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Casual Saturdays: Where Things Stand… September 27, 2008

Posted by lotrking in Casual Days, Comic Book Stuff.
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Wow, three months goes by fast! Let’s once again take a look at where things stand in the Marvel Universe.

Secret Invasion – It’s rapidly approaching its end, and six issues, three big Skrull reveals, and countless tie-ins later, it is a great story, while at the same time being a little unsatisfying. For the most part, I have enjoyed the goings-on in the main series, but many of the tie-ins have been disappointing. While this has almost as many tie-ins as Civil War did, Civil War was much better at being able to carry the story of each particular character or group of characters coping with the SHRA. In this case, most tie-ins simply feature a character or group of characters participating in an issues-long brawl with the Skrulls. As epic as this story has been, I will be happy when it is over.

Fantastic Four – I’ve loved Millar’s take on the FF, even if it is a little slow at times, but it seems that many do not share my enthusiasm. Sure, his take on the individual members may not be completely orthodox, but this departure from the norm has been what has made most of it fun. So while I’ll enjoy his sixteen issue run, I wouldn’t want him to take the helm for the next several years. (And I do hope they find someone great to do so, FF really does need a shot in the arm that will carry it forward.) In the meantime, regardless whether or not you are a fan of Millar’s handling of the team, you should definitely check out the Fantastic Four: True Story mini-series that is going on. The story might be slightly absurd, but I’m loving every minute of it. I’ve reviewed the first two issues of it at WCBR here and here, and I’ll soon post the link here to my review of the third.

Silver Surfer – We haven’t seen hide nor hair (that is, if he had hair) of him since Nova 15, and as far as I know, it looks to stay that way. I really wish Marvel would do another mini. 😦 (Or, heck, even an ongoing!) But, with the “War of Kings” that’s supposed to tear through Marvel’s cosmic line next year, maybe they’ll find a place to tell a story about good old Norrin. Until then, I plan to write a review of one of my favorite Surfer tales, Silver Surfer: Requiem for WCBR sometime this week, and I’ll post a link here when it is available.

Amazing Spider-Man – It sure has come a long way from the atrocious One More Day fiasco. New Ways to Die has been every bit the fantastic story we were promised it would be and while I’m still upset with the dissolution of the marriage, I won’t lie that I’m looking forward to what the “Braintrust” will bring us next. Especially the courtroom story hinted at in the “Extra!” one shot a while back. Also, the first issue of ASM Family was decent, and I was disappointed at first when it sounded as though they wouldn’t be including further “Mr. and Mrs. Spider-Man” stories, but the solicits for future issues makes it appear they will. Expect reactions to issue two in two weeks.

New Avengers – This title is severely lacking from its title characters, namely the Avengers. I’ve not hidden my dislike for the fact that Bendis is using these two books he’s in charge of to write Secret Invasion back-up tales (some of which haven’t even been that important) despite the fact that they rarely involve the Avengers. I really wish he’d done a Secret Invasion: Origins mini-series for these stories, or something of the like, and just given us more Avengers adventures. Though I won’t lie, rumors running around of the possible upcoming fourth Avengers ongoing (Dark Avengers) has me excited.

Mighty Avengers – See above.

Avengers: The Initiative – Where its two “Avengers brethren” have suffered from “Secret Invasion overdose,” Avengers: The Initiative has flourished. Dan Slott and Christos Gage continue to put out spectacular, character driven stories proving that you can pull characters from the “nobody’s ever heard of these random Marvel superheroes” list, and still have one of the best comic books on the market. Yes, I still miss Cloud 9, my favorite character to come out of this series, but team Slott and Gage haven’t steered us wrong yet, and I’m sure we’ll see her before too long.

Captain America – With Ed Brubaker’s long awaited conclusion to the “Death of the Dream” “mega-arc” that came out this week, Brubaker proves that he can leave you satisfied and begging for more at the same time. With almost complete resolution on the good guy side of the equation, and almost none on the bad guy side, Brubaker has made me a permanent fan of Captain America. Don’t expect to see this series leaving my must-read list anytime soon.

