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Spider-Man: Chapter One (Review/Retrospective)

This April, to celebrate the release of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, we are taking a look at some classic and modern comics featuring Spider-Man (and friends). Check back daily for the latest review.

Spider-Man: Chapter One is a strange little comic. In context, it makes a great deal of sense. Spider-Man has always been one of Marvel’s most popular and iconic comic book heroes. In the late nineties, the comic book industry was trying to figure out how to push forward, following the sales explosion and implosion of the mid-nineties. With superheroes like Spider-Man and the X-Men primed for a transition to the big screen, revisiting the early days of these heroes made a great deal of sense.

And John Byrne was the logical choice for a book like this. Byrne was a unique talent. He had enjoyed incredibly successful runs on Uncanny X-Men and The Fantastic Four at Marvel. More than that, though, he had already overseen the successful relaunch of another classic character. In the wake of DC’s universe-altering line-wide Crisis on Infinite Earths, John Byrne had been the writer who re-drafted Superman’s origin as part of the Man of Steel miniseries in 1986.

Boundless enthusiasm...

Boundless enthusiasm…

And so, Marvel gave us Spider-Man: Chapter One. The comic was a reimagining of the earliest days of the wall-crawling superhero, spanning thirteen issues and covering many of the character’s earliest encounters with his classic foes. John Byrne was writing the script and providing the artwork for the comics, which seemed primed to introduced Spider-Man to a whole new generation of readers, giving audiences a back-to-basics take on Spider-Man that was fresh and accessible.

At least, that was the idea. In actuality, Spider-Man: Chapter One feels like a massive miscalculation on just about everybody’s part. It seems to be aiming for some middle ground between Kurt Busiek and Pat Olliffe’s contemporary Untold Tales of Spider-Man and Brian Michael Bendis’ pending Ultimate Spider-Man. It seems like Byrne is never sure whether he’s simply re-telling the classic Stan Lee and Steve Ditko run on The Amazing Spider-Man with a few bells and whistles, or trying to make it his own.

You are about to enter... the Spidey zone...

You are about to enter… the Spidey zone…

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Spider-Men (Review/Retrospective)

This April, to celebrate the release of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, we are taking a look at some classic and modern comics featuring Spider-Man (and friends). Check back daily for the latest review.

Spider-Men feels very light. It is the first official crossover between the mainstream Marvel Universe and the Ultimate Universe, something that readers had been promised would never happen. However, despite the fact that this is a big event that has been more than a decade in the making – something rumoured since the earliest days of Ultimate Spider-Man – Spider-Men feels decidedly low-key.

It’s pretty much a collection of vignettes rather than a compelling story in its own right, allowing Bendis to run through a checklist of material to smooth the transition between ultimate!Peter Parker and his successor, Miles Morales.

"Well, this is awkward..."

“Well, this is awkward…”

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The Amazing Spider-Man – The Gauntlet: The Vulture – Scavenging (Review)

This April, to celebrate the release of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, we are taking a look at some classic and modern comics featuring Spider-Man (and friends). Check back daily for the latest review.

The biggest problem with Scavenging is the villain.

The classic Vulture is admittedly a goof design, but – as with most of Steve Ditko’s villains – there’s an undeniable charm. With his silly “villainous green” colour scheme and the image of a super villain old enough to be collecting his pension, the classic Vulture sticks in the memory. Like so many of those classic Amazing Spider-Man bad guys, the Vulture has a sense of character that extends beyond his goofiness. (After all, Electro, Sandman and Mysterio are no less goofy in design.)

Feeding time...

Feeding time…

In contrast, the “new” Vulture featured in Scavenging feels decidedly generic. More animalistic, with a pinsir-like mouth and the ability to spew hot bile, the character is dressed in red – as if to suggest the classic costume design is more menacing in that colour. Introduced by Mark Waid in the 24/7 arc of Brand New Day, there nothing memorable at all about this version of the character, and he feels like an awkward fit for The Gauntlet, which traverses Spider-Man’s iconic selection of foes.

