Friday, November 30, 2012


Damaging Evidence - Part Two
Credits: Carl Potts (writer), Gary Erskine (artist), Marie Javins (colors), Richard Starkings w/John Gaushell (letters)

Summary: The Punisher investigates the crime scene, unaware Sniper’s spying on him. Later, Sniper learns that Damage has been assigned the Punisher hit, much to his annoyance. Wolverine also investigates the Punisher’s alleged shooting, and is soon tranquilized by Sniper. He awakes in time to track down the Punisher imposter, who is actually Damage. Sniper watches from a distance as Wolverine battles Damage. Meanwhile, the Punisher learns of another shooting he’s been framed for and begins to doubt his sanity.

Review: Ah, this is one of those “Did I really kill that bus full of nuns?” stories. Years later, Jeph Loeb will do virtually the same concept with Wolverine in the Victims miniseries. Wolverine and Punisher are the ideal Marvel heroes to do this story with, since it’s not a stretch to believe they’ll kill someone, the drama is simply who was killed. Potts, oddly, doesn’t play up the mystery, since it’s fairly obvious by the middle of the issue that Damage is actually the one impersonating the Punisher. Presumably, he guessed the readers will know that Punisher isn’t the true killer and instead focused on a different aspect of the story. The focus instead turns to the Punisher’s growing doubts about his mission. Could he have killed an innocent? Are any of his victims redeemable? Do they have families, like the hitman he killed in Mexico? He normally doesn’t allow himself to think about these things. Thinking, he declares, is an obstruction to his mission. Potts’ Punisher War Journal stories were also notable for humanizing Punisher just enough to make him a sympathetic figure, without wimping out on the concept.

And, oh yeah, Wolverine is in the comic, too. And that hair is still marvelous. Wolverine gets to fight the true villain of the miniseries, who’s physically a duplicate for the Punisher now, so I guess that’s one way to get the obligatory hero vs. hero fight out of the way. Potts doesn’t do much with Wolverine directly, but he has clearly put thought into how someone like the Kingpin would deal with a hairy, psychotic mutant. He knows Wolverine is virtually impossible to kill, and he doesn’t want to attract the X-Men’s attention, so Kingpin’s solution is to tranq him. He also doesn’t want Wolverine using his senses to trace his men back to the Kingpin’s organization, so he makes sure Sniper’s van has been disinfected and that the Sniper is wearing plenty of Old Spice to cover his scent (Old Spice because it's so common; Kingpin says half the men in Manhattan are wearing it). Potts’ stories used to be filled with little details like this, and it’s one of the things I miss from this era from Marvel Comics.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

NEW MUTANTS #88 - April 1990

The Great Escape
Credits: Louise Simonson (writer), Rob Liefeld (penciler), Hilary Barta (inker), Glynis Oliver (colors), Joe Rosen (letters)

Summary: Freedom Force orders Cable to join them, or be labeled a member of the Mutant Liberation Front. He rejects their offer and plots his escape. With minimal effort, he’s able to break out of his cell and escape in one of the government’s helicopters. Meanwhile, the New Mutants are reunited with X-Factor. When Wolfsbane contacts Moira MacTaggert, she’s stunned to learn that Moira is on her way to take her back to Muir Island.

Continuity Notes:
· Moira is currently under the influence of the Shadow King, which ties in to a long-running subplot in Uncanny X-Men. Presumably, the Shadow King wants Wolfsbane on Muir Island to join the other mind-controlled mutants there.
· Cable tells Pyro that he built his mechanical hand, which he’s now repaired. Later, in an internal monologue, Cable states “Hand’s good as new. Great. I’m gonna need it.” (Cable’s even convinced himself that his mechanical parts aren’t just a cover for his techno-organic disease!) Cable also keeps vials of acid hidden in his “bionic parts.”
· Freedom Force, and the guards in this prison, repeatedly refer to Cable as a rogue government agent. One of the guards even declares that it’s an honor to be guarding a legend like Cable.

I Love the '90s: When Crimson Commando remarks that Cable has style, Mystique responds, “So does Khadafi!”

Review: It’s only his second appearance, and already this book is turning into The Adventures of Cable. While the New Mutants spend a few pages returning to their old status quo, recapping recent events, and advancing a few romantic subplots, Cable actually gets to do something. And his elaborate escape from prison is fun, as he’s able to use Freedom Force’s powers against them and make a pretty easy exit. Liefeld’s storytelling does let the scene down in a few places, like when Cable jumps out of a window and conveniently locates a cannon that’s just sitting on the ground, but for the most part the sequence works rather well. If Liefeld’s art suits any character, it’s the Blob, and Liefeld goes out of his way to represent the insanely corpulent mutant during the fight, while downplaying the more human members of Freedom Force.

When characters aren’t fighting each other, we’re left with a few dull “catching up” scenes that can’t help but to reveal more of Liefeld’s shortcomings. Boom Boom’s entrance in a revealing dress is handled competently (if you ignore the fact that she’s floating on her tippie-toes), but Liefeld’s unable to convey little things, like Cannonball turning his head to actually look at her. His neck (the few centimeters we see of it, at least) is growing out of the middle of his chest, and his facial expression reads “I’ve just seen the most psychologically damaging event of my life” instead of “Boy, that’s a pretty girl in a dress.” This is a character book, and I can absolutely understand why existing fans of the title couldn’t believe the new artist’s inability to draw the teen drama elements.

Monday, November 26, 2012


Damaging Evidence - Part One
Credits: Carl Potts (writer), Gary Erskine (artist), Marie Javins (colors), Richard Starkings w/John Gaushell (letters)

Summary: The Punisher kills one of the Kingpin’s hitmen, and is soon drawn into a larger firefight. During the fight, one of the gunmen is killed in front of his son, and the Punisher is hit by the Sniper. The Kingpin responds to the attack by hiring the Reavers to kill the Punisher. Wolverine overhears the assignment while fighting Reese in Hong Kong and decides to warn the Punisher. Meanwhile, the Kingpin’s cyborg Damage is repaired with technology provided by Donald Pierce. Later, the Punisher is framed for killing bystanders during an attack. He travels to the scene of the crime and discovers a mysterious van.

