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Non-Review Review: The Amazing Spider-Man II

What is remarkable about Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man II is how much it resembles a comic book. Not a particular comic book – although there are numerous shout-outs to iconic Spider-Man moments, right down to the choice of costuming – but in general terms. It isn’t that Marc Webb tries to construct his film to evoke the look and feel of a comic book – this isn’t Ang Lee’s Hulk; in fact, Webb seems much more comfortable here than he was with The Amazing Spider-Man, making a movie that feels more playful and relaxed within its medium.

Instead, The Amazing Spider-Man II borrows the structure of a comic book. It offers its own story, but that story isn’t constructed particularly tightly. Instead, the story seems to have been fashioned as part of a greater – as if part of a larger serialised narrative that has yet to take form. It’s quite distinct from the approach taken with Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, where the films feel more like blocks that fit together. Instead, this feels more like the second chapter in a larger story, without being dissolved completely into the larger narrative.

The Amazing Spider-Man II has its own themes and motifs, and it documents a pretty epic selection of events, but the emphasis isn’t so much on this one encounter as what this encounter says about its hero. It’s much more interested in what these events tell us about our hero than it is in documenting a single self-contained story. It’s a novel (and somewhat bold) attempt at a serialised superhero narrative, and the results are absolutely fascinating.

Electro-fying!

Electro-fying!

Note: This is a spoiler-filled review of The Amazing Spider-Man II. You can find a spoiler-lite version here. Continue reading for more in-depth thoughts on the film, with the knowledge that absolutely everything is up for discussion. Continue at your own peril!

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Non-Review Review: The Amazing Spider-Man II

What is remarkable about Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man II is how much it resembles a comic book. Not a particular comic book – although there are numerous shout-outs to iconic Spider-Man moments, right down to the choice of costuming – but in general terms. It isn’t that Marc Webb tries to construct his film to evoke the look and feel of a comic book – this isn’t Ang Lee’s Hulk; in fact, Webb seems much more comfortable here than he was with The Amazing Spider-Man, making a movie that feels more playful and relaxed within its medium.

Instead, The Amazing Spider-Man II borrows the structure of a comic book. It offers its own story, but that story isn’t constructed particularly tightly. Instead, the story seems to have been fashioned as part of a greater – as if part of a larger serialised narrative that has yet to take form. It’s quite distinct from the approach taken with Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, where the films feel more like blocks that fit together. Instead, this feels more like the second chapter in a larger story, without being dissolved completely into the larger narrative.

The Amazing Spider-Man II has its own themes and motifs, and it documents a pretty epic selection of events, but the emphasis isn’t so much on this one encounter as what this encounter says about its hero. It’s much more interested in what these events tell us about our hero than it is in documenting a single self-contained story. It’s a novel (and somewhat bold) attempt at a serialised superhero narrative, and the results are absolutely fascinating.

Electro-fying!

Electro-fying!

Note: The Amazing Spider-Man II is probably best seen absolutely blind, with no real information about its themes or the story beats that it might hit. I do try to keep the reviews as spoiler-light as possible (and we do have a spoiler-laden review available for your perusal), but if you are interested in seeing the film – I would recommend avoiding any discussion or review. It is good, if flawed; endearingly ambitious and engagingly bold; it does a lot of great things that excuse some cliché plotting, sacrificing novelty in some areas for storytelling efficiency.

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Warren Ellis and Mike Deodato Jr.’s Run on Thunderbolts (Review/Retrospective)

This March, to celebrate the release of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, we’ll be taking a look at some classic and not-so-classic Avengers comic books. Check back daily for the latest updates!

Warren Ellis and Mike Deodato Jr.’s year-long twelve-issue run on Thunderbolts is a phenomenal piece of work from a mainstream comic book company. It’s an absurdly fun comic book – one that goes completely off the rails any number of times, moving with momentum of a runaway freight train. Ellis’ unhinged plotting and dialogue find a perfect partner in Deodato’s dark and moody (yet photo-realistic) artwork.

While Ellis includes quite a bit of social, political and even meta commentary in this year-long anti-hero team-up book, there’s a sense that Thunderbolts was written with an intention of going completely overboard, basking in the surreal absurdity of superhero storytelling conventions while playing with a selection of (mostly) second-tier characters that free Ellis’ hand significantly. There are few dependencies and obligations that Ellis has with this cast, allowing him to go to town with them.

In many respects, Thunderbolts feels like a slightly more cynical, slightly more grounded counterpart to his (roughly) contemporaneous Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. Over course, “slightly more grounded” simply means that a middle-aged civil servant in a goblin outfit is the villain of the piece, rather than a hyper-intelligent talking dinosaur.

Norman Osborn is a perfectly sane individual...

Norman Osborn is a perfectly sane individual…

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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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Secret Warriors Omnibus (Review/Retrospective)

There are plans within plans… wheels within wheels. The old order is waking from a deep sleep any my masters… they hunger for knowledge of this new world.

