All posts by Roger Riddell

Essentially Peter Parker with all the charm of Wolverine, I’m an aspiring pop culture journalist and lifelong Marvel Comics nut. My love of comics has paid off on a few occasions — allowing me the opportunity to cover the Top Cow and Avatar Press panels at C2E2 for Comic Book Resources, and to later interview several creators like Humberto Ramos, Paul Jenkins, Michael Golden, Patrick Gleason and Brian Azzarello for Wizard World Digital. You’ll most likely find me drinking whiskey and eating tacos at Big Star, downing burgers at Kuma’s, hanging out at a local metal show or hiding out in my apartment reading Wednesday’s comics or playing PS3.

Review: Amazing Spider-Man #700 – “Final” Issue!

Amazing Spider-Man #700
Writer: Dan Slott [Back-up stories by J.M. DeMatteis and Jen Van Meter]
Art: Humberto Ramos [Pencils], Victor Olazaba [Inks] and Edgar Delgado [Colors] [Art on back-ups by Giuseppe Camuncoli, Sal Buscema, Antonio Fabela and Stephanie Buscema]

[SPOILER ALERT:  THIS REVIEW IS FULL OF SPOILERS THAT YOU PROBABLY ALREADY SAW ON THE INTERNET A FEW WEEKS AGO]

Amazing Spider-Man #700Given the way spoilers for this issue leaked a few weeks ago, it’s likely that you might already have your mind made up about it. As the “final” issue of Amazing Spider-Man, #700 is also the highest number any Marvel comic has ever reached, and it just happened to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the series’ first issue. (Now it kind of makes sense why they did the thrice-monthly and bi-monthly schedules the last few years, huh?  Solid planning.)

Anyways, the book’s final storyline has seen Dr. Octopus swap his consciousness from his dying body into the body of Spider-Man and vice-versa.  Peter Parker, now in Doc Ock’s body, is using that body’s final hours to try to swap the consciousnesses back into the right bodies.

I think we’ve covered before that mind-swap stories are one of two types of stories I hate because I can’t suspend disbelief for them.  (The other type is time travel, because the minute you go to another time period and do anything, you risk creating a time paradox that screws up everything that happens from then on.)

Spoiler alert: Peter Parker fails to swap minds back into the right body and dies in Doc Ock’s body, while Ock will be Spider-Man from now on in Peter Parker’s body. The catch is that, since Ock has all of Peter’s memories, Peter pulled a fast one on him at the end of #700 and made him remember everything that ever happened to him, thus somehow turning him “good.” This is the set-up fornext month’s new series, Superior Spider-Man. I think I’ve reached my jumping-off point.

The one thing that’s been pushed on Spidey fans lately is that Doc Ock is somehow Spider-Man’s greatest enemy of all time. As someone who has read Spider-Man comics for nearly 20 years (I’m including the period of time where Ben Reilly took over as Spider-Man in the mid-90s even though I hated that idea, quit reading new issues for several years at that time and only bought back issues), I’ve never cared much for Ock. Spider-Man consistently beat him so decisively time and again so much that he had to get a bunch of other villains together as the Sinister Six to help him out. And even then, he still couldn’t hurt Spider-Man on the same level as the Green Goblin.  In my book, Norman Osborn will always be the arch-enemy because he killed Gwen Stacy. What did Ock do besides sleeping with Aunt May and being an occasional annoyance? He should’ve stayed dead after Kaine killed him during the Clone Saga.

Which brings up another issue: Does anyone really believe that Peter Parker is going to stay “dead” and that Doc Ock won’t eventually end up in his own body? If Peter isn’t back from the dead, in his own body, bythe time the sequel to Amazing Spider-Man hits theaters, then he will be by the time they make another movie with Dr. Octopus as the villain. Only the “Forever Dead Four” (Uncle Ben, Gwen Stacy, and Bruce Wayne’s parents) stay dead in comics, especially now that the big companies want to make things as accessible as possible to the casual readers they hope will buy these books after seeing the movies.  They need an easy in, and how do you explain to someone who’s never picked up an issue that Doc Ock is now Spider-Man, but in Peter Parker’s body, without opening the floodgates of confusion. Peter Parker and Doc Ock both will be back sooner or later, just like Captain America, Professor X (multiple times), Jean Grey (again, multiple times), Batman, Superman, and many others before them.

That said, this issue is very well written and I did enjoy reading it. Humberto Ramos turns in the best art of his career here, as well. Hell, it’s even the best art on the book this entire year (no offense to anyone else who worked on the book this year), and that’s coming from a guy who used to be on the fence about the guy’s art.

Look, I’ve loved Slott’s entire run on the book, but I’m just not feeling the new direction. I’ve got nothing against the guy.  At least, unlike some people you may have heard about through various media sources, I have enough class to not threaten the guy’s life over a comic book story. If you feel like me and see this as a good jumping off point, I recommend Batman and Batman & Robin, which arguably the two best superhero books out right now.

As for the issue’s two back-up stories, they’re both short, fun stories that exist, as far as I know, outside of continuity. Are they filler? I don’t know, but I really liked the one by DeMatteis.  I do wish this issue had some more of the gag pages like #600, but I guess there was plenty here to justify the $7.99 price tag. (Be still, my throbbing wallet.)

STORY: 9/10 (It was well-done.  I just don’t care for the direction.)
ART: 10/10

 

Review: Amazing Spider-Man #699.1 – ‘Morbius The Living Vampire’ Preview

Amazing Spider-Man #699.1
Writer: Joe Keatinge with Dan Slott
Art: Valentine Delandro with Marco Checchetto, Antonio Fabela [Color Art]

Amazing Spider-Man #699.1 isn’t so much a Spider-Man comic as it is a preview for the upcoming Morbius The Living Vampire solo series.

Morbius has been a long-running sometimes-villain, sometimes-ally of Spider-Man since his debut in 1971’s Amazing Spider-Man #101.  Recently, he relapsed into his old bloodlusting ways and found himself in the Marvel Universe’s maximum security supervillain prison, The Raft.  This issue picks up during the prison break from issue #699, and has Morbius reflecting on his childhood and (you guessed it!) origin during his escape.

The new details added by Keatinge are a nice touch to the character and do more to flesh him out while giving newer readers a recap of who he is and how he became “The Living Vampire.” It makes sense that Marvel would give him his own solo book right now given the current popularity of vampires, even if Morbius isn’t technically a vampire in the classical sense.  Then again, the “vampires” that are popular right now aren’t real vampires, either, so there’s that.

Either way, I enjoyed this issue more than I thought I would and am actually intrigued by the idea of this series now.  Definitely worth a read for fans and anyone interested in the premise.

Rating: 9/10

Review: Amazing Spider-Man #699 – Maybe it’s not so bad after all…

Amazing Spider-Man #699
Writer: Dan Slott
Art: Humberto Ramos [Penciler], Victor Olazaba [Inker], Edgar Delgado [Color Art]

[HEY!  LOOK!  THIS REVIEW HAS SPOILERS, AND YOU MIGHT FEEL CHEATED IF YOU READ IT BEFORE YOU SEE THE ACTUAL BOOK!]

While I’ve calmed down about the big reveal last issue, it’s still a touchy subject.  If you missed it, a dying Doc Ock swapped brains with Peter Parker, hinting that the “new” Spider-Man in the upcoming relaunch of the book as Superior Spider-Man is actually Doc Ock in Peter’s body.

It’s not that I didn’t like the way it was written–Dan Slott’s writing makes me really want to like the story.  It’s just that there are two types of stories I hate–stories centered around mind swaps and time travel (we’ll get to that another time, maybe, because Slott has actually written a time travel story that I like).  I already know the response to this assertion, too.  It’s a comic bookScience fiction.  Real world logic and plausibility don’t apply.

Fair enough, but the limits of everyone’s suspension of disbelief are different, and this is why we probably won’t ever see Fin Fang Foom in an Iron Man film.

That said, let’s completely suspend disbelief for the rest of this review even if the concept is a bit much to wrap our heads around.  This issue, and the story as a whole, are very well-written.  Amazing Spider-Man #699 opens with Doc Ock’s body being revived following its flat-lining at the end of the last issue. Upon being revived (and spat on by a prison nurse), Peter Parker–keep in mind, again, that his mind is in Doc Ock’s body now with all of Ock’s memories and vice versa–examines the situation he’s in and begins trying to figure out how, with only hours left to live, he’s going to get out of this predicament and back into his own body.

After searching Ock’s memories, and giving us the totally unnecessary reveal that Aunt May had sex with Otto back in the day, Peter realizes that every time he used Otto’s own Octobot control helmet tech to stop him, he made his mind vulnerable.  Ock was then able to somehow put his brainwaves in the golden Octobot (seen occasionally since the end of “Ends of the Earth”), which then made its way to New York City and “hacked” Spider-Man’s mind when he was otherwise distracted by the spider signal jammers from the recent Hobgoblin story arc.

