Spider-Man Co-Creator Steve Ditko (1927- 2018)

A short time ago, a comic book giant passed away. Not one of the MCU characters that got Thanos’s Death Snapture; this giant was a comic book artist. Not just any comic book artist. He was Steve Ditko.

Known to many as Spider-Man’s co-creator, Steve Ditko was also part of the first decade of the creation of Marvel Comics. His main character contributions and sequential issue work are Spider-Man and Dr. Strange, but during Marvel’s initial years, he also drew plenty of issues featuring Hulk, Ant-Man and the Wasp, Iron Man, along with issues of The Avengers, and all sorts of double feature issues.

Comic book creations and pop culture relevance is by now well ingrained in the minds of moviegoers and audiences worldwide. people now understand that many superheroes began as characters seen in published comic books. Newsprint paper, four-color separation and halftone color patterns were props behind the stage. Distributors and retail stores were their curtains and the hands and eyes of those who bought these issues were the audiences. Comic book fame spun off into animated and live-action TV shows, video games, movies and merchandise. The most profitable characters were the superheroes.

Among this web of inter-related media was the thread of the creator. Someone had to come up with the story Someone had to come up with the character design – the color and shape of the costume and character faces. Someone had to come up with their signature moves.

There has been much discussion in the past as to what degree of involvement Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko had in creating Spider-Man. How much of Spidey was adapted from Jack Kirby’s initial design? How much of Spidey was in Lee’s brief written synopsis? What was Ditko’s actual contribution in regard to the amount of content – character designs, costumes designs, characterizations, signature moves, etc. ? It’s a discussion that may never be resolved.

For a character who is arguably the world’s favorite Marvel Comic character, his origin is still unclear even though he was introduced in Amazing Fantasy #15. Back in 1961, Marvel Comics Publishing Group was such a loose and flowing House of Ideas, that any iteration which lead to the creation of the Spider-Man look we all know and was only loosely documented. Some of it was Kirby. Most of it was Ditko and approved by Lee. But there’s no doubt, the look that Ditko presented is a handmade costume, big eyes, a webbing motif on the red portions of the costume, and mechanical web shooters. Ditko had a penchant for quirky action poses and Spider-Man’s signature poses no doubt came from Ditko. None of Kirby’s characters moved like that. All of Ditko’s characters moved kind of quirky and not quite natural. His landscapes ranged from urbanely gritty to fantastical. The distinctive realms he drew for the Dr. Strange stories have been compared to Salvador Dali paintings. The characters’ look for both hero and villain were all Ditko. Even the “surfer dude hand sign” which is used by both Spidey and Dr. Strange is a signature Ditko design.

Continue reading

Advertisements

Superman & Batman Should Be In The Arrowverse

real JL 2

While I really enjoyed some of the most recent episodes of the shows in the so-called Arrowverse (Arrow, The Flash, and Legends of Tomorrow), there’s this nagging notion that has grown with me. It has to do with the fact that in the shared universe of these shows (leaving out Supergirl for now since that show takes place in another reality) Superman and Batman don’t seem to exist.

I understand the reasons why DC Entertainment/Warner Brothers don’t want their two most popular superheroes in the Arrowverse. Early on when it was just Arrow, the show’s flahs and GAcreators/producers wanted a superhero show that was grounded in reality without any connections to the just-concluded Smallville. So that meant no characters with superpowers and Arrow had to appear as if what happened was kind of plausible. But superpowers started to creep its way into Arrow by its second season when a drug was introduced that can grant people superhuman strength and when Barry Allen made his debut appearance, which ended with him getting struck by lightning. Not only that, but other elements of the DC Universe started appearing such as the Suicide Squad and Amanda Waller.

