Tag Archives: Spider-man

The Amazing Spider-man #1 (2022)

Written by: Zeb Wells
Art and cover by: John Romita Jr.
Inks by: Scott Hanna
Colors by: Marcio Menyz
Letters by: Joe Caramagna 

Zeb Wells always seemed like a fill-in writer, to me. He’d just show up and substitute on a particular series, sometimes. He’d only be there to keep a book on schedule when its real writer needed less on their to-do list. When he supported writer Dan Slott on The Amazing Spider-man way back in 2008, he exemplified this type of career. 

There were also the instances when he supplied stories for ancillary, forgettable publications, such as the various Crossover Event tie-in specials he helped Marvel Comics sell. But the guy did the work. He hit deadlines. I saw his name on a lot of comic book covers. And his stories really weren’t bad. They served out solid entertainment. I can’t remember much about them, but I know I never avoided what he worked on. If anything, I knew his name. 

He’d just never convinced me to slow down and actually read what he wrote. 

To be fair to him, he may have never had the chance to try. He is a big-time TV writer and director, sure. And he’s familiar to a lot of people for his work on Robot Chicken. But writing superhero comic books for Marvel or DC is something else, entirely. Not many of the people who make them get an opportunity to tell an interesting story. Its industry is a whole other mess of politics, competition, and corporate expectations that lie separate from Hollywood’s. Wells’s resume holds clout, but he’s had to work his way inside the Marvel machine. 

It shows. In The Amazing Spider-man #1 (2022), Wells has found a way to slow the story down. 

Superhero comic books so often rely on ever-evolving plots promising mega-new revelations and violence. The universe shatters daily. As a reader, repetition is part of the experience. Fans love the nostalgic aspect of their hobby, so superhero stories are often recycled, catering to their audience. All that ever changes is how the superheroes in their costumes appear. The publishers keep selling this genre by giving the characters new outfits. All else is mostly glued to strict expectations and cannot shift. You can blame this on considerations of copyright, or the need to adhere a comic book character to its defined intellectual property. But I also consider the readers and their wants. Comic book fans are vocal. They’re not shy in their thirst for Big Boom Content.  

But Wells writes this series opener with a different approach. The story presented actually resembles a story with somewhere to go, not a smattering of geek fodder held in Easter Eggs. The Amazing Spider-man no longer revolves around a relentless publishing schedule that’s always upping the ante. It seems to be taking a break, catching its breath. Reflecting on the core characters this book has carried for 59 years. 

The man drawing it is one of the best to do it. 

Zeb Wells’ artistic collaborator, John Romita Jr., has taken the writer’s paired-down approach and brought it to life. The way he draws Spider-man, New York City, Aunt May, and Mary Jane Watson grabs at a particular nerve that’s buried deep. It pushes me to turn the page, to keep reading, to see where the story goes. That human instinct, something nostalgic. The way he draws reminds me of how long I’ve read about this character, 18 years. But it impresses me to no end, how someone can take this subjective matter and make you feel it. 

You might look at this two-page spread, and assume this story is another dramatic take on a superhero’s personal life, but I would disagree with you. This isn’t the work of a writer trying hard to be a serious artist, writing about Serious Subjects. It’s actually a very good page-turner, driven by real attention to character and a few subtle nudges at their development. The creative team steps aside to really service the story and its 60-year progress, so far. Their egos aren’t on display. Just their ability. 

They’re professionals, good at their jobs. They can clearly engage our sensibilities as people, by showing us a favorite character under another filter, at a different pace, roping me back into the Spider-man saga. 

They, in no way, talk down to their reader or try to sell them something other than what’s happening when they turn the page. They allow their audience to see the story that’s right in front of them. The story that’s usually buried beneath the latest plot twist or big event, the marketing idea that sells more books. The Amazing Spider-man #1 (2022) shows Peter Parker as someone who is tired, and as someone who has maybe gone too far. His family is through with his superhero life. Too much has been lost to them because of it. So, Peter Parker is at a crossroads. He’s down on himself. He’s a loser. Selfish, too. And now, without his family to back him up, out of the picture yet on the periphery, it seems he’s about to be neck-deep in his life as a costumed hero. He’s throwing all of who he is into the role, self-destructive in the classical sense. And as this happens, Aunt May, Mary Jane Watson, and even Johnny Storm have to watch him navigate the maze, while they live their lives, too. 