Continuity Notes: There’s no indication in this issue, but future chapters will note that this story takes place prior to Uncanny X-Men #248-281 (i.e. before the Reavers crucified Wolverine and the X-Men disbanded) and Daredevil #296-300 (i.e. before the fall of the Kingpin). This means the story’s set a good four years before the miniseries was actually published.

Approved By The Comics Code Authority: Numerous “damn”s and “hell”s in this issue, which was extremely rare for a mainstream Marvel comic at the time (although still considered tame enough for Code approval).

Review: This is an odd artifact. A Wolverine/Punisher team-up miniseries should’ve been a huge deal, especially in 1993, but I don’t recall any promotion for this title. In fact, I don’t think I knew it existed until I saw all three issues sealed together in a comic pack at Wal-Mart. And even at the height of my X-completism, I didn’t take the bait. Something about this miniseries just seemed off to me, even though I couldn’t quite pinpoint why. Reading it today for the first time, my suspicions were confirmed. I just don’t believe this went through the normal editorial channels of Marvel of this day. The minor profanity, the lettering, and the art make me wonder if this was initially produced as a Marvel UK book. The presence of Carl Potts, regular writer of Punisher War Journal and one-time Punisher editor, is a hole in that theory, though. My other hypothesis is that this began as a graphic novel, but was cut up into a three-part miniseries after Marvel abandoned the format. The extremely abrupt ending to this issue would seem to indicate this.

I knew none of this at the time, of course. I just knew that this book came out of seeming nowhere, and Wolverine looked utterly bizarre on the covers. Wolverine’s hair might be the lasting legacy of this book. We’ve seen some odd interpretations of Wolverine over the years, but only Gary Erskine seemed to think it was a good idea to portray Wolverine as if he just walked out of José Eber’s salon. “I’m the best there is at what I do…but even I need help in the battle against split ends,” Wolverine read awkwardly off of the cue card, still annoyed at Cher for stepping all over his lines in the first read-through.

Judging the issue on its own merits, it reads as an average Punisher comic from this era. I’ve read much better from Carl Potts, but a mediocre Punisher story from Potts is still pretty entertaining. The pacing of the issue is a little odd, as the subplot about the Punisher being framed for killing civilians comes out of nowhere in the final two pages, but I suspect that’s because the story wasn’t intended to be read in twenty-two page installments. Even though Wolverine has top billing here, it’s not surprising that the story’s biased toward the Punisher’s continuity, given Potts’ history with the character. I do remember the Sniper and Damage from the early issues of Punisher War Journal, but I don’t recall the Sniper working for Kingpin, nor do I remember Damage as a white cyborg (he was a black gang leader in the issues I remember). Using the Reavers as a connection between the two anti-heroes makes sense, given that they were always intended as Wolverine adversaries and ended up as minor members of the Punisher’s rogues gallery in the late ‘80s. Nothing feels forced so far, and aside from some reservations about Erskine’s art, this is at least a competent start for the miniseries.

Friday, November 23, 2012

X-MEN Episode Thirteen - March 27, 1993

The Final Decision
Written by Mark Edward Edens

Summary: A Sentinel stops Magneto from killing Senator Kelly.  Kelly realizes he isn’t safe, however, when Master Mold later announces to Trask that the Sentinels will no longer obey human orders. Their new programming is to replace all the world leaders' brains with computers, leading the way for a Sentinel takeover. Meanwhile, the X-Men locate Magneto and discover the Sentinels have returned. Scanning Gambit’s memories, Xavier learns the identity of the Sentinels’ former government administrator, Henry Gyrich. From Gyrich, they locate the Sentinels’ manufacturing plant. Magneto reluctantly joins the X-Men in battle, and Master Mold is destroyed. Senator Kelly reverses his stance on mutants and helps arrange Beast’s pardon.

Continuity Notes:
· Gambit met Henry Gyrich in Genosha when he tricked the authorities into believing he was spying on the mutant inmates.
· Professor Xavier’s examination of Gambit’s memories reveals quick flashes of Ghost Rider and Bella Donna, which means someone looked through that X-Men/Ghost Rider crossover for research.
· Cyclops proposes to Jean in the closing scene. Mr. Sinister watches them off-screen, boasting that he knows what their future holds. The original voice used for Sinister in this scene, which was high-pitched and somewhat campy, was replaced when the episode reaired.
· Trask is given a vague death scene, as he causes a giant explosion in an attempt to stop Master Mold. He returns without explanation in a later episode, though.

Approved By Broadcast Standards: Magneto has a bloody mouth during his fight with a Sentinel (which is made of plastics, of course.) Later, when the X-Men discover his body, Magneto’s entire chest is covered in blood. Magneto also makes a speech about seeing his loved ones executed before his eyes as a child.

Review: “The Final Decision” is my favorite episode of the series. Not only is this a fantastic conclusion to the first season of the show, but it also feels like it could’ve been a great final act for an X-Men movie. This really is classic X-Men material: Magneto’s after Senator Kelly, Sentinels are after Magneto, the X-Men are forced to save a bigot, someone gives an emotional speech about what the X-Men stand for, characters make noble sacrifices in battle, Magneto forges an uneasy alliance with the team, things blow up, and a human has a change of heart about mutants. Plus, we have a few gratuitous cameos from other characters in the Marvel Universe, and vague hints about the past of a team member (the first season of the show was filled with these teases). “The Final Decision” also has some of the finest animation in the show’s run. The scene that has Wolverine fighting Sentinels in a mineshaft, only illuminated by the intermittent shots of their eye-blasts, is pretty amazing. The forced perspective shots of the Sentinels flying out of the mine and racing towards the camera are also fun. There’s also no shortage of strong performances in this episode. Who could forget the wounded Magneto’s soliloquy “Noble fools…the brave are always the first to die.” as he watches the X-Men fly off on a hopeless mission? More than any other episode, this showcases how good a Saturday morning X-Men cartoon could actually be.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

X-MEN Episode Twelve - March 20, 1993

Days of Future Past (Part Two)
Written by Robert N. Skir & Marty Isenberg

Summary: The X-Men prevent Bishop from harming Gambit, but also express doubts over Gambit’s denial. Professor Xavier speculates that the assassination could happen during the Senate’s hearings on the mutant issue, so the team travels to Washington. There, they battle the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, while Mystique impersonates Gambit and tries to kill Senator Robert Kelly. Gambit saves Kelly, but Bishop remains eager to shoot him and Mystique. Rogue enters and destroys Bishop’s temporal transceiver, sending him back to the future. Shortly after the X-Men leave Kelly’s office, he’s kidnapped. Xavier discerns that Magneto is the culprit. In the future, Bishop returns home to discover nothing has changed.

