Waiting for the Trade: Spider-man vs. Venom

Waiting for the Trade

by Bill Miller 

Spider-man: The Vengeance of Venom

by David Micheline & Peter David; art by Erik Larsen, Mark Bagley (and others)

collects Amazing Spider-man 332-333, 346-347, 361-363, and 374-375 and Spider-Man: The Trial of Venom and excerpts from Amazing Spider-man 373, 388, Annual 25-26, Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-man Annual 12 and Web of Spider-man Annual 8.

 Why I Bought This: Venom is my favorite Spider-man villain and this is a collection of stories from the character’s golden era including my favorite single-issue of Spider-man (issue 347) when he and Venom battle on the island. While I already owned the Spider-man Venom Returns trade that also collects issues 332-347, this one is a larger volume and I found it on Amazon for $5 (including shipping). At that price I wanted the additional stories, plus I love this cover which recreates the cover of issue 347.

 

The Plot: Venom hates Spider-man a lot, knows Peter’s secret identity, doesn’t trigger his spider sense and will stop at nothing to kill him. Then just when it can’t get any worse than Venom for Spidey, Carnage shows up. Overall the trade starts with the third Venom-Spider-man story and proceeds chronologically until the conclusion of their initial animosity.

(spoilers below)

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Waiting for the Trade – Spider-man

Waiting for the Trade 

by Bill Miller 

Spider-man the Next Chapter vol. 3

Written by John Byrne and Howard Mackie with Gregory Wright and A.A. Ward

Pencils by John Byrne, Lee Weeks, Graham Nolan, John Romita Jr., Klaus Janson &  Erik Larsen with Andy Kuhn.

collects Amazing Spider-man (vol 2) 13-19, Peter Parker: Spiderman 13-19 and Spider  Woman (vol. 3) #9

 Why I Bought This: It includes some Eddie Brock-Venom stories I’d never read before, which will always get my money eventually. In this case Venom is stalking the Sinister Six.

 

The Plot: This isn’t a plot so much as a collection of sequential issues from an era that is generally not well-regarded when Marvel first began arbitrarily canceling titles just to launch new #1s. To the extent that there is a single story here it is Peter dealing with Mary Jane’s presumed death in a plane crash.

 (spoilers below)

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Waiting for the Trade = Spider-man

Waiting for the Trade

 
Amazing Spider-man:
Flying Blind
Written by Dan Slott
& Mark Waid

Illustrated by
Humberto Ramos, Emma Rios, Giuseppe Camuncoli & Kano

Collects Amazing
Spiderman 674-677 and Daredevil 8

 

Why I Bought This: It
features Black Cat, who is my favorite character in the Spider-verse. Interestingly
it took me two years to track this thing down. Twice I went to several stores
on Free Comic Book Day and none of them carried this trade. I finally bought it
on Amazon a few weeks ago for about $7.

 

The Plot: The
Black Cat story sees her accused of a crime and Spidey getting DD to defend
her. There are also stories involving the Vulture running a teen gang and the
Sinister Six battling the Intelligentsia.

 (spoilers below)

 
Chapter 1 – A dude in wings falls from the sky to his death.
We find there have been a rash of falling deaths of late, which police chalk up
to the recently concluded “Spider-Island” arc: the theory is people who got
spider-powers in that story are web slinging when their powers cut out and they
die. Meanwhile Kingpin is sad that his spider powers cut out but cheers up when
a Horizon employee offers to sell him spider-sense jammers. Meanwhile Spidey
wins a fight with some robot cops. Meanwhile we see a teen runaway recruited
into the flying gang. Meanwhile MJ and Glory Grant go clubbing. Meanwhile Peter
and Carlie Cooper bump into each other for the first time since breaking up.
They realize they are both working on the same case and agree to work together.
Meanwhile teen recruit boy learns this gang is being run by the Vulture.

Chapter 2 – Spidey and Carlie do some CSI stuff at the
police lab. Vulture tells the new kid for being in his gang: they get to fly
around and steal stuff for him then at the end of the day they get to keep a
little bit for themselves. Then for some inexplicable reason we see Vulture’s head
out is above the club MJ and Gloria are at. The gang kids exit through the club
and pick a fight with Glory’s boyfriend. This prompts MJ to call Peter just as
he and Carlie had deduced Vulture’s scheme so Spidey heads off to the club
(without Carlie). The Vulture boys execute a mid-air heist but new kid has too
much conscience for Tooms’ liking so he cuts the power to his wings. Spidey
saves him in the nick of time. Spidey then fights the kids (who have laser
scythes) as Carlie arrives. She deduces the Vulture operates all their wings on
remote and tells Spidey so he can use magnetic webbing to jam the single.
Vulture retaliates by throwing a car at Carlie but Spidey saves her. Vulture
escapes. Carlie decides she can trust Spidey enough to work with him, though
she is still upset he kept his identity from her when they were dating. The
book ends with Carlie going to see MJ to talk about Peter.

Chapter 3 – Doc Ock’s debuts a bulky exoskeleton look as his
call to his together his latest Sinister Six of Sandman, Chameleon, Rhino,
Electro and Mysterio for one final big plan (Ock is terminally ill as of ASM
600). Chameleon has infiltrated the Intelligentsia (a group of super smart Hulk
and FF villains originally led by the Leader but now led by Modok). The
Intelligentsia takes down some Russian superheroes with a teleporter ray that
sends its target into orbit. Ock wants their weapon so the Sinister Six attack
them. The rest of the issue is a big fight that Ock’s team ultimately wins
allowing them to take possession of Modok’s tech.

Chapter 4 – Pete is down in the dumps about Carlie dumping
him and decides to take out his frustrations on some muggers when low and
behold the Black Cat crosses his path. He perks up and hits on her but Felicia
refuses to be the rebound girl. When she gets to her apartment she finds a
spider tracer on her costume and then police bust in and arrest her. The next
morning Pete goes to Horizon to learn that Felicia was arrested for stealing
from the lab. He knows she is innocent since he was fighting the crooks with
her when this went down. Pete tracks down Daredevil and asks him to help clear
Felicia. Felicia meanwhile has already broken out of police custody. Spidey and
DD come across a hostage situation but when DD doesn’t register it Pete
realizes it is all an illusion as it was a hologram projector stolen from
Horizon. They make their way into a tunnel which then collapses and as Pete
tries to crawl out he has the bad luck to grab a livewire as we see Felicia
standing over the heroes.

Chapter 5 – Foggy Nelson discovers the grave of Matt’s
father has been dug up. DD recovers and takes out the fuse box before Spidey
dies. He grabs Felicia and she says wasn’t trying to kill Spidey just hurt him
for leading the police to her apartment with his tracer. Spidey denies that and
everyone agrees to work together. They search for clues and find a guy locked
in a closet. He’s the one who sold Horizon out. DD detects the dude is poisoned
and has Spidey rush him to the hospital. While Spidey is gone DD asks Felicia
to steal something for him based on some conspiracy going on his own title with
a group called Black Spectre. They take out some generic thugs and disable an
elaborate security system. The last safeguard are the holograms which DD
ignores. DD and Felicia share a kiss after they complete the theft. Then a
flashback is actually working for these Spectre people and the whole frame-up
of her was a ruse to let her get close to DD. Meanwhile Pete sees them making
out and leaves (with the funny line “I think this is my super villain origin”).
DD takes Felicia home but before they can do the deed Matt gets the phone call
from Foggy about his father’s grave. 

 

Critical Thoughts: I’ll
take these on in order. I found the Vulture story to be a perfectly acceptable
comic book story. It’s not reinventing the wheel but it’s a fine use of one of
Spidey’s classic second tier rogues. I also found the personal life stuff with
Peter and Carlie to be well written and serve the purpose of setting a new
status quo for them. I never hated Carlie like so many other fans did. I
certainly get the general hate for the ending of Peter’s marriage to MJ,
particularly the way it was done; but I don’t think that should prejudice us
against every new love interest that comes down the pike in this title. I think
Carlie is a fine supporting character: she’s not great but she’s not terrible.
More importantly whether Peter dates her or not she can serve a role in the
title as his contact on the police force, something the titles have been
missing since the death of Jean DeWolf and that fits a good niche in
Spider-man’s street crime milieu. I suppose the only real flaw with the story
is the ridiculousness of Vulture (who is a senior citizen) keeping his
headquarters over a nightclub and that MJ happens to go that same nightclub at
just the right time to lead Peter there, but it’s not like Stan Lee and Gerry
Conway didn’t use the same type of coincidences all the time in their Spidey
stories.

I was not over fond of the Sinister Six vs. Intelligentsia
battle. Slott really upped the Six’s threat level his run on the title (they
would go on to take out the Avengers in a subsequent story arc). While I’m not
one to complain about taking villains seriously, I think this reads more like a
downgrade of the Intelligentsia than an upgrade for the Six; which is a real
shame since the team was just debuted a year earlier to be major Hulk villains
so why ruin that credibility so soon? I suppose you could say without the
Leader they are not at their full strength but it still strikes me as an
unnecessary choice.

Onto the main event, I enjoyed the Black Cat story quite a
bit. Admittedly I am prone to liking Black Cat stories anyway but I thought
this one was a fun use of her ambiguous relationship with the law and keeping
the reader guessing which side she is really on. I can’t say I love the idea of
Felicia hooking up with DD but since it is ultimately revealed she’s playing
him I’m okay with it. So much so that I went out and bought the DD trade that
follows this arc up, and I almost never buy DD trades. Again much like the
Vulture story it’s not going to go down in the annals of great Spidey stories
but it uses conventional story-telling and familiar characters well.

 
Grade: B. I
wouldn’t want to pay full price for this but for what Amazon sells it for it is
a rather entertaining collection of Spidey stories.

 

 

 

Waiting for the Trade – Spider-man

Waiting for the Trade

by Bill Miller

 
Peter Parker
Spider-man vol. 5: Senseless Violence

by Zeb Wells
collects Peter Parker:
Spider-man 51 – 57.

 

Why I Bought This: It’s
a collection of off-beat stories featuring Spider-man’s B-list villains and I
always enjoy a foray into funny Spidey territory. Plus it stars Shocker and
he’s always been my favorite second stringer.
The Plot: It’s
not so much a plot as a collection of consecutive issues. We basically have a
story from the villains’ perspective featuring Shocker and Hydroman, followed
by a gambling ring trying to make a reality show out of superhero fights, and
then a psychological piece on the Sandman.

(spoilers below)

Chapter 1 – We get a contrast of how Peter, Shocker and
Hydroman wake up on a weekday and prepare for their day. Spidey takes down
Stiltman on his morning commute. The two villains meet up punching a clock for
Justin Hammer, who has hired them to run some experiments on super powers and
weaponry. We get a nice contrast where Shocker is happy for the money, whereas
Hydroman misses the action of a superhero grudge match. The two villains get
laid off because Hammer is worried about accounting investigations so he can’t
fund illegal operations for the time-being. That night Peter has dinner with
Aunt May and frets whether he is doing any good as Spidey or if his life has
just devolved into a series of grudge matches. Across town Shocker and Hydroman
are also having dinner and they debate the value of whether to do small under
the radar jobs for money or making a splash and getting respect in the
underworld by killing Spider-man. They compromise by coming up with a plan that
will let them do both.

Chapter 2 – Shocker has Hydroman absorb extra water from the
city pipes. They enter a bank but flirting with a teller causes Hydroman to
dump some of his water, which alerts Spidey to their presence. In the bank
Shocker has Hydroman flood the safe deposit boxes so his vibro-gauntlet can pop
them all open at once. Shocker is gathering the loot when Spidey arrives. The
villains fight him but Shocker’s powers have a habit of deconstructing Hydroman
so the villains are kind of in each other’s way. Ultimately Spidey annoys
Shocker so much he overloads his suit which both evaporates his partner and
leaves him powerless and with broken ribs. As the police come Shocker asks
Spidey why he can’t let him escape just once as he claims he’d retire if he
could get away with just one big score. Spidey responds by explaining that is
the difference between being a good person and being selfish.

Chapter 3 – At school Pete is disciplining his students for
fighting but they have a hard time taking him seriously since Pete is still
bruised from last issue. Meanwhile we meet some rich dudes who feel there ought
to be a way to profit on all the superhero/super villain fights in NYC. They
hire Boomerang to pick a fight with Spidey while secret cameras film the whole
thing and let people bet on the winner. Spidey wins the fight relatively easily
and discovers the cameras via his Spider Sense.

Chapter 4 – Peter’s bruises continue to cause problems for
him at school. Meanwhile among the rich people running the video gambling ring:
one of them has a built a robot to fight Spidey, while another has hired
Scorpion to do it. The rich dudes decide to team the two up. That leads to a
humorous scene of Scorpion making small talk with the robot while they search
for Spidey. The fight scene continues the funny as the robot announces each
weapon before it uses it giving Spidey plenty of time to counter usually at
Scorpion’s expense. Then when Spidey talks to the robot it actually responds
and starts revealing who built it and the entire rich guys’ plan. Scorpion
smashes the robot but of course loses the solo fight to Spidey. Spidey talks
into what’s left of the robot’s camera and vows to take down those responsible,
leading the rich folks to call in their secret weapon.

Chapter 5 – Spidey and Reed Richards hack into the robot’s
memory while the gambling ring helplessly listens on in an absurdly funny bit.
We learn the ring has hired Rocket Racer to be Spidey’s next foe which doesn’t
even fill them with confidence. The robot’s memory does not reveal what is
actually happening just the broadcast locations. This leads to an even funnier
scene of Spidey donning a disguise of a cheap hood as Peter and trying to tough
some info out at an underground club. He gets the answer he wants (and a few
bruises) then changes back into Spidey just in time for Rocket Racer to arrive.
Rocket, who has been reformed for two decades real time, reveals that since
graduating college he has student loans to repay hence working for the gambling
ring. Spidey then throws the fight and since he was a 1,000 to 1 favorite to
win all the betters assume the game is rigged and riot. With that done Rocket
turns off the cameras letting Spidey know that while he agreed to fight Spidey,
Rocket had no intention of killing anyone and gives Spidey the address of the
paymasters. Spidey gets a few hits in and thanks to the robot’s memory tapes is
able to get them arrested on FCC violations.

Chapter 6 – Peter is spending a rainy night at home sewing
his costume. Meanwhile on the beach Sandman is reborn: literally as an infant.
At first it seems he quickly evolves into his traditional form but then we see
his traditional form and the infant coexisting as separate beings. Spidey ends
up at the beach and they fight as Spidey thinks Sandman is just kidnapping some
random kid. Meanwhile the police have set up a barricade around the beach only
to be confronted by a zombie-Sandman. Cut to Spidey, Sandman and Baby Sandman
eating a together at diner as this devolves into bad psychobabble. They see a
news report of zombie-Sandman’s rampage and head back to the beach where only
carnage remains. And then the tide comes in bringing female-Sandman.

