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Spider-Man vs. Wolverine (Review/Retrospective)

To celebrate the release of The Wolverine later in the month, we’re taking a look at some classic X-Men and Wolverine comics every Monday, Wednesday and Friday here. I’m also writing a series of reviews of the classic X-Men television show at comicbuzz every weekday, so feel free to check those out.

Well, at least it’s honest. Spider-Man vs. Wolverine doesn’t promise a superhero team-up so much as a comic book bust-up. Many comic crossovers open with two characters throwing down, perhaps playing to the geekish fanboy fascination with the idea that “my hero can beat your hero.”

Such brawls are so common that Marvel’s recent span of blockbuster events has been based around the idea of heroes fighting one another. Civil War pitted Captain America against Iron Man. Secret Invasion saw heroes fighting aliens impersonating heroes. Siege was about heroes defeating supervillain imposters. Avengers vs. X-Men… well, exactly what it says on the tin.

So the title of Spider-Man vs. Wolverine is refreshing frank, opening acknowledging this tendency and going so far as to make it the centrepiece of the book.

"So, um, when does the team-up start?"

“So, um, when does the team-up start?”

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The Fantastic Four #108 – The Monstrous Mystery of the Nega-Man (Review)

To celebrate the release of Star Trek: Into Darkness this month, we’ll be running through the first season of the classic Star Trek all this month. Check back daily to get ready to boldly go. It’s only logical.

We’ll be supplementing our coverage of the episodes with some additional materials – mainly novels and comics and films. This is one such entry.

Jack Kirby is one of the defining comic book creators of the twentieth century. He started out working in the medium during the Great Depression. He was a major force during the Golden Age of comics, creating the character of Captain America in 1940. However, Kirby displayed an incredible ability to evolve and adapt over time. In the 1970s, for example, Kirby would move towards crafting cosmic odysseys and epic god-like conflicts. However, during the 1960s, he played a huge role in the development of Marvel Comics during the 1960s. With a flair for science-fiction story-telling and a knack for crafting iconic characters, Kirby came to be one of the talents who defined the period known as “the Silver Age.” Working with Stan Lee, Kirby created characters like The Fantastic Four and The X-Men, who defined not just Marvel, but the entire medium.

I think it’s fair to cite Star Trek as a major influence on Jack Kirby’s work in comic books, particularly his later work on The Fantastic Four. I know that his fans can be very protective of their idol, and he certainly deserves a lot of the praise heaped upon him. I know that Kirby’s possible influence on Star Wars remains a massive bone of contention. That said, I suspect that Star Trek made quite an impression on Kirby.

A smashing time...

A smashing time…

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Archie Goodwin’s (& George Tuska’s) Run on The Invincible Iron Man – The Invincible Iron Man Omnibus, Vol. 2 (Review/Retrospective)

To get ready for Iron Man 3, we’ll be taking a look at some Iron Man and Avengers stories, both modern and classic. We hope to do two or three a week throughout the month, so check back regularly for the latest update.

The second omnibus contains both the tail end of Stan Lee run on Tales of Suspense and the Archie Goodwin run on The Invincible Iron Man. To make matters easier, I’ve split the review in half. This half covers Archie Goodwin’s Iron Man.

Archie Goodwin is one of the best editors to work in comic books. During his time working at DC, the editor was responsible for The Long Halloween and also James Robinson’s long-running Starman. While Goodwin was an exceptional editor, he was arguably a weaker writer. As his run on The Invincible Iron Man demonstrates, Goodwin has a very clear idea of what concepts work and won’t work with the character, and how to start “fixing” some of the more obvious flaws present in the character from his inception during Stan Lee’s Tales of Suspense run. However, Goodwin isn’t quite as deft when it comes to story construction or plot mechanics. He lacks Lee’s flair for soap opera angst and interpersonal drama.

However, his run on The Invincible Iron Man remains quite impressive, and just as influential and formative as anything written by Stan Lee. I’d argue that Goodwin’s conceptual model of the character is a lot closer to the modern version of Iron Man, and that his version of Tony Stark bleeds through the work of later writers and also into the massive billion-dollar film franchise as well. So Goodwin’s work on The Invincible Iron Man is quite iconic. It’s just some of the nuts-and-bolts scripting that seems to catch him, from time to time.

That's why they call him the Invincible Iron Man...

That’s why they call him the Invincible Iron Man…

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Stan Lee & Gene Colan’s Iron Man – The Invincible Iron Man Omnibus, Vol. 2 (Review/Retrospective)

To get ready for Iron Man 3, we’ll be taking a look at some Iron Man and Avengers stories, both modern and classic. We hope to do two or three a week throughout the month, so check back regularly for the latest update.

The second omnibus contains both the tail end of Stan Lee run on Tales of Suspense and the Archie Goodwin run on The Invincible Iron Man. To make matters easier, I’ve split the review in half. This half covers the end of Stan Lee’s Iron Man.

