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.

The Avengers #1

I’ve decided to change things up a bit. For a while I tried reading the first thing that interested me on a particular day. Then I went through the Spider-Island story. From there I’ve been reviewing Ultimate Spider-Man. While I am loving the Ultimate run, I do see the need to kind of have some variety. As the old saying goes, you can’t live on bread, or just Spider-Man alone. So with that, I’m going to have a schedule.

  1. Sunday-The Amazing Spider-Man
  2. Monday-Civil War
  3. Tuesday-Age of Apocalypse
  4. Wednesday-Death of Wolverine
  5. Thursday-Ultimate Spider-Man
  6. Friday-Fear Itself
  7. Saturday-The Avengers

This of course will be subject to change. Whether it be boredom or finishing up a particular story line, there will be times I shift to another series or event story. In the end, I think this will give me the variety I want plus more exposure to more writers and artists.

So what is there to say about The Avengers? For one, I really enjoyed how the backbone of the story has stayed pretty consistent throughout the years. There have been changes of personnel and relationships among the group have changed over time but the basic premise for the story has stayed surprisingly consistent. Contrast that with DC Comics titles from this time the you’d be hard pressed to find a story that bears any resemblance to their modern counterparts.

To me this speaks well to the genius of Stan Lee and the other contributors at Marvel. The only reason I single Stan out of course is that he’s pretty much the figure head for the writers and artists that Marvel have employed throughout the years. And for the longest time Stan was the man behind the words in all the comics Marvel put out which, even using the Marvel Method (where Stan would provide an artist a basic story outline, the artist would draw the entire comic, then Stan would furnish the story for the written work), is an amazing feat we won’t see from a major comics publisher again.

So what works in this issue? To me, it boils down to simplicity. A bad guy, Loki, wants to fight Thor, frames the Hulk for a crime he didn’t commit, and inadvertently gets a number of other heroes on his case before he is ultimately defeated. While it goes without saying that you would probably get a much deeper appreciation for the story if you have read the stand alone issues for each of these characters, another wonderful part about The Avengers is that the story for the most part stands alone. Prior knowledge of events that happened in other comics is not needed to enjoy what is happening, yet you will find plenty of editor’s notes indicating which comics in question you can read to find out the back story you may be interested in.

One character I haven’t really gotten used to is The Hulk. I will admit that this is because I grew up on the old Incredible Hulk television show which for my money is still one of the best comic book shows ever made. Since getting back into reading comics, I have found it quite strange to see the Hulk more cantankerous than I remember him to be. And the Hulk talking? Come on. To be clear, that doesn’t mean I don’t like the Hulk in this. Apart from him suddenly joining the team after being hounded by them all issue, he’s a wonderful character that I want to see more of in this story.

The only real complaint I have about this issue is Stan’s penchant for filling the pages up with as much text as possible. I fully appreciate that this story was written at a time where most folks were still used to radios being the main form of entertainment even though by this time radios were pretty much being regulated to a secondary entertainment tool in the home. The story comes across like a radio play. I found myself annoyed at some instances where Stan is describing what is going on when there was no need to do so because the art clearly showed what was going on. Again, this comic was a product of its age. If the comic were written today it would be much different. (As evidenced by this great reimagining from Joe Casey and Phil Noto.) Despite that, the story holds up incredibly well. The flaws for the most part add charm to the story because it is very much the type of feeling you get when a team gets together for the first time.

Bottom Line:

This is a must read. That goes without saying. This issue is one of a few issues in comics history that stand as a true corner stone of what make comics great. While Joss Whedon didn’t follow this comic at all when he created the first Avengers movie, I was surprised at how much of a spiritual remake of the comic that movie was.

The art work is crude by today’s standards but make no mistake, most artists wish they could achieve a tenth of what Jack Kirby created. While images have gotten more streamlined and outfits of our heroes have changed over time, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who wouldn’t say these characters are the same as the ones in the comics today.

Interestingly, you can also say this was the time where the Fantastic Four handed over the mantle of Marvel’s most important team. Spider-Man and to a lesser extent Wolverine and The Punisher, may be the money cows of Marvel. For my money, The Avengers teaming up was the most important act Marvel could have made during this time even though admittedly if it weren’t for a little team at DC called The Justice League, who knows if The Avengers, Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, would have heeded the call and joined together.

