Monday, May 28, 2007

SM:FBFW ASM 7-9, UTSM 3-4

Spider-Man: For Better or For Worse?

This Week's Reading List: Amazing Spider-Man 7-9 and Untold Tales of Spider-Man 3-4

Okey-dokey, here we go. UTSM 3 and 4 fit right into the gaps of ASM 7, 8, and 9, so I won't be discussing each story on its own this week. Let's take a look at the good in ASM and then the good in UTSM, shall we?

It's interesting to actually read these issues of Amazing slowly and deliberately, because these are some of the first comics I ever owned. Waaaaaay back in 1978, Pocket Books released a couple of paperback sized Amazing Spider-Man collections, reprinting Amazing 1-13. I had the second volume, which started with #7. So when I say that I go way back with these stories, I mean that I go about as far back as I can go. The first twenty pages or so in that old paperback actually have crayon-colored gutters because, one day, I got so bored with the white space on the pages (Pocket Books spaced the art strangely because of the difference in size between a Silver Age comic and a standard paperback book). It's probably important to note, too, that I watched the 60's Spider-Man animated show (“Spider-Man, Spider-Man, does whatever a spider can...”) as a kid, and that show had all the trappings of the early comics. So I must come forward and admit that the Daily Bugle, J Jonah Jameson, Betty Brant, Aunt May, Flash Thompson, and the whole original crew were in my brain as “what Spider-Man is supposed to be” since before I could read. Holy crap, does that feel funny to type. How biased does that make me toward the classic set-up, in the end, that I was probably still in diapers when I started on this strange journey with Spidey?

For anyone who's interested, I still have that Pocket Books collection in my house, but it is no longer mine. It belongs to my daughter, who is also still in diapers and who also can't read. How do you like them apples?

Anyway, ASM 7 and 8 stand out in my mind as obvious improvements to the Spidey formula. Ditko's art starts to evolve here, as the characters lose some of what I think of as the “sharp, skinny look” (which resurfaces in the 80's with Ron Frenz's early stuff) and gain a bit of the “soft, puffy look.” Compare Spider-Man's physique on the cover of, say, Amazing #2 and then look at Amazing #32 to see what I mean. He really started to bulk up even during Ditko's run. Anyway, I digress.

The main plots of these two issues are standard but reasonable. Both involve a tight inter-weave of the Spidey and Peter sides of the story, such as when Spider-Man actually falls for the first time in ASM 7.

QUICK DIGRESSION (tm): This is a key moment that really hasn't come up enough as he's gotten older: Spidey cannot fly. He doesn't float. I think that sometimes, readers and creators forget that while Spidey looks weightless and graceful in the pictures, he's supposed to be moving quite fast. If he lets go of that webline, he's going to fall. We all know this, of course, but I don't think about it, much. In my brain, Spidey is often swinging as though underwater, and he would only slowly drop toward the ground. I have to confess that the falling scenes in Spider-Man 2 really bugged me, and I really thought they didn't make sense for the character (especially with how far he fell). Having reread Amazing #7, I'm thinking now that my judgment was too harsh on those.

And... we're back! The interweave between Spidey and Pete, such as the fall and the sprained arm, the Living Brain and the “Who is Spider-Man?” answer is just great. The stories here acknowledge and demonstrate that Peter Parker is not a disguise or even a “secret identity” (read: plot device), but that Peter Parker is the story. Sadly, the first appearance of Electro is not as well produced as the other two. Once again we have a villain with no real motivation and vague powers (“I can control any device that operates with electricity!”--um, isn't he in control of pretty much everything, then, even in 1963? It's a good thing he didn't fight Iron Man!). It is kind of funny to see what a pathetic leader Electro is when he releases the federal prisoners. What's really terrible, though, are the recycled reactions of the people on the street as they respond to the latest Daily Bugle accusations. There are two separate versions of this in the issue, and they read almost identically. It just seems sloppy to me, as if this issue had been more of a stock issue than others.

