The Amazing Spider-Man #2

The second issue of The Amazing Spider-Man gives us two stories for the price of one. We meet up with one member of Spider-Man’s famous rogues gallery when we meet The Vulture. We also meet up with a lesser known villain in The Tinkerer.

Stories from this era and earlier tended to be more on the simpler side. Where as stories today tend to take place over multiple issues and sometimes multiple titles, we see stories begin and end in singular issues. The benefit of course is that you money for the issue is well spent. You don’t have to spend a fortune to or invest in titles you may not like just to finish a story you may be interested in. The drawback of course is that there isn’t much room for the story to grow. You have simplistic stories with simplistic characters who we don’t know much about doing things just cause.

The Vulture is an interesting case. While he may not have the name recognition of The Green Goblin or Doctor Octopus, he’s someone I would put in the top ten of Spider-Man’s most formidable opponents. Yet his introduction is pretty basic. The only thing separating him from the average villain is the getup he uses to fly. We don’t know his name, he’s just a guy who wants to make a dishonest living.

The Tinkerer is a shorter story without too much of a purpose. We get Peter discovering a radio repair man is working with some supposed aliens to install monitoring devices in the radios of very important people. We are told it’s because they’re looking to take over the world yet according to Marvel’s own wiki we find that those supposed space aliens were a ruse and the Tinkerer is just a guy who knows his way around electronics. Readers of this era would not know that and would probably have assumed that the supposed aliens were the same Skrulls that were introduced in the second issue of The Fantastic Four.

Stan Lee recounts in numerous issues that he hasn’t always been proud of his work in comics. When asked by others he would say he was a writer. A writer of what? they would ask. Children’s work. What children’s work? Work for comics he would reply. Then people would walk away. So it is safe to say that, while I think he may be over doing his embarrassment of his work because otherwise why would he be doing it if he didn’t have some pride in his work, I do feel that it is safe to say that he wasn’t exactly thinking long term about the characters he created. Hindsight being twenty twenty, how could he not see the importance of his work? I mean, the best thing about superhero comics are the fact that no matter what evil happens in the real world, we have a chance to escape into a fantasy world where heroes just like you or I are able to defeat the villains that are intent on wrecking havoc on our world. Yet he had no way of knowing the impact he was making on our society. His work at this point, while I’m sure he loved what he was doing, was just a job. He, like any other writer, and Steve Ditko, like any other artists, were essentially throwing what they could at the wall in regards to content hoping something would stick. Their batting average during this time was amazing of course, that goes without saying. The drawback comes with the fact that the stories during this time were single issue stories.

While I have lamented on here multi-issue stories that span through multiple titles, the benefit of these types of stories is that they can shine more light on the villains of the work. The best work, whether it’s books, comics, movies, whatever, are able to flesh out all the characters in the story. While we will, as readers, react viscerally to the actions of villains in a story, we’re going to be more involved in the story if we know why the character is doing what they are doing. Take The Vulture. In this issue we see he’s intent on stealing. He’s created an amazing device that allows him to harness magnetism in order to fly so it goes without saying he is a smart guy. Yet like a common hoodlum he resorts to stealing. I personally want to know why. (I’m only talking in regards to this particular issue. The Vulture is a long time villain in the Spider-Verse and his story has been fleshed out a long time ago.)

Bottom Line:

While this issue won’t go down as the all time greatest Spider-Man story, it is a fine example of Lee and Ditko’s work during this era. As I have mentioned in my reviews of some of Brian Bendis’ work, with the sheer amount of content Stan Lee and Steve Ditko put out over their careers, not everything will be a winner. I could have done without the story of The Tinkerer myself but an issue that details the debut of a major villain like The Vulture will sure go down as a must read for me. Similar to listening to the first major songs of your favorite musicians, it’s interesting seeing where folks start out because you can see the glimpses of what made them great. While they were not firing on all cylinders at this point, more so for Lee than Ditko but I contend that is simply due to how comics were written at the time, the foundation of an amazing universe was being created and more often than not, they were doing more right than wrong. Probably my only real complaint would be the fact that the comic is so verbose. Like I said in my review of The Avengers #1, the writing comes across like it was being written for a radio play. Everything was described, almost like Stan was creating closed captioning for a comic book. The drawback of this approach is that it crowds out some amazing artwork from Steve Ditko. It seems superfluous to have a character state what they are doing when the artwork is showing the reader the same thing. As the old saying for writers goes, show your audience what you want to show them, don’t tell them about it. Less is more, especially in comics when the art can do so much of the storytelling for you.

