Natalie and Arnold head back to 1955 to chat about “Rosa,” then grapple with a creepy infestation of mutated spiders in “Arachnids in the UK” while discussing the growing interpersonal dynamics of the new TARDIS team!
(originally written for Comic Book Marketplace #67, March 1999)
Today, the world reeled from the sad news that we had lost a legend. In conversations online, we all shared our memories of “The Man,” and in doing so, I talked about one of my proudest professional moments. This is that moment, now represented here in tribute to the person that shaped so much of my childhood, my ethics, my morality, and my understanding of right and wrong, justice, and heroism. Thank you Stan, it was an honor to chat with you “in character…”
[A Brief Note of Explanation: This article was written back in 1999 during a time when legendary Spider-Man co-creator Stan Lee was understandably tired of being asked the same questions over and over again about his work on the amazing arachnid adventurer. But he agreed to the interview on one condition; he wanted Spider-Man himself to interview him! I was drafted into service to play the role of the wall-crawler – a task I had been preparing for my entire life – and let me tell you, it was a thrill to interview Stan ‘as’ Spidey! But let me assure you of one thing; while the Spider-Man segments of this interview were generated by me, Stan’s replies were straight from “The Man” himself. And now, the article that was originally billed as “A Unique, Historic Event in the Annals of Comicdom!”]
Hey there, true believers! It’s me, your ever-lovin’, friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, and boy have I got a story to tell you! Y’know, I’ve been fighting the good fight and trying to make ends meet for over thirty years now, and I’ll tell ya, after some pretty rough times and a few tight spots I thought I’d never get out of, things are finally starting to look up for your favorite amazing arachnid! I’ve got a great new job doing what I love – science – and some snazzy New York digs for when it’s time to head home and rest the ol’ noggin. And how could I forget MJ? She’s the best wife a harried hero could hope for, and she’s a knock-out to boot!
But that’s not why we’re here today. I wanted to share with you an incredible experience I recently had, one I just couldn’t keep to my cuddly self any longer! After four decades of battling lunatic bad guys, taking care of Aunt May, and snapping the odd picture for the Daily Bugle and its resident curmudgeon, J. Jonah Jameson, I finally had the chance to sit down and chat with the man who made it all possible – the man who created me and allowed all of you loyal fans the chance to see into my world! That’s right, I’m talking about Stan “The Man” Lee himself, the guy who charted the course to new heights of fantasy and adventure with Marvel Comics, and the amazing writer who thought up yours truly!
You’ve probably heard more about Stan over the years than I could even think to tell you, but here for the first time, you can read what happened when I had the chance to put my creator on the spot and ask him the really tough questions. So what are ya waiting for, an engraved invitation? Read on, oh dedicated Spider-phile!
Hi, Stan! Thanks for taking the time to chat with me. Hey there, Spidey! It sure is a thrill to finally meet you face to face!
Gosh, It’s kinda tough for me not to get a little tongue-tied, but I guess it’s not every day a guy gets the chance to quiz his own maker about the meaning behind it all. I’d hate to mess this up, so I suppose I should get right to the heart of it and ask the question I’ve always wanted to ask: Why me? I mean, look at all the crud I have to deal with every day! People who despise me, an aunt who suffers a near fatal heart attack every five minutes, a boss who barely acknowledges my talent while thoroughly trashing my alter ego in the papers, and weird, super-powered nutcases who only want to pound me into the pavement! I don’t get the glory like Torchie and his FF buddies, and I’m not exactly on a level with Thor and Doc Strange when it comes to the big stuff. How d’ya expect a regular guy like me to handle all this, proportional spider-strength notwithstanding? Fact is, Spidey, I wanted you to be typical of every guy who reads comics and wishes he had super powers. I wanted to show that such powers can be as much of a curse as a blessing. And I’ve a hunch my titanically talented partner, Steve Ditko, felt the same way, ’cause he sure joined me in dreaming up the wildest sort of woes for you month after month. But, hey, things haven’t been all bad with you, have they? I mean, you’re married to a beautiful girl and live in one of the world’s most exciting cities – and you don’t have to pound the keys of a computer night and day, worrying about making deadlines, like certain superhero writers I could mention!
