My Question for Stan Lee

Hey there. Wanted to post this video I made last year at Rose City Comic Con. Thanks to the efforts of Latino Review Media, I was able to obtain some press passes. Stan Lee was making his final visit to Portland and I wasn’t going to pass this up. I had a couple of beers and bolted for the microphone. Here is the result.

Ms. Marvel Volume 2 Issue 13

I love me some Ms. Marvel. The work G. Willow Wilson and crew have done with this character is nothing short of groundbreaking, along the lines that Stan Lee and company incubated with the creation of Spider-Man in the 1960’s. Kamala Khan will be the next big hero that lasts the tests of time. My grandchildren will be reading of her exploits which will make me quite happy.

That doesn’t mean each issue of Ms. Marvel is a classic however. Issue 13 of the second volume of Ms. Marvel stories was just bad. So bad that an Afterschool Special would shake its head at how terrible the story was.

The basic premise revolved around a Hydra agent who, thanks to Gerrymandering, led in the polls to be the new Mayor of Jersey City. A topical story in this day and age, especially with Gerrymandering being such a force for ill in our current political landscape. Yet this story went out of its way to be preachy. Hell, to say it was telling a story would be laying it on pretty damn thick. This issue of Ms. Marvel was more of a sermon about the importance of voting. And as an atheist, I have as much of an interest in a sermon as I do a colon exam.

The basic premise of the story is not bad at all. I like the idea of a hero fighting against a villain who tries to manipulate the system to their advantage. There is story material here. Yet the moral of the story, getting out to vote for candidates that matter, was handled so heavy handed that as someone who believes that Gerrymandering is one of the causes of the current political system we’re facing today, I could have cared less how Ms. Marvel handled this issue.

One criticism Conservatives throw at Liberals is that they love to preach. You often hear of Liberals going out of their way to preach to others how they should live their lives. There is truth in this statement. In this particular case involving Gerrymandering, while the message the Ms. Marvel team is trying to impart on their readers is true, regardless of where you stand politically, the way they handle relaying that message to the reader is so heavy handed that a reader with any modicum of common sense will see this for what it is. A poorly written story.

I love Ms. Marvel. I will continue reading this series because G. Willow Wilson is one of my favorite comic book writers today. This issue was just bad. It wasn’t representative of what this series has to offer.

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The Avengers #55

The Silver Age of Comics has brought about changes in pop culture that will reverberate for years to come. From the two major companies, Marvel and DC, the sheer amount of work they created that is still being mined is amazing. But do they stand the test of time? Not always.

To get back in the saddle of reviewing I thought I would dive into a classic issue of The Avengers. This issue was the debut of Ultron-5, the evil robot played so amazingly by James Spader in Avengers: Age of Ultron. The premise of the issue is that The Avengers have been kidnapped by the reformed Masters of Evil under the guise of the mysterious Crimson Cowl. While the previous issue came out and said Jarvis, Tony Stark’s butler, was The Crimson Cowl, it turns out Jarvis was being hypnotized by Ultron. The scheme was to have a hydrogen bomb held over the Empire State Building while Ultron contacts authorities for a ransom. The Black Knight arrives after Jarvis is able to escape, hijinks ensue, and The Avengers save the day.

The overall story itself was not horrible. I’ve certainly read much worse than this. Yet it does have a couple major failings. The biggest one is how Jarvis is dealt with. First, they imply he’s being hypnotized yet at the end of the issue Jarvis tells The Avengers that his mother was sick and he needed money so he sold them out. Which is it? Was he forced against his will through hypnosis or did he go along with the plan simply to help his mother? Also, maybe someone can fill me in as to what Tony Stark’s fortune was at this point in time but I strongly suspect that Tony would have willingly given Jarvis whatever cash he needed to care for his family.

Secondly, he was attacked by the Melter (after previously being attacked by Ultron) yet was able to escape with essentially minor bruises. When Jake and Elwood Blues in The Blues Brothers were attacked over and over again yet were able to simply walk away it was done for humorous effect. When a simple butler is able to survive an attack from a robot and a hardened criminal with simply nothing more than an Excedrin headache, it takes the believe ability of these villains, tosses it out a window, and lets birds use them for scraps for their nests. While I could let it slide when it happens to one of The Avengers, because let’s face it, even during the 1960’s you would expect members of a group to train for situations for like this, for an average civilian, you’d expect them to be straight up murdered.