Continuity Notes:
· Havok, wearing his Larry Stroman-era X-Factor costume, makes his debut in the series during a montage of future events, narrated by Bishop. He appears alongside Cyclops, fighting Sentinels. The Morlocks are also shown as victims of Sentinels in the montage.
· Storm comments that she knows Gambit better than anyone, which prompts an odd look from Rogue. This is a reference to Gambit befriending the de-aged Storm during Chris Claremont’s final years on the comics, although this storyline was never adapted for the cartoon.
· Mystique reveals herself as Rogue’s foster mother when she morphs into the shape of an average-looking, middle-aged white female.
· Two endings to the episode exist. When originally aired, the final shot of Forge in the future had him staring at an android in what appears to be a sensory deprivation tank. On subsequent reairings, we instead see Wolverine’s adamantium bones in the tank.

“Um, Actually…: Rogue always knew Mystique as her foster mother in the comics. The revelation that Mystique used another identity when raising her was apparently done to simplify Rogue’s earlier encounters with Mystique in this series.

Review: Following the basic structure of the original story, the second chapter of “Days” has the X-Men traveling to Washington, DC to stop the Brotherhood from assassinating Senator Kelly. This episode emphasizes why the adaptations from the comics often work so well in the cartoon. The cast isn’t quite the same, and the specific plot details vary in places, so even though comic fans are experiencing familiar scenes, the story’s still free to do something new. Merging the X-traitor storyline with the assassin plot from “Days of Future Past” makes a lot of sense, and it gives Rogue and Gambit important roles to play in a story that originally didn’t even feature them.

Adding Bishop, who’s almost as belligerent and violent here as initially portrayed in the comics, also creates conflicts that couldn’t exist in the original storyline. Bishop’s response when dealing with Gambit and a doppelganger is classic -- “Better take you both out…just to be sure.” Yeah, Cable had a virtually identical scene just a few episodes ago when dealing with Mystique, but it doesn’t fail to crack me up.

Having concluded an adaptation of one of the most famous X-Men stories ever, and doing a decent job of it, the episode ends with perhaps the greatest teaser in the show’s run. Why does Xavier think Magneto has kidnapped Senator Kelly? “Because, my watch…it’s been magnetized.” Even though Magneto had already appeared on the show, and the novelty of seeing X-Men characters on TV was starting to wear off a bit, for some reason this floored me as a kid. Magneto’s coming back! So, yes, this is a notable two-parter. Although I feel compelled to complain about Mystique’s characterization, again. Her motive for killing Kelly isn’t because Mystique’s a mutant extremist with an agenda, as seen in the comics. No, she’s doing this because her lord Apocalypse demands it, which is also used as a justification for her attempting to make Rogue a slave a few episodes earlier. Ugh.

Monday, November 19, 2012

X-MEN Episode Eleven - March 13, 1993

Days of Future Past (Part One)
Written by Julia Jane Lewald

Summary: In the year 2055, Bishop is a hired mutant hunter. After he reaches his quota and is targeted by the Sentinels, he joins the mutant rebellion. Forge and Wolverine explain their belief that a political assassination in the past is responsible for creating this world. Bishop volunteers to take Wolverine’s place and travel to the past. He arrives disoriented, vaguely aware that an X-Man is the assassin. While Gambit and Rogue visit Beast in prison, Bishop attacks the X-Men’s home. They subdue him, until Gambit and Rogue return. An enraged Bishop turns his gun on Gambit.

Continuity Notes:
  • Forge makes his debut in the series as a much older man. He’s one of the few remaining rebels, and the inventor of the time machine.
  • Beast speculates that Gambit has been in prison before, based on his strange reaction to visiting Beast’s cell.
  • Jean Grey actually joins the team to battle Nimrod, who’s followed Bishop through time. Jean rarely participated in the action scenes, especially in the first season.
  • The concept of Bishop accusing Gambit of betraying the team comes from a long-running storyline in the comics. At the time of this episode’s production, it was still several years away from a resolution.
  • Here’s a continuity conundrum: When the team speculates about whom the assassin could be, Cyclops is adamant that it can’t be Jean. Jean responds that everyone has darkness inside of them, reminding Cyclops of her own “dark days.” This is obviously an allusion to the “Dark Phoenix Saga,” yet the show is years away from adapting that story. So what’s Jean talking about, if she hasn’t become Phoenix yet?
“Um, Actually…”: The original “Days of Future Past” introduced Rachel Summers and the adult Kate Pryde of the future X-Men. In the comics, Kate overtakes Kitty’s body in the present day and warns the X-Men about Senator Kelly’s assassination. Later, Rachel escapes the future and joins the X-Men, revealing to them that she was brainwashed into hunting down fellow mutants. Bishop was introduced in Uncanny X-Men #282 as a mutant police officer from a future where segregated mutants policed themselves. All of these elements have been jumbled together to form the animated series’ Bishop.

I Love the '90s: Bishop is explicitly sent to “the ‘90s” to stop the assassination. Jubilee’s future gravestone lists her death date as the faraway year of 2010.

Review: A part of me still can’t believe there was ever a Saturday morning adaptation of “Days of Future Past.” Even with FOX’s willingness to bend the rules of accepted kids’ programming of the day, this isn’t an easy fit for a cartoon adaptation. Apparently, the story was submitted during the brief period of time when FOX was open to ideas like this; as surviving censor notes show us, FOX will soon grow weary of even the word “assassin” (which is used around fifty times this episode.)

The original stories have been sanitized a bit -- no one’s explicitly killed onscreen and Bishop is a willing and eager mutant hunter as opposed to a brainwashed slave in a bondage outfit -- but the impact hasn’t been dampened. I can’t imagine too many kids were expecting the newest episode of X-Men to open with a close-up of the Statue of Liberty’s eye, crying tears of acid rain as she overlooks the bombed-out remains of New York. Wolverine’s now an old man past his physical prime, and strange new characters make up the X-Men in this bleak world overrun by Sentinels. Thankfully, someone’s decided to alter the color scheme in this episode, so the pastels are gone. This is dark, literally and figuratively.