The following season of Arrow had the title superhero battling with the Batman villain Ra’s al Ghul and The Flash premiered with an explanation as to what caused people to suddenly develop superpowers. It seemed like a good starting point to jumpstart a DC Universe. The producers even took things a step further by introducing magic in Arrow with the Lazarus Pit and an appearance by sorcerer John Constantine, as well as the supernatural heroine Vixen. It didn’t end there, both shows served also featured the superheroes Hawkman and Hawkwoman, which were then spun off to co-star in Legends of Tomorrow.

proto jL

All this is going on in the Arrowverse so why not have Superman and Batman be a part of it? To me, this Arrowverse feels a bit off since neither of those characters are in it and the Flash is probably the most powerful superhero in it. The obvious answer to the question is that Warner Bros. and DC don’t want their two big guns appearing on the show. They’re being held for the big leagues, IOW the movies. That’s fine, leave the epic heroes for the silver screen with the big budgets, but what is baffling is this idea that TPTB have that they don’t want audiences confused or have their product diluted. The average fan wouldn’t expect to see Ben Affleck or some other big shot actor appearing as Batman or Superman in The Flash. Nor would they be confused if they saw someone else portraying the Man of Steel. We’re not stupid.

This doesn’t mean that Arrow, The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow have to feature the actual appearances of Superman or Batman, just allude to them like they do in Supergirl. We don’t see Superman on that show, but he is mentioned and has a presence. Would it hurt to just name drop the city of Gotham or Lex Luthor? No. It would make the Arrowverse feel more complete and richer. Instead we keep wondering why Ra’s al Ghul exists but not Bruce Wayne.

supergil flashSeriously, I think the Arrowverse shows should be allowed to refer to both superheroes. And on a personal note, I think they do exist in the Arrowverse. In one episode of Legends of Tomorrow the time traveler Rip Hunter said that he saw Men of Steel die and Dark Knights fall. That couldn’t be any more clear who he was alluding to. The fact that Ra’s al Ghul exists implies that the world of Batman also exists in the Arrowverse. Ditto goes for Superman when you throw in Supergirl. In that already famous Supergirl episode “Worlds Finest” the Flash visits her dimension and he states that he doesn’t know of any aliens on his world. That implies that Superman may exist in the Arrowverse, but has not revealed himself to the general public. The same can go for Batman, who is probably operating deeper in the shadows than Green Arrow and may be considered an urban legend at this point.

Real JL 3

Maybe after some time, we’ll see some kind of reference to the two superstars of DC Comics. It won’t be the end of the world if this never happens, but it would make watching the Arrowverse shows much more fulfilling.

T. Rod Jones

All Good Things Come To A Marvelous End

Today, it was announced at Midtown Comics in New York City by Marvel Comics’ Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso and Executive Editor Tom Brevoort that the Marvel Universe will come to an end this May with the new Secret Wars mini-series.

secret warsIn Secret Wars, segments of different Marvel realities, including the Marvel Universe 616 or the main universe that has been in existence for 75 years will be combined into a new planet called Battleworld. The Marvel editors claimed that from now on this Battleworld will be the new Marvel Universe. Fans of the regular Marvel Comics know that for some time the Marvel superheroes have been dealing with the “Incursion” events, that is where parallel worlds/realities have been colliding with each other. Now it’s the turn of Marvel 616 and the one from the Ultimate comic books as the two realities will smash into one another. The remains of these universes will join other universe segments on Battleworld.

SW Map.jpg

This event can best be described as Marvel’s version of Crisis on Infinite Earths, the famous DC Comics mini-series that sought to eliminate the confusing amount of alternate realities into one single universe. All fans know that the Crisis event was the springboard for DC to revamp their superheroes and titles, which included John Byrne’s updating of Superman, among others.

Guide-to-the-DC-New-52

We can only hope that Marvel has better luck in producing a more coherent universe than DC did. While the event was good on paper, there were many inconsistencies with many DC titles, which led to more mini-series events that tried to rectify this to no avail. Ultimately, DC was able to correct this and present a clean ending to their comics universe and start over completely with the Flashpoint mini-series and The New 52 reboot.

With the main Marvel Universe ending, this is undoubtedly a sad turn for fans of the Marvel comic books, but it’s a terrific way of starting over and clearing the plate. For some time, the Marvel Universe had become convoluted with too many characters and realities. Let’s look at the X-Men for example. There are so many different characters, many of which come from alternate futures and dimensions, that it’s daunting for non-regular readers to keep up with. How many storylines have there been in the X-Men comics where someone comes from the future? All these futures are different from one another! How can the future seen in “Days of Futures Past” be reconciled with a future seen in Wolverine: Old Man Logan? Simple, it’s impossible!

