Monday is Frank Miller’s birthday. Whether you’re a comic book fan or not, if you’re at all familiar with Christopher Nolan’s Batman films (Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher’s Bat-movies were influenced as well), Netflix’s Daredevil series (and the Ben Affleck film), or the Sin City movies, you know Miller’s work.
The legendary comic book creator turns 63, and he’s still producing work. As could be expected, he’s no longer the prolific illustrator he once was, but is still writing Batman and Superman stories for DC Comics, and illustrating stories in his 300 mythology for Dark Horse Comics.
The Dark Knight Returns is one of my favorite stories throughout all of the movies, TV, and books I’ve enjoyed and studied in my life. An aging Batman’s regret over allowing The Joker to continue his murderous reign of crime was one of the most powerful elements of that story.
If you hadn’t already heard (or read) the news, today (March 30, 2019) is the 80th anniversary of Batman’s debut in Detective Comics #27. To commemorate the occasion, DC Comics published the 1000th issue of Detective Comics.
Typical of comic books these days, a whole bunch of variant covers were released for the landmark issue. This is the one I ended up buying, a retro-style cover by Michael Cho.
Surprising myself, I passed on the Frank Miller cover. As much as I love Miller’s work — and the heavy influence he’s had on Batman — that illustration was messy and dark. I wanted something more fun. Cho’s cover also alludes to how versatile Batman is as a character. He works in any genre, any style, something I wrote about five years ago.
A few months ago, my nieces stopped over for a visit. With their mother around, watching TV or playing with the iPad wasn’t an option. So the kids went to Uncle Ian’s room to find some toys to play with or books to read.
While we were doodling on sketch pads, Junior Niece asked me, “Why do you like Batman so much?” What do you mean, kid? Why do you ask think I like Batman?She then took some Blu-rays from my TV stand and set them down in front of me. Hmm, the kid had a point.
Writing a tribute to Stan Lee was something I’d been thinking I should do for quite some time. After all, (Stan) the man was 95 years old and there were various reports about his deteriorating health. Just as a newspaper would get an obituary ready, I thought I should get something ready — whether the piece was written for another site or my own.
Sure, laziness and procrastination were probably the primary reasons for not getting that done. But the idea of writing something in anticipation of Stan Lee’s death was also very upsetting. He still appeared to be lively and vibrant in his many Marvel movie and TV cameos. It seemed as if Smilin’ Stan might just live forever.
Thanks to those movie cameos, even my sister knew who Stan Lee was. She grew up with me endlessly reading and collecting comic books, of course. But when I pointed out the guy who co-created Spider-Man on the screen, she recognized him every time he popped up in the handful of Marvel movies we saw together. She’ll never be able to escape superheroes entirely.
(By the way, will Lee’s last live-action cameo have been in Venom?) Unless he’s in Avengers 4, his final on-screen appearance may well be in the animated Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which hits theaters in mid-December.)
There will and have already been so many tributes, eulogies and obituaries dedicated to Stan Lee that I’m not sure I could possibly add anything. All I can contribute is what Lee and his many iconic creations mean to me to this day. So often when people write a tribute to someone, the piece ends up being about the writer more than the subject. As much as I’d like to avoid that, I don’t think it’s possible here.
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.
Steve Ditko’s Spider-Man was a marvel of clear storytelling and clean rendering!He was bringing Stan full issues of pencils, which Stan ‘’wrote to.” No story conferences:) pic.twitter.com/FwQpesyUVI
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.