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

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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

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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

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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

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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 #666

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Another day in the life of Peter Park starts out with him swinging through town contemplating how life has changed for him. I liked how it goes back over his history of how he would inadvertently stumble onto a crime scene or have a crime fall into his lap. You get a sense of the history of the character without having to have a PhD in Spider-Man history. He hears a call of a robbery in progress and proceeds to the scene where two robbers are fleeing a local shop. He takes care of them in due order with his usual quips. The police arrive and thank him for his work.

One of the cops mentioned ol’ Flat Top cutting the budget for the police since Spider-Man is taking care of crime in town. Turns out the Flat Top he was talking about was J. Jonah Jameson himself, the Mayor of New York. Seems the Mayor is seeing his poll numbers plummet because he is using city finances toward a Spider-Man task force which the general public doesn’t like. Then he has the nerve to complain about The Daily Bugle calling him out for doing this, once again blaming Spider-Man for all his troubles. I get that JJJ is a bit of a one note character. There are some shades to the character which can at times make him interesting but this was just too cliche. This was like how he was presented in Spider-Man 3, a joke. Whereas in the original Spider-Man movie, he’s a bombastic ass but he still does the right thing. We’ll probably get a little more JJJ in the story what with him being Mayor and all but this is not a good start for the character.

Next up we see Hydro-Man battling a trio of heroes, Gravity, Spider-Woman, and Firestar. Growing up a fan of Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends, I geeked out when I saw Firestar. Especially when she name dropped the show.

Anyway, Spider-Man makes quick work of Hydro-Man by using a special freezing device he made up at his job at Horizon Laboratories. Then it’s off to work where he showcases the freezing device to his co-workers who congratulate him. I found his female co-worker quite annoying. I am sure there are animal activists who would freak out over the well being of earthworms but man are they annoying as all hell. Reminds me of an episode of The Howard Stern Show where he got two female members of PETA to make out with each when he threatened to kill some bugs or something. Just stupid. Priorities people.

Next, we have Peter Parker’s girlfriend Carlie calling him to speak with him. I never knew this character existed before reading this issue but I liked how someone in my position doesn’t feel like her character is wedged into the story. I don’t know her history but she feels like she belongs which is a good job from the writer. When Peter inquires as to what she would want to talk about, we see one of the criminals that he had webbed up earlier break free from the webs, which one of the cops mentions that that is something even Rhino could not do. The bugs have bit a lot of people…including Carlie who takes down the criminal with a clothesline John Bradshaw Layfield from the WWE would be proud of.

After the phone call Peter is walking, oblivious to everything around him when a bus barrels down on him. Phil Urich and Norah Winters pull him to safety. Thanks to an editor’s note, we discover that Peter lost his spider sense. I have no problem with editor’s notes but one annoyance with this issue is that it seems every other panel had an editor’s note. I am all for filling in the reader on events they may not have read but when they become obnoxious like this issue, you have to ask yourself whether there was another way for the writer to talk about past events without annoying the reader. I did enjoy the panel where Phil gets pissed at a comment Peter made and you see the image of Phil’s alter ego, Hobgoblin. It was an amazing way to show the character having a dark side without making them rattle off a monologue.

We have a quick little scene of Jay and May Jameson in a hotel. It’s a quick way to show that the bed bugs making everyone like Spider-Man. It’s a nice tease towards the disease spreading across the country.

