The Avengers #55

The Silver Age of Comics has brought about changes in pop culture that will reverberate for years to come. From the two major companies, Marvel and DC, the sheer amount of work they created that is still being mined is amazing. But do they stand the test of time? Not always.

To get back in the saddle of reviewing I thought I would dive into a classic issue of The Avengers. This issue was the debut of Ultron-5, the evil robot played so amazingly by James Spader in Avengers: Age of Ultron. The premise of the issue is that The Avengers have been kidnapped by the reformed Masters of Evil under the guise of the mysterious Crimson Cowl. While the previous issue came out and said Jarvis, Tony Stark’s butler, was The Crimson Cowl, it turns out Jarvis was being hypnotized by Ultron. The scheme was to have a hydrogen bomb held over the Empire State Building while Ultron contacts authorities for a ransom. The Black Knight arrives after Jarvis is able to escape, hijinks ensue, and The Avengers save the day.

The overall story itself was not horrible. I’ve certainly read much worse than this. Yet it does have a couple major failings. The biggest one is how Jarvis is dealt with. First, they imply he’s being hypnotized yet at the end of the issue Jarvis tells The Avengers that his mother was sick and he needed money so he sold them out. Which is it? Was he forced against his will through hypnosis or did he go along with the plan simply to help his mother? Also, maybe someone can fill me in as to what Tony Stark’s fortune was at this point in time but I strongly suspect that Tony would have willingly given Jarvis whatever cash he needed to care for his family.

Secondly, he was attacked by the Melter (after previously being attacked by Ultron) yet was able to escape with essentially minor bruises. When Jake and Elwood Blues in The Blues Brothers were attacked over and over again yet were able to simply walk away it was done for humorous effect. When a simple butler is able to survive an attack from a robot and a hardened criminal with simply nothing more than an Excedrin headache, it takes the believe ability of these villains, tosses it out a window, and lets birds use them for scraps for their nests. While I could let it slide when it happens to one of The Avengers, because let’s face it, even during the 1960’s you would expect members of a group to train for situations for like this, for an average civilian, you’d expect them to be straight up murdered.

Another issue I had was something I’ve seen a lot in Silver Age Comics. They introduce the big bad villain yet only showcase that villain for a couple of pages. Granted, I’m admittedly being a little impatient here. This issue was during the era where they were just getting into the groove of multi-issue stories. If you take early Avengers stories, early Spider-Man stories, most would be single story issues. With what is called decompression, they were letting stories breath really, letting them flow longer and more organically like a story in a novel or movie compared to the compression stories of the past eras. One drawback of the decompression method is if you find yourself in the middle of the story you may find that certain characters you want to see are simply not going to be around in a particular story simply because they’re not needed. Yet, I still found myself frustrated because for Ultron’s part in the story, we mainly saw him as The Crimson Cowl. Once he reveals himself as Ultron, he only appears in four more pages of the story in only a small handful of panels. This is a complaint…but a complaint I am sure a writer wants to see a person have because I wanted to see more of him.

So where do I stand on this issue? You have to take it in full context honestly. It’s a part of a longer story told in previous issues. With that, as a stand alone story, it doesn’t hold up too well. However, what it did right was not having the enjoyment of this issue be completely reliant upon total knowledge of what happened in previous issues. To me, the sign of a good comic is one that you can pick up with any issue and enjoy it. They have to have the mindset George Lucas said he had for Star Wars, that each film is its own story but all the films together tell one coherent story. This issue fits that formula nicely so I do recommend it as a read. It’s certainly not a classic in comics history along the lines of Amazing Fantasy #15, with a solid beginning, middle, and end, it does what it needs to do. In the age of graphic novels and comics available upon demand digitally, I think this is something some comics creators are forgetting today. They have the mindset that each issue is a chapter in a story and write it accordingly. Comic stories, even today, share more with old movie serials than they do with books. Basically, you have one issue to sell a new reader on your story so make whatever issue they pick up feel like a complete story, not a small part of something bigger. If they like what they read, they will purchase the other issues.

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.

The Amazing Spider-Man #529

Definition: Civil War. A war between citizens of the same country. When thinking of Civil War, you think of the Civil War that almost tore the United States apart. Brother against brother. Friends against friend. People that were one day friends were suddenly enemies and looking to murder each other.

Marvel Comics had their own Civil War. What started as a move by politicians to have superheroes in that universe to register if they wished to fight crime turned into one of the most notorious battles in Marvel’s history. It’s also the inspiration for the new Marvel movie coming out this year, Captain America: Civil War. With that, I wanted to explore the series that gave the film its inspiration with the hopes of seeing what works, what doesn’t, and what the filmmakers end up incorporating into the final product.

This issue is a pretty straight forward Spider-Man adventure. We find Peter Parker working for Tony Stark. This issue gives us the birth of the Iron Spider outfit that is making its presence known in the Ultimate Spider-Man show on The Disney Channel. Tony makes the suit for him as a way to entice him to go along with his plan of going against Washington against a proposed Superhero Registration Act.

The story was pretty short but sweet. Think of it like the comic version of the opening of a James Bond film. Most of the action involves Peter trying out the suit by taking out a couple car jackers who have a hostage. Peter is able to take them out with relative ease thanks to some new tools the suit offers.

I really liked Peter’s quips throughout the story. While the story feels pretty short, you get a definite feel for the characters. Peter and Mary Jane feel very much like a regular couple. Tony feels just like a supportive older brother type. The problem I find is that I only feel this way because I have such familiarity with the characters. This is a minor quibble because I think it is safe to say, especially after the success of Marvel movies since Blade, most folks have at least a general familiarity with the characters in such a way that they would probably feel the same way I do. The fear I see is someone coming into this world cold, starting with this issue, and not getting a real sense of the characters. To be clear, I very much accept that my opinion here is just that, an opinion. It is simply my opinion of the story I read. Others may read it and feel differently. Admittedly I may just be over thinking things. Writing a review after a long week of work can lead to me being a little cranky at times.

The art work was pretty solid this issue. The only issue I had, again a minor quibble, comes with the exterior scenes in the story. The scenes where Spider-Man is fighting the car jackers just doesn’t feel like an exterior scene to me. Yeah, I know. It’s a drawing. It’s not meant to replicate reality. If it were trying to do that, it would be a photograph. I contend that while these stories are meant to be fantasies, since they are mostly set in locations that are real, those locations should be drawn in such a way as to feel like you’re there. Does that mean they have to be drawn like photographs? No. But add some depth to the exterior shots. I’ve not been close to a highway anywhere in this country that feel as small and closed in as the highway that is presented in this story. Does Spider-Man have to appear an inch tall to showcase the depth and distance of the exterior scenes? No. But there has to be a better way to show depth and it’s not this.

Bottom Line:

I was surprised at how low key an event like Civil War started. That’s not a bad thing at all. All too often, big issues between people end up starting over the smallest things. I was also surprised to see Tony start off the story very much on the side that Captain America eventually takes. He didn’t start off this story believing in the Superhero Registration Act. He tried to settle this on his terms of course which obviously failed. I can’t wait to see how Tony went from how we see him in this issue to the supporter of the act in future issues.

Knowing how Spider-Man ends up switching sides during the course of the war, it was interesting seeing how his affiliations were so much tied with Tony Stark at the beginning of this story. I want to see what causes his affiliations to change.

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.