On This All-Hallow's Eve. . .

What could be more horrifying. . .

. . . than pairing that nail polish with that eyeliner?!?

Happy Halloween y'all. From Superior Spider-Man: Goblin Nation, by Dan Slott and Giuseppe Camuncoli

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Spider-Man: The Gauntlet Vol. 1: Electro and Sandman

TV shows like Charmed, or ER last for a while. My favorite TV show in recent history, The Office, lasted for a good 7 seasons (and then a weirder 2 seasons after), clocking in at a total of 9 seasons. But actors get older -- Pam and Jim got married, Michael moved on, and Jim started his sports company. TV shows last as long as their stars.

Comic books are different. Peter Parker, well, has been 20- to 30-something now, for over 40 years. He's been married on and off, sometimes he's dating and sometimes he has a kid. So when you pick up a comic book, it'll seem familiar to you, activate some of the stuff you knew before. But occasionally there's a little nugget of something that teases you, makes you furrow your brow a little. Wait, Aunt May's married now? Huh, Mary Jane died in a plane crash? It makes you want to read how it got to that point, from wherever you are.

Such was the case with Spider-Man. So, I'm immediately following Died in Your Arms Tonight with. . .

Spider-Man: The Gauntlet Vol. 1: Electro and Sandman
collecting Amazing Spider-Man #'s 612-616, Dark Reign: The List -- Spider-Man
By Dan Slott, Mark Waid, Fred Van Lente, Paul Azaceta, Barry Kitson, and Javier Pulido

Man that was the best title they could come up with? "Volume 1: Electro and Sandman." Well I guess they tell you what you're putting your money down for.

"The Gauntlet" refers to Kraven, the Hunter's family (The Kravinoff family, in case you were wondering), setting loose a number of Spider-Man's supervillains to attack him. They're putting him through a "gauntlet" of villains as revenge, to slowly chip away at his health and destroy the Spider family.

Electro and Sandman are the first of the gauntlet -- Electro's the first, helmed by Mark Waid and Paul Azaceta.

Electro (Max Dillon) used to have substantial savings from his criminal deeds, but, lost it all from the financial collapse. You see, this comic was written in 2009 when the housing bubble burst and led to business failures, home evictions and the like. More info here. In a way, Electro becomes a modern-day "champion of the proletariat," making a vlog called "Power to the People," in which he rails against the government-given bailouts for millionaires, particularly Dexter Bennett of the Daily Bugle.

His vlog goes viral, and Electro even rallies the general public to protests around New York City. Eventually, his powers escalate, and he tells citizens to turn on all of their electrical equipment, like vacuums and ceiling fans, so he can travel through the city's electrical grid. Pretty neat! It's also interesting to read the comic with several years of distance. At the time, it was very topical, and with the electrical blackouts during the summer, even seasonal.

It ends exactly the way you'd think -- through a fit of ingenuity, Spider-Man fiddles with a Spider-tracer to track down the power surges associated with Electro. Only, their fight concludes in the DB, resulting in a massive collapse of the building. Dexter Bennett loses the use of his legs, and the DB is no more.

An interesting note here is the "ret-con" of events from issue 601. In that issue, Peter Parker got so drunk (supposedly), that he forgot the details of his planned meeting with MJ. In issue 611, they go out of their way to explain that it wasn't actually the alcohol -- just nerves.

I think it was pretty funny to read. There's a letter section at the end of 611 where a reader rails against 601 for portraying Peter as an alcoholic. I think that's a little quick to jump to conclusions, but I guess it was important enough that the writers had to retroactively rewrite that scene.

I'm usually impressed by Mark Waid's work. His Daredevil run is what got me into Daredevil. There are some lines and some jokes that just miss the mark for Spider-Man, but for every two-ish jokes he lands a pretty good one.

Azaceta seems better suited for a noir story, with his strong lines and muted colors. There's a tinge of vintage to it as well, reminiscent to me of Bullet Points.

