Ultimate Spider-Man #16

   When you’re exploring the mind of a madman as a writer, you walk a fine line of making the madness something folks can relate to in some way which makes the character that much more frightening to the reader or you make his ramblings so incoherent that you don’t know what the hell is going on so you end up losing interest in the story. The problem I am seeing with Doctor Octopus in the story two date is a little two fold. One, we don’t have much to base his character on. We had a brief introduction to him when Peter toured the Osborn facility and he stole some of Peter’s blood. From there we see him involved in the explosion at the labs which he spends time in a government hospital for and now he is cuckoo bananas. We as readers are not going to like every character we see but we have to have some sort of reaction to them. For Doctor Octopus, I am not having that reaction. Any sort of feelings I have for the character are more related to his status as a villain in the original Spider-Man universe (Marvel Universe 616 for you nerds out there).   Doc Ock is currently having issues remembering his past which brings him to the home of some other rich industrialist. It is implied that Otto had been giving the person who owned that room industrial secrets from Osborn Labs. That is fine and all but it doesn’t do much to explain what is really going on because again, we’ve not spent too much time with this character to really know what motivates him.

   Think of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. The big badass of the film was Darth Maul. A part from having a cool look and being a part of a great fight scene, what do we know about him? No, we don’t need to know his whole life story but what motivates him? Why is he a Sith? What brought him to be aligned with Darth Sidious? We don’t know this information. We’re expected to not like the guy because he’s wearing black and he has horns. That is not the way to give us a bad guy in a story. We have to know what motivates him. Even if that motivation is based on incorrect information of if the guy just loves being evil, knowing the motivation for why they are bad is key to making us as the audience have the reaction the writer wants us to have in the story. In the case of a movie there can be some cheats of course which comics can replicate in a sense two since they both involve visual and written arts together. But making a guy look bad is not the way to set him up for you audience to accept him as bad. They just may think he’s an idiot.

   We get our first official introduction to SHIELD in this issue. Turns out the room that Doc Ock trashed was owned by one Justin Hammer. Folks that are fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe will recognize that name of course since Justin Hammer, played by the great Sam Rockwell, played a younger version of the character in that movie. This character will end up having the same type of values as the movie version but since we are just meeting him here we don’t know that. He’s just a very important business man that has enough clout that he can discuss top secret information with SHIELD agents.

   It is interesting that our first introduction to SHIELD is clouded. The casual Marvel fan will probably have nothing but good things to say about the organization what with the characters they see on a regular basis like Nick Fury, Agent Coulson, Agent May, and others but here we’re not quite sure where SHIELD stands. If they’re talking to someone who has been involved in corporate espionage they themselves may not be an organization that we should trust. I like that they kept the agents appearance so ambiguous.

   We do get a little follow up with Gwen Stacy this issue. Her motivation for pulling the knife on Kong is that no one was helping Peter after Kong kicked him. She wanted to help him out, especially since she stated she thought he was cute. That is nice and all but as I stated in my previous review, her actions are quite ridiculous for what the situation asked for. I mean, she saw that Peter and Kong earlier had been having a conversation about mutants that didn’t result in Kong kicking Peter’s ass so her reaction was quite stupid if you ask me. Not that it is bad that she defended someone but you would think there were any number of ways that she could have responded that didn’t involve recreating the fight scene from West Side Story.

Bottom Line:

   It is my job to critique. Just because I look for things that may not have gone right in a story doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the work. This story was pretty damn good considering some of the areas that I felt Bendis failed with. My biggest issue overall has to do with the sheer lack of information we have about Doctor Octopus. He’s killed a few people so sure he’s a bad guy but as of now we don’t have any motivation apart from insanity that is driving him to do what he is doing. The original Doctor Octopus was very much insane as well after enduring a nuclear accident but you did get the impression that, no matter how wrong his motivation was, that he had something he was working towards. He had a goal. He had motivation. So far, Doc Ock in the Ultimate universe does not have that motivation.

   The art work this issue was nothing to write home about but it wasn’t bad. I would call it average. It didn’t do anything amazing that really stood out but it kept the story chugging along without too much distraction.

Ultimate Spider-Man #14

Contrast. Showcasing the differences between two different scenarios. This issue we see Peter becoming comfortable being Peter with the contrasting story of the birth of one of his newest antagonists.

The new villain in question is Doctor Octopus. We’d briefly met him when he was one of Norman Osborne’s scientists sneaking a blood sample from Peter when Harry brought him on a tour of his father’s facility. Now he wakes up in an anonymous government facility (SHIELD maybe?) with the tool he used for experiments permanently attached to his body.

One part of the birth of Doctor Octopus that I enjoyed was the fact that there is some sympathy on our part as readers for his plight. The government agency in question that had been keeping him apparently had the ability to remove the device that was fused to his body but thought it would be more interesting to see what would happen if it stayed there. I like the fact that in this run you see that the creation of some villains like Doc Ock are caused by forces that would normally be considered the good guys. If a government agency were to pull you from an industrial accident and experiment on you, would you think all was all right or would you be rightfully pissed and looking for the first neck to snap? It doesn’t excuse the behavior of these folks after the fact but seeing that they have some reason for being as angry and evil as they are is refreshing to see.