Fans of the comic probably weren’t thrilled to see Bishop merged with two disparate characters, but the revisions Lewald has made make a certain amount of sense. Bishop was quickly identified as the “future X-Man” at the time, even though his personal story had virtually nothing to do with the “Days of Future Past” storyline. Bishop’s origin story of a cop chasing a crook through time isn’t inherently bad, but it certainly lacks the impact of “Days of Future Past,” which is a story that Marvel and the producers understandably wanted to see adapted. So, Bishop becomes a mutant hunter from the future, rather than a fugitive mutant hunter from the future. The audience still sees several of the great moments from “Days of Future Past,” and one of the more commercial X-Men of the time is introduced to a Saturday morning audience.

As an introduction to Bishop and the byzantine world of future X-Men continuities, this works very well. None of the time travel elements are confusing, the conflicts are engaging (plus, the Nimrod fight is smartly used to add credibility to Bishop’s story, a needed element since the X-Men have no motive for believing him), and the cliffhanger is great. I doubt anyone will say this surpasses the original “Days of Future Past” storyline, but it’s an admirable adaptation, and it’s a far more tolerable incarnation of the ‘90s X-traitor mystery.

Friday, November 16, 2012

THE ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN Part Six - December 1994

An Evening in the Bronx with Venom
Written by John Gregory Betancourt and Keith R. A. DeCandido

The Plot: Spider-Man encounters Josias, a homeless man from San Francisco who claims that Venom has turned against the underground community that took him in. Although dubious of his story, Spider-Man agrees to help the police protect Josias from Venom. When Venom does appear, the police and Spider-Man attack him while Josias escapes. Spider-Man follows Venom after Josias, and eventually learns from Venom that Josias is the murderer; Venom wants to bring him back to San Francisco to face their community’s Council. Soon after Spider-Man agrees to help Venom, Josias thoughtlessly runs into traffic and is killed by an oncoming car.

Web of Continuity: The underground community that lives beneath San Francisco was introduced in the first Venom miniseries. A few of the police officers in this story will go on to appear in the novel Spider-Man: Venom’s Wrath.

Review: Playing off Venom’s past as a homicidal maniac, this story teases the idea that perhaps Venom hasn’t reformed after all, even while Spider-Man remains skeptical of the homeless man’s claims. Considering that Marvel was serious about keeping Venom as a Punisher-style anti-hero during these days, it’s not a surprise that he isn’t the true villain in this piece, but the story does get a decent amount of material just by toying with the idea. The story’s helped a lot by the writers’ ability to flesh out some of the police characters, such as Frank Esteban, a captain who doesn’t carry the NYPD’s standard bias against Spider-Man, and Vance Hawkins, a sergeant who apparently has a genius IQ and enough integrity to avoid card games with his fellow officers because he knows he can’t resist card counting. I’m not so sure about the bleak ending, or the wild coincidence that allows Spider-Man to run into Josias just as he enters New York, but this is an enjoyable read and one of the better Venom stories from the anti-hero days.

Five Minutes
Written by Peter David

The Plot: On Peter and MJ’s anniversary, she asks him to stay in bed for five more minutes as sirens pass their apartment. He reluctantly complies, but when Spider-Man finally reaches the crime scene, he’s told by an officer that he could’ve rescued a suicide if he’d arrived five minutes earlier. After an argument, Peter avoids MJ at the Daily Bugle. He grudgingly takes her call there and is informed that their neighbor is threatening to kill his wife. Spider-Man stops him and returns home. MJ makes him realize how hard it was to make the call, knowing that any time he goes into action he could die. They forgive one another and spend the rest of their anniversary together.

I Love the ‘90s: I imagine if this story were published today, Peter wouldn’t be relying on the Daily Bugle’s phone to get a message from his wife. Also, the Parkers’ homicidal neighbor is named Ron Swanson (!), which probably isn’t a name Peter David would choose for a non-joke character today.

Review: “Cop wife” MJ stories usually bore me to death, but this is probably the best take on the concept I’ve read. It’s unrealistic to think that MJ is just fine with Peter risking his life as Spider-Man, but making her weepy and emotional about it makes for stale drama. Giving MJ her own life, and the ability to shut out the anxieties and keep up her gregarious persona worked much better in the comics than turning her into a nag ever did. If you are going to focus on MJ’s anxieties, this is the way to go. David is able to give MJ a defensible point of view, while also allowing her to acknowledge the guilt she feels for potentially preventing Peter from saving a life. David’s also introduced another angle I’ve never thought of before -- how would MJ feel if she called Peter in to help a situation and he ended up getting killed?

Contrasting Peter and MJ’s happiness at the opening of the story with the constant fighting of their neighbors adds a layer of dramatic irony to the story, as Peter promises MJ they’ll never reach that point. A few minutes later, they’re having one of the worst fights of their marriage. None of this feels forced, and the story ends by reaffirming their love for one another, so it’s not motivated by any antipathy towards the marriage itself. It’s a character study that exists because it’s a story worth telling, as opposed to all of the marriage stories that existed simply to dismiss the concept.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

THE ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN Part Five - December 1994

Thunder on the Mountain
Written by Richard Lee Byers

The Plot: Spider-Man tracks the Rhino and a group of mercenaries into the wilderness, where an alien weapon is allegedly buried. A boy named Davy stumbles upon the fight, and after an injured Spider-Man saves his life, takes Spider-Man home to treat his wounds. Davy’s father, who’s determined to remove himself and Davy from society after the death of his wife, is livid that Spider-Man’s brought his family into the conflict. After Spider-Man leaves, Davy sneaks after him. Davy’s father soon tracks them down, and creates a distraction that enables Spider-Man to defeat the Rhino. The father begins to realize that it was a mistake to seclude Davy.

I Love the ‘90s: Spider-Man tells Davy that he’s a member of the “I Hate Barney Support League.”

