Last Days of Black Widow #20

   One of my favorite comic books of late has been the Black Widow series from Marvel. Thanks to the Marvel Unlimited app, I’ve been able to follow the adventures of Natasha Romanov as she deals with the consequences of her actions as a Soviet spy, an Avenger, and an Agent of SHIELD. It really is some of the best art work alone for a comic I have read in a long while. One issue I, like others, have with comics today is how they draw women. It seems that you can’t have a successful female character in a story unless she is showing next to nothing in a skimpy uniform. I am not a prude. There are times where scantily clad women are a ok to look at and enjoy but when you’re dealing with characters that should be on the level of their male counterparts, having them dress like strippers from a cosplay themed strip club just seems to negate any advances they are giving the female characters.   Natasha Romanov in this comic is different. She’s strong as hell but looks like a beautiful, average woman. She deals with problems in a realistic way, apart from the times where she has to kick ass and man does she know how to kick ass. Nathan Edmondson, the writer, and Phil Noto, the artist, have made one hell of a great comic that empowers Natasha without having to resort to cheap visual tactics to try and entice males to read the comic.

   Issue 20 is the end of the run for this comic and that is a shame. It’s a shame for two reasons. One, it’s sad the story is ending. (From what I understand Black Widow will of course be back but with different artists and writers involved.) Two, the story ends on a sour note because they’re not trying to give this story proper closure, they’re trying to kick start the Secret Wars story.

   Marvel Unlimited is six months behind everyone else so this is old news for some. Their main comic lines are all tied into the Secret Wars storyline which has led to a confusing mess. The main Secret Wars story is all right. I have no real complaints of it but it is not my favorite comic ever by any means. The tie in stories are something else all together.

   Comic book events in and of themselves are not bad things. I don’t dislike a good comic book event. What I have an issue with, and this goes for DC as well, both companies want to bring in absolutely every title under their umbrella into a massive story but end up finding ways to complicate things to such a point that you as the reader have no clue what the hell is going on. The Secret Wars event is meant to do one thing for Marvel and that’s remove the wheat from the chaff. They get a chance to make their world a little less complicated by removing aspects of their world that could confuse the hell out of the casual reader. You have your main characters that everyone knows about but other minor characters may not end up getting the love and attention they deserve because the creators at Marvel have to please so many masters.

   The problem I have with this is that they spend so much time trying to wrap things up for absolutely everyone that I have no real clue what is going on. I don’t read all new Marvel Comics titles. Apart from Spider-Man, Ms. Marvel, The Punisher, and a couple Howard the Duck issues, everything else I have managed to skip. So getting this far into the Black Widow story to suddenly find that everything I have read before means nothing because she is suddenly apart of this new story that popped up out of nowhere is disconcerting. There were no seeds in previous issues that the world as it was established in the story was ending in any way, shape, or form. They just seemed to decide one day that whoops, the world is ending. Nice knowing you.

   The story itself is Natasha’s last bit of redemption for her past. It tells the story of how she, as a KGB agent, ended up killing a family in Cuba that wanted to defect to Russia. As an agent, she was just following orders but it was something she did not care to do. The story ends with her rescuing a family that looked just like the family she had killed. A nice ending but one that I wish was given a little more detail.

   The art work is great. Phil Noto is one hell of an artist, finding ways to show both power and weakness in characters that others would probably miss. His work on Natasha alone is amazing. Again, I love the fact that she is not drawn like the stereotypical ways women are drawn in comics. She’s not showing excessive skin. She doesn’t have boobs that could knock over a tank. She looks like a normal woman. Beautiful but normal. More artists need to use this as a model for female characters in their stories.

Bottom Line:

   I am so disappointed in this issue. All good things come to an end as they say but this ending is more like an after thought than anything else. Marvel has been so focused on setting up Secret Wars that they have disregarded the important work that is going on in comics like Black Widow.

   Having said that, despite the obstacles put in their way Edmondson and Noto have ended the series in style. It deserved much more of a proper ending that what it received but it’s still not bad. I hope these two meet up again to explore more of Natasha’s adventures in the Marvel Universe.

   One of my favorite comic books of late has been the Black Widow series from Marvel. Thanks to the Marvel Unlimited app, I’ve been able to follow the adventures of Natasha Romanov as she deals with the consequences of her actions as a Soviet spy, an Avenger, and an Agent of SHIELD. It really is some of the best art work alone for a comic I have read in a long while. One issue I, like others, have with comics today is how they draw women. It seems that you can’t have a successful female character in a story unless she is showing next to nothing in a skimpy uniform. I am not a prude. There are times where scantily clad women are a ok to look at and enjoy but when you’re dealing with characters that should be on the level of their male counterparts, having them dress like strippers from a cosplay themed strip club just seems to negate any advances they are giving the female characters.

