See why I'm called the Sandman?!!
But this year my eye was caught by a red comic book that had a four-panel story on the front instead of the usual single big picture. It was a new comic called "The Amazing Spider-Man," and the hero was getting his butt kicked by a shape-shifting guy called the Sandman who was literally made out of sand. I was hooked, and I've stayed hooked for (ulp!) 44 years.
OK, it's been 20 years or more since I bought every issue religiously - ironically enough, I'm pretty sure I stopped buying shortly after a very good story arc where Spidey got into a new, black costume that turned out to be an evil symbiote from outer space. I liked the story, but other budget priorities were starting to call.
But I still check in every now and then, especially recently with J. Michael Straczynski writing the stories. And I have been over-the-top thrilled by the series of Spider-Man movies that Sam Raimi and company have produced over the past six years. The first two Spider-Man movies are the standard by which all comic-book superhero movies should be measured - and I'm tickled to report that, despite lukewarm reviews, the third film fits comfortably at that same lofty height as the others.
I am flummoxed about those lukewarm reviews, in fact. I was as worried as the next guy when I saw they were cramming three supervillains into Spider-Man 3 - the Batman movies starting going adrift when they began throwing two villains at a time at us, after all. How could Marvel give us three baddies and still have time for the charm and the sweet character interplay that made the first two movies so great?
How they did it still amazes me, but they did it, and those reviewers are full of last month's bologna. The Peter Parker-Mary Jane Watson love story continues - although there's a breakup that I hope will make more sense when I browse the deleted scenes on the DVD. Rosemary Harris has three key scenes in her role as Pete's moral compass, Aunt May. Elizabeth Banks as Betty Brant has more to do, which is always a good thing. J.K. Simmons was born to play J. Jonah Jameson. Bruce Campbell, who played the snooty usher who wouldn't let Pete into the theater in Spider-Man 2, makes a surprising and hilarious encore performance - not a reprise, mind you, an encore. And if a summer movie is supposed to be a roller-coaster action ride, this is one of the great summer movies of all time.
Which brings us to the Sandman, who holds a special place in my heart simply because he was my first Spidey villain. Alfred Molina's Otto Octavius in Spider-Man 2 is the all-time best movie supervillain, because of the humanity Molina gave Doc Ock. But Thomas Haden Church's Flint "Sandman" Marko is a close second. Church makes Marko as sympathetic a man as possible for a guy who makes incredibly bad choices and turns out to be the real - um, er, never mind, that was going to be a spoiler. And the sandy special effects are spectacular to the point of bringing tears to the eyes with their beauty and grace. No, really!
Yeah, yeah, Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst are great as Pete and MJ, but you knew that. What surprised me is James Franco's turn as Harry Osborn. I always thought of Harry as the cardboard weak link in an otherwise three-dimensional depiction of my childhood obsession, but Franco finally stepped up to the plate. Maybe it's because he has a lot more to do as the New Goblin and - well, he has a lot more to do - but he really showed some acting chops this time around.
Wally Conger concludes, "The movie also passed its biggest test: I can’t wait to see it again." I can go you one better, Wally - The movie passed its biggest test: I've seen it twice already.