Steve Ditko, co-creator of Spider-Man, dies at 90

Steve Ditko’s cover to Amazing Spider-Man 33

Steve Ditko, co-creator of Spider-Man and a key member of the Marvel Comics “bullpen” of the 1960s, has died at 90, TMZ reported.

Ditko was found dead in his New York apartment on June 29, TMZ said. The website said the chief medical examiner listed the cause of death as “arteriosclerotic and hypertensive cardiovascular disease — basically, a heart attack brought on by clogged arteries.”

The Hollywood Reporter, in a separate obituary, said Ditko may have died two days earlier.

Ditko co-created Spider-Man with writer-editor Stan Lee. He took over the assignment after artist Jack Kirby had taken on the project. Ditko drew, and later took plotting credit for, the earliest Spider-Man stories, lasting from 1962 into 1966.

The character has been the subject of six movies from 2002 to 2017, with another set for 2019. He also appeared in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War and this year’s Avengers: Infinity War.

Nerdy Hero

Spider-Man’s true identity was nerdy teenager Peter Parker. While other heroes were admired, Spider-Man was feared, thanks to publisher J. Jonah Jameson. Parker had to worry about making ends meet for himself and his aunt May.

Things happened to Ditko’s Spider-Man that other heroes didn’t experience.  In Amazing Spider-Man No. 25 (the first to carry a Ditko plot credit) Spidey was forced to ditch his primary costume. But Aunt May also found his spare costume.

Peter came up with an explanation but May kept the costume. In the next issue, Peter buys a costume but it gets stretched out. He’s forced to use his webbing to keep it in place.

Memorable Sequence

One of Ditko’s most-remembered Spider-Man sequences Amazing Spider-Man No. 33. the climatic installment of a three-issue story arc. Spidey is underneath “tons of fallen steel” while a serum Aunt May needs “laying just out of reach.”

The artist used the first five pages to depict Peter working up the strength to lift the steel. The final page was a full-page panel where Spider-Man finally throws off the steel.

In later interviews, Stan Lee acknowledged the idea was Dikto’s. Lee likened his scripting to doing a crossword puzzle to come up with the right dialogue and captions for the moment.  The sequence was adapted in 2017’s Spider-Man: Homecoming.

Dr. Strange as drawn by Steve Ditko

Ditko also created Dr. Strange, who had his own Marvel film in 2016 and who also appeared in Avengers: Infinity War. The artist also also helped to revamp the Hulk when that character (created by Lee and Jack Kirby) got revived in the mid-1960s (in Tales to Astonish) after an initial comic title of his own was canceled after six issues.

In the 1960s, Ditko’s politics were far different, and much more conservative, than his many college-age fans. The artist was an admirer of author Ayn Rand, and that influenced much of his post-Marvel comic book work with characters such as Mr. A.

‘J.D. Salinger of Comic Books’

Ditko was known for being a recluse. Writer J.M. DeMatteis once called him ” the J.D. Salinger of comic books.”

In 2007, British television show host Jonathan Ross reported a documentary about the artist. The program went into detail about how much Ditko extensive contributions to the early Spider-Man and Dr. Strange stories.

The show’s climax was Ross finally getting in to see Ditko (with the assistance of writer Neil Gaiman), but that moment took place off-camera. “It was quite magical, actually,” Gaiman says on the documentary. “It was really, really cool.”

Ditko abruptly quit Marvel after clashes with Lee. He’d eventually return but it wasn’t the same as his 1960s stint.

As news of Ditko’s death spread, there were tributes by comics professionals influenced by the artist’s creativity.

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With Solo, Star Wars comes back down to Earth

Solo: A Star Wars Story is being lumped with Justice League as an example of a pricey movie that’s not generating the kind of box office it needs.

The movie, which provides the back story of Han Solo, is estimated to produce $83.3 million in the U.S. market for the May 25-27 weekend, according to Box Office Mojo, which compiles such information.

Last November, Warner Bros.’s Justice League generated $93.8 million for its opening U.S. weekend. At the time, that was the poster child for a movie that’s reasonably popular (almost $658 million in global box office) but a financial bomb because of a huge budget (estimated to be as much as $300 million).

Until now, Star Wars has been seen as a sure thing. Walt Disney Co. bought Lucasfilm Ltd. for $4 billion for that reason.

Under Disney ownership, Star Wars output has sped up. Previously, Star Wars movies came out in three-year intervals. And there was a long hiatus between the first trilogy (1977-1983) and the second (1999-2005).

Now, the main Star Wars movies come out every other year. In between, there are one-offs that expand upon the basic story line.

Solo wasn’t an easy production. Its directors were fired. Ron Howard was brought in to replace them and re-shot most of the movie.

With the movie out, Scott Mendelson of Forbes.com declared Solo had bombed. 

“Disney already killed Han Solo once–He’s gone for good now,” Exhibitor Relations, which analyzes box office data wrote on Twitter. “So long, SOLO.”