There is a reason that the character ended up as C-list fodder at the start of Greg Rucka’s Punisher run.

The Vulture has landed...

The Vulture has landed…

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The Amazing Spider-Man – The Gauntlet: Mysterio – Mysterioso (Review)

This April, to celebrate the release of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, we are taking a look at some classic and modern comics featuring Spider-Man (and friends). Check back daily for the latest review.

And so The Gauntlet circles around to writer Dan Slott and artist Marcos Martín. It really is impressive the talent that Marvel was able to draw to The Amazing Spider-Man as part of their Brand New Day. The comic was publishing several times a month, requiring rotating writers and artists to keep everything moving, with a strong editorial hand to guide the comic. Whatever one might say about the motivations and consequences of Brand New Day, it affirmed the idea that The Amazing Spider-Man was one of Marvel’s premier titles, featuring some incredible creative talent.

The Gauntlet is focused on the idea of re-working and re-engineering various classic Spider-Man bad guys. Both Power to the People and Keemia’s Castle stressed the idea that Spider-Man’s bad guys are really tragic figures – that there is something to pity in figures like Max Dillon or Flint Marko. With Mysterioso, Dan Slott and Marcos Martin focus on Mysterio, perhaps the least sympathetic bad guy featured as part of The Gauntlet. (The only real competition comes from either the new Rhino or the Lizard, if you separate him from Curt Connors.)

"Mister Spider-Man, I've been expecting you..."

“Mister Spider-Man, I’ve been expecting you…”

Far from a tragic figure trapped by circumstance, Slott positions Mysterio as a arch-criminal-as-artisté – a character who not only revels in the crime that he causes, but also the psychological damage he inflicts. He is a super villain who considers the entire world to be his set, staging elaborate set-pieces for nothing beyond his own amusement. There’s no fractured psyche here, no familial love, no excuse. Mysterio is a character who simply enjoys what he does. It doesn’t add much depth to the character, even if it is great fun.

And yet, despite this, Slott manages to make Mysterioso something of an encapsulation of the themes of The Gauntlet. This is the first time in the epic that Spider-Man’s “no kill rule” is discussed and stressed, and a story that emphasises that Spider-Man’s unique brand of heroism is about enduring the impossible without being corrupted by it. As such, it feels like Slott is really codifying some of the rules of this epic. Mysterioso skilfully closes out the first third of The Gauntlet, confirming what lies ahead.

All bets are off...

All bets are off…

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The Amazing Spider-Man – The Gauntlet: Sandman – Keemia’s Castle (Review)

This April, to celebrate the release of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, we are taking a look at some classic and modern comics featuring Spider-Man (and friends). Check back daily for the latest review.

As much as The Gauntlet might seem to be a single over-arching story stretched across eight months of The Amazing Spider-Man, it really makes more sense a collection of smaller stories grouped together exploring the same core themes and ideas. There’s very little to directly connect Keemia’s Castle to the large plot in The Gauntlet. In many respects, this is just a typical confrontation between Spider-Man and recurring opponent Flint Marko.

On the other hand, it plays beautifully into the themes of the larger event, offering a glimpse at how desperate situations can push people to desperate decisions and how sometimes it’s possible to win without a sense of accomplishing anything. It also manages a pretty clever re-working and reinvention of a classic Spider-Man foe, doing a much better job at re-purposing the Sandman than Power to the People did with Electro.

A cold heart...

A cold heart…

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My 12 for ’13: Iron Man 3 & Shane Black’s Christmas in April

This is my annual countdown of the 12 movies that really stuck with me this year. It only counts the movies released in Ireland in 2013, so quite a few of this year’s Oscar contenders aren’t eligible, though some of last year’s are.

