Steve Ditko

Spider-Man: The Dragon’s Challenge (1979, Don McDougall)

Some of The Dragon’s Challenge’s problems are because it’s a TV two-parter stuck together then packaged as a theatrical. An overseas theatrical, but still a theatrical feature. The action in the first half takes place in New York, with some cuts to villain Richard Erdman making plans. He needs to get a Chinese official out of the way so he can build a steel plant.

When the Chinese official (Benson Fong) heads to New York, Erdman sends touch guy Hagan Beggs after him. Better to assassinate him in New York than Hong Kong.

Except Fong’s in New York with a purpose–get help from Robert F. Simon and the Daily Bugle. Enter Nicholas Hammond and, pretty quickly, Spider-Man. Fong’s got a niece, played by Rosalind Chao, who thinks Hammond’s a coward for running off. Little does she know he’s running off to change into his Spider-Man outfit and save the day.

The second half takes place in Hong Kong. Much of it shot in Hong Kong. When the Spider-Man stuntman is dangling alongside a huge Hong Kong skyscraper, Dragon’s Challenge delivers on something it hadn’t really been serious about. Even though director McDougall is clearly thrilled to be shooting on location in Hong Kong, nothing in Lionel E. Siegel’s teleplay sets anything up for Spider-Man. It doesn’t even set anything up for Nicholas Hammond. The Hong Kong stuff is entirely about the villains hunting Hammond, Chao, and soon-to-be government witness John Milford. Until they get attacked, however, it’s a travelogue with this odd trio.

Hammond and Chao have no chemistry. It’s Hammond’s fault. He ignores Chao in the first half, then condescends in the second. It’s because he’s sweet on her, it turns out. Milford’s fine, but not any fun. The travelogue still can get away with it because it turns out they’re on location.

There’s a car chase in Hong Kong and then a helicopter chase. Oh, and a boat chase. And Spider-Man lets the bad guys get away. For maybe the second time in Dragon’s Challenge. Hammond makes some bad superhero decisions throughout.

Series regulars Chip Fields and Ellen Bry don’t get anything to do and barely make an impression. Particularly Bry. Even though she and Hammond get a very romantic setup–using New York location shots–they don’t have anything going on in Dragon’s Challenge. Mostly because Hammond’s weird subplot about Chao not liking him infests the first half. It’s silly.

Chao’s good. She’s got lousy material and no energy from Hammond but she’s a great guest star. Simon’s got some strong scenes with Fong. Beggs is a fine bad guy, even if he is an idiot who whines about his inability to plot assassinations. It’s more amusing than when Hammond mopes about Chao thinking he’s a coward. Those scenes are just awful.

Hammond’s part in Dragon’s Challenge is thin. His job is to run out and become Spider-Man then have no excuse when Spider-Man gets done so everyone is an idiot for not realizing the obvious.

It’s nice to see Fields, even if it’s only for a few scenes.

Fine editing from Erwin Dumbrille and Fred Roth.

The Dragon’s Challenge has got some decent pieces and it’s far from unbearable; it’s still closer to unbearable than any good.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Don McDougall; teleplay by Lionel E. Siegel, based on characters created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko; “The Amazing Spider-Man” created by Alvin Boretz; director of photography, Vincent A. Martinelli; edited by Erwin Dumbrille and Fred Roth; music by Dana Kaproff; produced by Siegel; aired by the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Starring Nicholas Hammond (Spider-Man / Peter Parker), Robert F. Simon (J. Jonah Jameson), Chip Fields (Rita Conway), Ellen Bry (Julie Masters), Rosalind Chao (Emily Chan), Hagan Beggs (Evans), Richard Erdman (Mr. Zeider), John Milford (Professor Roderick Dent), and Benson Fong (Min Lo Chan).


Spider-Man Strikes Back (1978, Ron Satlof)

Spider-Man Strikes Back is the international theatrical release of a two-part “Amazing Spider-Man” episode. It’s unclear if any significant changes were made (or insignificant ones). Though I really hope the frequent sequences without much sound are the result of editing and not composer Stu Phillips dropping the ball. Phillips does a Morricone-lite version of his “Spider-Man” theme at one point in Strikes Back (when Spidey’s in an Old West backlot). It earns Phillips some cred.