Well, OK, maybe that came off a bit too ungrateful. After all, I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you, Stan. Actually, that brings to mind something else – did you create me in your own image? Maybe that’s corny, but is there anything of you in little ol’ me? Actually, you’re right. I did think of myself when I first dreamed you up. I figure I’m a pretty typical guy who has pretty typical problems, so why should you be different? Think about it – nothing ever turns out perfect for anyone, right? So join the crowd, Bunky.
I hear ya. Still, thinking back over the years, is there anything you’d change about me if you could go back and do it again? I know I’d probably ask to be a better seamstress, but that’s just me. After a few tattered costumes, you get to wishing you could thread a needle on the first try. Nah. I like you just the way you are. After all, after more than 30 years I’ve sort of gotten used to you.
Thanks, I’ve grown attached to me too. Y’know, I mentioned Torchie before, and it occurs to me, I haven’t exactly been alone in this thing. There’ve been people who stuck with me, like ol’ Hornhead (Daredevil), Doc Connors, even Reed and the FF. But the matchstick and I have this weird friendship that even we don’t quite understand. We started out hating each other, but now I’d crawl into a burning building for the guy (not that he’d need help in that case). In a weird way, he’s like the brother I never had. Is any of this drawn from your life? Besides me and Storm, you’ve had similar sibling relationships in the FF and the early X-Men too. Childhood memories? I’m a biochemist, not a psychologist, but I thought I’d give it a shot. Sure, there are people I started out disliking who eventually turned into good friends of mine. And I have a brother, Larry Lieber, who does a great job drawing your adventures in 500 newspapers every weekday – although I must admit I’ve always liked him. Friends and relationships are important to me, so I wanted them to be important to you, too.
Are they ever! And man, I must be the hardest working man in comics, appearing in several monthly titles, a cartoon, that newspaper strip, even occasional books and television. It gets pretty hard to keep track of where I am and who I’m fighting from one minute to the next! I’ve also been from the sewers of New York to the realm of Dormammu! I still feel like just a simple guy at heart, but I’ve seen some weird stuff. What made me the Marvel ambassador of good will throughout the universe? I could use a nap sometimes (or some R&R with MJ). If you think it’s been confusing to you, imagine what it’s been like for me! I didn’t even write most of your stories after the first unforgettable years, so I can hardly remember all the places you’ve been or the nutcases you’ve met up with. Anyway, stop griping, willya? You don’t hear me complaining to you!
Sorry, Stan. I have to admit, when it comes to Rogues’ Galleries, I think I’ve got that Dark Knight guy beat with megalomaniacs like Doc Doom, criminal masterminds like the Kingpin, mad scientists like Ock, and full-blown lunatics like the Green Goblin (all of them). I’ve fought some real losers too, like the Gibbon, the Kangaroo (sheesh!), and even just a Guy named Joe. Any of these jokers (oops) stick out in your mind as your favorites? Any of ’em you wish you could sweep under the rug? Wouldja believe I love each and every one of our villains, the great ones and the icky ones. Without them, you’d be just another shutterbug that no one ever heard of. Hey, if you were really considerate, you ought to send those burgeoning baddies a bonus check every year to show your gratitude. But if I hadda pick a favorite, it would probably be Doc Ock. As for a Guy named Joe, you’ve gotta admit it took a lot of guts to inflict so offbeat a villain on our defenseless readers.
True, but then you’ve also given them some great gals to gaze at too. For a guy who always seems to be down on his luck, I’ve had my share of romance, from the early days of Betty Brant … to Gwen … and finally, MJ. Were any of these women based on people you knew in real life? I can tell you, some of the heartache certainly felt real. I knew a lot of fabulous females in my wild youth, so I guess I probably based every one of your relationships on someone or some incident I dimly remembered. Chances are, every writer does that, either consciously or unconsciously. And as for the heartache, sorry, but it goes with the territory, kid.
