Collecting a dozen or so issues from the mid-70’s run, Marvel Masterworks: The Amazing Spider-Man, Volume 14 showcases a successful comic book and character treading water for close to three-hundred pages.
Yes, Harry Osborne finally goes over the edge and embraces his inner Green Goblin. But like his father before him, he will conveniently forget that a)he’s the Goblin and b)Peter Parker is Spider-Man by the time anyone in authority arrives. Harry’s transformation is teased across multiple issues (and I believe they started planting seeds as early as issues in the last collection). But the return of the Green Goblin lacks the emotional punch it could or should have, possibly because the last time we saw Spidey tangle with the Gobin it was one of the high points not only of the character but one of the iconic turning points in comic books.
Other villains include the return of the Molten Man and Mysterio and new threats like the Mind Worm and the Grizzly. Yes, you read that right. Spider-Man spends not one but two issues battling it out with a former wrestler who has an enhanced grizzly bear costume and has decided its time to give J. Jonah Jameson his comeuppance for ruining his wrestling career. And yes, I’ve just re-read that sentence and I know how silly it sounds. The comic book presentation isn’t much better.
Of course, the infamous start of a certain saga that nearly killed Spider-Man as we know it in the 90’s is also beginning here. So, maybe part of my lack of love for this collection of issues is knowing where it will all pay off in twenty years’ time. Or maybe it’s just that writer Gerry Conway’s stories don’t really add all that much to the Spidey canon. Look, I know not every issue from my favorite era of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko were masterpieces. But at least there was always some hook, some threat or some narrative point to keep me interested. That’s not often the case here. These issues feel like they come down to a formula for writing and Conway’s just happy to plug in various characters as we move slowly between battles with that issue or arc’s central villain. It comes down to Spidey meets villain, Spidey gets his you-know-what handed to him by said villain, Spidey as Peter beats himself up about it and interacts with the supporting cast, Spidey goe out and find the villain again and the battle goes Spidey’s way this time. Lather, rinse, repeat.
It’s all so formulaic in nature — and I think reading the issues close together in a collection like this only underlines this. I can’t help but think if I read these monthly as they originally came out (or were reprinted), I might end up enjoying them a bit more. Or be more forgiving of certain tropes that seem to show up issue after issue like clockwork.
This collection is Spider-Man fully on cruise control. And in a collection that features the Spider Buggy (yes, that was a thing!), that’s pretty damn ironic.
When Jughead’s old pal Hot Dog is hit by a car, the distraught teen takes him to Sabrina and her family to bring him back to life. While her aunts refuse, Sabrina is moved by Jughead’s plight and taps into some dark magic to bring Hot Dog back to the land of the living.
Apparently all the copies of Pet Semetary were checked out before Jughead decided to this. Because while Hot Dog does come back, sometimes dead is better. Before you know it, Hog Dog has unleashed a wave of zombie terror in Riverdale — and wouldn’t you know it, on the night of the big dance!
Afterlife with Archie is a hybrid of the squeaky clean stories of Archie, Jughead and company and the gritty, over the top horror of The Walking Dead. Reading that sentence, you might think these are two things that won’t go well together. But instead of being jarring, the two pieces fit well together, giving us a band of survivors that we know and can root for all while watching their world go to hell in a hand basket as several familiar faces become zombies and begin attacking.
And yet for all the humans who did in this collection (and there are a few), it’s interesting that the death that readers may feel the most is Archie’s beloved old dog pal. Heading home to check on his parents, Archie comes across the zombie Hot Dog and looks doomed, only to see his old pal step in to save his life one last time. The use of thought balloons to narrate Archie’s pal’s internal monologue and thoughts about saving his beloved master are moving at first, turning tragic as the zombie virus consumes him and he turns on Archie.
I won’t lie and say I wasn’t more than a bit moved by this moment and the emotions that this comic taps into. I also won’t lie and say I caught every nuance of the storyline because I’m not necessarily familiar with every character and cliche from the world of Archie comics on display here.