I think the best advice I ever received in regards to antagonists was to have a bad guy who truly believes he is right in what he is doing. Objectively, they may be handling things the wrong way but there has to be some level of truth in why the bad guy is pissed. In this case, Doctor Octopus is very much upset that the government, instead of saving him, decided it was a ok to experiment on him, turning him into a mutation of humanity. This is a strong set up for the character. You have just a little bit of sympathy added into the bad guy mix which makes him a much more nuanced character than the mustache twirling bad guy.

I also enjoyed the scenes with Peter. He’s enjoying himself more at school it seems and is not the habitual loser he once was. He may not be captain of the team or that level of high school cool but people dig him.

His time at school did start a discussion that will be an ongoing thread in the Ultimate line of books when it comes to mutants. People are scared of them despite there being evidence that apart from a few bad seeds, mutants are there to help and are just regular people with a little bit of extra something added in. They get into a discussion as to whether they should watch the mutants just in case they decided to rise up or something.

Being that this series was born right around the time of 9/11, there are some definite parallels between mutants in this story and how Muslims have been treated in this country since that horrible day. Like the mutants in the story, Muslims have had to deal with an obscene amount of scrutiny from people due to the actions of a small group of people that really don’t represent Muslims as a whole. Yet due to people in power using Muslims and the Islamic religion as a scapegoat to maintain their level of power, you have incident after incident around the world today where honest, average practitioners of the Islamic faith are being targeted and attacked, whether it be through their Mosque’s being burned to the ground, physical attacks from unruly mobs, or the recent news of an Islamic family from the UK denied access to America when all they wanted to do was visit Disneyland for a vacation.

Wanting to stop bad people from doing bad things is not a bad thing. When your definition of bad people includes entire religions, you’re taking everything over the line. It makes me think of people that are suddenly experts on Islam after reading a meme on Facebook that was all of three sentences long. What we’re seeing today is reminiscent of what Jews had to go through during World War Two, what African Americans had to deal with in this country since they pretty much forcibly set feet here. When people get scared they want someone to blame for their problems. When you see someone that is different from you, different simply because they look different or have different beliefs than you, it is easy to marginalize them, make them less human. If people actually took the time to realize that when it comes to Islam and terrorism that there are people very much like your Jim Jones’s of the world who would more than love to manipulate a religious text for their own nefarious means, they may step back and look at everything more objectively. We would see what is really going on with a small group of douche bags that are no more representative of their faith than the Ku Klux Klan or the Westboro Baptist Church are representative of Christianity and offer our support and care for people that are just looking to live their lives and raise their families in peace. When you do the polar opposite and think every member of that group beliefs the ramblings of a small group of madmen, you sow the seeds of animosity and anger that will lead to much worse than we’ve seen today and frankly with how the United States has treated people of the Islamic faith over the past 14 plus years, we will deserve any bit of anger that comes our way.

Bottom Line:

We’re past the growing pains. Peter Parker has pretty much all the kinks out of his system and he is ready to be the Spider-Man we all know and love. Little does he know that he has a threat coming his way that will test every bit of strength he thinks he has. I can’t wait.

I also can’t wait for more Gwen Stacy. Gwen was Peter’s first major love in the original comics so it was only a matter of time before she arrived. She had one scene where she offered her thoughts on the discussion Peter and Kong were having but she definitely made an impact. With the outfit she was wearing alone, folks will not forget her anytime soon. Her father already had a small cameo when he interviewed Peter after Uncle Ben’s death so rest assured we will see him again.

One little knock I have against her outfit was that how Mark Bagly drew her, I thought of this Olivia Newton John from Grease. I almost expected Peter to break out in song and they both drive off into the sunset together.

One other neat little piece of business had to do with Kong. The last couple pages of the comic deal with him simply sitting back on his couch thinking about past events. His mind turns to Peter Parker and after some deep thought of recent events he comes to the realization that Peter Parker is Spider-Man. I liked seeing this because what I didn’t want in the Ultimate line of comics was the Lois Lane effect. When you have characters that normally should be smart as a whip yet don’t see the obvious that is right in front of their faces about the identity of of someone really is, it makes you question the intelligence of everyone involved. I am definitely excited to see where this goes in future issues.

The Amazing Spider-man #86 Beware the Black Widow

Amazing_Spider-Man_Vol_1_86

I love Black Widow. To me she’s one of the most fascinating characters in Marvel. NOT FOR THAT REASON!!!

AoU_Black_Widow_0003

Ok, it helps. Anyway, Black Widow has a shadowy past that she’s making atonement. She started as a villain for the Soviet Union facing off against Iron Man with her henchman The Crimson Dynamo. A man named Clint Barton helped bring her to the side of the angels.

There are many characters in comics that people know a lot about however they haven’t had a chance to actually read some of the origin stories for said characters. The issue I read today is not so much an origin story but a sort of re-origin story. While Black Widow had been in the Marvel Universe for a while at that point, apparently at some point they took her out of the stories for a while. This story brings her back.

