Want a break from DC’s New 52? Of course you do. Everyone does.
Book Of The Week – AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #669
The easy sex-related joke in regards to the issue’s numbering can come elsewhere. While it probably isn’t the greatest issue of the series written by Dan Slott, it still has a lot of things going for it which make it eke out the top spot of the pile. It has some great artwork by Humberto Ramos, alongside Edgar Delgado’s colors and Carlos Cuevas’ inks. It brings back a triplet of forgotten Spider-Man D-List villains in Chance, White Rabbit and Scorcher. It features Peter Parker doing kung-fu, a six-armed Shocker and, SPOILERS (for those who haven’t seen Marvel’s cover for issue #670 that’s been online and in Previews for weeks), mayor J. Jonah Jameson gaining spider-powers. Most of all, this arc – SPIDER-ISLAND – manages to do several key things well. It manages to provide the sort of epic action and over-the-top storyline that one expects of a crossover event without neglecting characters, a sense of humor, and above all, long term subplots that began before. It may not be Eisner Award brilliance and there have probably been better AMAZING SPIDER-MAN comics sold to the public, but it’s better than FEAR ITSELF and has upped the ante for Spider-Events in the present and future.
SPIDER-ISLAND is nearing it’s mid-point by this stage; while the story itself may be eight chapters including prologue and epilogue, they will be released over six months due to the rate of ASM’s release. And as proper for the second act of a story, things are chugging along at a quick pace (picking up after the last issue: http://knotmove.com/comic-books-in-new-york/picks-of-comic-book-week-for-8-31-11-the-only-review-column-not-about-jl-1-review). Thousands of New Yorkers, including supporting cast members like Carlie Cooper (Peter’s lover), villains (like Kingpin and those mentioned above) and superheroes (like Herc, Shang-Chi, Spider-Girl, and Hawkeye) have been infected with a virus via genetically altered bed-bugs which gave them Spider-Man like powers. Mayor Jameson, the Avengers, and Mr. Fantastic have all joined forces (sort of) to quarantine the virus on Manhattan Island and figure out a cure. While Mr. Fantastic has a vaccine for uninfected humans, and mutants and other superhumans seem to be safe, the virus has mutated and is now airborne. The villain at the core of the infestation is the Jackal, of CLONE SAGA fame, whose flash-mob of criminal Spidey impostors were either distraction or amusement. As revealed later in the issue, empowering thousands of New Yorkers was just phase one of the infestation, and Jackal’s true purpose, and master, stands revealed. The character in question was an easy guess for many hardcore ASM fans, but that doesn’t make it less interesting – in fact, many stories could stand to follow more logical and predictable conclusions rather than going for chaotic surprises. The character in question is relatively new – created in 2004 with only six issues to her credit by Paul Jenkins and Michael Ryan in what was then the second volume of SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN. However, if Brian Bendis can amplify another new villain, the Hood, in endless Avengers comics, why shouldn’t Slott have his own go? It also makes VENOM #6 make more sense; as an FYI, VENOM seems to be the only SPIDER-ISLAND tie-in that is of critical importance to the general arc. The rest may be fun or feature obscure characters, but are more skippable for those who just want the key bits.
