Archive for Spider-Man

Weekend Wrapup Returns

Posted in Comic Books, Entertainment, MLB Baseball, Movies, News/Current Events, Sports, Television, The Wrapups with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 16, 2010 by thelasthonestman

And it’s on to the weekend — and some quickie thoughts on subjects in the news:

Now that I'm done helping destroy NBC's prime-time schedule, I'll get back to putting you to sleep when I'm supposed to be doing it -- and not sooner

— Jay Leno is … the bad guy?  It’s certainly feeling like that these days.  In the sequel to the Late Night War that once saw Leno selected in a then-controversial decision over David Letterman to succeed the legendary Johnny Carson as the host of the Tonight Show, it looks like Leno’s disastrous foray into prime-time will be coming shortly to a merciful end.  This occurred after ratings for Leno’s five-night-a-week-suckfest cratered so badly (NBC was expected a ratings hit, but nothing of the magnitude that Leno “delivered”), that affiliates across the country — possibly as many as a quarter of them — were preparing to issue NBC an ultamatum of their own: lose Leno’s show, or be prepared to watch them abandon it themselves for reruns of Seinfeld and whatever else the local stations could program on their own.

Faced with an affiliate revolt, NBC had no choice but to pull the plug on the ill-conceived Leno vehicle — but the decision to shift Leno back into the 11:30 EST time slot — and to bump Conan back 30 minutes — has created more problems.  O’Brien has rejected the change in time for his own show, and now things are apparently headed for an ugly divorce between Leno’s heir and the network — which will possibly land Conan with upwards of $30 million, and should leave him free from his contract and available to pursue a show at a rival network, possibly FOX.

If nothing else, this drama has proven to be more entertaining already than anything Leno was throwing out there, and if early public sentiment is an indication, people are viewing Leno as the heavy (and NBC as the accomplice).  What does it mean for Leno’s ratings, if he returns as the host of the Tonight Show?  Probably not a whole lot, but if Conan ends up with a competing show, it’s almost certainly going to be pulling audience primarily from Leno; if you were watching Letterman or Jimmy Kimmel already, you’re likely not going to be watching Conan now — O’Brien’s audience will be what he takes with him from NBC.

The clear winner here so far is O’Brien, whose show has seen its ratings increase as this has played out.  Long-term, it may be Letterman who sees The Late Show cement itself as the top show in the late-night wars.  What can’t be disputed though, is that The Tonight Show isn’t what it once was, and the name doesn’t bring forth the feelings it used to (and hasn’t, even before O’Brien took over for Leno less than a year ago).  The Tonight Show that a lot of people grew up with ended when Johnny Carson stepped down — and now, after all of this current turmoil has passed, it’ll be a successor to Carson’s juggernaut in name only.

— For me, this week couldn’t have provided a bigger juxtaposition then that of the crisis that’s taking place in Haiti currently and the joke that was a number of Wall Street CEO’s in front of Congress defending, not only their massive irresponsibility in helping create the huge financial crisis we’re still in the middle of, but their own avarice in continuing to pay themselves massive salaries and bonuses, even when having their slimy hands picking the back pocket of the Amercian public that bailed them out.

As the horrors in Haiti unfoled, we saw poverty, despair, and destruction at a level that most of us have never seen before.  Haiti was the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere — and that was before the massive earthquake of this past week.  After this tragedy which has left tens of thousands dead and a country’s infrastructure in complete ruin, Haiti is in desperate need of any assistance it can get from the international community, in a race where every dollar or supply is literally to save lives that are hanging precariously in the balance.

Maybe some of that aid could come from some of those Wall Street Rip-Off Artists who showed an amazing lack of remorse over their actions which have crippled a large portion of the U.S. economy.  One of those men was Jamie Dimon, chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, who in an incredible understatement said, “We did make mistakes and there were things we could have done better.”  You think?  That’s on par with Lindsey Lohan saying she’s made some bad personal decisions over the last few years and “could have done better”.