The scene that’s shown above, this conversation between Peter Parker and his Aunt May, really benefits from John Romita Jr. He shows you the moments that make a story. Those little beats that convey what is actually happening, on the surface and, at times, underneath. He makes them viewable. This is a common-sense approach. But it can be often pushed aside by other artists in exchange for flash and flair, and want to impress.

If you’ve ever listened to Romita Jr. talk, though, you know he’s an experienced pro. He learned his trade first-hand from the old school writers, artists, and editors that told many of the iconic superhero tales. Some of his teachers, including his father (John Romita), actually wrote the rulebook of how to entertain in this genre. Romita Jr. is a student of it. He believes in the work these individuals did, and he’s studied it. He now applies their lessons to everything he does. It seems so, at least. 

The scene above is all close-ups and facial expressions. It rolls along to the rhythm of a private talk, following the dialogue shared between two characters. Again, it’s a simple approach, but to actually execute it well and give it some life, that’s talent. That’s knowing how to use the rulebook while adding a few things of your own to it. I feel the tension in this exchange that May and Peter have because John Romita Jr. shows us the facial hair and the eye bags. He shows a few wrinkles and long looks. These characters are in bad shape. They’ve been run through the gamut of superhero crisis and corporate overuse. If they were real, we’d feel sorry for them, while at times in awe of their persistence. 

If you’re a fan of this superhero character at all, you know some of its histories. You know the fictional tragedies and lost lives that decorate some of its stories — These occurrences may have even resonated with you, in a way that’s real. The artwork and panel composition that presents this scene reflect that connection. As choices made by a man, based on his mastery of a craft and an interest in communicating something clearly, John Romita Jr. draws and frames these characters as if they’re old friends. 

The fold of the page spread literally shows a divide cutting through May and Peter, telling you that this separation only exists because of a deep personal past. This presentation of the scene is effective and suspends your disbelief, so you care about the story. You can see the characters as people, in their quieter moments. To accomplish this as a storyteller, it takes a talented human hand to lend that kind of spirit. But a human hand that knows what it’s like. 

I don’t know why John Romita Jr. continues to work on some of these characters. Probably for the money. But I like to think that he draws Spider-man to supply food for thought regarding how effective fiction is constructed. And that he just likes to draw this stuff. His Spider-man is iconic because it feels so lived in. He’s drawn this character over the years, in the 80s and 90s, and in the early to mid-2000s. His dad even defined the character in its heyday of the 1960s, when Spider-man was still brand new. Any time Romita Jr. returns to do another stint on this hero, he seems to bring all that history with him. It feels inherently personal. As an artist, he has a real relationship with the subject. As fictional as it all is. 

The real fun of it, though, is that the story doesn’t stay here. The drama shifts out of focus, and the action happens. It’s a superhero comic book, after all. And John Romita Jr. shows you that he’s good at conveying that type of energy, too.

I have to give Zeb Wells credit, though. His script gives Romita Jr. plenty to work with. His ideas support a greater range of tones, and the story isn’t full speed ahead to the next major plot surprise. You can sit in the scenes it offers. For instance, the notion that these longstanding character relationships are bearing strain and turning sour is fresh enough in this context, and the choice to put them front and center is notable. It’s an acknowledgment of how rich these characters can still be. 

Their quiet conflicts create space for Wells to write slower sequences that churn underneath. He actually gets to chew on something, as a writer. However, as a professional, his character work still embraces the nerd allure of continuity and shared stories that superhero comics promote. He gives the fans who tune in for these sorts of updates enough to be interested in, whether that’s the status of Peter and MJ’s love affair, or by referencing a conversation from a 60s issue of Spider-man*. 

He just writes continuity parts in a way that feels considerate. It doesn’t read like lip service. That’s a bonus, as someone who can be nerdy about these stories but still appreciate their craft. 

Another plot point Wells grabs onto is Peter Parker’s failure to hold his life together. The character is shown in this issue as being irresponsible, which (at this point in the ongoing, 60-year narrative) is the only way to see it. 

Peter Parker has never pulled it together, and he’s endangered so many along the way. His life is traumatic and sloppy. He’s stuck as an eternal teenager, down on his luck. He’s never been allowed to move forward. 