Pete then figures out that the golden Octobot had a mental link with Otto and takes control of it to put into action a plan that his life now depends on–forming his own Sinister Six–which includes Hydro-Man, Scorpion, and Paste-Pot Pete–to break him out of prison and capture Otto-Spidey.

As I said before, Slott’s writing on this story is still great despite my lack of enthusiasm over the premise.  You can tell he put a lot of time into planning this out at least as far back as the beginning of his run on the book with “Big Time,” and maybe even as far back as 2009’s Amazing Spider-Man #600. Humberto Ramos’ art in this issue is some of his best so far, and I’m looking forward to seeing what I’ve read is the best art of his career later this month in #700.

Overall, not a bad issue.  I really could have done without being presented the idea of Aunt May and Dr. Octopus having sex, though.

RATING:  7/10 (Because Aunt May having sex with anyone is just kind of gross.)

Review: Amazing Spider-Man #698 – WHY, DAN?! WHYYYYYYYYYY?!

Amazing Spider-Man #698
Writer: Dan Slott
Art: Richard Elson and Antonio Fabela [Color Art]

 

WARNING:  THIS REVIEW HAS MAJOR PLOT SPOILERS FOR AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #698 AND BEYOND.  DO NOT READ IT IF YOU PLAN ON READING THE ISSUE.

Dan Slott, you broke my heart.

Ever since your run on Amazing Spider-Man began last year, I’ve been one of its biggest supporters, going so far as to compare it to the Michelinie and Stern runs.  And then you did it.  You drove that spike in my heart that was like a thousand One More Days.

Actually, that’s a terrible analogy.  I actually liked One More Day.  Comparing that spike to 1,000 Clone Sagas or Ben-Reilly-replacing-Peter-Parker scenarios or JMS runs is far more accurate.

But the point is, you shook my faith in my favorite series.  You weren’t the first, though.

When I was nine years old, I quit reading new issues for five years because of the ridiculousness of the aforementioned Clone Saga and (temporary/retconned) replacement of Peter by his clone, Ben Reilly.  What you have done here, though, may be impossible for me to recover from.

Amazing Spider-Man #698 begins with a reminder that Doc Ock is on his death bed, with only hours left to live.  He’s struggling to say something, and it turns out what he’s trying to say is, “Peter Parker.”  For the rest of the issue, longtime readers will notice that the way Slott has written Peter’s dialogue and inner monologue is strange, and we eventually find out why when Spider-Man is summoned by the Avengers to the Raft (the ultra high security prison for supervillains) because Ock’s about to die and he keeps saying the name of Spidey’s secret identity.

And then, once the two are in the room, we get the big reveal.  We now know why Peter’s words sound so strange in this issue.

It’s because one of the most ridiculous and asinine predictions for what would happen in the “Dying Wish”/Amazing Spider-Man #700 arc ended up being true–Doc Ock somehow switched his consciousness into Peter Parker’s body and vice versa, and Ock’s body dies with Peter’s mind trapped inside.

I’ll probably still buy #699 and #700 just to have a complete run up through the “final” issues of Amazing Spider-Man–and I’ll probably still buy Superior Spider-Man #1, because, well, eBay–but for the first time in about five years, I’m not all that excited about the next issue of Spider-Man.

On the bright side, I can’t imagine this being something that sticks in the long term.  For the foreseeable future, however, it might be time to move on to something else.

RATING:  It’s gonna harsh your mellow, man…but at least the art is good.

 

Review: Amazing Spider-Man #697 – War of the Goblins Concludes!

Amazing Spider-Man #697
Writers: Dan Slott and Christos Gage
Art: Giuseppe Camuncoli [Pencils], Dan Green [Inks], and Antonio Fabela [Colors]

Opening where the last issue left off, Amazing Spider-Man #697 has Peter Parker and Horizon Labs owner Max Modell on the run from both the original Hobgoblin (Roderick Kingsley) and his would-be replacement, Phil Urich–who are also fighting one another.  If you recall, Max helped Peter escape from the Kingpin’s HQ in Hell’s Kitchen while stealing the “Goblin Key” in the process, and was even nice enough to bring him a couple of Spider-Man’s webshooters from his lab. (Remember, Max doesn’t know Pete is Spider-Man.  He only knows that Pete develops Spider-Man’s gadgets and weaponry.)

While running, it’s revealed that Max is wearing a force field that he still has in development and that OG Hobgoblin has a back-up plan in case Philgoblin tries to attack him–a batdrone loaded with C-4 and following Daily Bugle reporter Norah Winters.  The Goblin Key, which opens Norman Osborn’s main Green Goblin cache, begins to ping, alerting Peter and Max that they aren’t far from its location.  Ending up there, they lock themselves inside and try to develop a plan to save themselves from the two Hobgoblins.

This was another expertly crafted issue from Dan Slott and Christos Gage.  It had fast-paced, edge-of-your-seat action and gave the feeling that there was legitimate danger for characters like Max and Norah, who Dan Slott has really given readers a reason to care about during his run on the series.  We also get to catch up with Harry Osborn, who hasn’t been seen in about 50 issues and is now laying low in Seattle with a totally different look, and Roderick Kingsley’s character is expanded upon in a way that totally makes sense.  The two writers also continue to pave the way for December’s Amazing Spider-Man #700 (which I’m really unhappy is the last issue in the series just so a new series with a new #1 can be launched), planting more seeds with the rogue Octobot last seen at the end of this year’s “Ends of the Earth” storyline and the awakening from coma of… Well, you’ll have to read the issue for that, because it’s a big spoiler that’s bound to play into that monumental anniversary issue.

As for the art, Giuseppe Camuncoli and Co. remain on par with the first two parts of this story, delivering work that (and I’m not stretching the truth at all when I say this) reminds me at times of John Romita Sr.’s classic run on the book.  I’m not saying it’s the same, but the influence is very much noticeable and definitely a good thing.

Amazing Spider-Man #697 and the two issues before it are undeniably must-reads.

RATING:  EXCELSIOR!

 

Review: Amazing Spider-Man #696 – Battle of the Hobgoblins!

Amazing Spider-Man #696
Writers:  Dan Slott & Christos Gage
Art:  Giuseppe Camuncoli [Pencils], Dan Green [Inks], and Antonio Fabela [Colors]

When the original Hobgoblin, Roderick Kingsley, was shown alive and well in South America, it was inevitable that he would eventually return to the scene to take on his successor/impostor Phil Urich–especially once Kingsley was shown arriving back in New York City.

At the end of the last issue, Philgoblin had kidnapped Peter Parker, who was distracted by the spider sense jammers placed around the city by Urich’s employer, the Kingpin, and the fat guy’s mole at Horizon Labs, Tiberius Stone.  Meanwhile, Julia Carpenter, the current Madame Web, went into convulsions in the port authority bus terminal and tried to warn Peter about her psychic visions one last time before going into a coma, which is where we catch up with her at the beginning of this issue before things pan over to Kingpin’s headquarters in Shadowland/Hell’s Kitchen.

Kingpin and Philgoblin make an ultimatum with Parker–he lives if Spider-Man delivers the briefcase he took from Philgoblin at the beginning of the previous issue.  Peter tells the two that he has no way of contacting Spider-Man because he does so via Spider-Man’s spider sense, and the spider sense jammers are currently blocking that.  Philgoblin then decides they’d be better off e-mailing a hostage video to Max Modell, owner of Horizon Labs and Peter’s boss, who then delivers the briefcase himself–which we find out holds the key that unlocks Norman Osborn’s largest cache, containing everything from his Goblin tech to the secrets he amassed as the Iron Patriot when he was in charge of the H.A.M.M.E.R. national security agency and the Dark Avengers.

While this is going on, we find out that the real Hobgoblin is doing his research on Philgoblin and knows that he’s obsessed with Daily Bugle reporter Norah Winters and that his uncle is reporter and longtime Spider-Man supporting cast member Ben Urich.  He shows up and conveniently distracts Kingpin, Philgoblin, and the dozens of Kingpin’s Hand ninja henchmen, allowing Peter and Max a window of opportunity to escape, but not before Peter finds a way to destroy the central transmitter for the spider sense jammers and snatches the “Goblin Key” from Kingpin’s possession.

Overall, this was a great second part to the “Danger Zone” story arc.  The Hobgoblin battle was a given from the moment Kinglsey returned, and it was played out very well. Dan Slott and Christos Gage also do a great job here of once again hammering home the idea that Phil Urich is a “dark reflection” of Peter Parker by drawing parallels to his “Uncle Ben” Urich and Norah Winters’ potential Gwen Stacy-esque fate.  There’s a lot stuffed in this issue, and a lot of questions are raised–particularly as to whether or not various people are connecting the dots when it comes to Pete’s secret identity.  The art here is also fantastic, though there are a couple of weird panels on the third page that have a lot of random black dots (all over the background on the second panel, and all over Philgoblin on the fifth).