Those in positions of power with these mammoth financial institutions — businesses that currently hold far too much influence and control over the lives of the average American citizen — continue to live in a world that has no relation to the one that real people, like you and I, live in — and it’s because of that insulation for the real world and its consequences that we should have no faith that any of them are going to do anything but what’s good for their own wallets — and to hell with the damages they might cause to the general public or the economy itself.  President Obama is looking into new taxes on these banking companies as an answer to the latest reports of obscene profits and bonuses paid, but that won’t be enough to change the climate of greed that permeates these companies to their rotten cores.

The direction for the new Spider-Man movie wasn't really what we were expecting

— The announcement came this week that Spider-Man 4 is DOA, and that in its place, we’ll be looking at a complete “reboot” of the franchise, sending director Sam Raimi and stars Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst to the curb.  Apparently, disagreements about the future of the film series between Sony and Raimi were too much to smooth over, and the studio has decided to go into a different direction (though still somehow intending to release the next film in the summer of 2012, as originally planned).

I’ve got mixed feelings about this news.  I’d already detailed some of the earlier squabbling between Sony and Raimi and my concerns that the franchise was headed for cinematical disaster.  While I blamed Sony initially, now that there’s more details leaking out about the take Raimi wanted to do with the film, it’s starting to look like taking the series away from Raimi wasn’t such a bad call after all.  The plot (if you want to call it that) sounded like a bad rehash of the 2nd Spider-Man movie, and it would have in all likelihood been worse than Spider-Man 3 was.

But even if you get a new director — and a new star (as Maguire had said he was only interested in returning to the role of Raimi was in the director’s chair) — is that any reason to start completely over again?  If that’s Sony’s approach, then it’s going to be a huge mistake; a reboot of a franchise is only necessary if it’s strayed completely away from its core (Batman and Robin) or if it’s been a suitably long time since the franchise began (rebooting Bond with Casino Royale).  Neither applies to the Spider-man franchise, which is barely a decade old and, the mediocrity of the third film aside, has stayed as true to the vision of Spider-Man as this huge Spidey fan could have hoped for from a big-screen adaptation.  Certainly, there were missed opportunities along the way — and continuity changes for the movies that I wouldn’t have gone with — but, all told, the first two movies were about as good as it gets for superhero fare, and there’s no reason that Sony can’t continue along where the 3rd movie left off.  Cast a new Spidey, go with a new villian (Dylan Baker and the Lizard, for example), bring Dunst back for a well-paid cameo and bump her off (paralleling the loss of Peter parker’s first love, Gwen Stacy, in the comics) — and you’re off and rolling.

Instead, if the early reports are to be believed, Sony looks to be headed on an ill-advised attempt to cash in on the Twlight-phase and turn Spider-Man into some sort of teen drama.  If that’s their approach — and it won’t be surprising, since most movie execs have no respect for the source material or its target audience (which is why Marvel Studios, which does, had such a critical and commercial hit with Iron Man), then they’re going to find themselves with a once-golden franchise that’s been run into the ground.

He's a frog, you say? I can't believe it!

— And finally, there’s Mark McGwire’s “stunning” revelation earlier in the week that he’d taken steroids during his career — an announcement that, as a friend of mine stated, was about as shocking as Kermit coming out and announcing that he’s a frog.

There’s already been a lot of talk about the subject and what it means to McGwire, baseball, and the steroid scandals that have rocked the sport — so there’s not a whole lot I have to add.  Suffice it to say, I’m not surprised he admitted it, as in his eyes, doing so represents the only way he can lessen the distraction he would cause the Cardinals this year as a member of their coaching staff — as well as the only way (he thinks) he might still find election to Baseball’s Hall of Fame someday.

