Friday, November 14, 2008

Quantum of Solace: A Whole Lot of Shakin!

I wrote a post about the new James Bond movie, Quantum of Solace, over at Peter David's always entertaining blog. Click on the title of this article to go there.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The X-Files: Can You Believe This Crap?

Any review of the new X-Files movie that gives it more than a C is written by someone who's high. Check out The Onion's AV Club website review for some funny comments, including this one, written by "Jessica the Dork":

SPOILERS (minor, and you won't care anyway, as the movie sucks):

That "It's all about your sister" line was so out-of-nowhere, you know there is no argument Scully doesn't play that card. "I asked you to buy milk. Why won't you ever buy milk? STOP LOOKING FOR YOUR SISTER!"

Funny because it's true, folks. At best, this movie had enough B-grade plot material to make a middling episode of the TV series' last three years. As it is, stretched to movie-length and shown in a movie theater, this is just pathetic. My X-Files fanfic, written in one sitting ten years ago or more, was more interesting than this. Echh.

Eric

PS - I must save this for posterity. It is a comment someone left on the AV Club's review. The comments, by this point, have degenerated into ripping on Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Here you go:

It is a time of uncertainty. the
empire's ambiguous tariff statutes
mandate close reexamination of
galactic export quotas. Interim
Princess Agoomba has co-chaired
a subcommittee to draft amendments
to existing trade policies.

Meanwhile, regulatory agencies
are being heavily lobbied by a
consortium of mercantile interest
groups and their suppliers to
streamline loading restrictions....

Hee hee! -ET

Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along AWESOMENESS

Anyone who hasn't seen Joss Whedon's Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog yet is absolutely missing out. Make sure you head to iTunes and pay the paltry $4 sum to view this coolness.

There are also some helpful folks out there who've transcribed the lyrics. Check them out.

Eric

Friday, July 18, 2008

The Dark Knight - Review and Review

Well, I saw The Dark Knight today, and I can say with a fair amount of confidence that it is just about the best superhero/comic book movie... ever. I may not feel that way six weeks from now--when I first saw Spider-Man 2, I thought that was the best comic movie ever, and now much about that film bugs the crap out of me.

Let me get my basic comments about TDK out of the way before I move on to the review of the reviews:
  1. Heath Ledger is AMAZING. There are many, many things for me to nitpick with the movie's portrayal of the Joker, but his performance is unbelievable.
  2. The Joker is SCARY. I've seen the word "creepy" used in several reviews, but I was genuinely scared of Ledger's Joker.
  3. The tension is, well, TENSE. And enduring. I'm not sure how well much of the film will hold up over repeated viewings, but for my first time seeing it... Wow. I was tired coming out of it--the movie just grabbed me and did not let go. I was absorbed completely.
  4. I still hate the Batsuit. If nothing else, give Batman a gray bodysuit so that we can actually SEE the title character. I believe it was Denny O'Neil who said "Batman is 50% style, and that style always comes from the artist." So it should be from the movies. Give me a Batman I can actually see instead of the great black blob. Ugh.
Okay. With all of that said, let's review some of the common comments from the reviews. I'm not going to quote here, as it's late, I wish to go to bed, and it's beside the point.
  1. "This movie is so dark/serious/complicated/grimngritty that it makes you forget that silly 60's show/Adam West/Cesar Romero/fun." Give me a damned break already. ANYONE who is still griping about the initially excellent 1960's Batman show: SHUT UP. Just SHUT UP. It's been 40 years. Batman is dark and serious--we get it. Never mind that the show saved the comics. Never mind that the show was better than the comics of the time, by far. Never mind that no one who has read more than five Batman comics believes that the show--that any incarnation--is the ONLY Batman. The first season of the TV show was perfect for what it was, and nothing more or less. Let it rest, and let those of us who can still enjoy it continue to enjoy it.
  2. "Heath Ledger makes Jack Nicholson look like a clown." Let's get this out of the way, okay? Ledger was given different material than Nicholson, and it was very different from Ledger's usual stuff. This is not to detract from Ledger's performance, which is brilliant. However, this is in NO way a Ledger vs. Nicholson debate. It can be a Batman (1989) vs. The Dark Knight (2008) debate, if you want.
  3. "The Joker is scary because he's an anarchist." In the words of the Human Ton and his sock-puppet Handy: Read a book! Even the writers/director of the film claim that the Joker represents anarchy. It might be more proper to label the Joker a sociopathic nihilist, and even then the labels could be better. Were the Joker in the film truly an anarchist, he wouldn't SPOILER have a third detonator. SPOILER
More complaints about the critics and the buzz may follow and be edited into the list above. Long story short: Go see the movie. It rules.

Eric

Blog Name Change

Since I've not been updating much and have not been updating the Spidey part much at all, I changed the name of the blog. There you go.

Eric

Friday, July 4, 2008

"Jar Jar, You're A Genius!"

If you aren't reading Darths & Droids and finding it very amusing (although not always "ha-ha" funny), then there's no talking to you. ;-)

Eric

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Best Readily Available Spidey Collections

Here's a response to reader Rainbow Quiver's question: What great Spidey stories are out there for my friend who's relatively new to comics?

My standards for this list:

1) Accessible to new readers (no mid-run JMS stuff here)
2) No crap (Maximum Carnage is OUT)
3) Must be available to order IN TPB-format from Amazon (used is acceptable)
4) Exemplifies some core aspect of Spidey

Here we go (in no particular order):
  • Spider-Man Wizard Masterpiece Edition HC
    • Sigh. My first choice is not available on Amazon OR eBay, but you can get it at Lone Star Comics for $25. A year or two ago, these were available for $10 on eBay. A great collection that includes Spidey v. Juggernaut AND The Death of Jean DeWolff. In my opinion, when you get excellent Roger Stern AND excellent Peter David, you can't go wrong.
  • The Very Best of Spider-Man
    • Several individual one-off stories. Includes the last part of the "Master Planner" story and "Kid Who Collects Spider-Man," both of which are absolutely indispensable. Plus, $1 (at posting time).
  • Ultimate Spider-Man, Volume 1
    • IMHO, the series has dropped in quality since they killed Gwen, but this was such a revelation back in 2000. A great modern take, and for $17, it's a steal.
  • Spider-Man: Death of the Stacys
    • Excellent classic Spidey that features great classic art and writing. Plus, Green Goblin AND Doctor Octopus.
  • Essential Spider-Man, Volume 1
    • Really, one should get the first two volumes here to complete the Lee-Ditko run. I personally prefer Marvel Masterworks, but those are, of course, $50-a-pop for 10 issues, so this is the budget option. Gets you the first "Spidey quits" storyline, the "Crime-Master" storyline, and the "Master Planner" storyline. NOT recommended for people who can't deal with 60's story-telling convention or B/W art.
  • Spider-Man: Birth of Venom
    • While Venom has worn thin for me over the years, he was a lot of fun for me when I was 13. I remember jumping off the bus and rushing to my house to see if ASM 316 and 317 had come in their brown-paper wrappers, because VENOM WAS BACK! If people like Venom, this is the classic stuff, plus McFarlane art (about which I feel the same as I do about Venom).
  • Spider-Man Visionaries: Kurt Busiek
    • GREAT modern/classic Spidey stories. The ONLY good Spidey stuff from the mid-nineties, this book (reprinting Untold Tales of Spider-Man) is fun for fans. A good compliment to the Essentials above.
  • Amazing Spider-Girl, Volume 1
    • Not the launch TPB, but a good jumping-on point that removes the 2nd-person narration. Very good modern/classic Spidey stories again, but these focus on May. NOT recommended for people who live and die by Vertigo, indy, or "big-gun" books. DEFINITELY RECOMMENDED for people who like classic Marvel action AND the Spider-Marriage. I am a relatively recent convert to this book, but every issue feels like coming home. Bravo, DeFalco, Frenz, et al!
  • Spider-Man: Kraven's Last Hunt
    • Not my favorite, but it's good DeMatteis/psychological stuff that offers a more adult take on Spidey.
  • Spider-Man: Origin of the Hobgoblin
    • Absolutely my favorite Spider-villain, you'll pay a premium for this out-of-print volume, but these are the stories that got me HOOKED on Spider-Man.
  • Amazing Spider-Man, "Volume 1" - the JMS Years
    • Again, not my favorite, but JMS's stuff was solid to start with and went in a different direction with the character. Worth checking out.
I hope that helps. Bear in mind that the criteria above did exclude a LOT of good single issues/writer runs, etc., but anyone who reads all of the above and doesn't like Spider-Man DOESN'T like Spider-Man. Good Luck!

Eric

Thursday, May 15, 2008

CA Supreme Court's Gay Marriage Decision

I know I haven't updated for a while, and I know this issue has little to do with Spider-Man. However, it's an important issue for me, so I wanted to note that the California Supreme Court has declared that any statute that makes a distinction between "opposite-sex" marriages and "same-sex" marriages is unconstitutional in that state.

Wow.

I support the majority's basic decision, and when reading the majority opinion, I found myself frequently nodding and muttering things like "Thank God someone understands this stuff" and "It's about time." To me, claiming that men and women should have equal rights and then limiting people's choices over who they can marry is contradictory. I'm ashamed to say my own state, Michigan, has enshrined such bigotry in its own constitution.

However, the most interesting part of the night's reading was Justice Carol A. Corrigan's dissenting opinion, which comes right at the end. She seems to agree that marriage should be for everyone, regardless of their gender or orientation. However, she presents sharp, to-the-point arguments against the majority's ruling and opinion. Hers is the first cogent argument that I've read that basically says, "The courts should not override the will of the people in this case."