Chapter 7 – Zombie Sandman is in an alley where makes sand
dogs and they eat some dude. Female Sandman talks about being feminine side and
how Baby-Sandman never got enough love. Spidey and the three good Sandmen track
down Evil (Zombie) Sandman. Good Sandman tries to fight Evil Sandman but loses.
A sand-dog collides into Baby Sandman causes him to be reborn into
stereotypical Teen Sandman. Female Sandman forcibly merges with Evil Sandman to
make him feel emotions and then he/they absorb the children for innocence. Good
Sandman doesn’t want to merge with Evil Sandman so Spidey gives a speech on
responsibility. Evil Sandman leaves and Good Sandman disintegrates into an
empty husk. Spidey concludes there was never really a good Sandman just the
real Sandman’s idealized version of himself this is why his reformation didn’t
stick.

 

Critical Thoughts:
The first two stories are good while the last one is terrible. Let’s take them
in turn.

I enjoyed the Shocker story. This is the version of the
character when he is written at his best: a formidable foe motivated strictly
by profit and with a knack for safecracking schemes. I think the parallel
between the villains daily lives and Peter’s daily life works quite well.

The gambling ring story is mostly played for laughs and
succeeds in bringing the laughs. I like that the laughs are mostly at the
expense of the robot rather than the recurring villains. I like the mix of
villains, all of whom are perfectly by agreeing to fight for profit for this
gambling ring. The gambling ring/illegal reality show concept is itself a
fairly novel idea that certainly hasn’t been used in Spider-man before. I would
say the story that succeeds in exactly what it sets out to do. I’ll add that
I’ve always liked Rocket Racer as a hero so I was glad to see that his return
to villainy was actually a fake out.

I hated the Sandman story. I’m never been a fan of Sam
Keith’s art but that is the least of the problems with it. The writing is
absolute dreck: it is every psychobabble cliché there is being shoe-horned into
a lackluster story. This is made all the worse that this story basically stuck
as the reason for Sandman being a villain again, a decision I never
particularly liked to begin with.

All in all I would recommend this trade as worth reading.
Actually if you are enjoying Superior
Foes
this serves as something of a precursor to that series by showing
working class villains in stories that are both sympathetic to their plight and
funny. (And of course they both feature Boomerang and Shocker). This is not as
good as Superior Foes—which is one of
my favorite current titles, but it is an entertaining read in that vein.

 

Grade: I’d give
both the Shocker and gambling ring stories a B+, the Sandman story gets an F.
I’ll average that down to a C-.

 

 

Waiting for the Trade = Spider-man

Waiting for the Trade

Amazing Spider-man: Trouble on the Horizon

written by Dan Slott
& Chris Yost,

 art by Humberto Ramos, Giuseppe Camuncoli
& Matthew Clark

collects Amazing
Spider-man 678-681 (including 679.1)

 

Why I Bought This: The
time travel story herein was universally acclaimed and I’ve been enjoying
Slott’s Spidey run anyway so my picking this up was just a matter of waiting
for the price to drop on Amazon.

 

The Plot: Spider-man
travels one day into the future to discover NYC has been destroyed. Now he has
one day to figure out how to prevent it. There are also unrelated stories
involving Morbius and the Human Torch in here too.

 (spoilers below)

Chapter 1 – Peter wakes up feeling good and walks to work at
Horizon. He is assigned to check the math of fellow scientist Grady. Grady says
he has invented a time doorway that goes one day into the future and grabs a
copy of tomorrow’s newspaper from the Horizon break-room to prove it. Pete
steps through the doorway and finds all of NYC reduced to a smoking crater.
Peter finds a broken watch stopped at 3:11 so he assumes this is when the
disaster will occur. He returns to the present and Grady realizes that when
someone steps through his time-door they disappear from reality for 24 hours
thus Peter is supposed to do something today that will prevent the disaster.
Peter makes up the ‘I’m friends with Spider-man’ excuse and takes off. Pete’s
first instinct is to call in the Avengers and FF to help but Madame Web v2.0
(Julia Carpenter) uses her fortune-telling powers to inform Peter has to do
this on his own. Spidey keeps in contact with Grady, who has both the
good-future newspaper so he can tell Spidey what he is/was supposed to do today
and the door open to the bad-future so they can see if/when it changes back.
This leads to a montage of Spidey doing everything in the paper from stopping
purse-snatchers, to delivering a baby to defeating the super-villain FAÇADE.
And yet the time keeps clicking to 3:10 without a change as we cut to parade
being held for Silver Sable that Flag Smasher (an 80s Gru Captain America
villain) intends to blow up.

Chapter 2 – 3:11 p.m. passes and no boom thus we know the
incident occurs at 3:11 a.m. Spidey has no more clues in the paper and goes on
patrol. He ends up at the parade where he and Sable end up thwarting Flag
Smasher’s plot and disabling the nuke he brought to the city. And yet at
Horizon the bad future remains. We get another montage of Spidey in action to
no avail until a call comes in from MJ. Pete is tempted to ignore it but Grady
points out that an incoming call would always have occurred whether they had
seen the future or not. MJ wants to meet at a diner and during the meal she
makes Pete realize the missing “this” was something Peter was supposed to do
and not Spidey—namely check Grady’s math. Pete races to Horizon where they shut
down the time doorway with 45-seconds to spare before the time machine would overheat
and blow up the city. And then we end on a cute bit the next morning with
past-Grady taking the newspaper out of the Horizon break room that reads
“continued last issue.”

Chapter 3 – So this chapter answers the question of who is
the mysterious scientist in Horizon Lab #6, which had been a subplot since
Peter got the job there, and the answer ends up being Morbius. Uatu (not the
Watcher, but a teen genius who works at Horizon) is investigating the mystery
and drags Pete into it. This leads to Pete changing into Spidey and overseeing
Max working with Morbius. Max tries to cure Morbius of his vampirism by
injecting him with Spider-Island cure but it causes Morbius to lose control of
his bloodlust. The obligatory fight breaks out. Uatu is psyched to see a
vampire as he has a full set of monster fighting gear developed and ready to
use and together he and Spidey defeat Morbius. Max kicks Spidey out of the
building and is going to let Morbius stay as apparently the two are old college
friends, which is not so far-fetched Morbius’ back story is he was a Nobel-prize
winning scientist before he became a vampire. In the epilogue Morbius sneaks
into the sewers and meets up with the Lizard (setting up “The No Turning Back”
trade I reviewed a few months ago). 

Chapter 4 – John Jameson is on the Horizon space station
while Jonah is at Horizon Labs telescreen calling him when suddenly the transmission
goes out and a bunch of alarms on the station begin to sound. Peter changes to
Spidey and heads over to FF headquarters since they have best space travel
equipment. Only Torch is home. He and Spidey catch up for the first time since
Johnny’s return from the dead. Jonah blames Max for his son being in danger. On
the space station Spidey & Torch find it is overrun with octobots. Torch
can’t use his flame because the station is low on oxygen. It looks bleak for
the heroes until John makes the save with a laser gun. John then reveals that
the rest of the station personnel have been possessed by octobots.

Chapter 5 – The heroes retreat and attempt to get off the
station but Ock blows up both the Pogo Plane and Space Shuttle on board the
station from his remote undersea base. Spidey then uses Torch’s cell phone
(designed by Reed to work in space) to call Max and have him turn off the
oxygen in the station. This KOs the Octobot-possessed
staff, allowing Spidey to web them up. Ock sets off another explosion to knock
the station from orbit. Torch is able to absorb the reentry heat while Spidey
makes a web parachute so the station lands safely off the coast of Florida.

 

Critical Thoughts:
The time travel story is as excellent as everyone says it is. I enjoyed it
thoroughly. It contains an abundance of clever writing. I like the villains
that show up. I like the roles the supporting cast play in it, particularly MJ.
I really like how the ending resolution is that it was Peter who was
indispensable to averting the bad future and not Spider-man. Overall, just an
all-around excellent stand alone story that you could pick up even if you never
read Spider-man before and enjoy thoroughly.

Alas the other stories collected here are not nearly as
good. The Morbius story is average at best, although the reveal of him as the
mystery scientist was spoiled for me since I had read the later trade before I
read this. The Uatu thing is weird, in that he has monster-hunting gear sitting
in his closet and he’s been waiting and itching to fight the supernatural. I
mean its comics so if they wanted to spin him off into his own book there are
worse ideas for a title than ‘teen genius uses super technology to fight the
undead,’ but for a one-off moment is Spider-man title it seems out of place and
to my knowledge there’s been no follow up on this. Plus he doesn’t seem to have
much motivation for this, like if his mom was killed by a werewolf I could see
it, but he just seems like a dude who has a job in a sci-fi level science lab
and instead of inventing stuff the company he works for can sell he’s making
monster weapons, which even in the Marvel Universe is a pretty obscure
sub-genre to concentrate on stopping.

I did not enjoy the Spidey-Torch team-up at all. The banter
felt really off for me. I would say in this story Slott did not capture the
Torch’s voice or the dynamic between the two at all. It was too much joking around
without ever being serious. And while there are plenty of fine comedic
Spidey-Torch team-up stories (Defalco has a classic in Spider-man Unlimited #5 and Busiek wrote a really good one in Untold Tales of Spider-man with the
Wizard) the difference between those tales and this one is this wasn’t a
comedic threat the heroes were up against. There have been a lot more serious
Spidey-Torch team-ups than comedic ones and we’ve seen in those while the
heroes banter they know when it is time to treat the threats seriously. The
dissonance between the heroes and the tone is made weirder for me because Slott
first wrote Spidey in a Spidey-Torch mini-series that was quite good. Had I not
read that trade previously I’d say Slott just doesn’t get Torch and move on,
but that other trade shows he does. I guess we just chalk this up to an
off-month for him, especially since he was preparing to write a major story arc
with “Ends of the Earth” showing up right after this.

 

Grade: The time
travel story is an easy A. Since that is what I bought the trade for I’m happy
with the purchase and would recommend this trade. That said if we are grading
all of it I’d give the Morbius story a C+ and the Torch story a D at best. That
would give the trade as a whole an average of a B-.

 

Waiting for the Trade – Secret Wars

Waiting for the Trade

Spider-man & the
Secret Wars

by Paul Tobin &
illustrated by Patrick Scherberger & Clayton Henry

collects Spider-man
& the Secret Wars #1-4 (& Secret Wars #1)

 

Why I Bought This: This
miniseries was released to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the
legendary Secret Wars event. I love
that story and am all for a little nostalgia.
 

The Plot: We
revisit key events from Secret Wars
from the perspective of Marvel’s flagship character.

(spoilers below)

 
Chapter 1 – We open on the scene of Hulk holding up a
mountain that the heroes are trapped under. We then cut to earlier that day
where Spidey, Cap and Hulk are scouting and see Enchantress. Spidey notes the
odds seem awfully unfair what with the villains having Enchantress, Molecule
Man and Galactus on their team. He also questions why Magneto and by
implication Hulk where assigned to the heroes. Enchantress spots them and we
get a fight that Hulk wins. Captain Marvel v2.0 shows up to warn them Wrecking
Crew is coming and for some reason Cap and Spidey think they need to retreat.
Later that night Spidey brings his doubts about Hulk to Cap. And now we’re back
under the mountain where Spidey annoys Hulk to make him madder so he can keep
holding up the mountain while Reed devises an escape plan. After they escape
Spidey apologizes to Hulk but Hulk overhead the earlier conversation between
Spidey and Cap and tells Spidey off.

Chapter 2 – We open on Spidey, Ben Grimm and Dr. Doom giving
an inspirational speech to the citizens of Denver in preparation of repelling an alien
attack. Rewind to a day earlier where Spidey and Ben (sans Thing powers) have
installed holographic projectors so that Reed can tell the citizens what has
happened and calm their fears. A local family offers the heroes dinner and in
the process alerts them to a nearby rampaging alien barbarian horde they call
the Spindles. The horde was previously driven off by Lockheed the dragon whose
has been guarding the town ever since. They also learn Doom has been visiting Denver the last few days
primarily to meet with two local women. Spidey follows Doom for afternoon and
he does not seem to be doing anything nefarious. Doom discovers him and Grimm
and tells them flat out what he is up to: Doombase has machines that can grant
superpowers and he is looking for recruits among the populace. While they are
talking Reed radios in that the Spindles are coming and Doom volunteers to help
the heroes protect the city since he has yet to finish his own mission here.
Back where we started with Lockheed fighting alongside Spidey and the others. It
seems the aliens may overrun them but in the end the heroes and Doom turn them
back with Doom even saving a helpless kid in the process. Doom also recruits
two women who fought hard despite being ineffectual. The heroes let Doom and
the women depart (who will become Titania and Volcanna) and celebrate with the
citizens. 

Chapter 3 – We flashback to the battle of all the heroes
fighting Galactus. Reed warns everyone that fighting Galactus causes you to
experience time and reality differently (which has never happened before but
whatever). As a result we get various flashbacks from Spidey’s life (Gwen,
Uncle Ben, MJ, Felicia, etc) intercut with him running up a hill and talking to
Enchantress, who serves as his alternate reality tour guide. Then Spidey gets a
glimpse of the future which leads to a few pages foreshadowing Venom (as
Spidey acquires the Black Costume right before the Galactus battle). The issue
ends with the heroes chasing Galactus off and Spidey wondering what it all
means.

Chapter 4 – We’re joining in to when Doom acquired the
Beyonder’s power. We then get a glimpse of an alternate reality where Peter has
the Beyonder’s power. He uses them to stop crime and improve the city but Uncle
Ben keeps dying on him though with the Beyonder power he keeps resurrecting
him. Doom reveals to Klaw that he subconsciously sent a fraction of the power
to Spidey and Wolverine to keep him grounded in reality. This leads to Spidey
and Wolverine fighting monsters on another planet until they realize they are
in the Beyonder-verse. We do get some neat narration from Doom on how he
was able to defeat the Beyonder due to the nature of the Beyonder’s power.
Pete’s alternate reality from the start of the chapter then fades as Doom
claims all of the power. He also mind-wipes the events from Spidey and
Wolverine’s memories.  

Bonus Chapter (The first issue of the original Secret Wars) – We open on a satellite in
deep space containing the best of Earth’s heroes: Spidey, Hulk, the FF, the
Avengers, the X-men and Magneto. Next we second satellite filled with the worst
villains: Enchantress, Ultron, Absorbing Man, the Wrecking Crew, Kang, Lizard,
Galactus, Dr. Octopus, Molecule Man and Dr, Doom. The heroes question why
Magneto is on their ship when the Beyonder reveals himself for the first time.
He destroys a galaxy, builds a planet and lays down the rules of his game “slay
your enemies and you desire shall be yours.” Ultron uses the cue to attack
anything living in his satellite until Galactus snuffs him out with a flick of
his finger. Galactus attacks the Beyonder as Doom follows him but they are
easily repelled. The satellites land. The heroes refuse to work with Magneto
then elect Cap as their leader. The villains ask Doom to fill the same role but
Doom has no interest in playing the Beyonder’s game. Doom attempts to seek out
the heroes but is shot down by Kang. We end on the villain army attacking the
hero army.

 
Critical Thoughts:
This is hard one to evaluate. It would almost be like ranking the DVD deleted
scenes and extras of a collector’s edition separate from the movie. I think it
accomplished what it sets out to do: namely give us a sort expanded (yet
unessential) look at Secret Wars for
the 25th anniversary. If you like the original story you’ll probably
enjoy this too but it is by no means anywhere near the quality of the original
(and that becomes really obvious when you read the bonus chapter from the original
series). 