Regardless, this issue maintains a fast, action-packed pace and ends on yet another cliffhanger.  I can’t wait to see what happens next, and isn’t that the way all comics in the superhero genre should be?

RATING: EXCELSIOR!

Review: Amazing Spider-Man #695 – Sick Sense

Amazing Spider-Man #700
Writers:  Dan Slott & Christos Gage
Art:  Giuseppe Camuncoli [Pencils], Dan Green [Inks], Antonio Fabela [Colors]

After spending the better part of nearly two years believing Dan Slott had killed him off, fans can rest assured knowing that the original Hobgoblin, Roderick Kingsley, is back in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man.

And he ain’t happy about the guy who took up his mantle.

The issue starts with Spider-Man interrupting a briefcase heist being committed by current Hobgoblin and Kingpin muscle Phil Urich.  Philgoblin, as we’ll call him from here on out, has a trick up his sleeve, though.  Shady Horizon Labs scientist Tiberius Stone is on an adjacent rooftop ready to activate a spider sense jammer, but the plan backfires and enhances Spider-Man’s senses.  Narrowly escaping, Hobgoblin flies off with Stone in tow, but not before Spidey spots them.

Looking for answers, Spider-Man heads to Horizon as Peter Parker to ask his boss, Max Modell, if he knows where Stone is.  It turns out, however, that Daily Bugle reporter Sally Floyd is at Horizon writing a profile on the tech company, and someone let it slip that Pete “provides technology” to Spider-Man.  Naturally, Pete is instantly concerned that the story might allow people once again being able to put two-and-two together about him being Spider-Man (Dr. Strange–or Mephisto, if you’re still inexplicably angry about “One More Day”–fixed that for him after Civil War by implementing a psychic blind spot).

Heading to the Daily Bugle to try and convince Editor-in-Chief Robbie Robertson to cut that part of the story, he runs into Norah Winters and Phil Urich in the office right as Stone switches on amped-up spider-jammers citywide.  Elsewhere, Madame Web’s psychic powers go into a frenzy and she projects her consciousness out into the city to deliver a message to Pete, right as the jammers are sending his spider sense into a frenzy and distracting him long enough for… Well, you’ll find out if you read the issue.

Dan Slott and Christos Gage craft a perfect beginning to the “Danger Zone” arc, raising questions about Madame Web’s fate and teasing us with a brief page of Roderick Kingsley.  It’s already obvious that there’s an impending Goblin throwdown being set up, but if this is going the direction of once again revealing Pete’s identity to the world at large, one has to wonder what the point of the retcon a few years ago was.  Regardless, this issue’s tone is perfect and, having read The Amazing Spider-Man Omnibus Vol. 2, in the last several months, I frequently found myself comparing it to the Lee/Romita Sr. run–definitely a good thing.  Even Giuseppe Camuncoli, Dan Green, and Antonio Fabela felt more “classic” than what I’m used to seeing.

It’s gonna be a long two weeks waiting for the next issue…

RATING:  EXCELSIOR!

Review: Amazing Spider-Man #694 – The 50th Anniversary story arc concludes!

Amazing Spider-Man #694
Writer:  Dan Slott
Art:  Humberto Ramos [Pencils], Victor Olazaba [Inks], and Edgar Delgado [Colors]

If Amazing Spider-Man #692 and 693 were about introducing Alpha, then this week’s #694 is all about setting the character up for his next chapter–whenever that may be.

Deciding to take a break from his research at Horizon Labs, Peter Parker heads out to the airport to say goodbye to his Aunt May and her husband, J. Jonah Jameson Sr., before they head back to Boston.  As is the case when he has something to do or somewhere to be, he’s interrupted.  The Avengers request his help fighting off Terminus, who’s once again intent on taking over the Earth.

The Avengers unfortunately have the bright idea of having Spider-Man summon Alpha, and the egotistical teen hero with more power than everyone else present darts across the world from Japan to lay the smackdown on Terminus.  This causes problems, as the fight takes place above the airport and Alpha’s irresponsible use of his powers short circuits all of the planes currently in the air–including the jet carrying May and Jonah Sr.  Naturally, the day is saved, but as soon as Alpha leaves, Spider-Man and the Avengers all agree his powers, created in a lab accident by Peter’s “Parker Particles,” must go.

But, irreparable damage may have already been done.

Dan Slott packs a lot of great moments into this issue, continuing to showcase Alpha as an extraordinarily unlikeable character.  At least two recurring members of Spidey’s supporting casts get apparent status quo changes here, as well.  Seeing Peter act in a more stern, almost parental-like manner was different for a change, and I especially enjoyed Dan’s nod to all of the people who are unclear as to whether or not Spider-Man is still a Future Foundation member.  Combine this with Ramos’ art and a nice lead-in to the “Danger Zone” arc and you’ve got a solid conclusion to Slott’s 50th Anniversary story arc.

RATING:  A Tantalizing Tale in the Mighty Marvel Manner!

*ALSO:  If you didn’t notice, this issue’s cover was an homage to a classic cover from when the “big two” comic publishers could play nice every now and then.

Review: Amazing Spider-Man #693 – The Jackal returns!

Amazing Spider-Man #693
Writer:  Dan Slott
Art:  Humberto Ramos [Pencils], Victor Olazaba [Inks], Edgar Delgado [Colors]

Last issue, Dan Slott and Humberto Ramos gave Spider-Man a new sidekick for his 50th anniversary.  This issue, he deals with the direct aftermath of that.

Created by an accident during one of Peter Parker’s demonstrations at Horizon Labs, teenager Andy Maguire is now Alpha, potentially one of the world’s most powerful superhumans.  Peter being who he is takes on responsibility and, at the behest of Reed Richards, makes Alpha his sidekick.  Unfortunately, the kid’s kind of an egotistical jackass.

As the issue opens, Alpha has just taken out Fantastic Four villain Giganto with a single punch and left the FF and Spider-Man standing around scratching their heads.  Hoping to clear his head, Peter goes to Mary Jane’s nightclub to see if she can make sense of everything.  She points out to him that Alpha is only doing what Peter would have done had he not realized the whole “with great power comes great responsibility” bit as a result of Uncle Ben’s murder–and then Pete realizes everyone knows who Alpha is because he doesn’t wear a mask.

Rushing off to Maguire’s home as Spider-Man, he arrives too late and quickly realizes Andy and his family have been abducted by the clone-crazy Jackal.

Dan Slott wraps up Alpha’s introduction here fairly neatly.  The more you read of Alpha, the more you begin to hate the kid–and that’s pretty much the point.  The end of this issue sets up the future status quo between Spider-Man and his new sidekick, and it will be interesting to see how that plays out between now and issue #700, assuming this plot thread doesn’t continue beyond that point.  Additionally, this is the second time Slott has written the Jackal in the last few years, and I have to say it’s a big improvement over how the villain was written back in the Clone Saga.

Ramos’ art remains impressive here, although I still have a few qualms with some of the less-detailed panels where bodies have less detail and defy anatomical form [SEE: The panel of Spidey swinging toward MJ’s club on the second page].  At his most highly-detailed, however, Ramos continues to be one of my favorite modern Spider-Man artists.

Overall, this was a great issue and a fitting end to Slott and Ramos’ 50th anniversary story.

RATING: 8.5/10

Review: Amazing Spider-Man #692 – 50th Anniversary Spectacular!

Amazing Spider-Man #692
Writer: Dan Slott, with back-up stories by Dean Kaspiel and Joshua Hale Fialkov
Art:  Humberto Ramos [Pencils], Victor Olazaba [Inks], Edgar Delgado [Colors], plus Dean Kaspiel [Art] & Giulia Brusco [Colors] and Nuno Plati [Art] on back-up stories

Spider-Man’s first appearance was 50 years ago this month in Amazing Fantasy #15.  Sure, that issue was probably actually released in June because it’s only cover-dated August, but these are minor details.  This month is widely regarded as Spider-Man’s “birthday,” so Amazing Spider-Man #692 is the super-sized 50th anniversary spectacular you would expect Marvel to release with the hefty price tag of $5.99.  (Seriously, Marvel… Kids see that price tag and think “I could buy an action figure for that same price! Why bother?”  Maybe a return to news pulp for lower cover prices is in the cards.)

Regardless of the price tag, Marvel and their Spider Office give fans a good bang for their six bucks here.

The big plot point of ASM #692’s main story–written, of course, by fan-favorite Spider-Scribe Dan Slott–was spoiled a month or two back, because passing up any opportunity for media exposure is a missed opportunity to score figurative new readers and that trumps the element of surprise in today’s comic book market.  If you hadn’t already heard, Spider-Man gets a sidekick after 50 years of fighting crime on his own.

Well, on his own except for when he’s a member of the Avengers.  And the New Avengers.  And the Future Foundation/Fantastic 4.  And all of those team-up books, issues, and stories.