Review: The premise of this story is fairly generic, but Byers adds a layer of mystery by opening the story with Davy’s point of view; the perspective of a child who’s lived in a cave with his father for most of his life and has never even heard of Spider-Man. Giving Spider-Man a kid to bounce off of, and a setting he isn’t accustomed to, also helps to make this seem a little less boilerplate. Davy’s unnamed father’s conversion is awfully convenient though. As the story points out, his fears about the outside world are essentially confirmed by the incident -- six outsiders have invaded his home and only one was a decent person. Instead of driving him further into seclusion, he abruptly decides that he’s been wrong all along. It could be argued that the father has learned that it’s impossible to keep his child totally safe regardless of where they live, but the story’s a little vague on why exactly Davy’s father has come around.

Cold Blood
Written by Greg Cox

The Plot: On a cold winter night, Morbius succumbs to his bloodlust and attacks a homeless man. Spider-Man arrives to stop him, leading to a battle in the snow that nearly kills Spider-Man. When he has an opportunity to kill Morbius with an icicle, he can’t bring himself to do it. After Morbius recovers from the fight, he thanks Spider-Man for giving him another chance and leaves, vowing to take only the blood of the guilty. Spider-Man does his final good deed for the night when he uses his webbing to create a temporary shelter for the homeless man.

Review: This is another story you might recognize from the 1994 flipbooks. I remember thinking that the Spider-Man/Morbius fight drags on for quite a while when I first read the abridged version in Web of Spider-Man, and time hasn’t changed my opinion. If you’re interested in an extended fight between Spider-Man and Morbius, told in the prose format, this is for you. Personally, I don’t find it a concept worthy of eighteen pages. Not that the story is totally lacking in depth, I suppose. Cox creates some symmetry with Spider-Man saving the homeless man from an icicle at the start of the story and nearly killing Morbius with one at the end, and he has Spider-Man ponder if he could’ve easily become the monster that Morbius is today as he debates stabbing Morbius in the heart (remember that Spider-Man had mutated into a six-armed freak when they first met). Cox is also able to use the frozen setting to the fight scene’s advantage, as Spider-Man must contend with a horrid environment that doesn’t seem to bother Morbius at all. And yet, the conflicts aren’t overly interesting and the fight scene does feel needlessly protracted. Compared to the other stories in the book, the concept just feels too thin.

Monday, November 12, 2012

THE ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN Part Four - December 1994

Written by David Michelinie

The Plot: Henry Pogue is a small town journalist who’s dying of cancer. Determined to make his final weeks matter, he has a contact arrange a job with the Daily Bugle. While on an assignment with Peter Parker, he declares his final story will be the revelation of Spider-Man’s secret identity. Later, during an encounter with a protectionist terrorist group, Peter is forced to reveal his super powers in front of Henry. Peter debates over how to protect his secret, and finally decides to appeal to Henry’s humanity. Peter’s words convince Henry that glory is meaningless and that his life has mattered. A few weeks later, Henry’s obituary is penned by guest writer Peter Parker.

Review: This might be the story from the anthology that most people recognize, since an abridged version of it ran as a flip-book in Amazing Spider-Man. If you’ve only read the abridged version, you haven’t missed much (a few more pages of action and a brief intro to Henry were cut out), but reading the full version reminded me once again of what a great story this is. Fame and glory honestly don’t matter, and if there’s any superhero who understands that, it’s Spider-Man. Henry’s realization that his life has had meaning even if he’s destined to die anonymously is handled particularly well by Michelinie, without descending into predictable schmaltz.

There are rumors that David Michelinie originally planned to have Peter Parker’s dual identity revealed during a massive storyline throughout Spider-Man’s thirtieth anniversary, which would explain why he’s thought through just how badly this would impact Peter’s life. As Peter explains to Henry: “Bottom line is, telling the world who I am will destroy me, possibly destroy the people I love, and almost certainly destroy any hopes I have of helping anyone in the future! Is that a fair price for your fifteen minutes in the spotlight?” The idea that Peter would ever choose to reveal his secret ID is still insane to me, and another example that justifies my dismissal of post-2000 Marvel continuity (Yes, I’m still complaining about something that happened six years ago. I’m also writing about a book that was published eighteen years ago, so this shouldn’t be that much of a shock.)

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Courier
Written by Robert L. Washington III

The Plot: Spider-Man picks up a liver needed for a girl’s surgery from an ambulance stuck in traffic. He makes his way to Brooklyn, only to be intercepted by Chance. Chance steals the canister for his employer, not realizing that the liver is meant for a young girl until Spider-Man screams at him in anger. Chance turns around and rescues Spider-Man and an innocent man from the building he ignited when covering his escape. He returns the canister to Spider-Man, but only after flipping a coin for it.

Miscellaneous Note: The title of this story is a reference to the book Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, which is best known now as a Gary Oldman movie.

Review: I never noticed Robert L. Washington III’s name until his obituary turned up a few months ago on comic book news sites. It’s horrible to think that he went from professionally writing comics, and at least one prose story featuring one of the most famous characters in the history of pop culture, in his twenties to homelessness and an early death in his forties. Is “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Courier a lost classic? Nope, but it’s a solid story with not one but two twist endings. I think that Washington spends a little too much time trying to justify how “realistic” web-slinging actually could be in New York City (for those of us outside the city, it’s not particularly compelling), but he revives my interest in the story once Chance is brought into the picture. Chance is one of my favorite obscure, hopefully-not-dead, villains and his presence here helps to break up the monotony of the usual suspects of Doc Ock, Vulture, and Mysterio. Chance has a bizarre sense of honor, so it’s fitting for the character to go from setting a building on fire to betraying his gangster boss and returning the stolen liver within a few pages. Not that he’ll just give the liver away; he still has to flip for it. Then again, Spider-Man discovers in the story’s final twist that maybe Chance cares more than he lets on. This wouldn’t work for most villains, but Chance is enough of an eccentric to pull the idea off, and Washington sells the concept very well.

Friday, November 9, 2012

THE ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN Part Three - December 1994

Kraven the Hunter is Dead, Alas
Written by Craig Shaw Gardner

The Plot: Mysterio is freed from prison by demons he’s summoned with an ancient book. Unfortunately, Mysterio finds himself stalked by the demons, which now have a taste for his flesh. Needing help, he attempts to attract Spider-Man by robbing a jewelry exhibit. Mysterio forms an impromptu alliance with the Vulture to commit the robbery, only to be attacked by more demons after the robbery’s committed. Mysterio chases off the demons with several flash grenades, while the Vulture’s strange encounter with the demons seemingly cures him of cancer. Spider-Man, after spending a day reflecting on lost loved ones, finds Mysterio and the Vulture and easily subdues them.