Generally I liked the first two chapters better than the
last two. I thought the first chapter focusing on Cap-Hulk-Spidey had a nice
classic feel to it. Those three heroes were clearly Marvel’s biggest mainstream
crossover stars at the time the original series was winning. I think Spidey
feeling out of his depth at thought of facing Enchantress, Molecule Man or
Galactus especially since back then he didn’t do cosmic stories or team up with
the Avengers all that often. I don’t understand why Spidey and Cap think they
need to retreat from the Wrecking Crew. Spidey had faced the individual members
of the Wrecking Crew in his solo title in the past and done just fine with Cap,
Hulk and Captain Marvel there they should mop the floor with those guys but I’m
quibbling again.

Chapter 2 is probably my favorite chapter because it is new
material (a deleted scene as it were as opposed to an extended version of an
existing scene.) It’s a really good Doctor Doom chapter showing his nobility
and honor, while also showing Spidey and Grimm’s heroism. I also like that we
see how and why Titania and Volcanna were recruited since in the original story
they do just show up out of nowhere.

Chapter 3 is the weakest chapter by far. I get why you want
to make a big deal out of the Black Costume since that was the big Spidey
development in the original story and then Venom went on to become super
popular but the dialogue of foreshadowing is clunky and the time-shifting plot
device is just something they pulled out of the butt. I’ve read plenty of
Galactus stories and none of this reality shift nonsense has ever been part of
them. That chapter four doubles down on the alternate reality silliness does
the book no favors but at least that chapter has an interesting explanation
from Doom on how the Beyonder’s power works and why he was able to win.

 

Grade C.

Waiting for the Trade: X-Factor

Waiting for the Trade

X-Factor: Scar Tissue

By Peter David, art by
Valentine DeLandro and Emanuela Lupacchino

Collects X-Factor
213-219

 

Why I Bought This: It
guest stars the Black Cat who is perhaps my favorite Marvel character. It is also
written by Peter David, who is one of the all-time great Spider-man writers and
who wrote Felicia particularly well back in the day.

 

The Plot: The
main arc is about an assassination attempt on J. Jonah Jameson. He hires both
Black Cat and X-Factor for protection. There are also a few single issue
character studies on some of the regular cast.

 

(spoilers below)

Chapter 1 – Some dude is gambling in Vegas and when he takes
off his sunglasses people see death and freak out. Madrox later approaches this
dude, whom we learn is Darwin
(of X-Men First Class fame). Darwin
apparently had to fight (Asgardian death goddess) Hela in a prior trade and thus
evolved beyond death but now feels without a place in the world so he quits the
team to go find himself. We then get a lot of personal drama with the team
whose members are Siryn, Strong Guy, Pip the Troll, Longshot, Shatterstar,
Rictor, Wolfsbane, Layla Miller, and some other chick whose real name is Monet.
The big personal drama is Rictor learns he is not the father of Wolfsbane’s
pregnancy. She lied because she’s catholic and wanted to save his soul from
being gay. They part as friends and he goes back to Shatterstar.

Chapter 2 – Darwin
is wandering around the desert when he comes across a chick being chased by a
dragon. Darwin
kills the dragon. He takes her to the nearest town which ends up being a ghost
town out of the Wild West. All the residents are trapped in the town by a
sheriff, who then blows a hole in Darwin
when they meet. Even when his head gets blown off Darwin keeps coming. When sheriff dude sees Darwin’s eyes he stops
fighting and explains this town is in a kind of timeless limbo waiting for the
apocalypse. The sheriff throws down some foreshadowing about an impending Hell
on Earth deal and gives Darwin
three magic six-shooters. He calls for the High Noon shootout before he will
let Darwin
leave. Sheriff dude reveals he is Wolfsbane’s son and shoots Darwin dead. The town the fades back into
Limbo. Darwin
wakes up in the desert thinking it was a dream but he has one of the magic guns
with him.

Chapter 3 – Some chick from Ethiopia hires Madrox and Layla to
investigate her father’s death as she believes he was murdered by her
stepmother. The police believe her father was killed by a vampire as part of
that X-men vs. vampires crossover I never bothered to read as his body had fang
marks and was drained of blood. Layla and Madrox investigate and ultimately discover
the chick that hired them is an African vampire, which has different rules than
the traditional European vampire. This vampire projects out of her body when
she sleeps and her conscious mind has no idea what its doing. The vampire tries
to kill the stepmom and Madrox and Layla stop her when Layla performs an
exorcism, which she says should cure their client for good. Madrox then
proposes to Layla and she turns him down.

Chapter 4 – J. Jonah Jameson hires X-Factor to investigate
the murder of some military dude who once saved Jonah’s life. Spidey happens to
be spying on JJJ and warns X-factor about working with him but they just make
snarky comments so he leaves. Also some blond chick asks some black chick if
she remembers her. She doesn’t so blonde chick sets her on fire and the black
chick regenerates into a spandex costume and recovers her memories.

Chapter 5 – Apparently Felicia (the Black Cat) works for
Jonah now as a salaried employee so she wonders why he’s hired X-Factor when
she is a licensed PI. Jonah explains she works for the Mayor’s Office and this
is a personal investigation. Meanwhile three chicks (two of whom we saw last
issue) are listening in on Jonah and are planning to kill him. Most of X-Factor
is chasing down leads. Meanwhile there is a protest in New York about mutants and Muslims. This
irks Monet since she is both. Monet and Guido are watching over the protest
while Siryn is riding with Jonah in his car. Jonah gives a nice speech on equal
rights in an attempt to disband the protesters. Felicia is on nearby rooftop
watching as well when the black chick from last chapter wants to use the same
roof to set up a sniper rifle. They fight and the black chick has super
strength which gives her the victory. Meanwhile the blonde chick is in the
crowd of protesters. Siryn recognizes her from a lead Longshot found earlier
and goes on the attack but the police think she is attacking the mayor and nightstick
her. Blonde chick then blows a hole in Guido’s chest with her finger-gun
superpower.

Chapter 6 – Felicia recovers and takes on the black chick
before she can fire her gun. Finger gun chick is firing on Jonah but misses.
She attempts to attack Monet but Monet is apparently telekinetic and redirects the
bullet into the blonde chick’s skull. Monet wants to get Guido to the hospital
but blonde chick heals. She goes to fire on them but Siryn is able to make the
save. Felicia tries to taser black chick but it has no effect and she throws
Felicia off the roof. Jonah calls in a pair of mandroids but the third chick
fires off an EMP knocking the mandroids from the sky. Guido is going into
cardiac arrest and Monet flies him to the hospital. He tells her he loves her
as he passes out. Felicia tagged the chick she fought with a tracer and begins
to track them as the villains cut and run. EMP chick powers make her aware of
the tracer as soon as black chick gets in the car and the villains decide they
can use it to set a trap. At the hospital Guido dies but then he miraculously
recovers.

 

Chapter 7 – Felicia falls into the villains’ ambush and is
captured. Monet grabs Jonah in a fury and asks for the rest of the story. Apparently
JJJ funded dead military dude’s attempt to revive the super soldier program and
these three chicks are the result. At the hospital Layla tearfully leaves
Guido’s bed implying she did something bad to resurrect him. Monet,
Shatterstar, Wolfsbane and Longshot follow a lead on the villains. The super
soldiers have captured a scientist from the program and intend to kill both him
and Felicia and make it look like murder-suicide crime of passion as we get
their back-story: they went psycho on some missions, general dude wanted to
kill them but scientist dude argued for mind wiping them and giving them a
normal life instead. At this point the four X-factor members arrive for the big
fight. Finger-gun shoots Wolfsbane but she proves immune because her apparently
child has an Asgardian protection spell cast on it. Monet uses telepathy to put
Fingergun into a coma. Longshot and Black Cat learn their powers cancel out
which gives the other two a chance to escape. 

 

Critical Thoughts:
Not much here to be honest. Truthfully I don’t think I’ve ever read an issue of
Peter David’s X-factor before this. Like when he took over 20 years ago and
made the book about Havok, Polaris & Strong Guy as government agents I was
like I don’t care about any of these characters and that hasn’t changed through
any of the eras since then. Reading this I don’t feel like I’m missing much.
This whole cast is a group of uninteresting people with uninteresting powers.
They’re third stringers for a reason. The only subplot in this that I would be
remotely interested in the conclusion to is David seems to be on the verge of
answering the question of whether Shatterstar is Longshot and Dazzler’s son,
which has lingered for two decades.

As for the Felicia story I bought this trade to read it’s
hurt by lame villains. These chicks are so-non descript they don’t even seem to
have codenames. David writes Felicia herself as fairly capable if under-powered
in this fight. And I liked the little bit with her and Longshot’s powers
cancelling out. But I felt like there was more potential here. Felicia to my
knowledge has never been in an X-men story before (she’s had a pair on
mini-series with Wolverine and met Gambit once since they are both thieves but
that’s it) and so there could be some intriguing possibilities if they were
actually teaming up and investigating together but instead they are more or
less working parallel to each other.

I will say David still writes Jonah better than any other Spider-man
writer ever. Jonah’s equal rights speech is a great tool for showing why Jonah
is a respected leader despite his over the top Spider-man ranting. I know some
don’t like politics in their comics but I’ll point out Jonah has been shown to
be for civil rights since the Silver Age in stories with both Randi and Robbie
Robertson including a famous incident where he kicks a political candidate out
of his office when he learns the man is racist. I buy everything Jonah does
here and why he does it. I buy he would fund a super soldier program as a favor
to a man who saved his life; and in the past Jonah has been shown to admire
Captain America. I buy Jonah would work with X-factor because unlike Spider-man
they are not masked vigilantes. They are licensed private investigators working
within law—none of them wear masks and more than half the team uses their real
name instead of a codename. I’m not sure he would work with Felicia but that
seems to be happening in Spidey’s book and not here so that’s out of David’s
hands; but even so I like he won’t use government money to pay Felicia for a
personal investigation. So on that front the big highlight is seeing David
write Jonah again because as always he does it very well.

 

Grade D+ : Those
first three chapters are filled with things I don’t care about and frankly are not
particularly interesting; while even the chapters I care about are mostly
underwhelming.

Waiting for the Trade = Spider-man

Waiting for the Trade

By Bill Miller

 Spider-man/Lizard: No Turning Back

by Dan Slott & Giuseppe Camuncoli

Collects Amazing Spider-man 688-691 plus Untold Tales
of Spider-man #9

 
Why I bought this: The Lizard is one of my two favorite Silver Age Spidey foes so I had wanted
to read this since it came out around the time of the Spidey reboot film. At
Free Comic Book Day this year one of my local shops ran a buy one, get one free
sale on all trades making it an ideal time to finally pick this up.

 

The Plot: Spider-man
captures Lizard and takes him to Horizon labs in an attempt to cure him but
Morbius’s presence there soon leads to events spinning out of control as the
Spidey mythos takes a rare foray into the horror genre.

 As always spoilers after the
break.

 
Chapter 1 – Spidey is
battling Lizard in the sewers and is horrified that Lizard ate the scores of
people that accompanied him down there at the end of the “Shed” storyline. We
flashback to earlier in the day where MJ has opened a new nightclub and Peter
manages to find a moment alone with her to talk about his guilt over letting
Silver Sable die in the “Ends of the Earth” arc. They are interrupted by a call
from Carlie Cooper who tells Peter that Morbius has dug up Billy Connors grave
and stolen the body. Spidey breaks into Horizon Labs where Morbius is indeed
dissecting the body. Morbius says the autopsy has allowed him to find a
permanent cure for the Lizard. Back in the sewers Lizard has the advantage in
the fight when Morbius emerges and injects Lizard with his cure via a harpoon.
However it does not work as Lizard explains Connors is gone forever due to the
guilt he feels after Lizard killed Billy. They electrocute Lizard and he indeed
reverts to human form but in the cliffhanger we see the Lizard’s personality is
still in control.

Chapter 2 – The Horizon staff
confirm there is no Lizard DNA left in Connors’ system. Lizard fakes being
Connors remembering Billy’s death for the first time and asks for some time
alone (in Morbius’s lab) to mourn his son. He then steals Morbius’s blood
supply and empties it into the air vents which causes Morbius to go berserk
with bloodlust and bite one of the Horizon girls. Spidey and Morbius fight to
the outside. Interlude as Madame Web v2.0 (Julia Carpenter: the former Spider
Woman v2.0 from Secret Wars) gets a
prophecy of extreme danger facing Peter. Back at Horizon, Lizard cons Max Model
into thinking he wants to reciprocate by designing a cure for Morbius but in
fact tries to recreate his Lizard serum. When he injects himself he regenerates
Curt’s missing arm while remaining completely human, ironically achieving the
success Connors wanted when he injected himself with the Lizard serum the first
time. Lizard then ambushes Max and injects him with the serum which turns Max
into a lizard-man.

Chapter 3 – To keep up his
ruse Lizard cuts off Connors arm and feeds it to Max, then finds another lab to
work in. Meanwhile Spidey’s fight with Morbius is interrupted by Madame Web who
warns him something is about to happen at Horizon’s lab that will lead to “ruin
and despair.” Cut to the Kingpin who has an inside man at Horizon who he has
tasked with stealing spider-sense jammers. At first Kingpin’s mole attempts to
hack the computer system but then he stumbles across a paper file that has just
what he was looking for so he steals it and in his haste leaves the computer
virus uploading in a scene reminiscent of Jurassic
Park
. Lizard meanwhile is infecting more employees with lizard DNA and then
locking them in their labs as each serum works on everyone but him thanks to
Morbius’s cure. Spidey defeats Morbius and hands him to the cops and then
rushes off to Horizon. Lizard gets help from Uatu (not the Watcher, another Horizon
employee who wants to be a monster hunter) and realizes he needs superhuman DNA
to override the Morbius cure. Connors bumps into Carlie Cooper in an attempt to
retrieve it and she notices the wrong arm is missing. Just then the computer
virus activates and unseals all the doors thus freeing the horde of lizard-men
that Connors has created. Spidey arrives just in time, while Connors gets his
hands on Mutant Growth Hormone but then pauses to debate if he wants to return to
his Lizard form having spent the past two chapters experiencing human food,
music and videogames for the first time.

Chapter 4 – The lizard-men
are suddenly tame and a Horizon employee notes that lizards and men are not
natural enemies (implying thus that it has always been Connors that caused the
Lizard to be evil—a concept Paul Jenkins explored a few years ago as well in a
very good trade). Ironically the Lizard decides he wants to remain human
because he can experience more sensations in a human body but when Spidey and
Cooper make it clear they intend to imprison him he injects himself with MGH
and reverts to his true form (in fact we’re told he’s stronger than ever). We
get the big fight scene but when Lizard looks into the crowd of Horizon employees
he starts to hallucinate all the women and children are Martha and Billy. This
gives Spidey the opportunity to inject the harpoon cure directly into his brain!
It knocks him out but does not turn him human. However in the first epilogue we
see Lizard imprisoned in the Raft and learn Connors’ personality is now
dominant in the Lizard body but he is not telling anyone because he feels he
deserves to be punished after what Lizard did to Billy. Meanwhile Kingpin and
Hobgoblin have the spider-sense jammer and this causes Julia’s apocalyptic
vision to return. At the center of that vision is a man named Devil Spider who
we (but not Julia) learn is secretly the original Hobgoblin. 

