Spectacular Spider-Man Vols 4 and 5: Disassembled and Sins Remembered

Volume 4: Disassembled
by Paul Jenkins, Michael Ryan, Humberto Ramos and more
collects Spectacular Spider-Man #15-20

Issues 15-16 tell the two-part story "Royal Flush," featuring Captain America foe Ana Soria, AKA "Spider Queen," a woman who's able to control folks with the "insect gene," which Spider-Man apparently has. It's an extremely straightforward story, one that could be told in the (kid-friendly and now defunct) "Marvel Adventures" imprint of Marvel.

Well, it would be extremely straightforward, if not for the fall-out from Peter's forced kiss with the Spider Queen, leading to some tension between him and MJ for the next arc, and a terrible, horrible, no-good very-bad transformation for Peter.

That first kiss was all part of Ana Soria's plan to reshape Manhattan into a world of insect drones. Predictably, it doesn't work out, and I can't help but feel this was only a re-hash of another "Peter almost undergoes infidelity" story, similar to 2003's "Peter kissed the bug lady Shathra" in J. Michael Straczynski and John Romita Jr's Amazing Spider-Man. But worse, and, combined with Stan Lee's "Peter almost becomes a Spider" story from Amazing.

Somewhat redeeming is the process of Peter's transformation. Superhero action almost becomes superhero horro, as you see the little details from Peter transform, and how the world around him reacts. The dog across the street, who never liked him to begin with, now barks at him even more than usual. A smart detail to convey Peter's transformation, almost like Jeff Goldblum's transformation in The Fly (1986), one of my favorite sci-fi movies. I will never forget the scene where his fingernails fall off. Yeesh.

All in all, a re-hash of earlier, better stories.

Volume 5: Sins Remembered
by Barnes and Eaton
collects issues 23-26

So, back in 2004, the Spider-teams revealed that Gwen Stacy had an affair with . . . her murderer, Norman Osborn, and bore two children out of it, Gabriel and Sarah.

The less said about it, the better. But they had to wring four issues out of the fallout, where Peter visits Sarah in her home, Paris, after she's taken to the hospital for a potential suicide/overdose. You know, the girl who's rapidly aged to her twenty-somethings (it's kind of like progeria?) and looks just like Gwen Stacy, the love of his life. In, you know, the city of love, Paris, away from his wife in Manhattan.

What could go wrong?

The story once again deals with infidelity, and is kind of a crime/mystery/family drama. It's just unfortunate they had this material to deal with, an ugly retcon of a dearly-loved character's history. There's no denying that Sarah's a bombshell like her mother, but it's way too weird knowing that we're expected to expect this amorous tension between Peter Parker and Sarah. God no.

Paul Jenkins isn't a bad writer, and I don't think Sara Barnes is either, but these were way off the mark. A forgettable volume 4 followed up by a wish-you-could-forget volume 5. I'm willing to believe in Spider-Men that can shoot webs out of their hands. But not a guy who will go to Paris and go on dates with the girl young enough to be his daughter, but just so happens to look like his dearly-departed high school sweetheart. Yeesh.

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I'm Feeling a Little Hungry Today. . .

Thanks Hobby! And Happy Pi Day! Courtesy Hobgoblin, and Amazing Spider-Man #651.

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Thor Vols 1 and 2: The Goddess of Thunder and Who Holds the Hammer?

Volume 1: The Goddess of Thunder collects Issues 1-5 by Aaron, Dauterman, Molina, Wilson
Volume 2: Who Holds the Hammer? collects Issues 6-8, Annual #1, What If? #10 by Aaron, Dauterman, Stevenson, CM Punk, Guillory, Sauvage, and Truman

Jason Aaron continues his run on Thor with the new, adjectiveless 2014 series, "Thor." As a result of the "Original Sin" crossover event, the male Thor (he-Thor?) had secrets whispered to him by Nick Fury, making him unworthy of the magical hammer Mjolnir. What follows is the aftermath, of a woman picking up Mjolnir on the moon and becoming, Thor, the goddess of thunder.