Then there is the mess Marvel made renew with Spider-Man in undoing his marriage to Mary Jane. Instead of just having the couple get a divorce, a convoluted story was made up (“One More Day”) where Spider-Man went completely out of character and made a deal with the Marvel equivalent of the Devil to save his aunt’s life. This led to a time-travel quirk where he never married Mary Jane and reality in the regular Marvel Universe was altered. The upcoming event “Renew Your Vows” is a good way to rectify this mistake as seen with the preview image of Spider-Man, Mary Jane and their daughter.

Speaking of Spider-Man, the recent Spider-Verse story illustrates how convoluted and crowded the Marvel multiverses have become with the many different versions of Spider-Man.

That is why the end of the Marvel Universe is a good way to streamline things and provide a jumping on point for new readers and lapsed fans who couldn’t keep up with the vast myriad of timelines. As with Spider-Man’s marriage, the clean slate allows for mistakes to be undone and to approach characters and stories with a new, fresh perspective. Then again, how long before alternate reality or future stories begin to come back? Let’s hope it will be a while.

For this year’s Free Comic Book Day event on May 3, Marvel will release free copies of Secret Wars #0 that will bring readers up to speed to the shattering event.

T. Rod Jones

DC Wins The TV War…For Now, Part Two

trio

The rivalry between DC Comics and Marvel Comics has many fronts in media like toys, films, video games, etc. But as it stands right now, DC Entertainment dominates the television medium with its current slate of TV shows on the air and their plans for additional programs coming in the near future.

DC’s Television Summit

Once Smallville ended in 2011, a void needed to be filled by DC Entertainment in terms of having a superhero presence in the TV landscape. Rather than mining the Superman/Batman lore, the decision was made to showcase DC’s proto justice leagueother heroes and it was a wise choice. For some time, DC and Warner Bros. fell into a crutch and relied too much on Superman and Batman to represent DC in other media. This was understandable since those were the company’s two biggest heroes. It makes perfect business sense to take advantage of the popularity of those heroes. The problem, though, is that with all the marketing and attention focused on Batman and Superman, DC’s other heroes were left out and helped give the impression that the rest of the DC roster consisted of second stringers. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. The DC universe is populated by many captivating heroes and villains and the problem was that the company wasn’t taking full advantage of that notion. Marvel, and specifically Marvel Studios, faced a similar problem but for different reasons. They didn’t have the film rights to Spider-Man or the X-Men, so they had to rely on their lesser known properties. It turned out for the best, otherwise we wouldn’t have gotten live-action adaptations of Guardians of the Galaxy or Thor.

In DC’s case, they too were forced to look elsewhere since the Superman well had run dry with Smallville and Batman was considered off limits because of the Dark Knight films. Thus, DC Entertainment looked to an urban vigilante that had many of Batman’s characteristics – Green Arrow.

Arrow aimsAll things considered, he is a solid alternative for Batman when it came to being featured in a live-action TV show. After all, both are urban crimefighters without superpowers and use specialized weapons. When Arrow premiered in 2012, it presented a more grounded, realistic world for the superhero. In the first season, the main character, who wasn’t even called Green Arrow (in one episode his alter ego, played by Stephen Amell, thought that name Green Arrow was “lame”), wore a practical uniform with only a hoodie and grease paint to conceal his identity. Moving away from fanciful superhumans allowed Arrow to concentrate more on character development and street-level fight scenes. This meant that it was more inviting and relatable for casual viewers.

What the producers of Arrow did correctly is that they embraced the DC universe. They weren’t afraid to name drop places like S.T.A.R. Labs and Blüdhaven. Likewise, the series featured recognizable DC characters like Amanda Waller (head of the Suicide Squad), Slade Wilson and even the Batman villain Ra’s al Ghul and his League of Assassins. It was enough bones thrown to DC fans to keep them glued to their TVs. Arrow then took a step further and introduced superpowered characters in its second season thanks to this strength-enhancing drug called Mirakuru and the introduction of Barry Allen (Grant Gustin), whose Flash origin occurred at the end of one of the Arrow episodes.

arrow flash

This naturally led to The Flash spinoff that premiered recently. Taking a lighter tone than Arrow, The Flash is more of a throwback to the fast-moving comic books with outlandish supervillains, while utilizing the same kind of engrossing subplots that Arrow uses. What’s more is that both shows are definitely in the same universe. Although the concept of a shared universe isn’t new in TV shows, this was the first time this was done for superhero shows (not counting The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman) and it’s exciting to watch characters appearing in both programs with even more allusions to a wider world.