   Natasha Romanov in this comic is different. She’s strong as hell but looks like a beautiful, average woman. She deals with problems in a realistic way, apart from the times where she has to kick ass and man does she know how to kick ass. Nathan Edmondson, the writer, and Phil Noto, the artist, have made one hell of a great comic that empowers Natasha without having to resort to cheap visual tactics to try and entice males to read the comic.

   Issue 20 is the end of the run for this comic and that is a shame. It’s a shame for two reasons. One, it’s sad the story is ending. (From what I understand Black Widow will of course be back but with different artists and writers involved.) Two, the story ends on a sour note because they’re not trying to give this story proper closure, they’re trying to kick start the Secret Wars story.

   Marvel Unlimited is six months behind everyone else so this is old news for some. Their main comic lines are all tied into the Secret Wars storyline which has led to a confusing mess. The main Secret Wars story is all right. I have no real complaints of it but it is not my favorite comic ever by any means. The tie in stories are something else all together.

   Comic book events in and of themselves are not bad things. I don’t dislike a good comic book event. What I have an issue with, and this goes for DC as well, both companies want to bring in absolutely every title under their umbrella into a massive story but end up finding ways to complicate things to such a point that you as the reader have no clue what the hell is going on. The Secret Wars event is meant to do one thing for Marvel and that’s remove the wheat from the chaff. They get a chance to make their world a little less complicated by removing aspects of their world that could confuse the hell out of the casual reader. You have your main characters that everyone knows about but other minor characters may not end up getting the love and attention they deserve because the creators at Marvel have to please so many masters.

   The problem I have with this is that they spend so much time trying to wrap things up for absolutely everyone that I have no real clue what is going on. I don’t read all new Marvel Comics titles. Apart from Spider-Man, Ms. Marvel, The Punisher, and a couple Howard the Duck issues, everything else I have managed to skip. So getting this far into the Black Widow story to suddenly find that everything I have read before means nothing because she is suddenly apart of this new story that popped up out of nowhere is disconcerting. There were no seeds in previous issues that the world as it was established in the story was ending in any way, shape, or form. They just seemed to decide one day that whoops, the world is ending. Nice knowing you.

   The story itself is Natasha’s last bit of redemption for her past. It tells the story of how she, as a KGB agent, ended up killing a family in Cuba that wanted to defect to Russia. As an agent, she was just following orders but it was something she did not care to do. The story ends with her rescuing a family that looked just like the family she had killed. A nice ending but one that I wish was given a little more detail.

   The art work is great. Phil Noto is one hell of an artist, finding ways to show both power and weakness in characters that others would probably miss. His work on Natasha alone is amazing. Again, I love the fact that she is not drawn like the stereotypical ways women are drawn in comics. She’s not showing excessive skin. She doesn’t have boobs that could knock over a tank. She looks like a normal woman. Beautiful but normal. More artists need to use this as a model for female characters in their stories.

Bottom Line:

   I am so disappointed in this issue. All good things come to an end as they say but this ending is more like an after thought than anything else. Marvel has been so focused on setting up Secret Wars that they have disregarded the important work that is going on in comics like Black Widow.

   Having said that, despite the obstacles put in their way Edmondson and Noto have ended the series in style. It deserved much more of a proper ending that what it received but it’s still not bad. I hope these two meet up again to explore more of Natasha’s adventures in the Marvel Universe.

Ultimate Spider-Man #21

We come to the end of the Double Trouble story featuring Peter facing off against Doctor Octopus and Kraven the Hunter. At this point Doc Ock has been handled and is ready for the police to take him off to wherever super villains are held. The battle with Kraven starts now.

That is if you can call it a battle. I’ve been holding back on Kraven because I knew where his story was going and that was really nowhere. Kraven is built up as some sort of bad ass hunter, a Steve Irwin meets Dolph Lundgren type, over eight issues of this story and within three pages and one punch to the face Kraven is down for the count.