The recent Nick Spencer-written run on The Amazing Spider-man investigated this aspect of the character. But it did so through high-octane melodrama and embarrassing extremes (and so many lackluster fill-in artists). It really failed to nurture the tiny seed it managed to plant, the question posed. Why is Peter Parker such a fuck-up? It feels like Wells is more up to the task of answering this. Or, he’s at least asked the question again. He’s picking up the bit Nick Spencer wanted to write about, and he’s having his own go at it. 

The whole thing kind of reminds me of the J. Michael Straczynski-written run of The Amazing Spider-man, too. That connection could just be from John Romita Jr., who also drew some of those comic books. But Wells shows Peter Parker as the more nuanced adult he can be, just as Straczynski tried to do. His run attempted to rekindle the subplots of Peter Parker’s personal life, calling back to when Stan Lee really emphasized these story points. In those early Spider-man adventures, the superhero action was prominent, but the other elements of the character mattered just as much. These are the things like Peter going on dates he couldn’t believe he’d got, the girlfriends; the struggle to pay rent and make money to help his aunt; the deaths of friends, and the balance of being two different people while honoring the responsibilities of each. 

Wells is pulling at this familiar thread, trying to reveal more of the character’s potential, or at least, reconnect the readership to aspects of Spider-man they may now overlook. That’s not to say no one has really touched these elements in their own stories, or that Marvel Comics has abandoned them. It just seems that Wells, like Straczynski, wants to utilize these pieces to really drive the plot forward. They’re the true focus of the story, Wells and Romita Jr.’s story. 

And who knows how it’ll turn out? 

It’s only the first issue. These things turn sour all the time.

By the end of the year, we’ll have a better idea of this Spider-man story’s true quality. Whether, in its entirety, it’s actually worth reading. But as a first issue, it sells what is to come. It gives me pause and invites me to speculate about what happens next. It’s a wonderful instance of a capable writer handing a master artist something to work with that holds meat on its bones. Zeb Wells now has my attention.

*See the Human Torch scene in The Amazing Spider-man #1 (2022)
– Audacious Al

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How I Spent a Sunday in My UNairconditioned Apartment

Besides waking up wrapped in my own sweat stained sheets, considering again why I live exactly where I do, I sat my ass on the couch from roughly 2:30 PM to 8 PM and watched, back-to-back-to-back, all three of Sam Raimi’s Spider-man movies. Why? Because I felt an odd loyalty to the franchise  and that I should somehow prepare for the forth coming Marc Webb directed movie as well as this dumb need to fulfill nostalgic desires.

Or, “I do what I want.” (My defensive answer to my own question).

I owe a lot to Sam Raimi’s Spider-man movies. They were not only a large part of my childhood but also the origin point for my interest in comics, and returning to them yesterday, after a few years away, was a  mixture of both fun remembrance and gnashing teeth. Sort of what I expect my ten year high school reunion to be like.

But fuck it. While I didn’t love the return, here are a few quick paragraphs on Spider-man, Spider-man 2 and Spider-man 3. (Great titles by the way.)

Spider-man / 2002

This had a Nickelback song attached to it.

Besides the iconic or memorable moments and its push to somehow become this generation’s Superman: The Movie, Spider-man runs a bit dry, suffering from the stigmas adaptations usually suffer from, to now being remembered best for the upside down kiss and Kirsten Dunst’s wet nipple (which, at ten, was pretty fucking cool). I saw this movie for the first time at a drive-in theater with my grandma and mom, and I can clearly remember them saying to one another, “well, this is kind of a bit much for a kid’s movie.” And a kid’s movie it was, but watching it today, you can clearly see Raimi angling his Spider-story more toward the love connection than the action. Everything ends up revolving around it; Parker’s storybook voice over and the line “this is a story about a girl” solidify Raimi’s entire premise for his trilogy, and it gives him the opening to really meld the core details of the Spider-man story to the Peter Parker/MJ romance.

The approach works to a degree. As the sequels roll on, you see how Raimi balances the various themes of adulthood and proportions them to function with the trials and successes of the relationship – Spider-man 2 being the best example – but the ground work all goes down here, in an action movie where the action isn’t really shot or composed that well. For Dunst’s character, though, she’s nothing more than a prize. A prize with a bit of personality, but a prize nonetheless, and Dunst’s one layer performance doesn’t exactly spur on anything extra.