I believe that gay marriage is a fundamental civil rights issue that will mark our times as times of ignorance and intolerance, with "anti-gay marriage" statutes and amendments being accorded the same place in history as "Jim Crow" laws, but Justice Corrigan really made me think. My hat is off to her even while I celebrate the "win" in the CA Supreme Court.

Check out the decision HERE.


Eric

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Garfield Minus Garfield

I won't lie: I've hated Garfield for the better part of twenty years, now. I remember that I thought he was funny and hip in like 5th grade... and then I started to realize that the strip just isn't funny. It's not funny, that is... until you remove the title character from his own strip. From the site:
Who would have guessed that when you remove Garfield from the Garfield comic strips, the result is an even better comic about schizophrenia, bipolor disorder, and the empty desperation of modern life? Friends, meet Jon Arbuckle. Let’s laugh and learn with him on a journey deep into the tortured mind of an isolated young everyman as he fights a losing battle against lonliness and methamphetamine addiction in a quiet American suburb.
Go to Garfield Minus Garfield RIGHT NOW. It's awesome.

Eric

Monday, February 25, 2008

SM:FBFW ASM 123-127

Spider-Man: For Better or For Worse?

This Week's Reading List: Amazing Spider-Man 123-127

Aaaand... We're back! Thanks for bearing with me for the last few weeks. I didn't realize that I had quite so much to deal with on the whole Gwen/storytelling responsibility issue. Anyway, we're back to straightforward Spidey goodness this week, although it's interesting to note that this will be our last consecutive week of “All-Amazing, All the Time” for... maybe ever, I guess. Marvel Team-Up is now in the mix, and Peter Parker isn't going to be far behind. Before you know it, we'll be to the marriage and... Aw, why bother with the cheap shots? This week we've got Luke Cage, the Man-Wolf, the Kangaroo, Jonas Harrow, and the Vulture, so let's get moving.

What strikes me as I'm typing this (it's a few days after reading these) is how forgettable they are. I mean, the Man-Wolf story sticks out in my mind because I remember this was turned into a Power! Records Book-and-Record back in the day and it always freaked me out. But does that make it a good story? Omar Karindu would no doubt point out the significance of a sci-fi werewolf opening up the horror genre again (as Morbius had done months before), and he would be absolutely right to do so. But again, does that make it a good story?

(Let me interject here and say that it sounds to me like I'm somehow ripping on Omar, and nothing could be further from the truth, so let my words not be taken that way, okay? Okay.)

What's really going on in these issues are two things: first, Spidey admonishing the readers to move past Gwen (even though he's technically admonishing himself), and second, the creative team struggling to make sense of some of the 60's villains, just as they do today. Let's look at both of these.

“I can't let myself dwell on what's been... or what might have been. I've got to look ahead--try to pull myself together” (ASM 123; page 13, panel 7). All of the issues I read this week have lines like this from Peter or others in stories that take place mere days after his almost-fiancee's death. WTF? Again, I ask: WTF? At what point does someone who's just lost a loved one need to move past it barely a week later? Mary Jane's really pushing for this, Flash is bugging Peter about Harry... Where is the sympathy? At no point do we actually get to see ANYONE sitting down with Peter (including him with himself) and just taking time to accept Gwen's death and come to terms with it. It's not a process that takes a week, and it's certainly not something to yell at someone about, as Mary Jane does in 125, complaining that “Everytime I see you--you're bummed out!

As far as I can tell (and this is just my opinion from reading the story), the real reason for this is because the creative team wasn't sure how to handle the situation themselves. They're supposed to be putting out an action-adventure book, and they've got a main character who, by all rights, should be going through the stages of grief. His friends should be supporting him. Harry, who is secretly turning himself into the next Green Goblin, should be the exception, of course, but everyone's telling Pete to pull out of it, and they're being jerks about it. Conway is really dropping the ball here. If there's actual reasons for people to act this way, he should provide them (or at least hint at them). Instead, the death/grief issue is being made into something so actively unpleasant that, once a few real-world months have gone by and the readers have worked through their own feelings, Conway can just drop it. I realize that the Gwen clone is coming, but once ASM 150 comes and goes, the grief-over-Gwen issue will become the old chestnut of “A while back, my girlfriend was killed, and I really loved her. Man, I feel so bad about that. Oh, well. Time to find the Hobgoblin...” In other words, string it along until you can drop it, and that's what's going to happen with this potential character development. Blech!

In addition to this, the Vulture is somehow becoming more... Vulture-y. He now chews and claws through Spidey's webbing. Maybe this will tie in to the Jonas Harrow subplot they started with the Kangaroo, but to me it smacks of desperation on Conway's part. Too often writers seem to feel that a villain needs to be “deadlier” than ever before, more “extreme” or whatever. It's totally unnecessary. Look, Spider-writers: The Vulture is an old guy in a green suit who steals things. He's a career criminal. Spidey has beaten him in the past, but it's been a near thing. If you decide to use the Vulture for a monthly villain, realize that he's not going to be as all-around-deadly as Doc Ock, and just use that in the story, okay? You don't need to make him into a creature, you don't need to put him in a tux(!). Just... a flying criminal. Okay?

Well, with that said, I'm pretty much out of stuff for this week. More 70's “goodness” to follow next week, as we start with Marvel Team-Up: The Fragmented Collection!

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

1) Spider-Man stories were better then than they are now. Sigh. That sad thing? BND is way better than this tripe.

2) Spider-Man's supporting cast is essential to good Spidey stories. “Who've we got for Spidey to fight?” “Oh, Blaxsploitation-Guy, the Kangaroo, a sci-fi werewolf, and the 'new and improved' Vulture!” “Crap. I know! Let's have Spidey's friends be ass-hats for the next few months!” Sigh.

3) Peter Parker is not just a secret identity. I don't even know what he is this week. Not a remotely realistic portrayal of humanity, that's for sure.

All right, that's it for this week. Up next week will be Amazing Spider-Man 128 and Marvel Team-Up 9, 11, 13, and 17! Until Marvel puts suckers on Doc Ock's mechanical tentacles to make him more “octopussy”, Make Mine Marvel!

Eric

Thursday, February 21, 2008

JACKPOT's True Identity SPOILED Through ANAGRAMS!

Prepare yourself for the greatest revelations since people found out that "Go hang a salami" could be spelled backwards to reveal that "I'm a lasagna hog."

Okay, I don't want to give everything away, but here are some definite clues to Jackpot's 100% true, unquestionable identity. Consider that her supposed "secret ID" name, Sara Ehret, can be turned into:
  • Errata She - Jackpot must be the leftover bits of continuity from Mephisto's wrangling, much like the being that contained all the mutant powers. "She" has been "Errata"-ed into existence.
  • Arras Thee - Jackpot is you, hiding behind a curtain. Didn't see that one coming, did you? (Of course not--you're behind the tapestry! Watch out for Danish princes!)
  • Hearer Sat - Mary Jane listened to Peter at the end of ASM 122 while he sat. Need I say more?
  • Rehear Sat - And he said it again.
  • Eraser Hat - And... POOF! The marriage is gone from continuity. Where did Mephisto get the power to do such a thing? Prepare yourself for an artifact that makes the Wand of Watoomb seem like a child's crayon, except... erasable!
  • Hare Tears - "OMD/BND: Continuity bad enough to make bunnies cry."
  • Hearts Are - ...just playthings for the devil.
  • Hater Sera - This is demi-French for "The time of the hater will be." As it is now.
  • Heart Ares - And isn't MJ declaring war on Peter's heart?
  • Haste Rear - CENSORED. But true and insightful, nonetheless.
  • A Rarest He - Peter's love for MJ was incredibly rare. And pure. But he doesn't remember it now. (BUT he's the ONLY person--one could say "a rarest he"--who remembers his own true identity!)
  • Era Shat Re - Indeed. Argue with that!
I hope that knowing this information hasn't spoiled the many surprises that the Spider-Team still has in store for you.

Eric

Monday, February 18, 2008

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles

While I finish reading my "required" Spidey for the week, you should definitely consider spending some time with Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. While the show stumbled for a few episodes after the very fun (and very derivative) pilot, it is quickly turning around to become this fan's dream Terminator series. A couple of points that are really drawing me to it:

SPOILER ALERT

  • Summer Glau. Seriously, how can one go wrong looking at her? Plus, she does a passable cyborg, so...
  • Unreliable programming. Nothing has interested me in the show quite like tonight's flash(forward/back) to the Resistance's time-travel camp, where one of the "good" Terminator's counter-programming fails and he just starts killing everyone around. All of a sudden, Cameron (Summer Glau) is looking MUCH creepier.
  • Kyle Reese's Brother, Derek. Here's another story element that is really drawing me into the series: Kyle Reese's slightly more paranoid brother, Derek, played by Brian Austin Green, of all people. He lends just the right TV-spinoff-tie-in air to the show, as I have a soft spot for dead characters' replacements. (Yes, I was a Jill Stacy fan.)
  • Everyone's LYING to EVERYONE Else. This show threatened to be a simplistic Fugitive/Hulk/Werewolf rip-off, and suddenly we've got a Terminator lying to the Connors, the Connors lying to a Reese, and a Reese who's lying back at them.
  • The "Lieutenant Gerard" character isn't actually a complete idiot. He seems to be fast on the trail of "Oh, they really ARE from the future," saving us a silly, three-year-long recurring plot.

Anyway, it's far from a perfect show, but this John Connor is more bearable than Eddie Furlong and the show is actually showing some of the details of the future while still being smart and paranoid. Check this one out if you haven't already.

Back ASAP with post-Gwen's Death Spidey reviews.