If you are going to include a character as a villain and build him up as an unstoppable force you have to deliver on the promises you’re giving your readers. The introduction to Kraven in the Ultimate universe was a huge failure. Not that the character is bad mind you. I rather dug Kraven in the original comics and know that he will come back in the Ultimate line a little more dangerous than he is presented as now. First impressions mean everything though and the chance to have a truly modern bad ass Kraven hunting Spider-Man through the streets of New York was wasted on a scene that was more fitting in a Three Stooges film than anything else.

There are times where a failed buildup can be good for the story. I think of Iron Man 2 where Justin Hammer spent most of the movie talking about how great the improvements to the War Machine suit would make it. He talked on and on about various upgrades and the moment they actually get used in the film, they fail miserably. That was perfect for the story because it showed the audience how much of an utter failure Justin Hammer was. It also led to a great comedic moment when War Machine and Iron Man were fighting together and he attempts to shoot one of Hammer’s missiles to no effect whatsoever. The buildup and the subsequent failure of that buildup actually contributed positively to the story.

This issue is the textbook way on how you not to build up to something you’re not going to properly follow through. I would have no issue with Kraven being defeated. That’s the point of comics after all, the bad guy gets his due in the end. The issue all boils down to him being defeated so quickly as well as having him try to slink off before getting arrested. Kraven getting arrested had the same feel of King Arthur getting arrested at the end of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. You laugh at both resolutions but the Monty Python ending was intentionally meant to be funny.

The issue is not a total loss. Peter gets caught by Aunt May after the battle. He arrives home at three o’clock in the morning and Aunt May is up waiting for him. She has no clue he’s Spider-Man. She just has no clue what the hell kept a good kid like Peter out for so long into the night with no explanation. The emotions in the scene were quite real, making Aunt May a more fleshed out character in the process compared to the original version of her. It also goes to show how naive Peter is when it comes to his new powers.

One thing comics don’t do a good job with is how the heroes in question can live full, normal lives on top of fighting crime for hours or days on end. For a fifteen year old boy, how can he fight villains until three o’clock in the morning as well as going to school and having an after school job? The next issue shows Peter in school none the worse for wear. Not even one mention of being tired or needing a coffee. High school for me was my introduction to massive amounts of coffee. Why can’t Peter be sore or tired more often? Like Aunt May, why don’t more people notice that Peter is acting much different than he normally does? I think the only comic I’ve read that has a somewhat believable account of someone able to pull off a normal life and the life of a superhero is Iron Man. Tony Stark was already quite flighty in the comics, locking himself in a room to focus on his latest project so for him to disappear for long periods of time is very much understandable. How Peter is able to pull off Spider-Man without too many people noticing needs a little more explanation as to how he pulls it off.

Bottom Line:

This story has been tough to get through. It has some good moments to be sure, moments that will feature in future issues of this comic series. Yet the fact that we had at least two mistakes that are very much rookie mistakes, the failure to establish a back story between Doctor Octopus and Justin Hammer as well as the failure to follow up on the build to Kraven, lead me as the reader with a bad taste in my mouth. This eight issue story is really a what could have been type of story.

What can writers learn from this issue? For one, it’s important to establish relationships between characters you wish to have some sort of conflict with. You can’t write a comic book series or a book series and just expect to have two characters that are already established in a world to suddenly have a conflict with each other without establishing that they have some sort of connection. Secondly, follow through with your buildup. If you’re going to build up a character as some unstoppable force, you have to either follow through with that buildup or have a way through actions showing that the buildup was all a lie just like the Justin Hammer buildup in Iron Man 2.

The art for this issue was great during the scene with Aunt May and Peter. Mark Bagly is able to express so much emotion in her face during their argument. Concern, anger, despair, sadness, she runs the full gambit of emotions without the dialogue having to tell you how she is feeling.

Ultimate Spider-Man #19

We pick up where we left off last issue with Peter close to being discovered by Aunt May. While he finds a way to get out of the situation without being discovered by his Aunt, it begs to question the big step he took to avoid being caught. He bolts outside and climbs up the side of his house without a mask and the pants he uses while he is Spider-Man with no mask. If he were truly looking to keep people in the dark about his identity, a move like this would be the dumbest thing you can do simply due to nosy neighbors. While it could be argued that he only did what he did to get out of his current situation, that he didn’t have time to think long term, the problem I see with that is little things like this are bound to happen again. And again. And again. If this is the life Peter Parker wants, he has to be able to react at a moments notice for situations like this to arise.