There’s also the case of Tobey Maguire, who I just can’t stand. Peter Parker embodies the shy child within us all. The lighthearted dork. The outcast. But Maguire’s presence takes these qualities and rams them into overdrive, making Parker more pathetic than an unsung hero. The film has those moments of wit and charm for the character to really show himself, but Maguire, with his 13-year-old boy voice drops them every time, resulting in a creepy expression rather than a showcase of confidence.

The film ultimately suffers for its concern of telling that classic tale most people know by heart and weaving it to fit a new set of performers, visuals and music, yet, ironically, it’s also why it’s memorable. In a sense, I do feel this is my generation’s Superman because, while stunted in areas, specific moments do still conjure that magic, and along with a pretty solid cast overall, this film created some lexicon. Especially for the super hero movie, which after Bryan Singer’s X-Men, only reaffirmed this new era of the super hero in Hollywood. For better or for worse.

I’d be curious to watch the James Cameron version, which apparently involved more penetration as well as curse words, but I still find the ability in myself to enjoy this movie. Spider-man made and has kept a connection.

Plus, the Randy Savage/Bruce Campbell shit still kills.

Spider-man 2 | 2004

It wasn’t until Spider-man 2 that I finally realized comicbooks were still being published and found the care within myself to hunt them down and devour them whole. I was twelve, and my friend’s babysitter drove us to the mall so we could watch this. She was in high school; I had a crush.

Also, this Dashboard Confessional song still ends up trapped in my brain at times.

This movie’s concern with being complete makes it work. Hands down, Spider-man 2 is the best of the three, and I think it’s where Raimi says the most with the character as well as makes Peter Parker most relatable or simply interesting. Movie one shapes him into a figure of shared experience, but it also keeps him in a constant state of being a caricature. Parker’s the nerd who gets power, but movie two humanizes the whole concept a tad more by really showing the gears of his life, the “Parker Luck” as well as the continuing whatever that is the Peter/MJ relationship. Where movie one is all about responsibility, movie two centers on the idea of choice, and as a theme close to super hero fiction, Raimi bases the theme on the relationship to force Parker into a position of uncertainty. But as  typed … this one’s concerned with being a movie rather than a storyboard. In some sense, you could criticize Spider-man 2 for possibly taking itself a bit too seriously, but I feel the movie consistently does a fine job of balancing the relationship stuff with Doc Ock (who is fucking awesome in this movie ). Really, at times, Spider-man 2 is more about the romance while the comic book, action stuff acts as a side project, but I’m not annoyed by that because Raimi’s entire story is about the romance, not really the action.  Although, this is probably some of best action in the entire series. Presentation wise. There’s more composition to the combat here, and it’s simply more entertaining to look at. Much of this comes from the nature of Spider-man’s antagonist. The Octopus arms give the camera a point of focus.

Of course, in a movie where the relationship between two characters reigns king, it would be important to have two actors who can carry such a thing, but Maguire and Dunst just fall. Along with my previous criticisms, I just don’t feel any chemistry between these two. Both are awkward together, and Parker still exemplifies this odd boyhood.  A line like “punch me, I bleed” should soar. He swallows it, leaving the audience to digest a bad inflection. Raimi only gets so far with his more dramatic sequel, and while it works in many spots, his two leads disable the film.

Alfred Molina picks up the duo’s spilled crackers, though. He’s a dude with real chops, and he comes in and nails the idea of the villain being more compelling than the hero. Doc Ock certainly is a grey villain, and while I tend to prefer my bad dudes to be real pieces of shit, I do find Ock and Spider-man’s dichotomy entertaining. He works toward the film’s theme of choice, and while some scenes show him ham-handedly talking to his mechanical arms, or reviewing his stretched, ill-sensed motivations, scenes like the hospital escape or train fight make up for the mishandles of the script.

I would label Spider-man 2 as good. Obviously better than its predecessor, it still performs well in the year 2012. Overall, a solid, complete story packed with an array of special moments. And, I won’t lie, the Aunt May hero speech kind of chokes me up. Rosemary Harris, ladies and gentlemen.

Spider-man 3 | 2007

The movie where I was finally an established comicbook guy. I was so excited for this piece of shit. SO EXCITED. Aged 15. In high school. And Venom – a character who I think is pretty fucking awesome, yet always ends up at the ass end of every joke. That Rick Remender comic included.

I walked out of the theater trying to convince myself I enjoyed this, and even months after the fact, until the DVD, I thought I did. Lies I’ve told myself.