Eric

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

SM:FBFW ASM 121-122, Part Four

Spider-Man: For Better or For Worse?

This Week's Reading List: Amazing Spider-Man 121-122 (For the last time, I promise!)

Part One: Eric and Gwen: A Love Story
Part Two: The Necessity of Death (and Life) in Fiction
Part Three: Growing Up: Continuity and Consequences
Part Four: Playing Nice, Playing Smart

In Part One, I tried to establish the mind-set with which I first encountered the fact of Gwen's death and my own prejudices regarding it. In Part Two, I established my basic criteria for judging character death in fiction: The quality of the death story (and its consequences) has to outweigh the quality of the potential future stories featuring the character in question. In Part Three, I discussed the inevitable relationship between continuity, consequence, and responsibility.

So now, then, we come to a point where judgment must be rendered on the Gwen's death issue, both in concept and in execution, and it can't be a snap judgment. As a child, my personal prejudices led me to a powerful “They shouldn't have killed Gwen!” opinion that stuck with me for a long time. But I'm not a child anymore, and that opinion bears revisiting. However, a judgment on Gwen's death sets a precedent for judging many other consequences in comicdom, and that's where this particular post is going to lead. There's a few questions that need answering:

1) Should they have killed Gwen?
Answer: Yes, they had to.
The Spider-writers had to kill somebody. It could have been Aunt May or it could be Gwen, but not for the reasons they cite. The reasons they cite for killing Gwen were (and are) pathetic ones that stem from creative cowardice and ossification.

“We had to kill Gwen because they couldn't break-up.” Bullshit. Not only could they have, but they probably should have. All it would really have taken, even by 1973 standards (which were lower, and that's okay--it was the state of the business), was for Gwen to find out the secret ID, freak out, and bolt. “You lied to me, Peter! You lied to my father! I never want to see you again!” There you go. That story would have totally worked.

“We had to kill Gwen because they couldn't get married.” Okay, I'll grant the last part, but not the first part. If Marvel is unwilling to move the Spidey story-engine into the “married super-hero” phase, especially in 1973, when their core audience was the 8-14 group, I'll go with it. That doesn't mean she had to die.

The real reason they had to kill Gwen was about consequences and responsibility. Comics had been teasing the “If the villains knew who I really was, they'd attack my loved ones” argument for decades. You tease long enough, you'd better deliver. BOOM. They did. Right there is the shift from the Silver to the Bronze Age. People argue different points, but especially in the context of Spider-Man, there it is. The line.

2) Why, then, did Eric argue that “Gwen shouldn't be dead”?
Answer: Because I was eight, and I haven't really had to look that idea full in the face until this.

George Lucas (I think it was Lucas) told an interesting anecdote about The Empire Strikes Back one time that explains this. He said that they found that kids who'd just seen Empire fell into two basic camps: Those who thought Vader was lying, and those who thought he wasn't. One of the key dividers between those groups was age: little kids couldn't believe it, older kids could. Once kids grew up a little bit, they could handle the idea of the good guy having a bad father.

There's a part of me that always wants the good guy to win, to make the right choice. It's the same part of me that still insists he believes so that Tinkerbell will live. That's the part that, no matter what, wants Gwen to live. It's a good part of me, a part I don't want to lose, but it's not a part that should rule.

3) What should they have done differently?
Answer: Ah, that's the $64,000 question. In short: let the characters grow, even if the status quo goes through a situational reset.

Let the characters grow: Either break-up Gwen and Peter or have them get engaged. Either one would have been fine. Give it... six months to a year of stories (in 1973 time, 12-36 issues of stories in current “decompressed” time). I'd have her discover the secret ID, but that's me. Ultimately, deliver on some of the potential of the relationship one way or another. A break-up makes the inevitable death easier on the reader, engagement makes it harder.

Reset the status quo: If they decide that a single Spidey is the way to go (I don't entirely disagree), then keep him single. Have the break-up/engagement change things up for a while, focus on the two of them, and then kill Gwen. Peter falls back on his support systems: school and the Bugle. This puts him in familiar situations but gives them something new to deal with for another six months to a year of stories.

4) What's wrong with the current books, then? They aren't afraid of the big changes!
Answer: No, but they are still afraid of consequences, and that needs fixin'.

Current books have, in many ways, gone the opposite direction of the Gwen Stacy death: They'll kill anyone at anytime to get a shock, but then never deal with it. They'll screw up any character (Iron Man, anyone?), have anyone act out of character, and then claim that it's “development” or “progression.” One MAJOR event follows another: “Disassembled” to “House of M” to “Civil War” to “World War Hulk” to “Secret Invasion.” All in... what. Five years? All the mutants disappear, Iron Man takes over the world, Cap is assassinated, Hulk declares war on the Earth, and the Skrulls have been invading since 1967?

All of these are big shockers, and they're full of widescreen, big-plot moments. But where's the character? Is Reed Richards the same in Civil War as he is in, say, Amazing Spider-Man or Fantastic Four? (Considering that his reasoning for supporting Registration in ASM is completely different from his reasoning in FF, I'd say no, but...) If something major happens in of the storylines, are the repercussions of that event explored in subsequent issues? Are they allowed to have real consequences? I would argue “no.” There may be immediate consequences, but these kinds of rapid-fire events DO eventually “fatigue” the readers, who ultimately care more about character than they do about plot.

5) Isn't this article called “Play Nice, Play Smart”?
Answer: Yes. Yes it is.

Not breaking the shared toys is “playing nice.” There are more Steve Rogers stories to tell. There are more Tony Stark stories to tell. (Indeed, the Tony Stark I grew up with hasn't been seen in YEARS.) There were good Gwen stories to tell. Until an established character is truly played out, it is generally unwise to kill them off or ruin them. There are always exceptions, of course, but the cavalier attitude of both Marvel and DC towards their supporting characters has been nothing short of appalling the last few years. Characters are resources, not used-up lightbulbs.

Planning for future stories as one makes the current ones is “playing smart.” I'm not just talking about creative summits to “coordinate” the chaos of a new crossover. Make sure future character development has more than a tangental relationship to past character development. Look for sources of conflict within current supporting casts and villains before creating a new one. This isn't about stifling creativity--it's about playing the old toys to their potential before casting them aside for new ones.

Playing nice and playing smart means writing responsibly. These characters, these universes, are built on continuity, and bad choices on the part of the writer destroy continuity, which destroys the universes and the characters.

In the end, if you have continuity, accept that there will be consequences. Since there will be consequences, choose wisely and then take responsibility.

Well, I hope that made an ounce of sense. We'll be back to our regularly scheduled format with the next entry.

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

1) Spider-Man stories were better then than they are now. Could it have been better? Yes. Could it have been better in two issues? No.

2) Spider-Man's supporting cast is essential to good Spidey stories. How can I even comment here?

3) Peter Parker is not just a secret identity. Seriously, doesn't this go without saying?

All right, that's it for this week. Up next week will be Amazing Spider-Man 123-127! Until Marvel brings Norman back from the dead to “fix” a crappy story, Make Mine Marvel!

Eric

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

SM:FBFW ASM 121-122, Part Three

Spider-Man: For Better or For Worse?

This Week's Reading List: Amazing Spider-Man 121-122

Part One: Eric and Gwen: A Love Story
Part Two: The Necessity of Death (and Life) in Fiction
Part Three: Growing Up: Continuity and Consequences

In Part One, I tried to establish the mind-set with which I first encountered the fact of Gwen's death and my own prejudices regarding it. In Part Two, I established my basic criteria for judging character death in fiction: The quality of the death story (and its consequences) has to outweigh the quality of the potential future stories featuring the character in question. Now, in this post, it's time to talk about something that is really the proverbial elephant in the room for mainstream comics these days: continuity, consequence, and responsibility.

So, first, there was continuity. It's probably the single defining element of the Silver Age, if you think about it. Instead of cool powers or imaginative plots being the focus of comics writing, suddenly characters and their lives and soap operas became the focus. Sure, there were cool powers, and sure, there were imaginative plots, but very few things that came out of the Silver Age comics were particularly novel. Galactus, the being who would eat the world? The Skrulls, the shape-shifting alien conquerors? The Hulk, an atomic-age Jekyll-and-Hyde? The Inhumans, a hidden society of super-beings? Seriously. These are ideas that had gotten plenty of play in literature, sci-fi lit, or even the movies for some time before Stan and Jack got to them.

Instead, the model character, the banner character for the Silver Age was Spider-Man, and soap opera is essential to Spider-Man, as I think this series of articles has proven time and again. Soap opera can only work when continuity is introduced. The Golden Age didn't really have continuity in a meaningful sense, but with Spider-Man (and Marvel as a whole, of course), the concept of continuity became a commonplace thing in comics.

And what good is continuity without consequences? Here's where the shift from the Silver Age to the Bronze Age really takes place, and the Death of Gwen Stacy storyline is the fulfillment of the need for consequences. Consider one of the conventions of superhero comics: the secret identity. The in-story reason for the secret ID is simple: the villains are so dastardly, and the hero so unbeatable, that it just stands to reason that if the villains really want to hurt the hero, they will strike at his family and loved ones. Well, it follows from this that if a villain were to ever discover a hero's identity, that villain would then kind of have to attack the loved ones. After all, that's what we keep saying is going to happen, right?

In the Golden Age, before continuity, such threats were effectively hypothetical in nature. Superman can't get a stamp with his picture on it because he might get postmarked in Kalamazoo, MI, have the “oo” over his eyes, and have someone recognize him as Clark Kent because if a villain... etc. Or the dreaded event might happen, but then the story is really about how the hero will reclaim his secret. (Robot duplicate? Stand-in superhero buddy? Time-travel? Memory manipulation?) By the end of the issue, however, the threat is gone forever, the cosmic-reset button is pushed.