Bonus Chapter – In his early
days Spider-man met Bat Boy a young teen who was shunned as being freak and
became homeless. Spidey decided to take Bat Boy to Connors for a potential cure
but during the initial consultation Bat Boy causes a lab accident that turns
Connors into the Lizard. Spidey and Bat Boy fight Lizard into the sewers.
Lizard is about to kill Peter until Bat Boy calls out for his father causing
Lizard to think of Billy and Connors to seize control of the body long enough
for Peter to force the cure down his throat and Connors returns to human form.
The story ends with Connors again working to cure Bat Boy and Peter destroying
his film of the fight to protect Connors’ identity.

Critical Thoughts: Yea this is all good and then some. I like the Lizard and this may
well be the best Lizard story ever told. (Certainly in the top two with the
aforementioned Jenkins story the other big contender as Lizard’s Silver Age
stuff is more fun in a traditional comics-for-8-year-olds way than having
psychological character depth.) Fortunately this is just what the character
needed after his prior appearance in the abhorrent “Shed” storyline following
up on the consequences of that story in a very real way while also abandoning
that woefully misguided direction and bringing Lizard back to his roots.

I also really liked
Spider-man’s portrayal here of being worn down from the epic events of “Ends of
the Earth” and just fed up with the constant string of horrors he sometimes
sees so that after Morbius butchers Billy’s body and then bites a one of
Peter’s coworkers he is just done making excuses for Morbius (who in fairness
is often portrayed as anti-hero rather than a villain) and Connors (who is
traditionally show as not responsible for Lizard’s actions.) The resulting
fight scenes with Spidey and Morbius is really good, and really all the fight
scenes work.

The female supporting cast is
also portrayed well. MJ has a real nice moment relating to Peter after Sable’s
death and we see her do what she always did best during the marriage: keep him
grounded in reality by helping him realize he should not always feel guilt and
responsibility for every thing wrong that happens in his world. Carlie Cooper
also remains an effective supporting character giving Spider-man a connection
to the police force that he’d lacked since the death of Jean DeWolf. Even
Madame Web v2.0 is given a moment or two with her daughter to show how she’s
adjusting to her new powers. I’m still not thrilled with the decision to make
Carpenter the new Madame Web but Slott at least does a little more for her this
time out.

The biggest highlights are the
middle chapters with Lizard in Connors body as the scenes are narrated by the
Lizard persona and I don’t think we’ve really been privy to the Lizard’s
thoughts before. If we have it was certainly not to this extent and not in such
an intriguing situation. The art is also top notch making the Lizard as Connors
stuff feel really creepy throughout.

 
Grade A.  The more of Slott’s stuff I read the more I
am convinced that we are in the midst of an all-time great Spider-man run that
will be remembered as legendary years from now.

Waiting for the Trade Superior Spider-man

Waiting for the Trade

by Bill Miller

 

Superior Spider-man
(1): My Own Worst Enemy

By Dan Slott, Ryam
Stegman and Giuseppe Camumcoli

Collects Superior Spider-man 1 -5.

 

Why I bought this: The
last trade (ASM 698-700) was epic and I needed to read the follow up.

The Plot: Doc Ock
switched brains with Peter Parker and then Ock’s body with Parker in it died
leaving Ock as the new Spider-man. This trade is Ock’s first days in his new
role.
 
Spoilers after the break

 

Chapter 1 – Ock finds a new Sinister Six made up of
C-listers and takes them on but after taking a few hits decides it isn’t worth
taking a beating and attempts to flee. When a civilian is endangered he turns
around and saves the day but the Six escape. In his day job Ock is doing
Peter’s science job better than Peter but frets how he will never get credit
for it. He then goes on a date with MJ. Later he tracks down the Six and takes
them down hard. He is about to kill one of them when we see Peter’s ghost
arrive and subliminally makes Ock stop.

Chapter 2 – Ghost Peter is horrified that JJJ has finally endorsed
Spidey and that MJ is dating him and does not notice he is a different person.
Later MJ is attacked by mini-Vultures. Ock saves her and breaks up with her. MJ
relates the failed dates to Carlie Cooper, who begins to suspect the truth.
(Peter in Ock’s body had told Cooper the truth in the last trade but she didn’t
believe him at the time).

Chapter 3 – Ock traces the mini-Vultures back to the real
deal and is horrified to learn Vulture is using children as his underlings. Their
fight gets violent and ends with Spidey hospitalizing Vulture in front of
Cooper furthering her suspicions.

Chapter 4 – In a stunning splash page Spidey releases little
spider-bots across the city so Ock can monitor everything. He makes a few
arrests and then accompanies Aunt May to a doctor’s office. When he learns May
needs a cane to walk so he decides to invent a cure for all spinal injuries,
which horrifies Ghost Peter and the Horizon employees for some reason. We also
get a funny moment when Ock releaizes that as Peter he is no longer a doctor as
Peter never even got his master’s degree. This prompts Ock to enroll in college
again. Meanwhile Massacre escapes from Ravencroft killing 90s’ supporting
character Dr. Kafka in the process. Jameson and Spidey are called to the scene
and Jameson makes Spidey promise to kill Massacre next time they meet. Massacre
meanwhile lives up to his name in a diner full of civilians. In the cliffhanger
we see the Green Goblin is back in NYC.

Chapter 5 – Massacre blackmails a Cola CEO into funding him
to kill her competitors. As Peter, Ock meets his new tutor for school: a female
midget named Anna Marconi and they have an enjoyable dinner. Massacre begins
killing cops in the subway until Spidey arrives, disarms him and fatally shoots
him much to Ghost Peter’s horror. He then uses his spiderbots to expose the CEO
from the start of the chapter vowing to watch over and take responsibility for
everything in the city.

 

Critical Thoughts:
Overall this is very good. The concept alone is one of the most original things
I’ve ever seen in comics which is saying something when you consider has 50
years of history spread out over 1,000 individual issues. We’ve seen heroes
replaced before (Cap, Thor and Iron Man come to mind) but usually it is by
other heroes and the key supporting cast know a switch has been made. Here we
have a villain taking up the hero’s mantle and on top of that no one knows
Peter is gone including his loved ones. It is a strong concept and Ock is in
many ways the perfect villain to execute it with. 1) he’s always been show to
be driven by ego even in his most villainous moments (threatening to blow up NYC
so everyone would know he was superior to them or the recent Ends of the Earth
arc) yet he has also had moments of altruism over the years (trying to cure
AIDS, helping Sue Richards during childbirth, curing Peter when he was poisoned
during the Clone Saga). Thus the idea that once he finished off Peter and had
Peter’s powers he would try to take advantage of his fresh start and prove he
could be a better hero than Peter ever was fits very nicely into past
continuity.

I also like Ock’s initial reactions to his new life. I like
him running away in that first fight and thinking Peter had to be insane to
fight the kind of odds he often did. I love his outrage at not being a doctor
anymore and his disappointment that his name won’t be the one to get credit for
any science accomplishments he makes at Horizon. It all just rings true in a
character sense.

I also thought the villains are well portrayed, particularly
Vulture. I like the art a lot. I like the pacing in terms of setting up future
events (Carlie’s suspicions, the Goblin’s return). I also thought the ending
was very strong, with Ock taking Peter’s responsibility  catchphrase and spinning into an
NSA/Orewellian style nightmare as a natural extension of what an egomaniacal
mad scientist would do if he was trying to be a responsible hero. 

However, there is a big con and that is Ghost Peter arrives
way too soon and brings little to the table. Look we all knew from day one
Peter was coming back but we didn’t need to see him this soon. Chapter 2 is by
far the weakest entry in this trade with the Peter’s constant narration on Ock’s
actions just irritating. Worse it over simplifies the story. We all know Ock is
going to fail at being Spider-man. But for the story to have meaning Ock’s
failures and successes need to be his own and not caused by the subliminal
influence of Peter.

The Mary Jane subplot is also kind of weak, but in that case
I’ll give Slott a pass because it’s a damned if you do, damned if you don’t
situation. If Ock beds Mary Jane there are going to be cries of rape. If he
ignores her she would know something is up and fans would complain she’s being
marginalized in a story where she should have a presence. This way Ock rids
himself of her in a way that sidesteps the first issue, but also keeps her
loyal to Peter on a subconscious level and contributes to the Cooper subplot.
Overall probably the best that could be done in terms of service to a long-term
story with Ock as Peter.

Grade B+.  There is a lot more good than bad here, and
even more promising is seeds are being set to let the concept grow and improve
in the future.

 

 

 

 

Waiting for the Trade – Death of Spider-man

Waiting for the Trade

By Bill Miller



Ultimate Spider-man:
Death of Spider-man

by Brian Michael
Bendis and Mark Bagley

collects Ultimate
Comics Spider-man 156-160

 
Why I Bought This: While
the Ultimate universe isn’t really my cup of tea, this was on sale for $10 at a
local bookstore and is supposed to be the biggest story in the history of the Ultimate
line; so at that price why not?

 

The Plot: The
Sinister Six escape from prison, led by the Green Goblin. Norman knows Peter’s identity and so he takes
them to Aunt May’s house (Peter is still a teen in this universe) and
challenges Peter to a fight on his front lawn.

Spoilers follow after the break.

 

Chapter 1 – We see Norman
in SHIELD custody. He apparently died in his last appearance but they revived
him and are holding for genetic testing. Meanwhile Peter and MJ have gotten
back together after a long breakup. They are having lunch when Captain America arrives
and pulls Pete away. SHIELD foolishly thought Norman had lost his powers so when he bursts
into flames he easily escapes prison and takes Electro, Kraven, Sandman, Dr.
Octopus and Vulture with him. (For those who don’t know Ultimate Green Goblin
looks like the Abomination with flaming hands and doesn’t have the costume
or  weapons of the traditional Green
Goblin.) Meanwhile Cap tells Spidey he doesn’t think Spidey is a very good
superhero but that he was outvoted by Thor and Iron Man on offering him
Avengers membership; Cap is only willing to take him on the team if he can
train Spidey to be a smarter fighter. In the middle of this dressing down Cap
gets an Avengers alert and he goes to investigate it without Spidey but Spidey
follows him anyway. Whatever the Avengers are doing results in the Brooklyn Bridge blowing up and the Sinister Six
see it on TV and feel this is perfect since all the other superheroes will be
too busy to help when they attack Spidey. MJ calls Peter with the news that Norman has escaped prison
and urges him to get Aunt May to safety.

 Chapter 2 – Ock tells the others he has no interest in
revenge and that if the heroes are busy he wants to use this chance to escape
to Europe. Norman doesn’t take “no” well and kills Ock.
Peter gets home and tells home Aunt May and Gwen to leave the city and hugs
them goodbye. Goblin’s killing of Ock makes the news and Peter goes to
investigate. He realizes how serious Norman
must be this time and decides to recruit the Avengers for help. Spidey gets to
the bridge where Cap is standing over Nick Fury. Punisher is about to
assassinate Cap and Spidey jumps in the way taking a bullet in the side.

Chapter 3 – Spidey wakes up alone and wonders why the other
heroes would leave his body behind. He webs up his wound and ponders going to
the hospital, realizing it will mean the end of his secret identity if he goes.
Then he sees the Sinister Six fly over head. Iceman and Human Torch are coming
home to Aunt May’s for a movie (because they are teens and live with Aunt May
in this universe for some reason). They find the place empty with a note saying
“get to a safe place” and when they walk outside the Sinister Six are there.
The Six threaten the teens not knowing who they are. Torch flames on and takes
down Norman.
Sandman wipes out Torch’s flame. Iceman jumps into the fight but Electro
defeats him with ease.  And then
Spider-man arrives unmasked and challenges them in a well drawn panel. He
defeats Vulture in seconds and asks, “Who’s next.”

Chapter 4 – Spidey tries to bluff that the Avengers are
right behind him but the villains notice his gunshot wound and attack. Spidey
uses a fire hydrant to get Electro to short out all his teammates then asks his
neighbors to call an ambulance. Sandman recovers and pummels Spidey. Vulture
makes a comeback throwing handgrenades at him and things look bleak. Aunt May
gets a phone call from one her neighbors about how Peter is getting killed in
front of everyone on her lawn and turns the car around. Electro has now
recovered and wants the killshot when Aunt May arrives and shoots him in the
chest with a handgun, presumably killing him, and the resultant explosion again
wipes out his teammates.  Peter collapses
into May’s arms and then Norman
wakes up.

 Chapter 5 – Pete pulls May and Gwen to safety and orders
Gwen to get Aunt May to safety. He hits Norman
as hard as he can and then wakes up Torch. Torch attacks but this time Norman absorbs all his
flame. Spidey is dodging fireballs and manages to throw him into a fire
hydrant. Norman
keeps coming and Pete has nothing left. Then MJ arrives having stolen a truck
and runs Norman
over, totaling the truck in the process. Pete and MJ share a kiss and then Pete
tosses her to safety. He picks up the truck and hits Norman with it. Norman
vows to kill Pete’s family when he is done with him, and Peter slams the truck
down on Norman’s
head presumably killing him. However the truck explodes (or maybe Norman’s fire powers blow
it up as the art is a little unclear) and Pete is caught in the explosion. He
then dies in MJs and Aunt May’s arms. In the final panels the camera pans to Norman’s bleeding body
and he smiles.

 
Critical Thoughts: This was really good. I have I think five
other Ultimate Spidey trades and I really only mildly enjoyed one of them
(which also involved the Sinister Six, who in general are portrayed as a much
more A-level style threat in this universe). This story is short and to the
point without Bendis’s usual padding. The Six escape, they come for Spidey and
we get almost three straight issues of fighting—and a good fight it is since
Mark Bagley is drawing it.

Most of all despite it being a big fight scene I thought the
supporting cast was portrayed really well. Yes, Aunt May pulling a gun on
Electro is extreme but believable in the circumstances. And then her reaction
to Peter’s death is heartbreaking. MJ also has some good moments in this story.

The other big pro is Peter goes out as a worthy hero. Things
keep getting worse and worse but he just keeps fighting and fighting. Both the
scene where he challenges the Six and then the scene where he thinks Norman has
his number and he continues to stand up to him are excellent. Even moments that
could stretch believability like Pete picking up a truck (which I don’t think
adult Pete could do normally let alone wounded teen Pete) work because the
action leading up to it has escalated so much that we buy it as his last ditch
adrenaline surge to save his family.

 

Grade A. For a
book I had not intention of picking up I was very impressed. This is easily the
best Ultimate Spider-man book I’ve read and one of the few times the character
reads like the hero the true Spider-man is.

Waiting for the Trade – Spider-man 700

Waiting for the Trade

by Bill Miller

 

Amazing Spider-man:
Dying Wish

By Dan Slott, Humberto
Ramos and Richard Elson

Collects Amazing
Spider-man 698-700.

 

Why I bought this: I
love Spidey in general and this is the biggest Spidey story in years, possibly
decades so I frickin’ preordered this on Amazon to get as soon as it hit trade.

 

The Plot: Doc Ock
manages to switch brains with Spider-man putting Pete in Ock’s body just as Ock
is at death’s door.

