced a serious drought in draftsmanship, so nothing in the decade compares to the figure drawing of Gil Kane and John Romita (Sr.). Selecting ten covers from this era was particularly difficult, not because of too many great choices, but because most of them were mediocre.

In fact, only three or four on this list would survive against covers from the 70s or 00s, and I easily could have exchanged a few on this list with comparably OK covers by the same artist or another. Consequently, because there was no undisputed king of Spidey illustration in the 80s, this is a very diverse list comprised of nine different artists, compared to five in the last list (with one, John Byrne, common to both).

So once again, in order of publication:

1. This cover by Frank Miller (he wasn’t the interior artist) doesn’t look any more three-dimensional in person, thanks to the prison bars being flat black strips rather than given any kind of roundness by hand, resulting in a disconcerting feeling of optical illusion. But the potent image of Spider-Man is one of the best of the decade regardless. (On a personal note, incidentally, given the publication date my dad must have bought this issue for me second-hand.) Amazing Spider-Man #219 (August 1981), by Frank Miller:

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2. I love images that are black, white, and red all over, and Milgrom manages to achieve a feeling a three dimensions with simple lines and fills, but the contrast of Doc Ock’s tentacles are the coup de grace. Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #79 (June 1983), by Al Milgrom:

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3. This isn’t Frenz’s most flattering image of Spider-Man (his best might be #269), and the Hobgoblin’s left glove is too undistinguished from Spidey’s costume, but it is an undoubtedly dynamic cover — perhaps the perfect splash page — and it’s a rare instance of the cover actually depicting a scene that takes place in the story inside. The fact that this blog derives its name from this issue played no part in its inclusion. Amazing Spider-Man #260 (January 1985), by Ron Frenz:

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4. This is possibly my favorite image of Spider-Man, ever. Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #101 (April 1985), by John Byrne:

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5. I have no idea who the depicted villain is, but I like how Morgan puts the reader in the vulnerable position of the Rocker Racer but also gives us that crucial piece of information unseen by the sniper. Though I usually prefer covers that are iconic or figurative rather than particular, this is a great example of a tease that shows us an entire situation the second before something exciting happens. How could you resist opening this comic? Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #104 (July 1985), by Tom Morgan:

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6. Admittedly generic, but one of the better depictions of Spider-Man. And I love images of Spidey running up a vertical wall. Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #114 (May 1986), by Keith Pollard:

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7. Not much needs to be said for this image of the criminal-nabbing web-spinner caught himself in the hunter’s net, which also happens to kick off one of the most famous story arcs of the decade. Web of Spider-Man #31 (October 1987), by Mike Zeck:

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8. Two issues in a row by the same artist may seem indulgent, and in any other case it would be, but this is one of the most memorable comic book covers of all time. Web of Spider-Man #32 (November 1987), by Mike Zeck:

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9. With issue #134 this series lost “Peter Parker” from its title, the same month Sal Buscema (son brother of John) began a prolific six-year run, for most of which he provided both pencils and inks. For my money he was the best and most distinctive draghtsman since Romita, and the rough line of his unmistakable pen keeps his work simultaneously raw and refined.

I like most of Sal’s covers just because I love his artistic style. But his cover for this issue (another one I own) is particularly attention-grabbing, not to mention compositionally efficient. While the covers of most comics often feature silly if momentary confrontations between heroes — how many times have we seen Wolverine vs. the Hulk? — seeing CAPTAIN AMERICA of all people giving Spidey a roundhouse to the jaw (and looking like he means it!) is undeniably compelling. Spectacular Spider-Man #138 (May 1988), by Sal Buscema:

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10. I hesitated including anything by McFarlane in this list because the truth is that he’s basically a fraud as an artist. Browsing his covers is not only uninspiring but actually depressing, especially when juxtaposed to Buscema’s contemporaneous work on Spectacular. But I thought this cover, depicting Spidey’s point of view, is just interesting enough — and buttressed by an absence of human faces. Amazing Spider-Man (January 1989), by Todd McFarlane:

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Top Ten Spider-Man Covers of the 1970s

So often when we see covers of old comics reprinted in books or shown on websites, it’s as a supplemental illustration in support of text about that particular issue’s contents. So the covers we see most often as fans are of the issues in which something significant happened, such as the death of a character or first appearance of a villain, whether or not the cover itself was particularly good.