Thor – This, in my opinion, is still probably the best comic book series on the market. J. Michael Straczynski and Olivier Coipel continue to give us this slow-churning epic infused with humor and suspense. What is Loki’s true plan? What does it have to do with Dr. Doom? How does she intend to gain the allegiance of Balder, one of Thor’s longest friends? How will her actions affect Midgard? When JMS’ run on Thor is finally over (which I hope never happens), this will likely be one of my favorite graphic format stories told. (This honor currently belongs to Bone by Jeff Smith, and yes, I have read Watchmen, I still think Bone is better.)

Invincible Iron Man – One year ago, I never would have guessed that I’d be reading an Iron Man series. I loathed him for his actions during Civil War and, along with many fans and much of the actual Marvel Universe, blamed him for Captain America’s death. My appreciation for him, unknowingly, actually began when I started reading Avengers: The Initiative. As I began to see more and more the benefits of the SHRA, I began to understand Tony’s actions. I didn’t necessarily like him, but I no longer hated him. Then, of course, the Iron Man movie came out. I was completely blown away. I needed more Tony Stark, and I needed it IMMEDIATELY. Luckily, Marvel was wise enough to start a new Invincible Iron Man ongoing series just days after the release of the movie. And, luckier still, the series has maintained much of the flavor of the movie. IIM has become one of my favorite monthly reads, and one that I recommend to everyone I talk to who loved the movie (especially non-comic book readers, what better way to introduce them to the medium?)

Uncanny X-Men – With the authors of the already legendary Captain America series and the breakaway Invincible Iron Man ongoing at the helm of the world’s best selling super-team, this should have been an easy success. Unfortunately, something has gone wrong. Ever since Messiah Complex, Uncanny has taken a turn for the mediocre. Luckily, it had the beautiful artwork of Mike Choi to make us survive through the awful hippie story. Now we’re just getting an ever-increasing focus on the ever-increasingly annoying character Pixie, as rendered by the horrible artist Greg Land. I don’t know what needs to happen to fix this title, but Brubaker and Fraction but figure it out fast. (And firing Greg Land from the comic book medium would be a good start, especially when he pulls off crap like this.)

Astonishing X-Men – Who’d’ve guessed that this series would still be plagued with delays after the departure of Whedon and Cassaday? I dunno, but with the upcoming Ender’s Game comic book adaptation (discussed below), I’ve decided to drop this in favor of that. Don’t get me wrong, the story seems interesting enough, and the artwork is wonderful, but I feel this isn’t really an essential part of my reading list. I will, however, still review issues of this from time to time on WCBR.

Ender’s Game – Finally. One of my all-time-favorite novels is getting the comic book treatment. I’ve never looked forward to the release of a comic book as much as I am Ender’s Game #1 on October 8th. If you’ve never read the book, first off, shame on you! But secondly, you definitely better read the comic, because it’s gonna be epic! In fact, next week, Casual Saturdays will be all about why you should read it, so if you aren’t planning to, you better check back then!

So what do you guys think of the Marvel Universe as it is now? Share your thoughts if you feel like it.

-LOTRKing

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Review of Amazing Spider-Man 571 (4.5 stars) September 9, 2008

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Overall rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Marvel has done it again! No, I’m not referring to delivering another spectacular chapter of New Ways to Die (which they have done), I’m referring to them using yet another false hope cover. To anyone who was hoping that Norman Osborn would return to his Green Goblin persona is these pages, you’re going to be severely disappointed. To top it all off, Peter and Norman don’t even fight in this issue. I realize that covers are supposed to attract readers, but don’t they realize that new readers will feel just as cheated as everyone else when they realize that the cover is just a gimmick?

