Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Buffy Season Eight TPB I

Just a quick note--I just bought Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season Eight, Volume I: The Long Way Home, and it's awesome. Excellent story, character, dialogue, everything. If you like fun comics, do not miss this one. The link above takes you to Amazon to buy it, but I'd recommend your favorite local comic shop.

I'd write a review, but it's Halloween and there's just not time. The short version is... AWESOME. BUY NOW.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

SM:FBFW ASM 66, 67, Ann 5, SSMM 2

Spider-Man: For Better or For Worse?

This Week's Reading List: Amazing Spider-Man 66, 67, Amazing Spider-Man Annual 5 and Spectacular Spider-Man (Magazine) 2.

Okey-dokey, here we go, folks. Up this week are a quick little Mysterio yarn and two longer pieces. Nothing this week rises to the level of last week's awesomeness, but neither does it fall to the levels of dreck we've had to suffer through.

The Mysterio two-parter in ASM 66 and 67 is yet another example of a good use of a second-string villain. At no time is Spider-Man actually in that much trouble, really--it's a question of beating Mysterio quickly and then it's a question of “how am I suddenly six-inches tall?” ASM 66 does a better job with the urgency question, even if it's a flimsy reason. Mysterio, appearing on TV, freaks out fragile, pathetic Aunt May, and Peter rushes off to beat him in time for May to catch the Beverly Hillbillies later that night. Honestly, it's the super-hero version of going out to yell at your neighbor for his stupid, barking dog so that your kid can go to sleep, and it serves the story well. There's a real sense of surface urgency that adds to the tension of “hey, I'm fighting the Angry Stunt-Man again!”

ASM 66 also outshines its successor in the soap-opera department. Not only does it use Aunt May in a halfway-decent manner, but it also reunites Peter and Gwen. Hooray! 67, on the other hand, has maybe two pages TOTAL of soap-opera and another 18 pages of Spidey versus giant Mysterio hand. To add insult to injury, the two pages include a clear “prelude to the next issue” scene between Joe “Robbie” Robertson and his son (in which Robbie calls his son both “my outrageous offspring” and “man-child” in a clear attempt to practice his fantasy play for MJ) and a final panel in which Spidey thinks that the protest below couldn't possibly have anything to do with... Spider-Man! Yawn.

Next up is Amazing Spider-Man Annual 5, where Peter fights the Red Skull and some Algerians in order to clear his parents' names. Other than the fact that seeing Spidey fight Muslims reads a little differently in today's world, not much goes on here. I will say that it's interesting to see Spidey fight the Red Skull for two reasons: First, the Skull expects Spidey to be a push-over, which is a nice reminder that Spidey is still, in many ways, a young New York local without much of a rep outside the city. Second, it's always interesting to see a crossover between heroes and villains in books (occasionally). The art here is disappointing, but it's an okay done-in-one Annual story.

Then comes “The Goblin Lives!” in Spectacular Spider-Man (Magazine) #2... and it's disappointing. Sure, it's great to see the original Goblin, but this whole story basically boils down to this: The Goblin has two psychedelic pumpkins. The one he uses on Spidey weirds Spidey out for a minute. The one Spidey uses on him causes him to freak out and forget his own name. Honestly, that's it. There's the whole “remembering his identity” set-up. There's the “dinner with Norman” scene that is clearly ripped-off by Spider-Man (The Movie). There's the fight. None of it is bad, but since the ENTIRE issue is self-contained, too much time is spent in set-up and wrap-up with the cosmic reset button pressed at the end. Plus, Jim Mooney's art here is just not as good as it was in his last couple of issues of Amazing. Given that this issue must have been exciting for anyone wanting to see Spidey vs. Goblin, it's a let-down.

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

1) Spider-Man stories were better then than they are now. I'd say about the same. Some interesting experimentation, but not a lot of payoff. Kind of like the whole Ezekiel storyline. (I'm not saying that in a bitter way, either. The good is balanced out by the bad, so it's decidedly so-so.)

