Ultimate Spider-Man #12

   What strikes me about this issue of Ultimate Spider-Man is how utterly stupid Kingpin is. I mean, the relative ease it takes for Spider-Man to steal the DVD’s that store the videos Kingpin made in his office makes me wonder how truly effective Wilson Fisk is. When you’ve spent the first half of your story trying to make your villain appear to be such a bad ass and it ends up that a fifteen year old with an Internet account and some web fluid is able to take him down with relative ease, you don’t have a villain that is truly dangerous. You have a villain who is a villain simply because the author says he is.   I can’t tell you how disappointed I have been with the Learning Curve story. There has been so much potential to make Kingpin such a bad ass that was wasted simply to move the story along. As a writer, it made me think about how easy it is to write yourself into a corner. I remember when I was writing my first novel (which is now available on Amazon Here) I encountered a scene where I wrote myself into a corner. I ended up writing pretty much all the active characters that I was using at the time into scenarios that they could not escape from. They had nothing really to do because I wrote them into scenarios where they had nothing to do. I sat on the story for a couple weeks before I realized what I did and ended up rewriting the scene all together.

   Here, Brian Bendis gave us the impression that Wilson Fisk was such a badass. He’s the head of all real crime in New York. He’s supposed to be Don Corleone who also has the ability to squeeze your head off like it were a grape. Yet when we have Peter discovering quite quickly that he has a video system set up in his offices that records absolutely everything that happens there as well as stealing the recordings in question and releasing them to the media within a couple days time, you have to ask how Wilson Fisk can be so dangerous for so long if a fifteen year old can bring his empire down so quickly. What does that also say about other criminals who meet up with Kingpin that they never noticed or acted upon the information that Peter discovered.

   What I would have liked to see was the issue with Kingpin be revealed over time. Peter resolved this way too quickly. Now yeah, this is a comic and Wilson Fisk will be back in order to try and get some revenge. That’s what make comics such fun. But to set up a villain who is supposed to be king bad ass in such a horrible, lazy way is disappointing. If there was time for Peter to make the discoveries he did as well as learning from his mistakes with other villains before he takes down Kingpin than you’d have no complaint from me. The fact that in five short issues Peter goes from naïve novice to making all the right moves to defeat a criminal mastermind makes you wonder if the criminal in question is really such a mastermind.

   One good thing that happens this issue is the humor. Spider-Man is known for mouthing off to the people he fights. The big showdown between Spider-Man and Kingpin was great. The fact that Peter took the time to write down insults on index cards just to read them off to Kingpin was funny and fit his character to date. It didn’t seem forced.

Bottom Line:

   There will never be an artist you encounter where you like absolutely everything they do. I love Brian Bendis’s work. As far as comic book writers go, there is second to none out there today. The fact is that with the sheer amount of work he has to produce on a monthly basis, not every story will be a winner. This issue was not a winner. It has some great moments to be sure but the execution for this whole Learning Curve story was bad. Not that it was a bad idea for a story. The seed for the story is fine. It could have been played out so much better. I think they could have stretched this out but hey, what do I know?

   I did love the art for this issue. Very reminiscent of the Silver Age work of Steve Ditko with a modern flair to it. One drawback of how comics used to be drawn was the fact that with four colors to work with, they could only do so much. (For folks that may not know, ink costs money. Comic book companies back in the day used to limit the artists to four colors to work with. They could mix them up as much as they liked to produce the color they need but they only had four to work with. With computers, that is becoming less of an issue today especially for bigger companies like DC and Marvel.)

   The love that Kingpin is drawn with should be acknowledged. With any other artist, it is possible that Wilson Fisk could be drawn as just a big fat guy. While he certainly has considerable girth in this issue, you can’t help but experience the fear that Peter must feel seeing the guy. Mark Bagly successfully conveyed the strength of Kingpin through his facial expressions and body language. Bagly to this point has been great with showing the most subtle of emotions in a realistic way.

Ultimate Spider-Man #10

Peter Parker sure learns a lot in this issue. When you’re handed the ass whipping he gets you’d either tuck your tail between your legs and run or learn what the hell whipped you so bad and figure out another way to beat it. Peter thankfully chose the latter option.