In the Silver Age, though, continuity leads to the threat losing its power over time. After all, Norman Osborn knew Peter's secret for eighty issues before he attacked. Oh, sure, he had amnesia, but the amnesia never held, and the secret identity threat would be trotted out, shown off, and put back in the bottle... But if you're going to threaten, and threaten, and threaten with no pay-off, why threaten in the first place? Story-wise, it was put-up or shut-up time for the House of Ideas, and in more ways than one. After all, continuity also meant that Peter couldn't really have a perpetual girlfriend. In the Golden Age, Lois Lane could chase after Superman for decades punctuated only by the occasional masturbatory imaginary stories of marriage, and everything was fine. In the Silver Age, Peter had grown. No longer a high school student, he'd been in college for several years. Characters around him had gotten married, gone off to war, changed “irrevocably.” He couldn't just date Gwen for all that time... and continue to date her for another six, seven, ten years.

Continuity, which had given Marvel their power, now also demonstrated its burden: the need for consequence. Again, how many times could Peter and Gwen break up? If the Golden Age had stories with virtually no continuity, then the Silver Age had continuity with virtually no consequence. And, meta-textually, that had to change. If you look at interviews with Conway, Romita, etc., they all talk about how they “had” to kill Gwen because they couldn't marry Peter off, and they couldn't break the two of them up convincingly. In other words, they'd created a “perfect” relationship that could only be destroyed from without, never from within, and it was messing with the consequence model for the Marvel Universe to that point.

What was the consequence model? Up until 1973, it was the classic “illusion of change” idea. Inconsequential things could change, but big things could not. However, no storyline was permitted or explored that would require long term change. Sure, Reed and Sue got married, but let's be honest--they were already pretty much married at the beginning of the series. All marriage would provide was a baby. Tony Stark was still stuck in the armor, Cap was still a man out of time, Bruce Banner was still the Hulk. These were, in many ways, classic Golden Age style story engines that provided new stories on a regular basis. Had Peter and Gwen never gotten serious, Spidey's girl-troubles might well have provided a similar constant story engine.

Instead, they got serious, and the seeds of the Bronze Age were sown. The “illusion of change” was no longer an illusion. Something had changed... and the creators weren't ready to handle it. And in there lies the real problem: responsibility on the part of the creators.

In short, I'd argue that responsibility means that if you choose something, you own that choice and its consequences. Creators are responsible for their characters and situations. Creators are the ones making the choices, after all. Part of choosing the situations is creating the rules of the situations. Once those rules are established, they have to be followed. When creators don't follow their own rules (or the rules of their shared universe), bad things happen. These bad things range from poorly written stories to retcons.

If Spider-Man epitomizes the success of Marvel's continuity-driven concept, he also epitomizes its failures, especially now. With continuity comes lingering choices, with choice comes consequence, and with consequences come... more consequences. With all of this comes reader expectation, which firms up into rules, and those rules have to be obeyed. As JMS himself points out when discussing Quesada's eventual OMD decisions about how the Mephisto deal would work: “It made no sense to me. Still doesn't. It's sloppy. It violates every rule of writing fiction of the fantastic that I and every other SF/Fantasy writer knows you can't violate. It's fantasy 101.”

In other words: Once you set up a certain set of rules and expectations, you live by them and you die by them. Creators have a responsibility to play by the rules. Readers have a legitimate expectation to read stories created according to those rules.

I'd add to that the idea that the creators have a responsibility to create the best stories that they can given the resources that they have, and that the “Death of Gwen Stacy” storyline is not the best they could have done. Can I prove this? No. What makes me believe it? The interviews with the creators that I have read where they essentially say, “We didn't know what else to do, so we killed her.”

What needed to happen at this point in Spider-Man's life as a comic-book character is this: A decision had to be made about what the best direction was for him. Conway and Romita made that decision, and to their credit, they made it stick. At least they understood that Spider-Man had to deal with real consequences. For 1973, I think we can argue convincingly that this was “enough.” (I'm going to argue against that later, but I can see the argument and accept it just to move along.) No major comic book character had ever been killed as Gwen would be killed. Spider-Man, the reasonably happy-go-lucky superhero (who lived with angst but joked about it), would have the love of his life brutally ripped away from him. He would truly be affected by it, would be driven to the edge by it. He would be reminded of it repeatedly over the coming years, both by Conway and by others. This shift from simple continuity to real consequence is the line that ultimately separates the Silver Age from the Bronze Age.

And if the story was only two issues long? If Spider-Man were only really driven to the edge for the functional equivalent of ten hours before reasserting his basic heroism? Look, it was 1973, after all, and that's the way these things went. They were two good issues. Two classic issues. Excellent art. Dark overtones. Real emotion. If you've been slogging through this rambling looking for my opinion on Amazing Spider-Man 122, there it is. The issue is a success for its time, and if it doesn't know how to handle its own ramifications and consequences? If it doesn't know what it has done to comics as a whole? Well, that's the subject for next time.

(By the way, totally unrelated to most of this--I own a battered original printing of Amazing Spider-Man 122, and I compared it to my much cleaner reprint in Marvel Tales 192. The coloring has been completely redone. The color of the Goblin's skin, the color of the sky, of everyone's clothes... completely different. It's really pretty interesting, but I'm not enough of a color expert to be able to explain what exactly changes in terms of feel or mood. However, if you have a chance to compare two different printings of this, I'd really encourage you to do so. Crazy.)

To Be Concluded

Eric

Excerpt taken from:

Brady, Matt. “ONE MORE (MORE) DAY? JMS EXPLAINS HIS ENDING.” Newsarama.com. Accessed February 6, 2008. http://forum.newsarama.com/showthread.php?t=141756

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

SM:FBFW ASM 121-122, Part Two

Spider-Man: For Better or For Worse?

This Week's Reading List: Amazing Spider-Man 121-122

Part One: Eric and Gwen: A Love Story

Part Two: The Necessity of Death (and Life) in Fiction

In Part One, I tried to establish the mind-set with which I first encountered the fact of Gwen's death and my own prejudices regarding it. It apparently caused some people some confusion when, at the end, I said “Gwen should not be dead.” I did not mean this as “Marvel should reverse the decision,” nor did I really mean “They should never have killed her.” The basic meaning of that sentence is that there is a part of me that still feels the tragedy of Gwen's death and still wants it to be untrue. I feel that more strongly at some times than others, but my goal with the last part was to simply explain that I don't approach this story or subject objectively, and I don't pretend to.

When one stops to consider Amazing Spider-Man 121 itself, one finds a well-written, well-drawn comic, especially for the time. Gil Kane is back on pencils, but John Romita and Tony Mortellaro's inking serve his pencils far better than Frank Giacoia's did, especially in Giacoia's later work. These issues have Kane's dramatic layouts and facial expressions combined with Romita's clean lines. Conway handles each character's thoughts, feelings, dialogue, and interactions with delicacy and skill. Everything in the issue leads up to the dramatic shock ending, and it doesn't seem out-of-character at all when Spider-Man promises to murder the Green Goblin slowly, pledging that the Goblin will beg for mercy by the end. I don't have anything negative to say about the issue in that context.

I do have serious questions and reservations, however, about the decision to kill Gwen. In fact, I have serious questions and reservations about the death of any character in a shared universe. Again, I think I have to reveal some prejudices and such before I go on. I'm an author, myself. I've written three novels. The first two are, I think, virtually unpublishable. They were helpful exercises in diligence, patience, and storytelling, but they're relatively run-of-the-mill werewolf stories that I think would have trouble getting noticed in the current sea of horror fiction. The third might just be publishable, but it desperately needs a rewrite. In fact, I should probably be working on the rewrite now, instead of devoting pages and pages to two issues of Amazing Spider-Man.

Here's what I learned about characters and death in my writing: Sometimes, characters have to die. The end. Seriously, I know as well as anyone that people die in the real world, and they don't always die for good reasons. I think that fiction, however, should provide a little more meaning to lives than the real world often does. For example, at any moment, you're at X percent risk of death from any number of things. The need for realism in fiction does not extend so far as to require an author to have a D20 next to his desk. “Roll a death save of 2 every five pages.” No thanks.

Many fictional deaths are planned. Many are necessary, and for various and sundry reasons. Murder mysteries, for example, wouldn't work very well without death. If you're writing a war story, people should probably die. There's meaning and verisimilitude to that in the context of the story, obviously. In my first two novels, I was writing about monsters that basically want to eat people every chance they get. If the monsters never killed anyone, they wouldn't be very scary. At the same time, I needed my main characters to survive until the end of the novel.

Other fictional deaths are not planned, but that doesn't make them less necessary. I had a story where one character was essentially going to banish another from their society, to blackmail her in to leaving forever. My plan was for the blackmailee to take it and leave. Instead, she realizes that she has a gun, they're out in the middle of nowhere, and that she's not going down without a fight. She pulls out a gun and shoots the would-be blackmailer in the face, killing her. My jaw was on my chest as I wrote that scene, so surprising it was to me.

However, the necessity of occasional character death does not trump the more important need of a story: well-written, well-rounded characters. So, the question that needs to be asked in the end is this: Does the quality of the story of the character's death (and the quality of resulting fallout stories) outweigh the quality of the stories that could be told later with that character?

In Gwen's case, the answer is a guarded “no.” No, her death, as well-written as it was, is not as good as the stories that could have been told with her. The “no” answer given here is not an absolute, however. I think that, in the long run, to move Spider-Man's story along, maybe Gwen would have to die. However, Amazing Spider-Man 121 was not the time because neither the authors nor the story were ready for the responsibility of her death. This needs serious consideration... next time.