Three people wrote this script, and from what I understand Avi Arad really pushed for Eddie Brock in this movie while Sam Raimi hated every ounce of the idea. And you can tell, because that’s the character who makes the least amount of sense in this entire movie. Even up against Proto-Goblin or whatever the fuck they named Harry Osborn’s snowboarder persona, Venom has real no reason to be in this picture. He’s just shoehorned, and Topher Grace just plays a dick the whole time. Ah, fuck it.The problem with this movie is both the ambition as well as the lack of point. Spider-man 3 redoes Spider-man 2‘s choice theme, but infuses it with more of a good vs. bad through line rather than a general “who do you want to be.” And then you get one of those Geoff Johns’ overhauls of past events as they try to work the Sandman into Uncle Ben’s death. Like Michael Papajohn needed help. And then the relationship goes up in smoke again for some really immature, unrealistic reasons while the butler apparently knew everything.

Fuck this movie.

It’s almost a parody of itself. The way it opens … with the music and the voice over. It all just suggests, “yep, and the story continues … ” And it does. To the point of a second Green Goblin and a purely fan beckoned appearance by a villain whom the director hated. Bryce Dallas Howard sort of saves it, but even then, her Gwen Stacy just makes you question the entire love story Raimi’s been spinning. Why not her the whole time rather than this entirely grouchy, uncharismatic women we’ve been following for three movies?

I could rip on the dancing and emo hair cut, but honestly, it’s not as bad I remember. In a way, those elements provide some of the only moments of seeming enjoyment through the whole movie. They’re really stupid, yes, but funny stupid.

Other than a cool Sandman creation sequence and the few moments of fan satisfaction brought on by the sight of Venom, I have no real reason to watch this. The Harry/Peter team-up in the end sort of tugs, but past that, nothing, man.

The Amazing Spider-man | 2012

Ten years from the original. I’m in college. A better sense of taste. Still love comics and the character.

This looks better than all Raimi’s work. From the action, to the story, to the cast, this movie appears more complete and more driven than the blueprint it’s working from. I will be in a theater come Friday, and I’m confident I’ll enjoy myself.

Brief thoughts, but how could it be more when I haven’t even seen it yet.

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The TW Review – If Spider-man could finally get his shit together …

I feel the sudden urge to write random, short reviews of new(ish) comic books.

When in all reality there exists a more than sufficient amount of review material on the weekly paper chase of the direct market, I in this instance lack concern and will contribute. Mark me up with the majority of comic book bloggery! I shall write quick hit segments that few will read and fewer will remember beyond this day of “publishing.”

This past week consisted of my mission to catch up on the monthly fodder, and I feel I should produce at least something with the probably lack luster thoughts and opinions I now possess.

So, yeah, here’s some bullshit I spent a night typing …

The Amazing Spider-man #666 – Spider-Island Prologue
Writer: Dan “the excited” Slott, Artists: Stefano Caselli, Marte Gracia, Joe Caramagna

I’m a huge (not literally) Spider-man fan, in case you didn’t know. This particular fictional figure really was my first point of interest in comics. As we all begin, we’re in it for the 2-D gladiators and their excursions.  Spider-man was and still remains my dude, and there’s been plenty of, I hate to say “discussion” but I guess, discussion on the character lately – there’s a film reboot on the way and Glenn Beck suddenly gives a fuck what color the kid from Queens is. My own personal spider-sense tingles from all this talk and a new found enthusiasm for the web head boils inside me. The time is now. Let’s see what Peter Parker’s up to these days in his pulpy home of  ‘The Amazing Spider-man.’

Dan Slott writes the exact kind of comics I yearn to stay away from. Stupid recesses on why such fictional things are cool, along with useless plot updates, seem to be this scribes money making characteristic. Every time I’ve read his Spider-man, the book devolves into some mess of, “hey, let’s see what The Thing is up to! You know why? Cause Spider-man KNOWS The Thing!”.  Just stupid shit like that. He’s the type of writer who invests a little too much in the fictional world he’s left to curate a.k.a. the purest example of a fan writer. This results in a constant parade of subplot catch up.

I’m sure the dude really is nice and all sorts of fun to drink with and I totally understand the need to incorporate the supporting cast in a title such as ‘The Amazing Spider-man,’ but Jesus, God I don’t give a fuck what the reason is for Peter’s costume change between his time with the new found Future Foundation and The Avengers. I’m sure that was a run on sentence, but it’s how I going to express the point.

