Great Moments In Comic Book History: Crisis on Campus


This has always been one of my favorite Spider-Man covers.  Credit for it goes to John Romita, Sr.

This issue of The Amazing Spider-Man came out in 1969, at the height of the student protests that rocked campuses across America.  Since Spider-Man was a student at Empire State University at the time, it makes sense that he would eventually be drawn into the protests.  In typical Marvel fashion, Spider-Man ended up supporting both the protesters and the police who later busted them.  Spider-Man felt the protesters had a right to protest but that the police were also necessary to maintain the peace.  Of course, in the end, the Kingpin would use the distraction of the protests to steal an ancient tablet, leaving the students to take the blame.

This cover perfectly captured the ambiguous place of both Spider-Man and Marvel in the counter culture.  Spider-Man may appear to be with the protesters but it’s also not a coincidence that he’s swinging above them, indicating that Spider-Man was both a part of the counterculture and yet above it all at the same time.  At a time of intense national polarization, Marvel manged to pull off the balancing act of supporting both sides at the same time.

Is Spider-Man a part of the protest or is he the one being protested?  It all depends on what you want to see.

The Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 1 #68 (January, 1969)

“Crisis On Campus!”

  • Writer: Stan Lee
  • Penciler: John Romita Sr. and Jim Mooney
  • Inker: Jim Mooney
  • Letterer: Sam Rosen
  • Editor: Stan Lee
  • Cover Artist: John Romita, Sr.

Previous Great Moments In Comic Book History:

  1. Winchester Before Winchester: Swamp Thing Vol. 2 #45 “Ghost Dance” 
  2. The Avengers Appear on David Letterman

4 Shots From 4 Films: Happy Birthday, Spider-Man!


It was 56 years ago today that The Amazing Spider-Man made his first appearance in the 15th issue of Amazing Fantasy.  After being bitten by a radioactive spider, Peter Parker developed super power but it was not until his uncle was murdered that Parker learned what it meant to be a hero.

With great power comes great responsibility and, as these four shots from four films demonstrate, movie stardom!  Over the years, Nicholas Hammond, Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield, and Tom Holland have all played America’s favorite web-spinning super hero.

In honor of Spider-Man’s birthday, here they are

4 Shots From 4 Films

The Amazing Spider-Man: The Chinese Web (1979, directed by Don McDougall)

Spider-Man (2002, directed by Sam Raimi)

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014, directed by Marc Webb)

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017, directed by Jon Watts)

 

In Memory Of Steve Ditko


Self-Portrait of Steve Ditko

To many of us longtime comic book fans, Steve Ditko was an enigma.

We knew that, as the original artist on The Amazing Spider-Man and as the creator of Doctor Strange, Steve Ditko was responsible for much of Marvel’s early success.  Though he would never make a cameo appearance in an MCU film and the mainstream media will probably always continue to act as if Stan Lee is solely responsible for every character in the Marvel Universe, true fans know that, without Steve Ditko, Benedict Cumberbatch would never have cast as spells as Doctor Strange and Tom Holland would never have swung through New York as everyone’s favorite web slinger.

We all knew of Steve Ditko’s talent but the man himself remained a mystery.  He rarely gave interviews or made public appearances, saying that he preferred to let his work speak for itself.  And what work it was!  With Spider-Man, Ditko’s art captured not just the excitement of fighting criminals and saving the world but also the angst and anxiety of being young and overburdened.  With Doctor Strange, Ditko brought magic, both literally and figuratively, to the Marvel Universe.  Filling the pages with surrealistic images and out-of-this-world creations, Ditko kept Marvel relevant even as youth culture made the transition from the optimism of the Kennedy era to the drug-influenced psychedelia of the late 1960s.

Ditko left Marvel in 1966.  The exact story of his departure are unknown.  Perhaps, as a committed and outspoken Objectivist, Ditko chafed at the editorial restrictions that Marvel put on his work.  While Stan Lee wanted to sell comics, Steve Ditko wanted to reach minds.  After leaving Marvel, Ditko worked for several different companies, including Charlton and DC.  (He even returned to Marvel in 1979 and regularly contributed freelance work to the company.)  The best-known of his later creations was Mr. A, a reporter-turned-masked-vigilante who dispensed of criminals with uncompromising justice.