To Be Continued

Eric

Sins Past, The "Missing" Three Months, and More...

So I'm in the middle of writing the next installment of the 121-122 review, and it occurs to me that I've been reading the whole series of events during which, according to JMS, Gwen got pregnant by Norman, went to Europe to have the babies, came back, told Mary Jane, and then got killed. And at no point in the preceding twenty or thirty issues did I see a place where she might have gone through such a traumatic event.

I did a bit of Net searching, and found out that, according to this post at JMSNews, JMS considers the whole "Smasher/Disruptor" reprint of Spectacular Spider-Man Magazine 1 to be three months of time "unaccounted for." Well, as you may remember from my brief review of those three issues, I didn't think much of them, nor did I feel like rereading the whole Raleigh story in detail. It still seems to me that three months of "blank space" still didn't change the whole "Gwen was in London over twenty months ago" thing, so I wanted some more details on the reprint. Can they be ignored in favor of SSM Magazine, or not?

Well, I'll be darned if Al Sjoerdsma over at SpiderFan.org didn't do a detailed comparison of the four issues in question. Interesting reading, indeed--make sure you check out Al Sjoerdsma's Review of Raleigh/Disruptor!

In the end, I just don't see how Gwen could have done everything JMS says she did without anyone being the wiser. Really, she comes back from London after Harry's first LSD experience and doesn't appear to have been pregnant at all! She and Peter certainly get close enough that one would think some post-pregnancy effects would be noticeable. ("Gosh, Gwen... where did those stretch marks come from?" "Uh, what stretch marks? Kiss me, you fool!")

Anyway...

Eric

Monday, February 4, 2008

SM:FBFW ASM 121-122, Part One

Spider-Man: For Better or For Worse?

This Week's Reading List: Amazing Spider-Man 121-122

The end of the Silver Age. 'Nuff Said.

(This post is going to be... a little long. I'm mostly through with what we might as well call “Part One”, and I'm at six pages, which is long for a For Better or For Worse post. Clearly, I'm going to have to break this one up, and I might as well post it part-by-part. So...)

Part One: Eric and Gwen: A Love Story
Okay, there's no easy way to say this: I'm scared to write this post. I've been thinking about it for... pretty much the entire time I've been writing this series, and I've been actively thinking about it since the last post. Since I'm currently late on the post that was due February 3rd, that puts it at a little over a week. Combine that with my OMD/BND complaints, as well as my Ultimate Spider-Man complaints (both of which, I'm realizing, come out of my hatred of Gwen's death), and thinking about this post has been a little like peeling the proverbial onion and finding there's lots, lots more than one expected underneath. It's not an exaggeration to say that I'm a little afraid to unravel this whole knot and find that there's nothing at the center, since much of my love of Spider-Man seems bound up in these two issues.

Or I could be exaggerating, after all. I guess we'll see.

For any Spider-Man fan who started reading after 1971, Gwen has always been dead, and her death has long loomed over the Spider-Man mythos. It's so big that the movies had to include IT even if they didn't include HER. It's so big that Bendis had to have the scene, save Mary Jane, and then throw Gwen away for no reason at all over in Ultimate. It's the tragedy of tragedies, the fulfillment of the ever-constant premise of the secret identity: If my enemies knew who I really was, they'd threaten my loved ones. It gets even worse when you realize that the love-interest in a male-centric story is the externalized feminine half of the hero and, thus, the reader. Ultimately, Gwen Stacy's death is the fear that lurks in the hearts of all true super-hero fans, who clothe themselves in their idols' adventures and identities: If people realize how weak I am, they can hurt me anytime they want.

I don't mean to summon up the stereotypes here. I'm not interested in Comic Book Guy or fanboy-bashing. However, we have to face facts: superheroes are, at their core, adolescent male wish-fulfillment vehicles. How else to explain why superheroes have never really worked with women? Wonder Woman, when written best, is not a superhero. She's an adventurer, a myth, a role model... but put her in a situation where she's “fighting crime” and she falls apart. Most “pure” female superheroes are pale imitations of male superheroes OR they are supporting characters made from bad stereotypes.

I would be remiss in my duties here if I didn't note that Superman himself, the archetype of archetypes of superherodom, was the creation of two young Jewish men in the early twentieth century. That little story has been recounted many times in many different ways, and I am no expert on the psychology there. All I can say is this: I see virtually all “pure” superheroes, and all of the superhero conventions (secret ID, arch enemy, hideout, etc.) as male adolescent wish-fulfillment devices. They are for me, I'll tell you that much, and since this is my blog, that's what matters. If you want to argue the point, fine, but as far as I go, and as far as my opinions go, that little core (male-adolescent wish-fulfillment) is the atom, the indivisible, the unalterable. It is true for me and is the basis of my opinion.

In other words, you can argue the point outside of me, but you cannot argue that point about me, personally. (BTW, I will be getting back to Gwen's death. I promise.)

A bit about me. By all reports, I loved superheroes from the moment I saw them, much to my father's chagrin. My dad is a sportsman. He was a great tennis player, he loves to fish, loves the outdoors, etc. He wanted the same for (and from) me. He got a comic book nerd. Even as a boy, I didn't care about sports, fishing, the outdoors... I cared about guys in spandex. I watched The Incredible Hulk and The New Adventures of Wonder Woman. When I was three. In my house, the term “the Spider-Man with white webs” was a perfectly clear and understandable identification of the Nicholas Hammond show (as opposed to the 1960's cartoon, which had Spidey swinging on black webs). The earliest recording of my voice is me singing all the words to the classic Spidey theme song. (“Pider-Mah, Pider-Mah...” etc.)

On the playground, I was the superhero expert. I wanted to know things about superheroes, and I wanted other kids to play by the rules. I remember one argument, in particular, where my friend Zead wanted me to tell the future with my “spider-senses” and I tried to explain to him that the spider-sense didn't work like that. (Except when it did, when Stan was into the good stuff, if you know what I mean.)

Eventually, I found a series of books on the main Marvel heroes. The Spider-Man one was written by some no-talent hack named “Roger Stern.” (That's a joke, folks.) We found it at the library, I checked it out, and I read it from cover to cover, over and over. It was wonderful. It even had a reprinting of the very first Spider-Man story from a comic called Amazing Fantasy. It also contained this paragraph:

“But, once more, tragedy entered the life of Spider-Man. One of Spider-Man's deadliest foes was the Green Goblin. When the Goblin discovered Peter's secret, he kidnapped Gwen. Spidey battled the goblin, and eventually the web-slinger won. But Gwen, lovely Gwen, was killed.” (Stern 31)

Let's step back from Spidey for a second and talk a little more about me, because that paragraph just doesn't have the weight that it needs, not all by itself. Despite my love of comics featuring men in spandex and a tendency to memorize musical theater productions (both of which spawned the typical accusations), I have always deeply loved and admired women. I was the kid who chased the girls at recess and tried to kiss them. I never, ever, ever, thought girls were “icky” or “gross.” I got depressed at Valentine's Day at the age of five. I was in love with Daphne, but I would have settled for Jessica, Amanda, Sally, Tania, or Arthena. (The latter four there were girls at my school. Daphne only had eyes for Fred, of course.)

I had a recurring dream/fantasy where one of the bad kids at school would hold one of the aforementioned ladies hostage on the roof of our elementary school. He would eventually throw the girl off the roof... and I would catch her. She would notice me, realize that I had saved her, and fall deeply in love with me, and all would be right with the world. (Of course, I also sent a check for three dollars into a comic book ad hoping to get a “hypnotist's medallion” to use on these girls in case my classmates never snapped. I'm still waiting for the damned thing in the mail. It's guaranteed to work or my money back! Buffy Season Six was more than a little disturbing to watch.)

I'm not here claiming that I'm sane or normal, but that was the kid that I was when I first encountered that little paragraph in Stern's book. There's also a reprinting of Amazing Spider-Man 80 in there, where Peter and Gwen manage to sneak off at a party and grab some necking time... almost. So, it turned out, one of my two favorite super heroes (Batman was up at the top back then, too), who was smart (me), brown-haired (me), and who had a secret, powerful side that no one else could see (also me, I thought), had had what I'd always wanted almost as much as super powers: the love of a beautiful woman. And a bipolar, evil father figure took that away from him. (Me? Not if you had asked me then, but the concept touched me.)

Oh, wow. “Gwen should not be dead,” I thought. I remember some small part of my heart raging against that fact, against that paragraph with the belief in both fairness and fiction that only a child can muster. From that moment on, Gwen was, in my heart and mind, the only girl for Peter, and she should not have died. It was a bad move on Marvel's part, on the writers' part. Do you remember when you got to the age where you realized that movies could be bad? When you'd get to go to the theater and see a film and come away from it not completely enthralled, but saying, “Eh, it was okay, but...”? This, for me, was one of the beginnings of that revelation.

In my heart, I still believe it: Gwen should not be dead.

To Be Continued

Eric

Excerpt taken from:
Stern, Roger. Spider-Man: The Secret Story of Marvel's World-Famous Wall-Crawler. 1981. Children's Press, Chicago.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Super Bowl XLII

Believe it or not, I actually watched the Super Bowl. I'm not a huge football fan, but it was a good game and I watched it with my wife. A good time was had by all.

Unfortunately, that means no post this week. I'll have the big ASM 121-122 post for you next weekend, and there's sure to be a new SM:MIA post up when I get my next subscription issue.