The scene turns towards a criminal about to be attacked for not being able to pay a mobster. Just when two bad guys are about to break his knees, he breaks out with some spider moves and escapes. That is one thing I never liked about Spider-Man. I get that he gets the strength of a spider but nothing was ever said about him, or anyone else like him with similar powers, becoming a martial arts expert. Show the character taking a beating or two but overcoming the bad guys. Show them learning to fight over time, not breaking out the Bruce Lee gymnastics. Once he escapes he runs across The Jackal, Miles Warren, who invites him to a get together of like minded criminals. Something big is planned.

We get a quick scene at The Baxter Building where Reed Richards is sending Sue and others to The Negative Zone for their protection. I wasn’t sure why they were being sent there. While I have to assume it has something to do with the bedbug outbreak, it could have had something to do with an event from a previous Fantastic Four issue that I am not aware. I have to dock points for this because I had no clue what the hell was going on. We did see Peter speak with Mary Jane on the phone. The Thing makes a funny comment to her on the phone. Nothing consequential but it’s a great little showcase of his character, how someone looking like a monster deep down is a lovable guy.

The next scene shows Flash Thompson as Venom fighting against agents of AIM. How or why he became Venom I don’t know. It’s not really explained, just presented as something we should already know. He’s talking to his girlfriend Betty Brant at the hospital where she is a patient. He’s telling her she needs to stay in bed but being a reporter, when she sees the emergency room filled with people who are freaked out they have spider powers, her eyes spread wide in happiness. This is a scene that will probably make more sense the further I get into the story but their inclusion made no sense. ‘Read the other comics,’ you might say. I shouldn’t have to. Not that I need to know the complete life history of every character. Some of the best stories are stories that throw you into the deep end and expect you to swim. Star Wars is a perfect example. For Episode 4, you’re suddenly involved in a fight between two sides that you don’t know anything about. Yet the movie does a great job of acclimating you to what is going on quickly. You care for the characters without quite knowing where they fit at first. Once you get used to the story you care for them even more. The only reason I knew about Flash Thompson and Betty Brant was their places in Spider-Man history. If I started reading Spider-Man with this issue I would not have known what was going on.

We go next to Avenger’s Mansion where Spider-Man is just finishing a hand in a poker game the team is playing. He leaves quickly to go to karate practice. Once there, Shang finally introduces him to Ms. Carpenter who is Madam Web. She tells Spider-Man that she can see into the future, knows what is going on, and knows he will help. But she wants him to prepare to kill if need be. Spider-Man says that will never happen. I didn’t really care for Madam Web. I get that she is a telepath and can see the future but the writer could have done a better job in having her give the exposition she is there to give. Anyway, Spider-Man takes off, being followed by strangers who are swinging through the air themselves. I get that Peter doesn’t have spider sense but he looks like a fool not seeing stuff like this. He arrives at his apartment with his girlfriend waiting for him, ready to tell him the fact that she has powers now.

The Jackal is arriving at a laboratory where some clones of himself are at work. He meets up with a strange woman who tells him about a new ‘plaything’ she made for him, a Peter Parker clone. The woman transforms the clone into a monster. It comes out of a tube, following her orders. She then alludes to an island of spiders. The last panel is great where we see average citizens flying in the sky like Spider-Man.

Bottom Line:

Another good read. While it is not as good as the previous issue, it does enough to advance the story for me to want to read more. It has its flaws, such as the over usage of editor’s notes and minor scenes with characters doing things we need a little more explanation for, but it is still a pretty good setup for future issues in the story. The artwork was pretty solid throughout, especially the little scenes like the image of the Hobgoblin when Phil was pissed at Peter for the quick retort. Peter was also a little too oblivious to events happening in the story that you would think anyone else would at least have raised an eye over. But overall, it’s a good start to a story, unlike the chaos that was The Korvac Saga. My how much a difference twenty years makes.

Fantastic Four #1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bottom Line:

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

Great Lakes Avengers Misassembled #1

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Having been born and raised in the Great Lakes State, you come to expect a lot of things. You expect great college football. You expect really cold winters. You also expect lots of rural areas in between the big, or semi-big, cities like I grew up in. What you don’t expect are superheroes patrolling your neck of the woods.