The Amazing Spider-Man #673

Amazing_Spider-Man_Vol_1_673

All good things, scratch that. All mediocre things must come to an end and we finally reach our end destination in the Spider Island story. To date I have been pretty critical but what would be the point if I just gushed over how amazing everything I read was? If people were honest, they would find something to critique in anything. And let’s not forget that most critiques involve purely subjective opinions. When I’ve written work and given it to others for their opinion, I realized that their opinion was simply what I was going to get. Said opinion may show me an insight to the story that I did not consider which would cause me to make changes to better reflect the new idea. Said opinion may have no bearing on the story whatsoever so I promptly discard it. Unless we’re talking about break the rules of modern English, grammar or spelling mistakes, how people create a story will be unique to each person. Add on to that an artist and the other members of the creative team and you have a whole group of folks who have input on the story at hand, much more than a simple novelist who apart from friends will have to deal with an editor and maybe an agent depending on how far along they are in their career.

So the epilogue to Spider Island, what did I think of it? Rushed would be a term that comes to mind. There were a number of elements that were still unresolved up to this point like the location of Carlie, Mary Jane still having the sickness, Kaine still being around, and the aftermath of the plague which were briefly resolved but not to any real satisfaction. The aftermath alone takes up all of three pages and the writer is more eager to whip out double entendres than going into any detail as to what it was like for so many people to get sick like that. Of course they’re not going to be able to do personal stories on each and every person but I really think there was a chance here to explore some of the human tragedy that most likely happened. How do I know this you may ask? Look at how J. Jonah Jameson almost killed a guy when the sickness transformed him. You cannot tell me that this was the only isolated case where that happened. Maybe they’re didn’t need much explanation but I do think they could have had a little more emotion than glibness and embarrassment over being suddenly naked.

Peter Parker apparently cares so much about Carlie that he promptly forgot about her the moment she turned into a spider. Once everyone was well he had time to go see his Aunt off at the airport and swing through town before heading home. Once he gets home, Carlie splits with him. She ends up revealing that duh, she knew he was Spider-Man. Seems the fact that once he claimed he was sick with the disease he suddenly know some kick ass karate while everyone else had to struggle a bit kind of blew his cover, even though like the old Lois Lane not knowing Clark Kent is Superman deal, you have to wonder what the hell is wrong with anyone that is close to Peter who he saves on a consistent basis doesn’t know he is Spider-Man. You would think that he would try changing his voice like Christian Bale did for the Batman movies but he’s always presented as talking just like himself. I don’t blame the writer for this one. It is a logic flaw in the character that’s never really been explored. We do have a bit of a back story of Doctor Strange putting a one time hex on everyone so they would not know that Peter is Spider-Man unless he reveals himself. But Peter is so careless with letting others know who he is despite his protestations otherwise that it amazes me that some inquiring reporter would not have been able to track him down. In the real world, much like Phoenix Jones in Seattle, there would come a time where the hero would make a mistake and be caught, having his identity revealed. Or someone would spot him and just follow him. He swings through the air. He may go at a decent clip but with the right vehicle you should be able to get an idea where his base is. But I digress.

The artwork was much better in this issue. What really stands out is the scene where Carlie splits up with Peter. That last shot where she has left the room and he’s standing there alone, we have a glimpse from above which just magnifies the sadness which is great. Despite not being in the story much, she was in enough that I ended up liking her. Yeah, Peter and Mary Jane are meant to be together which is why Peter screws this up but you feel bad for Carlie here because I get the impression that she really would have dug it if Peter had revealed the truth to her.

Bottom Line:

Spider Island has its flaws but it is still one hell of a read. I wish more time was given to some of the main characters in the story instead of spreading the available story so thin with sub plot after subplot. If they really wanted to focus on certain side characters, they should have given those characters free reign in other supplemental issues and not included them at all in this story. For the Venom subplot, if you took it out of the Spider-Man issue and simply left it all in the Venom comics, nothing would change. We’d still get a pretty decent story of a guy dealing with his past while juggling the responsibilities of the present. But tossing him into the main story just took away from time that could have been spent expanding the main story.

The Amazing Spider-Man #672

Amazing_Spider-Man_Vol_1_672

We come to the ending, but not the ending if you can believe that, of Spider Island. The big bad of the story meets her apparent doom but thanks to some sloppy writing, I had no clue what the hell was going on with this particular issue. There was no logical reason why everything ended up resolving the way it did apart from the editors at Marvel telling the writer to wrap things up quick.