The Untold Tales issues basically serve to smooth out and deepen the sub-plots of the other three issues. Where Peter and Betty end Amazing 7 hiding behind a desk in the Bugle office, he actually asks her out in Untold Tales 3. Aunt May notices the absence of Peter's glasses (broken in ASM 8) in UT, etc. These moments are interesting from a fanboy perspective, but more important to me is the more natural progression of relationships. Peter and Betty are a couple by the time she goes to Pennsylvania with Doc Ock in ASM 11, but we never really see them together on a date or anything. We see that in UT, and I have to admit that it makes the classic ASM issues much more interesting and emotionally satisfying to this modern reader. The brief cameos by high-school Harry and Gwen, along with Norman, are amusing but add nothing to this issue. One last thing to note about UT is the introduction of Jason and Sally, who become more important to the ongoing storylines in UT as time goes on. They don't do much here (although Jason's unfunny pranking of Peter serves to cast Flash in a slightly more sympathetic light), but we'll be dealing more heavily with Jason and Sally in the next few weeks.

Anyway, let's check my Spidey-Standards against this week's reading list:

1) Spider-Man stories were better then than they are now. With the notable exception of ASM 9, which was merely okay, I'll give this one a check for the week. In both the classic and the modern issues, by the way, we have a “done-in-one” main plot that still has clear, interesting, continuing sub-plots. More modern writers would do well to keep up with this. BTW, yes, I'm consciously ignoring “Spider-Man Tackles the Torch!”, as it is such a weird little piece that I'm not sure what to say about it. It's interesting to look at it as a “kick-the-dog” story from Spidey's perspective, where he plays a little bit more of the jerk on the Torch's turf while complaining about Flash and the gang on his own.

2) Spider-Man's supporting cast is essential to good Spidey stories. Excellent work on Betty, especially, in UT, but the supporting cast is well used in each issue. I especially love the boxing match with Flash in ASM 8. The daffy expressions on his face as Peter clobbers him (while trying to hold back) are just too funny to me. And then convincing everyone that Flash is Spidey--great humor. Notice that having other characters around allows Spidey to be funny without just being a punster or a wisecracker. Yes, I'm talking to you, Mr. Bendis.

3) Peter Parker is not just a secret identity. See... everything above. Check.

All right, that's it for this week. Up next week will be Amazing Spider-Man 10 and Untold Tales of Spider-Man 5-8! Until Spider-Man magically knows crap about all spiders, Make Mine Marvel!

Eric

Sunday, May 20, 2007

SM:FBFW ASM 6, AF 16-18, UTSM 1-2

Spider-Man: For Better or For Worse?

This Week's Reading List: Amazing Fantasy 16-18, Amazing Spider-Man 6, and Untold Tales of Spider-Man 1 & 2.

First and foremost, a bit of explanation. It is my intention to basically move from the 60's to the 2000's in the order the books were published. Within reason, I will keep the books in continuity. What this means is, if Spectacular goes for three or four issues in a row where each issue clearly takes place one right after the other, I'll finish that run before going back and reading the concurrent Amazing issues. The whole point of this little exercise is to see how Spidey comics have changed over the years. What I'm not going to do is read every page of Spider-Man material in Marvel Chronology order. I'm not going hunting for three pages of flashback and make sure to read them in-between page 9 and 10 of Amazing 28. As a general rule, comics will be read in the order published, allowing for issue-to-issue continuity to guide me.

The big, glaring exception to this will be Kurt Busiek's work on Spider-Man. Namely, Amazing Fantasy and Untold Tales of Spider-Man. Why? Two reasons. First, the books were not meant to be “flashbacks.” They're meant to be “missing issues.” I think it'd be cool to read them that way. I know I have gotten more out of my Ditko-era Spidey stuff over the last decade because of Busiek's embellishments, and I mean to take them as Busiek intended. (This rule may be applied later to other non-flashback stories set in the “past.” We'll see what comes up.) Second, Busiek's 90's Spidey work transcends anything else published about Spider-Man for that entire decade, and it deserves special treatment. Nuff said.