Eric

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

SM:MIA - ASM Swing Shift DC

Spider-Man: Missing In Action

This week's reading list: Amazing Spider-Man: Swing Shift (Director's Cut)

Well, I actually had to buy this at the shop this week, hence the on-time post. I'm a little irked that I spent $4 on something I got for free last May, but it has some minor updated dialogue, so that's worth it, right?

The story itself is basically the same as last year, and it was dissected and vivisected ad nauseum last year. My basic review went something like this:
  • Spidey is cracking-wise and using both web-shooters and Spider-tracers. That's good.
  • Spidey doesn't seem to have a problem wrecking a cop car, ramming another car (on a bridge), or helping to cause some serious car accidents. That's bad.
  • Overdrive is a new villain. Mr. Negative is a new villain. Neither one of them makes me want to vomit yet. That's good.
  • If Jackpot isn't Mary Jane, then it's the biggest (and most annoying) red-herring in a long time. (BTW, to answer the poll from the SMB last May: Yes, I would hit the Jackpot.)
  • Phil Jimenez, who is one of my favorite artists, cannot draw Spider-Man. The eyes are wrong, the anatomy looks twisted and gross, and half the time Spidey has a vertical webline going down over his mouth. That's all bad.
So the real reason why I bought this comic is actually for the "DVD-style extras" - the Tom Brevoort "Spidey-manifesto" and the "Spider-Man 2008 Bible." Let's take a look at these, briefly.

Much of what Brevoort says here is a repeat of my own introduction to the Spider-Man: For Better or For Worse series. "Spider-Man is about Peter Parker. Spider-Man is supposed to be funny. Spider-Man makes mistakes. Spider-Man needs a good supporting cast. We've been killing or ruining the supporting cast for YEARS. Mystery villains are fun." Some of what he says is just plain wrong, IMO: "Spider-Man 2 gets it right." Um, no. Spider-Man 2 should have been sub-titled: The World Shits On Peter Parker. There were many things to like in Spider-Man 2, but there were many things to disagree with, as well. What kills me about Brevoort's whole thing is that the vast majority of what he says needs to be changed with Spidey has nothing to do with the marriage. AAAAH!

(However, I do find his take on Betty Brant--that she and Peter should be very good friends and she should be setting him up with chicks--interesting. That seems to largely come out of nowhere. I know Betty has been around in some capacity or another for many years, but I don't remember her and Peter EVER being particularly close.)

The Spidey-Bible is the same way. Other than Mary Jane being gone, what about this new SQ couldn't have happened with the marriage intact? With Norman back from the dead, we certainly didn't need Mephisto to get Harry back. The good things about the new SQ don't require the marriage, and the bat-guano-crazy parts that suck are because of the "cosmic reset."

On the bright side, the new villain Menace appears to be a Goblin of some kind, so there's that. I'd still rather see Roderick Kingsley show up, but at least he's in Amazing Spider-Girl.

So, ultimately, what does this prove? That Marvel has been sitting on top of this crappy set-up for a long, long time and was still unable to come up with something better. That they were aware of many of the real problems with Spidey, but felt that somehow they needed to do a big long event to change them instead of just changing them. Figure it out, Marvel: You don't need a mini-series, a devil, or a world-wide-mindwipe to introduce more supporting characters or to bring back the web-shooters! When something like that sucks, you just change it!

I'm glad they could identify some of the problems, but it fills me with dread that their solution sucks as much as it does. It's pretty clear that, this week, at least, the real Spider-Man, the one who isn't frozen in time as an immature "young 25-year-old", is still Missing In Action.

Eric

Quesada vs. The Fans (From the SMB)

Here's a short excerpt from a very funny post from CrazySugarFreakBoy! over at the ever-popular Spider-Man Message Board:

Fans: How can you say that divorcing Spider-Man is wrong, when you had him make a deal with the Devil?

Quesada: Because divorce means that you're a quitter, and that makes you a bad person. Besides, if they just gave up on their marriage, then it would show that there's no hope for their relationship ... even though, in dealing with the Devil, they did give up on their marriage, and by my own editorial fiat, there is no hope for their relationship. Besides, the Devil tricked Spider-Man, and how could Spider-Man expect that? And this isn't the only bad thing Peter has done, so if you don't like him for doing this, then you obviously don't like anything Spider-Man has done!

Fans: How can you say that almost everything happened the same, when retconning the marriage means that lots of stuff obviously didn't happen, like Mary Jane getting pregnant?

Quesada: Well, when I say "almost" everything happened the same, that means that lots of things didn't happen the same. And since I Marvel never really liked Mary Jane having been pregnant in the first place, that no longer happened. But again, we're not the first ones to pull a stupid retcon! Look at Norman Osborn! I'm not even going to try and pretend that bringing him back was anything but a mistake, but because he's been back long enough, he's become something that fans and creators alike simply have to put up with, which is what I'm hoping this retcon will become.

For more hilarity, check out this post at the SMB!

Yet another thing I wish I'd written. Sigh.

Eric

Sunday, January 27, 2008

SM:FBFW ASM 114-120

Spider-Man: For Better or For Worse?

This Week's Reading List: Amazing Spider-Man 114-120

Hello, and welcome to our special “hodge-podge of mediocrity” week here at the Spidey-blog. Hammerhead and Doc Ock fight it out in a gang war. The original Spectacular Spider-Man Magazine #1 gets massacred in its transformation into a three-part Amazing storyline, and then Peter Parker fights the Hulk because he can. Sigh.

First, “Gang War.” On one hand, I like seeing Gwen defend Peter as she does here when Flash starts bad-mouthing him. I, as a reader, identify strongly with Peter, and I've always shared his feelings for Gwen. On the other hand, haven't we sat through this scene about three times already? I can see why the writers, who clearly lacked the imagination or the gumption to do something different with Gwen, felt the need to... oh, but we'll get to that next week.

As for the Gang War itself, it's basically a guy with a metal skull thinking that he can take on Doctor Octopus. Meanwhile, Doc Ock's chief supporter and, apparently, cleaning woman is Aunt May, who believes him to be so good that she's willing to try to shoot Spider-Man with a pistol. If you actually need me to comment on any of that to understand how idiotic it is, then... Oh, forget it.

Then we've got a three-part story featuring the same basic plot (and a vast amount of recycled art) of Spectacular Spider-Man Magazine #1, except that the suit-wearing Richard Raleigh, who was the mastermind villain behind it all last time, has been sort-of replaced by “The Disruptor” in many shots. The Disruptor is Raleigh in a dorky-looking costume. Why anyone needs a secret identity when one doesn't present himself to the world as a criminal I'll never know. Anyway, Peter and Gwen make up and seem to finally clear the air about her merely being good friends with Flash. Honestly, this story worked much, much better as a “novel-length thriller” and without the idiotic “Disruptor” identity. The changes here make no sense.

And then... Sigh. There's a telegram for Aunt May. It's a mystery. Peter needs to go to Montreal to see the guy who sent it. (Why he can't use a phone like a normal person is a mystery to me.) And... the Hulk is in Montreal, so JJJ agrees to send Peter to get some shots for the Bugle. And... Spider-Man and the Hulk fight, and it's basically Spider-Man dodging for two issues. And when he finally finds Mssr. Rimbaud, who sent the telegram... Rimbaud is shot by a mystery man.

I'm not sure what kind of comment is necessary here. It's a completely ridiculous story designed to give the writer an excuse to match up Spidey and the Hulk without tearing up NYC. Personally, I don't see the fight as anything particularly entertaining or imaginative. Ugh.

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

1) Spider-Man stories were better then than they are now. Nope. Worse. These have too many elements that make zero sense. I'd honestly rather read Brand New Day than these issues again.

2) Spider-Man's supporting cast is essential to good Spidey stories. They might be, but you'd never know it from these issues.

3) Peter Parker is not just a secret identity. Oh, for crying out loud. Aunt May is Doc Ock's housekeeper. I hate Peter just for being related to her.

All right, that's it for this week. Up next week will be Amazing Spider-Man 121-122! Until Spider-Man actually believes he could beat the Hulk, Make Mine Marvel!

Eric

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

SM:MIA - ASM 548

My copy came Monday. Not cool, Marvel. Not cool at all.

BTW, in case you haven't figured this one out: SPOILERS

Spider-Man: Missing In Action

This Week's Reading List: Amazing Spider-Man 548

Amazing Spider-Man 548 is much the same as 547: Virtually nothing in it is related to the marriage in any way. The main story is serviceable, but not inspired. Mr. Negative has created a DNA-based "blood bomb" that only affects those related by blood to the original source. He's using it to target the Maggia. He plants one at a circus, planning to kill a bunch of mob kids. Spidey saves them. Meanwhile, the Spider-Mugger is killed, and Spidey gets some of his stuff back. Of course, the cops think Spidey killed him.

There are some Brand New Day plots sprinkled in here. First, Harry is none too happy to see Spidey swinging around. Second, one of the new girls is apparently a CSI, and she wants to investigate the blood thing. Third, Aunt May's boss at the shelter is Mr. Negative.

Now, come on, Marvel, honestly: what part of this issue required One More Day in order to work? Mary Jane prevented you from introducing new female supporting characters? Or is your whole company so unimaginative that you couldn't think of a way to introduce a new female supporting character without making her a love-interest for Peter?

Ugh. Honestly, the tone of the issue is right, but that doesn't change the fact that the set-up sucks.

Eric

Monday, January 21, 2008

SM:FBFW ASM 108-113

Spider-Man: For Better or For Worse?

This Week's Reading List: Amazing Spider-Man 108-113

Greetings, true-believers! Well, we're back to read about those good old days of Spider-Fandom where there weren't alternate continuities, memories, and deals with the devil. The stories might not always be good, but at least they're honest attempts at having fun. This week we visit some some good-intentioned but horribly cliched Vietnamese stereotypes before moving on to the Gibbon, Kraven, and Doc Ock.