Now we get an explanation as to what motivates Doctor Octopus. Seems he’s confronting Justin Hammer because he thinks Hammer is to blame for him being in the metal device that gave him the extra arms. While there is no truth to that thought, at least it is something. What I would have liked to see in previous issues was some actual ground work establishing Justin Hammer and Otto Octavius’s relationship prior to the explosion at Osborn Labs. There was really no hint that Doc Ock was spilling corporate secrets so having this story kind of shoe horned into the story like it has been is the sign of poor planning. As a writer, if you’re going to be establishing a story like this somewhere down the road, whether that be in further chapters, further issues, or further books, you have to plant the seeds for that story somehow. Whether it’s one line, one scene, something to introduce the fact that two people have a relationship that you will be exploring somewhere down the line is important for the story to ultimately make sense. If you’re not taking the time to do this, you’ll be sitting back like I was during a couple issues this run wondering how the hell people who’ve never met before now suddenly have a long standing relationship.

Also, if Doctor Octopus really feels that Justin Hammer is the cause of his disfigurement, we don’t know the reason why he feels this way. If there had been some scene establishing a link between Justin Hammer, Doctor Octopus, and the metal contraption which is fused to Doc Ock’s body then I’d have no issue with the story. We don’t have that here. Justin Hammer to date has been established as making Norman Osborn look like the most compassionate billionaire in human history. He’s an evil man who deserves everything that is coming his way. Yet when it comes to the story at hand we have no history of this guy. We’re basically at a point where we don’t like him simply due to some of the experiments his company have created, not due to any direct actions to characters already established in the story. This would be a non issue again if there had been some basic setup, a line, a scene, something establishing Hammer and Octavius. Without that foreshadowing we have two people fighting just cause.

One enjoyable part of the issue was how things are wrapping up nicely. The final scenes of this issue played out quite nicely and you really got the feeling that Act 2 of the story is wrapping up and you’re heading into Act 3, the grand finale. Stories like superhero comics, action adventure stories, science fiction epics, work best when they follow the traditional three act format. Does that mean everyone needs to follow the same formula? Of course not. The problem I see comes when you have writers that aren’t exactly masters of the craft trying to break the formula to do something else altogether. Writing is an awful lot like music in the sense that you get better with practice. To try a complicated piece of music, to try something that breaks the rules of music in a way to try and create something different, you have to know the rules going in. You have to start with what works before you move on to something more complex. Being a fan of Brian Bendis, he is quite capable of breaking the rules to make a much better, complex story than the standard yarn. Not every story needs that treatment though and you roll with whatever story comes your way. For this story, I’ve appreciated that it is wrapping up quite nice.

Bottom Line:

We’re reaching the end of our time with Doctor Octopus. The story has been pretty enjoyable so far but not without some major flaws. Overall we’re seeing Peter learn more from his mistakes which is making him better at his job so for that I can’t be too harsh with this issue. This is a mediocre issue at best. It’s easily forgettable but not Punisher/Eminem level bad. I really think this story had some major potential that was squandered by poor planning from the outset. Writing comics is hard work. You’re not going to be perfect when it comes to long term story planning and continuity. When elements of story are not explained or missed completely during this process it does make the story suffer. In this case that is sad because it’s not a bad story at all. With just a little bit of work it goes from frustrating to a pretty intriguing story.

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.

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 Avengers #176

Avengers_Vol_1_176

Starhawk arrives at the mansion and asks Iron Man why he was summoned. Iron Man gives him the Cliff’s Notes version of the story so far and enlists his help. When he’s done telling the story, Starhawk says something that’s on the mind of everyone reading the story by saying he feels the ultimate bad guy in all this is Korvac but hey, for shits and giggles he’d be happy to help The Avengers. You would think that when a group arrives in the 20th Century claiming that an all powerful being has arrived in their time and is out to get someone that maybe someone in The Avengers would put two and two together and think about maybe seeing whether the threat the Guardians face could be the threat they are facing. You would think that would be someone that someone would consider but naw, not when there are city buses to destroy!

We cut to Moondragon who is contemplating events when she feels a disturbance and sets about getting the team together to tell them what she sensed. She witnesses Quicksilver and Hawkeye having an argument about Jocasta and The Vision. Moondragon zaps Quicksilver after he says something quite bigoted which causes him to get some clarity. You would think that someone who in the story is the offspring of one of the most notorious mutants alive would know a thing or two about bigotry of people that are different but what do I know? Then she walks in on Wonder Man and Black Panther having an argument about not being able to do anything. Then Thor busts through a wall as he and Hercules are fighting. Black Widow chews out Hercules which is so damn out of character for her. I could see her putting him in a choke hold but not talking to him like they were on the set of a daytime talk show.