The series of events spans wide, from the inter-realm invasion of the Frost Giants into a Roxxon Headquarters on Earth, to the bar conversations between Thor Odinson and his friends. Jason Aaron knows how to set up a story, how to tell a story, and by Odin's beard, it's good. The first volume uses the Frost Giants story to usher in the new Thor. Literally, Odinson and Thor get into a fight, and when Odinson sees the way she wields Mjolnir, he cedes to it, and gives her his namesake. Just look at this superb use of sound effects:
Dauterman's pencils have a rough, indy feel with them especially on the fantastic creatures, but the clean lines in his characters manage to maintain this dignity of a God. Who else is going to draw all those ice barnacles on the Frost Giants of Jotunheim! It's a hell of a read.

Jason Aaron is telling so many stories at once here: The rise of Roxxon Industries, Odin's return to the throne of Asgardia (formerly Asgard) and the politics that it entails, Odinson's (and everyone else's) quest to discover the identity of Thor, Malekith's political machinations, and most of all Thor's new role as the Goddess of Thunder and the protector of Midgard. And it's all done in 5 issues, and it sets up the next volume. Aaron is just on a whole other level when it comes to comic book storytelling. This is the kind of comic that's so good, it makes me feel bad for missing it in singles.

Volume 2 collects the final arc of the series, issues 6 through 8, as well as the annual and a "What If?" story from the 70s', what if Jane Foster found the hammer. In the main story, Odin the All-Father unleashes the Destroyer Armor to bring Thor back and reveal her identity, but she isn't going to comply with that, leading to the first fight between the (all-old) Destroyer and the (All-New) Thor! Along the way, we check in with S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Roz Solomon and Midgard Ambassador Jane Foster.

Along the way, Odinson finally completes his list of potential Thors, and accuses the identity of the new Thor! Except he's wrong, and only we get to see who she really is on the final page. . . This story's got it all: family drama, political intrigue, superhero action, buttressed by the energetic art from Russ Dauterman. I love the way he incorporates sound into the page:

The Annual collects three stories, of the current Thor the Avenger, King Thor, and young Thor, all of them a fun, thoughtful take on the character, and the final story is a "What If?" from the 70's, asking what would happen if Jane found the hammer instead of Donald Blake, in the original Journey into Mystery. It's a far more complete story than I expected, going over that initial day, and then going through the 150 issues that Thor incurred since, but with Jane as Thordis instead.

The Amazing Spider-Man: Learning to Crawl

by Dan Slott and Ramon Perez

"Learning to Crawl" was released in those weird Marvel-numbered "1.X" issues, which made it a really easy reason to simply overlook and to continue picking up the "main" series, Amazing Spider-Man. It really seems like a variation on an old concept: folding the satellite Spider-titles into the main title, now published weekly, if your wallet can handle that kind of thing. But now it's, "hey look, it's the main title with these different numbers. So now you can buy more main Spidey, and give us more money!" What an idea.

Anyways, as for the story itself: I really, really liked it. It's billed as "the chapter you never knew about the story you know by heart," expanding on the first 60 days of Peter Parker's life with his alter-ego, Spider-Man. Dan "the Man" Slott shows off his Spider-knowledge here, perfectly conveying the teenager that Peter was in Amazing Fantasy, in a modern way in 2014. The secret he feels he has to keep from his Aunt May, the need he feels to honor his Uncle Ben, the responsibility he has to protect his classmates, makes so much sense like you always knew it was there, but just discovered.
Peter has just "landed" in his room in the Spider-Man costume, and tells his Aunt "Don't come in!" when...

When you're a teenager, you feel like the weight of the world is on your shoulders, and it's a struggle that we get to see through Peter, and reflected to the foil here, "Clayton Cole." Clayton is a teen genius (teenius?) just like Peter, but never learned the responsibility that Peter did. When he's one of the first to see Spider-Man in the wrestling ring (in a nod to modern sensibilities, Clayton is the one who "made Spidey viral," by posting his footage on the web!), he's determined to put on a mask and make a name for himself as well, as the sound-based costumed character, "Clash."

SPOILER ALERT: it doesn't go so well, and causes Peter to question ever putting the mask on. There's a touching, hilarious moment with Aunt May at the end that serves as a "retcon" for why Spider-Man jokes all the time. Believable if you want, and if you don't, well, no big deal.