Despite his reputation for eccentricity, most people who worked with him described Ditko as being personable and cheerful.  According to Charlton’s Frank McLaughlin, “He was a very happy-go-lucky guy with a great sense of humor at that time, and always supplied the [female] color separators with candy and other little gifts.”

On June 29th, Steve Ditko was found dead in his New York apartment.  Rest in peace, Mr. Ditko.  Thank you for sharing your imagination with us.

From The Amazing Spider-Man #33:

In Strange Tales, Ditko introduced my favorite of all of Marvel’s “cosmic” entities, Eternity:

And finally, the character who may have been closest to Ditko’s worldview, Mr. A:

Super Bowl Trailer: The Amazing Spider-Man 2 “Enemies Unite”


1024px-Amazing-spider-man-2-poster

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 continues the reboot Sony began with the Spider-Man franchise minus Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire. While The Amazing Spider-Man did quite well in the box-office when it came out in 2012 the general consensus with fans and critics alike was that it was just another origins tale that rehashed events from the Peter Parker story that was already well-known to comic book and non-comic book fans alike.

This sequel will now bring in villains and some plot points that fans have been waiting for since the franchise first began in the early 2000’s. We have Jamie Foxx and Paul Giamatti as the villains Electro and Rhino finally appearing on film with hints that other iconic Spider-Man villains such as the Vulture and the Hobgoblin probably having a cameo. This sudden flood of villains looks to be Sony’s attempt to set-up a Sinister Six film that would be the studio’s way to counter the success of Marvel’s and Disney’s success with The Avengers.

Time will tell if this gamble will end up paying off for Sony and many comic books wish it won’t since there’s a chance it would return Spider-Man to Marvel Studios thus making him available to appear in future films as an Avenger.

Sony went to unprecedented lengths to make sure people knew about the new trailer arriving on Super Bowl Sunday. We had a teaser teasing the trailer for the Super Bowl. Then we had the brief teaser shown during the Super Bowl. Below is the full 3-minute plus trailer that was shown on-line soon after.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is set for a May 2, 2014 release date.

Trash Film Guru Vs. The Summer Blockbusters : “The Amazing Spider-Man”


I know, I know — it’s really not even fair, is it? To review director Marc Webb’s probably-happening-to-quickly relaunch of Marvel’s Spider-Man franchise in the wake of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises seems like setting this flick up for defeat. Truth be told, though, I actually saw this flick on opening night, and held off on reviewing it here on Through The Shattered Lens because, well — everybody else was already having a crack at it on here. I swear. I think this is the fourth or fifth review of this film to go up here. So I held off. And honestly, the fact that I wasn’t rushing home to sit down and review it right away should tell you something right there, shouldn’t it?

Not that The Amazing Spider-Man isn’t a perfectly decent little superhero flick, it is. But that’s all  it is. I can’t find much fault here, really — Webb’s directive from Columbia seems to have been to, in effect, Nolan-ize the Spider-Man story with this reboot, and on the surface, he seems to have done that. The tone is darker and more somber. James Garfield’s take on Peter Parker is altogether more haunted and troubling than was Tobey Maguire’s. He’s less likable, too — a development I actually welcome. Emma Stone does a nice job as high-school love interest Gwen Stacy. Martin Sheen’s Uncle Ben in an altogether more realistic and involving take on the character than we got in Sam Raimi’s first flick. Sally Field is great as Aunt May. Dennis Leary does a fine job as Gwen’s dad, police Captain George Stacy, who has a hard-on to arrest Spider-Man. Campbell Scott, in flashback scenes as Peter Parker’s dad, cuts both a kindly and haunting figure, and the decision of the filmmakers/studio to concentrate on the mystery surrounding the elder Parkers is a good one that gives the series a little bit more depth.About the only two serious knocks against the film are the normally-reliable Rhys Ifans’ take on the villainous Curt Connors/Lizard, his performance in both roles being of a distinctly lacking/mail-in-in nature, and the CGI effects in general, which are of middling quality, particularly in terms of their realization of Connors’ Lizard persona (or maybe that should be reptile-ona). They’re not bad, but they’re not up to the level we expect in our summer blockbusters at this point, and I would say they’re pretty of a piece, quality-wise, with, say, the second Hulk flick.

