Ultimate Spider-Man #22

   It wouldn’t be a comic book if we didn’t have a villain that was presumed dead show up again out of nowhere to battle our hero. This is the case in issue 22 of Ultimate Spider-Man when his ultimate enemy, The Green Goblin, comes back to town.   The fear of bringing a character back in a story like this is the chance of ruining a character you’ve established as a big bad guy. You want to be able to bring back the same level of evil that was in your story before as well as expanding upon it, hopefully making your story and character that much better.

   A brilliant example of this is Star Wars. Darth Vader, when introduced in Star Wars Episode 4, was a standard bad guy. If you think about it objectively, Darth really is just a standard, by the numbers bad guy in that movie. There are seeds there that Lucas and others were able to exploit in terms of expanding the character and giving him more depth but in A New Hope, he was there to kick ass and be the foil for the Rebels. Hell, he wasn’t even the main bad guy. He was the lackey for Governor Tarkin. It wasn’t until The Empire Strikes Back that he became the focal point antagonist.

   One thing that concerned me this issue was time. Harry Osborn arrives back at school after supposedly spending time with an Uncle in Colorado. Based on the conversation between Peter and him, it didn’t seem like Harry had been gone long. They describe the Green Goblin attack on the school as if it were pretty recent. My guess is that they are still in the same semester in school. It doesn’t make much sense though because so much has happened during that short period of time that frankly I think it would be impossible for someone to pull off everything Peter has done without anyone knowing what the hell he is doing. Maybe it’s just me but having some semblance of time in a story helps space everything out. When the reader doesn’t have a firm grasp of time, when events are happening in the timeline of the story, it can lose the reader or make them question like I just did how everything in the story could happen in such a short period of time. Not that the story has to notate time like the television show 24 did but some line, something, indicating the amount of time that Harry had been away would have been nice.

   When Peter and Norman were brought into the same room I really enjoyed Norman telling Peter that his time as Spider-Man was over. While we don’t know where it is going yet there was a touch of logic in what Norman was telling Peter. Again, it’s probably the father in me but I found myself agreeing with Norman. Peter should not be Spider-Man. He’s a fifteen year old kid who is in way over his head. Norman was not wrong when he told Peter to stop. Granted, if Peter did stop we wouldn’t have one of the greatest comics in history so I’m glad he didn’t listen but thinking about it, you can appreciate the fact that others would think he is a fool for trying to save the world. Obviously, Norman Osborn has ulterior motives. Yet I think it is a stroke of genius to have him talk to Peter about stopping what he is doing. When you can take a villain and give him some motivation that the reader can relate to or even agree with in some way, you’re giving the audience a much richer character than the standard mustache twirling bad guy.

Bottom Line:

   We’re on the start of something good here. After the disaster of the last story with Doctor Octopus and Kraven, it’s great to finally get rolling with the right way with an already established character that is properly addressing issues from the past between them to start something new. The appearance of Norman is well worth the price of admission to the story alone.

   Mark Bagly’s work this issue is well evidenced by Peter’s walk to Norman Osborn’s home office. The look of dread and trepidation in his face almost negates the need for dialogue because you’re already aware of what is going through his mind. Even with the worst issues in the Ultimate Spider-Man run, Mark Bagly’s art is the highlight of the issue, showcasing action, emotion, and plain simple visual storytelling in a way that is not confusing to the reader at all.

   Really the only thing I would have changed this issue was Aunt May being suddenly open to sending Peter to see Norman and Harry after the events of last issue. The reason I would make a change was because they had her do a 180* with Peter being grounded. While Norman’s assistant was at Peter’s home talking to Aunt May, they didn’t have any dialogue referencing why she had a change of heart, just that she was ok with Peter going to the house. When all is said and done though, if this is the only issue I really had, Bagly and Bendis are doing something good.

Ultimate Spider-Man #10

Peter Parker sure learns a lot in this issue. When you’re handed the ass whipping he gets you’d either tuck your tail between your legs and run or learn what the hell whipped you so bad and figure out another way to beat it. Peter thankfully chose the latter option.