There's no doubt about it: Dan Slott just gets Peter Parker. He gets what makes him tick, and this is the perfect showcase for it. Back then, when Slott was a "breaking" author, he penned a four-issue miniseries about Spider-Man and the Human Torch, highlighting four different times in their relationship together. It was a story that was half-nostalgia/tribute, and half-just damn good storytelling about these characters we've grown to love. Learning to Crawl is no different.


Ramon Perez does a wonderful job of re-creating the world of 1960s' Peter Parker, in a modern manner. He "riffs" off of Steve Ditko's 9-grid pages in the early issues of Amazing, blowing them up for action scenes or slicing them apart for longer scenes. I really love his layouts, and below is an example two pages.
Peter goes to school counseling for his recent school behavior, and learns to "code switch," so to speak
Having a sound-based costumed character in a soundless medium format means you can do some fun stuff with conveying that sense. Clash's gadgets allow him to take sound from the environment and amplify them as a weapon, and here's what it looks like:
Clash and Spider-Man brawl in the Daily Bugle office

Couldn't help myself -- here's one more layout from issue 1.1:
Peter performs for the world -- not because he wants to, but because he has to.

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Daredevil: Back in Black Volumes 4 and 5: Identity and Supreme

Back in Black Volume 4: Identity
collects issues 15-20
by Soule, Sudzuka, Panosian, and Garney

"Identity" contains two three-issue storyarcs: "The Seventh Day," and "Purple," both very pensive and introspective stories for Matt. As he struggles with the fallout of previous issue, he weighs the "worth" of Daredevil against the pain he inflicts on others. It's all framed as a conversation with a Catholic priest, and the flashbacks and forths between that and Matt's brushes with death leading to a fight with Bullseye, but there isn't very much consequence to it. We don't get to hear how Bullseye came back (From Waid/Samnee's storyarc in DD #25), and Matt easily takes care of Bullseye.

The next storyarc is about Matt's encounter with the Purple Children, and how he got his secret identity back. Color me impressed at this retcon: since the story is from Matt's point of view, he makes for an unreliable narrator, when he recounts to the priest that the details are fuzzy to him. Whether he actually visited ex-lover Kirsten while under the influence of Kilgrave, or whether he dreamed it, for example. It's such a sly, comic book-y way to explain the restoration of Matt's secret identity while being able to leave some details ambiguous.

Sudzuka pencils the first half while Garney pencils/inks the second. I've praised his drawings of Daredevil before, and they're just as good here -- but there are instances where the pencilling is rough and unpolished, but they decided to go with it anyways. Not what I'd expect in a finished Marvel comic book.

I think there was a lot of overwriting to compensate for the flashbacks, which makes this collection weaker. There's a lot of telling rather than showing, and when there are attempts at honoring the transition that Matt's life went through, it's over broad strokes of explanation that do the job, without much of a story. When Matt tells Kirsten that he has to leave, his planet needs him, there's a page spent on Kirsten's reaction. But was it enough?

What I had to do to really come to grips with that resolution, was understand that these stories weren't meant to give us a previous writer's Matt Murdock. If you wanted those, just go and reread those. These comics are meant to give us Soule's Matt Murdock, a man who loves being Daredevil despite the guilt he feels over how it affects the people he loves. A man who swears he has a way to end crime in New York, using his guile with the rules of law. That's the Matt we're going to see, and that's as "true" a Matt Murdock as Mark Waid's Matt Murdock.

Back in Black Volume 5: Supreme
by Soule, Sudzuka, Morgan, Garney, and Milla
collects issues 21-28

Just how frequently is DD being published? There are three (three!) pencillers on the series, and it's been that way ever since Volume 2. It does awful things to the collection, but you wouldn't think it looking at this one. Issues 21-25 tell the story of "Supreme," and are penciled exclusively by Alec Morgan. Think courtroom encounters of the superheroic kind -- Matt's got a plan to get rid of crime in New York, and he uses his position at the A.D.A to do it, court by court, word by word. Each issue is a meticulous step towards the Supreme Court, with superhero action in between. With Soule's law expertise, it really reads like a courtroom drama that happens to have Daredevil, and Alec Morgan's subdued lines let you breathe the story in through the words. Great pairing for this storyarc, with huge implications for the legal world of the Marvel Universe. You can tell Soule put his best work into this one.