2) Spider-Man's supporting cast is essential to good Spidey stories. They're the most interesting parts of these stories, but they're in short supply. Meh.

3) Peter Parker is not just a secret identity. Well, he's not, but... Fine. We'll give this one a big “check'er-oonie”, but that doesn't make this a good week.

All right, that's it for this week. Up next week will be Amazing Spider-Man 68-72! Until Marvel brings back Peter's parents, but like Ash in Alien, they turn out to be ROBOTS, Make Mine Marvel!

Eric

Monday, October 22, 2007

Gwen Stacy Retrospective - With Scans!

Anyone who's enjoying my blog needs to check out this Gwen-centric series by Julio Barone. I'm only reading it up to the issues I've already blogged, but it's an interesting take that definitely goes into more depth than mine!

Keep it up, Julio!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Great Deal for Spider-Man or Spider-Girl Subscription!

Venom posted this on the Spider-Girl board and Jeffers provided the online info, but here's the short version: Go to this link, choose a worthy school, and you can subscribe to any of the Marvel Adventures books (Spidey, Avengers, or Fantastic Four) or Amazing Spider-Girl for only $20 for 12 issues! That's What's even better is that the school gets 40% (or $8) of the price!

I haven't done a post on it yet, but if you aren't reading Amazing Spider-Girl, you should be. It is the spiritual successor to DeFalco's excellent 80's run on Amazing Spider-Man, and it's possibly Marvel's best month-to-month read. It's good in trades, of course, but it's one of the few books on the stands that doesn't feel like it's written for trades. Fantastic serial storytelling. Besides, the Hobgoblin (Roderick Kingsley) is one of the big villains. How cool is that?

SM:FBFW ASM 62-65, SSMM 1

Spider-Man: For Better or For Worse?

This Week's Reading List: Amazing Spider-Man 62-65 and Spectacular Spider-Man (Magazine) 1.

BTW, don't get too excited over a Saturday post. I'm still just trying to post once a weekend, but it's one of those Saturday nights where I have nothing better to do then post, so here you go. ;-)

Also, I've added a little bit of Java to the site so I can track traffic. If it gives anyone any trouble, let me know. I hate sites that take a long time to load, especially because of some stupid plug-in.

Okey-dokey, here we go, folks. Wow, wow, wow. Last week was so “meh” and this week... Again, it's so easy to see sometimes what the appeal was to kids back in the sixties. This week's books are just jam-packed with excellent action, fantastic fights, and dynamic character interaction! See, it's issues like these that remind me why I'm bothering with this crazy project in the first place (the reading, not the blog): These five issues are head-and-shoulders above any Spider-Man book published in the last year. Yes, they're a little cheesy. Yes, they're full of sixties weirdness. Yes, the art is old-fashioned much of the time. None of that changes the fact that each one of these issues tells a full story's worth of plot and excitement, does interesting things with the supporting cast, and puts Spidey into situations that aren't tired.

Okay, it starts out weak with the Medusa issue. Still, this little guest appearance does serve to tie Spidey in to the larger Marvel framework, so that's okay. It's also got good use of supporting characters like Harry and Gwen, and it really builds the “Return of the Green Goblin” plot, which must have been great for sales.

Then comes a strange little experiment in Marvel publishing history: Spectacular Spider-Man Magazine 1. This black-and-white magazine features excellent Romita pencils and fine Jim Mooney inks (possibly pencil finishes as well--I'm not sure). (Let me throw in here that I have noticed Jim Mooney's work in this volume of Marvel Masterworks for the first time. I'm not sure I ever gave him much thought before--I've seen his work now and again--but he is a better Romita-substitute than Don Heck. He has nice, clean lines and solid penciling, as well as inking, skills.) For more info on the publication history of the Spectacular name, check out its Wikipedia entry.