Kingpin is damned dangerous in this issue but I do question how someone who can be as rash as he is has been able to stay on top for as long as he has. The setting where the action takes place is an office in the high rise penthouse he lives in which is currently having a party for charity that he is hosting. He’s trying to do the Michael Corleone role in trying to be master of two worlds, the world of crime and the world of legitimacy. While I could see him being pissed that Peter broke into his office, the lengths he goes to get rid of him are just too extreme for a character that is trying to romance the regular world. Especially with the security system he has in place, why wouldn’t he just call the cops, get Peter arrested, and sell the video of their encounter to the Daily Bugle or something in an effort to make people sympathetic towards him?

Instead he has Electro shock the hell out of him before he tosses him out the window to plunge to his apparent death. All on a taping system he had installed in his own residence. Now it could be argued that there is historical precedence for this occurring. Richard Nixon famously taped tons of conversations in the White House that ended up burning his back side quite crisply during the whole Watergate mess. He was either too stupid to remember the taping was going on which ended up incriminating him and members of his staff on their various crimes or he was so drunk with power that he thought there was no reason to be worried because he had all the power. Maybe that’s what Brian Bendis had in mind for this particular scene (since Watergate is directly mentioned at the later in the story when Peter is at school.) but it doesn’t really play out so well in my book.

I really enjoyed the scene where Peter and Aunt May have a heart to heart. Not much attention has been spent on her up to this point. You like her as a character and everything but that like is general at best. This scene really does a lot to introduce you more to the character more in depth.

One issue I have had with Aunt May in the traditional Spider-Man comics was how one dimensional she is. While I’m sure someone who’s read far more Spider-Man comics than me will come up with example after example of how she did more than fret about poor Peter Parker and bake him cookies, I contend that with the general public’s view of the character as one dimensional as it is, efforts in the original comics to broaden her character have mainly not been effective.

Aunt May is wondering about her place in the world since Ben was brutally murdered. With Peter growing up and discovering his powers, he’s more and more finding himself living life outside the house. May is alone. Yeah she may have friends, I don’t doubt that but up until Ben was murdered, her life was her home and now she doesn’t have that. She questions if Peter even likes her as a person which will pull on the old heart strings but does a lot to add some much needed characterization to her. The original Aunt May would never have done that. If she even thought of it, she’d bake cookies just to drown that thought out. I loved this scene. It packs as much of an emotional wallop as any action scene Peter has been in to date. And the art really brings you into the scene quite intimately.

Bottom Line:

Peter is getting it. While I still think he is quite brash and stupid for how naive he is, he is learning that brute strength will not take out someone like the Kingpin. The learning curve he’s going through is smartening him up fast. Hell, if I were thrown out of a high rise window just cause, I’d learn real quick that whatever I did that caused said person to toss my sorry ass out the window was the wrong way to handle what I was doing.

This comic is a great read but it does have some problems, namely how Kingpin is portrayed. For someone who is set up to be such a bad ass throughout the story to day, when we actually meet him, apart from his brute strength he’s not the smart guy he’s been portrayed to be. Yeah, there is a Nixon comparison here but Bendis misses his mark here by not giving us as the reader more examples of Kingpin actually being smart. I certainly wouldn’t want to piss the guy off but I don’t see him at this point being smart enough to tie his own shoes unless he had an instruction manual.

What I would have liked was some more of the approach that was used in the Netflix show Daredevil. Wilson Fisk in that show is not Kingpin until literally the last twenty minutes. Throughout the show you see how, through brain power and physical strength, he manipulates everything to his favor. Only until Matt Murdock beats him at his own game does he lose it. There could have been more interactions between Spider-Man and Kingpin before a showdown like what appears in this issue occurs. For that, the story does suffer.

The Amazing Spider-Man #300

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There is no magical formula on creating an iconic character. Hell, if there was, then there frankly wouldn’t be any iconic characters. There would just be characters. (Duh.) But you have to ask, what makes a character stick? What take a character like a Peter Parker and make him someone that, well over fifty years after his debut, we still care about him and his friends? And what makes us interested in the rogues gallery of villains that come after him.

1988 may not have been a year in comics that sticks out like other years but there is at least one reason why that year is important.

VenomVillain1

Venom. I argue that Venom is probably one of Spider-Man’s greatest foes. (I don’t believe there is ever ONE foe that tops any list. That’s purely my subjective opinion.) Venom is Eddie Brock, a reporter that thanks to the unwitting efforts of Spider-Man, is fired from his job. In his moment of despair, the alien symbiote that had initially attached itself to Peter during the original Secret Wars event in 1984 attaches itself to Eddie, finding a host that shares its hatred for Spider-Man.

