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.

Venom #7

Venom-7-Cover

We’re back to the Venom sub plot of Spider Island. In what is a culmination of the previous issue of Venom as well as the other issues in the Spider Island story, we start off with Venom confronting Anti-Venom at a cathedral in town. The Queen is still with The Jackal anticipating her quick take over of the world. Reed Richards is confronted with a possible quick solution to the spider crisis at hand. It’s the type of story that only Canon Films from the 80’s would love! Just add Charles Bronson with a machine gun and you have a great action story! And don’t forget the boobs.

The whole Venom verses Anti-Venom story was just plain confusing. Flash is sent to get Anti-Venom to help heal the sick masses of their spider disease. Flash attempts to take him down by force despite the fact that Anti-Venom is actively trying to actually save people. I mean, if Eddie Brock is looking to be a good guy here, you would think he would know by know where the good guys hang out. Avengers Mansion is not exactly a secret underground facility. The Baxter Building is not a hidden place that keeps the fact that the Fantastic Four reside there. There were plenty of opportunities for Anti-Venom to make his intentions known without acting like an old sixties burnout suffering from one too many acid flashbacks.

For Flash, it’s been established that he’s been having some issues controlling the suit but none so far in the story to indicate that the suit has taken over. He’s had some unique thoughts that were not entirely his own, thoughts from the suit more than anything, but he’s never been to the point in the story where it appears that the suit is taking over. Yeah, there are definite signs that he is slowly losing it I will grant you that but he’s not been presented as being out of control in the story so far.

I loved the allusions to drug use that Anti-Venom was using in regards to the effects the Venom suit could have on a person. You really get the impression that Eddie Brock is looking to atone for his sins, knowing full well what the Venom suit could make a person do. It also is great foreshadowing to what I presume will be the ultimate do or die moment for Flash Thompson. If the Venom suit could turn someone like Eddie Brock insane, you have to wonder what it would do to Flash Thompson. Me thinks this comic is not one that will last for years and years because with a dangerous suit that is intent on consuming everything that makes him Flash.

The last part I really loved about this issue was Flash making up with his father. As someone who has had a, shall we say unique, relationship with his parents I totally get why Flash waited until the last moment to go to his father’s bedside. Hell, as a parent myself I ponder what my relationship to my kids will be when they grow up and I grow old. The toughest lesson a kid learns is that their parents are not superheros. They’re people, people who sometimes make the wrong decisions. Flash’s father apparently was a drunk who was not the nicest parent around which would explain why he was a bully to Peter in high school, why he latched onto Spider-Man as a hero, and why he continues to feel the need to make amends for his actions that, while certainly not nice in high school, are nothing compared to what bullying is like today. But in a way that’s an admirable trait for someone who used to be a tormentor. His desire to make positive change. How the Venom suit will change that is something we shall see in future issues.

The artwork was a hot mess. Something about Venom to me always screamed the need for having a steady hand drawing the character. When you get someone who wants to experiment some with the design, you have the wavy ink blot mess you see in this issue. The only praise I have to give the piece regards Flash visiting his father in the hospital. The emotion on Flash Thompson’s face when his father passes and the gentle touch of Betty Brant in comfort makes the previous pages crimes all but forgotten. This is how you draw for comics.

Bottom Line:

This is flawed but for how it resolves itself, you would be remiss if you ignored this comic. There are a couple great pieces of ideas tossed around in the story which are explored pretty well, both with the allusions to drug use in regards to the Venom suit as well as how Flash reacts to his father’s passing. The emotion of the piece far outshines any sort of failings the other part of the story has. If they could have removed The Avenger’s involvement in the main story and included more of Flash Thompson and Eddie Brock, I can only imagine how much more improved my opinion of the overall story would be. The Avengers involvement is really pointless. If you removed them now the story would not be affected in the slightest. Yeah, we’re in the Marvel Universe. We know The Avengers are there. Having a character just mention that they are assisting with the trouble would have been good enough for me if it gave the writer the chance to spend more time diving into such rich characters like Flash Thompson and Eddie Brock. While I am not don yet with the story, it sure seems a waste.

The Amazing Spider-Man #670

Amazing_Spider-Man_Vol_1_670

The spider plague is getting worse. People are going from infection to spider powers to turning into actual spiders. Things are getting to the point where there may be no turning back for our heroes. What happens from here?