 

Heavy spoilers ahead:

 

Chapter 1 – In prison we see Ock doesn’t have long to live. We
then see a fairly typical day in the life with Pete being in an upbeat mood as
he stops crimes, does some science stuff at Horizon Labs and socializes with MJ
and Aunt May. The Avengers page Spidey saying Ock is asking for him and doesn’t
have long to live. Spidey agrees to visit him and in private we learn that Ock
has switched their brains though each has access to all of the other’s
memories. Peter-Ock then goes into cardiac arrest.

Chapter 2 – Doctors revive Peter-Ock but they feel he has less
than 24 hours left to live. Peter imagines all the damage Ock can do in his
body including killing his loved ones or using his Avengers security codes to
take down the team. He then accesses Ock’s memories to realize how Ock did this
and it dates back to issue 600 when Pete used a mental control helmet to
override Ock’s Octobots which then gave Ock a copy of Pete’s brainwaves. Pete
then uses Ock’s memories to activate one of his escape plans to hire a new
Sinister Six to bust him out of jail although he only ends up with three:
Scorpion, Hydroman and Trapster. Peter-Ock then offers the villains millions to
bring him Spider-man alive.

Chapter 3 – Octo-Peter is taking MJ on a date when he
discovers “Doc Ock” has escaped from prison on the news. Ock then goes to the
airport to book a flight to Belgium
and not return until Peter dies. Meanwhile in Ock’s undersea lab Ock’s body
goes into cardiac arrest again, Peter goes to heaven and chats with Uncle Ben
and every other major dead cast member and Ben tells him to get up and fight
one more time. Back in the world Peter-Ock is recovers and orders the villains
to go to the police. Mayor Jameson gets on TV and calls Ock a loser, which
angers Octo-Peter enough that he decides to stay in New York to prove to himself that he can
beat Spider-man in a fight. At the police station Peter-Ock runs into Carlisle
Cooper and tells her about the brain-swap but she doesn’t believe him. When she
fires on him the arms react instinctively and injure her. Pete feels bad but
with time running out he takes what he came for from the police impound–the
brainwave helmet that set this in motion 100 issues ago—and leaves. Octo-Spidey
gathers Pete’s loved ones in Avengers
Tower to protect them
from Ock, while showing them Peter’s plane ticket to explain Peter’s absence.
He says they are being targeted by Ock because of the revelation that Peter
builds Spidey’s tech at Horizon. Ock tries to self destruct his undersea base
with the villains in it but Peter has already disarmed the device since they
share memories. So Ock-Spidey just calls the police and tells them where Ock’s
base is. Scorpion and Hydroman take out the cops as Pete wonders how far he
will let the villains to get his life back. Back inside Trapster realizes Peter-Ock
has built a new brain-swap helmet and is afraid he is Ock’s intended victim so
Peter-Ock neutralizes him pretty quickly. MJ tells Peter she still loves him
but of course it’s Ock and not Peter in one of those great Spider-man ironies
and they share a kiss. Peter-Ock goes to Avengers Towers
to tell one of the super science guys there what has happened but it is too
late as Ock has activated all of his Octo-bots across the city and the Avengers
are out dealing with them. So finally we get the physical fight between the two
of them with the other villains helping Octo-Peter. Octo-Spidey gets rid of
them by “letting it slip” that Jameson is here among Peter’s loved ones and
Scorpion’s obsession with Jameson takes over so that he and Hydroman abandon the
fight. Max Modell defeats Hydroman as Scorpion threatens Peter’s loved ones.
Scorpion goes too far when he threatens Aunt May (whom Ock was once engaged to)
and Octo-Spidey hits him full strength and dislocates his jaw as Ock realizes
just how strong Peter’s body is.  When
Peter sees this he realizes just how much damage Ock can do as him and realizes
he has to stop him at any cost so he uses the Ock arms to throw them both at
the window. Octo-Spidey saves them both with a web cushion. Peter plays his
final card by having the brain switch robot attack but Ock has protected his
skull and then he hauls off and decks his own dying body. As Peter-Ock is dying
he flashes back to Uncle Ben and Octopus sees the memory too. Peter realizes
the brainwave link partially functions even without the machine and floods Ock
with memories of his entire life and career as Spidey in a series of gorgeous
splash pages. And then Peter dies telling Ock the lesson of With Great Power
and Great Responsibility while getting him to promise to keep his loved ones
safe. As he stands over his own dead body, Octo-Spidey vows to be a Superior Spider-man than Pete was.

Bonus 1 – An old Peter is hanging out with his grandson and
tells him about his life as Spidey, albeit with some memory gaps.

Bonus 2 – Back when Peter was dating the Black Cat she gets
a new apartment and manages to steal things to decorate it behind Peter’s back
while he fights a giant robot.

 

Critical Thoughts:
Simply Fabulous. Issue 700 is every bit as epic as it should be. This is an
instant classic worthy to be included in the pantheon of the greatest
Spider-man stories ever told as Peter and Ock play this intense game of mental
chess anticipating each other moves back and forth and taking advantage of
weapons and alliances available to them in their new identities.

The two set-up issues are also well done, particularly the
narration in chapter 1 which reads like a typical Spider-man picking himself up
for a new day story and then once you know the plot twist the exact same
narration takes on a completely different connotation.

That Slott ties his explanation to how Ock was able to do
this back to issue 600 gives this story an even more epic feel as it looks like
something that has been in the works for 100 issues set between two big
landmark numbers for the character. Issue 600 in general did a lot to make Ock
a much more credible threat, as there was long period where he was clearly no
longer at the same level as the Goblins and symbiotes. Slott has been building
Ock up throughout his run on the title and this is a hell of a payoff.

There are a few quibbles. To me the biggest one is Jonah
suddenly coming around and seeing Spidey as a hero. First of all in a general
sense Spidey saved the life of Jonah, his son and pretty much everyone who
works at the Bugle scores of times and Jonah has never come around so why
should this time be different? In a more specific sense Jonah’s problem with
Spidey has always been his fear that an unknown masked man not accountable to
anyone would cross the line and go out of control one day, (in fact Jonah’s
been shown for years to support Captain America because his identity is subject
to government oversight) so to have him change his mind in a scene where Spidey
brutalizes Scorpion is completely contrary to the entire motivation of the
character. I get Slott is doing it for the irony of ‘Jameson’s finally stops
thinking of Spider-man as a menace only when he actually is a menace–nyuk
nyuk’ factor; but it just does not work if you know the history of Jameson’s
character. That same type of poetic irony works perfectly in the Mary Jane
scene so using irony isn’t always a bad choice, but I don’t think works for
Jameson.

Ditto the use of Ock’s prior history with Aunt May. There’s
a scene when Pete accesses Ock’s memories and it is implied he relives Ock and
May having sex. That’s just icky and unnecessary especially for a story of this
magnitude. Conversely having Ock treat the threat the villains pose to Pete’s
loved ones as a game until Scorpion threatens May is a good use of that same
old continuity between Ock and May.

Finally while I can see the argument that having Pete force
Ock to relive his memories as a way of getting him to embrace being a hero is a
shortcut that is too external to Ock to make him really change; I disagree. I
found the scene to be quite powerful and I loved the flashback collage and
narration. Here Pete is dying and we see the “amazing” life he’s lived and it
inspires Ock to be a hero, making it Pete’s last heroic validating act. That
doesn’t mean Ock is instantly a good person now, it just means he’s going to
try to be a hero which sets up the fun of the Superior title: seeing Ock try to
live up to Pete’s legacy–which this being comics he will almost certainly fail
at so Pete can reclaim his life later in what will hopefully be a story just as
epic as this one.

 

Grade A+. If
you’re going to kill off Spider-man and cancel the flagship title of the Marvel
Universe you better have a damn good story to live up to that. Fortunately
Slott has an excellent one in this trade.

 

PS – As for the bonus stuff, the first one is crap but I
found the Black Cat story to be a fun little throw away but then I like Felicia.

Waiting for the Trade – Spider-man & Black Cat

Waiting for the Trade

By Bill Miller

 
Spider-man: Invasion
of the Spider-Slayers

By David Micheline
& Mark Bagley

Collects Amazing
Spider-man 368-373

 

Why I Bought This: Black
Cat is my favorite character in Spider-man’s corner of the Marvel Universe and she
features prominently in this story. Plus it is from the Mark Bagley era, who is
probably my all-time favorite Spider-man artist, so while I probably read this
back in the day I didn’t recall much of it and grabbed it cheap off Amazon.

 

The Plot: Spider-man
finds himself under attack from a variety of robots while engaging in otherwise
routine crime-fighting missions against foes like Electro and Scorpion.

 

Chapter 1 – Spidey is attacked by a robot with a lot of
claws. He eventually decapitates it. Black Cat stops by to check on Pete, whose
parents recently turned up alive. Speaking of which Pete and MJ join them for
dinner at Aunt May’s house then afterwards Pete stumbles across an FBI agent
watching them. Later Spidey is chasing down a purse snatcher when he gets
attacked by bat-like robot. He defeats this one too but begins to realize he has
a problem on his hands. We are shown the face of the unnamed villain behind the
attacks.

Chapter 2 – Pete confides in Flash that he’s not sure his
parents are on the level. A news report interrupts that Electro is on the loose
so Spidey heads into action, while Felicia wishes she could join him. While
Spidey fights Electro an Iron Man looking robot attacks him. In fact Pete
assumes this is some new super villain in a suit. He only discovers it’s a
robot when Electro accidentally blows it up. Electro escapes, while Spidey
suspects the Tinkerer is behind the recent robot attacks. We cut to the Tinker,
who is secretly meeting with Felicia.

Chapter 3 – Scorpion also visits the Tinkerer and gets
upgrades to his suit including a stinger on his tail and an electric attack. (Due
to Bagley’s art it is probably Scorpion’s best look: very sleek and dangerous
looking). Meanwhile Peter’s parents are finding the modern world hard to adjust
to (they were in a Russian prison camp all the years they were presumed dead)
before they run into FBI dude from last issue. They don’t recognize him causing
him to ponder if his secret is safe. Spidey finds Felicia hanging out at the
Tinker’s headquarters and wonders if she’s behind the robot menace, but instead
she was there purchasing  some crime
fighting gear to simulate the cat-like super powers she had lost about a year
(real time) prior to this. Scorpion spots Spidey and attacks him. His new
weapons have Spidey on the defensive and then an amoeba robot attacks too.
Felicia jumps into the fray to save the day and together she and Spidey get
Scorpion and the robot to take each other out. Spidey meanwhile recognizes this
robot design as belonging to Mendel Stromm, who’s been dead since the early
Stan Lee days on the title.

Chapter 4 – Felicia shows off her new costume and weapons to
Pete and MJ. When Pete and MJ have an afternoon at the park with his parents,
Pete freaks out when his parents don’t remember the name of the dog he had as a
child. His parents claim spotty memories due to their years in prison camp and
wonder if they should track down FBI dude since he seemed to know them. Pete
and Felicia in their civilian identities visit an insane asylum where Stromm’s former
assistant recently escaped along with several other inmates. Once outside
Felicia is able to spot a tiny spider-like robot that functions as a camera.
Spidey realizes this how the various robots find him whenever he dons his costume.
Sure enough another robot arrives: this one a large humanoid with a
three-headed faceplate. The two heroes fight it for a bit until Spidey manages
gets the heads to argue with each other and the robot commits suicide. The head
of the sanitarium was in danger during the melee so in gratitude he tells
Spidey the leader of the escape was Spencer Smythe, son of a deceased Stan
Lee-era mad scientist that used to build “Spider Slayer” robots for J. Jonah
Jameson. Meanwhile Peter’s parents find FBI dude and he pulls a gun on them.

Chapter 5 – Smythe kills one his fellow escapees. Pete sees
his parents getting into a limo with FBI dude and spider-tracers the car.
Spidey and Black Cat then fight a Black Widow shaped robot, followed by a
scorpion and ant robot. The bug robots morph together Voltron style but Spidey
takes it out using a live electric wire; however Felicia gets jolted as well
and needs a breather. Spidey follows his parents alone and switches into Peter.
He overhears FBI dude planning to kill them because he was double agent for the
Red Skull when they died the first time. Pete goes to intervene but falls from
the rafters having temporarily lost his powers due to some gas in the
warehouse. FBI dude then throws Pete on a conveyor belt leading towards a fiery
demise.

Chapter 6 – Pete’s dad makes a move but gets taken hostage
but it gives Pete time to get off the conveyor belt and use his web shooter to
trip FBI dude up. He then KO’s him with a punch as his powers return. The
incident also makes Pete believe his parents are who they say they are. Spidey
then tracks Smythe down to his headquarters but is electrocuted by trick
wheelchairs that the other mental inmates are chained to. Smythe then reveals
he has made himself into a cyborg and dubs himself the Ultimate Spider Slayer.
He now has super strength, spikes and webbing as he pounds Peter pretty
one-sidedly. One of the inmates tries to help and gets murdered for it. This
causes Pete to lose his temper and three punches later the fight is over.

 

Critical Thoughts:
This is a fairly simple straight-forward story. It’s not great, but it is also not
terrible. In a lot of ways it’s just good clean comic-book fun with a couple
classic villains, some robots and a few old school cliffhangers. Plus it really
looks excellent thanks to Bagley’s art.

As a Felicia fan there is a nice symmetry in her first fight
back being against Scorpion because she lost her powers fighting him. This was
a weird era for Felicia since they couldn’t play up the characters’ usual
romantic tension with Peter being married to MJ. Their first attempt to remake
her character and keep her in the book was to take her powers away and have her
date Flash Thompson, which was a terrible character choice I never bought into.
Here she artificial super powers so she isn’t as strong or all that helpful to
Spidey but is competent enough that she can go on the occasional adventure with
him; the main goal of which was to transition her into Spider-man’s one super
hero friend he could confide in, which as one of only two superheroes that knew
Spidey’s secret identity in this era was a role she was somewhat suited for.

 

Grade: Story is
probably a standard C but the art bumps it to C+ 

Waiting for the Trade – Spiderman

Waiting for the Trade

by Bill Miller

 

Spider-man: Return of
the Goblin

by Paul Jenkins &
Humberto Ramos

collects Peter Parker:
Spider-man (vol. 2) 44-47.

 
Why I Bought This: Over
a year ago I bought the trade for a Spidey vs. Venom story called “The Hunger”
by Paul Jenkins and it was astonishingly good: like by far the best Venom story
to be told outside of the character’s first few appearances. Paul Jenkins in
general seems fairly well-regarded for his work on Spidey and after the reading
that Venom story I wanted to sample some more of his run. It seemed like
stories tackling Spidey’s other major foes would be the best pick-ups in that
regard so I grabbed both this Green Goblin story and a Doc Ock trade off
Amazon.

 
The Plot: Norman once again makes a
run at Peter through his friends and family. The story features a lot of
psychological back and forth so there’s no way to recap without heavy spoilers.

Chapter 1 – Norman visits Harry’s grave and vows vengeance
on Peter for refusing an offer to join together in a prior story. Peter
meanwhile is being tormented by a recurring dream that we don’t get to see and
tries to talk about it with Aunt May. Norman
dons the Goblin suit. Peter calls MJ but can’t find the words to speak to her
(apparently they are separated at this time), so he goes web swinging in the
rain to clear his head. And then he comes face to face with the Green Goblin.
The Goblin beats on Spidey pretty good. When Spidey turns the tables he asks
Norman the point of it all, saying “you can’t make me do anything I don’t
want;” to which Norman bets him $5 and a pizza that he can before stabbing him
in the shoulder and inviting him to a “family funeral.”