"Power to the People" is followed up with "Keemia's Castle," a two-part story featuring Sandman. If anything, these two issues redeem the entire paperback. Tightly plotted, snappy dialogue, and a highly personal story that makes you feel for all sides of the story. Issue 615 revolves around three murder mysteries. Eventually, Spider-Man Spider-Sleuthes that it's Sandman, only, here's the twist -- now he's created an entire sandcastle on Governors Island, an abandoned part of the city, for a little girl called Keemia. He tends to her every need, cares for her, and keeps her warm at night. He calls her Princess, and she even calls him King, as he creates a sandcastle bed for her.

There's a tragedy behind Sandman, and we get to see it here. As it turns out, he never meant to murder those three people. It was his subconscious, acting out his desire to secure Keemia as his daughter. When Spider-Man accuses him of the murders, he genuinely doesn't even know about them. He wants to be a good person, but he doesn't really know how to do it. So when he tries, it comes out wrong. It's basically kidnapping, as Spider-Man puts it:
We BOTH know Keemia isn't REALLY your daughter! You're lacking some ESSENTIAL PARTS for BABY-MAKING!
Sandman: SO? I'm the only guy who ever TREATED Keemia like a father! Even when I was in Riker's I sent her gifts! I sent her letters! Then, one day, while I was visiting just on her OWN--Keemia started calling me "Daddy!" You know what that MEANS to a freak like ME, who's never had anything PERMANENT in his life? Everything always SLIPS THROUGH MY FINGERS--Like YOU-KNOW-WHAT!
You try and take this AWAY from me, and I'll NEVER forgive you, wall-crawler! YOU HEAR ME?!? NEVER!!
Spider-Man does "save" Keemia from Flint Marko, intending to return her to her abuelita, only to find out that Social Services found her to be unfit to care for children -- putting Keemia into foster care. It's an awful ending that makes Keemia feel betrayed by Spider-Man.

Not only has she been taken away from her daddy, she's lost her entire family too, thanks to Spider-Man. Flint's lost a person that made his life whole. Life is harsh. Nobody wins. It's a tragic lesson to teach a child, and that's the life that Spider-Man has to bear. I love to read these kinds of stories here. For all the fantastic, out-of-this-world antics like a man made out of a sand, they're grounded in real human emotion and tragedy. "Keemia's Castle" comes highly recommended.

Javier Pulido on the art does a fantastic job with the story. The layouts keep the story at a fast pace, and are different every page. Here are a couple of two-page spreads.


In memory of the Daily Bugle building, Mayor J. Jonah Jameson offers up plans for a "Freedom of the Press" Tower, plastered with his grinning face. Hilarious!

His face is bigger than those two buildings! I guess it's reflective of his ego!

Spider-sleuth in knee high socks! Winter Spidey!

As Spider-Man delivers a "finishing blow," Sandman cries out for the person that was keeping him sane. Powerful moment:

The covers are brilliant, for each of these issues. Here are the collages I made for it.

I've already written too many words for this paperback. But there's also a Dark Reign one-shot featuring "The List," apparently a list of people that Norman Osborn's made to "take down" one way or another. It's a nice, topical-for-the-time issue that focuses on Peter Parker as an Everyman. There are some chilling parallels between this story and the modern-day President, and there may come a day when people find that the emperor has no clothes, so to speak.

The trade is bookended with another Dark Reign one-shot, revolving around Jessica Jones's baby, and Osborn as the Goblin. I think they used oneshots to tell different parts of Dark Reign, so if you wanted to see Osborn apprehended, this is the one to read.

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Superior Spider-Man #1: Peter Parker and the Heel Turn Hero

"Heel turn" is a term commonly used in professional wrestling. It's when a guy that people generally like and root for, a "face," does a 180 and starts doing nasty things. Like cheating when the ref isn't looking, making foul moves in secret.