More importantly, every issue seems to address some criticisms or nit-picks that could have been mentioned from prior ones. Why didn’t Peter Parker simply rebuild his “spider-sense destroyer” gadget from the second arc of BIG TIME? Because Reed and the Horizon Lab techs he works with have reconfigured it for him. Why is Peter Parker looking like a rookie at a time when his experience should be critical? He looks like less of one here. More importantly, Peter is FINALLY addressing the angle of letting Carlie in on his secret, since she is very close to knowing anyway. All that bars her from that knowledge is literally a magic spell which protects it via Dr. Strange and former editor-in-chief Joe Quesada (via last year’s ONE MOMENT IN TIME story). While having a magic spell prevent anyone from learning Spidey’s identity unwillingly regardless of who or how is a major handcuff to suspense, it wasn’t something Slott created, but is something he is at least working with, and around, as a character dilemma for Peter. While it might seem that Spidey is hesitant to let Carlie fully into “his world” out of a need to protect her, one wonders if it isn’t simply his own hang-ups. In a prior issue, MJ claimed that if Peter wasn’t willing to share that secret, he didn’t really love Carlie, and that could be true. Carlie Cooper herself remains a figure mired in controversy among fans, as she’s Peter’s first major love interest since the marriage to MJ was “annulled”. Some feel she’s a hodgepodge of attributes from Gwen Stacy tweaked for modern times. Others feel she’s a “Mary Sue” editorial pet character being shoved at fans like a runaway freight train. Others – present writer included – feel she is written as such a “perfect girlfriend” that she seems boring. While Peter shows off more of his skills and expertise here, Carlie naturally has her moments to shine, at least with her deductive reasoning or her status as an NYPD officer with a badge to flash. And while it is great to see Spidey tag-teaming with a strong heroine, it does get hard to take her seriously as a CSI when she’s wearing low-rider jeans which must need spider-clinging powers to stay on her at all times. How low are those jeans? The Spider-Tattoo which is supposed to be just an inch or so north of “home base” is visible over the belt. Having female characters be both super-genius and super-model is typical in fiction, but is her “exposed belly power” a bridge too far? At the very least, the subplot of MJ feeling envious that she’s been left out of the Spider-Power tango is cute. While some could argue letting Carlie in on Spidey’s secret would make her MORE of a “Mary Sue”, I do think it would allow their relationship to progress as a crime-fighting couple for however long as editor Stephan Wacker is willing to pretend Spidey will be allowed to commit long term. Everyone knows Marvel would rather go bankrupt again than marry the web-slinger off a second time; at least let some of his aimless relationships be fresh, and an angle where he has a lover he can fight crime with who isn’t a reformed burglar (Black Cat, circa the 80’s) is at least something he couldn’t do with MJ. Anti-Venom cures more people by stabbing them with tendrils, while Madam Web finally faints so she can stop mumbling exposition; goodness all around.
It has often been the case that when Marvel is selling an A-List “event” across their line, they will have a somewhat smaller B-List event that still has a few dozen installments but is smaller, yet better in quality. Usually that B-List event was a cosmic saga by writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning. But in 2011, it’s SPIDER-ISLAND, by Dan Slott. Even if being better than FEAR ITSELF isn’t much of a measuring stick for a writer. AMAZING SPIDER-MAN fans along for the ride have much to be excited about so far.
DAREDEVIL #3 – Picking up from the last issue (http://knotmove.com/comic-books-in-new-york/picks-of-comic-book-week-for-8-17-11-where-s-speedball-when-you-need-him-review), and as one of few street-level hero books not taking part in SPIDER-ISLAND, Mark Waid succeeds by keeping things simple get great. This is a straight up Daredevil vs. Klaw battle, which pits the master of sound against a hero whose radar sense often relies heavily on it; a battle which hasn’t taken place before, and is thus interesting. As always, half the appeal here is the terrific artwork by Paolo and Joe Rivera, alongside colors by Javier Rodgriguez. Klaw’s sonic powers have never been depicted in the way that they are displayed visually here, and Rivera, much like Marcos Martin (who is the second regular artist on this series) is an evolution of Steve Ditko in style. Waid gets that the premise of DAREDEVIL is that he’s an urban superhero with modest super-powers who attempts to solve crimes and gain justice as both a lawyer by day and a masked hero by night – whose adventures often get bizarre. This seems to almost be a return to some of the more quirky threats and battles Daredevil had in the 70’s, although with more modern dialogue, pace, and tone. If anything, this issue helps cement that Daredevil would likely have made a great TV show for about half the budget of NBC’s “HEROES”. Great art, crisp dialogue, interesting battles and a sense of relief from some crossover, DAREDEVIL has gotten off to a great start for a new era away from grime, angst, and darkness – without pretending such eras ever happened. The boost in sales aren’t lasting, but this should be a sleeper hit. Marvel has overplayed the relaunch card so many times with so many characters, it can be hard to pick which one to try out – DAREDEVIL is one to try out.