Kingpin is damned dangerous in this issue but I do question how someone who can be as rash as he is has been able to stay on top for as long as he has. The setting where the action takes place is an office in the high rise penthouse he lives in which is currently having a party for charity that he is hosting. He’s trying to do the Michael Corleone role in trying to be master of two worlds, the world of crime and the world of legitimacy. While I could see him being pissed that Peter broke into his office, the lengths he goes to get rid of him are just too extreme for a character that is trying to romance the regular world. Especially with the security system he has in place, why wouldn’t he just call the cops, get Peter arrested, and sell the video of their encounter to the Daily Bugle or something in an effort to make people sympathetic towards him?

Instead he has Electro shock the hell out of him before he tosses him out the window to plunge to his apparent death. All on a taping system he had installed in his own residence. Now it could be argued that there is historical precedence for this occurring. Richard Nixon famously taped tons of conversations in the White House that ended up burning his back side quite crisply during the whole Watergate mess. He was either too stupid to remember the taping was going on which ended up incriminating him and members of his staff on their various crimes or he was so drunk with power that he thought there was no reason to be worried because he had all the power. Maybe that’s what Brian Bendis had in mind for this particular scene (since Watergate is directly mentioned at the later in the story when Peter is at school.) but it doesn’t really play out so well in my book.

I really enjoyed the scene where Peter and Aunt May have a heart to heart. Not much attention has been spent on her up to this point. You like her as a character and everything but that like is general at best. This scene really does a lot to introduce you more to the character more in depth.

One issue I have had with Aunt May in the traditional Spider-Man comics was how one dimensional she is. While I’m sure someone who’s read far more Spider-Man comics than me will come up with example after example of how she did more than fret about poor Peter Parker and bake him cookies, I contend that with the general public’s view of the character as one dimensional as it is, efforts in the original comics to broaden her character have mainly not been effective.

Aunt May is wondering about her place in the world since Ben was brutally murdered. With Peter growing up and discovering his powers, he’s more and more finding himself living life outside the house. May is alone. Yeah she may have friends, I don’t doubt that but up until Ben was murdered, her life was her home and now she doesn’t have that. She questions if Peter even likes her as a person which will pull on the old heart strings but does a lot to add some much needed characterization to her. The original Aunt May would never have done that. If she even thought of it, she’d bake cookies just to drown that thought out. I loved this scene. It packs as much of an emotional wallop as any action scene Peter has been in to date. And the art really brings you into the scene quite intimately.

Bottom Line:

Peter is getting it. While I still think he is quite brash and stupid for how naive he is, he is learning that brute strength will not take out someone like the Kingpin. The learning curve he’s going through is smartening him up fast. Hell, if I were thrown out of a high rise window just cause, I’d learn real quick that whatever I did that caused said person to toss my sorry ass out the window was the wrong way to handle what I was doing.

This comic is a great read but it does have some problems, namely how Kingpin is portrayed. For someone who is set up to be such a bad ass throughout the story to day, when we actually meet him, apart from his brute strength he’s not the smart guy he’s been portrayed to be. Yeah, there is a Nixon comparison here but Bendis misses his mark here by not giving us as the reader more examples of Kingpin actually being smart. I certainly wouldn’t want to piss the guy off but I don’t see him at this point being smart enough to tie his own shoes unless he had an instruction manual.

What I would have liked was some more of the approach that was used in the Netflix show Daredevil. Wilson Fisk in that show is not Kingpin until literally the last twenty minutes. Throughout the show you see how, through brain power and physical strength, he manipulates everything to his favor. Only until Matt Murdock beats him at his own game does he lose it. There could have been more interactions between Spider-Man and Kingpin before a showdown like what appears in this issue occurs. For that, the story does suffer.

The Amazing Spider-Man #51

Amazing_Spider-Man_Vol_1_51

First off a little free advertisement. My wife loves little hole in the wall places. While she has no problem heading to a chain restaurant or coffee shop, she’s the type of person who would much rather pay a little more money to keep a mom and pop place in business. One such place in Portland is a place called The Spritely Bean. It’s a beautifully run place run by a nice couple that really appeals to both ladies and gentlemen out there. The coffee and pastries they offer second to none. My wife loved the egg nog latte she ordered. They also offer comics from independent companies. While they did offer selections from companies comic fans know of like Image Comics and Valiant Comics (they also had Spawn #2 on sale. If they had a #1 I would have squealed like a little girl.), they also offered selections from local comic book makers that I will be posting reviews on in the coming days. To top it off, once my wife mentioned that I had reviewed Holy F*ck, Addam Poole, the owner along with his wife, mentioned that he knew of the series and had actually had communication with Nick Marino. Anyone who likes Holy F*ck is tops in my book! If you are in Portland and want to not only support local coffee shops but the local comic book scene in the area, this is THE place to go to.