The same can be applied to super-comics. In fact, I think that Marvel has been doing this for a number of their titles, for the past two decades. Like, remember the time Norman Osborn, the Green Goblin Norman Osborn, donned Iron Man's suit but in the colors of the American Flag and became the Iron Patriot? Or, the time that Norman as the Iron Patriot started his own group of Avengers, called the Dark Avengers and the fictional public had no problem with it? Or more recently, how about the time Captain America was revealed to actually be an Agent of H.Y.D.R.A.??

The latest kick I'm on is this idea of the heel turn, applied to Spider-Man. It happened several years ago, but still it happened. Peter Parker was fighting a dying Dr. Octopus and, in a final climactic battle, Dr. Octopus switched bodies with Peter Parker. But here's a twist -- Otto also gained the memories of Peter Parker, including the lesson of power and responsibility. So when he took the mantle of Peter Parker, he knew that he must also take the mantle of Spider-Man. But he wouldn't make the same mistakes as Peter did. Instead, he would be better at crime-fighting, better at protecting his loved ones -- a Superior Spider-Man.

Which brings us to the first issue of Superior Spider-Man (2013).
by Dan Slott, Ryan Stegman, and Giuseppe Camuncoli

Superior opens up with a great page. Four panels. Spider-Man died. Otto wants to be a better Spider-Man now. Let's go fight bad guys.

That's exactly what he does. It's a whole new Sinister Six, composed of Overdrive, Boomerang, Shocker, the Living Brain, Beetle, and Speed Demon, and they're making a heist on a science lab, stealing a barometric oscillator. Yeah, I barely know these bad guys, and it doesn't really matter what they're stealing either. It's in how Spider-Man handles it that's interesting here.

Every difference here hits you like fresh air, telling you that this isn't your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. He brutally slashes Boomerang with the claws on his gloves. He runs away from the Sinister Six when they start overpowering him. 

It's all of the power, but barely any of the responsibility. The cognitive dissonance is deafening. The costume is a little different, but it's still Spider-Man, isn't it? How could he do this? How could they let him do this?

Superior drew a lot of ire initially, for this dramatic change. Fans wrote letters in outrage, that they were sickened to see Peter Parker die in the body of one of his greatest nemeses, spat on by his loved ones and desecrated so easily. I felt the same way a while ago too. Back when Peter made a deal with Mephisto, the lord of the Underworld, to trade his marriage for the safety of his Aunt May. It was such a jarring change for me. It was then that I learned, Spider-Man wasn't just a character. He was a property owned by a company, the purpose of which was to keep selling merchandise. And a Peter Parker that was married wasn't profitable, so they changed it, forcefully.

My opinion on that story hasn't changed. It's despicable, and does no justice to the character I've grown up with and admired. Superior is different -- we still get to see "Peter Parker," only it's through the perspective of his nemesis, Otto Octavius. Peter's life was so rich because he had a life both with the mask and without, and that's no different with "Superior" Peter. He's hard at work in his job at Horizon Labs, astounding his boss with a quote-unquote "Magnificent" project. But still, he'll never get the proper credit for it as Otto:

Ultimately in the issue "Peter" devises a genius strategy to take down the Sinister Six. Just like Peter would have done, he stuck a tracer on them in their initial encounter, but instead of following them to their lair, he listens in on their conversations and plans his attack. This even frees up his time to have dinner with Mary Jane -- a task that Peter would have had far too much guilt over to skip hunting down supervillains.

Another difference: "Peter" calls in both the police and the Daily Bugle, to see firsthand his takedown of the Sinister Six. He sets up a street-wide web blockade and has a solution for each member of the Sinister Six and, when he has the leader pinned down, he yells in a fit, punching him between exclamations,
I'M beating the Sinister Six! And EVERYONE is going to see it!
And they'll get the message! THIS is what happens...
...when you cross THIS Spider-Man!
His knuckles get bloodier with every panel, and Boomerang yelps, with blood and fear in his eyes, "Please.... don't!" Don't what? What is he asking Spider-Man not to do? The answer is clear: this is a Spider-Man that's willing to cross the line, to kill a criminal. It's such a powerful statement made in a mere two words. And he's about to do it, until finally, someone's hand stops him. It can only be explained as, the ghost of Peter Parker?!?