Issues 26-28 comprise "Land of the Blind," a three-part action thriller against "The Beast," a mystical creature that gives the ninja clan, the Hand, its power, as well as Tenfingers, from the very first storyarc of Soule's "Chinatown." Blindspot's loyalties are put to the test and, ultimately, he chooses the right thing. It's typical superhero fare, with one wrinkle: Sam Chung (Blindspot) gets on his soapbox for a while to figure the math on the number of geniuses and brilliant people that the American immigration system neglects, illegal or otherwise, explaining the title: "Land of the free? Land of the BLIND," he says. Soule is showing his hand here, wearing his beliefs on his sleeve about immigration. Which I don't mind, Marvel has always had room in their comics regarding social justice topics, so while slightly jarring, it is OK in my book.

BONUS PANEL: Daredevil versus the Hand, in a cool splash-ish-page of dodging ninja stars:

After "Supreme," they folded Daredevil back to its original numbering, and I started collecting the series in single issues. Check it out!

Daredevil #595, "Mayor Fisk" Pt One, Pt Two, Pt Three

Trades: Coming to America, Insane in the Brain

New Super-Man Volume 2: Coming to America
by Yang, Tan, Bogdanovic et al.
Collects issues 7-12

This volume collects three 2-issue stories, "Training Day," "Coming to America," and "The Zero Ultimatum." Each issues packs in so many ideas and jump seamlessly from one to the other, that you'd only see they were separate stories if you looked for the titles on the credits splash pages.

"Training Day" zooms in on Chinese New Year, with Kenan (New Super-Man)'s frustration that he lost his father in the previous volume, and with Baixi (Bat-Man) visiting the Bat-academy that trained him to be Batman.

Because China has superhero schools, duh. The Joker of China makes her debut here, kind of, in the form of Bat-Man's sister, as "the Alpaca"! There's an interesting distinction here: where the Joker represents anarchy and chaos in America, the Alpaca represents a different shift from China's authoritarian government, but in a similar direction: "Don't tell me you're one of those pro-democracy WACKJOBS!" Baixi says, and his sister replies, "What-?! What's democracy got to do with anything?! I want FREEDOM!" We've been trained by comics to think of it as "good guys" and "bad guys," but here there is some moral ambiguity, which is a refreshing way to think of the Justice League (of China).

The sheer number of ideas keeps the momentum going. There's the White China Triad, a group of mercenaries hired to acquire the Door Rings of "Diyu," the hell of China, along with the Chinese legend of the White Snake . There's a certain amount of magical realism to allow for the world of superheroes that any comic book reader is familiar with, along with the fantasy world of Chinese legends. Unlike the traditional Superman's pseudo-science-fiction origin, the New Super-Man's powers come from his Qi, his life force, and he finds a tutor, the blind Master I Ching to help him understand the eight trigrams of his powers (for example, the trigram of the thigh, which grants him the power of x-ray vision). There are these moments of world-building paired with these small moments of humor, making for a reading experience unlike any other at DC.

Wolverine: Weapon X Volume 2: Insane in the Brain
by Jason Aaron, Yanick Paquette and

Kind of like "One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest," but with God Brain Machines and Chainsaw-hands-man. Logan wakes up to find that he's in an insane asylum, the Dunwich Sanatorium, run by the enigmatic Dr. Rotwell. What follows is a horror mystery that results in yet more psychic trauma for poor man Logan.

"Insane in the Brain" takes issues 6-9, and there's a one-shot in issue 10, titled "Love and the Wolverine." There's a clever time-lapse in issue 8 (9?) between Logan in the asylum, and out of it, but it's somewhat of a letdown that the arc doesn't completely "resolve," with Dr. Rotwell living on to torture Wolverine with a secret phrase that makes him murder randomly.

I struggled with the substance of this trade. Wolvie's inner monologue about the confusion in the asylum doesn't allow for much character development, and the 10th issue about his relationship SF reporter seemed too quick. But that's the lives of superheroes I guess.

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