Another issue I had was something I’ve seen a lot in Silver Age Comics. They introduce the big bad villain yet only showcase that villain for a couple of pages. Granted, I’m admittedly being a little impatient here. This issue was during the era where they were just getting into the groove of multi-issue stories. If you take early Avengers stories, early Spider-Man stories, most would be single story issues. With what is called decompression, they were letting stories breath really, letting them flow longer and more organically like a story in a novel or movie compared to the compression stories of the past eras. One drawback of the decompression method is if you find yourself in the middle of the story you may find that certain characters you want to see are simply not going to be around in a particular story simply because they’re not needed. Yet, I still found myself frustrated because for Ultron’s part in the story, we mainly saw him as The Crimson Cowl. Once he reveals himself as Ultron, he only appears in four more pages of the story in only a small handful of panels. This is a complaint…but a complaint I am sure a writer wants to see a person have because I wanted to see more of him.

So where do I stand on this issue? You have to take it in full context honestly. It’s a part of a longer story told in previous issues. With that, as a stand alone story, it doesn’t hold up too well. However, what it did right was not having the enjoyment of this issue be completely reliant upon total knowledge of what happened in previous issues. To me, the sign of a good comic is one that you can pick up with any issue and enjoy it. They have to have the mindset George Lucas said he had for Star Wars, that each film is its own story but all the films together tell one coherent story. This issue fits that formula nicely so I do recommend it as a read. It’s certainly not a classic in comics history along the lines of Amazing Fantasy #15, with a solid beginning, middle, and end, it does what it needs to do. In the age of graphic novels and comics available upon demand digitally, I think this is something some comics creators are forgetting today. They have the mindset that each issue is a chapter in a story and write it accordingly. Comic stories, even today, share more with old movie serials than they do with books. Basically, you have one issue to sell a new reader on your story so make whatever issue they pick up feel like a complete story, not a small part of something bigger. If they like what they read, they will purchase the other issues.

Last Days of Black Widow #20

   One of my favorite comic books of late has been the Black Widow series from Marvel. Thanks to the Marvel Unlimited app, I’ve been able to follow the adventures of Natasha Romanov as she deals with the consequences of her actions as a Soviet spy, an Avenger, and an Agent of SHIELD. It really is some of the best art work alone for a comic I have read in a long while. One issue I, like others, have with comics today is how they draw women. It seems that you can’t have a successful female character in a story unless she is showing next to nothing in a skimpy uniform. I am not a prude. There are times where scantily clad women are a ok to look at and enjoy but when you’re dealing with characters that should be on the level of their male counterparts, having them dress like strippers from a cosplay themed strip club just seems to negate any advances they are giving the female characters.   Natasha Romanov in this comic is different. She’s strong as hell but looks like a beautiful, average woman. She deals with problems in a realistic way, apart from the times where she has to kick ass and man does she know how to kick ass. Nathan Edmondson, the writer, and Phil Noto, the artist, have made one hell of a great comic that empowers Natasha without having to resort to cheap visual tactics to try and entice males to read the comic.

   Issue 20 is the end of the run for this comic and that is a shame. It’s a shame for two reasons. One, it’s sad the story is ending. (From what I understand Black Widow will of course be back but with different artists and writers involved.) Two, the story ends on a sour note because they’re not trying to give this story proper closure, they’re trying to kick start the Secret Wars story.

   Marvel Unlimited is six months behind everyone else so this is old news for some. Their main comic lines are all tied into the Secret Wars storyline which has led to a confusing mess. The main Secret Wars story is all right. I have no real complaints of it but it is not my favorite comic ever by any means. The tie in stories are something else all together.

   Comic book events in and of themselves are not bad things. I don’t dislike a good comic book event. What I have an issue with, and this goes for DC as well, both companies want to bring in absolutely every title under their umbrella into a massive story but end up finding ways to complicate things to such a point that you as the reader have no clue what the hell is going on. The Secret Wars event is meant to do one thing for Marvel and that’s remove the wheat from the chaff. They get a chance to make their world a little less complicated by removing aspects of their world that could confuse the hell out of the casual reader. You have your main characters that everyone knows about but other minor characters may not end up getting the love and attention they deserve because the creators at Marvel have to please so many masters.

   The problem I have with this is that they spend so much time trying to wrap things up for absolutely everyone that I have no real clue what is going on. I don’t read all new Marvel Comics titles. Apart from Spider-Man, Ms. Marvel, The Punisher, and a couple Howard the Duck issues, everything else I have managed to skip. So getting this far into the Black Widow story to suddenly find that everything I have read before means nothing because she is suddenly apart of this new story that popped up out of nowhere is disconcerting. There were no seeds in previous issues that the world as it was established in the story was ending in any way, shape, or form. They just seemed to decide one day that whoops, the world is ending. Nice knowing you.

   The story itself is Natasha’s last bit of redemption for her past. It tells the story of how she, as a KGB agent, ended up killing a family in Cuba that wanted to defect to Russia. As an agent, she was just following orders but it was something she did not care to do. The story ends with her rescuing a family that looked just like the family she had killed. A nice ending but one that I wish was given a little more detail.

