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.

Daredevil #168

Daredevil_Vol_1_168

When 20th Century Fox lost the rights to Daredevil not many people cared. While the Daredevil movie wasn’t the worst comic book movie ever made, it was also one that didn’t have much in the way of passion. It was a by the colors movie that just had no soul. While the studio was able to push out a spin off based on Elektra, no one really cared. (Even though they wasted the talents of both Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner in doing so.) While there were attempts by others to get another Daredevil film off the ground, including a sizzle reel by Joe Carnahan to attempt to generate interest from the studio…

…Fox chose to let the rights go back to Marvel.

Marvel announced that Daredevil, alone with Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist would not only have their own individual shows on Netflix, they would also come together similar to The Avengers in a show called The Defenders. Again, not many people really cared. Sure, Marvel Studios had earned a lot of good will and people were definitely interested in seeing what the studio would be but speaking for myself, I didn’t expect much.

Then the show debuted and blew everyone’s expectations as to what made a comic book show great out of the water. Similar to Batman, it was a superhero story about a guy with no superpowers. His powers simply occurred due to exposure to radioactive material. It was a show that even my wife would end up enjoying. It had a love of the source material without solely relying upon that to give us a good story. Soon after the first season hit they announced there would be a second season. In that season we would be introduced to Frank Castle, The Punisher, and one Elektra Natchios.

As readers of the comics will know, much of the Daredevil show has been taken from Frank Miller’s run on the comic. One such issue involves the debut of one Elektra. She met Matt Murdock in college. She was the daughter of a Greek ambassador, he a bumbling law student. They start to date and fall in love. About a year into their romance, Elektra and her father are held hostage. During the crisis, Matt ends up saving her but in the melee, cops murder her father. She is understandably upset and chooses to break up with Matt. Years later, well after Matt has become Daredevil, he is tracking someone down only to be knocked unconscious by a woman. That woman? Elektra.

When he wakes, he gets info on where Elektra may be headed. He discovers that she was in over her head and about to be executed. He drives an airplane at the bad guys and ends up whipping ass, saving her in the process where she, after realizing he is Matt Murdock, breaks down in tears.

The story was understandably amazing. This is comic book storytelling 101. The character of Elektra, while we don’t get too much of a grasp of her history, is fully fleshed out in the pages that Mr. Miller puts together. We not only see why Matt would have such strong feelings for her, we see that even as an international bounty hunter and killer, she still has heart and loves Matt Murdock. Frank Miller, from every story I’ve ever read from him, has always beautifully written characters in wonderful shades of grey. Take Batman: Year One. Jim Gordon, the future Commissioner of Police that for years we as readers have held in high esteem, has an affair with his wife and ends up getting caught. While that is a disgusting act, we still see him as very much a hero in the story.

If you think about it, what hero doesn’t have moments where they could be considered scum by others? No one is perfect. Everyone I have ever held in high esteem has ended up doing something stupid that made me doubt everything they’ve done. But after reflection, I’ve been able to sort the bad from the good. Because in the end, good people by their actions will always end up redeeming themselves. Some make take longer than others but they will. Hell, if Anakin Skywalker could do it, anyone can.

With Elektra, we see in this story why she chose to end up in a life of crime. With her father being accidentally murdered by the police, who child wouldn’t have issues with authority after that? It’s understandable that she would take the actions that she does. It doesn’t make it right of course but you understand it which makes her arc in this issue a thing of beauty. Too often in comics even today, women don’t have much depth. They’re either really good people or evil bitches. There’s no grey to their characters. Frank Miller though finds a way to find the proverbial diamond in the rough. Like Nancy Callahan from Sin City. A stripper by trade, she’s still someone you would have no issue taking home to mother. (Maybe after a few drinks first but still.)