Now on to the review. The Amazing Spider-Man #51, which had the second ever appearance of Kingpin, Mr. Wilson Fisk. One of my favorite shows of late has been Daredevil on Netflix. Vincent D’Onofrio did a fabulous job as the Kingpin. What I love about the character is the fact that he’s smart as a whip. Looking like he does you wouldn’t expect it but the Kingpin is someone who has thought twelve moves ahead of you. He is a cold blooded mother who has thought about every possible way to grasp and maintain power. He realizes as well that he can use his appearance to give people the false impression of weakness.

When you think of fat guys you don’t think of them as particularly scary. Sometimes they can be jolly like Santa. Sometimes they can be pathetic like Val Kilmer. But never do you think of hefty guys as vicious. Run twelve steps ahead of them and they’ll have a heart attack trying to keep up. Toss a jelly donut their way and you’ve successfully distracted them like showing a dog a card trick. But Kingpin is pure muscle, whether it be physical or mental muscle.

This is the issue after the famous story of Peter Parker contemplating hanging up the tights forever. Peter Parker has changed his mind and is now Spider-Man again. When he comes back he foils the Kingpin’s plans. Thanks to an editorial from J. Jonah Jameson, he’s looking for the man who is behind a recent crime wave in the city. The Kingpin is aware of the articles and hatches a plan to kidnap JJJ to either convince him to lay off the story or else.

The story in this issue is light in terms of content but that’s not a bad thing. The goal of the issue which I think Stan Lee accomplished amazingly well was to showcase the viciousness of Wilson Fisk. We get a showcase of how a man was able to unite the crime families of New York. He knows that these people are not loyal to him so he keeps a cane that could instantly kill anyone who disobeys him. The fact alone that by the end of the issue he was able to subdue Spider-Man speaks volumes as to how strong this guy is. Other characters when they made their debut against Spider-Man were easily defeated by the end of the issue. But the last thing we see if Spider-Man and J. Jonah Jameson surrounded by Kingpin and this thugs.

Speaking of JJJ, I’ve always found his character fascinating. On the surface you think he is quite one dimensional. He hates Spider-Man and will go to any length to let people know. But every now and then they show little glimpses into his mind as to why he hates Spider-Man. In a previous issue, I happen to forget which one specifically at the moment, we find that he is jealous of Spider-Man because he wishes his son had the same level of adoration from people. He knows Spider-Man does good but due to petty jealousy he wants to stop him. But as this issue shows, while he very much wants Spider-Man stopped, when it comes to someone looking to actually kill him, he draws a line. He may be jealous but that doesn’t involve murder. It’s little moments like these that pop up occasionally which go towards making JJJ such a fascinating character.

The art. A John Romita classic. John Romita, along with Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and others, pretty much set the template for these types of stories. The fight scenes were great in this issue. While they ended up being filler to be quite honest, you do not get bored or distracted. The action makes sense. I’ve noticed in some comics that when fight scenes happen, they want to throw in as much action as they can so it ends up getting to be a garbled mess. You don’t know what is really going on apart from punches and kicks. The action in this issue is quite clear and well drawn. Little things like the impact lines when Kingpin hits people showcase the power of the character. Who would have thought that simple lines could showcase such power?

Bottom Line:

This is a must read issue of The Amazing Spider-Man. While admittedly the previous issue is more well known and for obvious reasons, this goes a long way towards establishing the character of Kingpin.  A person could judge the story based on way stories are told now but they would be missing out on one hell of a story. I would be the first to admit that some of Stan Lee’s writing doesn’t stand the test of time. Granted, with the sheer amount of content him and others have to put out not everything is going to be a gem. But the foundations he laid for modern comic book stories should never, ever, be diminished because some of the stories may seem a little corny by today’s standards. We have today’s standards because of stories like this. This is the type of story that any comic book writer would study to see what works so they can either apply it to their own work or find a way to do something different that would still give you the same results. I compare Stan Lee’s stories to The Beatles. While I do find some of their songs quite simple by today’s standards, without The Beatles, popular music as a whole would sound much different. To become a master of anything, you have to learn from the masters that came before you. Stan Lee and John Romita are two such masters that any comic creator would do well to study.