Okay, so I went back a little bit in Spidey continuity to read Amazing Fantasy 16-18, which are set in-between Amazing Fantasy 15 and Amazing Spider-Man 1. While I'm not a huge fan of the painted art, especially for issues that are supposed to take place in-between two Ditko issues, Paul Lee does a good job keeping the characters recognizable as their early Ditko counterparts. These issues don't do much in terms of advancing storylines, but they do a fantastic job fleshing out characters who were little more than caricatures at their introduction. Jameson, in particular, is given a little bit more of a reason to start his anti-Spidey crusade when his astronaut son, John, is bumped off an episode of It's Amazing! so that the show can feature Spider-Man. It's a little thing, but it makes Jameson come across as a little bit less of a cartoon when he accuses Spider-Man of sabotage at the end of Amazing Spider-Man 1. Spider-Man himself is given a bit of character here, too, as he is shot at for the first time and discovers the uses and limitations of his Spider-Sense. I've seen scenes like this before (there was a Superboy TV series tie-in comic that had Clark freaking out the first time he was shot, not knowing it wouldn't hurt him), but Busiek handles it well here and it really contributes to a sense of Spidey's growth as a character. He's much less sure of himself in AF 16 than he is in ASM 1 or 2.

It's a testament to both Busiek's retro style and Lee and Ditko's improving writing that Amazing Spider-Man 6 holds up as well as it does after that. The intro of the Lizard does almost everything right and it does it better than the previous five issues. Peter isn't a brilliant enough scientist as a high school student to come up with the Lizard formula, but working from Connors' notes, he can create an antidote serum. Okay. His relationship with Betty finally starts to take off as he tries to ask her on a date, only to be interrupted by JJJ. His fight with the Lizard puts him up against a foe of superior strength and power, requiring him to think. That some parts of ASM 6 are cheesy--the “man wasn't meant to tamper with nature” B-movie theme, or the corny dialogue spouted by various bystanders--isn't really a problem. The book is a product of its time, and the core elements of the story are not hampered by this. I must say that it's amusing how often Spider-Man villains seem to “threaten the world” and “only someone of Spider-Man's power can stop them” when Reed Richards or Thor or somebody could take out the Lizard without even thinking. Spidey villains usually work better if they have slightly less grandiose plans.

Untold Tales 1 and 2 do much the same job as Amazing Fantasy 16-18, except they do it better. The fantastic art by Pat Oliffe and Al Vey captures the Ditko feel of early ASM perfectly, and Busiek does a real number on a character or two who appear for mere panels in Amazing. Sally Avril (who ignores Peter for the “dreamboat” Flash Thompson in Amazing Fantasy 15) will go on to be a big supporting player in Untold Tales, for example. It's interesting for me to see more timid interactions between Peter and Betty as he tries to ask her out in each issue but can't seem to make it because of JJJ's rantings. The dialogue, in particular, does a good job of capturing the feel of the 60's book without descending to the same level of cheese. Finally, they introduce Captain Stacy, retroactively inserting him into Spidey continuity circa Amazing 6, which is great. I'm a big fan of all the Stacys.

Ultimately, what all of these issues--Amazing Spider-Man 6 included--do that seems to be sorely lacking in many modern interpretations of Spider-Man is that they recognize that his story is less about guilt than it is about responsibility. The movies, in particular, seem to miss this. As Busiek notes (through Peter) in AF 18, even if Uncle Ben hadn't been killed, Peter would still have the responsibility to use his powers for the benefit of humanity. It took the guilt over Uncle Ben's death to wake Peter to that fact, but Uncle Ben's death did not create that fact.

Anyway, let's check my Spidey-Standards set last week against this week's reading list:

1) Spider-Man stories were better then than they are now. Well, most of this week's list comes from the 90's, but all of Busiek's Spidey work from the 90's is head-and-shoulders above today's stuff (and above the rest of the 90's dreck, too). ASM 6 was a decent Spidey story, but it smacked of B-movie sci-fi conventions.

2) Spider-Man's supporting cast is essential to good Spidey stories. Check. Untold Tales did wonders for the supporting cast, and Jameson rides along in ASM 6.

3) Peter Parker is not just a secret identity. Check. Peter's understanding of his responsibility to Tiny (who needs math help) shows that it's not just the “super” powers that bring responsibility.

All right, that's it for this week. Up next week will be Amazing Spider-Man 7-9 and Untold Tales of Spider-Man 3-4! Until Spider-Man has pseudo-Wolverine bone claws, Make Mine Marvel!

Eric

Sunday, May 6, 2007

SM:FBFW AF 15, ASM 1-5

Spider-Man: For Better or For Worse?