But none of that matters because this collection of five issues works well as a homage to both the tropes of Archie and horror stories.
In an odd bit of timing, I started reading this latest collection of the Batman ’66 comics on the same day that the news broke of Yvonne DeCarlo’s passing. This turned out to be bittersweet because the first story features Batgirl and the Dynamic Duo battling the forces of evil around Gotham City.
As I said for the first two installments, this comic book series is intended as pure, unmitigated fun and a great homage to the classic TV series. The comics can do things that the TV show budget didn’t or couldn’t but it never forgets what made the TV series work so well. One story that’s especially fun finds Wayne Manor robbed and the Shakespeare bust removed, effectively cutting off our heroes from the Batcave. Forced to resort to older versions of the costumes, we get to see Batman and Robin in the costumes from the movie serials that preceded this one. The story is a lot of fun and stays just long enough so that it doesn’t wear out its welcome.
Also included is a story that finds Batman invented a robot that will be on duty 24-hours a day and fight crime. The scenes of Bruce and Dick actually getting to fishing are nicely done as is the reasoning for why the Bat-bot can’t stay on duty all the time.
This collection continues the fun of the series and was just delightful. It’s not heavy Batman stories — but they don’t need to be. If you want something fun and entertaining, give this series a try.
In the wake of The Avengers, it seems like every character included on screen is being given his or her chance to star in their own series. That includes Natasha Romananov or as you might know her better Black Widow.
This collection of the first six issues of the new series is an interesting take on a character that I didn’t know much about beyond what we’ve seen in the Marvel movie universe. Haunted by her past, Natasha puts her services out for hire between saving the world with SHIELD. But instead of profiting by the missions, she quietly gives the fees she earns to the families of her victims. She also refuses to allow herself to grow close to anyone around here, even to the point that she struggles to adopt an adorable kitten who clearly has taken a shine to her.
As a member of the Marvel-verse without any powers (well, besides the ability to kick gluttous-maximus and take names), Black Widow’s story presented here is a surprisingly human and grounded one. While it’s fun to see her take on various threats and to see missions go awry, the more intriguing parts are the moments of self-reflection by Black Widow. These six issues of the comic book series have a loose arc (it’s more defined in the last couple of installments), allowing you to enjoy the character work without having to worry you’re missing a story-altering detail in issue one that will be of vital importance to the saga in issue six.
I’m intrigued enough by this that I will be on the lookout for the next collection of issues.
Strong Female Protagonist
One of the best aspects of NetGalley is that I get to try things that are a bit outside of my wheelhouse or that I wasn’t previously aware of until I skimmed the latest offerings. It led me to discover the sublime Sex Criminals, Volume I last year and now I’ve come across another gem with Strong Female Protagonist.
This web-comic takes ingredients from some of the main-stream comic publishing events (Marvel’s Civil War springs to mind) and the sensibility of Buffy and other Whedon-verse shows to offer us the story of Alex Green. Once known as Mega Girl and part of an elite fighting force of superheroes, Alex publicly unmasked and is trying to live a normal life. As a freshman in college, Alex struggles with the remnants of her fame, including a professor who holds an obvious grudge against her (and when it’s revealed why, it’s one of the most heartbreaking and moving moments in a story filled with them) and the fact that she can’t stop at fast food place to enjoy a burger and fries without being recognized.
As a deconstruction of super hero stories, Strong Female Protagonist works extremely well. But more than that, the story is a compelling, fascinating character examination of not only Alex but also others affected by the realization that they have super powers. It’s a world where these powers have consequences, both negative and positive. One haunting aspect is a former super villain who has come up with an interesting way to use her powers to atone for her sins. There’s also the fourth chapter of the book that fills in details of Alex growing up and her relationship with his family and the family’s favorite pet. The fourth chapter alone is worth the price of admission for this book, but I’d say it’s far more affecting having spent the first three chapters getting to know Alex and her world. Continue reading