The art for this issue was good but I think it did suffer from one thing. The color. Maybe it’s because I’m used to his work on Sin City but to me Frank Miller’s best stories, including this one, work best in black and white. If Humphry Bogart were alive in the 1980’s, Frank Miller would have written a movie just for him. Each panel is like a caterpillar compared to the butterfly his later work visually becomes. You can see how the visuals in Sin City came about from issues like this but the color in the story ultimately is just not needed.

There’s a panel near the end that explains what I mean. It’s just one panel where Matt discovers the main bad guy has a gun to Elektra’s head. With color you see the emotion in his face but it almost takes you out of the mood. When I turned gray scale on my iPad, the emotions went from blunt by muted to almost exploding off the page. Again, maybe I’ve been exposed to too much late era Frank Miller but I really think this would have worked so much better in black and white, not that it is bad now.

Bottom Line:

Yet another Mighty Marvel story from the early 80’s golden age. It’s also a great read to get under your belt before the new season of Daredevil appears in February. The show has used so much from Frank Miller’s run with the character so far, it only goes to suspect they may use this story pretty much verbatim. Even if they pick and choose what they use, it will be great to see what they ultimately use and what they don’t. You will be doing yourself a favor to read this issue.

Black Widow #17

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One of the first comics on Marvel Unlimited I came across after I sped read through the original Ultimate Spider-Man series was Black Widow. As I have stated before, I LOVE Black Widow. To me, she is the most fascinating character today in the Marvel Universe. Yeah, Scarlett Johansson has done a great job with the character in terms of introducing her to a greater audience but she’s been around for many years.

She got her start as a baddie. She was a Soviet agent that was looking to defeat Iron Man. As luck would have it, thanks to the novelty idea of a woman bad guy, she turns to the side of baseball and apple pie and becomes a force for good. From there she has many, many adventures through the years for SHIELD, The Avengers, and others she’s involved in.

But what I love about that character is she’s so complicated. When she was bad, she wasn’t bad for the sake of being bad. No, she truly believed in her cause for the Soviets until she learned the error of her ways. Since then she’s dealt with guilt. The beauty of the current series from Nathan Edmondson and Phil Noto has been their detailing Natasha’s efforts to make amends for her past sins.

Everyone has something in their life that they want to make amends for. Granted, that something for some folks is nothing major. Just a simple matter of an apology or something of the like. For some folks we’re talking about something more than words or simple actions. For a spy, you have to imagine the level of guilt that could sweep through your brain if you actually sat back and thought of all the collateral damage your life has caused.

This series as a whole has been great at personalizing the character. You feel closer to Natasha with the simple scenes of her and her cat than you do when she’s kicking ass out in the field. The movies don’t have the luxury of little character moments that comics and television can give characters. While people like Joss Whedon have done amazing work with Natasha in the movies…

…the personal moments with the character have been lacking to say the least. Yeah, they forced a potential love story between Bruce Banner and Natasha in The Avengers: Age of Ultron but the keyword there is forced. There was no hint whatsoever in previous movies that Natasha and Bruce had any sort of interest in each other. At the end of The Avengers, I sensed that she understood the anger that Bruce went through which allowed her to slide off the attack she went through when he changed into The Hulk but I never got the idea that the man who brutally beat her and almost killed her was suddenly a guy who set her panties afire. Maybe, just maybe, she sees him as a damaged soul just like she sees herself but again, there was no setup for that love story. They had hinted at her being interested in Hawkeye and maybe Captain America. Not The Hulk.

The art work in this series is beautiful. Instead of going the typical over the top super curvy sex symbol that barely resembles a real woman, Natasha Romanov looks real. Her face shows such emotions throughout. When she’s having a vision of her and Matt Murdock on a boat in the middle of nowhere, the pure joy on her face is real. The anger she experiences when she realizes it is a vision is real. The locations where she’s at in this particular issue are real. This is some of my favorite artwork in comics today.