Well, initial disappointment aside, this was yet another enthralling issue of New Ways to Die. Spider-Man is, ironically, saved from Anti-Venom as the Thunderbolts attack, while Norman proves to Menace that despite not wearing a suit nor flying a glider, he can still make a stand for himself. Returning to Anti-Venom, we learn that he does not have the weaknesses to high sonic frequencies or heat. As for Menace, we still do not learn who he is, but we finally see some motivation behind his attacks. And just to throw in some further character development, Harry finally shows that he has a backbone, and stops being the whiny snob that he’s been for most of Brand New Day.

Of course, the big shock comes at the end. Spider-Man, in his haste to escape Anti-Venom and the Thunderbolts, leaves his camera webbed on a ledge where it is discovered by Norman Osborn. Examining the photos, Norman is able to ascertain that Spidey’s spider chest symbol is always in the center, and must therefore contain a tracer for the camera. With the camera examined, he discovers this frequency and plans to use it to find Spider-Man. And who does he intend to capture him? Bullseye. As you can see, we get plenty of more action and story build up in the chapter. Where will it all end? We have two issues to find out…

-LOTRKing

Review of Amazing Spider-Man 570 (4.5 stars) September 5, 2008

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Overall rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

New Ways to Die, Chapter Three does nothing but build up an increasingly epic story. As Venom and Anti-Venom begin their brawl, Spider-Man enters the fray, and Anti-Venom discovers he has “cleansing powers” which he wants to use to kill the Venom symbiote. Much of the issue is a beautifully rendered fight scene (kudos to JR Jr!) with Norman Osborn observing and assessing.

There is however a quick break as Menace attacks the home of Bill Hollister. Call me crazy, but did anyone else see Menace’s Bennett-like qualities in this scene? For example, when Menace says: “And Bill? My Li’l Billy Boy? My Billy, that guy ain’t gonna be you!” was anyone else reminded of instances when Bennett said (about Peter): “My scoop-getter guy! My scoops! My scoopy!” or similar phrasing about Norman in part one of NWtD? (Though I don’t remember exactly what he said, and I’m too lazy to dig that issue out.) Note also that both Menace and Bennett are extremely anti-Hollister.

Anyway, moving back to the battle, as Anti-Venom and Spider-Man unite to take out Venom and Dan Slott pulls a fast one by inserting a dirty joke. (No Spider-Man, I don’t want to know what you’re doing to Venom. What happened to don’t ask, don’t tell?) As awesome as it was to see these two once arch-rivals team up against one of their greatest enemies, am I the only one hoping that they didn’t really kill the Venom symbiote, like it appears they did? I mean, killing Carnage was one thing (besides, it looked extremely cool to see the Sentry tear him in half) but killing the original symbiote? Please tell me that didn’t just happen!

And as if that’s not enough, Anti-Venom throws a new conundrum at us. As he attempts to purge Peter of the remaining bits of the symbiote that he apparently still carries, he also discovers that Peter has irradiated blood, and decides to cleanse that as well, despite Peter’s begging cry not to. Yes, we’ve had “Spider-Man’s lost his powers in the middle of a big fight, now what’s he gonna do” storylines before, but I for one am dubious as to how Peter’s gonna get himself out of this mess. Oh and the final panel of Norman meeting Menace? Priceless. I echo my words of last week: do NOT wait for the TPB, get this NOW.

-LOTRKing

Flashback: Review of Amazing Spider-Man 284 (January 1987) September 2, 2008

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Picture this: a six-part Spider-Man saga, involving a Green-Goblin inspired villain, whose identity remains a mystery, a group of villains led by a mastermind, a close friend of Peter acting mysteriously, two rivals vying for one of the most powerful positions in NYC, throw in some troubles that Peter is having with a new publisher at the Bugle and add in the fact that Peter is currently not married to Mary Jane, and what do you get? Well, it’s certainly not the current “New Ways to Die” storyline, if that’s what you’re thinking. No, this describes 1987’s lesser known (unfortunately) “Gang War.”