But those are all different scenarios.  Spider-Man has never had a sidekick, and that’s because when he first became Spider-Man, he was only 14 or 15 years old.  That’s standard sidekick age in most superhero books, and probably the average age of most of Batman’s Robins when he first took them in.  Stan Lee created Spidey as the exception to the rule–the boy who would be a (super)man.

Anyhow, I digress.  As the issue begins, we’re introduced to mediocre teenager Andy Maguire.  (Get it?  Because the two motion picture Spider-Men are Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield?  I see what you did there, Slott!)  Andy’s a kid who goes by unnoticed by everyone, including his parents, because not failing is good enough for him.  C-average student, no extracurricular activities, not part of any “cliques” at school… He just kind of exists and barely gets by, but wants more.

He ends up forging his dad’s signature on a permission slip for a field trip to a Horizon Labs demonstration where Peter Parker is unveiling the newly discovered “Parker Particles.”  An accident occurs after Horizon scientist Tyberius Stone, who secretly moonlights for the Kingpin, disengages the safety measures, resulting in Maguire getting zapped and ending up with super powers.  His parents try to sue Horizon, and the world’s foremost experts on superhumans–Reed Richards, Beast, Tony Stark, and Hank Pym–are brought in to study Maguire, revealing that he now has energy projection abilities, super strength, force field projection, and flight, but can only use one power at a time.  Additionally, Reed Richards reveals that he had already discovered “Parker Particles” years before and never made their existence public because they increase in power exponentially, saying that where threats like the Hulk or Phoenix are “Omega-Level Threats,” Maguire is the first “Alpha-Level Threat.”  He tells Peter that the kid is his responsibility, and Horizon’s head honcho Max Modell offers Maguire’s parents coverage for all medical expenses and a lucrative contract instead of a settlement.

Thus, Andy Maguire becomes Alpha, Horizon Labs’ new face and corporate spokesman, and Peter is placed in charge of the Alpha Project. Of course, Maguire is no Peter Parker and all of the new power and fame goes to his head, but let’s not spoil everything, huh?

Slott does a great job of building up Andy Maguire’s character here and really puts you in his shoes at the onset of the story.  Spider-Man with a sidekick is fairly uncharted territory, and the difference in the two’s powers, as well as Alpha’s cocky demeanor, can only complicate things.  Judging by the villain reveal on the last page of the book, things ain’t getting simple anytime soon, either.  Humberto Ramos also delivers some of his best art to date on this issue.  His style has grown so much since his first issue of the book (#648) almost seems like a different artist, and the faces he draws remind me more and more of Todd McFarlane’s style every time I see his art.  Victor Olazaba and Edgar Delgado definitely make the art pop that much more with their vibrant ink and color jobs.

As for the back-up stories, Dean Haspiel’s “Spider-Man For A Night” draws on Amazing Spider-Man #50, exploring what happened with Spider-Man’s costume on the night that he decided to be “Spider-Man No More” with a conclusion that tugs at the heart-strings.  The story and art are both beautifully done, and the same can be said story-and-art-wise for Joshua Hale Fialkov and Nuno Plati’s “Just Right,” which finds Pete going through a typical “Parker luck” type of day before ultimately helping someone else have a great day.

Overall, a fitting 50th anniversary issue.  One might be inclined to feel that there could have been a few more shorter features or gag pages (you do get a page with all five of Marcos Martin’s “Spider-Man Through The Decades” variant covers), but Amazing Spider-Man #700 is right around the corner in December, and that’s sure to have plenty of that sort of material if it’s laid out anything like #600 was.  Regardless, I’m definitely interested in seeing where the whole Alpha thing goes, especially with the villain reveal, and the two back-up stories were a great addition.  At least it felt like you were getting a couple of issues for the $5.99 price tag.

Rating: 9/10

P.S. As an aside, I can’t figure out why Marvel would keep The Amazing Spider-Man Omnibus, Vol. 1 out of print during the character’s 50th anniversary year.  Somebody should figure this out, because I have Vol. 2 and no Vol. 1, and spending $200+ for one on eBay would kind of suck.

Review: WWE SummerSlam 2012 – How did the 25th Anniversary stack up against the previous 24 years?

I’m not really sure I can explain what it is that I enjoy about professional wrestling.  By all accounts, it’s probably one of the single-most ridiculous spectacles in the combined worlds of sports and entertainment, a mash-up of (mostly) elaborately-staged fights and soap opera drama.  I know it isn’t real, and yet I still suspend my disbelief and enjoy it unironically.  I know it’s become hip to have an ironic appreciation of things considered “low culture,” but for the record, I enjoy nothing “ironically.”  As best as I can explain, it’s the inherent ridiculousness of what’s on display that draws me in–and it may also have something to do with me being from Kentucky.

It’s still real to me, dammit.

Last night, WWE celebrated the 25th anniversary of its summer pay-per-view spectacular SummerSlam, and since fellow Comic Vault scribe “Savage” Nick Sandilands failed to watch it, the daunting task of reviewing the extravaganza is falling upon the shoulders of me, Double R, Ragin’ Roger Riddell himself.  Ooooooooooo, yeah.

First off, for anyone who isn’t familiar with WWE and the wild world of professional wrestling, SummerSlam is WWE’s second biggest event behind the March/April Wrestlemania juggernaut.  When I first started watching pro-wrestling back in 1997, when WWE was still WWF and they were in the midst of the lewd and outlandish “Attitude Era.”  At the time, there were five pay-per-view events out of the yearly 12 that were considered the big ones:  Wrestlemania, SummerSlam, Survivor Series, Royal Rumble, and King of the Ring.  They existed roughly in that order of importance, and the first four in that list were the company’s originals.  King of the Ring hasn’t existed as a pay-per-view for around a decade now, though, cutting the big PPVs down to just the original four (plus the less important other eight).  The Royal Rumble’s importance also now arguably trumps that of the Survivor Series.

That said, SummerSlam’s 25 years of existence leave a lot for the event to live up to.  The Undertaker fought Ted DiBiase’s fake Undertaker at the event in 1994, and the pay-per-view’s history is littered with all manner of high octane gimmick bouts from boiler room brawls and casket matches to cage matches featuring stars that read like a who’s who of the business’ best.

When it comes to the era I’m most fond of, several years stand out in particular.  1997’s event is probably best known for Owen Hart’s botched piledriver that broke Steve Austin’s neck.  1998 had an amazing main event for the WWE Title with Steve Austin versus the Undertaker, plus a pulse-pounding ladder match for the Intercontinental Title between The Rock and Triple H (though that year was somewhat tarnished by the Insane Clown Posse’s live performance).  In 2000, one of my favorite moments in the history of the event happened when Shane McMahon took a fall from the top of the stage set during a Hardcore Championship match with martial artist Steve Blackman, plus there was a great triple threat match for the WWE Title that year during the feud between The Rock, Triple H, and Kurt Angle.

I’m not trying to say there hasn’t been a great SummerSlam since the “Attitude Era,” because that wouldn’t be true.  We had The Rock versus Brock Lesnar and an amazing Shawn Michaels/Triple H “street fight” 10 years ago, and last year featured CM Punk going over John Cena for the WWE Title in a match that featured some of the loudest crowd pops I had heard in years.  What I’m saying is, 25 years builds a lot of moments like that to live up to.

With all of that out of the way, let’s get to the match-by-match review of last night’s show, which took place in Los Angeles for the fifth year in a row.

Chris Jericho vs. Dolph Ziggler

Chris Jericho is probably my all-time favorite wrestler.  I can’t say I feel the same for his band, Fozzy, but the guy’s an amazing performer and got that “best in the world” reputation for a reason.  Dolph Ziggler is a guy who’s quickly rising through the ranks and will more than likely be pushed as a World Heavyweight Champion by the end of the year.  I honestly expected him to go over in this match since Jericho’s about to briefly leave wrestling again to tour with his band, but can definitely understand why he didn’t.

The one big reason here that Jericho went over is probably to keep him looking like a legitimate competitor.  He has, after all, put his opponents over at every pay-per-view since he returned, so the win (coupled with his recent face turn) makes him look more competent in the eyes of the fans and puts a nice cap on the “Has Chris Jericho lost his touch?” angle they were running. Ziggler is on the verge of being a main event competitor.  He sells moves like a champ and the way he yelled and berated Jericho in the match last night was a nice touch, but he’s perhaps not quite there yet as far as going over a guy like Jericho at an event like SummerSlam.

Daniel Bryan vs. Kane

This was a pretty standard match with a lot of solid action building off of the “anger management” feud between the two.  Daniel Bryan’s “Yes!’ and “No!” chants have gone way over with the crowd in the last year, and the finish was believable as far as a guy Bryan’s size beating a super heavyweight like Kane.  Given the backstage tantrum from Kane following the match, this is a feud that’s likely to continue.