Normally, action-related movies do well in the big China market. No so, Solo. “China Box Office: ‘Solo’ Combs With Third-Place $10.1M Opening,” was the headline in The Hollywood Reporter.

Now the question is being raised whether Star Wars movies are coming out too often. 

The Exhibitor Relations tweet also adjusted the opening of previous Star Wars movies for inflation to demonstrate how Solo shapes up.

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Margot Kidder dies at 69

Margot Kidder with Christopher Reeve in Superman (1978).

Margot Kidder, the definitive Lois Lane for a generation of movie goers, died over the weekend, according to an obituary posted by CNN. She was 69.

The actress “died peacefully in her sleep,” CNN reported, citing her manager.

Kidder first played Lois Lane in 1978’s Superman. Previous Superman productions were in the forms of modestly budgeted movie serials and television shows. The 1978 film, by contrast, was a big budget production. The movie had major stars — Marlon Brando and Gene Hackman among them.

But the leads were held by two relative unknowns, Christopher Reeve as Clark Kent/Superman and Kidder as Lois Lane. Kidder’s Lois was self confident, absolutely sure she would capture the big scoop. She would describe the play a story should receive in The Daily Planet while editor Perry White (Jackie Cooper) scanned her copy. “Only one ‘p’ in rapist,” White said on one occasion.

The Kidder version of Lois died, only to be revived when Superman reversed time in the 1978 movie. In Superman II (1981), the couple consummated their relationship after Lois discovered Clark was Superman. Clark had to renounce being Superman for a time but went back into action. He caused Lois to forget everything with a powerful kiss toward the end of the sequel.

Kidder’s career was a lot more than playing Lois Lane. During much of the 1970s, she had guest star roles on series such as Banacek, Barnaby Jones and Harry O. She moved into feature films such as The Great Waldo Pepper and The Reincarnation of Peter Proud.

Still, because Superman was such a major production — it helped set the stage for big-budget, comic book-based films — Kidder was remembered by audiences for the role.

As news of Kidder’s death spread, tributes appeared on social media.

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Avengers: Infinity War sets U.S. box office record

Avengers: Infinity War poster

UPDATE (April 30): Avengers: Infinity War did better than-expected business on Sunday. Its final weekend figure was $258.2 million, according to Box Office Mojo.

ORIGINAL POST (April 29): Superhero fatigue? Not yet.

Avengers: Infinity War is generating an estimated opening domestic weekend of $250 million, Exhibitor Relations, which tracks box office data, said on Twitter.

That broke the record of almost $248 million for Star Wars: The Force Awakens in 2015.

Meanwhile, Avengers: Infinity War’s estimated global weekend is $630 million, according to the Box Office Mojo website.

The previous highest domestic opening weekend for a Marvel Studios film was $207.4 million for Marvel’s The Avengers in 2012.

Infinity War is the first of two movies intended as concluding story lines that began with 2008’s Iron Man. The next film, currently known as Avengers 4, is scheduled for May 2019.

Avengers: Infinity War features not only Avengers-related characters but also Spider-Man, Dr. Strange, Black Panther and the Guardians of the Galaxy. The movie’s villain, Thanos, has been teased for years in Marvel films but this is his first time as the primary antagonist.

Marvel already had a huge 2018. The Walt Disney Co.-owned studio in February came out with Black Panther, which generated global box office of $1.3 billion. Marvel has another film, Ant-Man and the Wasp, coming out this year.

Footnote: Kings, a drama with Daniel Craig and Halle Berry, had an opening U.S. weekend of $173,000, Exhibitor Relations said in a separate tweet.

Here are Avengers tweets from Exhibitor Relations.

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Avengers: Nothing exceeds like excess

Avengers: Infinity War poster

Avengers: Infinity War is too much of a good thing, even if you’re a fan of Marvel Studios films.

There are more fights, more action…more everything. (To quote a James Bond trailer from the 1960s.)

Well, not quite more everything. Not enough drama. What humor is present mostly works. But it gets overwhelmed by the action set pieces.

Avengers: Infinity War is the beginning of the end (or so we’ve been led to believe) for the first decade of the studio’s inter-connected movies.

The movie brings together not only the Avengers-related characters but also the Guardians of the Galaxy and Dr. Strange. They’re up against Thanos, a villain who wants to commit genocide on a cosmic scale.

The character has been teased for years but here he’s the main attraction. As a result, the movie changes scenes not only between Earth locales but ones in deep space.

Spoiler follows. 

Initially, this movie was announced the title was going to be Avengers: Infinity War Part I, with a 2019 film titled Avengers: Infinity War Part II. They would be filmed back to back.

Somewhere along the way we were told the  movies really would be different. So next year’s installment is simply known as Avengers 4 for the moment.