   The art work is great. Phil Noto is one hell of an artist, finding ways to show both power and weakness in characters that others would probably miss. His work on Natasha alone is amazing. Again, I love the fact that she is not drawn like the stereotypical ways women are drawn in comics. She’s not showing excessive skin. She doesn’t have boobs that could knock over a tank. She looks like a normal woman. Beautiful but normal. More artists need to use this as a model for female characters in their stories.

Bottom Line:

   I am so disappointed in this issue. All good things come to an end as they say but this ending is more like an after thought than anything else. Marvel has been so focused on setting up Secret Wars that they have disregarded the important work that is going on in comics like Black Widow.

   Having said that, despite the obstacles put in their way Edmondson and Noto have ended the series in style. It deserved much more of a proper ending that what it received but it’s still not bad. I hope these two meet up again to explore more of Natasha’s adventures in the Marvel Universe.

   One of my favorite comic books of late has been the Black Widow series from Marvel. Thanks to the Marvel Unlimited app, I’ve been able to follow the adventures of Natasha Romanov as she deals with the consequences of her actions as a Soviet spy, an Avenger, and an Agent of SHIELD. It really is some of the best art work alone for a comic I have read in a long while. One issue I, like others, have with comics today is how they draw women. It seems that you can’t have a successful female character in a story unless she is showing next to nothing in a skimpy uniform. I am not a prude. There are times where scantily clad women are a ok to look at and enjoy but when you’re dealing with characters that should be on the level of their male counterparts, having them dress like strippers from a cosplay themed strip club just seems to negate any advances they are giving the female characters.

   Natasha Romanov in this comic is different. She’s strong as hell but looks like a beautiful, average woman. She deals with problems in a realistic way, apart from the times where she has to kick ass and man does she know how to kick ass. Nathan Edmondson, the writer, and Phil Noto, the artist, have made one hell of a great comic that empowers Natasha without having to resort to cheap visual tactics to try and entice males to read the comic.

   Issue 20 is the end of the run for this comic and that is a shame. It’s a shame for two reasons. One, it’s sad the story is ending. (From what I understand Black Widow will of course be back but with different artists and writers involved.) Two, the story ends on a sour note because they’re not trying to give this story proper closure, they’re trying to kick start the Secret Wars story.

   Marvel Unlimited is six months behind everyone else so this is old news for some. Their main comic lines are all tied into the Secret Wars storyline which has led to a confusing mess. The main Secret Wars story is all right. I have no real complaints of it but it is not my favorite comic ever by any means. The tie in stories are something else all together.

   Comic book events in and of themselves are not bad things. I don’t dislike a good comic book event. What I have an issue with, and this goes for DC as well, both companies want to bring in absolutely every title under their umbrella into a massive story but end up finding ways to complicate things to such a point that you as the reader have no clue what the hell is going on. The Secret Wars event is meant to do one thing for Marvel and that’s remove the wheat from the chaff. They get a chance to make their world a little less complicated by removing aspects of their world that could confuse the hell out of the casual reader. You have your main characters that everyone knows about but other minor characters may not end up getting the love and attention they deserve because the creators at Marvel have to please so many masters.

   The problem I have with this is that they spend so much time trying to wrap things up for absolutely everyone that I have no real clue what is going on. I don’t read all new Marvel Comics titles. Apart from Spider-Man, Ms. Marvel, The Punisher, and a couple Howard the Duck issues, everything else I have managed to skip. So getting this far into the Black Widow story to suddenly find that everything I have read before means nothing because she is suddenly apart of this new story that popped up out of nowhere is disconcerting. There were no seeds in previous issues that the world as it was established in the story was ending in any way, shape, or form. They just seemed to decide one day that whoops, the world is ending. Nice knowing you.

   The story itself is Natasha’s last bit of redemption for her past. It tells the story of how she, as a KGB agent, ended up killing a family in Cuba that wanted to defect to Russia. As an agent, she was just following orders but it was something she did not care to do. The story ends with her rescuing a family that looked just like the family she had killed. A nice ending but one that I wish was given a little more detail.

   The art work is great. Phil Noto is one hell of an artist, finding ways to show both power and weakness in characters that others would probably miss. His work on Natasha alone is amazing. Again, I love the fact that she is not drawn like the stereotypical ways women are drawn in comics. She’s not showing excessive skin. She doesn’t have boobs that could knock over a tank. She looks like a normal woman. Beautiful but normal. More artists need to use this as a model for female characters in their stories.

Bottom Line:

   I am so disappointed in this issue. All good things come to an end as they say but this ending is more like an after thought than anything else. Marvel has been so focused on setting up Secret Wars that they have disregarded the important work that is going on in comics like Black Widow.