In this instance, the goblin villain is the original Hobgoblin, his identity was just as much a mystery as the original Green Goblin’s was, and as much as the current Menace’s is. (One of these days, they’ve gotta create a new Goblin and tell us who he or she is right off the bat.) The funny thing is, all three of the major contenders for this role (included who it actually turned out to be) appear in this issue, all acting suspiciously (namely, Ned Leeds, Flash Thompson, and Roderick Kingsley – and if you don’t know who it turned out to be, you better do some research, because it is actually a fairly complicated story.)

As for the power fight, it is not a mayoral election, rather a war between gang-lords to fill the recently vacated seat of the Kingpin. While Hammerhead and Silvermane make a play for it, the two biggest contenders are the Arranger (who was left in charge by the Kingpin at his departure) and the Rose (whose identity remained a secret at this time, but when revealed, not only fit the story perfectly, but showed that he had as much a claim to the Kingpin’s “throne” as the Arranger did).

The entire saga relayed the power struggles of the various groups, the resulting violence in NYC, and the reactions of Spider-Man and other heroes to this power-grab. I don’t know if this was ever released in TPB (I doubt it), but despite not being legendary, it was an extremely great read. ASM 284 is the first part, and it runs through 289. If you ever get the chance to read these issues, I highly recommend it. I my eyes, this is one of the best “unremembered” Spider-Sagas.

Next week: Fantastic Four 157

-LOTRKing

Review of Amazing Spider-Man 569 (4.5 stars) August 26, 2008

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Overall rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD!

May as well start with the big stuff: Anti-Venom is Eddie Brock! While I let you chew on that bit of information, let’s go back to the beginning and discuss what is probably the best comic to hit the stands this week. For those who thought Norman Osborn did indeed remember Spider-Man’s true identity: think again. But this may not have been the retcon we all thought it was. Peter knows that no one remembers who Spider-Man is, and he even mentions that is was something “we did.” I highly doubt he remembers any of his deal with Mephisto, so is it possible that the big mind wipe was the result of something else? Quesada has blatantly said that the Civil War unmasking did happen, but no one remembers who it was behind the mask. At first I was annoyed and thought this was a part of the Mephisto “we don’t have to explain it” Magic, but now I am intrigued, and want to know the true source. Perhaps a favor from Dr. Strange?

To touch on some more mysteries, it looks that Martin Li/Mr. Negative story may be more of a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde relationship than a controlled transformation. Indeed, Li appears to have no knowledge of his other self. Up until now, I thought that Crowne was a simple politician, who, like everyone, may have a skeleton or two in his closet. But if Peter Parker’s musings are correct, then Crowne and Osborn may have a direct relation to the “Spider-Tracer Killer.” And speaking of Osborns, was it just me, or was that a hint that Harry may be Menace? (Or were they just showing that he may be reverting back to the Green Goblin?) Either way, something’s up, and with the upcoming “Goblin Fight,” I think this particular mystery may be solved sooner, rather than later.

And to think, I haven’t even touched on the goings-on in this book, nor even how Eddie Brock became Anti-Venom. Well, seeing as how this is one of the best Spidey-Stories of the decade, I’m probably doing you a favor by encouraging you to buy it. Why are you still reading this? Go to your local comic shop now! (And as a reminder, don’t forget to pick up the absolutely FREE Marvel: Your Universe One-Shot while you’re at it!)

-LOTRKing

Review of Amazing Spider-Man 568 (4.5 stars) August 19, 2008

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Overall rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

While Marvel will never be fully forgiven for the atrocity that was One More Day (unless they bring back the marriage) New Ways to Die was a giant leap in the right direction. So far, every issue since OMD has seemed hit and miss. Even the best ones had noticeable flaws. Here that is not the case. This is the best issue of Amazing Spider-Man I have read in a long time.

