Thursday, January 17, 2013

My Favorite Spider-Man Artists (and why)

Tom Lyle

 -Best remembered for his work during the “Maximum Carnage” storyline, Tom Lyle even managed to make Eddie Brock’s mullet look good. Lyle had a distinct, clean style that fit very well with the ’90s-era Spider-Man stories, and his symbiotes and goblins were top-notch.
If you didn't grow up playing the "Maximum Carnage"
video game . . . I pity you more than you can imagine.

John Romita, Sr.
-John Romita, Sr. had to pick up where Steve Ditko left off. Nobody had seen Ditko’s departure coming, and Romita thought he’d just be the fill-in guy for a while. Instead, he actually ended up penciling more issues than Ditko, and introduced classic characters like the Shocker and the Rhino.

He also got to draw this,
 which counts for a lot.

Mike Zeck
-Three words: “Kraven’s Last Hunt.” Although Zeck’s work is often a bit cartoony for my tastes, his illustrations of Kraven’s spider-covered acid trips and Vermin's feeding times were disturbing and visceral. Watching Kraven don the black Spider-Man costume and dispense his own brand of “justice” was equally unsettling, and Zeck nailed it.
The original title was "Kraven's Last
Pants," but it was deemed too icky.

Ron Frenz
-During the height of the ’80s “Gang War” story, Ron Frenz was the regular penciler on The Amazing Spider-Man. His work was dynamite, especially the skyline battles between Jack O’Lantern and the Hobgoblin. His rendition of the Hobgoblin was so good, it was he who got to pencil the (absolutely terrible) miniseries “Hobgoblin Lives,” and he got to revisit the (mediocre) character of Roderick Kingsley again in Spider-Girl. Frenz’s Spider-Man was classic and cool, and Sal Buscema’s inks in Spider-Girl only made a good thing better.  
At least the art was good . . .

Erik Larsen
-The man who, in my opinion, draws THE definitive Venom, Erik Larsen had big shoes to fill when he took over Amazing Spider-Man from Todd McFarlane. Surprise-surprise, Larsen turned out to be even better. His work was edgier and less cartoony, and he drew a heck of a Sinister Six—in two great storylines, one of which had the Incredible Hulk getting his butt kicked by Doc Ock.
And how can you not love this cover?
Steve Ditko
-Without Steve Ditko, we would not have Spider-Man—at least not the Spider-Man we know and love. Ditko’s style was gritty and realistic, exposing the ugliness of Spider-Man’s urban environment but also spellbinding in its intricacy. Ditko’s design work, too, is timeless, and even though Spider-Man has gone through his share of costume changes over the years, he always winds up back in the Ditko original.

Ditko also drew the most iconic, triumphant
 image of Spider-Man . . . ever.

Sal Buscema
-Fast, talented and reliable, Sal Buscema was one of the best in the industry, and his unparalleled run on The Spectacular Spider-Man was absolutely gorgeous. His sharp, angular style was perfectly suited for Gerry Conway and Steven Grant’s crime stories, and when inker Bill Sienkiewicz came onboard for a few issues, Buscema’s already-stellar art was made even better than ever. These days, Buscema mostly does ink work, but his pencils were by far his greatest contribution to Spider-Man's 50 years of publication.

From "Spectacular Spider-Man" #221, my very first Marvel.
John Romita, Jr.
-Nobody draws a better Spider-Man than John Romita, Jr. Nobody. From the ’80s onward, his style has evolved and grown and has become the definitive rendition of Spider-Man. Although his work was best complemented by the inks of the late Al Williamson, Romita, Jr. nevertheless turned out incredible work during J. Michael Straczynski’s epic run on The Amazing Spider-Man. Unfortunately, he’s paired up with Klaus Janson a lot nowadays, and although Janson is a great artist in his own right, his inking style does not gel well with Romita’s. 

Romita + Williamson = WIN

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

A Tale of Two Villains: Bane and Silva

Two of the most critically acclaimed films of 2012 were The Dark Knight Rises and Skyfall. Both were the third films in their respective series, TDKR the final installment of Christopher Nolan’s reboot of the Batman series and Skyfall the third film of the rebooted 007 series, which stars Daniel Craig as James Bond. But that’s not all the two films have in common.
     Thematically, both films deal with aging protagonists who have to face and overcome the reality of their failing bodies. Both Bruce Wayne and James Bond have devoted years to stopping criminals both foreign and domestic, and they’ve taken their lumps in the name of justice. Now they’re paying for it with creaky joints and crappy aim.
     The films also hearken back to elements from prior films. TDKR focuses on the legacy of Ra’s Al Ghul, whose story completely fell by the wayside in The Dark Knight. Batman faces his ultimate test in the form of Ra’s Al Ghul’s heir and a plot to utterly destroy Gotham City. Skyfall, on the other hand, makes multiple references to earlier 007 films (which may or may not have actually occurred in the new continuity), such as “exploding pen” jokes, a vintage Aston Martin and the use of the classic Bond theme in the soundtrack. It’s a loving homage to the classic 007 films and a glorious experience for old fans and new, just as TDKR is a powerful, fitting ending to Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. However, the most fascinating parallel between the two films is the nature of the primary villains, Bane and Silva. They have a lot in common.
     Although the true criminal mastermind in TDKR is Talia Al Ghul (Marion Cotillard), Bane (Tom Hardy) acts as her figurehead, and, when necessary, her muscle. He is a hulking, ruthless monster, and every time he enters a scene, all eyes are drawn to him. Every time he grasps at the lapels of his coat, the audience leans forward in anticipation of something truly brutal. But Bane’s strength is not what makes him a great villain, although it helps immensely (indeed, part of what makes TDKR exciting is that it finally provides Batman with a villain who can physically dominate him, making for epic slugfests of WWE-level proportions). Bane is extremely charismatic and highly intelligent, which makes him more than a mere bruiser. He waxes poetic and displays subtlety in his actions, and his voice is one of the most hilariously awesome things I’ve ever heard.
     Silva (Javier Bardem), like Bane, is a classy kind of villain, although he looks more the part with his white suit and well-combed, platinum-blond hair. He delivers every line with a whimsical smile, which makes him all the more terrifying. He tells horrifying anecdotes about how to effectively deal with rats and plays gay chicken with a tied-up Bond. He conducts an air strike on Bond’s childhood home while blaring Eric Burdon and the Animals. Like Bane, he even has a facial disfigurement (Bane wears a clunky mask that administers painkillers and Silva wears a complex dental prosthesis). He is, in short, the epitome of the Bond villain.
Sorry, Jaws . . .
     Here’s what makes these villains truly great: they’re hams. They are mustache-twirling, monologue-spouting, epic-scheming madmen who appreciate the finer things in life and inspire terror and other uncomfortable feelings in those around them. Bane is a fine Kretschmar ham, fresh from the deli. He is the delicate, flavorful ham all other lunchmeats aspire to be. Silva is cut from the same ham—shaved off and refined, awaiting a fresh hoagie, a slice of provolone and a kosher dill pickle spear on the side (sorry, I’m hungry). They are fantastic villains brought to life by fantastic actors, and they serve to make both films not just enjoyable but the stuff of legend. The Dark Knight trilogy may be over, but another Batman reboot is imminent with the announcement of a Justice League film in development. Likewise, a caption during the end credits of Skyfall announced that James Bond will return. But it remains to be seen whether or not these films will ever be able to match the hammy perfection of these films’ villains. 
Mmm . . . ham.