MYSTERY MEN #5 – Not many people have picked this up, but this remains one of Marvel’s best recent offerings in terms of random mini-series featuring new characters by a lessor known creative team. In the last issue, the assembled Mystery Men – or rather, four Mystery Men and Aviatrix – attempted to stop the supernatural scheme by the evil goddess Nox which involves sacrificing hundreds of children for power (http://knotmove.com/comic-books-in-new-york/picks-of-comic-book-week-for-8-24-11-they-re-heroes-a-half-shell-review). For a cute historical touch, Charles Lindbergh’s missing son proves to be a notable plot detail here. The focus shifts back to Dennis Piper, the Operative, who kicked off the series. His desire to avenge the death of his lover as well as stand up to his monstrous general father – who is now a werewolf – allows him to re-assemble the team for a final stand in 1932. Basically, if one want to see pulp heroes taking on demons and werewolves atop a zeppelin, this was a terrific finale. The premise of introducing a team of masked heroes before the onset of WWII and thus about seven years before any other Marvel heroes emerged is sound, as it allowed writer David Liss to write a series within the Marvel Universe which can also feel distinct from it. It’s a period piece featuring interesting new characters with a long neglected DR. STRANGE villain with gorgeous artwork by Patrick Zircher and Andy Troy (colors). One of the Mystery Men doesn’t make it, but future villain Baron Zemo has a cameo. If there is one drawback, it is that some characterization feels rushed and the ending hints at a sequel, which may never happen due to low sales. At any rate, fans of original pulp heroes as well as finite stories which don’t hinge on crossover events should be very pleased with this, and should seriously consider the trade collection. Hopefully, Marvel won’t package it in a needlessly expensive hardcover, as the single issues were no more expensive than many others.
OBLIGATORY REVIEW – FEAR ITSELF #6
To paraphrase George Wyner’s Colonel Sanderz from Mel Brooks’ “SPACEBALLS”, this comic has gone from suck to blow. This series, written by Matt Fraction with art by Stuart Immonen, Wade Von Grawbadger, and Laura Martin, started out boring and awkward, and has devolved into either mindless action or shockingly unearned character moments. It is almost embarrassing that Marvel’s editorial brass has allowed a story such as this to dominate their entire line for over seven months. Not only is this series seven issues (when it should have been five, like last year’s SIEGE), but Marvel has attached an epilogue mini-series onto issue seven as extra point issues to make it sell better. As always, the artwork by Immonen and company is great, and it is just a shame it has to accompany poor writing by Fraction. It is almost disturbing to see a writer who had done some incredible stories in THE ORDER and INVINCIBLE IRON MAN stumble so poorly on the biggest stage.
The plot has been recapped, and the recaps usually have more substance (http://knotmove.com/comic-books-in-new-york/picks-of-comic-book-week-for-8-10-11-real-heroes-don-t-use-drugs-willingly-review). Odin’s evil brother, the Serpent, has been freed by Red Skull’s daughter Sin and sets out to do his evilness. He’s thrown some magic hammers at a squad of Marvel characters (“The Worthy”) and set them out on aimless carnage, with the resulting global panic making him strong enough to challenge Odin and all of Asgard. Odin has decided to destroy all of earth to save Asgard, but has chosen to wait until the Serpent is at his strongest rather than simply allowing Thor to beat him when he was weak because…of plot contrivance. In this very issue, Odin literally gives Thor a set of armor and his own personal blade to slay the Serpent, and there is no reason why Odin couldn’t have simply done this in issue two, when the Serpent was still a withered husk. It is explained that THIS Serpent, and not the Midguard Serpent who Thor has battled many times, is the one set to bring about the end times and be Thor’s final battle, which saddens Odin – so if Odin was willing to destroy the earth to save Thor, then why not simply empower Thor and his allies to fight the Serpent at his weakest instead? The death of the infinitely interesting Bucky “New Cap” Barnes continues to go ignored as both Steve Rogers and Spider-Man break character to devolve into responsibility shirkers. While one can perhaps understand Spider-Man being willing to flee from battle to make sure his Aunt May was alive, Steve Rogers falling apart is more improbable. The irony is Spider-Man went through such a lesson back in the early days of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (around 1963-1964), when he fled from a battle with Green Goblin after May had a heart attack (and even quit being a hero for an issue) until May gave him a lecture about responsibility. The same thing happens here, only now Spidey isn’t 15 anymore and it merely smacks of regressive storytelling. However, the same Capt. America who endured WWII, who showed no fear against any villain, battle, or omnipotent demi-god is now undergoing crippling angst because the Serpent broke his shield. It isn’t that Serpent’s “Worthy” are unbeatable; Thor defeated two of them last issue (with Franklin Richards proving able to undo the possession of Thing). There’s lip-service paid to the idea that the Serpent’s influence is making mankind panic, but that “influence” on panel has amounted to little more than throwing magic hammers at people and breaking things – something which in the Marvel Universe is almost routine.