So Moondragon gets everyone together only to tell them that she has to get ALL The Avengers to show up so she sends a message with her mind to the others who quickly arrive. Comics from this era were horrible in regards to a sense of time. It’s like the television show 24. When they needed to get a character from one side of one of the largest cities in America to the other, it would take all of ten minutes, sooner if they were on a chopper. The comics from this era were worse. They’d have characters travel great distances and the caption at the top of the next panel would be ‘Seconds Later…’ It is frustrating to see things like this because it takes you out of the story. When you’re shaking your head telling yourself that something is dumb, you’re not enjoying the story. There have been stories set in the most bizarre of locations and with the most unique characters. But if written well, you don’t notice it because you’re lost in that world. The writer here is his own worst enemy.

So after two pages of time killing filler, Moondragon has the grand plan of everyone putting the clues they found into a computer and have the computer give out the common denominator of everything. Good idea especially for a situation like this if everyone seems to be lost. But Iron Man has to be a dick here and assert his manhood to the woman who dared come up with an idea that could potentially solve their problem. He might as well have told her to help Jarvis do the dishes and have Black Widow do the laundry. He admittedly had no clue where the big bad guy was but when someone actually steps up with a possible solution, he does his best to show that he doesn’t like the fact that they stepped up with an opinion. What a great leader.

We cut to Michael Korvac sensing that Iron Man and the team are getting closer to sensing his presence. Korvac recounts how he killed and raised Starhawk back to life as well as removing the ability to sense him from Starhawk’s mind. What I question is, if he has the power that the comic is presenting, why would he be pretending to be just an average middle class joe in a suburb of New York? Wouldn’t he want to be moving around to different locations so that a team like The Avengers would not be able to do what they’re doing? Would Doctor Doom pretend to be an insurance salesman in Boise, Idaho in order to fulfill his evil schemes? Staying in one spot just screams of lazy writing. Especially when, after 11 issues to get us here, the team that are presented as so horribly in equipped to deal with a being of this magnitude so easily finds his location.

From there, the single dumbest scene I have ever read in comics occurs when the team head outside and after realizing they all can’t hop into a quinjet to get to Forrest Hills, they commandeer a city bus. Once they board, they mention that Tony Stark would pay for cabs for all of them which begs to question why the hell they couldn’t just call a bunch of cabs? And why wouldn’t one of the richest men alive have a fleet of cars at the ready that could take them where they needed to go? If Jay Fucking Leno can have an airplane hanger full of cars, Tony Stark has to have much more! The lack of logic in this scene is mind blowing. George Lucas after he wrote the prequel trilogy of Star Wars would say this was written horribly.

So they arrive. The residents worry for a moment about their homes being wrecked but than someone says that the team is probably there to open a 7-11. That puts great confidence in the reader. They find the house they were looking for, knock on the door, and are invited in by Michael Korvac himself who invites them in. They inspect the house, finding nothing. Tony Stark asks the psychics of the group to do a sweep and they find nothing. The only clue they have as to something being wrong is when Starhawk acts like the rest of them are cuckoo bananas because he doesn’t see Korvac. While you as the reader would assume that Korvac, when he mentioned that Starhawk would not be able to sense him referred to him being sensed with mind powers, seems ol’ Korvac meant sensing him period.

Korvac  gives them the usual bad guy spiel that he had great things in plan for the human race but now he would have to destroy them. They banter among each other wondering what they should do next when Korvac attacks.

Bottom Line:

It seems The Korvac Saga is anything but. Korvac has not been in the story much and when you have someone presented as being all powerful doing such stupid things you can’t take him seriously. The only reason Starhawk was kept alive by Korvac was apparently to set up this scene. There was no other reason for it. Korvac is not presented as a reasonable guy with compassion. Even if he was, we’ve hardly seen him in the story. His actions so far have been self serving and bad. It was a stupid mistake. Also staying in the suburbs when he should have been roaming about was another decision made by either the dumbest supreme being ever or by lazy writing. I vote for the later. Thankfully we have one more issue to go because this so far has been a painful read. It didn’t have to be because the ideas presented make for an intriguing idea of a story. It’s just written so horribly my nine year old son would think it’s written bad.