One part that annoyed me with this issue was Mary Jane’s involvement. She shows up out of nowhere at a facility a person in her position should not even have known about. Then they have her ask why she’s been so slow in developing the symptoms that everyone else had and the results are almost comic. Reed Richards pretty much comes out and tells her that with Peter Parker porking her for as long as he did, she was able to develop an immunity that others did not have. But this statement from Mr. Fantastic kind of goes against the earlier bit of business at the start of the story where Peter does his absolute best to keep his identity private from anyone, including people who would actually benefit from knowing like fellow super heroes. At this point, I get that Peter was a part of the Fantastic Four and his identity would be something that Mr. Fantastic would probably want to know before he joined. Long time readers also know that Peter and Johnny Storm have a long standing friendship so at some point you could see Peter letting slip his identity. Frankly, it makes no sense for him to trust Reed and not many other people. Can you really argue that he mistrusted Iron Man? He couldn’t trust Captain America with his identity? Nick Fury would go blabbing to everyone about that punk kid from Queens who dresses like a spider?

The sheer amount of heroes in the story was too much of an overkill. Every character in the Marvel Universe shares the same world (for the most part) so I get that it would be unrealistic if an event of this magnitude occurred without a response from anyone other than Spider-Man. The problem I see lies in the fact that they have so many people in the story that they haven’t found a way to give each character a reason to be there. Take The Thing. He has some really funny moments in the story. I enjoyed his part in the comic but honestly, if he were removed from the story nothing would be lost. The same could be said for The Avengers. You know they would be fighting a threat like this but did we need to see pages devoted to them when they’re not really a part of the story at all? There are some supplemental stories that go along with Spider Island. If they wanted to include The Avengers, they really should have given them more than a silly cameo.

The Mary Jane arc actually ends with something interesting. Long time readers know that Peter and MJ had to divorce thanks to a deal Peter made with Mephisto in order to save Aunt May’s life. They’d been teasing that Mary Jane was a lot more comfortable with Peter than he was with her at this point. Peter had another girlfriend and everything, who is still missing at this point. What a great guy for trying to look for her. At the end of the issue, while Peter is concentrating on defeating The Queen, she tells him she loves him. Knowing how they were forced to split, it was great that they were still able to show the reading world that Peter and Mary Jane still had feelings for each other. Granted, they have their arms around each other like old friends so maybe this isn’t a love that will rekindle back into marriage. But it is a scenario that makes you feel like all is right with the world.

Bottom Line:

There are still two issues left in the suggested reading order for Spider Island but this really ends the threat. I have to imagine that at this point, the other two issues will involve more cleaning up of loose ends than anything else. I have real issues with this story but I don’t think it’s a bad story. It is something I would slightly recommend with the understanding that this will frustrate you to no end. There are so many places that this story could have went but it seems like the writer, Dan Slott, was forced to include story elements for the sake of including them. They didn’t have any real impact on the story at all. Even the Mary Jane subplot, if you take it out of the story, bears no impact whatsoever on what is going on. Also, while I have no problem with Peter getting back together with Mary Jane, showing him having no concern for his current girlfriend who mutated into a spider and followed The Queen’s bidding is just so damn callous. They should have had him more concerned than not at all.

The artwork I am still not a fan of. The last panel, where Peter and Mary Jane sit on top of the Empire State Building looking at New York was a great end to the story but again, the rest is just too sloppy and distracting for me to have any interest.

The Amazing Spider-Man #671

Amazing_Spider-Man_Vol_1_671

False advertising. When someone promises you something and they don’t deliver. The cover to this issue has a scantily clad Mary Jane Watson dressed up in what little clothes she’s wearing looking like Spider-Man. With that cover and the short synopsis from the previous issue teasing that Mary Jane finally has spider powers, you would think Mary Jane would be a big focus of this particular issue.

If you believed that you would be wrong. She takes up all of two pages of inconsequential action in the story. If you’re going to promise something in the story it is imperative you follow up on it. Did I think before this issue that we’d see some major transformational arc for Mary Jane? Not really. However, I did think we’d see much more of her. You would think they would find a way to make her actions somehow crucial to the end results of the story but that didn’t happen here. She just beat up and escaped from the group of bad guys that were attack her in the previous issue. I don’t know about you but I can’t anticipate Marvel choosing ever choosing to let something really horrible happen to a character who is as prominent as MJ. What, were they going to allow her to get raped and killed by the bad guys? Of course now. She was, and always will, escape before something really bad happens to her because she is such an important character in the Marvel Universe and that is fine. Just find a way to give her a reason to be in the story apart from a scantily clad outfit. (I won’t complain about scantily clad outfits, just give me a reason to care for that character.)