– Leviathan Disciple

Secret Warriors is an interesting ride. It’s a rather bold narrative, crafted with a great deal of skill by author Jonathan Hickman, exploring an interesting underbelly of the Marvel Universe, while providing a pretty compelling exploration of Marvel’s super-spy Nick Fury. It reads like a densely-packed pulpy espionage thriller, with Hickman cleverly layering the story and gradually peeling back the skin to reveal wheels within wheels. While the climax of the story isn’t as strong as it should be, Secret Warriors still makes for an interesting read, a relatively long-running series that was carefully planned out from the beginning and executed with considerable style.

Secret Agent Man!

Note: There will be spoilers in this here review. Don’t worry, I’ll flag them before we reach them, but given the twisty nature of the narrative, I thought I’d let you know up-front.

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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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J. Michael Straczynski’s (and Mike Deotado’s) Run on the Amazing Spider-Man – The Best of Spider-Man, Vol. 4-5 (Review/Retrospective)

Opinion is somewhat divided on J. Michael Straczynski’s Amazing Spider-Man run. the general consensus is that started strong, but that it lost its way somewhere along, before culminating in the much-maligned One More Day arc that effectively wiped decades of character development for Peter Parker and his cast. More importantly for the author of One More Day, it also completely wiped out a large volume of his contributions to the character – which is a bit of a shame. Straczynski’s Amazing Spider-Man would get tied up in various crossover “event” storylines like The Other, Civil War and Back in Black, to the point where Straczynski’s run went from being driven by the author’s own ideas to being dictated by editorial whim.

The start of the writer’s work with artist Mike Deodato seems to be where Straczynski was placed on a somewhat tighter editorial leash, with Sins Past mangled in the back-and-forth between author and editorial, perhaps a sign of things to come. It’s telling that it remains one of the most controversial facets of Straczynski’s run, even today.

Is it still a blast?

Note: This review or retrospective covers Straczynski’s run with artist Mike Deodato up until the “Other” crossover event. It doesn’t take up the full fourth hardcover, but it starts with the Sins Past story arc. Just so you know.

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J. Michael Straczynski’s (and John Romita Jr.’s) Run on the Amazing Spider-Man – The Best of Spider-Man, Vol. 3-4 (Review/Retrospective)

I honestly believe that had J. Michael Straczynski’s Amazing Spider-Man run ended with his collaborator John Romita Jr., his time on Marvel’s iconic web-crawler would have gone down as one of the great runs. Sure, it is flawed – sometimes significantly so. However, if you divorce it from Sins Past and the mess of crisis crossover tie-in issues and awkward continuity reboots that followed, Straczynski’s early run was bold, exciting and entertaining enough to get away with doing something relatively new to Peter Parker. Given that the run includes the five hundredth issue headlined by the hero, that’s quite an accomplishment in-and-of itself. It’s not perfect, and I don’t think it’s as strong as many of the runs happening simultaneously at Marvel, but it is an intriguing direction for the pop culture icon.

How many iconic villains do you spy dere?

Note: The fourth hardcover also includes the start of Mike Deodato’s run. I am going to cover those issues separately. This review or retrospective is going to be concerned with the second half of the collaboration between John Romita and J. Michael Straczynski, culminating in The Amazing Spider-Man #508.

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Dan Slott’s Run on The Amazing Spider-Man – Spider-Island (Review/Retrospective)

Dan Sott’s Amazing Spider-Man run has been pretty well received by fans. Credited with giving the title a sense of fun after the continuity-tangling mess of One More Day, Slott has managed to inject some fun back into the franchise. Or so I’ve heard. Despite being a fan of Slott’s Mighty Avengers, I remain somewhat disappointed that there’s been no effort made to collect his Amazing Spider-Man run into either an omnibus or an oversized hardcover collection. Still, I recently had the pleasure of devouring Slott’s Spider-Island plotline in a nice oversized hardcover, and I have to admit that I was more than a little impressed with Slott’s epic “event” comic book.

New York, New York, it's a hell of a town!

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Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s Spider-Man – The Amazing Spider-Man Omnibus, Vol. 1 (Review/Retrospective)

It’s hard to believe that Spider-Man first appeared fifty years ago. The character is arguably Marvel’s most iconic comic book creation, and his appearance and iconography is instant recognisable all around the world. As such, fifty years after his first appearance, it’s fascinating to look at just how much of Spider-Man is firmly rooted in the initial thirty-eight issues of the title, written by Stan Lee and illustrated by Steve Ditko. While I am normally quite wary of older material (Will Eisner’s The Spirit being the exception that proves the rule), it’s amazing how well Lee and Ditko’s Amazing Spider-Man holds up.

Animated by Kerry Allen.

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