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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
For some time now Jonathan Ross has seemed to be turning into the 'Tony
Webster' character from 'The Fall & Rise Of Reginald Perrin'. The older
he gets, the younger he tries to talk. His soon-to-end B.B.C. chat-show
is basically an ego trip cum smut-fest. The hoo-hah over Andrew Sachs'
grand-daughter did him ( nor Russell Brand ) no favours either. Yet
Ross ( I refuse to refer to him as 'Wossy'. That's for lesser mortals
to do. ) has a fascinating alter-ego, one that we do not see often,
namely Ross the film and comic-book buff, a guy capable of making
interesting and intelligent programmes. In the early '90's, he fronted
Channel 4's 'The Incredibly Strange Picture Show' in which he
interviewed B-movie film directors such as H.G. Lewis, T.V. Mikels and
Russ Meyer. He also did a decent James Bond tribute for I.T.V. to
tie-in with the release of 'Goldeneye' in 1995. That 'other' Ross was
on display in this B.B.C.-4 documentary too, a love letter to
comic-book writer/artist Steve Ditko, co-creator of 'Spider-Man'. After
chatting to celebrity fans such as D.J. Paul Gambacchini ( anyone out
there recall that wonderful Channel 4 show he used to do about pop
music - 'The Other Side Of The Tracks'? ), Ross began telling the story
of Ditko's rise to fame.
Ditko's run on 'Spider-Man' was indeed extraordinary, he had a hand in creating some of the more memorable villains such as 'The Sandman', 'Mysterio', 'Kraven The Hunter', and 'The Green Goblin'. Likec Jack Kirby, he had a distinctive style, his characters seemed to jump off the page. 'Dr.Strange' was something else entirely. Though the idea was credited to Lee, it seems that it was really Ditko's. He conjured up fantastic creatures and bizarre universes that anticipated '60's psychedelia. Then he quit Marvel, hooking up with Charlton, a smaller company. No-one knows why to this day. Rumours persist of conflicts between the artist and boss Stan Lee, particularly with regards to a 'Spider-Man' story in which 'The Green Goblin' was unmasked, but I think the tension ran a bit deeper. Ditko was right wing, and this may have put him on a collision course with the more liberal-minded Lee. One of Steve's later creations was 'Mr.A.' all about a mysterious individual who acts as judge, jury and executioner when it comes to criminals. 'The Hawk & The Dove', a thinly-veiled pro-Vietnam War tract, made him unpopular with anti-war comic-book fans. Ditko felt too he was not being given enough credit for his work. Though Stan was happy to share the credit for 'Spider-Man', this did not placate the artist. I think Smilin' Stan is right on this. The 'Spider-Man' concept did start with him. As he observed, he could have hired a different artist, and, had the comic bombed, would had to shoulder the blame. The programme ended with Ross attempting to speak to Ditko at his New York office. They chatted for twenty minutes ( Ross was not permitted to film the interview ) and that was that. Ross went home happy.
This was an enjoyable insight into the workings of the Marvel Comics Group, and Ross' enthusiasm for his idol was infectious. But I was left a little bewildered by the thought processes of the enigmatic Mr.Ditko. Here was a golden opportunity for him to put the record straight concerning his involvement in the creation of one of the most iconic superheroes ever, and he chose not to take it. Pity. And shame on you Alan Moore for belittling John Romita's wonderful '60's run on 'Spider-Man'.
I am a big Steve Ditko fan. I love his work. I was first introduced to Steve Ditko's work when the Philadelphia Inquirer gave out old Spider-man comics. Along with Spider-man, I love most of his creation. I love the Question, I love the Creeper,I love Dr. Strange and I love Hawk and Dove. I think that this documentary was very interesting. While they tried to interview Ditko, we learn that he tends to cut himself from the outside world. Doesn't do interviews and is rarely seen. Which is really sad, because it would be nice to hear his side on Spider-man's creation and at times it sounds like he can be a jerk. One of my major complaints is that they did not mention Captain Atom and Blue Beetle II. Those were major Steve Ditko characters and like the Question was the inspiration to Rorschach. Captain Atom and Blue Beetle II were inspirations to other Watchmen characters like Dr. Manhattan and Nite Owl II. Overall this is a pretty good documentary and I would recommend it to both comic book and non comic book fans.
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