The story so far has done a good job of showing the feeling of hopelessness you have to imagine goes through the heads of actual heroes in everyday life when they’re presented with a scenario that seems like is insurmountable. The story opens with Spider-Man witnessing his girlfriend Carlie, The Shocker, and the Mayor’s Spider Task Force all turning into actual spiders. Think about it for a moment. How would you react if you were in a situation where a loved one went through a physical change and you had no way of stopping it? The helplessness you would feel could be overwhelming. How in the hell do you help? But I think that is the key to this story and to super hero comics as a whole. When you’re presented with a bad scenario, no matter how bad it may seem or how bad things get, you just keep fighting.

I forgot to mention something that happened last issue. The last few pages were illustrations made by Marvel artists which honored the tenth anniversary of 9/11. (They’re hauntingly beautiful pictures. Well worth the read of that issue alone.) What I remember most vividly from that day were all the cops and firefighters who, despite being frightened out of their fucking minds, ran into hell to save people. Cops and firefighters that survived told you that they knew pretty quickly that they were looking at a situation that was pretty hopeless. Instead of turning tail and running, they saved who they could. I think that is the key when it comes to why people come back to comic books. What is it about these heroes that we like? I would have to say that it’s the escapist thrill. When you watch the news and see war and strife everywhere, you see political candidates saying more and more the most bat shit crazy things you never imagined hearing a candidate say (Fuck the Republican Presidential Candidates. End rant!), knowing that in some world, even if that is the world of imagination, there is a hero that will defeat the bad guy and make the world a better place makes going through your day much easier. I think this can also explain why we’ve seen superhero films capture our imaginations like never before. Machinations in the world are in place that are making our lives less safe everyday. What better way to get a break from that by spending two hours in a movie theater seeing Superman defeating Doomsday.

(I had to include that trailer. I didn’t care for the start of it but once Doomsday hits and Wonder Woman saves Batman and Superman, I geeked out. The gauntlet has been thrown.)

Back to the story. The issue starts off great but goes off the rails in the middle just like pretty much every other issues in this story. Too much is happening that can be addressed effectively with the real estate the comic book is offered. You’re switching from scene to scene without any real idea of what is happening. It’s like a story being told in Morse code and you’re only getting the gist of what is happening. You have a scene where Flash discovers that Eddie Brock is saving people. He’s undercover with The Queen as the Spider King and is dispatched to kill Eddie. Flash wants to save people but the Venom suit wants to kill it’s former host. This is a good story element but it’s not really addressed. You may argue that we have a few more issues left in the story including two specifically dealing with Venom and while that is true, I think it was poor form to have a story include something big like the conflict Flash Thompson is having with the Venom suit when he’s supposed to be capturing Anti-Venom in order to save New York. We also get Mayor Jameson getting the Spider Slayer out of Rykers to help with the problem. According to exposition, the Spider Slayer was responsible for the death of Jameson’s wife. Fine. Great story element to explore. But they waste that opportunity by having Jameson quickly enter stage three of the virus by turning into a spider. He even ends up killing the Spider Slayer by the end of the issue when he is completely transformed.

That’s another thing I hope is addressed. The human body, if it were to make a sudden physical change as described in the story would not suddenly just go back to normal once you found a cure. You grow extra eyes. Once you’re given a cure those eyes don’t pop out of your head and dissolve into dust. You would still have extra fucking eyes. I want to see how it’s addressed but I have the sneaking submission that they’re not going to have a decent explanation as to why and how people are brought back to their normal selves.

Bottom Line:

This issue has its weak points but when it’s working, it works well. As I mentioned, it did a great job detailing the determination you expect heroes to go through when encountered with a scenario that may seem hopeless. I really wish more time was given to let the story breath. The writer is going way too fast for my liking which is giving me a case of whiplash when you’re going from scene to scene to scene. This is definitely an example of the dangers of stories that have too many characters. Trust me. With my novel Time to Play the Game one critique I would offer myself was that when I faced a scenario where I had major characters tied up in another bit of action I would throw new characters at the scene I was writing. While I don’t think the results are bad by any means if I do say so myself (I don’t want to toot my own horn but…toot toot), I have to be honest that my work had major problems. But any writer is going to have them. Whether they be a no name author like me or a major writer like Anne Rice, you will find any writer that will find problems with their work each time they pick it up. With that in mind, it’s wise for any writer worth their weight in salt to remember that when working on their current pieces. When it comes to the number of characters in your story you should never feel inhibited to including a cast of millions if you want to but the more people you add the more business you have to give them in order to justify their place in the story. That is what the big weakness is here. We’re having scenes introduced with some characters that could be great but aren’t totally fleshed out.