This is number 9…

While Tim Burton’s underrated Batman Returns remains the definitive superhero Christmas movie, Iron Man 3 comes pretty darn close. Which is very strange, for a movie released in towards the end of April in Europe and in the United States in early May. This paradoxical festivity is just one of the many ways that Iron Man 3 feels more like a Shane Black film than a piece of the expansive and ever-growing Marvel Cinematic Universe.

And that’s a good thing.


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J. Michael Straczynski’s Run on The Fantastic Four – Civil War (Review/Retrospective)

To celebrate the release of Thor: The Dark World towards the end of next month, we’ll be looking at some Thor and Avenger-related comics throughout September. Check back weekly for the latest reviews and retrospectives.

J. Michael Stracynski’s Fantastic Four tie-in to Civil War is a strange beast, in that it seems to exist more as a collection of talking points and plot beats than as compelling narrative in its own right. Using the safe camouflage of a tie-in to a massive line-wide event, Straczynski is not only able to sneakily set-up his pending Thor run, but also to vent quite liberally about his own feelings on post-9/11 America. The result is a story which feels disjointed and far too talky, a simplistic and familiar opinion piece dressed up as a Fantastic Four story.

Yes. Yes there is...

Yes. Yes there is…

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Digging the Claws In: The Wolverine, Superman/Batman, World Building and the Future of Blockbusters…

When you produce one of the most successful movies of all time, you change the rules of the game. The Avengers was the biggest box office hit of 2012, narrowly edging out The Dark Knight Rises and Skyfall for the privilege. That means that all the other major film studies were taking note of what Disney and Marvel had done. So it’s no surprise that the majority of announcements trickling out of this year’s Comic Con feel heavily influenced by the success of that blockbuster.

Most notably, it seems like DC and Warners will be fully investing in their superhero world-building, with the sequel to Man of Steel broadening its focus from the Man of Tomorrow, announced as a Superman/Batman team-up feature that will build towards the inevitable Justice League film. It seems like The Wolverine might just be the most major stand-alone superhero feature film we’ll be seeing for quite some time.

The future is now...

The future is now…

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Requiem For a Genre Star: Michael Massee and Familiar Faces In Small Roles…

With Jamie Foxx in contention to play Electro in the sequel to The Amazing Spider-Man, I got thinking about the teaser in the middle of the credit sequence. In the small scene, a mysterious visitor confronted Curt Connors about what Peter Parker did or did not know about his father. He got a single line, and was couched in shadow. My less cynical side suggests that this was an attempt to play up the mystery of the character so his inevitable appearance in the sequel would make sense. My more pragmatic side figures that it was to leave the role open for the production team to hire a big-name actor for the character’s appearance in the next film in the series. That is, after all, why all the shots of Norman Osborn in The Amazing Spider-Man were careful not to reveal any facial features. Perhaps they can be digitally reinserted into the first film when the role is cast next time around?

However, this short sequence is a bit disappointing, if only because I was able to recognise the actor appearing, only for a second, cloaked in darkness. He was Michael Massee. And I feel a little sad that this means he likely won’t be playing a significant role in the sequel.

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Stan Lee and John Romita’s Spider-Man – The Amazing Spider-Man Omnibus, Vol. 2 (Review/Retrospective)

I loved Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s Amazing Spider-Man. In fact, I think it might be the most accessible Silver Age comic book that I’ve ever had the pleasure to read. However, all good things must come to an end, and Steve Ditko left the title after thirty-eight issues. As such, the title went through a transitional period, with John Romita Sr. taking over the art on the book. Romita would arguably end up a much more proactive guiding light on Amazing Spider-Man, doing a lot of work outside the main title that undoubtedly helped cement the character’s place in popular culture. There’s a wonderfully “sixties pop” feelings to the issues collected here, even if they feel a bit more conventional than Ditko and Lee’s collaboration. Still, it’s easy to see why The Amazing Spider-Man is among Marvel’s longest-running books.

Reflecting on a fun run…

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