Anyway, by and large, the word we’re looking for here, across the board, is competent. Not inspired, by any means, and not groundbreaking — just competent.  I’ll be honest and admit I liked this flick better than Joss Whedon’s Avengers, since it at least provided some level of human melodrama to back up the action, but it seems that the lesson studios have taken from Nolan raising the bar on the entire superhero genre is not that we want more complex, challenging, higher-quality, more technically-brilliant, more multi-faceted fare, but that we just want these flicks to be “darker” and “more realistic.” They “get” what the success of the  Batman films means on a surface level, but they really don’t “get it” at all.

For those of you who are old enough to remember the “evolution” of the comics medium in the mid-to-late ’80s with books like Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns  and Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen, assuming you were paying attention to comics back then, this will all seem terribly familiar — after the success of those two books, the “Big Two” publishers said they got the message and that people were ready for “superheroes to grow up.” And what did we get? Not more intelligent, thought-provoking, boundary-pushing, stories and characters that challenged the conventions of the genre itself the way those works did, but a steady stream of “darker,” more “mature,” somber, soul-less versions of the same kind of crap the industry was already cranking out — a state of “creative” affairs that continues unabated to this day. Nolan’s raised the bar on superhero storytelling on the silver screen the same way that Miller, Moore, and Gibbons did on the printed page, and Hollywood seems to have taken the same “lessons” from it that Marvel and DC did a quarter-century ago.

in other words, welcome to a new age of superhero sameness. On the one extreme we’ll have pure, unfiltered, two-dimensional, check-your-brain-at-the-door, CGI-heavy slugfests, a la The Avengers. Comics could always do these and do ’em well, and now so can the movies. On the other hand, we’ll have ostensibly more “mature,” “realistic,” “darker” stuff like this. But don’t expect another series with the innate intelligence and willingness to push the envelope in new directions that we’ve gotten with the Dark Knight films anytime too soon. Meet the new boss — same as the old boss.

Mind you, all of this was pretty much written and ready to go before I saw The Dark Knight Rises — and now that I have, my initial view still stands. Reaction to one flick shouldn’t change one’s opinions on another, after all. So yeah, this is perfectly adequate, acceptable superhero fare — but in the wake of DKR , do “adequate” and “acceptable” still cut it? Should they ever have? And are we willing to settle for movies like The Amazing Spider-Man that think that all DKR and its ilk prove are that audiences want the same old stuff, albeit with “darker,” more humorless trappings — or are we going to reward work that does what Nolan’s done with his Batman series in terms of pushing the genre itself in directions we’d never before expected? Let’s vote with our dollars, and vote wisely.

Review: The Amazing Spider-Man (dir. by Marc Webb)


It was in the summer of 2002 that the superhero film genre finally entered it’s Golden Age (or Silver Age for some). X-Men had come out two years before to positive acclaim and, most importantly, in the box-office. It wasn’t until Sam Raimi released the first in what would be his trilogy in the Spider-Man film franchise that superhero comic book films became the power in Hollywood it remains to this day. The first film from Raimi easily captured the pulp and campy sensibilities of the source material and for an origin story film it was done quite well in that it introduced the titular character and what made him tick. In 2004, Raimi and company released what many consider the best comic book film with Spider-Man 2. The film brought a level of Greek tragedy to the fun of the first film and it definitely brought one of the best realized comic book villains on film with Alfred Molina as Dr. Octopus. Then the franchise hit a major bump in 2007 with Raimi third entry in the franchise with the bloated Spider-Man 3.