Both Arrow and The Flash are huge hits on The CW network and should be around for the long haul. Gotham, a show set in the title city and taking place after the killing of Bruce Wayne’s parents, is a hit on Fox. In fact, it pulls in more ratings than The CW superhero shows but that is due to the wider audience that Fox has compared gordonto The CW. Even though Gotham is a hit, there should be some caution because it’s on Fox, so there isn’t any guarantee that it will last as long as if it was on The CW. That is a problem that DC and Warner Bros. faces. Sure they can put anything on The CW, a fledging network, but it won’t reach as large an audience as in the major networks. But on the big networks, there is more pressure to succeed. Already, Constantine airs on NBC and has dismal ratings–it was recently announced that the show won’t go beyond initial 13 episodes and its fate is unknown. Constantine’s rating woes are due to its time slot: Fridays at 10 pm. How can any show succeed on that slot? It probably would’ve been better if it aired on a cable network where it could’ve thrived and be allowed to be darker like its comic book counterpart.

Continue reading

DC Wins The TV War…For Now, Part One

 old DC

One of the great corporate rivalries is the one between the comic book giants Marvel Comics and DC Comics. It’s a competition that has spilled over to other media. When it comes to films, Marvel has won the war on that front due to the monumental successes of their Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) films. However, take a quick glance at the current TV schedule. From looking at that and television history, it’s obvious that DC has won the TV War…for now.

Head Start

In reality, DC had the war won for decades now. This goes way back to the 1950s with the success of the first TV show based on Superman. That would be, of course, the landmark series Adventures of Superman, which starred George Reeves. It’s well known that the series was very popular and helped cement Superman’s legendary status in pop culture. Marvel at that time period didn’t even exist, nor did their most popular heroes because the company was concentrating on non-superhero comic books.

Following the cancellation of Adventures of Superman, the next DC superhero to bask in the television spotlight was Batman. Beginning in 1966, Batman was an instant hit and a genuine pop culture phenomenon. Starring Adam West and Burt Ward as Batman and Robin, the show was a decidedly goofy sendup of comic books and introduced characters like the Joker and Catwoman to non-comic book readers. Although, it was and is still popular, many decried the way Batman belittled the Caped Crusader and comic books in general.

wonder woman

In the 1970s, there were a few TV shows and specials based on DC Comics superheroes. The best known was Wonder Woman, starring Lynda Carter and it aired from 1975 to 1979. The show wasn’t as cheesy as Batman, nor as popular, but it was noted for its pro-feminist stance since the title character was a superhuman woman. The women’s lib messages obviously went over the heads of most younger viewers, who were enamored with Lynda Carter and her skimpy outfit.

Other TV shows airing in the 1970s were strictly aimed at children like Shazam! and The Secrets of Isis. In fact, these half-hour programs only aired on Saturday mornings and had limited appeal.

Around this time period, Marvel got into the hulk showact with the premieres of TV shows and TV films based on their characters. The first superhero to make a live-action appearance was Spider-Man, who made non-speaking appearances on The Electric Company. Some of the Marvel TV films and shows were truly awful like Captain America and The Amazing Spider-Man, which thankfully did not last long as a series. But a couple were actually decent like Doctor Strange and Marvel’s biggest hit on TV The Incredible Hulk. Airing in November 1977 and starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno, the TV film was a big hit and led to a successful TV series the following year.

Second Wind

superboyThe decade that followed, the 1980s, was slow for comic book properties on TV. After The Incredible Hulk was cancelled in 1982 there wouldn’t be another superhero TV show until the syndicated program Superboy debuted in 1988. Coming after the film disaster Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, Superboy was a welcome respite for fans who just wanted to see good, old-fashioned superheroics and teenage angst. Plus, Superboy was a competent place holder until DC and its parent company Warner Bros. could bring out another Superman TV series or film.