But if I had a vote, it still wouldn’t be coming to him.  It’s my opinion that he still isn’t telling the whole truth about what he used and why he used it, and it’s still clear to me that the whole reason he’s a Hall candidate anyway — the home runs — were in some way fueled by his steroid usage, which makes his entire career output suspect since we’ll never be able to quantify what he would have done without them.  I don’t feel a bit sorry for McGwire — who seemed to be fishing for sympathy in his interviews this past week — since he knew the price of taking illegal steroids (or should have known it) when he did so.  You lived the life of an sports hero for several years because you cheated, Mark (whatever your excuses might be) — now, you’ve paid the price.  As it should be.

Enjoy the weekend, everyone — and we’ll see you on Monday for a look back at the NFL playoff games from this week.

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Heading Down The Path To Disaster — Otherwise Known As “Batman And Robin”

Posted in Comic Books, Movies, News/Current Events, Rants with tags , , , on December 9, 2009 by thelasthonestman

No, no, no, no, NO.

That’s my reaction to the latest information coming out about the Spider-Man 4 movie from Movieline, which claims that John Malkovich and Anne Hathaway are being considered for parts in the upcoming sequel.

It’s not that I have a problem with Malkovich — who has played the role of villain numerous times before to great success — or even with using the Vulture as a bad guy adversary; after all, the Vulture was the second super-powered super-villain that Spider-Man faced in the comics (following the Chameleon), so there’s definitely an old-school feel to him that I like (in comparison to the ridiculous requests by some comic book fans for the appearance of Venom-rip-off Carnage in a future sequel, which would pretty much guarantee that the film would suck right there).

But I’m wondering why Sam Raimi and the studio won’t use the obvious bad guy they’ve been sowing the seeds of for three films already in Dr. Curt Connors, aka The Lizard.  Like the Vulture, the Lizard is a classic Spidey foe — and unlike the old bird, the Lizard would make an imposing, even frightening, opponent for our hero on the big screen.  When you factor in the pathos and heart-wrenching back-story behind the villain that the first three movies have been heavy on emphasizing (the Lizard is a result of Connors’ attempts to regenerate his lost limb — his arm — using reptilian DNA — that backfires turning him into a savage, mindless, giant lizard) and the incredible transformation sequences you could have with the character, as well as the fact that you already have a tremendously underrated actor in Dylan Baker already cast in the role, then using the Lizard is a no-brainer, it would seem.

But the problem here is that, unlike the blockbuster Iron Man movies, the successful Incredible Hulk re-imagining, and the upcoming Thor film, the Spider-Man franchise isn’t under the complete control of Marvel Studios like the aforementioned projects, but rather Sony’s control.  While the early results from the independently produced films from Marvel have shown that giving artistic license does not mean that the characters or the vision of them is compromised, those films that have had the meddling of other studios to contend with (the two Fantastic Four films, the Daredevil and Elektra films, the X-Men franchise) have — with the noted exception of the first two X-Men movies and the first two Spider-Man movies — notably suffered in quality as a result.   The mess that was Spider-Man 3, the poor story-telling  and mischaracterization of the FF films (the portrayal of Dr. Doom was the worst travesty of any superhero film ever) are good examples of how movie studios often just don’t get what makes a comic book film work.

Not pictured: A serious foe for Superman

Not that there aren’t exceptions — The Dark Knight, the first and second Spider-Man films, and the first two X-Men films being primary examples (Before anyone says it, the first two Superman films and the first two Batman films by Tim Burton — while outstanding for their time — both have a number of  “what the fuck?” moments — Lex Luthor employing buffoons like Otis?  Bruce Wayne taking his mask off in front of Max Schreck? — that always left a bad taste in my mouth).  But more often than not, when the studios start interfering, that means trouble.  More villains! Crazier outfits!  Bigger stars!  More special effects and less character development!  The kids will love it! That seems to be the mantra from those studios — and that’s how we get shit sandwiches like Batman and Robin, Spider-Man 3, Superman 3 (with Richard Pryor!) or Superman 4: The Quest for Peace (the latter wasn’t so much a debacle due to studio interference so much as it was a mistake to let the late Christopher Reeve use the film as a vehicle to advance his political thinking in exchange for returning to the role that made him famous, but the movie is so bad, it had to be mentioned with the other stinkers).