   Having said that, despite the obstacles put in their way Edmondson and Noto have ended the series in style. It deserved much more of a proper ending that what it received but it’s still not bad. I hope these two meet up again to explore more of Natasha’s adventures in the Marvel Universe.

The City on the Edge of Forever

When people are asked what the best episode of the original Star Trek television series is, most folks will state The City On The Edge Of Forever as the best and for good reason. From open scene to sweeping finale, that episode was the best written episode on television. Originally written by renowned writer Harlan Ellison, the final script ended up being revised at the hands of writers that Gene Roddenberry approved making some changes to the story that Harlan wrote. Fans of Mr. Ellison will know that he does not take kindly to changes to his work. Like any writer, I am sure that if a change makes sense he would have no problem with it but some changes to the story were contrary to his original intent for the story. For years, the closest people came to seeing what Mr. Ellison’s version of the story would be came in the form of a put he put out in the mid-90’s. IDW Comics this past year released the trade paperback comic that adapts Harlan’s original script into comic form, the closest we will ever get to seeing how this story was supposed to look.   To start with, there aren’t too many changes between this version of the story and what aired on television. The biggest change off the bat cakes with the fact that contrary to the episode, where Dr. McCoy has an accidental overdose of a drug and heads to the planet where the Guardians of Forever are located, the story in the comic opens with two random crew members using drugs.

This is an interesting development. While I get why it never saw the light of day in the 60’s, one huge disappointment I have with Star Trek comes with Gene Roddenberry’s ridiculous vision of what he thinks the future will be. While I can get behind a vision of the future where we don’t have to deal with some of the nonsense we deal with today, I simply don’t buy a future where all personal strife is gone and things like humans using chemicals to alter their perception of reality is a thing of the past. Humans have always found ways to self mediate through the ages and if we ever do reach the stars, I would be shocked if we didn’t find some way to snort moon rocks in order to get high.

The crewman that was a drug deal ends up getting caught after he kills someone on the ship who was threatening to snitch him to the Captain. The drug dealing crewman is the one who heads to the planet and heads back into time. McCoy doesn’t make much of an appearance in the story.

That’s the biggest issue I had with this story. By having an unknown crewman be the one who travels back into time, you took out what essentially became the heart of the story. The only good thing this crew member did in the course of this comic was attempt to save Edith Keeler from the speeding truck that ended up killing her. I didn’t buy that a person who straight up killed someone just because he was going to be snitched up would think twice about a strange lady who, in the course of this comic, he only sees when she’s crossing the street with the truck barreling down on her. The only change I would have made would have been to include some scenes, similar to the original television show, that showed the crewman in question interacting with Edith Keeler so he would have a reason to save her. You may be saying ‘Why wouldn’t he just do the right thing and try to save someone no matter what?’ In real life, yeah, that happens all the time. You hear stories of folks that are otherwise the scummiest of people that end up doing something nice or even life saving for someone. It happens. But this is a story. You have to establish a character as someone who would go out of their way to save someone. You cannot have a whole story where this guy is straight up evil and then decide at the drop of a dime that he’s suddenly going to be good. Again, this is not saying that I think it was absolutely wrong for this character to save Edith Keeler, Harlan should have done more to establish that this is something the character would actually do. Something as simple as a scene or two with this character and Miss Keeler would have sufficed.

The other change comes with making Edith Keeler’s importance to history a lot more ambiguous. In the original episode Edith was responsible for preventing World War 2 from happening after she lived which altered the known timeline. She had to die in order for everything to be set right. Kirk and Spock end the episode by stating that she had the right idea for peace, just that it came at the wrong time.

By making her importance to history a little more ambiguous, you take out the pro war aspect of the original story which I think is a superior change. To have a show that tackled so much in terms of dealing with the woes of society have an episode like this that essentially supported war just cause is a dark spot on the franchise. Yeah, war can happen. People being people, they will always find ways to hurt each other. But making one woman who worked in a street mission responsible for preventing one of the deadliest wars in history just to showcase her importance was frankly not needed. The story more than set up her peace loving nature. There was no reason to detail what she specifically did in history. All that needed to be said was that she was important and that her death was needed to maintain the timeline.

When it comes to the art, I was not a fan of it. I did like, however, the inclusion of what can only be deemed an artists commentary at the end of the book. I have found that I have been able to get a better appreciation for some things I normally didn’t care for by simply finding out what inspired them to produce what they did. Take Tim Burton’s Batman. I hated the art direction for that movie. Just hated it. To me, it was just another chance for Tim Burton to be cute for his audience. Yet I ended up appreciating why he made the choices he did when he stated his idea for the art direction of the story was to make the sets appear like what a 1989 location would look like to someone born in the 1940’s. I may still think it looks like crap but understanding his reasoning for doing it makes me a little less annoyed.