OK, now that I’m finished with my poor attempt at sounding like Tucker Stone, who’s a great writer by the way, let me break down and review the issue how I normally would.

The first few pages satisfy me, surprisingly. One of my biggest beefs  as a “fan” of the Spider-man character lays in Marvel’s inability to allow Peter Parker to grow up. His story, along with the core of the Spider-concept, stands most potent in the years of youth. Ditko and Lee engineered this hormonal mess of hero as a Shakespearean observation, and his saga works throughout all time as well as in the culture change and teenage uprising of the 1960s. Youth is important to the character, but I guess the fanboy connection I possess wants me to witness a changing or aging Peter Parker. I carry this urge to watch a fictional being learn and grow as if he were real rather than living a trap of repetition. Peter’s always fucking up, losing his job, not getting laid, or letting someone die. He so lacks efficiency. Again, the core, I know, but you can only read so many stories about a fuck up. You know why? Because at some point you learn this dude is always going to fuck up, and that grows so old so fast. I’d rather not read.

Slott progresses Peter Parker for a few pages, though. Right in this issue.  Peter’s recent deal is that he’s sitting comfortably with a new, fancy science research job, the gig he’s always wanted since implied way back when in 1963. Along with the gig, Parker keeps the company of a new lady friend, acts as a member of two super-teams, and kicks ass as a solo crime fighter.  This Peter Parker represents the efficient, responsible character that Marvel has potential to publish. Granted, the conflict of fucking up is lost, but maybe a responsible, non-fuck up Spider-man would encourage a little more creativity in the House of Ideas? It could pull Peter Parker in a new, interesting direction. And, for a few pages, that direction wafts hopefully before my beady, spider-loving eyes until Dan Slott progresses to suddenly make me not want such a thing.

We the readers understand perfectly well that Spider-man jams efficient, but Slott feels the need to shove it down our throats. The expected subplot, continuity parade storms on by with Slott leading the damn thing as King Same-and-Stuck. The pages flip on by. J. Jonah Jameson shouts his concern and damns the arachnid. Norah Winters, cast member and friend of Peter’s, has a douche bag boyfriend who’s secretly a villain with a goblin persuasion. Aunt May still lives. Flash “the venom” Thomspon stops by because he lives in New York. Betty Brant uses a cell phone. The Avengers play cards only after the Future Foundation hit the wardrobe. Spider-man fights in a dojo for his daily workout.

Slott literally shows us every fucking thing Peter Parker now does as well as showing us everything his cast does. And he doesn’t just show us, he takes an entire issue to show us these bland explanations continuity nerds eat up. God help me.

The issue eventually finds an end where it manages to introduce this “event” known as Spider-Island. The idea? The Jackal, spider-villain known for the infamous “Clone Saga,” desires to clone once more but this time create an entire “island of spiders!” Honestly, I’m not sure how I feel about this concept. Part of me says, “repetitive” and “why care,” but I hate to blow off a concept before it’s really used. I believe there’s potential in an “island of spiders.” We will see, I suppose.

The artwork is wonderful, though. Caselli captures a great sense of motion in this issue. Images feel kinetic, and Spider-man appears truly super as he swings across the landscape. The line work appears clean and distinct, and the figures drawn convey a real sense of acting. Along with the fresh colors provided by Gracia, I found the visual aspect of this issue quite satisfying.

Will I continue with Spider-Island? I must enjoy torture, because I might. Might. I’m still interested in how this concept finds use by the creative team, and I am experiencing a new found interest in Spider-man. So, yeah, I’ll go hang out with the only dude crying over the demise of Wizard, and we’ll discuss how much we hate these hero comics and how they ignore what want even though we continue to purchase them.

Spider-Island Part 2 will, most likely, be mine.

Batman: Knight of Vengeance #2
Writer: Brian Azzarello, Artists: Eduardo Risso, Patricia Mulvihill, and some dude named Robbins

Now I can type with a positive tap.

Azzarello and Risso impressed me with 100 Bullets by not only its striking narrative but its master craft. That comic book, ladies and gentlemen, hits every fucking note, and it exemplifies a collaboration where both sides truly contribute to the world building. Azzarello brought the language and tone while Risso defined the style and flow. The case remains the same on this Batman comic that, I have to keep telling myself, is an event tie-in.