The Subplots: MJ and her aunt Anna have gone shopping, leaving Peter behind for a day of relaxation.

Web of Continuity: As you may have noticed, Mysterio is using sorcery here years before he studies the occult in the comic book continuity.

Review: I’m stumped by this one. I was going to say that I’ve never read anything by Craig Shaw Gardner so I can’t speak to his writing style, but looking at Wikipedia I discovered I have read one of his works. His novelization of the 1989 Batman film. Which I read in the fourth grade. Mainly because it had swear words. Outside of movie novelizations, his focus seems to be parody fantasy stories, which helps to explain where he’s coming from, but not exactly what this story is supposed to be.

Unless there’s an obvious literary reference I’m missing, I’m going to assume that the title of this story is a nod to a novel by Michael Bishop called Philip K. Dick Is Dead, Alas. Wiki describes the novel as the story of “an alternative universe where his (Dick’s) non-genre work is published but his science fiction is banned by a totalitarian USA in thrall to a demonically possessed Richard Nixon.” That, clearly, has nothing to do with the content of the story, so I guess Gardner just liked the sound of the title. What is the relevance of the title, though? Kraven is barely referenced throughout the story; once when Peter reflects on his life and remembers villains who have died, and on the final page when the narrative makes an odd connection between Kraven’s hunt and a hunt Spider-Man’s somehow completed before he even donned his costume today. Presumably this alludes to Peter deciding to stay home with MJ even though he knows the jewelry exhibit is likely to be robbed; a dilemma that’s resolved when MJ practically orders him to go protect the exhibit. I guess Peter’s found a peace in life that Kraven’s hunt could never bring him? Okay, then. But what does this have to do with Mysterio and the Vulture? Perhaps the idea is that Mysterio’s found peace by defeating the demons without Spider-Man’s help, while Vulture’s embraced the darkness the demons inhabit…and somehow found a cure for cancer? I don’t know. This is an odd one.

Radically Both
Written by Christopher Golden

The Plot: Curt Connors develops a formula that he hopes will enable him to maintain his human persona while in his Lizard form. After ingesting the formula, he discovers that his consciousness is alive, but he has no control over the Lizard. The Lizard immediately races to the home of his ex-wife and son. Spider-Man arrives to stop him, but is knocked into a neighboring building during their fight. When the Lizard has an opportunity to kill his son, Curt’s persona emerges and spares him. Spider-Man returns and escorts the Lizard to his lab.

Web of Continuity:
· Curt Connors is living in an apartment in New York City in this story, as opposed to the home in Florida he lives in according to the comics’ continuity.
· The Lizard’s son is called “William” instead of “Billy”, which means Terry Kanavagh’s attempts to update his name from Web of Spider-Man did survive into at least one other story.

Review: There’s a nice hook for this story, as Christopher Golden has Curt Connors remain conscious during his transition into the Lizard and narrate life in his altered state. Of course, Connors is being wildly reckless by even attempting this experiment, but his actions are somewhat justifiable if he truly believes this is the only way the Lizard’s persona can ever be destroyed. The question of whether or not the Lizard could ever bring himself to kill his family is raised, with no conclusive answer given. He certainly comes close in this story, but the moment that he’s prepared to cut William open is the moment Connors finally finds the strength to overtake the Lizard’s consciousness. Did this happen because Connors had a stronger motivation than ever to take control, or because the Lizard subconsciously can’t bring himself to commit the act?

Spider-Man assures William that his father would never allow the Lizard to harm him; a statement Connors later claims is a lie. The story ends with Spider-Man choosing not to dwell on the answer. It’s a fine ending, although this story more than any other emphasizes just how foolish Spider-Man is for repeatedly bailing out Curt Connors. For the sake of the Connors family, and just humanity in general, Connors really should be in a high-security prison. Yes, Curt Connors is a tragic figure, but he’s also a horribly selfish one if he doesn’t understand why he should be removed from society.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

THE ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN Part Two - December 1994

Written by Lawrence Watt-Evans

The Plot: Spider-Man pursues a young thief who can leap large distances with mechanical shoes. He’s forgotten to refill his web cartridges and is unwilling to hurt the teen, so Spider-Man spends much of their confrontation leaping out of his way. A young Spider-Man fan, Stuart, watches from his nearby window. Thinking that Spider-Man is in trouble, he grabs his father’s rifle and shoots the thief. After Spider-Man makes sure the thief receives medical attention, he tracks down Stuart and forcibly brings him down to face the police. Stuart curses Spider-Man as he’s brought into custody.

Review: Wow, this is surprisingly dark. (Not so dark that the thief dies, but still…) The narrative opens with the story of nine-year-old Stuart seeing Spider-Man for the first time, which opens the door for an obsession that’s played as sweet instead of creepy until you reach the final pages. In fact, this has all the hallmarks of a “sick kid meets his hero” story, right down to Spider-Man allowing Stuart to swing through the city with him during one of their earlier encounters. Despite his hero worship, Stuart never seems to develop Spider-Man’s moral code, which leads to him committing a pretty horrific act by the story’s end. I can’t help but to be reminded of what superhero comics look like today when reading this story -- it’s as if the entire industry was taken over by Stuarts who just liked the action and violence of comics but never had a deeper understanding of heroic fiction.

Even though most superheroes could be plugged into Spider-Man’s place in the basic plot, Watt-Evans handles Spider-Man’s character very well, right down to Peter blaming himself for the shooting because he’s the one who showed off for Stuart in the first place, and was irresponsible enough to leave with empty web cartridges that morning. He’s also sympathetic towards Stuart instead of angry with him, which shows a great understanding of the character. (I can’t imagine Batman showing the kid any empathy.)