In fact, the strangest thing about Strikes Back is how comfortable it gets making fun of itself so quick. In the second half (i.e. second episode), Spider-Man Nicholas Hammond, boss Robert F. Simon, and intreprid tabloid reporter and pretty face JoAnna Cameron head to L.A. There’s a long, goofy car chase, with some solid jokes at Simon’s expense, not to mention an international arms dealer who also manages Country Western singers. It’s strange, almost like teleplay writer Robert Janes couldn’t figure out what to do with Spider-Man in L.A.

The Old West backlot fight is in the second half too. Just before Simon shows up in a dune buggy-looking thing. He had to get in on the chase scene too. It’s silly. It amuses.

The first half has Cameron going to New York (from Miami) to get an interview with Spider-Man, which brings her to Simon and Hammond. Hammond’s got his “Spider-Man Revealed” subplot (he’s just been on photographed for the evening news) and then his “my professor is bringing plutonium onto the campus” subplot. They eventually intersect.

Strikes Back has some very “TV” programs, like series regular Chip Fields getting an introduction before guest star Cameron even though it’s a throwaway for Fields. She’s Simon’s suffering assistant and Parker’s confidant. Fields just gets the “hip, urban but demure, Black lady” role. Hammond’s always calming her down from going off on Simon. It’s not a great part, but Fields is still awesome. She can handle the clunky exposition a lot better than anyone else.

Hammond takes a while to get comfortable; he’s got a big “Woe is Spider-Man” monologue–apparently when I’m discussing the “Amazing Spider-Man” TV show, I’ve got to use a lot of quotation marks for descriptive statements–and he doesn’t do great, but he’s earnest enough to become likable. He just can’t do exposition. And writer Janes loves exposition.

Cameron’s always likable, sometimes good. Her part’s way too thin. She also gets the “professional woman” (did it again) subplot only to be in a bikini for the finale. Sure, it’s because international arms dealer Robert Alda is a big creep, but it’s a bad excuse. Cameron is reduced to damsel for the third act, then down to flirtation for the finale. It’s a bad arc.

The second half–the L.A. half–with Hammond and company trying to find Alda and his stolen nuclear bomb falls apart once it runs through novelties. There’s a big special effects finish with Spider-Man skydiving and it’s such a bad composite a laugh track wouldn’t have been inappropriate. Director Satlof is never good but he does appear to care. That care is gone for the action-packed finale.

Steven Anderson, Anna Bloom, and Randy Bowell have a first half subplot–they’re Hammond’s classmates who build the bomb to prove plutonium doesn’t belong on college campuses; they’re all fine. They too do better with exposition than Hammond.

There’s some bad cutting from David Newhouse and Erwin Dumbrille, but it’s hard to imagine it’s their fault. Strikes Back has some big stunts and they’re not ambitiously presented. More enthusiasm in the big stunts might’ve helped things, actually.

Thanks to competent television production, Strikes Back doesn’t entirely strike out. Hammond gets to be likable enough to carry the show (and movie). Simon’s a fun windbag. Cameron’s a good guest star. Alda’s not a great villain, but Strikes Back is so committed to his silly character–with his henchmen, who offer him frequent, unsolicited council (democratic Mr. Bigging)–he doesn’t drag it down too much. It’s hard to imagine anyone else could be better. Just like it’s hard to imagine Strikes Back could be any better. But it could be a lot worse.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Ron Satlof; teleplay by Robert Janes, based on characters created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko; “The Amazing Spider-Man” created by Alvin Boretz; director of photography, Jack Whitman; edited by David Newhouse and Erwin Dumbrille; music by Stu Phillips; produced by Satlof and Janes; aired by the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Starring Nicholas Hammond (Spider-Man / Peter Parker), JoAnna Cameron (Gale Hoffman), Robert Alda (Mr. White), Robert F. Simon (J. Jonah Jameson), Chip Fields (Rita Conway), Michael Pataki (Captain Barbera), Randy Powell (Craig), Anne Bloom (Carla), Steven Anderson (Ted), Simon Scott (Dr. Baylor), Sidney Clute (Inspector DeCarlo), and Lawrence P. Casey (Angel).