The story itself is a long done-in-one about a NY mayoral candidate who creates an underworld threat against himself to cement his reputation as a fearless crusader against crime. Spider-Man, of course, gets in the way, uncovers the plot, and undoes the candidate. It's not the single best Spidey story ever, but as a magazine that may have attracted some readers that weren't regular Amazing fans, it covers all the bases of the Spidey mythos. More importantly, it is a more “mature” story, more science-fiction/social commentary than “comic book villain-of-the-month,” which would presumably make it more palatable to an older audience. It's not a bad issue at all, and it's interesting to me that the story clearly does have a social critique angle without seeming unduly heavy-handed or super-specific in its execution.

There's also a little “Origin of Spidey” back-up that is clearly the template for the 1960's Spider-Man cartoon version of the origin. A great many of the lines and scenes in the origin episode of the cartoon are taken directly from this version. It feels weird reading this because it's so close to the cartoon. Of course, over the last couple of issues, I've noticed several pictures of Spider-Man in the comics that were obviously lifted by the cartoon. Since I saw the cartoon first, decades ago, there's a bit of a chicken/egg thing going on in my brain.

Okay, then comes a two-part Vulture story starring one of my least-favorite characters of all-time: Blackie Drago. Before these two issues, I would have said that the only good thing to come from Blackie Drago is his daughter, the Raptor, who is a villain in the Spider-Girl universe. However, these issues do something so right with a pathetic usurper like Drago that they deserve a special place in Spider-Man history: they allow the original version to beat the crap out of the pathetic usurper. Toomes, the old Vulture (who was presumed dead BUT never died on-panel) comes back and publicly humiliates Drago. This fight also serves to set Toomes up as a more credible threat than before, so that when he fights Spider-Man above the city, there is real suspense.

During both of these stories, Gwen discovers that Peter didn't really betray her and her father, and she tries to find him, to no avail. Yes, it's an old plot device, but it's used well enough here. Honestly, I think that originality is a little overrated in serial fiction, as most plots are a rehash of some other plot. What's more important is execution, and here the old chestnut is well-executed. There's also the Norman Osborn sub-plot, so that's okay, too, I guess.

Finally, JJJ and Robbie are put in danger by the fight between the two Vultures. Again, this illustrates one of those unrealistic things about serial fiction that readers should simply learn to live with: There's no way that so many super fights would happen this close to the Daily Bugle building and never next to, say, the Daily Globe building or the Empire State Building. Except, of course, that the people the readers care about don't work in any of those other places, they work at the Bugle, so that's where the jeopardy is. Also because of this, writers should give up their constant and boring attempts at “realistic” detective fiction, having characters in the story suddenly go, “Hey, Spidey's always around the Bugle--he must be a Bugle staffer!” or somesuch. The real cause of such strange geographic anomalies is outside the story, and thus should be given a wide berth by the majority of writers.

Anyway, Spidey is captured at the end of 64, which leads into one of the best done-in-one Spidey stories I've ever read: “The Impossible Escape!” Spidey is in jail and has to get out, but there's a jailbreak. The jailbreakers take George Stacy hostage, so instead of simply mopping the floor with these normal cons, Spidey has to work around them. This is a wonderful use of situation to change the level of threat posed by a non-major bad guy, and Spidey books should do it more often. One doesn't always have to have a newer, bigger, stronger bad guy to fight. Instead, a writer can either weaken the main character or present him with some other, more important objective that makes the basic objective more difficult. Spidey having to go all ninja-style on these cons is great, great fun to watch, as is George Stacy's competent handling of his role as hostage. All the way around, this is a shining example of the potential of post-Ditko Spidey. Bravo.

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

1) Spider-Man stories were better then than they are now. Except for the gratuitous Medusa issue, yes. They're old-fashioned, but the basic foundation and execution of the story ideas and pacing are light-years ahead of, say, “One More Day.”

2) Spider-Man's supporting cast is essential to good Spidey stories. Well, duh. Again, nearly every hostage or civilian-in-trouble role goes to a Spidey regular, which ramps up the action. Also, the constant tension in Peter's social life gives even the “boring” parts something to do.