Written by Ann Nocenti

The Plot: Spider-Man rescues a young woman, Sonja, and her father, Gig, from two muggers. He’s soon drawn into Sonja’s web of lies, as she tells stories about her past as a geneticist and an animal rights activist, and her current mission to stop a ring of black market organ farmers. Sonja also creates stories about her father’s past as a football hero, and a literal superhero. Meanwhile, a genetically modified dog roams the city. Spider-Man follows Sonja to the home of a blind man who’s selling his eyes when the dog suddenly appears. Spider-Man attempts to capture the creature, but Gig abruptly enters and convinces him to leave the dog with the blind man, who’s happy to take it in.

Creative Differences: The illustration for this story by James Fry has Spider-Man fighting a gigantic humanoid monster; its only connection to the creature described in this story being the wires attached to its head.

Review: This is a muddled story that apparently wants to cover genetic splicing, animal rights, the plight of the elderly, mortality, underground human organ sales, self-delusion, and the nature of heroism. Some of these are pet themes that Nocenti has used before (the example of genetically modified pigs without legs showed up during her Daredevil run), so it’s not hard to guess where she stands on these issues. Unlike many of her Daredevil stories, however, this is less preachy than it is simply weird. Sonja ceases to be a sympathetic figure just a few pages into the story, around the time we discover she’s buying black market body parts. Her claim that she’s buying them as a part of an investigation is never confirmed, nor does Spider-Man actually get around to stopping the operation. Instead, he’s taught a lesson about when not to fight by Sonja’s drunken father, as he magically senses that the mutated dog creature needs to be with the man who sold his own eyeballs. Yup. None of this comes together too well, but you can’t claim it’s boring.

Monday, November 5, 2012

THE ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN Part One - December 1994

Written by Stan Lee & Peter David

The Plot: Peter Parker and his aunt May are mugged after she cashes her Social Security check. The next day, Peter attends a science exhibit at Empire State University, overseen by the eccentric Dr. Octavius. A spider is dosed by radioactivity during the exhibit. The appearance of the spider causes Octavius to drop an isotope, which creates a large explosion. Meanwhile, the radioactive spider bites Peter and grants him powers. He leaves the exhibit and coincidentally meets the mugger from the day before. He uses his new powers to get the money back, then buys a camera from a drug store to photograph the accident scene at ESU. Peter sells his first photo to the Daily Bugle, shortly before creating a costume he uses in an open-invitation wrestling match. Peter arrogantly allows a thief to escape that night, only to discover later that this thief has killed his uncle Ben. After capturing the thief, Peter begins his career as Spider-Man. He faces his first supervillain when he stops Octavius from using his anti-gravity device to destroy the UN. Having learned a lesson in responsibility, Peter vows no one will be hurt due to his inaction again.

Web of Continuity: It’s obvious from the first few pages of this story that it isn’t intended to match the continuity of the comic book. Some of the variations include:
  • Peter’s age is given as seventeen when the spider bite occurs. Most comics, at least since the Parallel Lives graphic novel, list his age as 15.
  • Dr. Octopus wasn’t present when Peter was bitten by the spider, unless you consider Chapter One in-continuity.Oddly enough, it’s implied that the radioactive spider also bites Dr. Octopus, which might be an attempt to explain how he survives the explosion.
  • The story establishes that Flash and Peter met in the third grade.I believe it’s been established somewhere (Untold Tales of Spider-Man?) that Peter was fairly popular at school until he met Flash in middle school, and lost his friends to Flash.
  • Robbie Robertson is already the Daily Bugle’s city editor at this point, even though he was introduced as the new city editor back in Amazing Spider-Man #51. Peter also begins selling photos to the Daily Bugle immediately in this continuity. (He even sells photos of Spider-Man capturing the burglar who murdered his uncle, which seems out of character and slightly ghoulish.)
  • Another landmark from the early issues is rushed through, as Flash knocks Peter’s glasses off the day after he’s bitten by the spider. In the comics, several issues passed before Peter realized he didn’t need glasses.
“Huh?” Moment: The opening of the story acts as if Aunt May must choose between putting her check in the bank, or going to a check-cashing place and paying to have it cashed. Why wouldn’t her bank cash the check?

Review: Before the Ultimate Spider-Man comic brought us Harry Potter Peter, aging hippie Uncle Ben, and a superfluous origin retelling, The Ultimate Spider-Man novel presents an anthology of Spider-Man short stories by various comic book and science fiction prose authors. And a superfluous origin retelling. I have no evidence to support this, but my theory is that the imaginatively titled Spider-Man began life as Stan Lee’s treatment for a Spider-Man movie. Beat by beat, this reads like a screenplay. The three acts are clearly defined, and many of the standard comic-to-film alterations are here. The hero and the main villain have a merged origin, Peter is rushed into the status quo he has at the end of the first year of Amazing Spider-Man comics, a peace conference at a large set-piece the UN is teased repeatedly throughout the story until it plays a part in the climax, and the villain is given a vague death scene at the end, because villains pretty much always have to die in superhero movies. There’s even a scene that has the newly empowered Peter Parker playing basketball and embarrassing Flash Thompson on the court. Surely that will never appear in a Spider-Man movie.

Theoretically, I wouldn’t mind this so much as a Spider-Man movie. Not today, given that two cinematic Spider-Man origin stories already exist, but pre-2002 this would’ve been tolerable. The only Hollywood cliché that truly bothers me is Dr. Octopus’ anti-gravity isotopes, which apparently only exist in the plot to provide an “epic” visual for the hypothetical film's climax. They add nothing to the story, distract from the grounded nature of Spider-Man’s origin, and give Dr. Octopus fairly outrageous skills as a scientist. He already wields four indestructible metal tentacles…now he has an anti-gravity gun, too?

At ninety-six pages, this is by far the longest story in the book, which is another bullet point I’m using in my “originally a screenplay” theory. When asked to write a short story for a Spider-Man prose anthology, who would submit a hundred-page origin retelling? Unless you already had this lying around, and assumed it would never be used, I can’t imagine why it would occur to anyone to pad out Spider-Man’s origin story like this. None of this means that this is a bad origin retelling, of course. I’m not generally interested in origin retellings, and kind of wonder who the audience for them is supposed to be, but judged on its own merits this is an enjoyable story with enough wit and heart to make you care about Spider-Man.