The Jackal meets a very painful but quick death in this issue and thank goodness. He was such a horrible bad guy. Like most television shows in the Joss Whedon era of television, shows will have a story arc that starts off with one bad guy who ends up being a lackey for the ultimate big bad of the season. The first bad guy is presented as a formidable threat but has some pretty glaring weaknesses. The big bad has almost no weaknesses apart from one or two that the protagonists end up exploiting to save the day. When the first bad guy is presented with all the menace of a twelve year old girl throwing a hissy fit, it is easy to get annoyed and loose all interest in the story. The Jackal was a horrible bad guy. Just bad. I hope I never come across him in comics again. How a whiny, pathetic character like The Jackal could have ever been thought of as intimidating is beyond me. He was so bad that it frankly made me question The Queen’s effectiveness as a big bad. Why should we think she has the ability to defeat the good guys in the story if she thinks someone as stupid as The Jackal could help her achieve her goals?

While we have two minor points that give us clues to future issues in the story, there’s not really much going on in this story. We have five different subplots going on this in this story and not much real estate to devote to them. My biggest complaint with this story has been the lack of focus, the tendency of the writer to want to include as many characters as he can without giving them the proper time to be able to flesh their stories out. When you’re telling a story that is being told in at least a monthly format, you have to be able to give the characters you’re including the time to have their stories have a proper arc, a proper beginning, middle, and end. Yet over and over again I find that characters are showing up in this story just cause with no real effect on the main story at hand. This issue for instance, if Mary Jane was not in the story, nothing would have changed. Nothing. If we weren’t talking about Mary Jane and just some random character that long time readers had no emotional involvement with, we’d have even less reason to care about what happened to her in this issue. Our only reason to care is simply because we know who she is, not that anything apart from the spider virus is happening to her that really affects the main story at all.

Bottom Line:

This was a stop gap issue. There was enough information this issue to advance the story along but not enough to make it good reading on its own. As I have said over and over, in my opinion I feel the goal of any comic, whether it be a single issue story or a story told over many issues, should be to not only satisfy the reader for that one particular issue but, if it is a story that is being told over many issues, give them enough teases to what future issues hold that the reader wants to come back. This issue did not accomplish that. While I would not go so far as to call it bad, it was not the type of issue that a first time reader of Spider-Man comics would be able to pick up, read, and immediately get sucked into the world of Spidey and friends. He’d more than likely be confused as to what the hell was going on more than anything. For that, I have to consider this issue a failure.

The Amazing Spider-Man #668

Amazing_Spider-Man_Vol_1_668

Another day, another look in the Spider Island story. We pick up where we left off in issue 667 where The Avengers believe that Peter is one of the bad folks wrecking havoc on New York. Shang Chi arrives and lets The Avengers know that the one who’s ass they are kicking is actually Spider-Man himself. From there, Reed Richards tells him to hit the bricks.

I really dug page 4.

Amazing_Spider-Man_Vol_1_668_page_04

That image kind of reminded me of the classic cover from issue 50 where Peter is walking down an alley in the distance and up close on the cover is a garbage can with the Spider-Man outfit hanging out of it. On that cover, Peter wanted to walk away from the responsibility that being Spider-Man had to offer. This image is just the opposite. Peter wants more than anything to be in on the action but realizes that Reed Richards is right when he told him he needed to sit out on this one.

From there he meets up with Norah with no sign of Phil Urich at all which kind of dismissed the previous issue I reviewed. Sure you could argue that this could have happened just before that issue but we need to have some sort of clue especially with the fact that Marvel wanted to put that story in chronological order before this.

There was also a nice little interaction I wish they could have spent a little more time on. When Peter is talking to Norah, Mary Jane arrives. Norah hints at the fact that Peter and Mary Jane used to be together but it’s never really addressed apart from an initial awkward interaction from the former power couple. She came across like she still cared for Peter and I didn’t get the hint of there being any sort of anger or sadness over the fact that they were not together anymore. Peter is a little awkward around her but there’s just no real explanation as to why they’re not together. Yeah, it’s detailed in another story but this is one instance where an editor’s note would have worked.

The rest of the issue details Peter going along with the situation and acting like he had the spider illness as well. He gets normal folks together to help defeat the bad guys which they ultimately do. New York is quarantined by the Mayor. And Peter gets sent by Horizon Labs to assist the police on reworking bad guy tech to help the Mayor’s spider task force. His liaison at the force? His girlfriend.

There was one bit I didn’t care for. Carlie reveals near the end that she knows The Jackal is behind everything. That’s great and all but it is never explained how she got the information. Peter is familiar with the guy so it’s understandable that he would know a thing or two about the guy but Carlie just magically knows who is causing all this. And her and Peter go alone to investigate. I am no expert on how government works but I can safely say that if there was a virus that was so severe that they had to quarantine a major city in this country, if anyone in law enforcement had any sort of clue as to who could have caused it, they would send every mother fucker they could to get the guy and give him the Guantanamo Bay treatment. They wouldn’t send a young lady in her mid-20’s along with her goofy scientist boyfriend. It’s like the end of The Silence of the Lambs where Clarice goes to Buffalo Bill’s house alone. She thought she was going on a wild goose chase but it turned out she caught the guy single handed. It just blows my mind though. At the very least you would think they would want to send a partner with her to make that scenario in the movie believable. The scenario in the comic is just not believable.