First comes the story that introduces Sha Shan, an (eventual) supporting cast member that I remember from my early years of reading Spidey. It's funny for me to think that I'm actually closer (in publishing time) to when I started reading Spidey at this point in my FBFW reading than we all are in 2008. Anyway, this story is a difficult one for me to read. On one hand, Stan takes time to show Vietnamese who are not dirty Commies. On the other hand, these supposedly “peaceful” folks go crazy when their temple is destroyed and track Flash to the USA. They don't listen to Sha Shan, who is the daughter of the leader they think is dead... Ah, you know what? It's not worth describing. Suffice it to say that the story stirs the same conflicts in me as the Hobie Brown story from a while back.

At the same time, there's a lot to like here. The mere fact that it's Flash they're after makes the story interesting to invested readers. Flash himself is an interesting read at this point, because he's clearly had his world-view altered by his time in 'Nam. No longer should he be written as the simplistic bully. Gwen and Peter go through a bit of an interesting spot, as well, as she finally calls him on the whole “Peter's a coward who always runs away” thing. This, as a complete surprise to me, actually leads to a confrontation between Gwen and May. Gwen basically calls May on her pointless and annoying worrying. As with every change in Spider-Man, however, it doesn't stick... so what's the point?

After this story comes the debut of “the newest Marvel super-star!” In case you don't remember a super-star from ASM 110, they mean the Gibbon. Now, I'm not much of a Gibbon fan, but I have to say that I completely understand where both Spidey and the Gibbon are coming from here, as I have been on both sides of the “laughing at someone” bit. Honestly, can you blame Spidey for laughing when this dude shows up? To Spidey, the super-hero biz is old hat, but it seems like a big deal to Martin Blank. Being a teacher, I've been on one side, and having talked to comics pros (and having the cliched aspirations to the biz that seemingly every comic fan has), I've been on the other.

Then Kraven shows up, and the whole story turns into jungle mind control. With drugs. Yippee.

The next storyline starts with what is, to me, a fascinating concept: Spider-Man wrestling with the simple fact that he cannot save everyone and that being Spider-Man screws up his life in a fundamental way. Now, the story itself is a cop-out in that Spidey's decision to prioritize his search for Aunt May (who has disappeared suspiciously) is eventually folded back into the rash of kidnappings he'd decided to ignore... Eh. Anyway, it would be interesting to see Spidey really struggle with the essential truth that he cannot win. I'm not sure how they'd do it, but Peter Parker has always struck me as a prime candidate for depression--and I'm not talking about a “special issue”--I'm talking an extended period.

And then... Doc Ock shows up and... fight. Instead of the flu this time, Spidey has an ulcer and nervous exhaustion. And... he beats Doc Ock, who seems hideously overused at this point. I mean, even if you're going with the whole “new audience every two years” theory of comics readership, packing Doc Ock after only eighteen months seems like overkill. We'll see if the “Gang War” storyline does anything when I report back next week.

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 average. BTW, I'm not comparing this to Brand New Day until I have a better idea of what's going to happen with that storyline. In any case, this week's stories hold up just fine, especially by the standards of the time. The Kraven issue is pathetic, but... hey.

2) Spider-Man's supporting cast is essential to good Spidey stories. Flash makes the first two issues, and Gwen and May get some interesting moments. Yep.

3) Peter Parker is not just a secret identity. In many ways, he's Spider-Man without the mask. (I mean, he always is, but there are few Peter Parker flairs in these issues--it's mostly Spider-Man punching and flipping.)

All right, that's it for this week. Up next week will be Amazing Spider-Man 114-120! Until Spidey IS a coward, Make Mine Marvel!

Eric

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

SM:MIA - ASM 547

Spider-Man: Missing In Action

This Week's Reading List: Amazing Spider-Man
547

Sigh. Damn it, Marvel. Quit making Brand New Day actually good. Now, let's get something straight right from the get-go: ASM 547 is not a groundbreaking comic. It is not fantastic art. What it is, unfortunately for those of us who HATE the set-up of BND, is entertaining and fun. I still maintain that getting rid of the marriage was unnecessary to tell this kind of a story, but this story is, in and of itself, good.

In fact, it's better than last week because most of my complaints from last week are simply not a factor for this issue. The marriage (or lack thereof) is a non-issue, Harry Osborn acts like a rich guy (but not a rich schmoozer), there's a supporting cast, there's a villain, a fast-paced plot, there's sub-plots... Aargh. And then, of course, there's McNiven art, which I've liked since his CrossGen days.

Is the issue generic? YEP. This issue would fit in very nicely with the stuff I'm reading for the For Better or For Worse column. The Coffee Bean is here, Harry's here, and someone has stolen Peter's stuff, including this weird "watch" that happens to shoot webs. Meanwhile, there's a mysterious villain chasing after a tablet. Spidey jokes, he's concerned about money, about pictures, he only has one web-shooter... I mean, this is classic Spider-Man, plain and simple. If I had not been reading comics for twenty years, walked into a shop, and picked this issue off the stands, I'd be on-board for the next issue for sure.

None of this changes the fact that this series is going to have to fall back on the changes introduced last issue (slacker Peter, media-whore Harry, do-gooder May, and the lack of marriage), and that's going to be problematic for me. However, I have to give BND a fair shot, and this issue hits in all the right ways.

Damn it.

Eric

Sunday, January 13, 2008

SM:FBFW ASM 103-107

Spider-Man: For Better or For Worse?

This Week's Reading List: Amazing Spider-Man 103-107

We start off in the Savage Land with Gwen of the Jungle, then we move on to a new and “improved” Spider-Slayer for three issues.

Okay, so the first storyline here is a two-parter where Gwen, Peter, and JJJ are three out of four members of a team headed to the Savage Land to track down a giant lizard-ape named Gog. No, I'm not making this up. This is a stupid set-up, but the story is actually minorly interesting. It's fast-paced and, once they're in the Savage Land, they meet up with Ka-Zar. At least that's slightly logical. Kraven is there, too, and he has raised Gog from infancy. You see, it's Gog that's the problem with this story.

Gog is an alien rocketed to Earth as the last survivor of his doomed world. He is apparently superior to humans in many ways—he learns to talk his own language without help from Daddy Kraven. And... Spider-Man kills him. I kid you not. Spider-Man leads him to a pool of quicksand and allows him to drown. Spidey feels a little bad about this, but not that bad. What a crock. (BTW, two seconds of internet searching reveals that Gog was rescued by the Plunderer after this story and he will show up again many years down the road. That doesn't change what Spidey did or how it was supposed to look in this story.)

My favorite part of this story is Gwen Stacy channeling the spirit of Harley Quinn twenty years early when she says, “A-OK, Mr. J!” Actually, I think this statement is very, very revealing about our young Ms. Stacy, who changes personalities almost at the drop of a hat--she's a psycho! She probably wasn't actually hit by the Goblin at all--she threw herself off that bridge just to screw with Spidey's head, and never mind sleeping with his best friend's dad...

Following this is a straightforward three-parter where Spidey fights Spencer Smythe's newest and greatest Spider-Slayers. The superhero part of the story is very, very typical late-Silver Age action-adventure. It's a dramatic improvement over the Savage Land arc, but nothing to talk about. The soap-opera is more interesting than it has been since Harry's drug adventures, but considering that there has been little soap-opera to speak of, that doesn't say much. I have to say I'm glad to see Flash Thompson back in the mix--and war has really changed him. (Of course, a writer's sneeze causes Flash to become a completely different person, so that doesn't end up saying much. I think it did at the beginning, though.)

About the only note-worthy thing for me in these last three issues is that Smythe's plan hinged heavily on the police “spy-cameras” he helped them install. People take to the streets protesting them. Compare that to today's surveillance society, and it makes me wonder if we haven't given up something essential in allowing all the cameras we do.

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

1) Spider-Man stories were better then than they are now. The Spider-Slayer arc is good-average, but the hideousness of Gog and the Savage Land trumps it. *raspberry*

2) Spider-Man's supporting cast is essential to good Spidey stories. They make the stories better here.

3) Peter Parker is not just a secret identity. Actually, he kind of is. But not in a bad way--it's just that the Peter ID is kept largely separate from the Spider-Man one in the Smythe arc. Oh, well.

All right, that's it for this week. Up next week will be Amazing Spider-Man 108-113, and hopefully they'll be better! Until Spidey is an (attempted-)murderer of aliens, Make Mine Marvel!

Eric

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

SM:MIA - ASM 546

Spider-Man: Missing In Action

This Week's Reading List: Amazing Spider-Man 546

All right, friends and neighbors. It's a Brand New Day, and the real Spider-Man is NOWHERE to be found. That's right: Amazing Spider-Man 546 is out on the stands as of today, and I'm here to blog about it.

Let's get one thing very straight from the outset: This is NOT the Spider-Man that we have read for the last... twenty years AT LEAST. For the most part, this is NOT the Spider-Man supporting cast that we've come to know and love. The real Spider-Man, the one whose comics we've shelled out hard-earned money for, is NOT in these issues. How do I know? Well, an actual person is the sum total of his choices, and a character in serial fiction has a history behind him that has been published. That history is distinct from other characters' histories. Same with personalities.

In other words, "616" Spider-Man (the REAL one) is different from Ultimate Spider-Man is different from Marvel Adventures Spider-Man is different from Movie Spider-Man is different from BND (Brand New Day... duh) Spider-Man. Just as Post-Crisis Superman was not the same character as Pre-Crisis Earth 1 Superman, BND Spider-Man is NOT the "real" Spider-Man.