This issue involves the characters debut. We start off with Mary Jane cowering in fear in her and Peter’s apartment. This alone is great. Any long time reader of the site will know that my biggest complaint of comics is that they rely too much on the assumption that the reader has read previous issues. While the reason why Mary Jane is cowering was covered in the previous issue, you don’t need to know why to invest yourself in the story. It’s a problem that comics have dealt with from their beginning till today. And I admit that when companies like Marvel have to put out the sheer volume of stories that they do, they will encounter times where it will be the responsibility of the reader to know a little bit of what is going on. But I still argue that a good writer and artist will find ways to clue people in to what happened in previous issues without assuming the reader has an encyclopedia knowledge of the story. If any comic book creator wants to know how to clue people in to back story properly, this is the issue they should study. All we need to know about previous issues is in the first panel.

From there it goes into Peter and Mary Jane moving into a new apartment. I was actually surprised at how little the actual story took up. The writer made a point of showing little moments in Peter Parker’s life which on the surface may seem like a distraction but actually come off quite well. I especially liked the scene of Peter and Mary Jane having dinner with Aunt May. It’s a little moment involving Mary Jane talking with Aunt May in the kitchen of her home about why she never visits and Aunt May says she doesn’t want to be a bother to the young couple. Mary Jane and Peter both tell her that won’t happen and Aunt May is overcome with joy. It’s a small moment but when you have such knowledge and compassion for the characters, it’s moments like this that make you love them all the more.

One issue I have is when Venom attempts to kill Peter. Too often in stories like this you have the bad guy go to some elaborate way to kill the good guy only to have the good guy find a way out when all along a bullet to the head would have taken out the bad guy just fine. It looks good to see the elaborate method but in reality it makes no damn sense if the bad guy really thought this would be a good way to get rid of his enemy. In this issue, Venom goes to the effort of pinning Peter Parker inside the bells that he had initially used to remove the symbiote by pinning him there with tons of webbing. Peter appears to be stuck but finds a way to escape and eventually capture Venom, bringing him to the headquarters of The Fantastic Four. I mean, wow. I am not a master criminal but even I know that something that elaborate will lead to failure. If Venom didn’t have a gun, he should have grabbed a damn brick and smashed his head in if he really wanted Peter Parker dead. Maybe they’re going for a Joker/Batman vibe here, a story of a bad guy that just doesn’t want to put his enemy down because at the end of the day he likes him. But in this issue at least it comes off as silly.

The artist for this issue was Todd McFarlane. Any comics fan worth their weight will know who he is. Apart from creating Spawn, his company is known for being the preeminent designer of quality figurines of everyone from superheros to KISS. Some artists are like guitar players. Rock fans know what I am talking about. Whether you like someone like Carlos Santana, when you hear him play guitar, you know it’s Carlos playing. When you see a Todd McFarlane drawing, you know who drew it. He has a very distinct way of drawing that is his signature. While I may have issue with Mary Jane’s hair or the fact that her waist line looks like she’s a starving child in a third world country, to have an artist of his stature draw for your comic is an honor, Todd McFarlane at his worst is better than most comic artists at their best. He could shove paint up his rectum, fart on paper, and it would be much better than most artists today. (Live with that image people.)

Bottom Line:

Being the 300th issue of Spider-Man, this issue had to bring the goods and boy did it. This is a textbook issue on how to write a good comic. Will each and every comic ever made live up to it? Of course not. Certain issues have to serve certain functions which means that they’re not always going to live up to the standards of a classic. But this issue brings the goods. It brings a nuanced bad guy, in 1988 mind you, that still interests us today. Venom is probably the last character I can think of in comics that really struck a chord with the audience. Feel free to correct me if I am wrong but I can’t think of another character that is so iconic that even a person who doesn’t actively read comics would know so well. Add to that masterful work from the great Todd McFarlane and you have a book that will stand the test of time as an instructional guide on how to write a comic book. This is certainly a comic that would be on the Mount Rushmore of comics.

Amazing Fantasy #15

Amazing_Fantasy_15

Time to sit back and read a classic today. Amazing Fantasy #15 gives birth to the most well known character not only in Marvel Comics history but in the history of comics period. Spider-Man. No matter the complaints I have about the story, and there are some, this comic helped changed the landscape for how comic stories were told.

