Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Rise and Fall

The World's End: written by Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg; directed by Edgar Wright; starring Simon Pegg (Gary King), Nick Frost (Andy Knightley), Martin Freeman (Oliver Chamberlain), Paddy Considine (Steven Prince), Eddie Marsan (Peter Page), Pierce Brosnan (Guy Shephard), and Rosamund Pike (Sam Chamberlain) (2013): Even more fun upon a second viewing. The movie gleefully subverts cliches from dozens of science-fiction sources while nonetheless making more sense than most 'serious' summer movies.

As with previous films Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz from stars Pegg and Frost and director Wright, The World's End strikes a fine balance between dialogue comedy and often uproarious slapstick. And as goofy as the fight scenes are, they're still better choreographed than those in the vast majority of action movies. The soundtrack offers a time capsule of late 1980's/early 1990's BritPop, with an appropriate Doors song (appropriate to a pub crawl, that is) thrown in for good measure.

There's a certain amount of seriousness floating around just beneath the surface, especially concerning addiction and free will, but the filmmakers wisely don't bash the viewer over the head with it: they know when to jump back to comedy. Highly recommended.

The Steve Ditko Archives Volume 3: Mysterious Traveler: edited and introduced by Blake Bell; written by Joe Gill, Steve Ditko and others; illustrated by Steve Ditko (1957; collected 2013): The great Steve Ditko, co-creator of Spider-man and Dr. Strange in the early 1960's, can be seen herein becoming a great comic-book artist less than a decade into his illustrious career. The character work, panel composition, and experimentation with layout are those of a mature artist approaching the peak of his powers.

The weirdness of Ditko is that all this rising greatness comes on short horror and science-fiction stories for the lowest of the low of 1950's comic-book publishers, Charlton Comics. Charlton paid the least of the major publishers. However, they also didn't care what appeared in their comics, just so long as it passed the scrutiny of the new Comics Code Authority and then made a profit on the newsstands. That freedom set Ditko free, and he knew it -- that's why he worked for Charlton. He was doing a graduate course in comic-book illustration. And creative freedom has always been one of Ditko's needs.

Most of the stories here are competently written, though there are some stinkers. But Charlton's desire for 5-page and 6-page stories so as to give them flexibility in assembling comic books also means that even the worst story ends quickly. And you've got Ditko to watch. Many of the stylistic choices that would make Spider-man, Dr. Strange and many other later Ditko work so appealing and idiosyncratic find their first expression here.

The character work, especially with faces and with body poses, is already exquisitie and quintessentially Ditko. While Ditko was a poet of the ordinary-looking, he was also a master of the weird, and that too finds expression here. And as usual, editor Blake Bell does a fine job in assembling the material and in penning the autobiographical introduction to the volume. Highly recommended.

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