Friday, May 4, 2007

A Peverett Phile Extra: Ode To A Super Hero

Hello, Phile Phans, and welcome to a an extra entry of the Peverett Phile, dedicated to Spider-Man. It's May Movie Month on the Phile, so this should be the first extra entry this month. 


The age of comic-book superheroes began in 1938 with Superman, and for the next 25 years, superstuds were just that: chiseled adults saving the world from catastrophe. Then Spider-Man crawled onto the pages of Marvel Comics, and the first teenage superhero was born. Here now, extracted like lethal venom from the arachnid that punctured Peter Parker, a few red-letter dates in Spidey's 45-year history.
In the late summer of 1962, amidst the tumult of Marilyn Monroe's death and the looming Cuban Missile Crisis, a nerdy teen with the euphonious name of Peter Parker is bitten by a radioactive arachnid and morphs into the world's newest superhero: Spider-Man. The webbed one debuts in Marvel Comics' Amazing Fantasy #15, at a whopping price of 12 cents. (Today, you can have it for a mere $42,000.) Stan Lee pens the story, inspired by pulp crimefighter the Spider — and a housefly climbing up a wall.
Six months after his auspicious debut, Spidey gets his own comic. And The Amazing Spider-Man #1 works overtime — it contains two stories featuring the tireless arachnid. In the first, we meet irascible Daily Bugle potentate J. Jonah Jameson, who writes some poison-pen editorials labeling Spidey a freak and a public menace. Worse, after the death of his Uncle Ben, Peter is desperate to make some money to help his Aunt May. Cut to the second tale, in which Spider-Man faces off against the Chameleon and meets other partners in crime(fighting) — the Fantastic Four. Peter thinks he can draw a "top salary" if he makes the four a five by joining up. But he soon learns that the FF, though an equal-opportunity employer, is strictly a nonprofit enterprise!
When you've got a superhero, you need a villain. Spidey gets three in quick succession: The Vulture reared his avaricious talons in The Amazing Spider-Man #2, followed by Dr. Octopus (Doc Ock) in #3 and #4 and the Sandman, also in #4. Rumor has it that Doc Ock, with his snazzy Ray-Bans, was partially inspired by singer Roy Orbison.
Spidey's archenemy the Green Goblin enters the scene in #14. And what an entrance! Speeding along on some half-amped-up broomstick, half Dirt Devil vacuum cleaner, the vengeful Goblin tosses stun-grenades and marshals his minions to put the hurt on Spidey during a movie shoot in New Mexico. And that's just the beginning. During a knock-down battle in a cavern, the webbed wonder runs smack dab into the Incredible Hulk, who isn't in the mood for chitchat.
Just a Guy Named Joe (#38) marks the last issue illustrated by co-creator Steve Ditko. John Romita succeeds Ditko, who goes on to draw stories for The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man and the surrealistic Doctor Strange, which strikes a particular chord among college kids who have a penchant for psychedelic drugs.
She's previously only been glimpsed tantalizingly with her face obscured, but #42 marks the first full appearance of Peter's future paramour, Mary Jane Watson. In the comic's now-famous final panel, after finally consenting to a "blind" dinner date with M.J., Peter exclaims: "You mean that's Mary Jane?!!" To which the redheaded bombshell replies: "Face it, Tiger … You just hit the jackpot!"
Spider-Man is reimagined into an animated Saturday-morning cartoon with the catchiest theme song since "Mr. Ed". The series spins for three years and more than 70 episodes. Other animated series follow, one in 1981, which chronicles P.P. as a college lad and another from 1994-1997, with Stan Lee "keeping it real" for fans as an exec producer.
The rogue's gallery just keeps getting thicker. In #50, we're introduced to the Kingpin, who "crosses over" and becomes a major villain in the Daredevil saga and perhaps the greatest criminal mind in the whole Marvel galaxy of supervillains. This landmark issue also features one of Spidey's greatest covers: Parker, with eyes downcast after repudiating his super alter ego, shambles into the foreground, while a large image of Spidey hovers in the background like a memory he'll never outrun.
The U.S. Dept. of Health, Education and Welfare queries Stan Lee about concocting a cautionary tale of drug abuse that will resonate with youngsters. Lee enthusiastically writes a three-part story arc (#96-#98). In a case of not seeing the forest for the trees, the Comics Code Authority refuses to approve the story because of the sheer presence of narcotics (the anti-drug context is irrelevant to them). Marvel publisher Martin Goodman gives Lee the green light to print the story sans CCA approval, and the issue is a big hit.
In #121-#122 a major character is killed, something exceedingly rare in the comic-book realm at the time. Peter's first gal-pal, the comely Gwen Stacy, gets tossed off a bridge by the Goblin, and in an effort to break her fall with a quickly spun web, Spidey breaks her neck instead. The Goblin is to blame for sure, but Peter is wracked with guilt.
