comic books

Remembering Steve Ditko, whose place in comic book history feels underrated – and he wanted it that way

ditko_spidey

Friday night brought some sad news for longtime comic book and superhero fans with the news that Steve Ditko, who co-created Spider-Man for Marvel Comics with Stan Lee, had passed away at the age of 90.

Ditko’s death (along with Harlan Ellison’s recent passing) is a reminder that many of the creators responsible for the stories and characters which established the geek culture we currently enjoy did so 50 to 60 years ago. Each time Stan Lee pops up on news alerts for lawsuits, estate disputes or elder abuse allegations, my initial instinct is that he died. The man is 95 years old, though he seems spry in his continued Marvel movie cameos.

Of course, it means we’re getting old too. I probably first read Ditko’s Spider-Man stories 30-plus years ago. When I began reading comics, John Romita Sr., Gil Kane and Ross Andru were the guys drawing Spidey. Marvel’s reprints of the original Spider-Man comics led me to Ditko.

Sure, maybe I just wanted more Spidey stories back then. But this was probably also an early example of appreciating artists by going to the beginning, like listening to a band’s first album or watching a director’s early films. What were those original Spider-Man comics like and how did they compare to the stories I first read?

Ditko’s art fit the idea of Spider-Man so well. A superhero with the powers of a spider would be a bit creepy, right? And Peter Parker was a nerd who got bullied, crushed on girls, was adored by his uncle and aunt, and was a brilliant student. Romita’s version of Spider-Man was a bit too polished, though fit the post-high school version of the character. But Ditko’s version, in addition to the world these characters populated, looked a bit unusual.

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newsletter

Not a Newsletter (21): Workin’ hard to get my fill

soldier_comics

Hello from the end of the 4th of July holiday weekend! Did a Wednesday July 4 help create a five-day weekend?

The calendar turning to July reminded me that I haven’t accomplished nearly the amount of reading I’ve intended to this summer (yet I still keep buying books; it’s a problem). It doesn’t help when getting sidetracked by a book I didn’t expect to read, like Don’t Stop Believin’, a memoir by Jonathan Cain, the keyboardist for Journey.

Journey was my favorite band as a kid, something I remember taking a lot of shit for, but is apparently cool in a nostalgic way now. (As with comic books, it took 30 years for culture to be accommodating.) So reading Cain’s accounts of how songs like “Don’t Stop Believin'” and “Open Arms” were written was really fun, providing a dose of nostalgia right in the vein.

Particularly amusing was the revelation that “Don’t Stop Believin'” refers to “South Detroit” (something that plenty of Detroiters will tell you doesn’t exist) because Cain thought that line needed an extra syllable.

Songwriting has always fascinated me. Composing melodies and writing lyrics to fit in (or vice versa) just seems ethereal. Even bad songs are the result of that. Getting a glimpse into that process — why isn’t the chorus of “Don’t Stop Believin'” until the end? — just pulled me right in. It was the pleasant surprise of my week.

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movie reviews, movies

Fun and assured, Ant-Man and The Wasp is ideal follow-up to Infinity War

lilly_rudd

Every time a new Marvel movie comes out, there seems to be a compulsion to rank it among the previous superhero blockbusters. That sets an awfully high bar for Ant-Man and The Wasp, which doesn’t seem quite fair. Should it really be compared to a massive crossover epic like Avengers: Infinity War?

None of the Marvel movies are “small,” but the smaller scale here is an ideal follow-up to Infinity War‘s galaxy-spanning scope and grave stakes. Much of the speculation leading up to Ant-Man and The Wasp — from sites that needed content — focused on where the story fit in relation to the Avengers’ battle with Thanos. Does it take place before Thanos and his cronies attack Earth? Does it deal with what happened after Infinity War?