On a side note, there were a trio of TV films that continued the Hulk’s adventures and the first two introduced live-action versions of Thor and Daredevil. The Hulk and his alter ego David Banner actually died at the end of the third film, but there were plans to do more TV films. However, those ended after Bixby’s untimely death in 1993.

The humongous success of the film Batman in 1989 helped jumpstart new DC-based TV shows in the 1990s. Not wanting to rest with the success of Superboy, Swamp Thing: The Series premiered on the basic cable channel USA Network in 1990, while a show based on the comic book Human Target aired briefly on ABC in 1992.

old flashThere were two shows that made the largest impact in that decade. They were The Flash and Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. The Flash, starring John Wesley Shipp, premiered in the fall of 1990 fresh off the success of Batman and seemed to copy the stylistic direction of the Tim Burton film. Even though it only lasted one season, the show is revered by fans because of its fun stories, dazzling effects, and character work. Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, which aired on ABC, was targeted more towards women since it concentrated more on the relationship between Lois Lane (Teri Hatcher) and Clark Kent (Dean Cain). The superhero aspects of Superman took a back seat to the romantic shenanigans and it was laden with light humor. Of course, this displeased some fans, but it was still a successful program.

As for Marvel, the 1990s was a decade best left forgotten. There were DOA pilots based on Power Pack, Generation X and Nick Fury. As for the syndicated show Night Man, the less said about it the better.

Animation Dominion

young justiceAs DC dominated the television medium, there was another TV venue that it conquered. That was with their animated TV shows. Since the 1960s, there have been numerous TV shows that aired on Saturday mornings and on syndication based on DC’s superheroes. DC enjoyed early successes like Superfriends in the 1970s, but their animated shows weren’t acclaimed until Batman: The Animated Series premiered in 1992. Boasting memorable characters, villains and plots, the show was a huge hit and led to other superior animated gems like Batman Beyond, Superman: The Animated Series and Justice League. DC’s animated renaissance probably culminated with the recent Young Justice. It just lasted two seasons, but its smartly written scripts, mature themes, and complex character development won wide appraisals from fans and critics.

In this venue, Marvel actually presented itself as a viable counterpart to DC since the 1960s with series based on Spider-Man, the Hulk, the Avengers and other stalwarts. The results were quite admirable in many instances, but DC on the whole produced more noteworthy animated TV shows.

New Century, New Renaissance

As DC celebrated their animated successes in the 1990s, the live-action field was stagnant after the cancellation of Lois & Clark in 1997. There was an infamous pilot made for the Justice League that thankfully never made it into a series. It can be found on Youtube for anyone that is curious.

The live-action drought ended a few years later in 2001 with Smallville. This long-running show starred Tom Welling as Clark Kent in his teenage years and early twenties. It ran on The WB and later The CW networks and explored many aspects of the Superman mythos while concentrating on Clark’s emotional development and how he came to be Superman. It had its faults like the producers’ insistence of “no tights, no flights”, which meant Clark never put on his iconic Superman suit. (The final episode doesn’t count since he was never fully shown wearing it.) This was strange because many other superheroes featured on Smallville like Green Arrow, the Justice Society and Supergirl were allowed to fully embrace their comic-book roots. The Warner Bros. network tried to capitalize on the success of Smallville with other programs, but weren’t successful. Efforts included the short-lived Birds of Prey in 2002 and a pilot for Aquaman.

Around the time that Smallville came to an end, the superhero genre exploded in theaters. Super hits like The Dark Knight, Iron Man, and The Avengers cemented the permanence of arrowsuperhero films. As it goes, whenever there is a mammoth box office hit, TV executives take notice and follow suit. Warner Bros. and DC took advantage of the heightened interest in superheroes and produced many TV shows. Not all of them bore fruit like pilots for Aquaman and Wonder Woman, or another iteration of Human Target, but others blossomed and are now hit shows. These include Arrow, The Flash, Gotham and to a lesser extent Constantine. And that is just the beginning.

José Soto and Lewis T. Grove

To Be Continued