Right before you left me (Stan stopped scripting Amazing Spider-Man with #100), I was getting in to some really tight scrapes, from riots on college campuses and in prisons to the effects of drug addiction on my best friend. You took some pretty strong stands, and you even went without the Comics Code to make a point. Not that I disagreed with you – I’ve always been kind of a morally conscious, opinionated guy – but why did you start to tell these politically-oriented stories? Was it because I was more ‘normal’ than say a Norse god or a Master of the Mystic Arts, or was it something else? You hit the nail on the head, pal. It was because you were the most normal of the lot – that is, if you can call a web-swingin’, wall-crawlin’, masked do-gooder with the proportionate strength of a spider “normal!”
OK, here’s one I just have to ask. Why did you leave? We stuck through some pretty tough times before you decided to go, and to top it all off, within a couple years of you leaving me, some other guy came along and killed my best girl Gwendy! I mean, talk about the ol’ Parker luck running true to form! My life became a nightmare without you! You’ll never know how it broke me up when I had to put you in the care of others, sonny boy. But there was no way out. My life just became too complicated for me to continue as a script writer. I had to go around the country lecturing and doing interviews and getting involved with our animated cartoons and movie and TV projects. Then, before I knew it, I was named publisher and I had to hang with the “suits.” You think you had problems in your life? Some day I’ll tell you what it’s like dealing with suits! As for what happened to Gwen (I always loved calling her Gwendy), I think I felt as broken up as you did about her tragic fate – after all, you just fell in love with her, but Jazzy Johnny Romita and I created the lady!
I know our time is running short, so I have one more thing to say, creator o’ mine. As you well know, I never had a real father when I was growing up, but Uncle Ben was the best father I could ever hope for. In a way, you’re as much my dad as he ever was, so … aw shucks, what I’m trying to say is, are you proud of me? Have I done OK? I’ve tried to live up to the great power and great responsibility jazz, and I only hope it’s been enough. Am I proud of you? Look, the only way I can put it is – I hope I can be half the man you are, Petey! You’ve taken the worst life has to offer and always come back undaunted and ready to face whatever new challenges may await you. You may not have been perfect, but who is? It’s even been rumored that I myself may have a fault or two, impossible as that may seem! But the most important thing is you always did your best, and nobody can do better than that. I’d say more, you wonderful ol’ webhead, but I know you hate to see a grown man cry! Excelsior! – Stan (Dad!)
Thanks for sharing this special event with me, and I’ll see ya all in the funny papers! – Spidey
It’s a new era, a new Doctor, a new TARDIS, and a new team! Natalie and Arnold talk about the first two episodes of DOCTOR WHO Series 11, “The Woman Who Fell to Earth” and “The Ghost Monument,” and Natalie offers her theory on what may be happening in future episodes! They also share fan comments from Facebook and Twitter. Let’s get a shift on!
The MARVEL CINEMATIC UNIVERSE REVIEW is back after three years! Dr. Arnold T. Blumberg, the “MCU guru” and professor of the world’s first MCU college course at the University of Baltimore, is joined by Scott Collura from IGN.com and the TRANSPORTER ROOM 3 podcast to talk about the tenth anniversary of the MCU and the might and majesty of AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR! If you’re one of the lucky ones left in the half of the universe that didn’t get obliterated, listen in True Believer!
Director: Bob Clark
Writer: Alan Ormsby
Starring: Richard Backus, John Marley, Lynn Carlin, Anya Ormsby, Jane Daly, Mal Jones, Henderson Forsythe
Can a mother’s love surmount the barrier between life and death? Christine Brooks (Lynn carlin) wishes her son Andy (Richard Backus), a soldier in Vietnam, would return home, and lo and behold he does. But Andy isn’t the pleasant, gregarious soul he was before the war. He stays alone in his room; he doesn’t eat or drink. He has an accelerating skin condition that he only just manages to hide from the others. Oh, and he has a thirst for human blood, the only thing that can arrest the decay that seems to be consuming him. The war has done something to Andy, something that can’t be undone. A mother’s love may not be enough to keep him from an overdue date with destiny and the cold, dark embrace of an overdue grave…
In the old days of late-night viewings and VHS rental shops, you may have encountered this film as any of the following: DEAD OF NIGHT, THE NIGHT ANDY CAME HOME, NIGHT WALK, and so on. These days, we’ve all settled on DEATHDREAM, and with this latest stunning release by the good folks at Blue Underground, the film – no matter what its title – should enjoy its rightful place in the annals of zombie and horror cinema as a watershed moment in the development of practical makeup effects as well as a deeply meaningful commentary on America’s problematic relationship with its own combat-scarred veterans.