Spider-Man (1977, E.W. Swackhamer)

Someone is mindcontrolling upstanding citizens and making them commit daredevil bank robberies in broad daylight. While New York’s finest detectives–cigar-chewing Michael Pataki and his nitwit sidekick Robert Hastings–are on the case, they soon get some valuable assistance from Spider-Man!

This television movie–a pilot for a series–introduces Nicholas Hammond as the hero. He’s a vaguely annoying, wisecracking suck-up graduate student who intrudes, then gets confused when he bothers people. It’s kind of awesome, since Hammond acts obvious to his behavior. He just walks around with a goofy grin imposing on people. He doesn’t get many subplots in the movie–he’s constantly in search for forty-six dollars to get something for his attic science project, the movie never reveals what he’s making. It’s just something to give Hammond some dialogue when he’s not (ostensibly) in his red and blue longjohns climbing skyscrapers.

Alvin Boretz’s teleplay is pretty weak, but it could be a lot worse. It’s clear it could be a lot worse because Boretz’s writing is so much better than Swackhamer’s direction. With the exception of one special effects sequence, saved by Aaron Stell’s editing, Spider-Man is never visually exciting. Even though Hammond’s clearly overjoyed with his superpowers (he has a convientient dream sequence cluing him into their radioactive arachnid origins), none of that enthusiasm carries over to his cavorting around. Instead, it’s just weak composite shots and stuntmen on wires failing to appear to scramble up buildings.

There are a handful of exceptions–that sequence Stell make or when Hammond foils a purse snatching–especially since the reused effects footage does make Spider-Man, always pausing and repeating movement (the same composite at different scales apparently), seem like a spider. Sadly, none of it keeps going in the third act, which is a rough, nonsensical sequence of events, with way too much of Pataki (who has a certain charm, but not enough of it) and of Thayer David’s self-help guru who knows something about the case.

David’s an unlikable creep, which does make the part function all right. Hammond goes to him for help with ostensible love interest Lisa Eilbacher, who doesn’t receprocate Hammond’s interest. Maybe because he’s chatting her up as her father (Ivor Francis) is losing his mind and committing bank robberies.

The first half gets a lot of help from the Spider-Man origin narrative, with Hammond hanging around the Daily Bugle and David White and Hilly Hicks. White’s fun when he’s berating the grinning, obtuse Hammond, with Hicks solid as Hammond’s champion. To some degree. It’s never clear if Hicks likes Hammond or just wants him to stop hanging out at the paper and annoying them.

As Spider-Man goes on, the plot disintegrates, Swackheimer’s direction gets worse, good characters disappear from the screen, replaced with Pataki or, worse, Hastings. There’s occasional character moments, but it’s a TV movie and they barely last half a minute. I suppose the movie does wrap up pretty succiently, even if when Hammond finally gets in the last word with White he inexplicably walks away from his ride. You’d think he’d have more respect for someone getting such a good parking spot in New York.

Some of Spider-Man is shot on location in New York; a lot of it is California. The New York exteriors are solid. The California ones not so much. But, again, it’s Swackheimer’s fault. He really doesn’t have any good ideas for the movie. Especially not showing the bad guys are bad by shooting them from low angles.

Spider-Man is never really offensive, it’s just lukewarm, unambitious, and confused. Is Hammond supposed to be likable because he’s a goof or is likably goofy? If he’s so unreliable, what’s he doing running a lab and getting his Ph.D.? Why does he reference his lack of income when hitting on Eilbacher? All good questions, all ones Boretz’s script ignores.