There is a ton of stuff going on in this issue, so let’s dive right in. Spider-Man and Menace have a brawl that ends with Menace getting away and Peter discovering an illegal sweatshop in the heart of the city. Not knowing who to sell photos to, Harry suggests Ben Urich’s Frontline paper. With Peter selling these groundbreaking pics to his longtime friend, he finally secures a new job (good! I was getting tired of his “poor me, I don’t have a job mentality,” hopefully he keeps this one!) Next we learn that mayoral candidate Randall Crowne seeks the sponsorship of Norman Osborn! We quickly touch base with Eddie Brock who, in light of his terminal cancer, has reformed and turned to religion and is currently serving in Aunt May’s F.E.A.S.T. center. As Martin Li (aka Mr. Negative unbeknownst to our heroes) gives Eddie a pat on the back, we sees some odd internal processes going on, which could likely lead to two things (discussed later). Finally, an unsuspecting Pete comes home to find his apartment full of the Thunderbolts!

The back up story tells us a little more about Eddie before revealing that he has been miraculously cured of cancer. No doubt, this comes from Mr. Li’s “friendly pat.” However, if the art was any indication, Martin’s action may have some unintended consequences as remnants of the Venom symbiote looked to have bonded with Eddie’s white blood cells. If I take this to mean what I think it does, the long awaited “Anti-Venom” may be Eddie himself! If so, all I gotta say is: heck yeah! I can’t think of a better character! To anyone looking for a bit of Invasion relief from a great story that doesn’t feature Skrulls: this looks to be one of the best offerings!

-LOTRKing

Casual Saturdays: Letter to Marvel Concerning Amazing Spider-Man Family 1 August 16, 2008

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The following was an email I sent to Marvel earlier this week about Amazing Spider-Man Family #1. Since it is sort of a review, I thought I’d put it up here.

Dear Spidey Office:

I just finished reading Amazing Spider-Man Family #1, and it was definitely worth the $5 cover price.

“48 Hours” surprised me as easily the best tale in the issue. I have read many stories attempting to chronicle the early start of Spider-Man, and this was probably the best one yet (except for Stan and Steve’s original, of course!)

The story concerning Spider-Monkey, on the other hand, was just plain ridiculous. I felt embarrassed just to have read it when I finished, luckily it was very short. I wasn’t intending to buy Marvel Apes, but now I know I’m not even going to go near it.

Mr. and Mrs. Spider-Man was the only reason I picked up this issue, and I will admit that I was very pleased. The story had all the elements I wanted it to, and was still an entertaining Spider-Man tale. Indeed, I was planning on reading this ongoing series entirely for this feature, imagine my disdain when I read your closing page and found this was only a one-time deal! I don’t want to read Spider-Girl, because it doesn’t star Peter Parker. Is it too much to ask for a regular story starring Peter as Spider-Man, with Mary Jane as his wife? Please, PLEASE, make this feature a regular ASAP. I may or may not continue reading this series, but if you bring Mr. and Mrs. Spider-Man back, I’ll read every issue!

“Birthday Girl” was fairly entertaining and provided a nice look at a supporting character (this time, Aunt May) and I wouldn’t mind more stories like this.

Finally, the Venom reprint was exactly what a reprint should be. I’ve found that reprints often only have a little to do with the story they are associated with. But the origin of Venom looks to be very relevant in the upcoming New Ways to Die! Keep up the good work! (Though I’d really appreciate if you’d reprint issues that aren’t from Amazing Spider-Man, since I’ve read every issue – yes, all of them – but I’ve read next to nothing of Spectacular or Web of).

I realize this is a long letter to be marked “Okay to Print,” so if you do print it, feel free to cut out portions that you think are unnecessary (just leave in my request for more Mr. and Mrs.!) One final note, I notice on your closing page you said, “Seeya in November!” but the next issue of Family comes out in October. Surely you meant you’d see us in November, when some great issues of regular Amazing Spider-Man come out, right? (Do I get a No-Prize now? 😉 )

-M. Staples aka LOTRKing
P.S. If you print this, it would be insanely awesome if you include the address for my comic book review blog: http://LOTRKing.wordpress.com