 

The Avengers #167

the avengers 167

The next issue in the Korvac saga brings us to Avengers Mansion where The Beast, Captain America, and the Scarlet Witch are reacting to an alarm. Turns out it is Nick Fury on the SHIELD space station, where he appears to be drunk. Maybe this is why David Hasselhoff decided to play him in that horrible television movie? Anyway, the call is made for the Avengers to Assemble. But Iron Man is late. Turns out Tony Stark is on the space station with Nick Fury. He excuses himself to head back to Earth…in order to get into his Iron Man gear and head BACK to the space station to handle the crisis with the team.

Why? There was no reason to do this but to kill a few panels of space in the comic. This is what blows my mind about Iron Man in the comics. There is absolutely no reason for him to keep his identity secret. None. For any friend or family member that would be in danger, he is soaking in so much money that he could pay for security for the people he loves ten fold. The fact that his identity was kept secret during this era when the Fantastic Four, another group that had tons of money but had their identities out there for all to know, just tells me that the folks at Marvel weren’t thinking correctly. The movies had it right. Someone as rich as Tony Stark would have an ego. He would LOVE to have the world know he is Iron Man. Hell, let’s say he doesn’t tell the world. Why would he not tell The Avengers his secret? It would make the situations that Tony faces as the leader at this time a little easier to go through when Captain America gets pissed at him. It just created unnecessary conflict. Problems for the sake of problems.

Turns out a big space station has appeared out of nowhere that SHIELD wants The Avengers to investigate. They board the ship only to find the Guardians of the Galaxy. The Guardians inform the Avengers that Korvac has come back in time in an effort to kill the Guardians leader, Vance Astro (not the best name you can give a hero. Sounds like the name of a porn star.) There’s reminiscing and then we switch scenes and see Janet Van Dyne Pym, The Wasp, as she shows off her fall collection.

Yes, The Wasp, when she’s not a super hero, is a fashion designer. Now granted, this is part of her character from day one but it is still annoying as hell. But hey, I’m not going to like every character. Hank Pym is in the audience along with Nighthawk and a strange man who stares intently at one model and says nothing throughout.

Out of nowhere the fashion show is disrupted when a group of criminals with their leader barge in demanding everyone’s money. The leader? His name is The Porcupine. This comic came out in 1977 and they’re naming bad guys with names that would have been made fun of in the 40’s. What, does the guy have the proportional strength of a porcupine? Was he stung by a radioactive porcupine and now is pissed off at the world?

Characters like this are why people made fun of comics for years. While the character is never shown as much of a threat in this issue, it is annoying to see such a pathetic character being presented as anything resembling a threat. It was like watching the WWE in the 1990’s when they had characters like Mantaur, Doink the Clown, the Repo Man, or Irwin R. Shyster. These were characters that, while the wrestlers playing them were fine wrestlers, were never, ever going to be considered as any sort of real threat towards the champion or would ever be taken seriously as athletes. Why couldn’t they come up with something novel like having criminals that were just, you know, criminals? I know that’s a wild idea and all that but at least at this point in time it was still so insane an idea to use that they had to come up with a character called The Porcupine and try and make him appear as if he were a real threat.

The end of the issue was intriguing. An unknown character who earlier had been ogling a model, sets eyes on the model when all hell had broken loose. She’s entranced by him and they meet, embrace, and end up disappearing. This was a nice little way for the issue to end because while this issue ended up resolving, thankfully, it gave you enough intrigue to see what happens in the next issue. While I may end up disappointed, it was a nice way to end the issue.

The artwork was top notch apart from the clothing. I don’t know, I think that too often I have seen DC and Marvel during the ages try and present their characters in ways to make them appealing to people of that time. By the time the issue comes out, whatever fad the creators wished to bank on was probably over and close to forty years later now the characters just look plain stupid when they’re dressed like people of that time. Why they could not dress the characters in neutral clothing is beyond me. I mean, these comics are supposed to be timeless stories, why could they not be drawn as such?

Bottom Line:

This is not a good second issue. Despite my criticism I’m not going to go so far as to say the issue was bad but it simply doesn’t stand the test of time. One annoying part I forgot to mention was the stupid flashback at the beginning of the issue. Show, don’t tell is a common adage they give writers. The writers of this issue forgot that by having the Guardians tell the readers what happened when Thor teamed with them. Yeah, it could be argued that there are some readers who have not read other issues with characters they may not like so having a refresher on what happened is not a bad idea. While I agree with that, I do think there could have been a much better way of retelling the story. Even something as having The Avengers scan security tape of Thor’s adventure would have been better than just people talking.