3) Peter Parker is not just a secret identity. You bet he's not. Every single part of these issues, except for the villains themselves, is really about Peter, and not Spider-Man, and that's how it should be.

All right, that's it for this week. Up next week will be Amazing Spider-Man 66, 67, Annual 5 and Spectacular Spider-Man (Magazine) 2! Until Spidey continuity is honored better in his daughter's book than his own, Make Mine Marvel!

Eric

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Power of Comics Downloads

At this thread on the Spider-Man Message Board, I ask some questions about downloading comics. I'd love any extra responses from readers here!

Monday, October 15, 2007

SM:FBFW ASM 56-61

Spider-Man: For Better or For Worse?

This Week's Reading List: Amazing Spider-Man 56-61

BTW, sorry for the late post, but my whole family is currently sick with random viruses, and this weekend was a bit on the looney side.

Also, on the podcast front, the general lack of interest from everyone in the world sort of nixes that idea. That's okay--less work for me.

Okey-dokey, here we go, folks. An ignominious end to the Doc Ock storyline leads into a pointless guest appearance by Ka-Zar, a fight against the new-and-improved Spider-Slayer, and finally a three-parter featuring a mystery villain called “The Brainwasher” who happens to be a large bald man whose muscle looks like fat. More importantly, we're introduced to one of the great Spidey supporting characters of all-time, George Stacy, and Peter and Gwen really start to become a couple.

The first two stories here are hogwash, pure and simple. The “Spider-Man Gets Amnesia” story is one of the dumber things I've read so far in the Spidey saga, and I find it hard to believe that there will again be such an anti-climactic end to such a great beginning. With the radioactivity in his blood disrupted by the “Nullifier,” the machine that stops both scissors, radioactive decay, and gunpowder from working, Spider-Man spends an entire issue thinking the same thought over and over: “I know what I'm doing is wrong, but I must trust the arch-criminal who's telling me to fight the Cold War US Army!” Please. Then, when Spider-Man realizes the deep stupidity of such a thought at the last minute, and Doc Ock is taken away, Who-Am-I-Man is attacked by Ka-Zar because a) Mr. Zar just happened to be in town, and b) J Jonah Jameson, whom Mr. Zar immediately distrusts, tells Mr. Zar to “get Spider-Man!” So Tarzan and Who-Am-I-Man fight, and WAI-Man falls in the water. More comic-book science: Water apparently reverses the effect of disrupting radioactive decay, and so WAI-Man realizes who he is--Spider-Man!

Good lord, just reading the basic events there makes me want to cry. What saves the whole story from being completely useless is that we are treated to the reactions of Spidey's supporting cast, which could possibly make for more interesting stories later. It certainly ramps up the tension, as Harry breaks into Peter's room and finds a Spider-Tracer (although he misses the web-fluid and extra costumes somehow). We're also introduced to George Stacy during all of this, and I have to say that I really like him. I like the fact that this book can actually have a person over fifty who isn't boring, criminally insane, senile, or Jameson. (Okay, Joe Robertson also fits that, but he hasn't had much to do yet, having only appeared five issues before Captain Stacy.) It's also interesting reading his appearances and knowing that, of all the people who are close to Peter on a daily basis, it's George Stacy who figures out he's Spider-Man. I honestly wonder if he already knows or strongly suspects by the end of the Doc Ock caper. His little Stone-Age PowerPoint on Spider-Man is a weird thing to show to Peter on their very first meeting, I'd say.

Spider-Slayer attacks. Jameson isn't homicidal. Smythe is. Spidey gets the machine to OD on spider-pheromones or something equally stupid. When there's a giant, rampaging robot on the streets of Manhattan, why in the world don't a couple Avengers show up?