Basically an extended riff on W.W. Jacobs’ classic 1902 short story, “The Monkey’s Paw,” DEATHDREAM is a far more effective chiller than its simple origins suggest. Not only is it a none-too-subtle commentary on the punishing psychological damage of war and the empty life that many Vietnam vets faced when returning home, but it’s also a very well-acted, eerie horror movie regardless of its strong socio-political statements. Andy (a tour de force performance by Backus) spends most of the film in a near-catatonic state, sleepwalking through a parody of his former life, presumably sustained in his present form only by the fervent wishes of his mother. When he does emerge long enough to exhibit any emotion, it’s a highlight of the film, from his slow burn as the mailman natters on (a delightfully annoying turn by Arthur Anderson), forcing him to explode in anger, to his delightfully sardonic repartee when responding to Bob (Michael Mazes) during the double date.
Everyone changes eventually.
There’s a barren quality to the film that echoes Andy’s own state of mind, as well as a great score by Carl Zittrer enhanced by a seething, goblin-like voice that whispers Andy’s name and a motif that sounds like a piano string being scraped, all of which add to the overwhelming sense of tension in the film. You can’t help but feel your skin crawl as the poor guy succumbs to his vampiric (yes, I admit that) Bathory- and MARTIN-esque hunger for blood. While Andy struggles with what he has become, only revealing the true depth of his turmoil in a few choice moments, like his brief conversation with the doomed Dr. Allman (Henderson Forsythe), his family barely holds their own fear and anger in check, and there are obviously plenty of issues that were there long before a re-animated Andy came home, especially between Andy and his father (John Marley, who will always be remembered as the foolish Hollywood producer, Jack Woltz, who dared to stand up to Don Vito Corleone at the beginning of the first GODFATHER and had the head of his prized horse put in his bed to teach him a lesson. Fun story: Marley thought this movie was about his character and not Andy!).
For students of the zombie genre’s history that haven’t yet experienced DEATHDREAM, the film has some eye-opening connections to past and future horrors, such as POV shots of a house that look quite similar to those in John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN; you know, the movie that bore the familiar tagline, “The Night He Came Home?” Hmm. As Andy begins to exhibit more overt physical signs of decay, the film takes a drastic turn into the truly macabre, with a final undead look that rivals PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES for “Eeriest Zombie Face Ever.” While script writer Alan Ormsby (CHILDREN SHOULDN’T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS, SHOCK WAVES) also oversaw the makeup effects, he did bring in a young man named Tom Savini to assist, thus launching Savini on a legendary career in horror that would also shape the success of several other films we all know very well indeed. And if you want an amusing non-horror link, Andy’s mailman says “I’ll just be double dog damned,” a phrase we all know well from annual marathon of director Bob Clark’s holiday classic, A CHRISTMAS STORY.
Clark’s untimely death in 2007 put at least a temporary end to then-developing plans for a remake, but perhaps one day we’ll see a 21st century take on this story. In the meantime, the original is itself timeless in its scathing treatment of the ways in which we callously discard those that gave everything to safeguard our freedom, including an obvious drug addiction metaphor complete with “tripping” sequence. Keep your eyes peeled for Clark and Ormsby in cameos as a cop and a bystander, while CHILDREN SHOULDN’T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS co-star (and A CHRISTMAS STORY Santa) Jeff Gillen pops up as a bartender.
Everything’s fine, Bob!
If the film’s final moments don’t creep you out completely and fill you with an overwhelming sense of pathos, then you’re one of the walking dead yourself. And whether living, dead, undead, or anything in between, you owe it to yourself to get a copy of this definitive release of DEATHDREAM from Blue Underground, which improves dramatically on their already great previous release, and includes so many satisfying commentaries, interviews, and behind-the-scenes extras that offer a complete retrospective on this too-long-overlooked film.