Most artists portray some sort of style, and that style usually manages to label that artist’s drawings. Like, you know, John Romita Jr’s New York City stands clearly distinct from Alex Maleev’s New York City. Each artist, by way of style, possesses their own and belongs to their own artistic sphere. Risso really pulls that idea to another level where his style not just stands for “Eduardo Risso” but rather a “Risso Universe.” I get the feeling that Risso’s drawings all exist on the same plane. Not many artists communicate this idea to me. Plenty of artists have distinct styles and define looks of certain objects or figures, but only Risso strings his depictions across one common field of existence. How he does this, I could honestly make no case. Maybe it has something to do with his attention to style, whether it be people’s dress or the styling of his settings, but digging into art that far lays beyond me. Simply said, I can’t help but wander into this comic and feel right back at home in the world of 100 Bullets.

Call me stupid, but that’s how I connect to this comic. It makes sense to me, though. 100 Bullets encourages you to wonder what lies beyond its gutters, and in my wondering I stumble upon an alternate version of Gotham City.

I love how Azzarello, when on his game, tells his stories. While most comic scribes today worry about sufficient word count, Azzarello comes off as a minimalist. I mean, flipping through this issue, I guess there are the standard number of word balloons, but the content of said word balloons express far from standard.  His dialogue acts the opposite of most comic dialogue. It’s not slow or exposition influenced but rather comes off as self-existent. What the fuck does that mean? OK, most dialogue feels like its meant to be read, like somehow the dialogue itself is self-aware and knows its part of a story. Azzarello’s dialogue makes the reader feel like he or she is a true fly on the wall. The characters know what’s what, and that’s all that matters as they act out their parts. As a reader, you truly watch and piece the story together by what you see and “hear” rather than being fed everything.

A grand example of such writing resides in Azzarello’s characterization of one Thomas Wayne. Not once have we witnessed a flash back nor has Wayne directly addressed us, but from observing character interactions and the simple fact of a Bat costume we understand Thomas Wayne as an angry old man with family issues and strong memories of failure. And it’s all we need.

For its premise of alternate Earth Batman, Azzarello and Risso knock it out the park. It remains unfinished and could lose steam, but the team has gone above and beyond. Their Gotham sits clearly distinct along with it inhabitants. The comic feels more like a goddamn Elseworlds than some event tie-in. Oh, and with the addition of this issue’s cliffhanger, I can safely say I actually feel the fear and conflict of this story. Something feels at stake, and it’s refreshing for a DC cape comic.

Next: Another Batman comic and a character everyone loathes. 

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A Gold, Holo-Foil Heart – McFarlane’s Spider-man #1

1st all-new collector’s item issue! The legend of the arachknight! Arachknight? Yes, I am looking back to the year 1990 because before Spawn and the boom of Image Comics Todd McFarlane debuted his  chops as a comic book writer on a certain Marvel Comics character.

The book infamously known as Spider-man #1 holds a certain place in American comic book lore. Some remember it for its ridiculous amount of collector bribing, variant editions while others recognize it simply as a poor, confused example of the medium. All of that aside though, Spider-man #1 channeled a zeitgeist excitement felt by the industry at that period. The book fell right in line with Liefeld’s New Mutant’s and Lee’s X-Men. It was a comic book on the edge, presenting unorthodox artwork and design. Spider-man looked new and different, panels knew no bounds, and the impossible seemed possible once again in a super-hero comic. Nearly everyone had to own a copy and every company needed a copycat, McFarlane-esque artist.

Deep down, though, past the 2.5 million copies sold, the holo-foil, scratch-and-sniff covers, and the rock star attitude lay an artist looking for a break. McFarlane at this time was still relatively new to the comics industry. He was coming off his two year run on The Amazing Spider-man with writer David Michelinie and nothing else really to his name. Granted, it was an impactful run from both a plot standpoint as well as an aesthetic mark, but still, a two year run is nothing in an industry where Jack Kirby penciled numerous titles per month. There was much to prove for this young artist. Thus, after a few short talks with editor Jim Salicrup, McFarlane’s own title appeared in the web-slinger’s line of funny books. A twenty-some page pamphlet where he could stretch his legs and push his ability.