The Brainwasher story is relatively run-of-the-mill, and it also features much of Stan Lee's Mary Jane Watson talking, so it can be hard to read. (Secret: The Brainwasher is the Kingpin trying on a new name.) What makes the book increasingly hard to read, though, is Romita's sudden reliance on Don Heck as a finishing penciller. The book's art takes a dramatic downturn in quality. The layouts are more workmanlike, often relying on a simple four-panel structure, and the detail work becomes instantly terrible, although that may be Mickey Demeo's fault. The smooth, confident web-lines that Romita made sure we had now often do not connect properly, and the whole book now looks sketchy and unprofessional.

In addition, we are “treated” to the first of many misunderstandings between Peter and Gwen when Peter has to defend himself against a brainwashed George Stacy and Gwen assumes (without questioning) that Peter, who she thinks may be “the one,” just decided to beat on an old man. Ugh. It's clear to me that, without the more expert characterization Ditko provided, Lee and Romita are falling back on the easy melodrama of the romance comics Marvel once published. Still, it's Gwen, and I'm still in love with her on Peter's behalf, so I'll read it. Besides, at this point in the story, she's not a whacko slut suddenly jumping the bones of her beloved's best-friend's father. But I'm not bitter.

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

1) Spider-Man stories were better then than they are now. Meh. Not really. What these stories do well is present a one-issue main story that feeds into the next. I can see why a kid would drop his $0.12 on the counter once a month for this, no question.

2) Spider-Man's supporting cast is essential to good Spidey stories. Well, I like Doc Ock, I like the Kingpin, but I can't stand silly, silly stories. All I've got to look forward to in each issue is poorly drawn melodrama featuring my favorite supporting cast members, so Yes.

3) Peter Parker is not just a secret identity. Is a secret ID still important when he can't remember it? Well, the Parker persona adds a huge layer of interest to the Brainwasher story once his girlfriend's dad is BW'd, so yeah, I guess so.

All right, that's it for this week. Up next week will be Amazing Spider-Man 62-65 and Spectacular Spider-Man (Magazine) 1! Until Spidey forgets where he put all his Spider-Tracers, Make Mine Marvel!

Eric

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

To 'Cast or Not To 'Cast...

Would anyone reading this blog (all three of you) download a podcast of the episode(s)? Does anyone think that anyone NOT reading this blog would download a SM:FBFW podcast?

I originally thought about doing this as a podcast, but I thought I'd give the blogging thing a shot, first. Now that I'm doing this on a more-or-less regular basis, I'm reconsidering the podcast.

LMK what you all think.

Eric

PS - (UPDATE 10/12) I'm not suggesting that podcasting would be instead of blogging, I'm thinking about doing a podcast in addition to the blog. Just so there's no confusion. -ET

Sunday, October 7, 2007

SM:FBFW ASM 51-55, Ann 4

Spider-Man: For Better or For Worse?

This Week's Reading List: Amazing Spider-Man 51-55, Amazing Spider-Man Annual 4

Okey-dokey, here we go, folks. Well, well, well. Ask and ye shall receive. Last week I complained about annoying villains, boring issues, and noted that the soap-opera was on some kind of maintenance cycle. NOT the case this week. We have the first confrontation with the Kingpin and a fantastic extended stay by Alfred Molina himself, Doctor Octopus! We'll quietly consider the reading of Amazing Spider-Man 14--er, I mean, Amazing Spider-Man Annual #4, and then we'll call it a week.

Okay, first and foremost, the Kingpin. Wow. Especially for the sixties, he's a cold-hearted bastard. It also really impressed me that he seems to understand the nature of his position, even in his first appearance. While he's not the nigh-invincible super-mastermind he becomes later in Daredevil, he's still a bad-ass who fights and runs as the situation calls for it.

I really got into these issues. The Foswell/Jameson plots were excellent. I particularly liked that Foswell wanted back in the game, as I never really bought him going straight. The fight scenes were, as always with Romita, dynamic and easy to follow. Here's an artist that does pin-up quality pages without sacrificing storytelling.