This Week's Reading List: Amazing Fantasy
15 and Amazing Spider-Man 1-5.

Okay, so here we go. It's a little tough to read these with even an ounce of objectivity. Any Spider-Man fan worth his salt probably owns or has owned anywhere from two to five copies of these stories in one way or another over the years. The first ten issues of Amazing, coupled with Amazing Fantasy 15, have been reprinted in many different forms. I myself have owned them from Marvel Tales, two versions of Marvel Masterworks, and the first Essential Spider-Man volume. These stories have been around forever and I know I've read them all several times. This is the first time in a long time, however, that I've read them seriously, so I guess there's that.

The first thing that has to be said is that these stories do not stand the test of time in several ways. The biggest problem I have with them is the sheer amount of wacky, spur-of-the-moment crap thrown in here. Did you know that just about any nut with a ham radio and a spider can figure out the “frequency of spiders” so that he can send a message to Spider-Man? Spider-Man's “spider instinct” (the proto-Spider Sense) is abused frequently in these stories, as is Peter Parker's scientific ability. I feel a little bad getting on the story for that, as a pro-mechanical web-shooter fan like myself kind of has to accept that Peter magically has the ability (at 16 or 17!) to create these fantastic web-shooters all by himself, but being able to create an all-purpose “anti-magnetic inverter” to beat the Vulture? Come on. And don't even get me started on Spider-Man climbing out of a JET PLANE to catch a SPACE CAPSULE! Oh, well. First issue craziness, I suppose.

Plot-wise, these issues are standard villain-of-the-month fare. This makes perfect sense for the time--books were judged on an issue-by-issue basis, and the “every issue is someone's first comic” doctrine is clearly in evidence. As such, the plots are repetitive, generally speaking, especially once the issues move to one 20+ pager per issue (with #3) instead of two shorter stories per issue. What interests me is the fact that already there is real continuity in the series. The Flash Thompson-Liz Allen crowd is introduced on the first page of Amazing Fantasy 15, and they play an important role in each story for Peter, lending a definite verisimilitude to his life as a high-schooler and offering readers early signs of real change in the character. It's interesting to me that Liz Allen was willing to go on a date with “Puny” Parker as early as #4, as I don't really remember her showing much interest in him until after he and Flash have their gym fight in issue #8. Anyway, the little threats that Peter tosses at Flash start right away, and they actually will have some pay-off next week in issue #8. I think that, rudimentary and simple a device as it is, that kind of story progression with the minor characters, the soap-opera aspect of the character, is handled far better here in the early days of Spidey than it is currently. Except for F'N Spider-Man, can you recall a single supporting character in Spider-Man's life other than May and MJ (both of whom are effectively gone as of now because of the Back in Black storyline, yet another “Spider-Man ON THE EDGE!” story) in the last 8 months? Especially in Amazing? Felicia Hardy has shown up in Sensational, but she can't do much, as she was always a romantic interest for Peter, and all of those have been effectively neutralized since 1991 or so.

As far as the villains themselves go, Doctor Octopus is a clear stand-out all around, the Tinkerer is a clear dud. I have to laugh at the Chameleon's low-tech execution and at the so-called “genius” displayed by Doom in #5. The one who really surprised me, honestly, is the Sandman, whose powers were used very imaginatively from the very beginning. At one point, he hits Spidey with his waistline! The canvas bag capture at the end was hard to take, but the Sandman's powers, like so many of the characters so far, were not well defined at the beginning, and it would really be a bit unfair to criticize the books for the conventions of the time.

Or would it? I guess that's the question. Everyone calls these stories “classics”, but by many of the standards of modern comics reading, they fall flat. The dialogue is poor, the art is inconsistent (sorry Steve), the characters' powers are vague, Spider-Man himself grows new powers when the story calls for it... At the same time, these stories have real heart, and that means a lot to me. They were clearly written for children, and as such, they succeed in hitting the target for their intended audience. I don't feel that the modern books hit “the target” for their intended audience. All the modern books seem to do is generate “events” that “matter”, and that's what seems to sell books these days. Of the three main Spidey books currently on the market, only PAD's F'N Spider-Man has anything approaching the “heart” I'm talking about here, and it sells the fewest copies. Of course, he did bring in that confusing Spider-Man of 2211 and the “evil Uncle Ben” storyline, and it wouldn't surprise me to find out that that drove readers away. It made sense in the end, but on an issue-by-issue basis? I don't think any of the Spidey books have been compelling in the last two years. How sad.