Still, it could be a lot worse. And goofy or not, Hammond’s a perfectly solid Spider-Man.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by E.W. Swackhamer; teleplay by Alvin Boretz, based on characters created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko; director of photography, Fred Jackman Jr.; edited by Aaron Stell; music by Johnnie Spence; produced by Edward Montagne; aired by the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Starring Nicholas Hammond (Peter Parker), Lisa Eilbacher (Judy Tyler), David White (J. Jonah Jameson), Michael Pataki (Captain Barbera), Thayer David (Edward Byron), Hilly Hicks (Robbie Robertson), Robert Hastings (Monahan), Ivor Francis (Professor Noah Tyler), Larry Anderson (Dave), and Jeff Donnell (Aunt May).


The Further Adventures of Indiana Jones 34 (March 1986)

22366As far as a last issue goes, this one flops on all accounts. Except one. There are a lot of meta references to the series ending. Or maybe not. If so, kudos to Grant for the winks. If not, well, maybe it was subconscious.

The issue wraps up the latest story arc. Indy, the beautiful British cat burglar, the crazy English sorcerer dude. They go after each other all issue–lots of chasing. It’s an all-action issue a longer pace. Not sure if it’s a better approach.

Ditko does okay. His composition for medium and large panels–apparently Steve Ditko’s the only guy whose art I can talk about–is problematic, but he does these great close up small panels throughout. He makes sure these panels have enough personality to cover the pitfalls of the bad ones.

Further Adventures ended as a curiosity, which is better than nothing.

C 

CREDITS

Something’s Gone Wrong Again!; writer, Linda Grant; penciller, Steve Ditko; inker, Danny Bulanadi; colorist, Ken Feduniewicz; letterer, Diana Albers; editor, Ralph Macchio; publisher, Marvel Comics.

The Further Adventures of Indiana Jones 33 (January 1986)

33This comic book is not a good one. I do not recommend it to Indiana Jones fans or even thirties adventure comic fans and certainly not to comic collectors. However, I do recommend it to anyone who ever liked a Steve Ditko comic. I realize that category probably overlaps with the ones previously mentioned but, in that case, such people need to relax and enjoy.

It’s a familiar story–hero in a strange town–with the Indiana Jones and period dressings. That situation gives Ditko a lot to do, starting with talking head confrontations. Marvel must have been targeting younger teens with Further Adventures, but this story plays like an old chaste horror comic. Only it’s not and it’s got this lazy Ditko art, inked very roundly, and somehow it’s all magnificent.

There’s even an excellent moment from Grant in it; she’s learning how to present her characters.

It’s… worthwhile.

C 

CREDITS

Magic, Murder and the Weather; writer, Linda Grant; penciller, Steve Ditko; inker, Danny Bulanadi; colorist, Ken Feduniewicz; letterer, Diana Albers; editor, Ralph Macchio; publisher, Marvel Comics.

The Further Adventures of Indiana Jones 32 (November 1985)

22364I hate to admit it, but I like this latter day Steve Ditko pencilling. It’s not good, but it’s still got enough Ditko to make the composition interesting. Shame Grant’s story isn’t up to the same level.

She has her supporting cast, but they’re all boring. There’s the annoying kid from Scotland, the jackass trustee making Indy’s life difficult, but nothing else. This issue Indy falls head over heels for a visiting British lady. Why? Because having him fall for a guest star means Grant doesn’t actually have to give him a romantic interest in the series’s new ground situation.

There’s a lot of action–a chase through a museum with booby traps, then a car chase (I think), then a lengthy sequence with Indy jumping between airplanes. Grant is pulling all the stops–though Ditko’s a lot less amusing on these action sequences than the talking heads stuff.

Eh.

C- 

CREDITS

Double Play!; writer, Linda Grant; penciller, Steve Ditko; inker, Danny Bulanadi; colorist, Ken Feduniewicz; letterer, Diana Albers; editors, Craig Anderson and Ralph Macchio; publisher, Marvel Comics.

The Further Adventures of Indiana Jones 28 (April 1985)

22360For her first issue as regular writer, Linda Grant turns in a rather tepid issue. Even though Indiana Jones has endless sidekicks from the movies, Grant introduces a new one for him here. Alec Sutherland, white guy. Sutherland’s maybe a Brit… or maybe he’s secretly the Sutherland who’ll someday show up in Swamp Thing, but right now he’s just a dumb, rich white kid.