So yeah, it’s not horrible but I cannot recommend reading this issue. It’s a part of the Krovac saga so if you want to read that story from start to finish you have no choice. This is just not the type of story that you read just for the hell of it. It’s like the Star Wars prequels. You watch them just to say you did and you move on.

Hulk #1

Hulk

Yet another number 1 issue, this time dealing with The Hulk. Marvel as of late it seems have been doing what television has been doing for years and having self contained stories involving their popular characters during a set issue limit. Basically, we’re getting a season involving one story that will come to a close. We’re past the time in Marvel at least where we see issues get to issue 100, 200, or 500.

This starts off with the premise that Bruce Banner has been shot in the head. A group claiming to be SHIELD takes a brain surgeon to operate on him. Turns out this doctor has a history with Bruce since they had gone to college together and he had teased him. That gives the doctor a chance to reminisce on their history together and to ask himself what he could have possibly done to have changed Bruce Banner’s path towards being the Hulk. We then learn that the people we thought were SHIELD are another group altogether looking to use the Hulk as a weapon.

I like the decision the doctor has to make. He realizes that as a doctor he has sworn to protect life at all costs but he also realizes that if the Hulk were manipulated by anyone else he’d be a dangerous weapon that could be used to kill people the world over. The conscience decision that he has to make is a great element of this story.

I also like the fact that what ultimately saves everyone is the actions of someone who had happened to be saved by the Hulk in the past. While the Hulk is certainly guilty of lots of destruction over the years, LOTS of destruction, he still ends up doing the right thing at the end of the day. It was a nice little nod to his past that helped shape the course of this story without having to rely too much on past events.

For the most part I liked how the past is used to service the story at hand. While you do have to have a base knowledge of the Marvel Universe as a whole coming in to simply know some of the basics like The Hulk himself or SHIELD and the members of SHIELD we encounter like Coulson and Maria Hill, this does not stop you from enjoying the story at hand. What I would have liked to see though was a little more explanation as to how and why Bruce Banner was shot. I have no clue as to what was going on so I did feel a little lost at the start of the story.

The artwork was pretty solid. The locations appeared quite small which did hold back from the believe-ability of the story at hand. It’s my biggest complaints with comics as a whole. The story needs to feel big. It needs to feel like it is taking place in a real location. Yeah, not all stories need Sergio Leone type of locations to be included in it but it does need to feel real. The main location for this story, the hospital room where the Hulk was being operated upon, felt like a set which, hey, I’ve watched enough television over the years to suspend disbelief but it did throw me a bit.

Bottom Line:

This is a good start. You do feel a little lost if you don’t know some of the hows and whys as to how the Hulk was shot but that shouldn’t take away your enjoyment of the this issue. A strong majority of the issue dealing with back story is used to enhance the story at hand. I give this story a strong 6.

The biggest issue most folks have with comics is the sheer volume of stories told over the years. You don’t know where to start. You also fall into the trap of starting at a certain point only to find out the greatest friend a comic book writer ever had, Captain Ret-Con, can change elements of stories that you may like, such as writers deciding Mary Jane Watson and Peter Parker should no longer be married. (Oops. Spoiler.) Much like the television show Doctor Who as well as the mother of all great modern television shows Buffy the Vampire Slayer, comics today, mainly the stories coming from companies with characters who have been around for many years, should focus on having a series be a finite set of issues, a season involving one story if you will. The next season can reference what happens in the previous season if it wishes but letting a comic line for a character like the Hulk go past fifty issues at the very most will just intimidate people and keep them from diving into the story. I am not saying back story should be done away with. As was done in this story, the history of characters can be used to great effect to further the story at hand. The thing is the average reader should not have to take a college course just to get a primer on the action at hand.

The art work, while average, does not really disappoint. It’s not sloppy like some comics like to do today which is nice. My biggest issue has to do with the locations in the story. It comes across like it is being filmed or drawn if you will on a sound stage. I like depth in the scenery of my stories. For that, I have to give the artwork a 6 as well. It was good, it served its purpose, but it is easily forgettable.

World War Hulk: Aftersmash! Damage Control Issue 1

world_war_hulk_aftersmash_damage_control_1

The Good:

With news that Marvel has a new show in the works about the clean up team called Damage Control, I figured I would dive in to the Marvel Unlimited app and see if I could find some Damage Control stories. I was familiar with them from the Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon that appears on the Disney Channel but as of yet I had not had a chance to read any of their stories.