Now, let me just say, Spider-man #1 does, in some regards, deserve the criticism it receives. It’s a comic book so short of plot it’s laughable. The story, if one could call it that, depicts Spider-man web-slinging through the streets of New York along with a scene of Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson flirting in cute couple fashion. At some point, the villain The Lizard is brought in to rough up random street thugs.These events, under the hands of craftsman, could work as a fine first issue, but the problem is the drive and tie of these events. There really isn’t any. These events feel like randomly disbursed thoughts throughout a comic book, and they’re overwritten with corny caption boxes of narration – a technique that only results in great or terrible quality with no inbetween. No theme is present, no greater purpose exists, and the dialogue would make a twelve year-old version of yourself laugh.

It’s a pretty awful script, but McFarlane manages to take away some of the bad.

“I don’t profess to be a writer, but I do think I can tell a story. What this means is that most of the issues will rely heavily on the artistic side. It will also allow me to draw who I want when I want, so I can get wound up artistically and be even more enthusiastic while I am doing the work.”

Continue on.

“My writing will expand and get better as the months go by, but I will strive to present Spider-man in a fashion not seen before, and thus be able to justify the question of why a fifth Spider-man book.”

–          Todd McFarlane, Text page in Spider-man #1

Could he be anymore clear? If I had just read Spider-man #1, the comic, by itself, I would have put it down with very little to say, but after reading the afterward text page, I suddenly found a lot in this comic. This is a book that doesn’t pretend to be anything bigger than it is. It’s not Dark Knight Returns, and McFarlane knows and admits this! Instead, it’s Spider-man #1, and McFarlane clearly states his intention is to make Spider-man look cool and basically nothing else.

I’m pretty sure he accomplishes this.

The contents of the issue, even now, are visually striking. McFarlane’s vision of Spider-man, even to this day, stands unique with edge. His powerful splash pages send elbows to your face and panel layouts never slow down to anything resembling a nine-panel grid.  It is a cool looking comic book, and at the time the artwork was a game changer in the market of hero books.

Not that it stops there, though. If anything, that praise is the usual praise for an artist like McFarlane or really any of the Image guys. No, McFarlane accomplishes something else with his artwork. Rather than characterizing his cast by usual means of situational development or dialogue, McFarlane takes the John Woo approach and depicts his characters through their body language and physical action. Take a look at any Todd McFarlane Spider-man drawing and admire the way he positions the character in a very acrobatic, gawky way. Without a beat of speech, you should understand who McFarlane’s Spider-man is; a masked hero who swings through the New York concrete jungle, hangs upside down, and performs daring flips and acrobatic feats to catch criminals.

The awkward twists in the body posture even depict Peter Parker’s wise guy persona. The liberal crouching and skin tight costume provide a sense that Spider-man is unlike the usual super-hero. That instead, he is some sort of punk rock warrior. A man not following the traditional super-hero protocol, but rather cracking jokes on the crime scene, running from the law, and receiving the hate of New York City.

The weird, almost disturbing poses even speak to a primitiveness of the character. Traditionally, comic artists focus on the human aspect when they draw Spider-man; a young guy in tights trying to make a difference.  When Spider-man clings to a wall in a McFarlane comic, something animalistic seeps from the hero. The spider element becomes a bit more vital. The character becomes inherently a little darker. The popping veins and big, bug eyes communicate an idea of torture. A reader understands Spider-man’s guilt, determination, and origin point.

The artwork says a lot, surprisingly, and when it’s combined with the comic’s own idea of self-awareness, I think it actually makes Spider-man a rather interesting comic instead of a bad one. If anything, this book is much more personal than the gimmick it’s made out to be. McFarlane did as he pleased with this comic, and the book provided the young artist an opportunity to express his creative needs. It’s the comic McFarlane always wanted to do. An a-list character at an a-game publisher and he was the sole creative force behind it. McFarlane’s Spider-man really is McFarlane’s Spider-man. In some ways, I find it possible to believe that this comic may have started the creator-owned conversation for Todd. McFarlane experienced a taste of control by doing this book, and I believe that as the years past that sense of control only grew harder and harder to give up. The man yearned to own what he drew and draw what he owned, but Marvel Comics could not harbor such desires as they had, and still do, a business run. Still,  I now like to think that Spider-man, in some way, was owned by McFarlane. His artwork defined the character for a period of time, and for a period a time the character was all his in a title he wrote and drew.

In some form, Spider-man #1 was the first Image Comic: bold, unorthodox, creator-controlled.

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