The art work is just not to my liking. My apologies to the artists involved on this piece Humberto Ramos, Victor Olazaba, and Edgar Delgado. It’s too anime for my tastes and is frankly sloppy. The opening scene for example was rough to get an idea to start in regards to placement of the dialogue. If it wasn’t for guided view on the Marvel Unlimited App, I never would have guessed the path I was supposed to take to read the dialogue in order. The characters are drawn just slightly off which is just taking me out of the story when it shouldn’t be. Not a fan.

One more bit of business. As I mentioned I have a book. I want you to read it. If you want a free copy of it in e-book format, you can email me at gameauthor@gmail.com and I will send you a free copy. The offer lasts till the end of the month, 12/31/2015.

The Amazing Spider-Man #669

Amazing_Spider-Man_Vol_1_669

To start off, I really enjoy the beginning pages of these comics. Like any comic with a multi-issue arc, they have a Previously In…page that sums up the story to date. I like how instead of current Marvel titles that have one picture and a page of text to sum up the story, they incorporate a summary along with shots of action from previous issues. I would honestly love to see more of this.

We pick up the main story with a shot of a villain named White Rabbit showing us more than you would think a Marvel comic would want to show. Being a red blooded heterosexual male, I have no problem with women dressing sexy. But there’s sexy and there’s just being wrong. Her outfit, or what little there was of it, is about as subtle as a brick to the face. Maybe it’s because I am older and have a daughter but the shot they had of her was just wrong. It wasn’t flattering in the least and is frankly the type of stereotypical nonsense you would expect from an older era of comics, not something written close to five years ago.

This issue focuses on Peter and the dilemma he has in terms of whether he should reveal his secret identity to his girlfriend or not. Admittedly I don’t know how their relationship worked before I started reading this series so I don’t know how often Peter had to pretend he was off doing whatever when he was really off being Spider-Man. This goes off the rails fast just like any other relationship you see in comics because in the end you just don’t believe that the hero in question can pull off the double life without either the other partner discovering who they are or suspecting they are cheating and leaving them. There is a scene near the end where Peter encounters Carlie while dressed as Spider-Man but she has no clue who he is. She suspects that is the case but never confronts him about it. In fact, before it was mentioned directly in the story I immediately thought of John Ritter in Three’s Company in regards to the stunts Peter has to pull in order to prevent his girlfriend from discovering who he is. The sad part is, based on how her character is presented in the story you get the impression that she would go nuts with happiness if she found out. Once she got her spider powers the first them she did was head out on the town to fight crime. You’d think she’d want to join Peter and then end the night with some hard core spider lovin’. It’s sad if you think about it. The story is showing us as the reader that Peter would be better off trusting some people with the fact that he is Spider-Man. It would make his life so much easier. I get why he would be hesitant to be telling folks what with the danger they could be in but the fact that he won’t even tell The Avengers who he is is just silly. It is referenced that Doctor Strange put some sort of spell on him that would prevent people from recognizing him unless he intentionally revealed who he is which explains somewhat why he is no longer with Mary Jane but again, you’d think Peter would be a little more trusting.

One thing I didn’t care for in this issue was the jumping around the writer Dan Slott did in trying to address multiple story lines at once. There were two instances this issue where for three or four pages in a row you were treated with a new development for a new group of characters on each page. It was a little tough to follow in the end. That is the danger of course when writing a story with so any characters involved which I understand but this issue at least leaves us confused as to what is going on with some of the characters like Mayor Jameson, Venom, Anti-Venom, and others. You can’t keep track of a story when there is so much jumping around. I couldn’t get my bearings.

Bottom Line:

This issue is not perfect but it does move the story along so I recommend it. It won’t go down as the greatest comic in history but it had some points it needed to hit and it performed its job fine. What I wish I would have seen this issue was for the writer to slow down some. He wants to hit the points you would expect in the story but he’s going too fast. It comes across like reading a story by flipping through a much longer story and stopping on every third page. You end up getting the gist of what is happening but you feel like a lot is being left out that you need to know about. I want to know more of the dynamic between Peter and his girlfriend for example. I want to see Flash Thompson be involved in the story more than he is. I want the women in the story not to be drawn in a way that porn stars would look at them and think they look disgusting.