However, it would have been absolutely appropriate if Avengers: Infinity War ended with, “TO BE CONTINUED,” not unlike the original serialized Marvel Comics stories. But in the 1960s, you only had to wait a month to see how things turned out. Here, the audience will have to bide its time for a year.

That said, Avengers: Infinity War isn’t a lost cause. The likes of Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man and Chris Evans as Steve Rogers/Captain America and many other cast members are pros. But the movie is more exhausting than thrilling. GRADE: C.

Critics weigh in on Avengers: Infinity War

Avengers: Infinity War poster

Marvel Studios, with one $1 billion-plus hit this year already (Black Panther), is looking for another one with Avengers: Infinity War.

The third Avengers film is intended as the beginning of the end of what we’ve come to know in the film franchise that began in May 2008. Following the movie’s premiere this week, reviews are coming off embargo. So here’s a non-spoiler sampling.

ALONSO DURALDE, THE WRAP: “If you’re a viewer who binges TV dramas because you can’t wait a week to find out what happens, the implied ‘to be continued’ at the end of ‘Infinity War’ may drive you batty. But if you’ve been solidly along for the Marvel ride up to this point, you’ll enjoy this leg of the journey even if it hasn’t yet reached the terminal.”

OWEN GLEIBERMAN, VARIETY: “So is the movie a jumbled, top-heavy mess of cynical franchise overkill? Sort of like the bloated and chaotic ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ taken to the second power? Far from it. It’s a sleekly witty action opera that’s at once overstuffed and bedazzling. The directors, Anthony and Joe Russo, as they proved in the two ‘Captain America’ sequels, are far more stylish and exacting filmmakers than Joss Whedon, who made the first two ‘Avengers’ films.”

ADAM GRAHAM, THE DETROIT NEWS: “‘Infinity War’ quickly turns unruly. It’s like if ‘We Are the World’ had to squeeze in three more verses to give Prince, Van Halen, Duran Duran, Phil Collins, Elton John and Madonna time to shine.”

A.O. SCOTT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: “‘Infinity War’ is a chunk of matter in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a vast entity that long ago expanded beyond the usual boundaries of sequelization and brand extension.”

MARK HUGHES, FORBES.COM: “Avengers: Infinity War is the most ambitious, most audacious, most mindblowing superhero film ever produced. It is visually sumptuous, spectacularly entertaining, emotionally shocking and resonant. It is the perfect fulfillment of a promise Marvel made 10 years ago, and everything fans are hoping it could be.”

 

On Superman’s 80th, a few 007 connections

Christopher Reeve (right) with Roger Moore during filming of Octopussy.

This week marks the 80th anniversary of the introduction of Superman. DC Comics is out with Action Comics No. 1,000 to celebrate the occasion

The thing is, there are some elements in common, thanks to how the Christopher Reeve Superman movies were made at Pinewood Studios, the long-time home to the James Bond film franchise.

So here’s a few of them. It’s not a comprehensive list and I’m sure there are many stunt performers who worked on both.

Geoffrey Unsworth: Unsworth (1914-1978) was a celebrated cinematographer, whose credits included Superman (1978) and Superman II (1981), much of which was photographed at the same time as the film movie. Unsworth’s credits also included 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Unsworth also had a James Bond connection. On Dec. 21, 1961, he photographed screen tests for actresses vying to play Miss Taro for Dr. No.

John Glen: Glen directed five James Bond films, 1981-89, after earlier editing and being second unit director on three 007 films. He was one of the second unit directors for the 1978 Superman film.

Stuart Baird: Baird was editor on the first Superman movie. He performed the same duties on Casino Royale (2006) and Skyfall (2012).

Alf Joint: A stunt performer on the Bond series, perhaps his most famous bit was in the pre-titles of Goldfinger as Capungo, who gets killed by Bond (Sean Connery). He was also a stunt coordinator on Superman.

Shane Rimmer:  He had small roles in You Only Live Twice and Diamonds Are Forever while having a larger supporting role as a U.S. submarine captain in The Spy Who Loved Me. It also *sounds* like he does some voiceover work in the pre-titles of Live And Let Die as an agent who’s killed in New Orleans. (“Whose funeral is it?”)

He also played a NASA controller in Superman II. The IMDB listing for Superman III lists him as “State Policeman.” Truth be told, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen the movie, I can’t confirm.

Guy Hamilton: He directed four 007 films, two with Sean Connery and two with Roger Moore. He was signed to direct Superman but exited the project and replaced by Richard Donner.

(UPDATE 9:40 a.m., April 20): By popular demand, two more.

Tom Mankiewicz: The screenwriter of 1970s 007 films was credited as “creative consultant” in Superman and Superman II. He essentially rewrote the scripts, combining elements of very serious Mario Puzo drafts and much lighter drafts by David Newman and Leslie Newman.

Clifton James: The veteran actor, who played Sheriff J.W. Pepper in two Bond films, again played a sheriff in Superman II.