But what about the everyday comic book cover? Here are what I consider the best Spider-Man covers from the 1970s, regardless of how minor the villain or insignificant the story inside. Though Spider-Man’s flagship title was joined in March 1972 by Marvel Team-Up, in which Spidey was paired with different Marvel character each month, and a second solo title, Peter Park, the Spectacular Spider-Man, the best covers of the decade uniformly appeared on Amazing Spider-Man so the present selection represents not just one character but a single title from 1970 through 1979.

In order of publication then:

1. In terms of composition, the best images of Spidey — inside or outside the issue — take advantage of his wall-crawling abilities to play with perspective, as represented by Amazing Spider-Man #90 (November 1970), by Gil Kane and John Romita:

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2. Amazing Spider-Man #98 (July 1971), by Gil Kane:

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3. Amazing Spider-Man #142 (March 1975), by John Romita:

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4. In terms of pure draftsmanship I think this is one of the best images of Spider-Man in the decade; it’s astonishing how many bad covers of Spidey there are. Amazing Spider-Man #145 (June 1975), by Gil Kane:

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5. This is the closest of my picks to an “event” issue, being the first appearance of Spider-Man’s clone, but I think the image of Spidey being confronting by his doppelganger is alone strong enough to make this a good cover, though it’s not the best of this selection. Amazing Spider-Man #149 (October 1975), by Gil Kane:

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6. This is probably one of the best-known images of Spidey, and still one of my favorite covers. For some reason he always looks good in and around water! Amazing Spider-Man #151 (December 1975), by John Romita:

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7. Another classic Romita image of Spidey vs. Doc Ock. Amazing Spider-Man #157 (June 1976), by John Romita:

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8. Using the hospital window as a natural comic book panel, this cover is not only a microcosm of the medium but it also illustrates the essential Peter Parker dilemma, making it an ideal representation of the words “Spider-Man Monthly Comic.” Amazing Spider-Man #178 (March 1978), by Ross Andru:

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9. I’m a sucker for stylized depictions of well-known costumes, which in this case makes up for what the cover lacks in other areas. Amazing Spider-Man #188 (January 1979), by Dave Cockrum:

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10. I just love the way Spidey frames this image with his body, and the lighting (or is it a shadow?) on his back. Amazing Spider-Man #189 (February 1979), by John Byrne:

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Conclusions? If nothing else, 1975 was a great year for covers with four entries from that year alone.

So who was the king of Spidey covers in the seventies? Gil Kane and John Romita are represented by three covers each, with a seventh credited to both artists. Assuming Amazing Spider-Man #90 was penciled by Kane and inked by Romita, I’d say that gives the edge to Kane.

But does the combined virtuosity of #151 and #157 ultimately outstrip the technical mastery of Kane’s #98 and #145?

Next on Spider-Man Week: Top Ten Covers of the Eighties!

Next week is Spider-Man Week

So get ready for a return to some actual comics content on the blog — beginning with
the Top Ten Spidey Covers of the 1970s! Then maybe the 80s, 90s, 00s, and anything else I may have up my sleeve like a mechanical webshooter!

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Tom DeFalco (words) & Ron Frenz (art), Amazing Spider-Man #259 (December 1984)

Sincerest Flattery

Though the story inside was illustrated by Curt Swan, the cover of Superman #403 was drawn by Eduardo Barreto and bears a date of January 1985:

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I’ve had that issue of Superman since I was four years old, but I only just came across the cover of Spectacular Spider-Man #99, illustrated by Al Milgrom, cover date February 1985:

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Face it, Tiger: Spider-Man 4 just hit the jackpot

Sam Raimi told SHH he would “absolutely” return for a fourth Spider-Man film. Unless I’m forgetting someone, I guess that would make Raimi tied with Lucas and Spielberg for directing four films in a single franchise, though there were 22 years between the former’s first and second, and 19 years between the latter’s third and fourth.

Unfortunately, Kirsten Dunst also said she would do it if Raimi and Tobey Maguire both return, which means she is not killed by Sandman OR Harry Osborne OR Venom! C’mon villains, how lame can you be? Maybe if you tried teaming up — or least coordinated your attacks so that one of you kept Spider-Man occupied while another one got MJ — you could finally accomplish something for a change and make your property damage worth everyone’s while!

New Spider-Man Trailer

See it here.

Great to see a glimpse of Hal Fishman in there. Almost makes me homesick. I have fond memories of the days when his hair was slicked back Pat Riley style. It was so essential to his image that I audibly gasped the first time I saw the mature Michael Caine look he switched to a few years ago. He wears it well, though, and I’ve come to like his short hair with vague part.