Anyway, let's check my Spidey-Standards set last week against this week's reading list:

1) Spider-Man stories were better then than they are now. If by “better” I mean “They truly entertained their target audience,” then yes, check. If by “better” I mean “Superior dialogue and story logic, more compelling plots,” then no, not really. Certainly these were denser stories, but they feel squeezed, like Stan and Steve hadn't really “grown into” the 21-page format yet.

2) Spider-Man's supporting cast is essential to good Spidey stories. Check. They're all in prototype form, but they're here, and they're developing. That's more than you can say for the modern day.

3) Peter Parker is not just a secret identity. Check. The Peter stuff is essential to the stories and makes Spider-Man more than just another costume.

All right, that's it for this week. Up next week will be Amazing Fantasy 16-18, Amazing Spider-Man 6, and Untold Tales of Spider-Man 1 and 2! Until Spider-Man forgets how to do science stuff, Make Mine Marvel!

Eric

SM:FBFW Introduction

Spider-Man: For Better or For Worse?

Spider-Man comics are not as good as they used to be. I don't know about you, but I find myself thinking this a lot. I've been thinking it ever since the Clone Saga, and I guess that twelve years of thinking it means that I really believe it. Sure, there've been some decent stories, and the first fifty issues of Ultimate Spider-Man gave me some hope, but the fact remains that I find myself saying “Spider-Man comics are not as good as they used to be.”

My name's Eric, and I've been collecting Spider-Man comics without interruption since
Amazing Spider-Man 251, the end of the Roger Stern Hobgoblin arc. I've been reading and watching Spider-Man since before I could actually read the words in the comic. I have extended my run of Amazing Spider-Man issues back to issue 163, which gives me about thirty years of Spider-Man comics in my house. Now, in the last few years, I haven't picked up every one-shot or limited series, but if it's a Spidey comic book, I probably own it. Spider-Man has been a part of my life literally as long as I have been conscious. Longer than Batman, or Star Wars, or anything else. I've sworn that I will never miss an issue of Amazing Spider-Man for the rest of my life, even if I stop collecting comics in general. Honestly, in the last ten years, I have come increasingly close to dropping comics as a whole. Several of my friends have done so, and a couple of them started reading years before I did. What is wrong with comics, and Spider-Man comics in particular, that so many long time fans have dropped it? Why are more fans not joining the hobby?

The simple answer, the fanboy answer, is that comics suck now, and they didn't use to suck. You hear this kind of thing all the time. To listen to some fans, there was a halcyon age (you can't say golden age with comics unless you mean THE Golden Age) where all the comics were well written, all the ideas were new and fresh, all the characters were written to their potential. When was this halcyon age? Well, that depends largely on the fan. For many people, the comics that are “the best” are the comics they grew up with, and once they grew up, the comics weren't as good.


Spider-Man comics are not as good as they used to be. I've said it myself several times. But do I even believe what I'm saying? Can I back that opinion up? I'm not sure I can, but I realized recently that, with the acquisition of a couple Essential Amazing Spider-Man volumes and several Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man back issues, that I had a “complete run” of every Spider-Man series (not counting Marvel Team-Up, since it doesn't have “Spider-Man” in the title). I could basically start at the beginning of Spider-Man's long, colorful, troubled history and read all of it straight through. I've done it before with the Peter David run on The Incredible Hulk, with his Supergirl, recently Fallen Angel... I've gone back and reread Preacher and Powers from the beginning. I could do it with all of the Spidey stuff I've collected over the years, right?

Folks, just the core titles and relevant mini-series and one-shots brings that total easily to 1400 issues. That's where you can set the bottom on “I'm reading all of Spider-Man.” 1400 issues. Good lord, that's a lot of comics. I own them or reprints of them, and I can do it. I'm reading fewer comics these days, as Infinite Crisis and Civil War have pretty much soured me on the Big Two for the foreseeable future. On the bright side, I'm reading more indy stuff, more Vertigo stuff, and there's definitely good comics out there. But no matter how good Strangers in Paradise or Fables or Y the Last Man get, they're not Spider-Man.