To start with I absolutely loved that the story was pretty dark, especially for a story told in the early 1960’s. Apart from Uncle Ben and Aunt May, he really has no one that cares for him. Now as most older folks know, that is pretty much life right there. Don’t want to be too depressing here but it’s true. The people that really, truly care about you are a small group of people at best. The high school mentality that you need to be popular with everyone in order to be happy is about as much of a fictional tale as my love life when I was single.

Peter’s reactions when he gets his power is realistic as well. When you’re pushed around and treated like nothing, the moment you get your first taste of power it is quite easy to let it overtake you to the point of arrogance. Peter decides that he’s going to use his new power to benefit himself. That’s also a different take on the genre when most origin stories involve the hero making a vow from the start to use their powers for good. Peter Parker is all about the Benjamin’s and the bitches! It’s only when confronted with the results of his arrogance, the murderer of his Uncle Ben being a man who Peter had a chance to stop from robbing a television studio but didn’t, does he realize the error of his ways and use his powers for good in honor of his Uncle Ben.

People may say that Batman starts out just as dark. While it is pretty damn dark, Batman doesn’t become Batman through his own actions. He was not responsible for the death of his parents. He was a bystander who ended up vowing vengeance. If Peter Parker had stopped that thief, Uncle Ben would still be alive. That makes Peter’s decision at the end to fight crime all the more poignant.

When you look at origin stories for major characters I would have to say Spider-Man’s origin would have to be my favorite. Some origin stories are simply unreadable. I tried reading Captain America’s origin and had to put it down. Same for Superman and Batman. Granted they were written for a different time and an audience that asked for something different from their comic stories but man are they a horrible read. I compare it to the first single from major rock bands. If you took the first hits for The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, you’d wonder how they ever got famous. The only group that had a decent first single was The Who. Batman and Superman were like the original singles from The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. Spider-Man would be like The Who’s first single, more well formed and strangely consistent with their current output of music.

Now the downside. Being that the story was written in the 1960’s, we have the annoying little trait of having characters when they’re alone speaking their thoughts out loud. Peter spends almost a full page talking to himself about his new powers when you just want to scream at him to actually shut the hell up and do something. Don’t get me wrong, I like that comics allow writers to visually show what characters are thinking. When said thoughts are expressed on a comic in a traditional word bubble, the way spoken speech is expressed in comics, it makes you wonder about the sanity of the characters.

I also wished the comic spent a little more time exploring his relationship with his Aunt and Uncle. Especially Uncle Ben. We know he loves them but don’t know why they are so important. Now obviously future issues more than establish why Aunt May and Uncle Ben were important. This issue made the mistake of telling the audience why they were important and not show the audience why they were important. Comics are a visual AND verbal medium. You can get away with telling some parts of the story. Others, you have to show.

Bottom Line:

Any judgement I have on this comic will be meaningless. Sure, it has flaws. ANY story has them if you look for them. But the freedom Stan Lee and Steve Ditko opened up for writers and artists alike should never be forgotten. Heroes in other stories chose to be come heroes. Some by choice, some in honor of loved ones, but it was still their choice. Peter Parker is different. If he had stopped that thief, he would not see the importance of one of the greatest lines in comic history. With great power there must also come great responsibility. This is how you create a character that lasts the test of time.

It also made me think of the recent failure of The Amazing Spider-Man movie. I read this comic and see that Peter Parker had a wonderful relationship with his Aunt and Uncle. In that movie, he is constantly arguing with Uncle Ben. Now I was able to see in that movie that they loved each other but there was still a disconnect to the source material that should not have been ignored. Do I need the sappiness this issue presented? No. I think Sam Raimi’s first Spider-Man movie had the perfect balance of honoring the source material while also accepting the fact that people who love each other can argue at times.

Movies are their own unique beasts. Alan Moore had gone on record for his Watchmen comic as stating that it never should have been made into a movie. He wrote it specifically to be a comic. Too often you see movies that are based on comics that do nothing more than take on the spirit of the comic. Sometimes they get away with that such as Tim Burton’s Batman. Sometimes there are massive failures like every time the Fantastic Four was put on film. Ignoring the basics of the source material can spell disaster if you don’t have love for the material to begin with. While Andrew Garfield was pretty good as Peter Parker, I don’t think he was given the best material to work with. Too much of the story had changed. They wanted to make a Spider-Man film without the basic elements that made Spider-Man great. Well, at least Marvel Studios has Spidey back where he belongs.