In a slim, 19-page book (#129), a new rogue called the Punisher strikes twice. The vigilante-assassin, modeled after the Dirty Harry and Death Wish movies popular at the time, goes on to star in his own self-titled film in 2004. It features Thomas Jane in the title role, as well as John Travolta and Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, but bombs at the box office.
In #136, Harry Osborn proves the old adage, "like father, like son," when he takes up where his dad left off, complete with his pappy's vendetta against Spidey. Thirty years later, Spider-Man 2 depicts this event to near universal acclaim.
Forget for a sec the antiquated blue-screen effects, tilted cameras, dangling wires and archaic stunts, Spider-Man finally transitions from 15 years of print and animation to live action with breathing actors. In a short-lived CBS series that captured fewer ratings than Spidey nabbed criminals, Nicholas Hammond (Friedrich von Trapp for you Sound of Music fans) is your friendly neighborhood web-spinner.
The next iteration of Spidey occurs via the Atari 2600. Fans can now shed their bystander status and participate in the action. Players must scale a building to diffuse explosives and smack down criminals as they pursue the Goblin. Over the years, 10 more video games follow in regular succession.
In The Amazing Spider-Man: Homecoming #252, our preferred arthropod chucks his red and blue spider suit for black togs — as revolutionary and antithetical to the Spider-Man canon as, say, Superman flying capeless. Not everyone loves the change. The suit (which is an alien, actually) fuses with a man named Eddie Brock, and the hybrid will later become the destructive symbiote Venom, which proves to be Spidey's most lethal nemesis yet. The black suit and presence of Venom play very prominently in the film Spider-Man 3.
The Amazing Spider-Man #288 features the first renderings by Todd McFarlane and #300 marks Spidey's 25th anniversary of fighting evil. But really, we all know action is his reward! McFarlane later forms his own production company and creates the occult-themed Spawn, whose first issue sells a record 1.7 million copies.
Comic-book speculating reaches its zenith and starts to implode (like baseball cards before them, the meteoric rise in prices for many early/key issues turned off loyalists). Two-thirds of all comic-book specialty stores close, and numerous publishers go under. Marvel declares bankruptcy in 1997, although it continues publishing. Marvel's brain trust (headed by new owner Ronald Perelman) feels the company can preserve cash flow if it distributes product directly to the market. But as the bottom falls out, Marvel is stuck with a glut of specialty and "collectible" issues that no one covets any more.
After years of false starts, contract lapses and the revolving-door treatment at countless studios, Sony mounts a lavish production (estimated at nearly $140 million) of the Spider-Man epoch. Sam Raimi helms, with Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco and Willem Dafoe. It breaks the vaunted $100 million barrier faster than any theatrical release before it, setting an all-time single-day earning record at more than $43 million.
MTV enters the lucrative fray with a new animated series that boasts such vocal yokels as Neil Patrick Harris as Peter, Ian Ziering parroting Harry and songstress Lisa Loeb voicing Mary Jane. The episodes are the first to incorporate CGI animation techniques and, following Marvel's lead, the series resurrects a younger (college-age) Peter Parker.
In the much-anticipated sequel, a reluctant Peter dons his superhero togs once again and squares off against Dr. Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina). With umpteen tentacles sprouting from Doc Ock's back, the film wins the Best Special Effects Oscar in a walk.
In a "disassembled" story (Spectacular Spider-Man vol. 2, #15-20), Peter undergoes a transformation that allows him to produce organic web fluid directly from his wrists. Previously, he had invented a chemical polymer compound that he stored in his suit and which allowed him to spin his webs. The one catch to his new natural ability is that it hinges on his health and nutrition, but the bio-webbing capability quickly supplants the homemade mixture.
It had to happen. In the second issue of a limited seven-issue miniseries (Civil War #2), Spidey goes au naturel when he appears at a press conference without his mask. He reveals his true identity as a show of support for the government-sanctioned Superhero Registration Act, which was entered into law to crack down on superhero vigilantes. For fans, the story arc resembles the plotline to X-Men. No matter, the edition quickly sells out.
The third Spidey flick opens May 4 with all the regulars (and Raimi at the helm) returning, plus Topher Grace (Eddie Brock/Venom) and Bryce Dallas Howard (Gwen Stacy). Budgeted at $240 million, it will be released in China the day before the American premiere to thwart pirated DVD copies from diluting the box-office take.
2008 and Beyond
Will there be a ? The producers say yes. Emphatically. Dunst says she's on board, if Raimi and Maguire are on board. Raimi hasn't said either way, but Tobey has followed up his initial "I'm out" with a less firm, "If whole team wants to get back together, and we feel like we can make a good movie that's worth making, then I'm up for it." Stay tuned …