Bottom Line:

This is a must read for Star Trek fans. While the story is not perfect, when you have a master wordsmith like Harlan Ellison finally getting a chance to show the world both with words and visually the idea he had for this episode, you have to support it. The gripes I had with this comic are purely subjective. Just because I didn’t care for them doesn’t mean they’re necessarily the wrong choices. I just didn’t like them and would have responded differently if I were writing the piece.

The artists commentary at the end is worth the price of admission alone. For an artist, it is a great way to see what went into the creation of the comic. For a non artist like myself, knowing what brought about some of the pieces of the comic gives me more understanding why they chose to do what they did. While I am a huge fan of the art, the artists commentary made me think twice about what I viewed. This is well worth a read.

Ultimate Spider-Man #23

We left Peter Parker with Norman Osborn in his study after Norman had injected himself with the chemical that made him the Green Goblin. That was one heck of cliff hanger if you ask me. One aspect of the Ultimate Spider-Man stories that I have loved have been the way Brian Bendis has found ways to keep you moving forward as the reader. You get a full story in one particular issue yet you get enough of a hook to reel you in for another go round in another issue. The important thing to remember in comics, and in writing period, is that you have to keep the readers with you. Whether it be to keep them moving to the next page or wanting them interested in the world you’re creating to get them to purchase the next book in your series, you have to be mindful that the story has to move along in some way, shape, or form. If you lose readers at any point, you’re letting them down as readers and frankly, you’re selling yourself short as a writer.

Once Peter and Norman leave his office they head into his living room to watch a video that a news organization made about Norman making a comeback. There’s one page that is a great combination of art and words together that shows the anxiety and fear Peter is going through as he is trying to digest everything he had just gone through. That’s the beautiful thing about comics. The words in the scene are pure exposition. Exposition is quite the tricky beast to tell in a story because for the most part, you’re just telling the audience facts and that can be boring. You have to have some hook to give the information the audience needs to know for later in the story without boring them to tears. Think of Back to the Future. Doc Brown had a lot of information he had to tell Marty, and by default the audience, about time travel. Reading the words in the script I am sure your eyes would glaze over but Christopher Lloyd was able to give one hell of a performance that kept the audience entertained all the while telling them what they needed to know for later in the film. For this issue, we were able to see Peter getting freaked out with every second that went by and ultimately saw what drove him to run to safety.

I have to say that while I enjoyed the development with Gwen Stacy in this issue, it came a bit out of left field. It has already been established that Gwen probably has a bit of a crush on Peter, that much I get but I do not recall a scene that established she knew where he lived. Maybe, just maybe, the link is with her father, the police detective who interviewed Peter after Uncle Ben was murdered and if that were the case I wish that were better established that she took that info to head to Peter’s home. I have to say though it was great to have more Gwen in the story. One thing the Ultimate comics did was pretty much, at least for me, supplant Mary Jane Watson with Gwen Stacy as Peter’s preferred girlfriend of choice which for this universe is not a bad thing at all. I just wish we had some clue in this issue as to why she came to Peter’s house. That hint around that things are not as they should be at home, and with her pulling a knife on Kong I say DUH, but we’re basically left with her popping up at Peter’s home just cause. Folks may say it gets explained later on. Sure, yeah it does. But there could have been a little more than hinting around as to why she showed up.

Bottom Line:

Not much of consequence happens in this issue but don’t take that as a bad thing. Seeds are being planted for the future here, especially with the cliffhanger in the last panel. One thing I have enjoyed in the Ultimate line of comics is that no matter what you’re reading, Ultimate Spider-Man, Ultimate Fantastic Four, Ultimate X-Men, etc., much work was done to make sure that the universe they were creating was as cohesive as they could make it. When you’re building a universe as big as what is being presented, you have to be very careful what you’re doing. Planning has to go into making sure every character, every scene makes sense in the grand scheme of things. Some of the issue folks have with comics coming from the big two, DC and Marvel, have to do with the fact that the universes they create can become so damn unwieldy. While the Ultimate universe did end up becoming a little bloated near its end, at this stage things are still going along at a nice clip. Even a bad issue is one you can’t miss.

Wolverine #8

Comic books are riddled with deaths. From Uncle Ben, Bucky, Superman, and others, important characters have ended up on the wrong side of something and have bit the dust. Apart from Uncle Ben, the part about death when it comes to comic books is that you shouldn’t expect a character to necessarily remain dead. That’s the beauty of the genre. What once was lost can be brought back again.

That leads us to Wolverine. Marvel wrapped in 2014 the Death of Wolverine storyline. I questioned why they would want to take out a character that is as popular with comic fans as he is with casual fans. Yeah, I fully expect him to be back at some point snick snicking his way through bad guys with his adamantium claws but what brought Marvel to this point? While I understand that Marvel and 20th Century Fox have had their issues since Fox has the movie rights to the X-Men (and subsequently Wolverine) characters and universe, when you have a character like Wolverine who probably rivals Spider-Man for name recognition among the general public, why kill him off? This must be one heck of a story for them to be running with it. I had to check it out myself.