Anne Hathaway in this = Good decision.  Anne Hatahway as the Vultress = bad decision

Anne Hathaway as this = good decision. Anne Hathaway as something called "The Vulturess" = idiotic decision

What’s even more disconcerting — and a sign of studio interference by people who aren’t comic book knowledgeable — is the casting of Anne Hathaway as a villainess.  It’s not that I think the Hathaway casting is flawed — far from it.  She’s definitely hot, and she can play the sexy bad girl role nicely (rent Havoc sometime and see for yourself).  But this story has her playing, not the Black Cat (a sexy cat burglar anti-hero/villain from the classic comics) but — get this — the Vulturess.  Ugh.  Please God, make it stop before it starts.

And there would be a perfect example of a non-comic fan from the studio making a bone-headed decision (supposedly being done so as not to look as if they’re ripping on the character of Catwoman, but which is exactly what the Black Cat was influenced from originally).  A decision to create this character of  “The Vulturess” — with Hathaway as Malkovich’s feminine sidekick, I guess — is cut from the same flawed cloth that gave us a punning Governor Arnold as Mr. Freeze, an adult Robin, the Bat credit-card, an illiterate, moronic Bane, Bat-nipples, and a thousand other mistakes from Batman and Robin, which exists as not only the worst superhero film ever, but one of the worst films of my lifetime period as well.  It’s the same decision-making that gave us Superman’s kid and the Last Son of Krypton as a creepy, stalker, Halle Berry as a non-Selina Kyle Catwoman, Cousin Lenny and Otis, Tommy Lee Jones’ Two-Face as a complete caricature of himself, the Merc with a Mouth, Deadpool, with his mouth sown shut and surrounded by a cast of 1000 mutants, the Sandman killing Uncle Ben and a shoehorned in Venom — and all of the other comic-book movie misfires of the last twenty-five years.

There's no truth to the rumor that Chase raised the interest rate on this card to 29.75%

That’s the fate I fear lies ahead for Spider-Man 4 if the rumors are true.  As people who know me can attest, I love Spider-Man more than any comic book character, and I thought the first two Spider-Man films were tremendous adaptations that were true to the characters yet entertaining to a wider audience unfamiliar with the Marvel world.  But if this is what lies ahead for the franchise, I wish everyone involved would walk away instead — before we’re putting this sequel in the same breath as Joel Schumacher’s neon debacle fifteen years from now.

Spider-Man/Obama Update

Posted in Comic Books with tags on January 18, 2009 by thelasthonestman

After reading Wednesday on-line about comic shops around the country having lines of people waiting to get inside and purchase the Obama cover issue of Amazing Spider Man (just like Christmas!), it looks as if a little of the craziness has died down.  After reaching peaks of close to the $100 mark on E-bay, the variant copy of the issue has settled back down into the $60-$70 range.  What’s more surprising to me is that the regular cover of the issue — by an artist you might have heard of, the legendary  Spidey artist John Romita, Sr. — is fetching $20 bids itself.

spider-man-583

None of this is going to last, of course.  The frenzy over this issue exceeded that of Captain America’s “death” a short while back — it reminds me more of the reaction to the Superman “death” issue back in 1992.  In that case, the issue in question commanded near the same prices on the day of its release — only to sink back down a few months later (a copy now can be had for $10-$20, if not less).  The print run on this issue just won’t sustain this type of price — unless it turns out that a large number of copies were purchased by non-comic fans just looking for a piece of American history, and those people end up sitting on the book forever, don’t take care of it, or simply throw it away in a few years when they realize “It’s just a comic book” (though none of this takes into account the drop in price that would come if these copies flood the market from disillusioned purchasers if Obama ends up giving us more of the same we expect from Washington).