Starring Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Thomas Haden Church, Topher Grace, Bryce Dallas Howard. I could fill this whole entry with plot. Seriously, there is enough stuff going on to make the next couple of sequels. More villains, girlfriends, more emotional weight, more lovey-dovey stuff, more Bruce Campbell, more special effects — just more of everything. You even get two of Spider-Man. And I have to confess: Black-suited, evil Goth Spidey was kind of who I was rooting for. I love these movies. And I can already hear the complaints. That more is less this time around, that it's too much, it's overloaded, overlong, overdone, etc. I even heard someone, on the way out of the screening, say that it was like eating candy for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I love that one. Because they're right. It is like eating several entire bags of Starburst Fruit Chews. But who wouldn't want to eat candy all day every once in a while? The special effects/action sequences alone are like sugar-filled needles jabbed right into your face. I liked it when Parker became a bad-ass. He fails and ends up looking like one of the stylish '80s drug dealers in Less Than Zero. Or a snarling, angry kitten on spitting at the camera. In any movie not as committed to amped-up fun as this, I'd be annoyed by that. But here it somehow fits right in. From 1 to 10, I give it a 10, and I can't wait to get it on DVD...and UMD.

While I'm at it, here is some other super hero news.

Those who were hoping that Jennifer Connelly -- pretty much the one good thing about Ang Lee's 2003 film Hulk -- would somehow make the nimble transition into playing Betty Ross again in the complete re-do version now being prepped can stop their fantasizing. 29-year old Liv Tyler has been cast as Ross, the long-time love interest to Ed Norton's Dr. Bruce Banner in The Incredible Hulk, which will begin shooting in Toronto this summer. As noted in The Hollywood Reporter, the Ross character has been a fixture of the Hulk comic since 1962; she is a fellow scientist who works with Banner to help him tame the beast within, not always successfully. The HR story also has plot details to reveal: the film will open with Banner and Ross estranged from each other, "but with the pursuit of the Hulk heating up and Banner on the run trying to cure his condition, Ross finds herself swept back into his life." This casting move, coupled with her leading role in the upcoming horror film The Strangers -- a new still from that film was released today, by the way -- suggests Tyler's stock as a leading lady is very much on the rise, which is a trend I support. As for director Louis Letterier, I'm one of those poor, unfortunate souls who still hasn't seen either The Transporter or its sequel Transporter 2, so I'm in no position to comment on whether he deserved to be handed the keys to a high-interest franchise like this, but here's hoping this team that's being assembled makes something interesting out of it. Norton and Tyler are both intriguing actors, and I can imagine that at the very least they'll findsome nice angles for their characters, whether the movie as a whole works or not.

Well, that's about it for this Spider-Man entry of the Phile. The Phile will be back as usual on Thursday the 10th, and th week after that Shrek 3 comes out, so I hope to have an entry dedicated to the Ogre. Until then, spread the word, not the turd. Oh, by the way, I was asked about the Peverett Phile merch on I mentioned a while ago. I am working on it, once I find the font (or phont) I am picturing in my head. And we are over 1800 views! It looks like we might hit 2000 by June.


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