The first thing I really appreciated was the fact that despite this starting pretty much in the middle of an existing story, the writers made every effort to make this feel like the beginning of something big. We are clued in as first time readers (which I am for this particular story) as to what brought us to this point and some of the characters that are involved but we don’t have to have in depth knowledge of any back story to get a full understanding of what is happening in this issue. In fact, they did a pretty damn good job of making sure that the issue of mortality was front and center. The story from the previous issues really brings the reason why we’re here, seeing the beginning of the end of a character we all love, to the forefront.

I get the feeling that we are probably going to have a chance to see Logan reflect on his life throughout this story. He meets up with Death in the story (in the Marvel universe, Death is very much a real person. I don’t know this as of yet but I suspect that Death will be the same women who Thanos lusted after in The Infinity Gauntlet) and is started on a journey that will most likely bring him back to some past adventures. He’s on an island where he meets up with Death who happens to have a statue of Wolverine with the real skulls of his victims, friends, and families.

I do have to say that I just didn’t care for the side story too much in this story. Not that I wanted it to focus solely upon Wolverine but most of the story focused on a character named Pinch. Seems that in previous issues, Pinch had been a love interest of Wolverine all while they both were in a group headed by a guy named Offer. (Wolverine was undercover in the group for SHIELD.) Again, my problem wasn’t with the inclusion of this story in the issue but there should have been more focus on the character whose name is on the cover of the comic.

I really enjoyed the art in this issue. Reminiscent of classic superhero stories, it was simply well drawn, showcasing the emotions in the characters while showcasing the action in a story in a logical way that only comics can do. The training scene with Wolverine, Iron Fist, and Shang Chi had some great action lines when Iron Fist and Shang Chi were whipping on Wolverine.

Bottom Line:

While not a perfect issue, it was one of the best openings of a major event story that Marvel has put out that I have read. I get a real sense of a beginning in this issue which in other stories I have read like Secret Invasion or Spider Island I did not quite get. We get a real sense that we are on the start of a fateful journey that will see a character we all know and love battle through hell itself just to get to a long awaited end.

I want to see how Marvel pulls this off. I am under no expectations that this death will be permanent. If it isn’t, what device will they use that will allow future writers to get Wolverine back into the world of the living? If they happen to decide to do something foolish and keep this character dead, what finality will they bring upon him that will keep him dead forever.

 

Blink #1

   The X-Men. Thanks to various cartoon appearances throughout the years I am familiar with the characters but admittedly have not read too many of the comics where the characters originated. I wish I had a reason. I don’t hate the characters. Wolverine is an amazing character that I absolutely love yet for whatever reason I’ve found myself drawn to other comics in the super hero genre.   With the new X-Men: Apocalypse coming out this year I wanted to dive into the deep end of the X-Men pool so I decided I would give the story that became the inspiration of the film, Age of Apocalypse, a try. So I come to these stories as a new reader with a very basic understanding of the characters apart from the more well knowns like Wolverine, Cyclops, Magneto, and Professor X.

   The first story in the Age of Apocalypse story arc is Blink #1. Apparently this four issue series of Blink was written well after the creation of the Age of Apocalypse story but retroactively placed at the start of the story. That fact makes the story a little tough to follow since the story assumes you know a lot of what is going on before you even pick up the story. While we do encounter characters we are familiar with in this story, they have different motivations than we are used to so they may as well be new characters.

   That is the problem with prequels or stories like this that unintentionally become prequels. Take the Star Wars prequels for instance. Sure, they were not the landmarks of cinema that maybe George Lucas thought they would be but despite their many flaws, they told the story of how the heroes we do like and care about got to where they did when Episode 4 started. But when you’re creating a story that folks already know the ending to, it’s tough to create a story with characters and situations that are new and exciting since we already know where characters end up with the later part of the story. Any sort of tension or suspense you’re trying to create gets tossed out the window when you know the fate of the characters involved.

   You also have the problem of the writer not knowing how to focus correctly. What do I mean by that? The purpose of a prequel is to essentially write a new opening to an already established story. Your focus going into it has to be making sure that the story blends as well as it can with the original story as it can. Too often you find writers making decisions that assume the reader or movie watcher or whatever know something that, if they were supposed to start the story from the new starting point, should not know by this point. If you are going to have a character act in a particular way, you have to act like the audience is meeting this character for the first time and explain why, either through actions or through a little thing called exposition.