Sony Pictures, who owned the film rights to the Spider-Man franchise, were so quick to churn out a fourth film, but in doing so lost the filmmaker and cast that made the trilogy happen. In the studios’ thinking they needed to get a fourth film up and running in order to keep the rights to the film from reverting back to Marvel and Disney. So, out goes Sam Raimi, Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst and in comes Marc Webb, Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone. Instead of getting Spider-Man 4 we get The Amazing Spider-Man which doesn’t continue what Raimi had established with the first three films, but reboots the franchise all the way to the beginning.

Marc Webb takes the screenplay worked on by a trio of screenwriters (James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent, Steve Kloves) and reboots the origin story of Peter Parker’s transformation into Spider-Man. We find Peter Parker back in high school as a student and still getting bullied by Flash Thompson while remaining awkward around girls (especially one Gwen Stacy played by Emma Stone). yet, before we even get to this part of the film we get an introductory coda where we find a preadolescent Peter Parker playing hide and seek with his scientist father. These early scenes show hints that the enhanced spider thatwill bite and give eter his abilities may have had his father’s research and work written all over it.

This intro influences much of the storyline and leaves a huge impact on the character of Peter Parker which the previous three films never explored. The rest of the film has Peter investigating the circumstances of his parent’s disappearance and his adjustment to having been given the superhuman abilities by the spider that his father may or may not have been responsible in breeding.

First off, the film does a good job in re-establishing Peter Parker as a high school student. The original film spent some time in this part of Peter Parker’s life but never truly explored it. We see Peter not just the class genius, but also one who also shows an affinity for photography (something that the original trilogy never really explained other than he needed the job and money). There’s also some added layers to the character as this version of Peter Parker is more than willing to stand up to the bullies picking on the weaker students other than himself. It’s a huge departure from the meek and geeky Peter Parker of the past. We still get a geeky and smart Peter, but one who is also a sort of a well-intentioned slacker. We also get a proper introduction for Gwen Stacy (something the third film criminally mishandled)

The film introduces once again many of the characters the first film in the series had already done. From Uncle Ben (played by Martin Sheen this time around) and Aunt May (Sally Field) right up to the robber who runs into Uncle Ben and changes Peter Parker’s outlook on his role as a hero forever. Again these were character that had already been explored by the first three films and they’re scenes that had an air of familiarity to them though Sheen performance as Uncle Ben added more layers to the character who becomes Peter Parker’s moral center.

Another thing that the film did a good job with was the design of the film. It has been ten years since the first film and the technology in CGI-effects has leapfrogged exponentially since. The look of the OsCorp Tower was a beautiful piece of architectural design. The building loomed over New York City like something dark with a hint of malice. There were changes to the suit Peter wears that really harkens back to the McFarlane years of the Spider-Man comics. Even the return of the web-shooters was a nice surprise that I had some reservations when first hearing about it.

A third good thing about the film was the extended montage when Peter Parker realizes he has gained new abilities and begins to test them out. It’s familiar territory from the first film, but Marc Webb and Andrew Garfield adds a new level of youthful exuberance to the proceedings. Even the use of parkour by Peter Parker to show his growing abilities didn’t come off as silly. Garfield’s performance as Peter Parker in this montage was pretty great. One could believe at how much fun he was having at discovering each new level of abilities. Even some of the growing pains he goes through after getting bit were some of the more hilarious moments in the film that ultimately lacked much of it in the end.

Which brings us to what made this entertaining film end up becoming a failure in the end.

I admit that the film entertained me in the end, but there were things aboutThe Amazing Spider-Manwhich nagged at me throughout and afterwards. While the film was entertaining the story self and most of the characters were inconsistently written. Once one looked past the action and some of the witty dialogue in the beginning the film’s many plot-holes and head-scratching moments become too glaring to ignore.

The character of Peter Parker does get some new layers of characterization in the beginning, but as the film played out the more the Peter Parker of this film began to stray away from not just what Raimi had created and guided through the first three films but also most of the character’s decade’s long growth in the comics. Yes, we see Peter Parker as the science-genius and even moreso than the one portrayed by Tobey Maguire, but we also don’t get the awkward teen who grows into his abilities, but most importantly, one who learns through tragedy that he has a responsibility to the people around him to protect them even if it means sacrificing his wants and dreams to do so. We don’t just see Peter Parker saving people, but also one who seemed to relish beating up and abusing those who used to do the same to him and/or others. Spider-Man in this film acts more like a bully than a reluctant hero by film’s end. Even the events that should’ve taught him the lessons of self-sacrifice and heeding the needs of the many fail to make much of an impact on the teen superhero. All one has to look at as the perfect example of this darker and more selfish turn to the character was Peter’s whisper to Gwen about promises not being kept being the best ones.