Chapter 2 – Pete flashbacks to Gwen’s death, then turns on the TV to see Norman
has released video footage of her death that implicates Spider-man as
responsible (via the infamous “snap” after Spidey weblines her in trying to
save her after the Goblin tossed her off the bridge) causing Pete to break his
TV. Next Norman
approaches Flash with a job offer. We cut to Norman
at a business meeting when Pete barges in and makes a scene to prove he can
bring the fight to Norman’s
civilian life just as easily. Of course Norman
then responds by threatening MJ and Aunt May so maybe not quite as easily.
Spidey then goes to Jameson to confront him for running the Goblin’s
allegations on the front page but that gets him nowhere. Meanwhile Norman has
his goons force alcohol down Flash’s throat then sticks Flash behind the wheel
of an Osborn Truck (as truck driver is the job Norman allegedly gave Flash) and
causes the truck to ram into Peter’s class at Midtown High (this is during the
science teacher era). Pete puts two and two together and races to the hospital
where from outside the window he overhears that Flash has “irreversible brain
damage.”

Chapter 3 – Pete is feeling guilty about Flash. When he goes
into the work the next morning he again finds Norman waiting for him; this time
playing the rich philanthropist by paying for all the damage that ‘unfortunate
drunk new employee’ caused to the school. The two exchange veiled threats in a
pretty fantastic scene as the principal gives Norman a tour of the school,
ending with Norman telling Pete which warehouse to meet him at to finish this.
Spidey stops by the hospital to visit Flash first and then we get a viscous
battle between the two. Spidey tries to pull back when he feels it has gone too
far, at which point Norman threatens to kill his own grandson (and Pete’s
godson) toddler Normie Osborn for being weak like Harry and unworthy of
inheriting the company. This causes Peter to vow to kill Norman.

Chapter 4 – Spidey and The Goblin are still going at it and Norman ups the stakes
again by saying when he finishes with Pete tonight he’s going to order hits on
every person in Pete’s life that he cares about. Spidey’s rage makes him
reckless allowing Goblin to get the upper hand. Goblin tries to drown Pete in
toxic waste, but at the last moment Pete mounts the babyface comeback and then
just pummels Norman,
breaking his ribs and putting him on the defensive. Pete is about to strike the
killing blow–and Norman even asks him to do
it–but Pete can’t commit murder and in fact realizes that Norman’s goal along has been to use Pete to
commit suicide. In a state of exhaustion the two collapse and talk to each
other, sharing a laugh before Pete reveals his recurring dream to Norman: that he sees Mary
Jane dying in a plane crash but when he gets to the body it ends up being Gwen.
Pete then says he already lived through the worst thing Norman can do once before with Gwen and if he
didn’t kill him Norman then, he’s never going to. Pete then explains to Norman how their lives are
different and walks out on him. The next day Pete visits Flash in the hospital,
while Norman
returns to his office all alone and looks over a gun in his desk drawer.

 

Critical Thoughts: The
human chess between Pete and Norman is great in chapters 2 and 3 and Norman comes across as
really diabolical and underhanded throughout the whole story making this a
gripping read at times.

I’m not sure I fully buy into Norman being suicidal–probably
because we don’t expect arch-villains to be that vulnerable or really anything
but threatening and megalomaniacal in most super hero stories–but it’s not so
far-fetched as to say it couldn’t happen: after all Norman was at least a
sociopath before he even became the Goblin and over the years his mental
problems have been exacerbated by chemical means, head trauma and even mystic
inducement so who is to say that his insanity would never manifest into
depression, particularly after the death of his son. If we go with the premise
that Norman is suicidal
I certainly believe that he would want to die by Pete’s hand both for his own
ego and as a final revenge on Pete since he knows Pete well enough to how
guilty Peter would feel if he ever took a life. Certainly Jenkins puts a lot of
work into the story to make the premise plausible, with the ending showing how
alone Norman
is. I think Jenkins writes villains exceptionally well so when he has one of
the major ones like Venom or Norman
he writes stories that excel both psychologically as well as on the visceral
action level. It also helps that Jenkins has a good grasp of Peter and his
supporting cast, and how being in the presence of these psychopaths day in and
day out affects Peter.

As a general criticism, I will say I don’t like Ramos’ art.
I never have and still don’t even with his current ASM Spidey stuff. Most of the time he’s okay drawing the costumed
stuff but his civilian facials are terrible. This however was a step-up from
his usual. There’s a few panels where Aunt May looks weird but overall he does
an adequate job on this story.

 

Grade: B-. An
unusual direction for Norman but overall it’s a compelling read from beginning
to end, which you can find for a ludicrously cheap price on Amazon.

Superior Spider-Man

I have to say, although the ending doesn't make me as much as it does intrigued, Dan Slott's Spider-Man continues to be an awesome bit of serial storytelling thus far.  I think the most interesting thing is that the "out" for the story that was posited by others has now been confirmed — Ock didn't actually "brain swap" with Peter he overlaid his memories onto Peter's, so basically it's less Ock-controlling-Peter than it is Peter-Thinks-He's-Octavius.  So at least now he can fully explore his EEEEEEVIL side without the ghost of Parker foiling him.  This should be fun.  

Two clawed thumbs up!  

Waiting for the Trade – Spider-man vs. Venom !

Waiting for the Trade

 

by Bill Miller

 

Spider-man: Venom
Returns

by David Micheline
& Erik Larsen

collects material from
Amazing Spider-man 330-333, 345-347 and Annual 25

 
Why I Bought This: When
I first got into buying trades five years ago this was among the first few
books I picked up (the first one incidentally was Spider-man: Birth of Venom) as I love the classic early Venom
stories and this one in particular includes my all time single favorite issue
of Spider-man when he and Venom battle on the island. With me now reviewing
Venom’s monthly series, I thought it would be a good time to revisit this.
The Plot: Venom
hates Spider-man a lot, knows Peter’s secret identity, doesn’t trigger his
spider sense and will stop at nothing to kill him.

 
Chapter 0 – Guards at the Vault discover Eddie Brock is dead
after hanging himself, with the symbiote nowhere to be found. They attempt an
autopsy and the symbiote oozes out of the incision and kills everyone in the
room. Eddie reveals the symbiote mimicked his skin thus hiding his vital signs.
From there he takes the doctor’s security card and the symbiote morphs into a
lab coat and Venom makes his escape.

Chapter 1 – Venom is the sewers of New York eating spiders. They
pseudo-separate so Eddie Brock can work out and explain the stronger his human
form gets, the more the symbiote can amplify his strength when they combine.
Meanwhile Spidey is fighting Styx (rot touch)
and Stone (typical 90s big guns, not the same character from the Daredevil
review last week) in the park for a few pages until the villains escape on a
hovercraft. Spidey and MJ go on a date, while Aunt May sees Eddie Brock has
escaped on the news. May goes to call Peter but Eddie is at the front door.
Meanwhile Styx and Stone are working for
Jonathan Caesar, a rich creep who became obsessed with Mary Jane when she was
on a soap opera in this era. May calls Peter to let him know Eddie is looking
for him and she sent Eddie to Central Park and
called the cops. Pete knows the cops have no chance and heads over there to
face him. Spidey arrives and finds a cop on the scene, but the cop is again
Venom as the symbiote had again changed its appearance. Spidey is desperately
on the defensive and Venom corners him and webs him up for the kill when a baby
falls into the lake due to collateral damage from their fight. Venom
surprisingly chooses to save the baby. The real police arrive and Venom decides
to depart as he wants his revenge on Spidey in private and away from innocents.

Chapter 2 – Pete is at May’s worrying about Venom, and sure enough
Venom arrives there again. This time he morphs into a utility repair man so May
is unaware of who he really is, and gets Peter to agree to face him in an
abandoned sewer lest May be endangered. Pete considers leaving town with MJ but
then bumps into Flash, who gives Pete an inadvertent pep talk that convinces Spidey
to fight it out. As Spidey heads into the sewers he is spotted by Styx and Stone. In the sewer Venom gives what seems to be
a standard super villain monologue, but in fact is sending symbiote tendrils through
the floor to grab Spidey while they talk. Spidey dodges and counterstrikes
prompting Venom to fly into a rage and threaten brain eating for the first time
in an absolutely iconic panel. Just then Styx
and Stone arrive and attack both Spidey and Venom. Stone’s guns are pretty
useless against Venom. Just as Venom is about to eat Stone, Styx
rot touches him and kills the symbiote. Spidey subdues the remaining villains
as police take the now human and bereft Eddie away.

Chapter 2.5 – We meet up with Eddie a few months later, now
imprisoned on Ryker’s Island instead of the
Vault since he is no longer a super-villain. He’s still a physical fitness nut,
and has a cellmate in multi-time serial killer Cletus Kassidy. Kassidy plans to
literally knife Eddie in the back when the symbiote returns through the bars
and Venom is reborn. They escape with ease, although the symbiote leaves
something behind (but that’s a tale for a different trade).

Chapter 3 – Eddie returns to the Globe (where he worked as a
reporter before he was Venom) and after killing the one dude he finds there,
uses the computers to conduct some research. Pete meanwhile learns about
Venom’s return and immediately puts MJ on a flight to parts unknown to keep her
safe. That night Pete is eating at a diner and sure enough Eddie finds him
again. They step into an alley (both still looking like civilians) where a
mugger tries to rob them. Eddie reacts violently and Pete uses the opportunity
to run away. Pete spends the night at a seedy hotel. In the morning he checks
his phone messages and has a message asking him to consult on cryogenic science
experiment (as well as threatening messages from Eddie). Pete thinks he may be
able to cryogenically freeze Venom and heads over there, although after keeping
a low profile he now webs across town so that Venom again ambushes him. We get
a pretty fantastic fight scene with both characters battling above the city on
their web-lines for five pages. Spidey creates enough separation to get to the
cryogenics lab but when he asks an orderly to point him to the control room,
the orderly ends up being Venom is disguise. Spidey winds up in the cryogenic
chamber and Venom puts the deep freeze on him.

 
Chapter 4 – Spider-man wakes up on the beach. Venom reveals
he has transported them to a deserted island so they can have their final
battle uninterrupted. The entire issue is just an insanely awesome fight scene
as the symbiote pulls off a series of creepy cool tricks: Spidey tries to
blind him with webbing and his face explodes, Spidey tries to get a drink of
water and Venom is lurking at the bottom of the lake since he doesn’t need to
breathe, Pete tries to run into the jungle and Venom goes all Predator and
turns translucent as he stalks him from the trees. Pete meanwhile is in full on
Dangerous Game mode as Venom hunts him across the island, and begins setting
snare traps and looking for ways to use the terrain. The battle/hunt goes a
full day and into the night, with Pete eventually finding an abandoned gas mine
filled with human remains. He tricks Venom into igniting the gas, and when the
symbiote retreats from the fire Pete dresses one of the dead bodies in his
costume so that once the flames die down Venom thinks he has killed Spider-man.
Pete manages to swim to a passing boat and escape; while Venom, thinking his
revenge is complete, decides to stay on the island.

Chapter 0.5 – A back-up story from one of the annuals that
shows Eddie hitchhiking his way across the country after his escape from the
Vault in chapter 0. (The Vault is in Colorado,
Spidey is in NY). Anyway he’s at a truck stop when three guys with guns attempt
a robbery. Venom reveals himself and kills them criminals in order to protect
the family that gave him a ride when he was hitchhiking as Marvel editorial
starts transitioning Venom into the Lethal Protector.

 
Critical Thoughts: This
still completely holds up as one of the absolute very best Spider-man stories
ever told. You want to understand how Venom became phenomenally popular then read
this trade. In every issue he keeps upping the stakes both in how relentlessly he
stalks Peter and how he comes up with new and cooler things to do with his
costume. That escape from the Vault is some classic flat out horror movie style
goodness, and every issue thereafter the symbiote has at least one new trick.

Plus in this trade we see Venom evolve a little from his
first two appearances so that Eddie Brock is just as important as the symbiote.
In Venom’s first appearance when his identity is revealed we were told two things
about Eddie Brock: he’s a devout Catholic and he used to be a reporter. In this
story we see both those factors come into play. He may be a dangerous
psychopathic serial killer but his Catholicism won’t let him sacrifice a baby
to get his revenge. And once he decides he wants to get Spidey alone for their
final battle, he uses his reporter background to research both a trap to get
Spidey where he wants him and to find a suitable location for that battle;
hence the cryogenics lab and the island.

The true key to understanding why so many people found these
early Venom stories to be mind-blowing is how novel they were for their time period.
When these stories were written Norman Osborn had been dead for two decades,
(and trade collections were a lot less common) so for entire generations of
Spidey fans these stories were the first they’d ever read that were this high
stakes and personal. When Electro or Scorpion break out of jail they don’t go
looking for Spider-man, they try to rob a bank or kidnap Jonah or whatever the
plot of the month is and Spider-man finds them and foils their plans. And even
in the rare story where his other villains primarily want revenge on Spidey,
they don’t know his secret. They have to go to Times
Square and call Spidey out by blowing sh*t up on TV. But Venom, he
doesn’t want to rob a bank or become a crime boss or rule the world or any
other motivation that we’ve seen in literally 1,000 other Spidey stories. Venom
just wants to kill Spider-man and eat his brains when he’s done; and that’s
just a whole different level of hardcore. And worst of all he knows who Spidey
is and he has no qualms of stopping by Aunt May or Mary Jane’s house to get to
him if he needs to, which is why in my view Venom is far and away the greatest
Spider-man villain of all (and possibly the best villain in all of comics
period). And yes, he also looks pretty damn cool too.

 

Grade A+. That
island story is still the greatest issue of Spider-man I’ve ever read.
 

Waiting for the Trade – Fantastic Four

Waiting for the Trade

by Bill Miller

 

Fantastic Four vol. 5:
Forever

by Jonathan Hickman,
Steve Epting and Barry Kitson

collects Fantastic
Four 600-604.

 
Why I Bought This: It
promises the return of the Annihilation Wave and I loved Annihilation. It also features the resurrection of the Human Torch,
and Hickman’s run in general has been getting rave reviews: although the only
other volume of his I’ve read was the Death of the Torch trade, which was
indeed excellent.

The Plot:  The Kree send an armada to destroy the Earth
while Annihilus makes plans to use the FF’s Negative Zone portal to relaunch
the Annihilation Wave and an even larger cosmic threat gathers on the horizon.
Plus the Human Torch returns from the dead.

Chapter 1The
Kree armada has arrived in NYC and the FF and Avengers (including reserves like
Firestar and She-Hulk) engage them. Annihilus’s agents on Earth contact him and
he decides this is an ideal time to open the Negative Zone portal. The Kree are
also attacking Attilan as apparently The Supreme Intelligence is alive and has
initiated a coup. (The Inhumans had been ruling the Kree Empire since Realm of Kings). Ronan refuses to join
the Supremor (who wants to exterminate the Inhumans) as he has fallen in love
with his wife (Crystal of the Inhumans). As the battle rages the bugs invade
the Baxter Building where only Zero-G (of Power
Pack) is there to hold them off while the weird rag tag kids Reed has taken in
retreat. The Kree deploy Sentry robots and quickly take down She-Hulk and Red
Hulk, leaving Thing alone to face them. Valeria is able to teleport the
Foundation kids away along with the top few floors of the building, which the
FF notices from across town. Reed sends Spider-man to check on the kids. The
bugs begin opening the Negative Zone portal as Spidey arrives. He fights
valiantly but is about to be overwhelmed by numbers when the portal opens
revealing the Human Torch alive.