I like the developments the story leaves us with in regards to the virus. The Shocker ends up with multiple arms and eyes like a spider. Carlie ends up becoming disfigured in the story which was a bit of a shock, just as the writer intended. We also get the reveal that the big bad for this series is not The Jackal but The Queen, who according to what I have read is a contemporary of Captain America which explains the events of Venom #6. The next issue awaits.

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.

Fantastic Four #1

fantasticfour1

Origin stories. By this point people are kind of sick of them and for good reason. When it comes to comic book movies, it appears that almost every movie has to have an origin story attached to it. Yeah that’s an over exaggeration but the fact is too many origin stories have been told the past twenty years for most folks to care about them anymore. They all follow a formula. If it’s done well you can forgive it, examples being Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man and Iron Man.

An origin story will make or break you. If you can’t snare in readers from the first story, they are not going to care what additional stories you have to tell. And why should they? If you’re characters are so boring in the first issue, what is going to bring them to issue two? That was the dilemma Stan Lee and Jack Kirby had with the Fantastic Four. Everyone knows the story by now. Stan was close to leaving comics for good. He told his wife his intentions and she challenged him to write a comic that he would want to read. The worst that would happened would be that he would be fired and since he didn’t want to stay employed there anyway, what was it going to hurt?

That challenge brought us The Fantastic Four. Comics to this point, while fun reads, thanks to the Comic Code, were to put it nicely simplistic. For proof, check out any of the great collections that DC Comics have put together for some of their long time characters and read their stories from the 40’s and 50’s. They’re stories that would not make good children’s books now. Just horrible, horrible stuff.

Now don’t get me wrong, this was a bit of a hard read by today’s standards. The story itself does not stand the test of time. But much like Love Me Do from The Beatles, you can see from the first page on the foundations of what was to come. The simple fact alone that the characters, while they had a deep seated respect for each other, didn’t really like each other in this issue, is great to see. Ben Grimm, from the start, is pissed off at Reed Richards for directly ignoring his warnings about going into space. And speaking of the space trip, if Reed Richards created the spaceship they used to get into space, why would the four have to sneak onto a military base in order to covertly go into space? You would think that if he built the ship, he could fly it into space whenever the hell he wanted.

I did not care for Sue Storm this issue. She wasn’t really given much to do apart from be invisible and challenge Ben Grimm’s manhood by calling him a commie for not wanting to go into space. They may have well just had her cluck like a chicken. They could have had her ask if he wanted to borrow one of her dresses because there was no way he was a man anymore. I get that this was the sixties and this time was NOT kind to women in fiction, especially comic books, but much like Amos and Andy or Bugs Bunny talking about getting Japs, you just cringe at how wrong they present her.

This is the absolute worst part about reading older comics because you can’t help but read the story through modern lenses. Me personally, I want the women in stories I read, or write (https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/48189), to be strong. Sure, they can be damsels in distress. As a guy, it is instinct to want to save someone that is weaker than you. But seeing characters presented as nothing more than eye candy simple due to the lack of male genitalia is just simply a waste. There was so much more they could have done with her that they ultimately did over time.

The art work was crude but again, in the realm of comic history it is important work. Using the music analogy I used earlier, this very much was crude compared to later work that he drew. But when your work influences an industry like Jack Kirby’s work did, my god, that is a legacy worth having. At the end of the day, while more average folks may know who Stan Lee is, even more people know of and are conditioned to the work of Jack Kirby and the legacy he has in comics. The man was a legend. Admittedly when it comes to art I am not the greatest critic. I know what I like and don’t like and can pretty much say a lot of words saying one or the other. Little details that happen in art will slip by me. It is something that I am working on and reading a comic book a day has definitely helped in that regard. So for a novice with art like myself, there are not enough words I can put together that will reflect the impact Jack Kirby has had on comics and pop culture as a whole.

Bottom Line:

While this comic can be hard to read in 2015, you can not deny the impact this issue had on comics. The fact that the heroes in the story acted like real people, arguing and all, brought much needed reality to stories that bordered on inane. While I cannot recommend this as a must read comic it would still be something I would say you should own. No, not the original comic that is hard to find originals of and cost thousands upon thousands of dollars. I’m talking about heading to Marvel’s website, Comixology, or wherever you buy your comics and buy yourself this issue. While someone may have come along over time and did something comparable to what Stan and Jack did, they were the flag bearers. They ushered in the Silver Age of comic books with this issue. The world would be a much different place if we didn’t have this issue.

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.