The adventure involves Indy going to Iran–during semester break–to investigate some journal the kid brought him. It’s pretty lame stuff, but Ditko and Bulanadi do okay with it on the art. Maybe the writing’s just boring enough to make mediocre Marvel art seem better.

Grant’s decent on the actually scenes, except maybe her new sidekick guy. He’s too annoying. It’s her plotting–and she writes Indy kind of stupid. His philosophical musings on archeology are inane.

It’s trying to read; there’s no other word.

D+ 

CREDITS

Tower of Tears; writer, Linda Grant; penciller, Steve Ditko; inker, Danny Bulanadi; colorist, Robbie Carosella; letterer, Diana Albers; editor, Ralph Macchio; publisher, Marvel Comics.

The Further Adventures of Indiana Jones 27 (March 1985)

22359While the Ditko art does leave a lot to be desired–the huge action finale, which takes up about half the issue, is a mess–it’s not a bad comic at all. You just have to get used to people not being in the right place in panels and some terrible action choreography.

Oh, and the female protagonist looking pensively off into space a lot.

But the story is fine. Indy and the woman are in Russia to recover Buffalo Bill’s golden guns (there are other phallic symbols too, presumably unintentional) and they team up with Cossacks to attack a fortress. Michelinie doesn’t waste time with flirting between Indy and his partner. He finds more interesting things to do–the Cossacks are on a suicide mission, for example.

It’s all action, no character, so it moves briskly. The series has been sorely missing Michelinie’s writing. He’s got the formula down.

C 

CREDITS

Trail of the Golden Guns, Chapter Two; writers, Ron Fortier and David Michelinie; penciller, Steve Ditko; inker, Danny Bulanadi; colorist, Robbie Carosella; letterer, Diana Albers; editor, Ralph Macchio; publisher, Marvel Comics.

The Further Adventures of Indiana Jones 26 (February 1985)

22358David Michelinie is back. Maybe Marvel figured since they just had to adjust for Temple of Doom they would want someone competent on the book.

It’s still Ditko and Bulandi on the art and they’re fine.

I’m bummed out they waited so long to bring him back. Marion went stale as a character after Michelinie left and now, post-Temple she’s gone forever. At the end of the previous issue she even writes Indy a Dear John, but it’s unclear why. Now, however, it is… and is there going to be an actual Short Round meets Martin Brody scene?

Anyway, the rest of the issue is fairly standard silly stuff. Indy and Buffalo Bill’s granddaughter go to Russia to try to get back stolen pistols. Michelinie has a fine level of detail for their adventure, even if the girl’s really annoying.

The series might be interesting again for a while.

C 

CREDITS

Trail of the Golden Guns; writers, Ron Fortier and David Michelinie; penciller, Steve Ditko; inker, Danny Bulanadi; colorist, Robbie Carosella; letterer, Diana Albers; editor, Ralph Macchio; publisher, Marvel Comics.

The Further Adventures of Indiana Jones 25 (January 1985)

22357I like this issue and it’s not for particularly good reasons. Linda Grant rips off a bit of Raiders and sends Indy to help some woman with a translation. They bicker, there are bad guys–in a lot of ways, Grant has tapped into what became the Indiana Jones standard. But there is one sincere moment and it throws everything off. Grant’s doing the comic pulpy and it makes the Ditko art a perfect match.

There are some great bad panels in this comic. Ditko manages to try and not try simultaneously and frequently. If so much of the detail weren’t shaky, one might even wonder if the pulp feel is intentional. Bad but still high adventure, highly entertaining.

And Grant does write good banter. It’s bad dialogue, but it’s very amusing banter. There’s a lot of story and the pace is fantastic.

Like I said… I like this issue.

B- 

CREDITS

Good as Gold; writer, Linda Grant; penciller, Steve Ditko; inker, Danny Bulanadi; colorist, Robbie Carosella; letterer, Diana Albers; editor, Ralph Macchio; publisher, Marvel Comics.

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