   The big issue I had going into Blink was the writer assuming myself as a reader knew a lot more of the story than I did coming in. I get that comics are a different medium than books so aren’t always afforded the benefit of a proper, exposition filled set up of the story. Being that this details a less well known character as well, saying this is a proper story introduction would be wrong as well because while it may be the start of the reading order, this is not a story where you can throw in a ‘Once Upon A Time…” and start the story off. It’s one character’s adventures tossed into an already established story. There’s nothing wrong with that per se but the disorientation I felt trying to get my bearings to me shows that starting the reading order with this issue was probably not a good idea. Does that make this a bad story? No. It’s all right. Not my cup of tea but enjoyment of a story is purely subjective. Marvel could have done a better job with the reading order.

   The art is not my cup of tea here. There are too many garish colors and oddly drawn characters for my liking. I get that these are mutants for characters so it’s not out of the realm of possibility that they will look different than you or I. The problem I had was the fact that the artist in question really loved making the characters extra curvy. The characters didn’t have the bit of realness I like to see in stories. It was like the X-Men version of a Conan The Barbarian comic. Whether it be Conan or Red Sonja, everyone had to have muscles upon muscles or extra billowing bosoms which just distracts me from the story. I understand that comics are not movies. They’re not supposed to be as close to real people as possible. I just don’t care for the exaggerated nature these characters were drawn in.

Bottom Line:

   I didn’t care for this. I wouldn’t call it bad but for my tastes, it just didn’t do it for me. In regards to its placement as the start of the Age of Apocalypse reading order, something feels off here. It doesn’t really feel like a proper beginning which really made getting through this issue a chore. I’m supposed to know a lot of what is happening already when I start…but this is supposed to be the start of the story. They’re trying to accomplish two things at once which for my money, was a failure.

The Amazing Spider-Man #529

Definition: Civil War. A war between citizens of the same country. When thinking of Civil War, you think of the Civil War that almost tore the United States apart. Brother against brother. Friends against friend. People that were one day friends were suddenly enemies and looking to murder each other.

Marvel Comics had their own Civil War. What started as a move by politicians to have superheroes in that universe to register if they wished to fight crime turned into one of the most notorious battles in Marvel’s history. It’s also the inspiration for the new Marvel movie coming out this year, Captain America: Civil War. With that, I wanted to explore the series that gave the film its inspiration with the hopes of seeing what works, what doesn’t, and what the filmmakers end up incorporating into the final product.

This issue is a pretty straight forward Spider-Man adventure. We find Peter Parker working for Tony Stark. This issue gives us the birth of the Iron Spider outfit that is making its presence known in the Ultimate Spider-Man show on The Disney Channel. Tony makes the suit for him as a way to entice him to go along with his plan of going against Washington against a proposed Superhero Registration Act.

The story was pretty short but sweet. Think of it like the comic version of the opening of a James Bond film. Most of the action involves Peter trying out the suit by taking out a couple car jackers who have a hostage. Peter is able to take them out with relative ease thanks to some new tools the suit offers.

I really liked Peter’s quips throughout the story. While the story feels pretty short, you get a definite feel for the characters. Peter and Mary Jane feel very much like a regular couple. Tony feels just like a supportive older brother type. The problem I find is that I only feel this way because I have such familiarity with the characters. This is a minor quibble because I think it is safe to say, especially after the success of Marvel movies since Blade, most folks have at least a general familiarity with the characters in such a way that they would probably feel the same way I do. The fear I see is someone coming into this world cold, starting with this issue, and not getting a real sense of the characters. To be clear, I very much accept that my opinion here is just that, an opinion. It is simply my opinion of the story I read. Others may read it and feel differently. Admittedly I may just be over thinking things. Writing a review after a long week of work can lead to me being a little cranky at times.

The art work was pretty solid this issue. The only issue I had, again a minor quibble, comes with the exterior scenes in the story. The scenes where Spider-Man is fighting the car jackers just doesn’t feel like an exterior scene to me. Yeah, I know. It’s a drawing. It’s not meant to replicate reality. If it were trying to do that, it would be a photograph. I contend that while these stories are meant to be fantasies, since they are mostly set in locations that are real, those locations should be drawn in such a way as to feel like you’re there. Does that mean they have to be drawn like photographs? No. But add some depth to the exterior shots. I’ve not been close to a highway anywhere in this country that feel as small and closed in as the highway that is presented in this story. Does Spider-Man have to appear an inch tall to showcase the depth and distance of the exterior scenes? No. But there has to be a better way to show depth and it’s not this.

Bottom Line:

I was surprised at how low key an event like Civil War started. That’s not a bad thing at all. All too often, big issues between people end up starting over the smallest things. I was also surprised to see Tony start off the story very much on the side that Captain America eventually takes. He didn’t start off this story believing in the Superhero Registration Act. He tried to settle this on his terms of course which obviously failed. I can’t wait to see how Tony went from how we see him in this issue to the supporter of the act in future issues.