Under other circumstances, this would be 100% acceptable. I've thought for years now that Ultimate Spider-Man is, in many ways, a superior character to the classic Spider-Man. It was my personal tradition for a long time to read Amazing, Sensational, etc. Spider-Man first whenever they came out. Ultimate replaced those in my "reading list" pretty much immediately. Part of the reason I don't really remember JMS' arc very well is because I was no longer really concerned with 616/classic Spidey. Ultimate had superseded it in terms of importance and quality. I was perfectly happy to go with the "new" Post-Crisis histories at DC back in the 80's. The Superman and Wonder Woman reboots absolutely captivated me for years. I've thought for a long time that the Marvel Universe is due for a serious reboot--although personally I'd have it hew to the classic style (over the Ultimate one). So, I'm not intrinsically opposed to dumping a character's (or a universe's) history. If it's done right.

BND is not done right. It takes the worst strategies from the original Crisis and adopts them. Swiss-cheese, down-to-the-individual-writer's-interpretation history? Check. Random resets to previous status quos without explanation or, apparently, forethought? Check. Semi-logical, universal explanation for the switch? Oh, wait. Semi-logical and universal are both GOOD ideas, and BND has neither.

So, that means that the "real" Spider-Man is no longer being published. He's MIA. What will it take to find him? Absolute apathy on the fans' part. Sigh. That, I cannot do.

You see, I bought Amazing Spider-Man 546. And... I kind of liked it. This BND Spider-Man has some potential. Unfortunately, he's living someone else's life... kind of. He's surrounded by his old friends... kind of. Ultimately, this half-hearted, piecemeal reboot does NOTHING right with the character that COULDN'T have been done with the original, and it does several things WRONG with its new formula.

Things that are right:

1) Snappy banter. Slott's tone for the book is spot-on. The book has a somewhat light-hearted tone that works for Spider-Man. Obviously some moments are more serious than others, but...

2) Excellent art. Come on. They're spending top dollar for this reboot, and we get to look at it.

3) Spider-Tracers/Mechanical Web-Shooters. YES.

4) PACING. Oh, God, the wonderful, wonderful pacing. MULTIPLE storylines (some in the back-ups, but still) that are not 100% Peter-centric. Scenes of Peter interacting with other people. Scenes without Peter in them. This book moved faster than any JMS Spider-book ever has.

5) A supporting cast. Please note this: Every Single Storyline Supporting Character In This Issue Is As Separate From Its Previous Incarnation As BND Spidey Is From His. We'll get to this in a moment. However, this book actually takes time to set up a supporting cast, and Spider-Man needs this. One of the weakest elements in bad Spidey stories is the total focus on Spider-Man. He's a social creature and works best in groups (even if he's not a team player). Each and every supporting character comes with a unique environment that guarantees at least three or four story possibilities right off the top of one's head and has the potential to generate many more. So, so important.

Now, please examine the list above. What stories there could NOT have been told with a married Spidey? NONE. Will there be love-interest stories for BND Spidey in the future? Maybe. But they're canceled out by all the MJ-centric, marriage-centric, BABY MAY-centric stories that could have been told otherwise.

What's WRONG:

1) FEW of these characters are who they used to be.
  • Aunt May runs a soup kitchen, or at least works in one? No offense, but when has this woman EVER demonstrated such a charitable side? I kind of like BND Aunt May, and I think she's probably an improvement over 616 Aunt May, but she's NOT her old self.
  • Harry Osborn: International Jet-Setter and Womanizer. Uh, what? Again, there's a lot of potential in this character. This could really go places. He's obviously a weak man who will provide endless stories. You know who he's not? Harry Osborn.
  • J Jonah Jameson is a newspaper man incapable of selling papers without Spider-Man, and he runs a tabloid paper. Well... Okay, this has links to previous continuity. However, the status of Jameson and the Bugle is so checkered over the years, so varied, that one can hardly pin down one personality or status. This is relatively interesting.
  • Robbie, Betty... They seem to be the same so far... BUT they don't have their own Storyline separate from the others, so I'm going to count them out until they do. We'll see. I'd be interested to know if Betty was ever in a cult or if Robbie ever went to prison.

2) PETER is no longer who he used to be. BND Peter and movie Peter are almost indistinguishable. Peter taking wads of cash from Harry? Sharing an apartment, okay... but wads of cash? (Sure he says it's a loan, but...) Peter, 26 and living with Aunt May because he's done NOTHING for a MONTH?? Peter Parker, unable-to-get-out-of-bed-man? Again, I don't like this side of the character. Peter made it through the end of high school and the beginning of college without flunking out. Why is he in this place now?

(Actually, there's several possible answers to that, many of them lack-of-marriage-related. The PROBLEM is that this is NOT the Peter Parker I've been reading about for twenty-five years. I wish they wouldn't pretend it is.)

3) Continuity, continuity, continuity. They'd better start explaining, and fast. Actually... No. No, they shouldn't. Because they don't care and I don't care. None of their explanations go any farther than "We're too creatively bankrupt to come up with interesting stories for 616 Spidey, so we made ourselves a new one. If you don't like our toys, go home!"

4) Illogic, illogic, illogic. Why do we need magic to bring Harry back? Why could he not have come back... like this... using the old "Goblin Formula Regeneration" trick? I know his formula was modified, but come on... it's comic book science! A bit of technobabble is all that's needed, and there he is! And he abandons Liz and Normie--or they don't want him back--and he decides to be as needy as he was in college. POOF! Problem solved. Same with BND Aunt May--exchange her for Anna Watson instead, and have Peter and Mary Jane with Anna while Anna tries to save the world! Ultimately, the worst parts of this story were NOT NEEDED to achieve the best parts.

Sigh... Mr. Negative has potential. Car driver-boy from Swing Shift has potential. Jackpot, whoever she is, has potential. There's a lot to like here, folks. But it's NOT 616 Spidey. It's NOT. That character is GONE, and I'm honestly having trouble dealing with it.

I hope he'll return. I hope the burst of quality on these titles will be transferred to him when he does. Until then, Spider-Man is Missing In Action, and I want him back.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

SM:FBFW ASM 99-102

Spider-Man: For Better or For Worse?

This Week's Reading List: Amazing Spider-Man 99-102

You know, I'm a pretty forgiving guy when it comes to old comics. I remember reading many of them when I was eight or nine, and I can put myself back in that mindset in order to enjoy older stuff. With this week's so-called storyline, however, I'd have to actually bash my own brains out to enjoy my comics. This four-issue run is easily the worst we've seen so far (not including the Marvel Super Heroes story from a couple of weeks ago--that wasn't a “run”.) So, join me for an extremely brief review of when Spider-Man had six-arms.

First and foremost, my Gil Kane love has waned since last time. I'm not sure what happened to him and Frank Giacoia in-between 98 and 99, but all of a sudden the art--and the inking, especially--has just gone insane. Every detail is revealed. If you have a copy of Amazing Spider-Man 99 handy, look at page two, panel seven, as Peter Parker, freaky marionette from Hell, looks at Gwen and talks about popping the question. Then check out Captain Lipstick on page three, panel four, and Smylex-Victim Peter in panel eight. Seriously--AAAH!

Okay, 99's story isn't half-bad. Peter starts getting serious about Gwen and starts making some changes. He gets himself a staff job at the Bugle, talks tough to JJJ, and breaks up a hostage situation (using info from the Bugle to find out about the crime and then take pictures of it). IF this were actually going to go anywhere, it'd be a good story. However, since Marvel, even in the early 70's, was dead-set against Peter growing and changing in any meaningful way, this doesn't go anywhere, so it's only average.

Then come the drugs. Spidey decides that he can't be Spidey and be married to Gwen, so he makes up a potion that he's “been working on... for years--ever since [he] first got [his] spider powers” (ASM 100; 6, 5). Yeah, right. He finishes it in about two seconds using his magic potion-making machine that has never really appeared before, and then he drinks the potion. We're treated to a pity-party acid trip for Peter Parker that was billed in the last issue as “The Summing Up!” Boo-frickin'-hoo, Peter. And then... he wakes up... and has two extra pair of arms.

Good Lord. I have to say that I'll never hear Switch's last words in The Matrix the same way again after seeing Spider-Freak on the last page of this comic wailing, “Not like this! Not Like THIS!

Peter then freaks out (understandably), calls Gwen, and tells her he's going to be “out of town” for a while. He calls Doc Connors, gets instructions to go to his beach house, and takes off. Meanwhile, one of my personal least favorite characters of all time, Morbius, is introduced. Then Morbius fights the Lizard, since Connors showed up to help Spidey. Morbius escapes, recalls his origin, and Spidey and a half-Lizard realize that Morbius' bite reduces mutations. Fight, fight, fight, Spidey gets the bite-enzyme, and is cured.

The above paragraph covers three full issues of material. Three full crappy issues. The plot is asinine, the art is still terrible and inconsistent, and the dialogue is that special brand of shrill that comes from a writer trying desperately to make his characters matter. I feel dirty just writing about these issues.

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

1) Spider-Man stories were better then than they are now. Ecch.

2) Spider-Man's supporting cast is essential to good Spidey stories. “I love Gwen! We want to get married!” becomes “Gwen, I'm going to be out of town. I secretly hate you.” “Sob! Choke!”

3) Peter Parker is not just a secret identity. I wish these issues were still a secret to me. Yecch.

All right, that's it for this week. Up next week will be Amazing Spider-Man 103-107, and hopefully they'll be better! Until Spidey is a zombie who eats his family, Make Mine Marvel!

Eric