What a brilliant twist. Somehow, Peter's consciousness, or some kind of Peter's sensibility, remains in Peter Parker's body. There's still hope for our hero yet, in this heel turn hero.

As a reader, there's the seed of an internal conflict here. "Peter" in this issue was able to have dinner with a loved one, uninterrupted. The Peter we traditionally know wouldn't have been able to keep that appointment. "Peter" in this issue devised a plan that made Spider-Man a force to reckon with, and fear, for criminals. But at the same time, "Peter" is acting in a brutal manner that's beyond admiration. He even borders on cruel to his coworkers.

So, who will "win"? The Peter we know, or the Peter we just met? These conflicts and more are explored in the next 32 issues. I hope you'll stick around for the ride!

Read about the Superior Spider-Saga:

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Amazing Spider-Man: Died in Your Arms Tonight

Comic books are a little like babies. They have a regular schedule. They cost a lot of money. And most of all, sometimes it takes several years for you to know if it'll turn out all right. This happened to me, for Superior Spider-Man. Maybe you've heard of it, you know -- it's the one where Dr. Octopus forcefully switched his dying body with Peter's healthy body, and in so doing stole Peter's body -- along with his memories and the lesson of great power and great responsibility. So it's the story of how Otto Octavius, as Peter Parker, becomes the Superior Spider-Man.

It took me a while, but I'm really seeing the thought they've put into this story. The whole series recently went on sale, and, well, I couldn't help myself. Dan Slott gets Otto Octavius. Or at least, he presents a really compelling version of Otto. The things that motivate him, the people that he cares about, and his history. It's a great story, and a great character to chew over and compare to Peter Parker.

So we're going to start from the beginning(ish) of his run with Dr. Octopus. We'll start with Amazing #600.

Amazing Spider-Man: Died in Your Arms Tonight
Collects Amazing Spider-Man #600-601, Annual #36
By Dan Slott, John Romita Jr. et al

Issue 600 opens in the weirdest way -- not with Spider-Man swinging across the city, not with Spider-Man saving someone from a robbery. But with Dr. Octopus in the hospital. As it turns out, he's seeing a physician for all of the head injuries he's sustained over the years. In fact, there's even a two-page montage of him getting hit on the head!
What's up doc? Your blood pressure I guess. Eventually the physician gives him the prognosis: not only has he sustained bodily damage over the years, but the radiation from the arms fused to his body has changed him. His body can't repair the damage like it used to, and he only has months to live. The news enrages him, and he lashes out at the doctor:
I refuse to dwindle away into nothingness! I am Otto Octavius!
One of the greatest minds in history! I swear, I will leave my mark upon you--all of you--the whole world!
And when I'm gone, none of you will ever forget the name of Doctor Octopus!
It's a dark transition, and we never get to see what happens. We just see the arms coming out at her, and we never even see his face. This idea of a "legacy" for Dr. Octopus gets dialed up to 11, and we get a sense of where the writers wants to put Doctor Octopus. It's kind of a new place for Dr. Octopus, an evolution of the scheming mastermind that we originally saw, all the way in Amazing #3.

Enough about the doctor. Issue 600 is a milestone, and it celebrates that milestone with the wedding of May Parker and Jay Jameson (the recently-introduced father of J. Jonah Jameson!). Peter assumes that he can web swing over to the dinner rehearsal, only to learn that he's out of web fluid, making him late for the dinner! If only the buses ran on time. This human life is balanced with this "amazing" life, the life of Spider-Man. It's a great chance for Peter to let off steam, to don this "goofball" persona that Dan Slott has nailed.

Later you learn about Dr. Octopus's Plan. He's made millions of little Octo-bots to hijack the city's electrical grid, train system, and so on. He unveils his grand plan via TV, to create New York City as the "City of the Future," a completely automated city that attends to everyone's needs, a city where the buses run on time.