There’s also a controversy that’s developed from this issue, between Image Comics’ own Erik Larsen (who featured Obama on a cover and in a story of his Savage Dragon title) and Amazing Spider-Man editor Steve Wacker, the details of which can be found here and here.

As a writer, I can see Larsen’s point — but in the world of comic books, true originality is few and far between.  The opportunity to make sales drives pretty much every decision made in the business today, and one wonders if Larsen’s “betrayal” by Marvel would have been soothed if the sales numbers of the two issues had been reversed, and it had been his own issue with Obama that had sold with anything close to the numbers we’ve seen on the Spider-Man tale.

FWIW, Amazing Spider-Man #583 is onto a third printing, so anyone who wants the book solely to say they have it, don’t pay the sticker on E-Bay, but pick up a later printing from your local comic store.

Obama and the Bat

Posted in Comic Books with tags , on January 15, 2009 by thelasthonestman

One of my biggest passions is comic books — I’ve been a steady collector since 1988, and I even owned my own comic book shop once upon a time (from 1997-1999, an experience which, while not the most financially rewarding, remains one of the highlights of my life).  So, on a regular basis in this blog, I’m going to be looking at the world of comics from as many ways as I can — commenting on new releases, old stuff I’ve enjoyed, the world of comic movies, etc.

As anyone who collects knows already, Wednesdays are anxiously anticipated, as new releases hit the stands on that day.  This week featured a book that has already gotten some mainstream attention — Amazing Spider-Man #583 — and another book that, while not getting the same spotlight on it, has been anxiously awaited by the hard-core comic book fans — Final Crisis #6.

First, let’s talk about Amazing Spider-Man #583. (SPOILERS BELOW)

Amazing Spider-Man #583

Amazing Spider-Man #583

This, of course, is the “Obama” issue — sort of.  It’s a multi-story issue, with the Obama feature relegated to the status of  “back-up”.  The first story is a typical tale from the “Brand New Day” reset of Spider-Man continuity, with our hapless hero Peter Parker first going on a speed dating jaunt with friend/former flame Betty Brant, and then having Betty try to set him up with one of her friends.

Like much of the reboot of Spidey, it’s actually a pretty good effort, this time coming from one of my favorite writers, Mark Waid.  Peter is portrayed pretty spot-on, the lovable loser who’s heart is in the right place, and it’s nice to see proper attention given to a long-time supporting cast member like Betty.  Her characterization was solid here, with one exception.  Her acknowledgement here about how wonderful a guy Peter Parker is and how much he means to her — that’s dead-on — but I will admit to feeling a little off-put by her state of drunken inebriation in one scene of the story.  Of course, Betty has been all over the place so far as characterization over the years, so a little borderline drunken binge shouldn’t be too damaging — after all, she’s been at different times an 1) overprotective, sit-at-home-and-wait-for-her-man, goody two-shoes, 2) a frustrated, lonely housewife, 3) an adulteress, 4) a mental case (after the death of her husband, The Hobgoblin Ned Leeds), and 5) a strong career woman who rose to become a reporter at the Daily Bugle.

So who’s the real Betty?  I’m not sure after all of these characterizations, but I can say with all certainty that, during the last scene with Peter on her birthday, with her cleavage shouting “Look at me, dammit!” while trying to escape the hot purple outfit that she was drawn wearing, the two things I was saying were, 1) Why didn’t our still-married but inexplicably amnesiac newly-single Peter tap that while she was drunk? and 2) Why isn’t he trying to tap that right fucking now?

Sigh.  What was the point of making Peter single again if Betty can’t even get a rise out of him (so to speak)?  That little story issue aside, I still liked it.  3 1/2 out of 5 webs.  Again, it’s a good example of the positives that Brand New Day brought forth — if only they could give us a resolution to the whole “You’re Marvel’s flagship hero, yet you made a deal with a fucking demon/devil” problem that led us here, I’d be thrilled to death.