Marvel put an end to that when they brought together the Great Lakes Avengers. This was a quirky little book but it was quite put together. This particular issue revolves around the leader of the group, Mr. Immortal so my focus in this review will be his story.

We start off, after a funny little PSA from Squirrel Girl and Monkey Joe, with Mr. Immortal at birth. From there, we learn some bullet points of his life story, how he continually gets to see a creature named Deathurge who over the course of the issue brings people that he loves into the afterlife. Craig Hollis, Mr. Immortal’s real name, sees Deathurge as more of a friend at first which puts him into some funny situations, like playing patty cake in the middle of the road or thinking some alligators behind a fence are doggies. (Funny of course because nothing happens to him.) The fun stops when Deathurge encourages him to play with matches under his home and his father is killed, brought to wherever he is taking people.

Craig is brought to live in abusive foster home where he happens to meet the woman of his dreams, the real daughter of the abusive foster father. When they grow up they escape and move out on their own. But we get to a point where we see Craig come home one day to find a letter. After reading the letter, he tells us his love is gone and we see he tried killing himself by throwing himself out the window.

Well, that didn’t work. He rises, his neck clearly snapped, but he is none the worse for wear. He tries a few more times until realizing that hey, this is a superpower and decides to become a hero. His one and only instance of trying it alone ends with the criminals shooting him in the head. Once he gets up, he realizes that maybe he’d better off in a team so he puts an ad in the paper and the Great Lakes Avengers are born.

They fumble through some basic little adventures where we see the general public either take them as a joke or are frightened of them. When they finally encounter a big problem with enemies that are running amok at a convention center, they ride into action only to find the Real Avengers have shown up and they are relegated to being spectators.

Just as Craig contemplates ending the group, the improbable happens. The real Avengers break up. AND real supervillain shows up in town for them to stop. The Great Lakes Avengers show up to fight Maelstrom.

Craig is the first one attacked. His girlfriend, who in the group is called Dinah Soar, because he is a walking, talking dinosaur (they could have done better with the name), comes to console him but then the writer decides to hit us over the head and take a sharp left with the story. Dinah is killed. Craig is devastated. From there, we flash back to his old girlfriend. We find that she didn’t leave a Dear John note, she left a suicide note. Deathurge comes to take Dinah. Mr. Immortal somehow has a gun handy and the last image of see of him is of him holding the gun to his head.

I like where they’re going with this story. Maybe I would have written the piece a little more organically and explored some of the characters before I got to this point but being that we’re talking about a bunch of second rate heroes, I can get why they chose to skip to the good parts. It is quite jarring to go from goofy little comedic piece to the brick in the face suddenness of the emotion and reality of the story but they make it work. For Mr. Immortal, we know enough, and care enough, about him by this point that when he is faced with the death, again, of a woman he loves, you understand why he breaks down and tries to off himself.

The art work was fantastic. Especially at the end when Deathurge is taking Dinah away and we see Mr. Immortal, small in the frame, reaching out and begging to be taken to wherever Deathurge is taking the people that Craig loves. The desperation in the frame just pulls at the ol’ heart strings.

The little PSA with Squirrel Girl at the beginning was drawn particularly well too. I remember it mainly from an early Treehouse of Horror episode of The Simpsons but they cribbed it from Frankenstein I think, but the PSA with her on stage gave off the same vibe. The little bits with Monkey Joe are funny as well.

Bottom Line:

Compared to other titles from Marvel, this is a quirky piece. It’s not meant to rival any of their titles in the big lines they run. You’ll never see The Great Lakes Avengers mentioned alongside Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four, The X-Men, or The Avengers in terms of popularity. But it is a nice character piece of average people and how they would react if tossed into the mix that the superheroes typically deal with. The story with Mr. Immortal is especially well done, albeit a little jarring for how the piece was setup. If you keep in mind that you’re not reading a typical superhero story but a story involving a guy who just so happens cannot die, you will get the most enjoyment from the story.