When I realized what a monumental undertaking this was, I thought that I should probably keep some sort of reading diary as I went so that I would give the comics due consideration. I also wanted to keep myself from “glossing over” periods in Spider-Man history that were worse than the modern day, because part of my motivation was exploring that concept, that “Spider-Man books are not as good as they used to be.” I'd be thrilled to be proven wrong, and I wouldn't be surprised to hear my opinions change as I go through this little diary/blog/podcast experiment.

Basically, I also thought that people might be interested in hearing my thoughts on Spider-Man. I thought also that people might want to read along and see if they agree or disagree. I thought that the number of people in the world who've ever done what I'm about to do with Spider-Man is probably pretty small. So, I decided that I would post my thoughts in the Internet You're listening to them or reading them now.

And here it is. My introduction to this series on Spider-Man, from then to now. It is my hope that I will gain some perspective on what one can reasonably expect from a Spider-Man comic. I have spent much of my comic collecting life thinking, “Spidey comics used to be better than this.” But the more and more back issues I buy, the more I find myself thinking “thank God I wasn't reading about the Spider-Mobile!” Were they really better? Or is it possible that fans like me pretty much just remember the good stuff or the great stuff and forget all of the idiocy in between?

That's what I want to find out. It is my hope that a few folks out there will be interested in what I have to say and will respond. I'm planning on pacing myself to about five issues a week, writing no more than a page an issue (if that much). Some issues, of course, like ASM 121 or 238 or the wedding annual (just to name three) will merit more consideration, but I'm trying to keep this reasonable. It is my hope to be done with all of this within 7 years. By then, my now-three year-old daughter will be ready to start middle school, I'll be nearly forty, and we'll still be stuck in Iraq. But hopefully Marvel will be publishing Spidey comics, I'll be reading them, and I'll have a better understanding of them.

Let me explain my take on Spider-Man. There are things I'm pretty much willing to say and stand by, and there are things that I'll admit to saying but that might change as time goes on. Besides, it wouldn't be fair or helpful for me to go on a huge, multi-year rant about Spider-Man and not explain where I'm coming from, now would it? By the end, I'll establish a few basic criteria by which I will judge all issues that I read. You are welcome to agree or disagree, but this is my thing, and these are my opinions. BTW, these are all opinions you'll hear me spout at my local comic shop, but that doesn't mean that I'm 100% confident in them. There's a reason why I'm rereading EVERYTHING. These may or may not change as I go through the books.

Spider-Man is not about guilt, he is about responsibility. The movies, especially, seem to have missed this point. It took the tragedy of Uncle Ben's death to wake the headstrong, egotistical Peter Parker to his responsibilities, but Uncle Ben's death did not create those responsibilities. Spider-Man does not always carry the weight of the world on his shoulders. Just trying to do what he should do is enough to keep him busy. Peter Parker is allowed to be happy (sometimes), and he is allowed to try to have a life. It wouldn't be very interesting if he always lived a happy life, of course, but the movies and the recent comics seem to suggest that Peter can never do enough, not even for a day, and that Peter can never be happy.

Spider-Man is not about despair, he is about fun. Spider-Man comics have to be fun. One of the ironic things about the identity is that it brings Peter both great pain and great release, and it brings more release than pain. For every time he's thrown his costume in the corner and wished that he'd never been bitten by that darned spider, there's five or ten times that going out web-swinging is the only thing that keeps him sane. Spider-Man laughs in the face of danger. Spidey is funny, and his books should be moderately humorous. Where has that been? Spidey books seem to be an either-or thing these days. Either they're serious and dark (JMS's Amazing, for example) or they're almost slapstick, but there's no chance of moments of humor to offset the new menace Spidey faces this month. Why would a kid read a book that's just depressing? Why would anyone do that?