Other characters get inconsistencies in how they’re written. The other big one being Dr. Curt Connors who begins the film as a scientist so intent of not just curing his disability but also helping the world. It’s a character similar in tone to Alfred Molina as Dr. Octopus, yet where that villain remained a tragic one throughout the film and we could see the path which led him to become a villain with Dr. Connors in this fourth film there’s such a huge turnabout in the character’s motivations that whatever sympathy we may have had for Connors was squandered.

Not every character fails to impress. Martin Sheen and Denis Leary as Uncle Ben and Capt. Stacy respectively were fully realized characters who become Peter Parker’s moral centers and voice of reason. In fact, both Sheen and Leary helped anchor the scenes they appeared in and thus made their characters’ fate have the sort of emotional impact that a growing hero needs to move from being reluctant to accepting of his lot in life. It’s a shame that the writers failed to capitalize on the performances of these two character actors to help make Peter Parker more a hero and less a teenager more in love with what he can do instead of realizing that he has more to offer those who are weakest.

This is not to say that the performances by the cast was bad. From Garfield and Stone right up to Ifans, Sheen, Leary and Field, the cast did a great job with an uneven and inconsistent script that was too full of themes and ideas but no focus on any one of them. It’s a wasted opportunity to build on what the previous cast of the three films had created. Even the third film which many would agree as being a huge, bloated mess actually had a singular focus. It was a story that tried to explore Peter Parker’s darker side andhow his life as a superhero negatively impacts everyone around him he cares for. With this Marc Webb production we get a Peter Parker who at times was compassionate when it came to others being bullied and then we get one who relished on doing the same to those he now sees deserving of payback. Even Parker’s hunt for his uncle’s killer which the film spent a considerable time following just got dropped without any sort of resolution. One of the most significant events in Peter’s life gets dumped to the wayside to concentrate on finally pitting Spider-Man against the film’s Lizard.

Did The Amazing Spider-Man need to have gotten made? The answer to that would be a yes.

Did Marc Webb, the three writers in Vanderbilt, Sargent and Kloves and the new cast get the reboot correctly? I would say no.

This was a film that spent too much time reintroducing characters both comic book and film fans already knew intimately. The storyline itself shared many similarities to the second film in the series yet none of the cohesiveness which made that first sequel such an instant classic the moment it premiered in 2004. The Amazing Spider-Man spent so much time trying to come off as a grittier and edgier version of the character (I call this the Christopher Nolan-effect) that what should’ve been coming off as a fun-loving, albeit self-sacrificing hero, came off as a dick once he finally got the full costume on. The people in charge of this reboot sacrificed what was fun about the film franchise for realism that the character and his universe were never steeped in to begin with.

Gritty, edgy and realism may work for Nolan’s take on the Batman film franchise, but for Spidey it fails and just turns what could’ve been a fresh new take on the franchise into another entertaining, but ultimately forgettable entry in the series. Maybe it’s time Sony just realize that it’s just pushing this franchise downhill and let the rights revert back to Marvel who seem to have found a balance between pulpy camp and serious realism.

It’s Time For The Annual Self-Important Post About The Year In Film So Far


For the entire past week, something has been nagging at me.  I knew that there was something that I needed to do but I couldn’t remember what it was.  Earlier today, however, I was reading the latest critical blathering about the state of cinema over at AwardsDaily.  As usual, that site’s editors were whining about the fact that the Social Network didn’t win best picture and also the fact that my generation is apparently the “WORST.  GENERATION.  EVER” and blah blah blah. 

Fortunately, however, reading that  post reminded me of what I had forgotten: We are now at the halfway mark as far as 2012 is concerned.  This is the time of year that self-important film critics (both online and elsewhere) tell their readers what type of year it’s been so far. 