Rey Mysterio vs. the Miz (c) – Intercontinental Championship

I used to hate the Miz back when he debuted.  He still annoys the hell out of me, but I guess that’s a sign he’s doing his job right.  Anyhow, he’s grown by leaps and bounds since his debut and deserves every push he’s had.  In keeping with his frequent big-event, superhero-inspired costume themes, Rey Mysterio had an all-black mask last night with Batman-style ears and entered wearing a cape.  The match featured a ton of great spots, including a hurricanrana reversed into a powerbomb by the Miz–a rarity these days, given the WWE’s PG rating and their avoidance of using moves that target the neck.  Ultimately, Miz went over.  Not surprising, given what I’ve heard about how Mysterio’s a guy who doesn’t mind losing to younger talent in order to legitimize them.  Perhaps it might be a good idea to place him in a tag team with fellow luchador Sin Cara to help with WWE’s current efforts to bring back a solid tag division.

Alberto del Rio vs. Sheamus (c) – World Heavyweight Chamionship

Alberto del Rio continued to build up a much more aggressive side to his “Mexican aristocrat” heel persona last night during his bout with Sheamus.  During the match, Michael Cole’s commentary had me laughing pretty hard for a moment after he talked about how Sheamus was bullied as a kid because he had red hair and ghostly white skin.  He’s from Ireland.  Everyone there has red hair and pale skin.  (The WWE’s anti-bullying campaign also humors me a bit, as well, but mostly because they have heels, i.e. bad guys, break character for appearances as part of it.  It kind of ruins the illusion for me.)

Anyways, Sheamus ultimately prevailed in the match after del Rio’s driver/assistant/personal ring announcer Ricardo Rodriguez distracted the referee and threw a shoe to him, which was ultimately caught by Sheamus and used on del Rio.  Sheamus additionally pushed del Rio’s foot off of the rope during the pin fall before the ref could see, doubling the dirty win and throwing his future as a face into question.

Prime Time Players vs. Kofi Kingston & R-Truth (c) – WWE Tag Team Championship

This was a pretty by-the-book tag match.  It’s unfortunate that the Prime Time Players’ on-screen manager, Abraham Washington, was released from his contract a few weeks ago after making a Kobe Bryant joke (“The Prime Time Players are like Kobe Bryant in a Colorado hotel–UNSTOPPABLE!”) on live TV and then making some questionable Tweets about Linda McMahon’s Senate campaign, but those are the breaks in the ultra-PC world of PG WWE, which is becoming increasingly easy to confuse for the company’s former competition, WCW.  He really added a lot to the PTP’s gimmick.  Kingston and Truth win following a dive to the outside on Titus O’Neill and a What’s Up and pinfall on Darren Young in the ring from R-Truth.

John Cena vs. Big Show vs. CM Punk (c) – Triple Threat for the WWE Championship

Big Show was the wild card in this match, and I honestly thought John Cena was going to go over and win yet another WWE Championship here.  I’m sure Cena’s a great guy in real life, but his super-sanitized character really doesn’t do anything for me and, to me at least, he’s just felt kind of forced on everyone over the age of 8 during the last few years.  He’s Hulk Hogan reincarnated as a white-rapper-slash-super-patriot in jorts.  Oddly enough, this is the closest to the main event a WWE Title match has come to the main event since the beginning of CM Punk’s over 300-day run, despite his matches constantly stealing the show.  In a way, I kind of get it.  Cena sells more merchandise and I guess that justifies burying your title.  At the same time, it also potentially hurts its perceived validity in the long run–but at least it doesn’t get bounced around like a game of hot potato anymore.

Anyhow, this was a pretty great match.  I can’t remember seeing Big Show booked this dominantly since his tag team run with the Undertaker in 1999.  It’s a much more ideal characterization than the goofy, gentle giant that he’s predominately played the majority of his 13 years in WWE.  At least once, I questioned whether or not Big Show might actually win the match.  The match initially ended after Punk and Cena finally took down the Big Show and both applied their signature submission maneuvers to the giant at the same time, resulting in a confusing “no contest” and a “restart” to the match.  Prior to the “restart,” I honestly thought that even that ending made sense–Punk, who is currently teetering between face and heel (very well, might I add), wouldn’t have to lose the title cleanly yet and the WWE could schedule a decisive Punk vs. Cena bout for Night of Champions.  However, that would be too similar to the Punk/Cena storyline from last year.

Thus, the match begins again, Cena performs the Attitude Adjustment on Big Show, and Punk pushes Cena out of the ring and steals the pin on Show, retaining the belt.  Also worth noting, this match had some of the loudest booing for Cena (who’s supposed to be a face) that I’ve heard during any event.

Kevin Rudolph Live Performance Segment

Can someone please tell me who Kevin Rudolph is and why this was necessary?  This music was a strange choice for a wrestling show, and the DJing was definitely über late-’90s.  Either this was staged primarily against a backing track or there was a lot of auto tune and no discernible sound from the guitar that Rudolph was apparently playing.  Hell, I didn’t even hear guitar on the studio track WWE’s been running with all of the promos for this show.  The terrible dancing by everyone at ringside was also unnecessary, and some of the WWE Divas dancing on stage seemed somewhat uncomfortable–but hey, that’s PG for you again.  I would’ve rather seen a divas match (there wasn’t one on the entire card) than sit through that.  There was probably even time for a Ryback squash match or a Brodus Clay segment instead of this.

Also of note, prior to this segment, Fred Durst was pointed out as a “celebrity” in attendance.  The main pro-wrestling fan base is probably the only audience Durst still has any relevancy with outside of frat boys.  Word is, he was allegedly kicked out of the event after the very non-PG move of flipping off the camera when it panned over to him.  Smooth move, dickbag.

Triple H vs. Brock Lesnar

Triple H versus Brock Lesnar is one of those matches that never ended up happening during Brock’s initial run in WWE, back before he left to try out for the Minnesota Vikings and eventually landed in UFC.  It makes sense that it would happen now, and the build-up was pretty solid, with Lesnar “breaking” Triple H’s arm earlier this year during a storyline where Triple H didn’t give Lesnar the contract perks he wanted.  Last week, Lesnar made it even more personal, “breaking” the arm of HHH’s best friend, WWE Hall of Famer Shawn Michaels.

This match didn’t play out as brutal as the Lesnar/Cena bout from Extreme Rules that ultimately saw Cena going over in an unbelievable finish.  Lesnar/Triple H had a much more cerebral pace, with Lesnar focusing on Triple H’s once-broken arm and Triple H eventually focusing on Lesnar’s stomach.  This was a great detail for anyone who knew about Lesnar’s issues with diverticulitis and the stomach surgeries that ultimately led to his departure from UFC.  Lesnar sold every shot to his midsection pretty believably, as did Triple H with the shots to his arm.  Ultimately, though, Lesnar followed up a Pedigree from Triple H with a pin reversal into the Kimura Lock, once again kayfabe breaking Triple H’s arm and leading to a tapout.

The pay-per-view ended about 10 minutes earlier than normal, with a broken and defeated Triple H refusing medical attention and slowly making his way to the back, setting up a potential future “broken fighter returns from the jaws of defeat” storyline.

The Verdict:

Overall, this was a pretty decent pay-per-view.  The matches were pretty solid, but, as mentioned before, it’s hard to compare it to the 24 other SummerSlams that came before it.  The Rudolph performance really kind of killed my attention in the home stretch, but the majority of the matches were better than much of the other pay-per-views this year, with the exception of maybe the Punk/Jericho and Punk/Bryan feuds.  Take out that live performance and it’s a four-star effort.

Review: Amazing Spider-Man #691 – Return of the Reptile!

Amazing Spider-Man #691
Writer:  Dan Slott
Art:  Giuseppe Camuncoli & Mario Del Pennino [Pencils], Klaus Janson & Daniel Green [Inks], and Frank D’Armata [Colors]

Concluding Dan Slott’s Lizard epic, “No Turning Back,” Amazing Spider-Man #691 finds Spider-Man face-to-face with the Lizard-in-human-form Curt Connors back at Horizon Labs.

If you’ve missed an issue or two, Spider-Man seemingly turned the Lizard back into Curt Connors in Amazing Spider-Man #688 with the help of Morbius, but the Lizard personality was still in control.  After causing Morbius to lose control of his vampiric hunger as a means of distracting Spidey, Lizard-Connors got to work trying to return himself to his reptilian form while testing his formula on unsuspecting members of the Horizon team.  Ultimately, however, he discovered through a series of new sensory experiences that the human body was the superior form.

At the beginning of this issue, having taken care of Morbius in an uncharacteristically merciless fashion, Spider-Man returns to Horizon to find it overrun by lizard people–but all is not what it seems.  The Horizon Labs lizard people are all behaving rather friendly, and per Horizon team member and “amateur herpetologist” Sajani, Spider-Man is informed that humans and lizards are not natural enemies–with the exception of the Komodo dragon.  Thus, he is lead to believe that perhaps Curt Connors’ own resentment for the loss of his arm, his wife, and his son was the driving force behind the Lizard’s villainous ways all these years.