++ Avengers: Infinity War is an appetizer, but still a superhero epic with plenty of gut punches ++

While this is obviously a sequel to 2015’s Ant-Man and sort of a sequel to Captain America: Civil War — at least with the repercussions of Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) deciding to help Cap out in his philosophical conflict with Iron Man — it’s also a fairly standalone story that isn’t largely constructed as a setup for bigger films to come. Yes, it takes place before Infinity War, but those events are eventually addressed. (You know better than to leave before the credits are finished with a Marvel movie.)

The one big plotline left dangling from Ant-Man was the fate of the original Wasp, Janet Van Dyne (played in this sequel by Michelle Pfeiffer). During a mission with the OG Ant-Man, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), Janet sacrificed herself — shrinking to sub-atomic size and getting lost in the Quantum Realm — in order to disable a nuclear missile. But Lang showed that it was possible to return from the Quantum Realm, inspiring Pym to find the wife whom he believed was forever lost.

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Not a Newsletter (15): What, are you flying to Japan?

reeve_supes

Hello from the airport! For the first time in far too long (nearly three years?), I’m taking a vacation. Although I can’t even get that right, as I’ll be helping a friend move out east. So a “working vacation” of sorts.

Regardless of the circumstances, it’ll be nice to unplug — although I’m sure I’ll still be more attached to my phone and iPad than I should be. I’ll probably post more to Instagram than I should. Hopefully, a few of those photos will be worth a look.

Having not traveled — especially cross-country — for a long time, I overreacted with the amount of stuff I downloaded to watch during my flight. Plus, I’ll probably listen to a podcast or two and try to read a book or magazine (airport magazine stands are crack to me) so I’m not looking at a screen.

Maybe some of these can be watched during the drive back east.

– Three episodes of Ugly Delicious
Black Panther
Hari Kondabolu: Warn Your Relatives
Batman: Ninja
– Eight episodes of All or Nothing: The Michigan Wolverines
The Florida Project
– Six episodes of Somebody Feed Phil
John Mulaney: The Comeback Kid
Chef’s Table, Christina Tosi episode

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Not a Newsletter: 04/15/18

luchadore-reading

Last Sunday was WrestleMania, which served to remind me that my revived interest in pro wrestling has fizzled out. It’s probably part of a general malaise during which I haven’t been watching much on TV other than news (and punditry), but yeah, this foray back to a childhood love lasted about nine months.

However, HBO’s Andre the Giant documentary brought back plenty of memories of my wrestling fandom, and how fascinating it was not just to follow WWF, but the other wrestling companies and territories throughout the country like the NWA, AWA, Mid-South and so forth. I remember spending Saturday mornings at the old Community Newscenter in Ann Arbor poring through wrestling magazines and spending my paperboy paycheck on too many of them.

The film also reminded me how special it was to be in the Pontiac Silverdome for WrestleMania III, which I wrote about last year on the event’s 30th anniversary. Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant was definitely the event of the day (though not the match I was most excited about), and as the documentary explains, gave WWF a huge cultural push. To hear how much pain Andre was in during that match and how the ending hadn’t been determined until the two performers were in the ring was surprising and sobering.

All right, here’s what we have to show for the past week. Not a lot of writing out of me, unfortunately. Just that kind of week.

The week’s reading

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** Brian Michael Bendis’s DC Comics debut hits comic book shops this coming week with Action Comics #1000. I’m not sure if it was in an article or on his old Jinxworld message board, but I recall Bendis once saying Superman was a character he couldn’t get his head around. Or a character that didn’t work in modern times. Something like that. But he’ll be writing the Man of Steel’s adventures after helping to define the Marvel Universe for nearly the past 20 years. And I’ll be buying. [New York Times]

** The “new” Comiskey Park — now Guaranteed Rate Field — was the first of the new ballparks throughout Major League Baseball. But it could have been so much better, as Dayn Perry explains in this outstanding feature. (And you’ll learn something about ballpark architecture too.) [CBS Sports]

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Not a Newsletter: 04/08/18

krasinski_reading

Well, hello! After a shaky last couple of weeks, we’re trying to get Not a Newsletter back on track here at Casselbloggy HQ. I’d like to remain as computer-free as possible on my day off, so am getting this out early for the Sunday breakfast crowd.

