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Review: Marvel-Verse: Venom

Marvel-Verse: Venom

I should preface this review by saying I’ve never been the biggest fan of Venom. The character is an interesting idea, but I honestly think he’s been overused and overexposed by Marvel since his creation.

So why, then, would I pick up this collection of stories focusing on Venom?

Call it an impulse check-out from my local library.

After reading this collection of five comics, I find myself wondering just who the target audience is for this collection. Is it young readers to introduce them to the character of Venom (in case you’ve just discovered comic books, I guess)? Or is it older readers to give a quick overview of Venom’s origin? I don’t necessarily think it’s anyone who has only seen the big-screen, live-action version of Venom with Tom Hardy because that storyline doesn’t include Spider-Man as part of Venom’s origin. Continue reading

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Comic Book Review: Spider-Man: Bloodline by J.J. & Henry Abrams, Sara Pichelli, Dave Stewart

Spider-Man: Bloodline

Well, it appears that J.J. Abrams’ son Henry has inherited his father’s ability to start off a story well but has no idea how to stick the landing.

This five-issue mini-series event is a bit of a disappointment on the writing side. A new villain called Cadaverous kills Mary Jane and a bunch of other superheroes, sending Peter Parker into exile. A decade or so later, Peter is estranged from his fifteen-year-old son Ben and has left Ben in the hands of Aunt May as he travels the globe for the Bugle. But Ben is starting to have strange occurrences in his life, like sticking to walls and the ability to take out bullies with a single punch. Before you know it, Ben has discovered he’s got Spidey powers and Cadaverous is alerted that Spider-Man is back on the scene and can be used to complete whatever the hell plan it is that Cadaverous has dreamed up.

Bloodline feels like an extended mini-series based on the MCU more than the comic-book storylines surrounding Spider-Man — and that’s not a bad thing, per se. If there’s one thing Into the Spider-Verse showed us, it’s there can be multiple variations of Spider-Man without necessarily wrecking things.

But as I started out saying, the big issue here is Henry Abrams’ writing. It’s all over the place, pulling in things like Tony Stark, the Avengers, and other MCU items without necessarily thinking things through. If you’re all about a big reveal that doesn’t require much thought or internal continuity, this is the mini-series for you. However, Spider-Man has always been about something more than just big reveal after big reveal for me — it’s about investing in the character of Peter Parker — or whoever is taking up the Spider-Man mantle. And that’s where this mini-series ultimately fails. Yes, Ben Parker is Peter and MJ’s son, but beyond that, there is little or any character arc in play to give us a reason to care about. And since Peter turns into a distant father, there’s little, if any reason, to invest much in him either.

The story does try to go for a huge emotional twist in the final issue with mixed results. Again, I hadn’t invested enough in the characters to really feel anything more than a shoulder-shrug when said reveal takes place.

And the ending is all over the place. So, maybe J.J. wrote this with his son.

Putting the plot aside, the artwork for this miniseries is superbly done. I grew up reading reprints of the Steve Ditko and John Romita eras, and those will always be my favorites when it comes to Spider-Man. But the art by Sara Pichelli for this mini-series event evokes the best of Ditko and Romita. It’s colorful and easy to distinguish each character over the course of the five issues. There are a few striking panels in here that made me pause to just enjoy them before turning the page and continuing to roll my eyes at the plotline.

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Comic Book Friday: The Amazing Spider-Man Volumes 5 & 6 by Nick Spencer

Amazing Spider-Man by Nick Spencer, Vol. 5: Behind the Scenes

I loved Spider-Man comics growing up. I still do, but I’m not quite devoted enough to keep up with the comics on a regular basis. Hence, I love the opportunity to check in on my favorite superhero when my library gets the latest collect editions of The Amazing Spider-Man.

Recently, I picked up three new collections featuring Nick Spencer as the head Spidey writer and featuring cover blurbs about how great his work was on Marvel’s flagship title. And after reading “Hunted,” I could see what the positive buzz was about.

Then there came the next two collections. Continue reading

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Review: The Amazing Spider-Man, Volume 4: Hunted by Nick Spencer

Amazing Spider-Man by Nick Spencer, Vol. 4: Hunted

While reading through the Marvel Masterworks reprints of The Amazing Spider-Man, I encountered the first appearance of a lesser-known Spidey foe, the Gibbon. The Gibbon wasn’t exactly what you’d call even a B-list or C-list level of villain for Spider-Man. Beyond the hook of the Gibbon wanting to be an ally to Spider-Man (mirroring a bit Spidey’s attempts to join the Fantastic Four back in the day), I’d argue there wasn’t much memorable about the character.