It’s an interesting and different take on the character, but before you can consider it for very long, Lizard-Connors’ hand is forced by Spider-Man’s return and he injects himself with a new, improved formula that transforms him into a much sleeker, almost gecko-like form as he promises that this time, there’s no returning to human form.  It’s actually pretty close to his original appearance, as opposed to the more iguana- or Komodo-like shape he’s taken on over the years.  Ultimately, to the Lizard’s surprise, bits of his humanity have begun to seep through, leaving him distracted as Spider-Man tries out yet another cure serum on him, and the results are somewhat surprising.

Overall, “No Turning Back” is another strong arc in Dan Slott’s superior run on Amazing Spider-Man, but it’s not without issue.  For a long-time Spider-Man fan, it’s a bit of a stretch to believe that Spidey would be so uncharacteristically merciless to a character like Morbius, who has been reformed for quite a while now and even saved the world in the Marvel Zombies 4 mini-series, assuming that’s canon.  I get that there’s been a lot on Peter Parker’s plate as of late and that all of this is leading into the upcoming “Danger Zone” arc and issue #700, which I’ve heard are supposed to be somewhat darker stories, but it just feels a little bit out of character in this instance.  Other than that, though, this arc was a fun roller coaster ride with fantastic art by Giuseppe Camuncoli & Co, and a recommended read for fans of the Lizard.  The joke about the annual Horizon softball game being people who were turned in lizards versus people who were turned into spiders last summer was an especially nice touch.

Oh, and speaking of “Danger Zone,” the lead-in tease at the end of this issue is sure to make Hobgoblin fans happy.

Rating: 9/10

Amazing Spider-Man #700 Predictions, Speculation, and Crackpot Theories

With the 700th issue of Amazing Spider-Man coming up this December, it’s only right that I, the Comic Vault’s resident diehard Spider-Man fan, weigh in on what may or may not happen in this momentous issue.  There are a lot of crazy theories floating around right now, but we’ll get to that in a minute.

Current scribe (and the best writer on the book since Roger Stern or David Michelinie in my opinion) Dan Slott stated via cell phone at Comic Con a few weeks ago that this is going to be the biggest thing he’s ever done in comics, which is saying a lot coming from the guy who penned the phenomenal Amazing Spider-Man #600 just three years ago.  It’s even been said that what he’s doing in #700 will be so controversial among fans that he’ll have to go into hiding after the issue hits stands, or that this might possibly be his final arc on the book. (Damn you, “Marvel NOW!”)

With the ’90s Clone Saga and J. Michael Straczynski’s “Sins Past” and “One More Day” story arcs, Spider-Man fans have a high threshold for controversy.  At this point, what could possibly be more controversial at this point than Peter Parker’s clone Ben Reilly being revealed as the real Peter Parker and taking his place, Norman Osborn knocking up Gwen Stacy prior to her death, or Peter and Mary Jane trading their marriage to Mephisto (the “devil”) in exchange for Aunt May’s life?

Really, Marvel?  What were you thinking?  That “o” face in the bottom left corner is the stuff of nightmares. And Gwen… You desecrated poor, sweet Gwen!

Maybe resurrecting Gwen Stacy could top the scenarios above, but Slott has already said he (thankfully) has no interest in doing that, as Gwen is much more meaningful dead.

Over at the CBR boards, members have been posting a plethora of crackpot theories regarding what will happen in the issue.  Some have taken a statement that Slott made at Comic Con regarding the future not looking good for Madame Web as a hint that the new Madame Web, Julia Carpenter, will be kicking the bucket soon.  Personally, I think they’re reading a bit much into this and Slott was just being Slott.  Madame Web is a clairvoyant and only has visions when something terrible is about to happen–of course the future doesn’t look good for her.

“The future…always…looks…TERRIBLE…to MEEEEEEEEEE!!!”

Regardless, below is a list of my favorite theories from that thread:

  • Black Cat shows up with a baby.
  • Norman Osborn is Peter’s father.
  • Peter pulls the plug on Doctor Octopus and then goes crazy.
  • Peter gets flung back in time, is stuck, and in a nod to his clone brother, names himself Ben Parker.  He then meets a lovely girl named May Reilly.
  • Peter gives up being Spider-Man to be with Mary Jane or Peter ends up getting killed, with either scenario leading to new sidekick Alpha taking his place.
  • Peter moves to Japan and gets a giant robot.
  • Peter goes crazy and becomes the new Green Goblin.
  • Kaine is the real Peter Parker.
  • Batman subcontracts Peter to become his new gadget man in Batman, Inc. as part of a cross-promotional deal between Marvel and DC.
  • J. Jonah Jameson is actually a 1940s reporter covering the war in Europe.  He is wounded by a grenade blast, which kills his soldier body guard Steve Rogers.  For two months, Jameson has been in a coma, and it’s revealed that the whole Marvel Universe is taking place in his mind.
  • Black Widow becomes Spider-Man’s new crime-fighting partner and Spider-Man has a clone baby from an alternate reality with Mystique.

That’s a lot of outlandishness to digest, huh?  As promised in the first paragraph, though, I also have my own predictions as to what might happen in #700.

The cover for Amazing Spider-Man #700 is a preexisting collage by a French artist named Pascal Garcin.  You could say that this makes the presence of certain characters on the cover arbitrary, but I like to think that Marvel chose to use this cover for that issue for specific reasons.  If you look closely near the bottom, to the left of the center, there’s a Carnage hidden among all of the Spider-Mans.

Hey, look…It’s a schooner!

This leads me to believe that Carnage has some involvement in this issue, perhaps killing a beloved character like Mary Jane Watson.  Despite wreaking havoc in Spider-Man’s world in two mini-series over the last two years and continuing to do so in an upcoming Venom/Scarlet Spider crossover, it’s been years since Carnage has committed mass murder in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man.  This site’s owner, Matt Sardo, even claimed to me in an e-mail that during Comic Con’s Spider-Man panel, “[The panelists] were asked what character they wanted to work with or draw. [Humberto Ramos] mentioned Carnage and then said, ‘Oh, wait.  I’ve drawn Carnage,’ and then he got dirty looks.”  What better time for Carnage to show up and do something chaotic than the book’s 700th issue, 24 years after the character’s “father,” Venom, debuted in Amazing Spider-Man #300?

Speaking of Venom, the border of the eyes on that collage is composed of the character.  I’m going to go ahead and also predict that if Peter doesn’t find out by then that Flash is the guy wearing the Venom symbiote by #700, he’ll probably find out there.

If I’m wrong about Carnage, then the next likely scenario is that the Roderick Kingsley Hobgoblin, rumored to return in the upcoming “Danger Zone” arc, shows up and kills someone.  Either way, I think someone is dying in #700.  Mary Jane is a likely choice, though I’d rather not see that happen.  Sardo wants Aunt May to die, and I have yet to figure out what he has against sweet, little old ladies.  Her husband, J. Jonah Jameson, Sr. may be a more likely candidate for the grave, or possibly other characters that have grown on fans in recent years–like NYPD forensic detective/most recent Peter Parker ex Carlie Cooper or Daily Bugle reporter Norah Winters.

Or maybe in their infinite wisdom, Marvel, seeing that it worked so well in Ultimate Spider-Man, actually do decide to kill off mainstream (Earth-616 for you nerds out there) Peter and replace him with his new sidekick Alpha, at which point they’ll lose me as a reader.  Just because something worked in one universe doesn’t mean it should be spread to the others.

But seriously… Keep any sweet, elderly women you hold dear away from this man.

Review: Amazing Spider-Man #690 – Dr. Connors gives Horizon a hand

Amazing Spider-Man #690
Writer: Dan Slott
Art: Giuseppe Camuncoli [Pencils]; Klaus Janson, Daniel Green, and Giuseppe Camuncoli [Inks]; Frank D’Armata [Colors]

Curt Connors, seemingly been cured of the Lizard thanks to a formula developed by Morbius, is actually just the Lizard in Curt Connors’ body.  To top it all off, in an attempt to transform himself back into the Lizard, he’s even regrown the arm that Curt Connors’ original formula was meant to regrow.

Having distracted Spider-Man by taking advantage of Morbius’ thirst for blood, Connors begins using Horizon Labs’ top minds to try to develop a formula that can turn him back to his Lizard form–progressively transforming each into another monstrous lizard as their formulas fail.  Further complicating things is that damn regrown arm, which he continually has to lazer off to keep up appearances as it keeps regrowing.

Meanwhile, Spider-Man is battling a Morbius overcome by thirst 12 blocks away when Madame Web appears to tell him she’s had another vision (and that Silver Sable isn’t dead), and that he’ll regret it if he doesn’t return to Horizon Labs at that moment.  He still takes his time finishing off Morbius, however, and the issue closes on a cliffhanger regarding the fates of a few supporting cast members after one of them notices Connors is missing the wrong arm.