The second part of the issue was the Obama feature, and it wasn’t much.  Peter is taking pictures at the inauguration, the Chameleon attempts to impersonate Obama at the swearing in, Spidey clocks him, and Obama fist-bumps him in a “You the man” moment before taking office.  Yawn.  It’s a five page back-up story that isn’t anything tremendous, but it does its part well enough.  Marvel has set real-world figures in its books before — Presidents and world leaders as far back as Nixon were portrayed with real roles in books (remember Henry Kissinger meeting with Dr. Doom way back in Super-Villain Team-up?), so this isn’t out of the ordinary.  Obama is, from what I’ve read, both a closet comic book fan and a Spidey fan — and the world certainly can use more of both of those. 3 out of 5 webs.

The real story, to me, was in the reaction to the book.  My local shop (Media Underground Comics in Metairie, Louisiana — a shout out here to the owner Ronnie, who’s taken care of me fantastically since I started going there) was sold out of the issue by the time I got there today a little after 2:00 — and by his accounts, the phone had been ringing off the hook all day with people looking for the book.  The variant cover — the one actually featuring Obama and pictured above — is already generating interest on E-Bay, with copies fetching $60-70 already.  From a comic fan’s perspective, I only hope the people buying it realize that 1) this book won’t be worth in the long run what they’re paying for it now (and that’s due to the volatile market on variant covers, and nothing to do with Obama himself, for those of you not as much into the comic book scene) and 2) there’s actually some good content in the book, so don’t just buy it to put away — read it, and then find your local shop and ask for some other recommendations to pick up as well.

One of those other recommendations might be this book — Final Crisis #6 (SPOILERS BELOW)

Final Crisis #6

Final Crisis #6

This book promised the “Final Fate of the Batman”.  All of the people who’d read through Grant Morrison’s “Batman R.I.P.” had probably thought they’d have seen that final fate in that book, but it’s uncertain ending certainly had nowhere near the finality that this issue apparently did (or at least, the last page of this issue).

I won’t go on about the Final Crisis mini-series here — I’ve always been a fan of Morrison’s work (his Animal Man run still remains one of my most recommended reads to people), but I will admit to having a harder time following in this mini-series exactly what’s going on.  Maybe that’s by design, maybe that’s because it feels like it’s been forever since Final Crisis #5 came out — oh wait, it has been forever since that issue hit the shelves.

Still, it’s an ambitious undertaking by Morrison, and it has a far different feel and tone that either of its event predecessors, Crisis on Infinite Earths or Infinite Crisis did.  I’ll wait until it wraps up next month (crosses fingers) to pass a final judgement on it as a whole.  In this issue, I liked the fact that Batman shows up to confront as powerful a being as Darkseid, and Darkseid expects that the Dark Knight would be there at some point to oppose him.  I liked the appearance of the Miracle Machine of Legion Lore.  I loved the banter between three generations of Flashes (Golden Age Jay Garrick, Silver Age Barry Allen, and Modern Age Wally West) — they sound just like the family they are, bonded together by the ability to run.

What I didn’t like, I really didn’t like.  Mary Marvel as a “bad girl” hasn’t been something I took too, and I hope that it’s over and done with — how much damage they did long-term to the character remains to be seen.  And I really, really didn’t like Batman picking up a gun to use against Darkseid, even as he’s admitting that he’s taken a vow never to use a gun as a weapon.  “Once-in-a-lifetime exception”?  Whatever.

The final page is, though, the “Wow” moment of the mini-series.  Is Batman really dead?  That skeleton looks pretty conclusive, but all comic fans know how permanent death really is — so don’t be surprised to see Bruce Wayne back at some point down the road.  Of course, they did keep Barry Allen in the ground for over 20 years, so who knows?  Besides, I’m actually looking forward to a year-long run of Dick Grayson in the cowl (hopefully).

Final Crisis #6 gets a 4 out of 5 bats from me, if for no other reason than that powerful last page.  Let’s see if it can top that in its finale, which should be out, oh, sometime by the time the Dark Knight sequel hits theaters.