Written by Tom De Haven & Dean Wesley Smith

The Plot: After the Vulture injures Spider-Man in battle, Peter seriously considers retiring as Spider-Man. He accompanies Aunt May on a trip to Atlantic City, where he meets Damon, a mysterious older man who claims he was once a superhero called the Black Bee. Damon asserts that he knows a “suit” when he sees one, but Peter refuses to confirm his dual identity. After hearing Damon’s story of giving up and surrendering to self-pity, Peter’s inspired to keep going. He soon captures the Vulture, and later that night, visits Damon’s apartment. When Damon is mugged nearby, Peter tries to help him, only to be rescued by a newly motivated Damon.

Web of Continuity: This story is set “concurrently with the events of Amazing Spider-Man #7.”

Review: Obviously, this is a story about Peter learning a lesson about perseverance and the importance of never giving up. A lesson he forgets every few years whenever a writer wants to regurgitate “Spider-Man No More!” It accomplishes what it sets out to do, the execution is competent and the story never drags, but there’s nothing here to make this any better than all of the other “lesson” stories that Spider-Man must endure. Usually, when Peter learns this lesson, it’s because he realizes that he has a responsibility to Uncle Ben, or to the values he was raised with, or to the innocent people who need help. This time it’s more about Peter’s self-esteem, which is a slight variation, but the story remains fairly generic. I was relieved to discover that the mysterious 5’2” man with black hair that Peter meets at the beginning of the story is Damon, and not Wolverine, though.

Friday, November 2, 2012


Jungle Warfare - Chapter One
Credits: D. G. Chichester (writer), Casey Jones (penciler), Atomic Paintbrush (colors), Comicraft’s Liz Agraphiotis (letters)

Summary: Nick Fury is informed that the government’s Gamega Bomb has been hidden away in South America since the 1970s. He travels with Black Widow and a crew of young SHIELD agents to retrieve it. Using Black Widow’s sex appeal, the team easily recovers the bomb from the local authorities. However, an unknown villain has targeted Black Widow and Fury.

Continuity Note: As explained by Fury, the Gamega Bomb is a combination gamma bomb and nuke designed during the Cold War and planted near the Panama Canal.

Review: Hey, Casey Jones drew one of the cybercomics! While I’m glad to see him on the assignment, I doubt he drew the extremely crude aircraft we see in this chapter. The panels that feature the Helicarrier and SHIELD jets are the kind of amateur work you might expect in an on-line exclusive comic; a very low standard I haven’t seen the cybercomics sink to yet. In a world that still had Ron Wagner and Herb Trimpe actively drawing comics (or at least looking for work), it’s a shame that these childish drawings of aircraft were used. However, I’m dwelling on a handful of panels; the rest of this work looks fine. Casey Jones’ interpretations of Black Widow and Fury are on par with the solid artwork he was doing for Marvel at the time, and Chichester seems to be having fun with the story’s simple premise. Opening the chapter with a cartoony flashback to the ‘70s was also a cute surprise.

Jungle Warfare - Chapter Two
Credits: D. G. Chichester (writer), Casey Jones (penciler), Atomic Paintbrush (colors), Comicraft’s Liz Agraphiotis (letters)

Summary: The SHIELD craft is struck down by a group known as the Tyrannicals. They demand Fury give up the Gamega Bomb, and he refuses. A SHIELD agent notices that the crash has armed the bomb. In a less than a day, it will detonate and destroy the rainforest.

Continuity Notes: The Tyrannicals consist of Scarrific (the large, strong one), Paingiver (a female with electric whip), and their leader, Torcher (a pyrokinetic; apparently, the flames generate from the top of his head).

Review: Ugh, more crude vehicles. Not just aircraft, but now we’re treated to sloppy renditions of the Tyrannicals’ ATVs. I have no idea why the vehicles in this story are so poorly rendered; I realize that the art in the cybercomics wasn’t done in a wholly traditional manner (notice that no one’s been credited as an inker so far), but I don’t understand why this requires the vehicles to look like something drawn in MS Paint. Anyway, this is an action chapter, introducing the reader to a throwaway group of villains called the Tyrannicals. They apparently want the Gamega Bomb right this second, even though they’ve had decades to easily dig it out of the ground without facing heavily armed SHIELD agents. Okay, fine. Now, have I mentioned that all of the vehicles in this story look like crap?

Jungle Warfare - Chapter Three
Credits: D. G. Chichester (writer), Casey Jones (penciler), Atomic Paintbrush (colors), Comicraft’s Liz Agraphiotis (letters)

Summary: Fury, Black Widow, and the last surviving SHIELD agent, Kyle Fleming, try to find some way to contact headquarters and receive information on disarming the bomb. They’re ambushed by the Tyrannicals, who combine their powers to box Fury and the others into a fire.

Review: This is the only installment so far that actually brings any of the standard “stranded in the jungle” tropes into the story, as Fleming is attacked by an anaconda and rescued by Black Widow. Surprisingly, this isn’t used as an opportunity to reference a certain cinema classic that starred Jon Voight, Jennifer Lopez, and Ice Cube. (Actually, that’s another movie I’ve never seen.) The scene’s apparently just here to justify setting the story in the jungle, since it doesn’t advance the main plot in any way. At the end of the chapter, the characters are essentially in the same place they were last installment.

Jungle Warfare - Chapter Four
Credits: D. G. Chichester (writer), Casey Jones (penciler), Atomic Paintbrush (colors), Comicraft’s Liz Agraphiotis (letters)

Summary: Fury, Black Widow, and Fleming escape from the Tyrannicals and hide inside an abandoned smuggler’s den. Fleming uses his technological expertise to send information on the antique bomb through the home’s satellite to SHIELD’s headquarters. Meanwhile, Black Widow and Fury defeat the Tyrannicals. Fleming receives the proper information and the bomb is disarmed.

Review: Okay, Fury believes in agent Fleming even when Fleming doubts himself, Fleming rises to the challenge, and the day is saved. This clearly isn’t deep, but it’s a reasonable amount of character work given the format. Chichester actually bothered to give Fleming a defined role in the plot, which is more than you can say for most writers who use throwaway SHIELD agents in their stories. Jungle Warfare is probably the most entertaining of the cybercomic serials I’ve read so far. The material still hasn’t risen past the level of an annual backup, but it’s fun to read and the art is nice. Except for, you know, those things…

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