I also liked the fact that she was drawn beautiful but not stereotypical. Like any red blooded American male, I think she’s hot. But there’s more to the character than just her physical appearance. If this story were just meant to showcase page after page of her in sexy outfits and poses, it would be Barb Wire. But Natasha Romanov is very much a real woman in this world. She looks like someone you could actually meet in real life, not the caricature you see in some comics. And to me, this makes Natasha more beautiful than in any other iteration I have seen her in (apart from the movies. Cause come on.)

Bottom Line:

You have to read this comic. If ever there is a perfect marriage of story and art, it is this comic. For all I know, this comic may not go down in history as the greatest comic of all time. And I’m not going to argue that it is necessarily but it is still pretty amazing. It tells a simple story of a woman making amends for her past. While it is set in the world of spies and superheros, her struggle is very much real and very much presented in both word and art as something we all go through. I also love how she is presented in the story. As I wrote this, I showed my wife the cover and some of the art work for this issue and she appreciated that Natasha was presented as a regular woman. One turn off for her in comics and comic book movies has been the treatment of women and rightly so. Women have LONG been given the short end of the stick, if they’ve even been given a part of the stick at all. Take Black Widow in the movies. We have Scarlett Johansson, an actress with incredible range who has been a part of a LOT of great movies over the years, perpetually kept as a side kick in these movies when she has shown that she can carry a movie on her own. You have a movie company that has made every effort to keep her off the marketing for the movie unless it is on a poster in a suggestive pose. What woman could relate to that?

This comic, while set in that world, is something that people, women especially, can relate to. I highly recommend it and like all Marvel Comics today, will be sad when it comes to an end.

Daredevil #183

Daredevil_Vol_1_183

Summary:

http://marvel.wikia.com/wiki/Daredevil_Vol_1_183

The Good:

Frank Miller. Frank Miller, along with Alan Moore and others, are responsible for comics as they are today. How so you may be asking? Well, people like Mr. Miller are responsible for taking comics from the adolescent adventure stories that Stan Lee and others created to the hardened adventures that adults could enjoy and love without looking creepy doing it.

This story is about Matt Murdock investigating who was responsible for selling a little girl the drug angel dust. The girl thought snakes were attacking her and decided she would rather jump out of a window than deal with them. During his investigation his crosses paths with The Punisher who tries to enlist his help in taking down criminals in Frank Castle’s very special, tender way.

Much like the tv show that Marvel produced for Netflix, the great thing about Daredevil in this particular story at least is the fact that the story is based in a realism you don’t really get in other comics. Daredevil is like Batman in a lot of ways in how he cares for his city of Hell’s Kitchen and does what he can to clean up the place from the top criminals down to the lowliest scum that he crosses paths with. Matt Murdock is someone you could imagine could actually exist whereas someone like Iron Man or Captain America, while great heroes and characters you love to read about, come across as more idealized versions of what someone imagines a hero could be.

I like the fact that the story deals in a somewhat realistic was the issue of drug abuse. The fact that a comic that came out in 1982 was dealing with such a heavy issue is pretty amazing in and of itself. The fact that it didn’t come across like a very special episode of a 1980’s sitcom is even more amazing. Back in the 80’s, the entertainment industry was a little ham handed to say the least in how they presented drugs and drug abuse. For the most part they were unrealistic in how they presented it giving people the impression that the issue of drug abuse was much more of a black and white issue than it is in real life. In real life good people take drugs not necessarily to escape life because they have such horrible lives. They try it for fun and get hooked without realizing it. While this issue was a little on the formulaic side I think it was as realistic as 1982 comics could be in regards to this topic.

The art work was pretty good. It was simply designed, showcasing the shadows and the darkness of the streets the blind hero is trying to change. When the little girl’s brother is caught on the roof with a gun in his hands the expression on his face is priceless. You feel the kids pain. You see he feels horrible his sister died at the result of remorseless drug dealers and while it is later revealed that he did not kill the drug dealer, you see that he is not quite sad the guy is dead. While there could have been more depth to the scenery when the art required the scene to be emotional it brought its A game.