Chapter 1.5 – We flashback to Johnny’s death and finally see
what happened when the portal closed behind him, stranding him in the Negative
Zone and facing the Annihilation Wave. He went nova and killed a ton of bugs
but not Annihilus, who then summoned even more bugs. Torch attempts to go Nova
a second time only for Annihilus to strike him down. He interrogates Johnny for
the code to open the portal and when Johnny can’t give it to him he cuts him in
half. We then flashback to the scene from the Death of Torch trade a few days
after Johnny’s death where Reed confronted Annihilus with the Ultimate
Nullifier—in the original interpretation it was silent and yet Annihilus was
still effectively creepy; here we get dialogue and it’s somehow even better
with Annihilus welcoming nullification since he always reincarnates after a
normal death. Next, we cut to Johnny waking up dead as bugs, in a scene
reminiscent of Alien, are in his
torso; only these bugs are sewing him back together. Later Johnny is in a
prison and we meet his cellmates, a group of superhumans called the Universal
Inhumans, whose seem to include members from various minor alien races of the
Marvel Universe. Anyway the prisoners are all forced to fight in an arena for Annihilus’
amusement and those that die will get resurrected over and over again by the
sewing bugs. In his first battle Johnny kills the reigning champion with a
single fireball then flies over to Annihilus’ throne and nova blasts him point
blank. Annihilus is unimpressed and cuts him in half again. Annihilus later
contacts an alternate reality evil Reed and gets the codes to open the portal
and makes a plan to invade the Earth in two weeks. Johnny gets more desperate
and convinces his fellow prisoners to revolt. We cut to last chapter, where Annihilus
decides to open the gate early because of the Kree Armada. Johnny and friends
attack him and one of the aliens manages to telekinetically steal the Cosmic
Control Rod with his dying breath, getting to Johnny who uses its power to take
control of the Annihilation Wave.

Bonus Chapters: (a
bunch of five page stories from issue 600) Black Bolt apparently married four
alien chicks from different races while he was dead, but assures his first wife
Medusa he still loves her. In the recent past Galactus gave Reed a summoning
device that will bring him to aid Reed in an upcoming cosmic crisis he has foreseen;
and he also warns Reed that Franklin’s
cosmic powers have returned. Franklin
is talking with a mysterious someone, who has been helping him use his powers
to make pocket universes again.   

Chapter 2 The
Kree are winning, when Johnny sets off a flaming 4 into the sky, which inspires
the heroes to fight harder. The Inhumans arrive on Earth to help, while the
Supreme Intelligence orders a Nega Bomb strike. Johnny and the FF reunite, as
we learn Johnny is two years older now since time flows differently in the
Negative Zone. Johnny then sends the Annihilation Wave thru the gate to engage
the Kree armada. Debris from the space battle however is making it through the
atmosphere and Reed is concerned this will still lead to the extinction of life
on Earth.

Chapter 3 The
fight rages for several pages until the Kree are about to win so Reed summons
Galactus. Galactus casually destroys the Kree, while telling Richards this is
not the cosmic threat he foresaw. And then the Celestials arrive.

Chapter 4 – Galactus
engages the Celestials. The Supreme Intelligence wisely orders a full retreat
and the Inhumans pursue them. Reed goes to rendezvous with Valeria, who has
recovered some cosmic doohickey from the time council of Reeds. Galactus kills
a Celestial, only for three to feed of its energies and then combine into a
super celestial that dwarfs Galactus. It then blasts Galactus into
unconsciousness. Reed uses the doohickey to kill the super Celestial, but there
are still three more regular Celestials remaining. They attack the FF and Sue’s
force field won’t last long. Johnny takes the fight to them focusing his nova
flame through the Cosmic Control Rod to sever the arm of one of the Celestials
but the others blast him from the sky. Sue’s force field shatters and they look
to kill Reed when Sue pops up and fights them on her own. They break her force
field again and are about to kill both Reed and Sue when adult Franklin and
adult Valeria arrive through a wormhole.

Chapter 5 – Adult
Franklin
seemingly vaporizes the Celestials but he in fact he just teleported them into
a star across the universe giving him and Nathaniel (Reed’s father, also a time
traveler) time to explain time paradoxes. Adult Franklin
was the one teaching young Franklin in the
shadows; Adult Franklin then absorbs the pocket universe created by young Franklin to power up. The
Celestials return and adult Franklin
has to fight them more directly. He decapitates one of them as Nathanial
explains the Celestials are out to eliminate the cross time Reeds of which our
Reed was briefly a member and we get more time travel mumbo jumbo the gist of
which is this is the day Reed is supposed to die in adult Franklin’s timeline.
Then inexplicably we learn that Galactus is the herald of Franklin. Franklin revives Galactus, who then kills a
second Celestial. Galactus and Franklin kill the last one at the cost of adult Franklin’s life. We get
some pithy comments on how Reed’s family makes him the greatest of the cross
time Reeds, and then Galactus resurrects adult Franklin and all the time
travelers return to the future while alluding that they have successfully
changed their timeline. In the aftermath we see Reed teaching young Franklin to use his
powers to fly.

 
Critical Thoughts: I
liked this but I didn’t love it. While reading it, I enjoyed it. The middle
chapters certainly have a lot of momentum so the story builds well; but the
finale left me a little flat.

The story’s biggest fault is the central threat is resolved
not by the heroes but by time traveling outsiders that show up at a key moment.
And yes, the time travelers are related to the FF family but it still feels
contrived. I actually enjoy time travel movies and Star Trek episodes quite a
bit; but I don’t like the way it’s being used here. Truthfully I’ve always
found both Nathanial Richards time-traveling and omnipotent Franklin to be among the weaker elements of
FF mythology and this is relying on both of those things as a get out of jail
free card for the heroes.

Franklin
being Galactus’s master is also so ludicrously out of left of field as to defy
description—which is probably why Hickman doesn’t even attempt to offer an explanation.
Galactus is long established as a fundamental cosmic force that is older than
the universe itself; so even with time travel it shouldn’t be possible for Franklin to have these
types of ties to him. I’d add the power levels adult Franklin show in this
story, while impressive, don’t really seem to bear out that he is greater than
Galactus from the decades of story evidence showing what Galactus can do; and
I’ll add this adult Franklin is at twice his normal power because he’s absorbed
a pocket universe making it even less likely that his normal power level could
make this claim be true. Plus Galactus resurrects adult Franklin at the end. Would we buy it if
Silver Surfer just casually resurrected Galactus? I wouldn’t from years of
reading stories with those two, so if Franklin is allegedly as above Galactus
as Galactus is the Surfer than Galactus shouldn’t be able to resurrect him so
easily at the end. (Not that it even matters if he’s resurrected since we are
told the heroes just averted his timeline from coming into existence).

This leads to my second major criticism, which is I do not
buy that either of the main villain threats should be as imposing as Hickman
writes them here. I’ll start with the Kree empire. We’ve seen the heroes of
Earth thwart the Kree all the time, with frankly not much difficulty. Maybe it
isn’t usually the entire Armada, but then this time the heroes have aid from
the Annihilation Wave, which when last we saw it defeated the combined forces
of the Kree, Skrull, Xandarians and Galactus. Ditto the Celestials. I’ve seen
the Celestials in four stories previously: in all of them they’ve been casually
swatted away in a page or two (by the Beyonder, Thanos and the Phoenix Force
respectively) so I’ve come to accept them as the low men on the Marvel cosmic
totem poll and yet here they are taking down Galactus and shrugging off the
Cosmic Control Rod. In both cases the threats do have large numbers on their
side, so it’s not a glaring plot hole; it just for my tastes feels a little
off. As I said in my “why I bought this” I was most interested in the Annihilation
Wave, and they’re playing a subordinate role here to what I would consider
inferior villains.

I also hate the idea of a cross-time council of Reeds. As
someone who lived through the Cross Time Council of Kangs in the pages of
Avengers, which led to several of the worst stories in Avengers history, I admit
to being biased here as I just flat out don’t want to a cross time council in a
comic book ever again in much the same way I don’t want to see a clone in a
Spider-man comic ever again.

That said, there is a lot to like in this story. The Human
Torch chapter is great. In that chapter Annihilus is every bit the terrible
threat I wanted to see when I bought this book. The Torch resurrection scenes
are horrifically creepy in the art. Indeed a lot of times I will criticize a
mainstream superhero comic if it goes too far in its depictions of violence;
and while you could say that here, context is important. In the context of this
story the images work to further the story in an acceptable and non-gratuitous
way. I’ll add the art in general is really good throughout the entire story.

Johnny’s return also hits a lot of the right notes when he
meets up with Spidey and with his family. Indeed from what I’ve seen in both
this trade and the Death of Torch trade, Hickman really gets the familial
relationship of this team and writes it exceptionally well. He also writes a
really good Spidey. Spidey’s part is small here, but I enjoyed it: from the way
he fights the bugs to his concerns for the children to his assuring Reed he’ll
get the job done so Reed can concentrate on solving the larger problem. On a
related note, while only a few panels, I like that he continued the
Ronan-Crystal subplot from DnA’s cosmic stories; as I felt their marriage was
the only interesting thing in the mess that was War of Kings and Realm of Kings.

I also liked chapter four a lot, in that while it is mostly
an extended fight scene it is the kind of fight scene where the reader has a
clear sense of the tactics of each side of the battle. Momentum switches back
and forth three or four times and so it really is a fast-paced, well-drawn
dramatic read. Plus Sue standing her ground alone over Reed’s unconscious body
is a terrific character moment for her.

 

Grade B- : While
not exactly the story I wanted, it has a fast-paced dramatic build with a lot of
high marks. Unfortunately, the ending a little too tidy and a little too
bizarre.

Waiting for the Trade – Spider-man & Heroes for Hire

Waiting for the Trade

by Bill Miller

 

Heroes for Hire: Fear
Itself

By Dan Abnett &
Andy Lanning

collects Heroes for
Hire 6-12

 

Why I Bought This: As
I said in a few reviews now, a few months ago I decided to break my no event
story policy for Fear Itself because
it was allegedly Cap-centric. Of all the crossover trades this was the one I
was most interested in just because it’s by DnA and their work on Guardians of the Galaxy a few years back
earned them a ton of goodwill.

 

The Plot: Basically
two separate stories. First, Spider-man team up with Paladin and Misty Knight
to stop a smuggling ring. Then, the HforH heroes attempt deal with collateral
damage from Fear Itself.

Chapter 1 – Paladin is taking on ninjas with bone weapons
when Spidey arrives to lend a helping hand. Paladin and Spidey don’t like each
other so Paladin attempts to solve the case on his own only to be attacked by
Batroc the Leaper. Batroc wins their fight, leaving Paladin lying in the road
with broken ribs. Misty hires Spider-man to assist (although he refuses to take
any actual money).

Chapter 2 – Spidey tails the crooks to a warehouse and gets
attacked by generic thugs with hellfire guns. Paladin is forced to take a taxi
to the crime scene in a funny bit and then disobeys orders to seek medical
treatment and goes off to join the fray. Spidey is now fighting Batroc and the
bone ninjas. Batroc lures him into an arena where Spidey is attacked by
Scorpion and a pack of velociraptors. Misty decides she has to go into the
field to assist.

Chapter 3 – Paladin arrives and engages the bone ninjas while
Spidey fights the dinosaurs and Scorpion. Paladin wins his fight only for the
hellfire gun thugs to show up. Paladin then calls in Satana to exorcise their
weapons. Misty arrives and battles Batroc. Spidey begins to turn the tide in
his fight. Satana finishes her spell with the side effect of sending the thugs
to Hell. Spidey defeats Batroc giving the heroes the win. Afterwards Misty
decides someone is pulling the strings for all these villains and we learn it
is Purple Man.

Chapter 4 – We see clips of the hammers falling in Fear Itself with one landing on Yancy Street and
one on the Raft. Those are the two closest locations to NYC so Misty sends some
heroes to investigate. On Yancy
Street, Paladin meets the possessed Thing and
tells Misty he is seriously outgunned. She sends Gargoyle to assist and his
mystic powers give them a fighting chance. Meanwhile we meet a random scientist
who was working on an experiment when Thing broke the city causing him to be
doused in chemicals. At the Raft Shroud arrives and takes on some villains that
are so F-list I’ve never even heard of them. He defeats a few on his own but as
the numbers seem about to catch up on him Elektra arrives to assist—and in a
funny touch Misty has to pay her double her normal rate not to kill anyone.
Back to scientist dude who emerges from the chemical transformed into Monster:
he looks like a Venom/Ghost Rider crossbreed but later we’ll learn he shape
shifts into the greatest fear of whoever he faces. Meanwhile Purple Man is
about to kill the comatose Puppet Master when Shroud and Elektra arrive. Purple
Man takes control over the entire inmate population.

Chapter 5 – Shroud’s darkness power prevents Purple Man from
seeing the inmates to coordinate their movements so that he and Elektra can
take them all down. Back with the other two heroes where the Thing has left
(presumably to go fight Red Hulk in the Avengers
trade) and Paladin radios in how there was nothing they could do stop him from
walking off so Misty assigns them to rescue civilians from collapsed buildings
instead; and with no other heroes available due to the main crisis she decides
she will be of more help by joining them in that task. On Yancy Street Gargoyle
encounters Monster who he thinks is God condemning him for making a deal with
demons years ago to get his powers. Monster turns Gargoyle to stone then
confronts Paladin in the form of a superior superhero. Monster proceeds to beat
Paladin to a bloody pulp. Back at the Raft Purple Man forces Shroud to turn off
his darkness and then orders Elektra to kill him.

Chapter 6 – Monster is enjoying shape shifting into numerous
forms to scare off every civilian he encounters. Misty is able to cure Gargoyle
and awaken Paladin and by comparing notes she figures out what his powers are.
She orders them away from the battle so she can face him one on one. Back at
the Raft, Elektra shakes off the mind control and beats Purple Man into
unconsciousness. This frees Shroud, and she reveals she used ninja skills to
hold her breath throughout the entire fight scene last issue since Purple Man’s
power is pheromone based so he couldn’t possess her. Purple Man recovers and
escapes while she is talking to Shroud, who thinks she should have ignored her
contract and just killed Purple Man when she had the chance. Meanwhile Misty
confronts Monster and forces him to shape shift into a scared little boy as her
greatest fear is the child she lost prior to issue 1 of this series in the
pages of Iron Fist. The heroes then
go back to helping refugees.

Chapter 7 – Misty is tracking down a drug trafficking
organization that has roots in Atlantis. She attacks them on multiple fronts at
once with Moon Knight in LA, Silver Sable & Paladin on Coney
Island, and Sting Ray at sea. While the first two operations shut
down their U.S.
importing operations on both coasts, Sting Ray’s fight is the key to her strategy
as it gets Namor’s attention. She tells Namor about the drug ring and that
while she can stop the human distributors the root of the problem are the
suppliers in Atlantis. Namor vows to shut them down within one week. Paladin
and Misty then celebrate a job well done as this series comes to an end (with
the already reviewed Villains for Hire miniseries
tying up the loose end of the Purple Man’s escape afterwards).