Dan Slott’s writing remains strong here, with Lizard-in-the-body-of-Curt-Connors discovering humor (and making terrible puns about his severed arms), music, and junk food while everyone remains oblivious that he’s only Curt Connors on the outside.  I also enjoyed the back-and-forth between Spider-Man and Morbius, with Morbius trying to explain to a hero who doesn’t particularly trust him that he couldn’t control what he was doing.  The characterization of Spider-Man was a bit more stubborn and angry than we’ve seen from Slott, but it’s not totally out of character in the context of darker periods in the character’s history–and given the subplot in this issue involving Kingpin, Hobgoblin, and Tiberius Stone, things are going to get a lot darker before they start looking up again.

The art remains pretty spot on, although a lot of Camuncoli’s faces of anger/despair look like the psychotic face Romita Sr.’s Jonah Jameson would make when he was sure he was finally going to destroy Spider-Man’s reputation in early issues of the book.  Not a bad thing, but it catches me off guard every time.

It will be interesting to see how Slott wraps up this arc, especially as it pertains to Morbius going forward, and the fates of Curt Connors and everyone at Horizon Labs.

RATING:  9.0/10

Review: Amazing Spider-Man #689 – The Lizard Like You’ve Never Seen Him Before

Amazing Spider-Man #689
Writer:  Dan Slott
Art:  Giuseppe Camuncoli [Pencils], Klaus Janson [Inks], Frank D’Armata [Colors]

[HEY, READ THIS FIRST!  If you haven’t read Amazing Spider-Man #688, this review will spoil some key plot points, and that’s no fun for anyone.]

In the first part of “No Turning Back,” Spider-Man and Morbius, along with a team of Horizon Labs scientists led by Max Modell, hunted down the Lizard in the sewers and “cured” him of his condition.  Now Curt Connors once again, the nightmare is seemingly over…or is it?

Amazing Spider-Man #689 begins in Morbius’ lab at Horizon, with Spider-Man and Modell assisting him in running tests on Connors.  Seeing that his “cure” worked, Morbius begins making preparations to make a batch tailored to his own DNA in order to cure him of his “living vampire” condition.  Unfortunately, Morbius has other problems to worry about–namely, answering for robbing the grave of Curt Connors’ dead son Billy, who was eaten by the Lizard during 2010’s “Shed” story arc, in order to produce a cure–and Curt Connors isn’t exactly purged of the Lizard.

As hinted in the end of the last issue, only Connors’ appearance has changed.  Still the Lizard on the inside, he spends this issue cleverly buying time alone in Morbius’ lab in order to distract Spider-Man and the others long enough to transform himself back to his reptilian form.  Taking advantage of Morbius’ growing hunger, Connors releases the scent of blood into the building’s ventilation system, prompting the living vampire to lose control and feed on one of the Horizon Labs brain trust members, Sajani.

Of course, this leads to Morbius’ prompt exit and Spider-Man chasing after him, leaving everyone else alone with Connors.

Dan Slott delivers yet another phenomenal issue of Amazing Spider-Man here, even going so far as to point out the history between Spider-Man, Morbius, and the Lizard dating back to issue #101.  Seeing Connors with the Lizard still in control of his psyche is also a nice twist on a Lizard story, and everything that happens as the issue winds down sets up some pretty high stakes for the story’s conclusion next issue.

Camuncoli’s art somehow looks even better than last issue, and I’d even put some of the facial expressions and action panels he draws up there with John Romita, Sr.  Klaus Janson and Frank D’Armata’s inks and colors make the art pop that much more.

This is another must-buy issue with a great cliffhanger ending in the mighty Marvel manner.  I can’t wait to see how it ends in two weeks.

RATING:  EXCELSIOR!

Does Marc Webb’s ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ Live Up To Its Name?

Let’s go ahead and clear the air here.  I didn’t like the Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies.  That’s not to say he isn’t a great director–I still love the Evil Dead trilogy.  I just didn’t care for his interpretation of Spider-Man.

I couldn’t buy Tobey Maguire as the type of guy who cracks wise in the face of death (and his Peter Parker/Spider-Man really didn’t do much of that at all), Kirsten Dunst never struck me as a supermodel/soap star, and the interpretations of the villains were more-cheesy-than-menacing.  His first Green Goblin looked like a Power Ranger (and suffered from the lack of the infamous plot thread from Amazing Spider-Man #121) and the second was a sky-surfing paintball ninja.  I can’t even make it through any of the films in that trilogy anymore without cringing and turning them off.

At the time, I just sucked it up and moved along–reboots weren’t en vogue until a few years later with Christopher Nolan’s masterful Batman Begins–trying to find contentment in the fact that a Spider-Man film franchise even existed.

And then Marc Webb came along.

Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man isn’t just a good movie, it’s better than all of the installments in the previous trilogy combined.  Sure, the origin story is rehashed a bit here, but it feels more natural, more 21st Century.  The comics have always featured a perfect balance of lighthearted humor, the drama between Peter and his supporting cast, and intense moments of suspense, and Webb brings all of that to the table.

Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker is more in line with the nerdy outcast of today.  There aren’t that many “poindexter” types left, and Pete became much “hipper” early on in the comics anyways.  Plus, this Peter Parker displays the genius and smart ass nature of his comic counterpart.  This is a guy capable of building devices that shoot synthetic webbing from his wrists, and the previous films, with all of their organic webbing, didn’t point that out enough.

I’ve said in many a geek conversation that if the Spider-Man franchise was ever rebooted a la Batman Begins, they should focus on building up the tragic story of Gwen Stacy in the first two or three films.  Emma Stone really makes Gwen grow on you throughout the film, and the ending sets up her story in the most logical way.  Webb uses a different villain to get there than I would have expected, though, and in better ways than I ever could have imagined.  Rhys Ifans brings the Lizard to life in the most menacing portrayal of any Spider-Man villain yet while still allowing the humanity of Curt Connors to show through when it counts most.  Plus, you never feel like he’s going to cheesily demand that other characters say a prayer.

The film’s core plot line focuses more on the history of Peter Parker’s parents–something that was taken care of in the first few years of the comic.  Spider-Man has one of the most well-known origin stories in comics, so there’s no much you can change there, but Webb’s film ties Peter’s parents to Oscorp.  Richard Parker was a scientist who worked with Dr. Curt Connors on biological experiments meant to use cross-species genetics to help a variety of patients self-heal their medical ailments.  Connors, for example, was focused on using reptilian DNA to regrow his missing arm.  Somewhere along the line, some issue arose with Parker’s research (it’s never fully revealed here what it was) and Richard and Mary leave young Peter with his aunt (Sally Field) and uncle (Martin Sheen), never to be heard from again because they die soon after in a mysterious plane crash.

Years later, Peter uncovers his dad’s old briefcase, discovering some of his lost research and a photo of his father and Connors.  Looking for answers, he seeks out Connors and later helps him fill in the missing pieces of the research.  During this time, Peter is bitten by a genetically-engineered spider (developed by his dad, no less) and Irfan Khan’s Dr. Ratha pressures Connors to complete his research, as it isn’t just important to the public but to Norman Osborn, who is apparently dying.  This last bit of subplot is surely a teaser for the new franchise’s Green Goblin origin.  Connors eventually resorts to testing his serum on himself and becomes the Lizard before attempting to weaponize it as a gas that would transform all of New York into lizard people.

It’s a cool twist on several classic bits of Spider-Man lore, but there are still little things with The Amazing Spider-Man that bug me. (See what I did there, even though spiders are arachnids and not bugs?) First and foremost, as many times as Peter removes his mask in full public view or displays his powers out of costume, it’s a wonder nobody catches an image or video of him–especially if modern New York City is as full of photo-happy hipsters as I’ve been led to believe–or puts two and two together.  He just seems a bit too identity-reveal-happy in general.  Additionally, this film is noticeably lacking in the J. Jonah Jameson department (J.K. Simmons was by far the best casting choice of the previous trilogy and it would not bother me at all to see him reprise his role in this series).  To Webb’s credit, The Daily Bugle does get a cameo and Pete’s photographic ingenuity is displayed during a sewer fight with the Lizard.  Here’s hoping we see jolly Jonah in the next installment.

Aside from those minor details, The Amazing Spider-Man is the film that should have been made a decade ago.  Despite my two minor complaints and some minor changes to some of the supporting characters and story, the film is a fitting adaptation that gets it right where it counts.  Here’s hoping they avoid giving the sequels boring numbers and instead name them after the various Spider-Man series that have existed over the years.

 

Review: Amazing Spider-Man #688 – No Turning Back!

Amazing Spider-Man #688
Writer:  Dan Slott
Art:  Giuseppe Camuncoli [Pencils], Klaus Janson [Inks], Frank D’Armata [Colors]

Coming off of the devastating loss of Silver Sable in the final chapter of “Ends of the Earth,” Spider-Man is desperately needing a check in the “win” column.  It doesn’t matter that he just saved the entire world and that Silver Sable’s sacrifice was only one life in comparison–Peter made a vow after the murder of Marla Jameson that, while he’s around, no one dies.