The Bad:

The cover for this comic is quite famous and rightfully so. It says a lot about the two characters that words would fail to express. But one thing the story did not do was give us the real Frank Castle. While The Punisher was fighting people who know are bad guys, not once is he ever shown to be the sympathetic character he is. The Punisher sympathetic you may ask?

Yes. The main pull about why we care about The Punisher is the WHY of his crusade against crime. If we are not given the why than Frank Castle is just as much a thug as the people he kills. No doubt about it the people that The Punisher kill are bad people and deserved death a long time ago. This is not about trying to feel sorry for people that have intentionally made bad choices in their lives. But we need to care about Frank and the fact that due to his family’s death he’s making the wrong choice for the right reasons. Yet this comic does nothing more than portray Frank Castle as just as much a thug as the drug dealers in the story. It would have been nice to have Matt dig a little deeper into The Punisher’s history and discover what happened with his family. While the two would still be at odds we would at least see that Daredevil understands the motivation for what makes Frank Castle tick despite the fact that what he does sickens him.

The story also suffered from the fact that it didn’t feel self contained. A number of things happened that had no relevance to the main story of this issue, the main issue being Matt Murdock proposing marriage to Heather Glenn at the end of the issue. It’s great and all that Matt has found love but this came out of nowhere especially for someone like me who picked up the story at this particular issue. While I should feel impelled to want to know more of what is going on to the point that I investigate the back issues to read more about what is going on, the story itself should have been much more self contained than it was.

I also didn’t like the fact that what started as a story about the dangers of drugs quickly turned to murder. Granted, this was 1982. I can imagine this story would have come across much different if it were made today. It just made the story seem silly and trite when you barely talk about a twelve year old girl who girls herself while high on angel dust but you have no problem deal with page after page of the consequences of her brother who is not much older than her having to deal with being accused of murder. This country of ours, America. We can show people getting killed and maimed left and right but when it comes to dealing with serious issues like drug abuse and heaven forbid sex and boobies, we must cover our eyes and ears while yelling LALALALALA as loud as we can. We have certainly evolved enough over the years in that I think we can now deal with issues like drug abuse and what not but we’re still quite prudish and ignorant on other issues. I won’t blame the comic for failing to get into more detail about the drug use because frankly that is our society here in America even today. We ignore shit like this until it affects pretty young white girls than it’s a BIG FUCKING DEAL that we must deal with yesterday.

The one complaint I have about the artwork is that it is too minimalist for my tastes. Now being that this is a Frank Miller story, the guy who in Sin City had quite the time with black and white drawings, I should have expected it. While it does have its moments of brilliance, there are times where I wanted more, especially in the external location shots. It comes across like the play Our Town were filmed as an action movie. Too much is going on in such stark empty locations. It was distracting more than it elevated the story.

Bottom Line:

The cover is brilliant. This is like album covers from bands you may never have any interest in listening to but still put out amazing album covers. The violence implied in this cover is great but it really isn’t addressed in the story. The story itself is all right but it’s lacking in the sense that the story is not self contained in any way, shape, or form. I guess that’s how Frank Miller wanted to present the story but I did find myself lost in regards to what was going on. Too much was going on that required you to know enough back story to really appreciate the story. If you didn’t read the previous issues than you really can’t appreciate what this story was trying to do. For that I have to give the story a 4.

The art work could have been better. Being that it was 1982, we’re dealing with a young Frank Miller here. He hadn’t found his style yet, the style that exploded in your face with The Dark Knight Returns and Sin City. While there are moments of brilliance in this issue the art does more to detract from your enjoyment than anything else. I have to give it a 3.

Again, another harsh review. Don’t let that keep you from reading this comic. It’s great to see how great artists evolve. This is a great example of early Frank Miller work. The worst of Frank Miller is better than a lot of great work that is out today.