 

Critical Thoughts: Definitely
a tale of two stories here. The Spiderman half is a lot of fun and worth
reading if you enjoy a light-hearted take on the character. The Fear Itself half is your usual subpar
crossover nonsense.

For the Spidey stuff, I want to commend DnA on this. The
story has several legitimate laugh out loud moments. DnA gets the tone of
Spider-man’s banter right and captures the proper pace for a second tier
Spider-man adventure story. The art by Brad Walker also looks really good here.
I also liked the interpretation of the villains in this story. Again these are
second tier villains and I’d say they are portrayed at just about the right
threat level: way over Paladin’s league but only in Spidey’s league because
they’ve combined forces. Heck even the henchman are fun: bone ninjas, dinosaurs
and hellfire guns: now that is jsut a weird and wacky combination.

The Fear Itself stuff
isn’t completely terrible but it’s also not nearly as good as the first story.
As a longtime fan of the Defenders I liked seeing Gargoyle and I think his
portrayal, particularly his greatest fear, is very much in character for his
origins. I also think it is a credit to Misty to show she knows her team’s
limitations. They can’t fight the main threat in Fear Itself so they concentrate on helping civilians and stopping a
prison riot. Of course if you bought this off the rack because you were digging
Fear Itself you’d probably feel ripped
off since this thing is only tangentially related to the main story with hammer
Thing appearing for all of three pages.

I think the wrap-up issue does its job well enough. One
thing I liked about this series was DnA’s take on what each characters accepts
as payment to join the team per mission. While quite a few just take cash,
seeing someone like Sting Ray have his payment sent to a non-profit
oceanographic institute show’s DnA puts thought into even the C-list heroes
they use. Still if you want to sample DnA for the first time, this series never
once hits the tremendous peaks of Guardians
of the Galaxy
, so pick that up instead.

One little complaint: the back cover features Black Cat in
the art, who is one of my very favorite characters, yet she never appears in
this trade. Well, and for continuity geeks I have to point out Namor claims to
have never heard of Heroes for Hire even though he was the company’s chief
financial backer when they both had a series in the late 90s.

 

Grade: The Spidey
story is a fun B+, the rest is probably a C-. Let’s call it a C+ overall.

Waiting for the Trade – Spider-man

Waiting for the Trade

By Bill Miller

 

Spider-man Family:
Untold Team-ups

by Jeff Parker, Chris
Giarrusso, Kevin Grevious and Chris Eliopoilas

collects Spider-man
Family 4-6

Why Bought This: It
features a team-up with Spider-man and Throg (aka Frog Thor). Who doesn’t want
to read that?

 

The Plot: A
collection of Spider-man team-up stories with the Agents of Atlas, Dr. Strange,
Throg and Ka-Zar.

Chapter 0 – A 5 page story: Puppet Master witnesses bullies
toss a young kid’s action figures into a pond so he gives the victim a magic Spider-man
doll capable of independent speech and movement.

Chapter 1 – Spidey chases a dinosaur-man into a Broadway theatre
where the stage manager acts like nothing is wrong. Wanting to investigate
further Peter buys tickets for himself and MJ to see the show. A dude on stage
dressed like a shaman uses audience participation to cast a spell that summons
a bunch of dinosaurs and jungle animals for no discernable reason. The Agents
of Atlas are also in the audience and they get involved. They are Jimmy Woo (their
contact in the FBI, no powers), Venus (magic, may even be the Greek goddess),
Gorilla Man (literally a talking Gorilla), Marvel Boy (a former wielder of
Quasar’s quantum bands, last I saw he’d gone insane and was working for Thanos,
who gave him low-powered replicas of the bands in Quasar’s solo title; although
he seems to have different powers here that involve wearing a bowl of water on
his head), Namora (a female version of Namor) and M-11 (a robot). Spidey
briefly fights Gorilla Man in the confusion before the heroes sort out what’s
going on. Spidey then hitches a ride on their UFO and we learn the villain is
part of some cult the Atlases have fought before. The heroes track them down
and easily defeat the non-powered cult members. Marvel Boy erases Spivey’s
memory of meeting the Agents because they’re secret spies.

Chapter 2 – We start with Spidey and Dr. Strange being held
captive by Snake-men before a flashback shows us Pete was with Aunt May when
Strange telepathically summoned him. Strange explains Morbius stole Dr.
Strange’s powers, probably to cure his vampirism. Strange has enough power left
to enhance Spidey’s spider-sense so they can track him down. Morbius’s attempt
at spell-casting goes out control. This leads to Snake-men ambushing Spidey and
Strange (Strange is forced to use kung-fu and magic knives against them). They
win the first fight but as they search the city more Snake-men are attacking
civilians. Spidey insists they try to help and this gets the heroes captured.
Back in the present Spidey’s enhanced spider-sense is giving him clairvoyant
visions and he sees Snake-men coming for Aunt May. This gives him the
adrenaline to burst his bonds and win the fight. The heroes find Morbius also
fighting Snake-men. Dr. Strange takes out the Snake-men with his flying knives
giving Spidey time to smash the magic amulet Morbius used to steal Strange’s
powers. Once restored Strange banishes the Snake-men back to their home
dimension. Strange goes to chastise Morbius for being selfish and we learn he
wasn’t trying to cure himself of vampirism but cure his best friend of ALS.
Strange explains magic can’t be used to cure natural diseases but offers to use
his skills as a medical doctor to help.

Chapter 3 – Kraven the Hunter is hanging out on the rooftops
with two young girls vowing to hunt the Man-Wolf (John Jameson turned into a
pseudo werewolf by a moon rock). Kraven finds Man-Wolf in combat with Spidey.
Spidey gets distracted by the girls who are meant to be Paris Hilton stand-ins.
Kraven saves Spidey and wrestles the creature while the girls shoot blindly.
Eventually Spidey and Kraven remove its amulet only for Spidey to see this wolf
isn’t Jameson. Kraven explains he’s using the rock to make money legally;
getting hired by rich people who want to hunt a super-human and paying homeless
people to wear the amulet for the hunt. Kraven gloats that he’s broken no laws so
Spidey can’t do anything to him. Spidey responds by webbing all four of then up
and giving the civilians a lecture. Spidey then swings off leaving them to hang
around for a few hours until the web dissolves.

Chapter 4 – Thor stops a purse snatcher. When he returns the
victim’s purse she kisses him and he turns into a frog. Before he can touch his
hammer he’s captured for a biology class as Loki looks on. Cut to Midtown High
where teen Pete gets Frog Thor. Frog Thor breaks free and is able to
communicate with Pete by nodding his head in response to questions. Pete ducks
out of school, switches to Spidey and lets the Frog lead him back to the
hammer. Once the frog lifts it he becomes Throg—humanoid Frog with Thor’s
powers including speech restored. Thor suspects Loki and tracks him to Midtown
where he was disguised as a student hoping to witness Thor’s death. Throg
pummels Loki a bit until he’s gets magic zapped. Spidey interjects by blinding
Loki with webbing and Throg hits him some more until Loki surrenders. He says
the only way to reverse spell is with love’s kiss. MJ shows up and wants to
kiss Spidey for saving her life in the commotion. He gets her to close her eyes
and pulls a switch thus restoring Thor. Thor takes Loki back to Asgard, while teen
Spidey sulks for missing chance to kiss MJ.

Chapter 5 – Spidey and Ka-Zar defeat Stegron fairly quickly.
Ka-Zar notes Zabu is depressed. Ka-Zar is in NYC to speak the United Nation
about global warming and asks Pete to cat-sit. Pete talks to Aunt May and she
talks about out-living all her friends. This gives Pete the idea to take Zabu
to a museum to see stuffed saber-toothed tigers. Spidey also gives him a pep
talk that he still has family in Ka-Zar. Zabu cheers up and we see the
aftermath of Spidey & Ka-Zar defeating Sauron. Zabu gives Spidey a hug
before him and Ka-Zar return to the Savage
Land.
Critical Thoughts:
This was mostly fun in a harmless way. While I’m never too enthused with teen
Spidey, I still found the Throg team-up to be entertaining enough. The art in
that one is also very Ditko-esque, which helps set the playful tone you’d want
given the premise. The final battle with Throg battling Loki is especially well
drawn in that vein.

I enjoyed most of the other stories as well. The Dr. Strange
story was much better than I expected. Usually Strange-Spidey team ups are very
one-note and for most Spidey’s presence in them seems forced given Strange’s
power levels. This one by featuring a depowered Strange who has to rely on
magic weapons puts the characters on more even footing, and the Spider-Sense as
tracking ability gave a plausible reason for Spidey to be Strange’s first
choice for this team up. I even enjoyed seeing the Snake-men again who used to
trouble Spidey in several of his mystic team-ups in the original Marvel Team-Up series. Spidey insisting
he and Strange save the civilians is also a really nice touch to differentiate
the two heroes: Strange is focused on ending the macro-cosmic threat, while
Spidey sees it from the micro man-on-the-street level.

The Zabu team-up and Kraven story, while both on the shorter
side, at least felt tonally right with where I prefer Spidey’s
characterization. The only negative is the Agents of Atlas team-up. I’ve never
seen them before, but based on this what a boring team of characters. Also not
helping is that the plot of stage magician has real powers and is evil was stale
back in the Silver Age.

 

Grade C+. While
none of these stories will have any impact on continuity, it still makes for a
moderately entertaining diversion at a low cost (about $5) much in the vein of
the original Marvel Team Up series.
If you have fond memories of that series you may want to give this book a shot.

Waiting for the Trade – Avengers

Waiting for the Trade

 

by Bill Miller

 

Marvel Adventures
Avengers: Vol. 2 – Mischief.

by Tom Bedard and
Shannon Gallant.

collects Marvel Adventures
the Avengers #5-8.

 
Why I Bought This: This
was a cheap pick-up (under $5) as part of my post-Avengers movie feeding frenzy. Specifically Juggernaut is on the
cover, and I figured: even if it is a simplified story, at this price, he’s
always good for a fun fight scene.

The Plot: Loki
discovers the existence of the Avengers and decides to test them by creating new
super villains for them to face. For this universe the Avengers are Captain America, Storm,
Hulk, Spider-man, Giant-Girl (Wasp, only with growth powers instead of her
normal shrinking/flying/laser stings), Iron Man and Wolverine.

 

Chapter 1 – The Avengers are fighting Loki, who keeps them
at bay with a force field and notices that mortals with super power are similar
to “gods” like himself. He wonders why they all choose to be heroes, then
teleports away to see what happens if he were to empower a criminal. The
Avengers split up to search NYC for Loki. Loki finds a crook with a crowbar
breaking into an apartment building and makes him the Wrecker, explaining to
Wrecker he can use his power to do anything he wishes. Wrecker decides to rob a
mini-mart that he was never able successfully shoplift from as a teen. Spidey
finds him and they fight with Wrecker winning easily. He’s about to smash
Spidey with his magic crowbar when Cap arrives to block with his shield. Wrecker
is able to throw around most of the Avengers with relative ease until Banner
gets bumped, turns into Hulk and then punches Wrecker across the city. From the
shadows Loki vows to empower a more ambitious criminal next time.

Chapter 2 – Hulk goes wandering out alone into the desert,
falls asleep and turns back into Banner. Banner comes across a science lab
where four team members are just about to space launch into a cosmic ray storm.
The effects cause them to crash back into the desert and they emerge as the
U-Foes: Vector (low level telekinetic), Vapor (can transform into any gas),
X-Ray (a radioactive version of the Human Torch) and Ironclad (a metal version
of the Thing). They cause Hulk to emerge and they fight. The fight is pretty
even for a few pages until X-Ray figures out how to drain Hulk’s gamma
radiation and turn him back into Banner. Fortunately Spidey and Iron Man arrive
at the moment. The U-Foes get them on the defensive until Giant-Girl arrives
and steps on them all.

Chapter 3 – The Avengers are responding to a monsoon in South America by helping to evacuate a native village.
Also present in the village is corrupt archeologist Cain Marko. Loki, disguised
in human form, leads him to the Temple
of Cyttorak where Marko transforms
into Juggernaut. He encounters Storm, Wolverine and Giant-Girl first. Their
attacks all bounce him off him and he buries the two ersatz X-men under the temple,
forcing Giant Girl to call off the fight to try to dig them out. Next up Spidey
and Iron Man, who don’t fare much better. Hulk arrives and they trade punches
as Giant Girl completes her rescue. She fastball specials Wolvie into the fray
but he still can’t hurt Juggernaut. He is about to finish Wolvie off when the
children of the village form a human shield to protect him. This gives
Juggernaut pause and Storm is about to talk him into going peacefully on his
way when Hulk recovers and attacks again. They topple over a cliff and the
current separates them allowing Juggernaut to escape.

Chapter 4 – Loki meets up with Juggernaut and together they
free Wrecker and the U-Foes from jail. Loki unites them all for revenge on the
Avengers putting them in a flying middle school to assault the mansion. This
tactic indeed confuses the heroes, who are concerned there may be children
inside (there aren’t) so when the school starts to fall from the Giant-Girl overexerts
to catch it, leaving her open to a radiation blast in the eyes. Wrecker takes
down Iron Man and stalemates Cap, while Juggernaut takes out Wolverine. Iron
Man recovers and uses his tech to neutralize Vapor and X-ray, while Vector has
Spidey on the defensive. Cap manages to defeat both Wrecker and Vector and even
takes a shot a Loki with a shield throw but Loki snatches the shield out of the
air. However Cap’s success annoys Loki and causes him to magically dispatch his
own underlings for being unworthy of him. He also uses magic to transform Hulk
and Iron Man into inanimate objects so Cap runs away. Loki is surprised by this
after observing Cap the last few issues, but being a villain he follows him to
the communications room to gloat, saying his motive is he is jealous of the
hero worship the Avengers receive from the public when they should be
worshipping him. Cap lured Loki there to air the villain’s monologue on
television thus make him look like a petty bully to the world and for them to
admire Cap more for standing up to Loki even without his shield. Loki says he
should kill Cap for outmaneuvering him but admits that more than anyone he
appreciates a good trick, concedes victory to Cap and teleports away, restoring
the heroes from the magic whammy in the process.

 

Critical Thoughts:
The Juggernaut fight I bought this for was pretty flat to be honest. The
Wrecker chapter is at best by the numbers, although the mini-mart joke is worth
a chuckle. I enjoyed the U-Foes fight as they do have nice collection of
formidable and somewhat unique powers between them, although it ends rather
abruptly. The finale, however, is a lot of fun, particularly the interaction
between Cap and Loki.

I suppose I could complain that Giant Girl should probably
be either blind or brain dead from taking a radiation blast to the face but
since Loki magically heals everyone in the end anyway what difference does it
make?

Other than that I would say Spider-man seems to be awfully
ineffective in this series, which is weird considering this is targeted for a
younger audience and he’s Marvel’s most popular character.
Grade C-. While
the cover story did not deliver what I wanted, that finale makes up for a lot.
I imagine the younger target audience would be happy with this just for the
number of Hulk fights in this story.