In 2001-2002, AVENGERS ran a story called KANG DYNASTY by Kurt Busiek and several other artists (including Alan Davis). In that arc, Kang the Conqueror literally occupies the earth. He blows up the U.N. and Washington, D.C., killing thousands in the latter. His forces literally occupy and enslave the entire planet in labor camps with millions of casualties, yet Cap’s resolve was a critical angle of the story and the ultimate defeat of Kang. In issues of CAPTAIN AMERICA in the late 90’s by Mark Waid, Cap traveled to the far future to stop Korvac from enslaving humanity – a villain so powerful that he could literally re-start time itself every time Cap came close to inconveniencing his regime. Korvac had to re-start his timeline over 80 times because Cap never gave up, and when he bestowed upon Cap the memories of all his failed attempts, that only STRENGTHENED his resolve. In the mid 90’s during the INFINITY GAUNTLET, after an omnipotent Thanos literally killed half the universe, Captain America never hesitated to challenge him in the name of justice and humanity. These are but few examples of the point that Steve Rogers does NOT give up, under any circumstances, against tyrants or villains. Yes, Bucky is dead, but Rogers endured Bucky’s death since the 60’s and that fact hadn’t changed. In this story, Steve rants about evacuating the earth because a WORLD OF WARCRAFT reject won one battle and broke a lot of things. While Steve’s “surrender” at the end of CIVIL WAR at least made some shred of sense – he wanted to spare the lives of the civilians and first responders who’d turned against him – FEAR ITSELF has Cap surrendering to a crisis, which is about as out of character as Sherlock Holmes being a pedophile. It is akin to Rocky Balboa deciding to throw in the towel in the second round the first time he’s toppled. Yet the end of the issue has Cap decide to lead a few dozen rifle carrying militia men into a suidice mission against Serpent, after walking away from the Avengers. To call it poor writing would be to insult poor writing. Many bad stories are better than this, at least because they weren’t trumpeted as being as important or priced at $4 a pop.
And then there’s the simplistically crude moments which are taken seriously. Tony Stark has worked with the elfen forges of Asgard to create armor and weapons to give his fellow Avengers to fight the Worthy – promotions have suggested they’d be called “The Mighty”. So we have a villain who empowers people with hammers, which changes their design, and a hero who empowers people with armor, which does the same. This is the sort of cheap writing that FILMATION used to do all the time with quicky produced 80’s cartoons to sell toys, only at least those didn’t take themselves as seriously. This is “CHALLENGE OF THE SUPER-FRIENDS” trying to be grim and gritty, and failing. A plot isn’t “mature” just because there’s some PG-13 cussing involved. Otherwise, WWE would win Emmy awards.
2010’s SIEGE – written by Brian M. Bendis and drawn by Oliver Coipel – wasn’t very good, but it wasn’t very bad, either. It at least achieved mediocrity. FEAR ITSELF, however, has almost re-written the book on bad Marvel events. Most of them in recent years were written by Bendis, although every other year someone new gets a try – such as Mark Millar’s CIVIL WAR in 2006 and Greg Pak’s WORLD WAR HULK in 2007. Fraction, however, is making some yearn for Bendis again. The fact that it’s selling above 90k an issue is due to promotion and market inertia, not quality. It would have been a simple and ineffective story as a three parter, much less an event that takes up most of a year. The Serpent is a villain who is hyped up in dialogue more than action, because in action he’s just yet another brute – Steve Gerber at least used some wit with such over-the-top menaces in DEFENDERS back in the 70’s. FEAR ITSELF is a textbook example of an overlong, over-hyped, under-thought, and incompetent storyline sold to the masses as the best thing since the SUPER BOWL. Comics like this give mainstream superhero comics a bad name. The week when this slop is over can’t come soon enough.
Also Good Reads: Super-Dinosaur #4 (Image Comics); Alpha Flight #4, Amazing Spider-Girl #2 & Herc #7 (Marvel Comics)
Last Week’s Reviews – http://knotmove.com/comic-books-in-new-york/picks-of-comic-book-week-for-9-7-11-action-comics-1-versus-frog-man-review