The art work was more of the sloppy anime nonsense that I didn’t care for. Some of the character designs were just off, making them look like melted action figures than actual people. Apart from the page I talked about earlier, the art is just bad. I almost expect Voltron to make an appearance in the comic.

Bottom Line:

Story wise, this was a pretty decent issue. They worked themselves into a corner with Peter wanting to help defeat the bad guys with spider powers but they found a good way to get out of that by having Peter lie and say he was affected by the virus as well. It does a decent job of wrapping up the first act of the Spider Island story and offering some clues for what the future of the story will bring us.

I do wish they could touch upon a couple of things. One, if they’re going to have stories in other issues detailing the actions of The Hobgoblin and show the reader that Phil Urich has deceived Norah into being his woman, the least they could do is acknowledge that that happened in another issue. Also, I want some sort of clue as to what happened between Peter and Mary Jane. An editor’s note would make me happy in this case even though in issue 667 I complained about the number of editor’s notes. There is a weird little dynamic going on between the two that is not really being addressed and I want more information. I think of it like this. Yeah, I know I can do a little research and dive into the Marvel Unlimited app and discover what happened. But I shouldn’t have to. Either give the reader some clue as to what happened between the two since they have established that they used to be a couple or simply don’t have her in the story. This ambiguous awkwardness between the two is frustrating because there doesn’t seem to be any reason for it. They both seem cool with each other apart from Peter being a little awkward because he doesn’t want to throw in her face the fact that he has another relationship. In the past, Peter and Mary Jane were married so to go from that to this, something happened. I want to know what since it appears the writer wants us to focus on this for this particular story.

The Amazing Spider-Man #666

Amazing_Spider-Man_Vol_1_666

Another day in the life of Peter Park starts out with him swinging through town contemplating how life has changed for him. I liked how it goes back over his history of how he would inadvertently stumble onto a crime scene or have a crime fall into his lap. You get a sense of the history of the character without having to have a PhD in Spider-Man history. He hears a call of a robbery in progress and proceeds to the scene where two robbers are fleeing a local shop. He takes care of them in due order with his usual quips. The police arrive and thank him for his work.

One of the cops mentioned ol’ Flat Top cutting the budget for the police since Spider-Man is taking care of crime in town. Turns out the Flat Top he was talking about was J. Jonah Jameson himself, the Mayor of New York. Seems the Mayor is seeing his poll numbers plummet because he is using city finances toward a Spider-Man task force which the general public doesn’t like. Then he has the nerve to complain about The Daily Bugle calling him out for doing this, once again blaming Spider-Man for all his troubles. I get that JJJ is a bit of a one note character. There are some shades to the character which can at times make him interesting but this was just too cliche. This was like how he was presented in Spider-Man 3, a joke. Whereas in the original Spider-Man movie, he’s a bombastic ass but he still does the right thing. We’ll probably get a little more JJJ in the story what with him being Mayor and all but this is not a good start for the character.

Next up we see Hydro-Man battling a trio of heroes, Gravity, Spider-Woman, and Firestar. Growing up a fan of Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends, I geeked out when I saw Firestar. Especially when she name dropped the show.

Anyway, Spider-Man makes quick work of Hydro-Man by using a special freezing device he made up at his job at Horizon Laboratories. Then it’s off to work where he showcases the freezing device to his co-workers who congratulate him. I found his female co-worker quite annoying. I am sure there are animal activists who would freak out over the well being of earthworms but man are they annoying as all hell. Reminds me of an episode of The Howard Stern Show where he got two female members of PETA to make out with each when he threatened to kill some bugs or something. Just stupid. Priorities people.

Next, we have Peter Parker’s girlfriend Carlie calling him to speak with him. I never knew this character existed before reading this issue but I liked how someone in my position doesn’t feel like her character is wedged into the story. I don’t know her history but she feels like she belongs which is a good job from the writer. When Peter inquires as to what she would want to talk about, we see one of the criminals that he had webbed up earlier break free from the webs, which one of the cops mentions that that is something even Rhino could not do. The bugs have bit a lot of people…including Carlie who takes down the criminal with a clothesline John Bradshaw Layfield from the WWE would be proud of.