Of course, nobody can live up to that sort of statement, and Mary Jane tells Peter this herself at a party she throws in his honor (cleverly disguised as a “Hey, Horizon Labs helped stop the world from being destroyed by Doctor Octopus!” party).  Regardles, Pete doesn’t have much time to let this sink in and relax before his other ex, CSI detective Carlie Cooper, phones him to let him know that Billy Connors’ grave has been robbed.

If you remember, Billy Connors is the son of Dr. Curt Connors, who became the Lizard after a failed experiment with reptile DNA meant to give humans the ability to regenerate lost limbs.  Last time the Lizard took over Curt Connors, he decided to destroy his former self once and for all and devoured his son.

Anyways, it turns out Billy’s body was stolen by a certain Horizon-employed vampire/scientist who has found a way to change the Lizard back to Curt Connors again.  Is this the win Spider-Man is looking for…or is it?

Jumping back and forth between the present and the hours leading up to that moment, Dan Slott delivers an engaging start to a well-timed story starring the two main characters of The Amazing Spider-Man (in theaters next week!).  Instead of feeling like it was just thrown together to tie into the movie by featuring Lizard as a villain, it builds on the Lizard’s character developments from the past two years and feels like the logical place to move on to the character’s next step.

Despite a few faces taking an extra look or two to get used to, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Klaus Janson, and Frank D’Armata hit the ball out of the park in the art department.  The Lizard here feels as vicious as ever, if not more so with Spider-Man’s tattered costume displaying the savage consequences of the battle.

Morbius’ involvement here is sure to be the wild card in this darker Spider-Man tale, as the vampiric scientist’s control over his hunger has often been unstable in the past.  I’m not sure where Slott’s taking this after the final page, but it’s sure to be a wild ride if the past is any indication.

RATING:  EXCELSIOR!

 

Review: Amazing Spider-Man #687 – As the World Burns

Amazing Spider-Man #687
Writer:  Dan Slott
Art:  Stefano Caselli, Frank Martin Jr. [Color Art] 

HEY!  WAIT A MINUTE!
If you haven’t read the rest of this story arc, this review will spoil a few plot developments, and we wouldn’t want that, would we?  The end of this issue isn’t spoiled, though, so you’re safe there.

Victory is once again within Doctor Octopus’ grasp and the only people who can stop him are Spider-Man, Black Widow, Silver Sable, and Mysterio–who switched sides last issue, natch!  Unfortunately, they’ll have to go through the (mind-controlled) Avengers first.

The ensuing battle is among the best-written team battles to take place in Spider-Man (or a lot of other books) in recent memory.  Dan Slott takes advantage of the various characters involved, as well as plot points from previous issues in the last few years, to showcase everyone (with the exception of Black Widow and Hawkeye, but they were knocked out early on).  The Spider-Man/Spider-Woman fight and the bit with Thor’s Mjolnir were nice touches, but the turncoat Mysterio was the true standout in these pages as he showcased his mastery of illusion and quipped about leaving the super villain business for television.

This being the final part of the story arc, Spider-Man does finally confront the still-dying Doc Ock in his underwater base (where do these guys get the funds for this stuff?).  Octavius’ intentions are, indeed, to purge the Earth using his Octavian Lens, and with the doctor so close to death and the Rhino still on Ock’s side, Spider-Man’s pact of “no one dies” may finally be forced to end.  The people who (seemingly) die here just aren’t the ones you’d expect.

Overall, Slott gives what is thus far his best Spider-Man “event” story a fitting end.  The action stays on point, the dialogue stays fresh while referencing previous issues, the (seeming) deaths don’t feel meaningless, and several threads are left open for later.  In particular, it will be interesting to see whether or not Horizon Labs was ever able to figure out that a lot of Ock’s tech was developed by them–and Peter Parker, in particular–and what repercussions that may have.  Stefano Caselli and Frank Martin, Jr. continue to deliver the goods as well, especially with what might be the most menacing-looking incarnation of Doc Ock.

As with every other issue of this arc, if you haven’t read it, GO BUY IT NOW!

RATING:  EXCELSIOR!

Review: Amazing Spider-Man #686 – Something You Expected, and Something You Didn’t

Amazing Spider-Man #686
Writer:  Dan Slott
Art:  Stefano Caselli, Frank Martin Jr. [Color Art]

[SIMPERIN’ SPOILER ALERT:  Reading this rollicking review might spoil certain exciting elements of this book’s pulse-pounding plot for you, oh consummate Comic Vault reader!  You’ve been warned!] 

An entire hemisphere of Earth, including Silver Sable’s native Symkaria, has been destroyed at the hands of Doctor Octopus!

Or has it?

Given the ending to Amazing Spider-Man #685, one might think that Spider-Man, Silver Sable, and the Black Widow had failed in their bid to prevent Octavius from destroying the world once and for all in his final dastardly deed before death.  However, one might think wrong–especially given that two of the other members of the Sinister Six still remaining at that point were well-versed in illusion.  Longtime Spidey fans could probably see where this was going, but it would be a crime not to use such a scenario with Mysterio and Chameleon both on the same team.

That said, as Spidey and Co. continue to disrupt Otto’s dying wish, both sides begin finding that they are victims of wavering allegiances.

Again, Dan Slott provides an issue that stands up not just to the rest of the arc, but to the classics, as well.  While one of the big allegiance shifts here was a no-brainer following the orbital octobot crisis from Amazing Spider-Man #680-681 (plus the cover to #687), the other was a total surprise.

It’s also been nice to see Spider-Man written in a team role as a leader as opposed to comic relief, and the way Pete asserts himself in this arc has been phenomenal.  That’s not to say the old Peter Parker neuroses aren’t there, though.  It will be interesting to see the aftermath of Spider-Man having realized that Doc Ock’s tech has been supplemented by technology he developed as Peter Parker for Horizon Labs–especially if that connection is made by Horizon, as well.

The rotating art on this story has also surprisingly not been as jarring as one would expect.  Stefano Caselli returns for the last two issues of the arc after getting a two-issue break from Humberto Ramos, but the switch barely registered to me either time.  Sure, Caselli’s art veers more toward the realistic than Ramos’ more animated style, but both artists have grown on me to the point that I’m glad to see either on a story.

If you’re a spider-fan and you haven’t been keeping up, you’re missing out.

RATING:  EXCELSIOR! 

Review: Venom #18 – The Savage Six Get Personal

Venom #18
Writers: Rick Remender & Cullen Bunn
Art: Lan Medina [Pencils], Nelson Decastro [Inks], Chris Sotomayor [Colors]

Venom’s war with the Savage Six doesn’t take long to get personal.  Just one issue after the introduction of the Marvel Universe’s latest villainous supergroup, Jack O’Lantern is already gunning for Flash Thompson’s on-again/off-again girlfriend Betty Brant.

Following a conversation at Empire Java (what happened to the Coffee Bean?) with Peter Parker, Betty Brant is briefly harassed by Jack O’Lantern before Venom bursts through the window to save the day.  Unfortunately, though, Betty thinks Jack is an old war buddy of Flash’s and Venom was a bit out of control the last time she ran into him.

Anyhow, Flash spends much of the issue trying to get Betty to stop struggling as he protects her from two of the other Savage Six members–Megatak and Toxin–while trying to locate his mother and sister.  These are the kind of problems you run into when your enemies know your secret identity, of course.

Speaking of Toxin, pairing original Venom host Eddie Brock with the “grandchild” of the Venom symbiote is an interesting choice, especially after Brock’s anti-symbiote crusade.  There’s a plot thread planted by Toxin during the scuffle with Venom involving some sort of “spawning,” hinting that there may be more symbiotes on the way–but beyond that, I was thoroughly amused that a character whose appearance vaguely reminds me of the Violator would use the word “spawning.”  Intentional nod to Venom co-creator and Spawn creator Todd McFarlane?  Perhaps, but more than likely just a coincidence.

Seeing how Eddie Brock’s character develops in his new status quo as Toxin will be perhaps as interesting as when Spider-Man inevitably becomes involved in this situation–especially when/if he also finds out that Flash Thompson is Venom and also a Secret Avenger.  How Spidey missed out on that coffee shop brawl after being there just moments before is beyond me.

Overall, Rick Remender and Cullen Bunn deliver yet another action-packed issue that leaves just as many questions as it provides answers.  Like the last issue, there’s another big reveal on the final page that is icing on the cake after the 19 pages preceding it.

The artwork is equally impressive and full of minor details on characters and settings alike.  The last time I saw a symbiote character that made me stop and think “cool” to myself was probably when I first saw Carnage in second grade.  Lan Medina, Nelson Decastro, and Chris Sotomayor make these once-D-list villains feel menacing, and they throw a lot of emotion into the faces of Betty Brant, Peter Parker, and random civilians.

Under Remender, this book has become a must-read for me after I debated adding it to my pull list when it was announced last year.  With Cullen Bunn taking over in a few issues, I’m more excited for the character than I have been in years.