It's just that, well, the Octo-bots are linked telepathically to his brain, and his brain actually kind-of wants to subconsciously kill Spider-Man. Oops. Eventually, Spidey along with his pal the Human Torch track down Otto's lair, where he's broadcasting the telepathic message.

It's never addressed in this issue, what Otto's real plan was. It may very well have been to contribute to society and make a name for himself, but we can't really tell from this issue. Just looking at those few panels, it reads like Spider-Man is bullying Otto. Doesn't it?

Anyways, Spider-Man wins, and the city is free from the malfunctions of the Doc Octo-bots. But there are more Octo-bots that carry the Doc away to safety, safe to scheme once again. Notice how the last panel above, says, "I was going to do something great," meekly. As they carry him off, his tone changes.
I can see now that Spider-Man is not irrelevant. He will always be there to hinder my plans...
...even if they are something great for the entire world. So be it. If he will not allow me to do something great...
...I shall do something great... and terrible!
It's an awful foreshadowing of the events that we'll see 80 issues later, in "Ends of the Earth" (Issue #'s 682-687 of Amazing). But at least for now, the Doc is out of commission, and Peter is free to attend his Aunt's wedding, and deliver her down the aisle. It's a touching moment that they have, where they acknowledge that, no, she may not be your biological mother Peter. But she has mothered you and developed you into the wonderful man you are today. She calls him "son," and he calls her, "mother." Because they are.
It's interesting here how May adds a variation of Peter's mantra on Power and Responsibility. It's almost like her own inflection of the phrase, applied to Peter's human life. Where Uncle Ben's usage of those words spurred Peter to be a super hero, May's usage of those words ground him internally. We have the power to be happy, and it's our responsibility to seize it.
The two lovebirds get married and, there you have it, issue #600 in a nutshell. But not before a surprise appearance from that one redhead -- Mary Jane!

601 is a direct follow-up to this issue. But it almost feels like a commercial break. While you wait for the actual story to happen, you're meant to read the issue in suspense, wondering if Peter will make the appointment that he planned with Mary, for the very next day. The problem is, he had drunk so much at the wedding, that he can't remember where or when to meet her! He goes out at Spider-Man to get some air -- stops a newspaper stand thief there, saves people from a fire here. Until one of his adventures finally reminds him of where they were meant to be -- only, we find out later that MJ was asleep for the whole day and left him hanging! It's a tease of an issue with very little consequence.

601 is followed up with Amazing Spider-Man Annual #36, which is, unfortunately another commercial break. While at May's engagement party in Boston, Peter learns of his cousins (including Ben Reilly!) who live there. He takes down a supervillain, to realize later that Ben had done something to some people, involving arson and perhaps murder. We're not told what it is, so it's really to set up some new storyline with Ben Reilly, who, I guess, has returned? I never really knew his whole story, but if it's good, I'm willing to be on board.
Issue 600 has a number of bonus covers and bonus stories. They're all cute slice-of-life stories about Spider-Man. One of my favorites is a discussion that a couple of schoolchildren have about being Spider-Man while on the playground. One of them theorizes that it'd be super-cool -- that he'd reveal his identity to the public and get all of the attention and glamour. But the other reminds him, Spider-Man has enemies who would just love to pretty on his loved ones! They go back and forth on topics like Spider-Man's costume, and how he would have to launder it, until eventually, they decide. . .
It's just wrong -- that Spider-Man is cool, but being Spider-Man isn't cool. That's like, so totally messed up. 
And, well, that's just a great way to sum up the plight of Spider-Man. It's one of the reasons that I love reading Spider-Man. There's this sense of escape -- you can swing across the rooftops of NYC! The city is your playground! Yet there's this inner conflict that makes him so relatable. Spider-Man -- the hero who could be you.

Next up: More Spider-Man!

Read about the Superior Spider-Saga:
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