After the phone call Peter is walking, oblivious to everything around him when a bus barrels down on him. Phil Urich and Norah Winters pull him to safety. Thanks to an editor’s note, we discover that Peter lost his spider sense. I have no problem with editor’s notes but one annoyance with this issue is that it seems every other panel had an editor’s note. I am all for filling in the reader on events they may not have read but when they become obnoxious like this issue, you have to ask yourself whether there was another way for the writer to talk about past events without annoying the reader. I did enjoy the panel where Phil gets pissed at a comment Peter made and you see the image of Phil’s alter ego, Hobgoblin. It was an amazing way to show the character having a dark side without making them rattle off a monologue.

We have a quick little scene of Jay and May Jameson in a hotel. It’s a quick way to show that the bed bugs making everyone like Spider-Man. It’s a nice tease towards the disease spreading across the country.

The scene turns towards a criminal about to be attacked for not being able to pay a mobster. Just when two bad guys are about to break his knees, he breaks out with some spider moves and escapes. That is one thing I never liked about Spider-Man. I get that he gets the strength of a spider but nothing was ever said about him, or anyone else like him with similar powers, becoming a martial arts expert. Show the character taking a beating or two but overcoming the bad guys. Show them learning to fight over time, not breaking out the Bruce Lee gymnastics. Once he escapes he runs across The Jackal, Miles Warren, who invites him to a get together of like minded criminals. Something big is planned.

We get a quick scene at The Baxter Building where Reed Richards is sending Sue and others to The Negative Zone for their protection. I wasn’t sure why they were being sent there. While I have to assume it has something to do with the bedbug outbreak, it could have had something to do with an event from a previous Fantastic Four issue that I am not aware. I have to dock points for this because I had no clue what the hell was going on. We did see Peter speak with Mary Jane on the phone. The Thing makes a funny comment to her on the phone. Nothing consequential but it’s a great little showcase of his character, how someone looking like a monster deep down is a lovable guy.

The next scene shows Flash Thompson as Venom fighting against agents of AIM. How or why he became Venom I don’t know. It’s not really explained, just presented as something we should already know. He’s talking to his girlfriend Betty Brant at the hospital where she is a patient. He’s telling her she needs to stay in bed but being a reporter, when she sees the emergency room filled with people who are freaked out they have spider powers, her eyes spread wide in happiness. This is a scene that will probably make more sense the further I get into the story but their inclusion made no sense. ‘Read the other comics,’ you might say. I shouldn’t have to. Not that I need to know the complete life history of every character. Some of the best stories are stories that throw you into the deep end and expect you to swim. Star Wars is a perfect example. For Episode 4, you’re suddenly involved in a fight between two sides that you don’t know anything about. Yet the movie does a great job of acclimating you to what is going on quickly. You care for the characters without quite knowing where they fit at first. Once you get used to the story you care for them even more. The only reason I knew about Flash Thompson and Betty Brant was their places in Spider-Man history. If I started reading Spider-Man with this issue I would not have known what was going on.

We go next to Avenger’s Mansion where Spider-Man is just finishing a hand in a poker game the team is playing. He leaves quickly to go to karate practice. Once there, Shang finally introduces him to Ms. Carpenter who is Madam Web. She tells Spider-Man that she can see into the future, knows what is going on, and knows he will help. But she wants him to prepare to kill if need be. Spider-Man says that will never happen. I didn’t really care for Madam Web. I get that she is a telepath and can see the future but the writer could have done a better job in having her give the exposition she is there to give. Anyway, Spider-Man takes off, being followed by strangers who are swinging through the air themselves. I get that Peter doesn’t have spider sense but he looks like a fool not seeing stuff like this. He arrives at his apartment with his girlfriend waiting for him, ready to tell him the fact that she has powers now.

The Jackal is arriving at a laboratory where some clones of himself are at work. He meets up with a strange woman who tells him about a new ‘plaything’ she made for him, a Peter Parker clone. The woman transforms the clone into a monster. It comes out of a tube, following her orders. She then alludes to an island of spiders. The last panel is great where we see average citizens flying in the sky like Spider-Man.

Bottom Line:

Another good read. While it is not as good as the previous issue, it does enough to advance the story for me to want to read more. It has its flaws, such as the over usage of editor’s notes and minor scenes with characters doing things we need a little more explanation for, but it is still a pretty good setup for future issues in the story. The artwork was pretty solid throughout, especially the little scenes like the image of the Hobgoblin when Phil was pissed at Peter for the quick retort. Peter was also a little too oblivious to events happening in the story that you would think anyone else would at least have raised an eye over. But overall, it’s a good start to a story, unlike the chaos that was The Korvac Saga. My how much a difference twenty years makes.