My major complaint about Spider-Man through the 90's and the 2000's is the complete lack of a sense of hope. Prior to a series of stories that seemed intent on pushing Spider-Man over some sort of “edge” and into the land of the grim and the gritty, Spidey went through some tough stuff. No one would call the murders of Uncle Ben or Gwen Stacy happy times, but there was always hope that things could get better. In the 90's, however, stories started having blurbs on the covers like “THIS ISSUE--Spidey crosses the line YOU NEVER THOUGHT HE WOULD!” as though Spider-Man as an actual murderer were somehow a desirable direction to go with the character, or as though most of us were living lives where we were equally close to crossing that line. Put simply: Spider-Man is about responsibility, not about vengeance. I don't feel that Marvel gets that anymore, nor do I feel that they've gotten it in some time.

Spider-Man is the coolest super-hero ever. Batman is great, Superman is the original, but Spider-Man's life is kind of like my life (or it was). Spider-Man's troubles are like my troubles. Spider-Man comics are not about action, not about crime, and not about fantasy, even though all three of those are important elements. Spider-Man comics are about the problems he has while he tries to do the best he can with what he can do. In other words, Spider-Man is like me, except for smarter, stronger, and better looking. He's still me. Peter Parker's problems are my problems, except they're more exciting and more complicated. I can relate to Batman and Superman in many ways, and I love the characters. But Spider-Man is the coolest
because he's about as close as a super hero with fantastic powers can get to being a real guy.

BTW, the Hobgoblin is the best Spidey villain since Norman Osborn, and his stories were better written. Sorry, Stan, but Roger Stern did you one better with the Hobgoblin issues. And to all of you fans who disagree with me, tough. This is my blogcast, and you're wrong.

All the things above are my basic take on Spider-Man, but on a week-to-week basis, I'm going to look at three major criteria for the comics, both old and new.

1) Spider-Man stories were better then than they are now. Find me a modern equivalent to the Master Planner storyline, the Goblin/drug storyline, the Stacy/Goblin/Death storyline, the Owl/Octopus War, the original Hobgoblin storyline, or the original Venom stories (before he sucked). Go ahead, I dare you. Especially in the 616 continuity, they don't exist. The last fifteen years of Spider-Man stories have been nothing but one false start after another, one revamp after another. Don't even get me started on the Clone Saga, bringing back Norman Osborn, or turning Gwen Stacy into a slut.

2) Spider-Man's supporting cast is essential to good Spidey stories. We all have people around us, whether we like them or dislike them. We don't live in a vacuum, and neither does Spidey. When was the last time we saw Spider-Man at the Bugle exchanging banter with JJJ, or Peter working with Joe Robertson or even Kate Cushing? No, Peter has been more involved with the greatest super-villain in the Marvel Universe, Tony Stark, and other super heroes than he has been with “real” people. This makes him less relatable. Notice that the best use of Jameson in recent memory has been in Daredevil by Brubaker, and not in Spider-Man.

Speaking of supporting characters, killing characters off is generally bad, but when they're dead, they should stay that way. Norman Osborn was a great example of a character who needed to die, story-wise, and then STAY DEAD. He was way too much of a threat to Spidey (because of his knowledge of Spidey's secret ID) for the two of them to continue fighting over and over. The threat of the revealed secret ID was paid off, and then Norman no longer served a viable purpose, because he couldn't just keep killing off other supporting characters (in story terms, anyway). His legacy (through Harry and especially the Hobgoblin) was powerful and lasting, and his death used to have meaning. Sigh.

3) Peter Parker is not just a secret identity. He's a story gold-mine, and he should be treated as such. His scientific abilities, in particular, have been completely wasted in recent years. When was the last time Spidey needed a Spider-Tracer? A web-shooter? These things did not over-complicate stories--they enriched them. They made Spidey stand out from some of the other super-hero crowd. These elements should be reintroduced to the stories.

Well, that's about it for the introductory 'cast. I reserve the right to change any or all of these opinions over time, except that Spider-Man is the greatest super hero ever. That's just fact, really. Next time I'll dive right in to Amazing Fantasy 15 and Amazing Spider-Man 1-5. By the way, I'm not sure how I'm going to handle the ever excellent Untold Tales of Spider-Man series (along with Amazing Fantasy 16 and 17, also by Busiek). They might get special treatment because they were so great. We'll see.

Until Spider-Man reveals his secret identity and ruins the whole concept of Peter Parker, Make Mine Marvel!

Eric