And so we come to the end of Stan Lee’s work on the character of Iron Man as part of the Tales of Suspense magazine. This part of the run is consistently illustrated by the wonderful Gene Colan, who is among my favourite artists of the era, and Colan’s pencils do a lot to give the tail-end of Lee’s work with Tony Stark a bit of weight and gravitas. Because, as we reach the end of the character’s time as one-half of Tales of Suspense, it’s hard to argue that Lee still hasn’t quite figured out what he wants to do with Iron Man as a character. While Tony Stark’s teething problems are nowhere near as severe as those of The Incredible Hulk, it still feels like the character isn’t gelling nearly as well as he should.

If you can't stand the heat...

If you can’t stand the heat…

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Stan Lee’s Iron Man – The Invincible Iron Man Omnibus, Vol. 1 (Review/Retrospective)

To get ready for Iron Man 3, we’ll be taking a look at some Iron Man and Avengers stories, both modern and classic. We hope to do two or three a week throughout the month, so check back regularly for the latest update.

Working in collaboration with a stable of fantastic artists, Stan Lee created so many iconic characters and franchises at Marvel Comics that you could easily believe that everything he touched turned to gold. His work on The Fantastic Four, Thor and The Avengers with Jack Kirby so perfectly captured the sci-fi spirit of the sixties, and his creation of The Amazing Spider-Man with Steve Ditko redefined comic books, so it’s hard not to imagine that everything Lee set his mind to worked out perfectly.

Of course, inevitably, there were books that didn’t quite work right out of the gate. While his first reboot of Captain America was so awkward that he had to retroactively re-write the stories to feature a crazed Captain America impersonator, a lot of these titles were given the time and space necessary to try to figure out how to make them work. You’d be forgiven for thinking that Lee was quite sentimental towards some of his creations, with the awkward development history of The Incredible Hulk suggesting that Lee was going to try to figure out any way to make that character gel.

The Invincible Iron Man was never quite that troublesome, but he also never entirely clicked under Lee’s pen. While none of the character’s re-tools and re-workings are as severe as the kind of things that Marvel tried to do with the Hulk, there’s a very clear sense – reading this mammoth collection of Tales of Suspense short stories – that Lee wasn’t entirely sure about how to write Iron Man.

I am Iron Man!

I am Iron Man!

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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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Dan Slott’s Run on The Amazing Spider-Man – Ends of the Earth (Review)

While Ends of the Earth might not work quite as well as Dan Slott’s other epic from his Amazing Spider-Man run, Spider-Island, it does succeed in playing to the writer’s strengths with the character. It seems like Slott is fascinated with how Spider-Man interacts with the world – both in terms of the other fictional constructs of the shared Marvel Universe, but also in how the character tries to make his world a better place through more than beating up bad guys. Apocryphally, Stan Lee once argued that comic book fans don’t want change, but “the illusion of change”, and Slott manages to do something which almost seems impossible. He offers a take on the web-crawling wonder that is by turns classic and yet boldly new.

The last sand…

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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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Untold Tales of Spider-Man by Kurt Busiek Omnibus (Review/Retrospective)

I am of two minds about Kurt Busiek’s and Pat Olliffe’s celebrated Untold Tales of Spider-Man run. On the one hand, Busiek manages to affectionately evoke the spirit of those classic Stan Lee and Steve Ditko Spider-Man stories, without getting too bogged down in minor or confusing continuity. On the other hand, the stories feel somewhat trapped and confined by having to contort around the existing storylines. Naturally, for example, Busiek can’t resolve any plot threads he doesn’t keep exclusive to the book, and we all know how various situations unfold. It’s a strange cocktail, and it works slightly more often than it doesn’t work. It’s very much in the spirit of the author’s much-loved work on the Avengers, and there’s no denying the skill and love that went into crafting the issues collected here, but I find that I respect The Untold Tales of Spider-Man more than I love it.

They were on fire with this run…

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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. 1-2 (Review/Retrospective)

It’s easy to forget just how iconoclastic that early parts of the new millennium were at Marvel. The comic company was in the midst of recovering from its bankrupcy, and was going throw a massive creative shake-up. Many would argue that the late nineties represented the company’s creative nadir, and there was a very definite sense of change in the air. Some of that change involved a radical restructuring of core concepts, placing them in the hands of more radical creators.

The early part of the last decade gave us Peter Milligan on X-Force, Grant Morrison on New X-Men and Garth Ennis on Marvel Knights: Punisher. It also saw a number of big-name creators working on these characters. Kevin Smith wrote the introductory arc of the new Daredevil book. While J. Michael Straczynski’s Amazing Spider-Man has a controversial and divisive legacy, it was a product of those times. While it was flawed even in its early days, it’s still a bold re-working of an iconic comic book mythos.

King of the swingers…

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