Ultimate Fantastic Four #1

Ultimate_Fantastic_Four_Vol_1_1

The first comic series I dove into on the Marvel Unlimited app was Ultimate Spider-Man. What a wonderful world that was created in that series. In what was essentially a reboot of the franchise, they took the character we all know and love and essentially started over. They didn’t make any real changes to the characters themselves, they just imagined what the Peter Parker story would look like if he were first bitten by the radioactive spider in the year 2000. A modern take on the origin of Spider-Man.

But that wasn’t the only series that appeared in the Ultimate universe. They rebooted a couple other franchises as well, one being The Fantastic Four. Before this, I admittedly had never read a regular Fantastic Four comic. I was most definitely aware of them of course. You can’t be a fan of any Marvel Comics character without coming across them at least once. And come on, The Thing kicks ass. A tough talking rock man who beats people up all in the name of science? What more could a comic ask for?

Boobs.

So this issue introduces us to Reed Richards right at birth. From day one he has an inquisitive mind that causes him to see the world much differently than the way you or I see it. From there we see him as a young man being taunted by classmates. Who comes to the rescue but one Ben Grimm, star football player? It was wonderful to see the relationship between the two. I loved how they didn’t set it up where the two met for the first time. When we first see them together their relationship is already well formed. While Ben Grimm is very much Reed Richard’s guardian angel from the bullies at his school, we see that he also realizes that Reed is the far superior one among the two. In that sense, Ben Grimm is one hell of a smart man. He knows his weaknesses and is willing to follow the folks that can help him out. I also appreciated the single minded focus of Reed Richards. Not to give too much away but Reed ends up a changed person if you follow his path from this issue towards Secret Wars and beyond. It’s nice to see that from page one, issue one we see some of the seeds of what ends up making him the character he becomes.

The main focus in this story is the introduction to the N-Zone. The Negative Zone. Reed discovers it and with the help of some dismantled household appliances, he finds a way to send his toys into the zone. Once he makes this public at a school science fair, he is recruited to join a special school in the world famous Baxter Building. Heading the group is one Franklin Storm. He welcomes Reed and introduces him to his son and daughter, Johnny and Sue Storm. Then the shocker. The Negative Zone that Reed had discovered was also discovered by the folks at the Baxter Building. Even better, they have built a machine that allows them to see into the Negative Zone. Reed was the first to actually send something there. With the two working together, we have a great seed for further issues.

What was great about this issue over all, much like other titles in the Ultimate line, was that each issue is great at giving you a story that resolves in one particular issue but gives you a reason to read further, much like old movie serials. Each issue, while it may be a part of a bigger story, still has to function as its own individual story. You never know when a reader is going to hop on board and if you don’t find a way to walk the tightrope and please both the long time readers and readers that just start with any particular issue, you will end up alienating anyone looking to start on any series. The Ultimate line was great at the tightrope act.

The art was beautiful. It was a beautiful mix of traditional Jack Kirby/Steve Ditko style of work with the added depth you would expect from a modern story. Some of the best parts of the Ultimate line of comics has been the modern takes on the classic characters. The characters as we know them are represented well but have the modern take that makes their characters in these stories unique. What I mean is, the Fantastic Four in this story are not the characters we know and love from the main Marvel stories. They are very much their own unique selves.

The depth in the pictures is great as well. As I have complained about in the past, too often stories that are supposed to be grand in scope end up looking like they are taking place in a very small room. That is not the case here, even when the story is taking place at Reed Richards childhood home. You get a sense that everything that is happening is happening in a real world environment.

Bottom Line:

The Ultimate series from Marvel have all been wonderful additions to their line of comics. They have added some extra depth to characters we all that we knew and loved already. While I was disappointed that with the Secret Wars event and the All New, All Different Marvel that is out now would involve the ending of the Ultimate universe, the fact is these comics and characters are going nowhere. Whether it be the inclusion of the characters in the regular Marvel universe or simply going back and reading the old issues on Marvel Unlimited, these stories are great ways for fans to start from the beginning with characters that have been around for ages. Do yourself a favor and read these stories. The work that was done on bringing them to life in a way that pleased both old fans and new. I could imagine that when these comics first came out, long time Fantastic Four fans may have been skeptical as to why this needed to be done. The end result proves that what is old can be new again.

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.

The Avengers #151

Avengers151_399

Summary:

http://marvel.wikia.com/wiki/Avengers_Vol_1_151

The Good:

I wanted to be a little nostalgic today so I decided to see what Marvel comic was released the week I was born. From there, the cover that interested me would be the one I would choose to review today. I came across this issue of The Avengers and decided to give it a read.