Review of Amazing Spider-Man 567 (4 stars) August 12, 2008

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Overall rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Let’s get the big stuff out of the way first. SPOILER WARNING: the new Kraven is … *drumroll* … the original Kraven’s daughter. Mehh, nothing too surprising, and it makes perfect sense. The only thing I want to know, didn’t the son of Kraven make more than one appearance? Whatever happened to him, and does he have the same mother as this new Kraven? In the mail page, Steve Wacker promises that we will get an answer eventually (I sure hope so!) and we are promised that this arc will have big ramifications later. If nothing else, the Braintrust does a remarkably good job at letting a story build up for a long time. I can think of at least four or five running plot threads that could lead into an entire storyarc, and probably will eventually. This, of course, is exactly how a good Spider-Man run should be (see the 70s and 80s for examples). Did I just compliment Brand New Day? Maybe. But I still want the marriage back.

The other disappointment of this issue came after Spidey rescued Vin and later attempted to explain why there was a Spider-Man costume in Vin’s apartment. He said he planted such costumes as decoys to lead people off the trail of his secret identity when people came to close to the truth. Sure, Vin may not have suspicions about Pete anymore, but couldn’t he have thought of a much better solution to the problem? I mean, Vin already hates him, did he have to go and make Spider-Man look like a total scumbag? I dunno, this part just bothers me since it seemed like a rather drastic method to secure one’s secret identity.

Despite these complaints, most of the issue was thoroughly enjoyable. Vermin finally seems like an interesting character again. Guggenheim shows his mastery of providing dialogue for an extended fight scene. And Phil Jimenez is a genius. In my eyes, Jimenez is the definitive Spider-Man artist. I can’t describe what makes him so good, but every time I see him draw Spider-Man, it brings a smile to my face. Marvel needs to utilize him as much as possible. This arc has definitely been the best so far since the reboot, even if the ending was somewhat of a let down. Still, having said that, I’m eagerly awaiting the New Ways to Die that next week will bring!

-LOTRKing

Flashback: Review of Amazing Spider-Man 222 (November 1981) August 4, 2008

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I’m going to try to not make today’s review short, but it’ll be hard, seeing as how there is not much to say about Amazing Spider-Man 222. It feels a lot like (and probably was) just a filler issue. It opens with Spider-Man stopping a mink fur heist by a normal band of burglars. From here it moves to introducing Speed Demon (his first appearance under that name, but before he was called “The Whizzer.” Yeah, the name change was a very good thing.) He is just another “Flash” rip-off, only this time a villain. (Seriously, how many supertypes that can only run really fast can there be? That has got to be one of the most generic superpowers.)

Anyway, Speed Demon burgles a camera store and Spider-Man, whose heightened reflexes are still too slow, is unable to stop him. Later, when he tries to rob Bloomingdales, Spider-Man is more prepared and after an extended fight scene, is able to capture him. Add in a scene or two at the Daily Bugle with JJJ, and this was really a very generic story all around.

I would have neutral feelings about this issue if not for one thing: the humor. I realize that pun-filled quips whilst fighting are simply part of Spider-Man’s persona, and when done right, they can provide for a thoroughly enjoyable and memorable issue. This was certainly not the case here. While I am a sucker for pun jokes, the puns here were all bad. They even went so far as to use the overly-clichéd “Have a nice trip, see you in the fall.” *Groan* I think my nephew can come up with better puns than what were used here. Amazing Spider-Man 222 is completely unremarkable and unimportant, and there is absolutely no reason to seek it out.

Next week: Avengers 471

-LOTRKing

Review of Amazing Spider-Man 566 (4 stars) July 24, 2008

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Overall rating: 4 out of 5 stars

My review can be found here (the first one posted).

Quick spoilers: Kraven has mistaken Vin for Spider-Man, she drugs him to enhance his “abilities” and challenges him to a hunt. Peter discovers his suit missing and since Vin is late, he suspects that Vin has found his suit and gone to turn him in. Peter borrows a suit from Daredevil, and finds out what has happened to Vin. As he goes to save him, he sees Vermin, the two fight and Pete is rendered unconscious.

-LOTRKing