Summary:

http://marvel.wikia.com/wiki/Amazing_Spider-Man_Vol_1_86

The Good:

Getting more acquainted with Black Widow was great. While this is a Spider-man comic, Ol’ Peter Parker kind of takes a backseat to Natasha Romanov. We see her in her original outfit spying on Ol’ Spidey. From there she heads home contemplating what she needs to do in order to get back into the hero business all the while trying on a new outfit, the outfit that we associate with Black Widow today.

I really enjoyed the trip down memory lane. Seeing what brought Black Widow into the woman she became was great. You got an understanding that when she was bad, her motives were based on helping someone, her husband at the time, a fact that I was not aware of. Her logic to want to fight Spider-man, in order to learn from him so she can be a superior fighter, was sound, something you could actually see someone doing.

I also enjoyed the plot with Peter and Gwen Stacy. At this point Peter was just coming back from a fight with Kingpin. Gwen notices he’s hurt and gets upset, telling him she no longer wants him to associate with Spider-man. (At this point she knows that he takes photos of Spider-man for The Daily Bugle, not that he’s Spider-man.) One great feat Marvel has always been good at was showing that the job of being a hero can take its toll on you, even if your goals are to help mankind.

The artwork was what you would expect from this era, excellent. John Romita Sr. was one of the figures that helped shape the images we take for granted today. While you could probably nitpick of the artwork (there was too much yellow. Apparently John Romita Sr. liked yellow.) when your work creates the standard that people still use to this day, you’re doing something right.

The Bad:

I find myself again reacting negatively to a story that is simply not written for today’s audiences. It was a great story but there were little things I found quite annoying. Stan Lee apparently LOVED having people speak their thoughts out loud repeatedly. I’ve read many comics from this era and this is a common device used to express thoughts but it really took me out of the story.

I also hated Stan’s use of dots during this dialogue. It was annoying…reading a sentence…that was constantly interrupted by those damn dots. I had to go back to make sure William Shatner didn’t write the comic.

I hated how the women were portrayed in this story. The most offensive part was when Gwen had Peter promise to not associate with Spider-man anymore and leaves. Her father tells Peter that he should excuse her because she’s a woman and women think with their hearts. Yeah, this was the early 1970’s. What should I expect? I could not accept the dismissive attitude both Gwen Stacy and Black Widows were treated with.

Bottom Line:

While the story is not perfect, debuting the modern take on a character that people know and love was a great read. As I stated, my objections have more to do with modern tastes than anything else. The story I give an 8. The artwork brought me back to early Saturday morning cartoons which was great. As I stated, while you can certainly nitpick, you could probably nitpick a Van Gogh as well. While the story is not perfect, it is a perfect introduction to the modern Black Widow.

Spider-Man #121 The Night Gwen Stacy Died

121-Cover-The-Night-Gwen-Stacy-Died

After reading the debut of Galactus I was in the mood for some more classic comic book action. One story I’ve certainly been aware of but haven’t had the chance to read cover to cover yet was the issue of The Amazing Spider-Man where Gwen Stacy was killed.

Here is a summary of the story. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Night_Gwen_Stacy_Died)

There is a lot to love about this issue. In many ways this issue brought us the comic industry the way we know and love it today. It had previously been unimaginable for such a beloved character to meet an untimely fate until this issue. To call the decision to kill her brave is quite the understatement. The drama it brings to the story, the drama it brings to the character of Spider-Man would give creators much more to deal with in terms of story creation for future work.

One great thing about this issue is the fact that this issue felt self contained. It had references to the previous issue with regards to Spider-Man being in Canada facing off against The Hulk which ended up giving Peter Parker a cold which ended up affecting his abilities. This was the perfect way to reference backstory and have that backstory affect the issue we were reading without the prerequisite of the reading having to have actually read that story to fully understand what was going on. (Which admittedly I haven’t.)

I also enjoyed that for the most part, the dialogue felt natural. While there were still instances of stilted dialogue that make older comics a little hard to read today the dialogue was pretty well done. You could realistically see Peter Parker saying what he does to The Green Goblin after he realizes Gwen Stacy is dead.

the-night-gwen-stacy-died

This is one time where I don’t have much in the way of complaint about the issue. As I mentioned before the dialogue is not always up to par but that is NOT the result of bad writing. This is simply how comics were written then. Today we’re used to more natural dialogue, the type of dialogue you’d expect to hear on the street or in movies today. So while it sometimes took me out of the moment judging said dialogue on today’s standards is not really fair. That would be like judging the origin comics of Captain America, Superman, or Batman based on today’s comic standards. The comics in question are hard to read and frankly garbage based on today’s standards but the important part is that without those comics, we would not have the heroes we have today. Seeds were planted with those early issues. They may not stand the test of time but they do have their value.

It’s not really fair to judge this issue due to its importance. While you can critique the story and come up with minor issues, without this issue the comics industry would look quite different today. The chance they took in killing off a character who was so important to the story could have resulted in some major backlash if it were not executed properly. Gerry Conway and John Romita Jr. (as well as the others involved in the creation of this issue) should be applauded for their work in creating a masterpiece. This issue is very much like the Mona Lisa of comics.