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #1

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Comics will get boring if you don’t take chances. While the greats are always worth a read, comics like Superman, Spider-Man, Batman, The Avengers, finding little quirky comics that will never reach the levels of popularity but are still damn good reads are what makes comic books so damn fun.

With a title called The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, I couldn’t resist reading this. Even if it was bad, the title alone earned it some good points with me. Like some movies can get you in the theater based on the title. Attack of the Killer Tomatoes! Come on. A title like that makes you want to see what kind of fucked up nonsense you’re going to see.

I initially thought that this comic was entirely new but that turns out to not be the case. It is based on a character created in 1992 by Will Murray and the great Steve Ditko. The creation of the comic was simple. They wanted a character that would be more light hearted than what comics at that time were. If you have read comics from any company from that era, you would know why comic creators would think about taking a moment to be a little silly and more light hearted. Not that comics were too dark or anything but similar to what Marvel did with their movies this year, taking the somewhat serious toned The Avengers: Age of Ultron movie and then releasing Ant-Man, which was much lighter in tone and in terms of scale much more smaller, the stories that were coming out during that era all had to do with some pretty serious consequences. So I can see why having a character who was a little silly and dealt with lighter stories could be appealing.

If I had to compare this comic to anything, it would be the Saturday morning superhero cartoons I grew up on or the new Ultimate Spider-Man show that is on the Disney Channel. While the stakes can get pretty high on paper, the tone of the story is light hearted from start to finish. I mean, it almost has to be. If someone wanted to make a dark and gritty Squirrel Girl story I would think they would want to take their comic making card away from them and banish them to a life of creating super market advertising jingles. This issue revolves around her moving out of her secret apartment in Avengers Mansion and starting her freshman year at Empire State University. While on campus, she runs into Kraven the Hunter. What initially starts out as a fight turns into Squirrel Girl convincing Kraven that since he is immortal, he should be taking his skills as a hunter against creatures that could actually put up a fight. He agrees and off he leaves. Squirrel Girl bonds with her new dorm mate and the next story is teased when her squirrel friends tell her that something is about to destroy the world. The last panel we see Galactus.

The story is told simple. Sometimes a little too simple. At least in the first issue the writer can’t seem to find the balance he wants between showcasing the silly aspects of the character while giving her real life situations to deal with. While I have no problem with her interacting with people in a realistic way, it is a little disturbing that she whips out a tail at a moment’s notice and pretends that no one can see that she has become Squirrel Girl. I almost thing that her starting college ended up making her appear more like a moron because if she thinks that no one noticed she turned into Squirrel Girl, than she is delusional at best, insane at worse. But that is more a minor issue I have. It was a little distracting because it took a light story and turned it into a story of a woman with mild mental retardation but it was still pretty interesting.

The artwork nicely fits the tone of the story. It mimics a bit the traditional style of Kirby and Ditko but makes it much more simple. It really comes across like an old coloring book come to life. If the artwork were a little more realistic it may have took the tone, and some of the issues I had with it, and turned it into more of a glaring issue. But the art does a great job of setting the tone from the first frame and keeping you involved in the story when the actual story itself tends to take you out of it.

Bottom Line:

I recommend this comic. Do I think it’s the greatest comic ever made? No. It’s a little too silly and does a little more harm than good when it comes to presenting a story you can lose yourself in. But for all it gets wrong, it gets more right in the end. You will find yourself laughing more often than not. The art does its best to save the story and it does an admirable job. While the character of Squirrel Girl is presented as a little dumb to put it nicely, her character is drawn in such a way as to be drawn to her, to pardon the pun. You like her from the first frame when she’s singing her own version of the classic Spider-Man song. The goal of any comic whether it is executed properly or not is to make folks want to read the next issue and you know what? I want to see Galactus face off against the squirrels of the world. If it took The Fantastic Four to almost get themselves wiped out before they could defeat Galactus, what could Squirrel Girl do to stop him? I have to know at this point.