The idea is brilliant. It allows Marvel the chance to address the biggest plot hole you encounter in superhero comics and that is simply the aftermath. How the hell does the world get back to normal? It makes sense that a team in in place that would come on the scene after a superhero fight and clean things up in time for the next issue. If the plan for the television show is in line with what I have read in this particular issue than we’re in for a treat.

The comic starts at the end of the events depicted in World War Hulk. The CEO of Damage Control is on a helicarrier speaking with Tony Stark about the price to fix up New York after the attack from The Hulk. While we’re thrown into the story pretty much smack dab in the middle of everything that is going on I at no time felt lost. While these characters are definitely well lived, having previous adventures that are not referred to in this issue, that never gets in the way of the focus of this issue and that is getting the team together to repair New York. There were even characters that had previous issues with others in the story that was told in such a way that you never had to know exactly why they were upset at each other to appreciate what was going on in the story.

Too many writers, not even exclusive to comics, are hell bent on trying to throw so much into their stories that they forget just what it is they are bringing to the table in order to get people interested. They want to focus either on convoluted back stories that have nothing to do with the story or lead the reader along a path that will ultimately confuse them and leave them disappointed. I think of season 2 of one of my favorite shows 24. Season 1 had done a pretty decent job in making sure that everything going on had something, even if it was minor, to do with advancing the main plot, which was the plot from Victor Drazen to try and kill Jack Bauer and David Palmer as revenge for the murder of his family. Season 2 started out with promise in all but one area. Kim Bauer. She was a nanny with a family that it turned out was dealing with a very abusive husband. The fact that Kim was apparently staying with these people for months and the fact that not only was he abusing his family but also hitting on other women and she was oblivious to this is one area that makes you shake your head in disbelief. There is no way someone acting like this guy did would not have been noticed. The big problem though was the fact that, based on season 1, I thought until the very last episode that what was happening to Kim somehow had to do with the main plot of season 2 which ended up not being the case. If you removed all of Kim Bauer’s scenes from that season you would miss nothing of importance. That’s not a knock on her. That’s a knock on producers shoehorning her into a story that she didn’t belong in.

When it’s done right though, when you’re introduced to characters smack dab in the middle of their lives you find yourself immediately lost and immersed in the world and it’s great. Take the original Star Wars. The war between the Empire and the Rebellion had been going on many years before Darth Vader’s Star Destroy attacked the Tantive IV and that knowledge actually helped strength the characters and their motivation when we first meet them. While this story is by no means a classic, much like Star Wars you’re diving into the deep end with this story and brought along for a ride.

The art was pretty good especially with the fact that the story revolved around a construction clean up crew. Apart from the characters themselves there was no superhero action in this piece. It was either boardroom meetings, meetings in homes, or exterior shots. But the art was vibrant and went a long way toward making you care for the characters.

The Bad:

As always I have to focus on something that didn’t quite sit well with me. This is more quibbling at this point but when it came to how they glossed over the fact that we were in a post Civil War era where superheros either had to have registration cards or face jail time, it seemed silly for a company that so far in the comic had gone out of their way to follow the rules and be safe would suddenly decide that it was ok to get superhero involvement without checking their registration cards. Argue all day about whether the cards are right or not and that argument would be irrelevant because for a company that wanted to continue to get government money in order to continue as a business, I don’t buy that they would let something this big slip. Some may say that this may mirror how some companies hire illegal immigrants but I would disagree. Superheros are very much legal citizens. As long as they plan to use their powers they’ve been required to be registered for just such situations that New York had faced in the battle against The Hulk. Again, argue whether that was needed or not but this should not have happened. All it was was a glaring transparent plot device that allowed the Thunderbolts to appear at the end of the story to see if people were registered. You could see something like that coming from a mile away.

The only issue I had with the art was around the CEO of Damage Control. Everyone but her was drawn in such a way as to make them appear as comic book versions of magazine models. But not the CEO. She’s overweight and looks like my foot if it swelled up to look like a walking hippo. Not everyone on Earth has to be depicted as pretty in a comic but you can do better in terms of making people at least appear normal.

Bottom Line:

This comic made me more excited to see a potential Damage Control television show. I really want Marvel to consider posting more Damage Control stories as well apart from the three they have. It goes a long way to explain how things work behind the scenes in the Marvel Universe. It’s also a great study on average people dealing with the aftermath of superhero actions. I give the story an 8.

The art was good for all but its depiction of Mrs. Hoag, the CEO of Damage Control. Again, not everyone has to be pretty and a model but if they’re just a normal schlub, please don’t go out of your way to make them look deformed. I give the art a 6.