This story about the mastodon skeleton at the University of Michigan’s Museum of Natural History being moved as part of the museum’s relocation put me in a wistful mood. Growing up in Ann Arbor, the museum was one of my favorite places to go.

Like a lot of kids, I was really into dinosaurs and a place with skeletons from all kinds of those prehistoric creatures seemed like one of the coolest places on Earth. A Tyrannosaurus Rex skull. A pterodactyl skeleton. And so much more. They were just a bus ride away, which meant multiple visits throughout the year — especially during the summer.

mastodons_UM

I’m not sure when I stopped going to the museum. Probably at an age where I felt like I’d outgrown it. I bet I haven’t been back in at least 20 years. I couldn’t have gone back once?

Now that I live someplace else, I’ve often thought about how lucky I was and didn’t even realize it. I could go to that museum — and others on the U-M campus — any time I wanted to. I didn’t do this nearly enough, especially as I got older. Taking the little nieces there (one of whom likes dinosaurs) would be fun. Maybe someday.

OK, here’s what we have to show for the past week.

This Week’s Reading

** Dusty Baker shouldn’t have been fired as Washington Nationals manager after last season. But he’s apparently enjoying the time off, especially when watching his son play. J.T. Snow rescuing little Darren Baker, then a San Francisco Giants bat boy, from getting run over at home plate in the 2002 World Series was a touching moment. [Washington Post]

** I was vaguely aware of how much diapers cost before my sister had children. Now, as an uncle, I’m keenly aware — especially when taking my mother to Target or Walmart to buy diapers and help my sister out. (I don’t think that’s appreciated enough.) This feature underlines just how fortunate we are, and why diapers cost what they do. [Tampa Bay Times]

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Not a Newsletter: 03/18/18

evans_reading

We’re late with Not a Newsletter once again, after showing promise last week with an early posting. But after talking with friends and family, it was determined that one of the remedies for that which is currently driving me crazy is to try and unplug as much as possible on weekends.

As I’m sure is the case for many of you, that’s not easy for me. Work and leisure inhabit much of the same space. If I’m reading something, it’s probably online. (I really am trying to pick up books and magazines…) If I’m watching something, it might also be online, especially if it’s streaming.

Thus, a message from work or a topic that could make a story is only an alert or click away.  Then I look at the clock and I’ve wasted most of a Saturday or Sunday sitting at a computer. It’s not making me pleasant. Unpleasant may be my default setting, but there are degrees of unpleasantness. Unfortunately for those around me, I’ve been on the “very unpleasant” side of that spectrum.

So maybe this would have been posted earlier otherwise. But maybe — probably not, but maybe — I was also a more pleasant human being on Sunday.

This was watched

Since I’m online most of the day, constantly looking for story topics while editing and writing, most entertainment before 4 p.m. ET has to come in quick hits. Twitter and Facebook provide plenty of that, naturally, but YouTube has also become a reliable source for chuckles.

As a result, I’ve become a fan of WIRED’s “Answers the Web’s Most Searched Questions” series, in which celebrities answer the questions that people ask about them on Google. (Another favorite is Vanity Fair’s “Fear Box” series, in which celebrities reach into a box and try to figure out what they’re touching. Yep, I love celebrities.)

The cast of This is Us is adorable, and thus this episode of the WIRED series is adorable.

Words were read

Donald Glover is Lando Calrissian in SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY.

** This is probably going to be the year of Donald Glover. He’s going to play young Lando Calrissian in Solo: A Star Wars Story. There will probably be new music to come, though not from Childish Gambino. And Season 2 of Atlanta is playing now on FX, which is what most of this article — which took me longer to read than I’d like to admit — is about. [New Yorker]

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