So, without further ado — what type of year has 2012 been so far?

(By the way, you can also check out my thoughts from July of 2011 and July 2010 as well.)

(Also, please understand that the act of me posting this in no way guarantees that I won’t change my mind several times within the next hour.)

Best Film Of The Year (So Far): Cabin In The Woods. Compared to both 2010 and 2011, this has been a pretty slow year so far.  There really hasn’t been a Hanna or an Exit Through The Gift Shop type of film so far.  Instead, there’s been a handful of nice surprises, quite a few pleasant but somewhat forgettable films, and then quite a few films that i wish were forgettable.  Cabin In The Woods, however, was a nice little valentine to horror fans like me and it’s a film that actually gets even better with repeat viewings.  Runners up include Bernie, Damsels in Distress, Brave, The Hunger Games, Safety Not Guaranteed, Moonrise Kingdom, For Greater Glory, Jeff, Who Lives At Home, and the Avengers.

Best Male Performance Of The Year (So Far): Jack Black in Bernie.  Runners up include Andrew Garfield in The Amazing Spider-Man and Jason Segal in Jeff, Who Lives At Home.

Best Female Performance of the Year (So Far): Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games.  Seriously, just try to imagine that film with someone else in the lead role.  Runners up include Susan Sarandon in Jeff, Who Lives At Home, Aubrey Plaza in Safety Not Guaranteed, and Greta Gerwig in Damsels in Distress.

Best Voice-Over Performance Of The Year (So Far): Kelly MacDonald in Brave.

Best Ending Of The Year (So Far): A 3-way tie between The Cabin In The Woods, Safety Not Guaranteed, and Jeff, Who Lives At Home.

Best Horror Film Of The Year (So Far): The Cabin In The Woods

Most Underrated Film Of The Year (So Far): The Five-Year Engagement, a sweet and funny movie that was just a tad bit too long.

Best Bad Film of the Year: Battleship.  Yes, the movie represented some of the worst impulses of big-budget filmmaking but I had a lot of fun watching it and Alexander Skarsgard was to die for in that white Navy uniform.

Worst Film Of The Year (So Far): The Wicker Tree.  I could make an argument for both Rock of Ages and The Devil Inside here but no…just no.  As the Trash Film Guru put it, “BURN THE WICKER TREE!”

Biggest Example Of A Missed Opportunity For This Year (So Far): Seeking a Friend For The End of the World.  A great performance from Steve Carrel can’t save a film that has no idea what it wants to be.

The Get Over It Already Award For The First Half of 2012: The Devil Inside, for being the most tedious example of a “found footage” horror film yet.  Coming in second: Rock of Ages, for reminding me that my parents had terrible taste in music.

The Trailer That Has Most Outgrown Its Welcome: The Perks of Being a Wall Flower.  “Be aggressive…passive aggressive…” Okay, shut up, already.

The Cameron/Fincher Bandwagon Trophy (Awarded To The Upcoming Film That, Regardless Of Quality, Will Probably Be So Violently Embraced By People Online That You’ll Be Putting Your Life In Danger If You Dare Offer Up The Slightest Amount Of Criticism): The Dark Knight Rises

The Ebert Award (Awarded to the upcoming film that will probably get  positive reviews based on the film’s political context as opposed to the film itself): Zero Dark Thirty

The Sasha Award (Awarded To The Film That I Am Predicting Will Be The Most Overrated Of The Year): Lincoln.

The Roland Emmerich/Rod Lurie Award For The Film That I’m Predicting Will Be The Worst Of 2012: Honestly, it’s really hard to imagine a worse film than The Wicker Tree (though, to be honest, Rock of Ages comes pretty close). 

Films I’m Looking Forward To Seeing In The Future (An incomplete list): On The Road, Lawless, The Dark Knight Rises, Cosmopolis, Django Unchained, The Hobbit, The Great Gatsby, and especially The Master and Joe Wright’s Anna Karenina.

And there you have it.  2012 hasn’t been a great year so far but there’s still a lot of time left.

Unless, of course, the Mayans were correct.