This issue concerned the reveal of a new lineup of Avengers. Every now and then the bullpen at Marvel decides they need to add or remove members of the team to kind of spice things up. I like that they do this for the simple fact that the same group of people being put in the same type of situations can lead to repetition. I think of the Fantastic Four here. While I don’t hate that group and can read some of their issues and enjoy them, for the most part that story gets old fast because it is more of the same for each and every issue. You read one, you’ve read them all.

Whereas you take a tv show like The Simpsons for example, a show with a core group of characters that had quite a number of minor characters elevated in order to add more depth to what was going on. You can argue till the cows come home as to when the show jumped the proverbial shark. Fact is, if the show had stayed with the same format it had during its first couple seasons the show would not be on the air now. Not that the first few seasons were bad, there are some classics there. But the show needed to expand beyond its core cast in order to keep repetition from boring viewers. While you may make a pretty good argument about the quality of that show compared to where it used to be, the fact that it is still on the air says something about the formula they use.

Similar to The Avengers. While the same core characters will always be there in one way, shape, or form to influence things, the strength of this comic is the fact that things change up. New characters with new temperaments are mixed with established characters to create new tensions. You don’t have to worry about repetition boring you to death.

The art work is beautiful. I would call it classical if it were released today but this is the artwork that set the template for how we view these characters today. And the cover, man. The covers of comics were a lot like album covers used to be back in the day. Often times you’d have a cover that was completely bad ass that may not even have anything to do with what happens during the story at hand but it is still enough to get you to want to but the issue in question. This issue is no different. With Captain America clearly in charge, you get the sense that something great is going to happen. You want to dive into the story to see what action is about to happen.

The Bad:

While the art initially pulls you into the story, the story itself does its best to bore you to tears. Back before DVD’s of television shows were popular, television shows would commonly have one episode per season that were flashback episodes. They would take the tiniest thread of a story and pad the show with scenes from earlier in the show. The episodes, while they could be entertaining, were throwaway. They were used to remind you of successes past of your favorite characters. This issue is no different.

Now I wouldn’t have had too much of an issue with a flashback issue if there was something going on. Up until the last page the majority of the issue either consists of a newsman pontificating on the importance of The Avengers, old members reminiscing on their former life as Avengers, or the current team sitting at a table deciding who would be on the team. Whoever thought that would be a good idea deserved to be tossed out on their ass for creating such a boring horrible story.

Hank Pym was treated horribly this issue as well. He starts off melodramatically leaving the team because apparently he wants time off to focus on his knitting or something. By issue’s end, he’s suddenly back full force without any hesitation. I can see him reluctantly coming back just to make sure he could protect his wife but the way he comes back here just comes across like an episode of Days of our Lives. There was no real motivation for him to come back other than to allow the writers the chance to make The Wasp fawn all over him because isn’t that what women should do with their men?

There was just no need to have the issue set up like this. None. They could have just had the team members that wanted to leave make their exits and have Captain America or Iron Man bring in new recruits. I mean think about it. You read comics not just for the words but for the pictures on the page. Why did someone thing it was a good idea for a whole issue where people just sit there? Just because the last page promises action in the next issue doesn’t make this issue good. In fact it pisses me off. Why didn’t we get some problem that arises that allows the new members of the team prove themselves as Avengers instead of sitting back and watching a committee meeting decide? Horrible.

Bottom Line:

Ignore this issue. While it has a great cover, there is nothing of value on the inside of this comic. If I had not come across this issue with my Marvel Unlimited subscription I would have hated myself for actually buying it because nothing happens. Nothing at all. It’s like C-SPAN made a comic of a day in the life of the House of Representatives. Unless the Speaker of the House uses his gavel to attack people with a hidden cosmic ray in his quest to take over the world, nothing of note happens worth making it a comic. Same with this issue. Voting on new members of The Avengers is just silly and pointless especially since there is no action whatsoever. Now a story that involved taking a new person out on an adventure, have that new person prove themselves to the team, and then get voted into The Avengers would be a smart thing. It keeps you interested as well as goes about introducing the new members of the team. But what do I know? I give the story a 2.

What saves this work is the art. Despite being drawn in 1976 the art doesn’t really give its age. Apart from shortening the male newscasters hair it could pass for a modern piece which speaks well to the talent of George Perez. The art takes what would be a comic that didn’t deserve a spot in a landfill to a comic that at least visually you have to see once. It may not be classic but it is still well done. I give the art a 7.

assemble