Knowing how Spider-Man ends up switching sides during the course of the war, it was interesting seeing how his affiliations were so much tied with Tony Stark at the beginning of this story. I want to see what causes his affiliations to change.

The Amazing Spider-Man #2

The second issue of The Amazing Spider-Man gives us two stories for the price of one. We meet up with one member of Spider-Man’s famous rogues gallery when we meet The Vulture. We also meet up with a lesser known villain in The Tinkerer.

Stories from this era and earlier tended to be more on the simpler side. Where as stories today tend to take place over multiple issues and sometimes multiple titles, we see stories begin and end in singular issues. The benefit of course is that you money for the issue is well spent. You don’t have to spend a fortune to or invest in titles you may not like just to finish a story you may be interested in. The drawback of course is that there isn’t much room for the story to grow. You have simplistic stories with simplistic characters who we don’t know much about doing things just cause.

The Vulture is an interesting case. While he may not have the name recognition of The Green Goblin or Doctor Octopus, he’s someone I would put in the top ten of Spider-Man’s most formidable opponents. Yet his introduction is pretty basic. The only thing separating him from the average villain is the getup he uses to fly. We don’t know his name, he’s just a guy who wants to make a dishonest living.

The Tinkerer is a shorter story without too much of a purpose. We get Peter discovering a radio repair man is working with some supposed aliens to install monitoring devices in the radios of very important people. We are told it’s because they’re looking to take over the world yet according to Marvel’s own wiki we find that those supposed space aliens were a ruse and the Tinkerer is just a guy who knows his way around electronics. Readers of this era would not know that and would probably have assumed that the supposed aliens were the same Skrulls that were introduced in the second issue of The Fantastic Four.

Stan Lee recounts in numerous issues that he hasn’t always been proud of his work in comics. When asked by others he would say he was a writer. A writer of what? they would ask. Children’s work. What children’s work? Work for comics he would reply. Then people would walk away. So it is safe to say that, while I think he may be over doing his embarrassment of his work because otherwise why would he be doing it if he didn’t have some pride in his work, I do feel that it is safe to say that he wasn’t exactly thinking long term about the characters he created. Hindsight being twenty twenty, how could he not see the importance of his work? I mean, the best thing about superhero comics are the fact that no matter what evil happens in the real world, we have a chance to escape into a fantasy world where heroes just like you or I are able to defeat the villains that are intent on wrecking havoc on our world. Yet he had no way of knowing the impact he was making on our society. His work at this point, while I’m sure he loved what he was doing, was just a job. He, like any other writer, and Steve Ditko, like any other artists, were essentially throwing what they could at the wall in regards to content hoping something would stick. Their batting average during this time was amazing of course, that goes without saying. The drawback comes with the fact that the stories during this time were single issue stories.

While I have lamented on here multi-issue stories that span through multiple titles, the benefit of these types of stories is that they can shine more light on the villains of the work. The best work, whether it’s books, comics, movies, whatever, are able to flesh out all the characters in the story. While we will, as readers, react viscerally to the actions of villains in a story, we’re going to be more involved in the story if we know why the character is doing what they are doing. Take The Vulture. In this issue we see he’s intent on stealing. He’s created an amazing device that allows him to harness magnetism in order to fly so it goes without saying he is a smart guy. Yet like a common hoodlum he resorts to stealing. I personally want to know why. (I’m only talking in regards to this particular issue. The Vulture is a long time villain in the Spider-Verse and his story has been fleshed out a long time ago.)

Bottom Line:

While this issue won’t go down as the all time greatest Spider-Man story, it is a fine example of Lee and Ditko’s work during this era. As I have mentioned in my reviews of some of Brian Bendis’ work, with the sheer amount of content Stan Lee and Steve Ditko put out over their careers, not everything will be a winner. I could have done without the story of The Tinkerer myself but an issue that details the debut of a major villain like The Vulture will sure go down as a must read for me. Similar to listening to the first major songs of your favorite musicians, it’s interesting seeing where folks start out because you can see the glimpses of what made them great. While they were not firing on all cylinders at this point, more so for Lee than Ditko but I contend that is simply due to how comics were written at the time, the foundation of an amazing universe was being created and more often than not, they were doing more right than wrong. Probably my only real complaint would be the fact that the comic is so verbose. Like I said in my review of The Avengers #1, the writing comes across like it was being written for a radio play. Everything was described, almost like Stan was creating closed captioning for a comic book. The drawback of this approach is that it crowds out some amazing artwork from Steve Ditko. It seems superfluous to have a character state what they are doing when the artwork is showing the reader the same thing. As the old saying for writers goes, show your audience what you want to show them, don’t tell them about it. Less is more, especially in comics when the art can do so much of the storytelling for you.