Then comes a rehash of Amazing Spider-Man 14 and the back-up from Amazing Spider-Man 8: ASM Annual 4. Pairing a loser like Mysterio (seriously, he was a loser even back then!) with a super-genius like the Wizard has to be the mismatch of the year. That's like teaming up Hobie Brown and Reed Richards and then calling it an equal partnership. Still, there's some good action and some informative back-ups that would certainly have been appealing to kids in 1967 who may very well have missed the superior Ditko back-ups from ASM Annual 1. This issue doesn't hold up today, but I'll bet it was worth the money back then. Besides, the Aunt May line on the Coffee Bean Barn pin-up (“Cool it, sweetie! We don't want those cats to dig that we're hippies!”) alone is worth the price of admission, especially with her sinisterly pensive hand position.

Finally, we have a loooong Doctor Octopus story that isn't even done by the end of issue 55. These issues serve to illustrate the seeming paradox of good comics from the olden days: Good action, beloved characters, and a menacing villain, but a gimmicky plot, impossible situations, and crappy, crappy dialogue. Look, here's the good: Doctor Octopus is awesome here, and he really creates a sense of jeopardy just by being there. Romita takes the time to compose shots that amplify the sheer power and grace of Ock's arms, and it helps the story tremendously. Gwen and Peter really start hooking up, which is fantastic in my opinion, as I've always been a huge Gwen fan. Peter's science abilities and predilections are the source of much of his involvement, and his intelligence saves him from a Doc Ock-shaped bomb. Harry's being weird and paranoid, which is interesting, especially given future events, AND we get to see an Osborn bed-head! w00t!

Then there's the actual plot. Ock is going to steal a missile-deflecting super-device and sell it to the USSR or China so that he can have money to be a crime-lord. Whaat?!? As far as that whole idea goes, I refer you to the John Byrne-penned Captain America/Batman crossover where the Joker refuses to work with the Red Skull because, as he says, “I may be a crook, but I'm an American crook!” Ock may not be patriotic, but surely even he could have seen that giving the Soviets the advantage in the arms race would not have been good for business! Then, Ock boards at the Parker house, and Aunt May is too thick to recognize this arch-criminal. How she was ever made into a halfway useful character is beyond me. Based on the Stan Lee-version of the character, I wish she were dead, dead, dead. I keep hoping she'll die, even as I'm reading these old ones. Maybe they went back for the Masterworks versions and fixed it... and she's DEAD!

Then there's the “nullifier,” which stops ANY machine from working. Even guns. I wonder if switchblades work around this thing. Oh, it also stops RADIOACTIVITY from working, as it does when it messes with Spidey's mind and gives him--DUM DUM DUHHHHMMMM! AMNESIA! Oh, good lord, Stan. You're doing such a good job with some parts of this. Why make a weapon that stops anything one might call a machine? Would a screw still work? How about an inclined plane? Aren't those called “simple” machines? I can see it now: “I tried to stab him with my knife, but since it's a machine, he's not even bruised! Curse that nullifier!”

Even for a sixties' story, it still seems a bit on the hokey side, but the awesome fights and supporting characters give it the edge. Plus, I can't wait to see what happens! Will Spider-Man ever regain his memory? Hey, that makes me wonder--are marriages machines? They work or don't work! Maybe Quesada will use the nullifier on the marriage! It alters the non-radioactivity in Mary Jane's blood and turns her into Jackpot! Yeah! Someone get Stan on the horn--he's got to script this one, dad!

God, I hate sixties' dialogue.

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

1) Spider-Man stories were better then than they are now. Hokier, true, but better? Except for the Annual, yes.

2) Spider-Man's supporting cast is essential to good Spidey stories. Peter and Gwen, sitting in a tree... Yes.

3) Peter Parker is not just a secret identity. Considering he wouldn't have been at the nullifier's presentation if Professor Warren hadn't invited him along... Yes.

All right, that's it for this week. Up next week will be Amazing Spider-Man 56-61! Until Mysterio is killed and resurrected without half his head, Make Mine Marvel!

Eric