So, imagine my surprise when reading this story arc, “Hunted,” when I found myself getting a lump in my throat when the Gibbon is killed off in the issue focusing on him. Somehow Nick Spencer took what was a minor villain in the Spidey-verse and not only made me connect with and care about him, but he actually made me get a bit weepy when he died.

That alone has to be worth an extra star when it comes to rating this arc in the current run of The Amazing Spider-Man. Continue reading

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Comic Book Friday: Star Trek: Year Five: Odyssey, Volume 1

Star Trek: Year Five - Odyssey's End (Book 1)The final two years of the starship Enterprise‘s five-year mission have proved a fertile ground for storytelling and examination over the past several decades. Pocket Books has multiple tie-in novels from the era and then a hit-or-miss series about the “Lost Years” between the end of the five-year mission and the start of the motion picture series.

Now, IDW attempts to give fans the final year of Captain James T. Kirk and company’s tenure on the starship Enterprise with Star Trek: Year Five. This collection of the first six issues of the series contains three complete “episodes” that attempt to blend the stand-alone storytelling of the original Star Trek with the season-long arcs that are prevalent today. The hybrid works well enough, giving us some interesting character exploration as Kirk faces the prospect of becoming an admiral coupled with regrets about his past (his relationship with Carol and David Marcus serves as a launching point for the middle installment of the arc). There’s even an apparent rift developing between Kirk and Spock (which interestingly plays into Pocket Books’ “The Lost Years” saga) and the crew potentially becoming involved in some squabbling between the Tholians (last seen trapping our crew in their web).

The storytelling and artwork for these six collected issues is spot-on an feels like they came right out of a potential fifth season of the classic series. It’s interesting to see the crew go back to “A Piece of the Action” to examine the implications of McCoy leaving his communicator behind (this is also explored by Peter David in his comic arc “The Trial of James T. Kirk” for D.C. years ago). The characters are well represented and some of the crew that aren’t Kirk, Spock, or McCoy get a moment or two to shine as well.

In short, this is a diverting and entertaining collection of stories that Star Trek fans will enjoy.

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Review: The Amazing Spider-Man Epic Collection, Volume 7: The Goblin’s Last Stand

Amazing Spider-Man Epic Collection Vol. 7: The Goblin's Last StandLike classic Doctor Who, comic books published during the Silver Age don’t necessarily hold up well to being binged.

Collecting two years of issues from the run of The Amazing Spider-Man, this volume has some of some series highs and some series moments that may leave you scratching your head a bit. Of course this collection includes the pivotal and comics changing “The Night Gwen Stacy Died” arc, seeing us lose not only Peter Parker’s love interest but also the original Green Goblin over the course of two pivotal issues. This story and the one after it stand out as some of the most intriguing from this influential run, as does a multi-issue run with Doc Ock battling Hammerhead to become the crime boss of New York, all with Aunt May caught in the middle.

There’s also a sojourn to Canada to battle the Hulk and track down and trace down an old family mystery to add to the intrigue.

But then there’s a couple of forgettable enough stories in there as well. While the return of Flash Thompson from the Vietnam War and the implications this has for the character and his friendship with Peter Parker still echo today, there are a few moments that haven’t aged as well and are less than politically correct today.

And then there’s the Gibbon. This multi-issue arc sees a character who wants to be Spidey’s partner in crime fighting only to be humiliated by Spider-Man and then taken under the wing of Kraven the Hunter. It sounds silly and it doesn’t come across much better on the printed page. Odds are they won’t be raiding this arc for future Spider-Man movies. And there’s probably a reason that the Gibbon doesn’t make the upper pantheon of great or even so-so Spider-Man villains.

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Comic Book Friday: Batman Volume 7: The Wedding

Batman, Volume 7: The WeddingAs Kevin Smith has often pointed out, comic books are mainly concerned with the middle part of the story. This explains why certain plot points are introduced in one issue only to see them nullified a few issues later. Such is the case with superhero relationships and potential romantic pairings.

So it is with Batman and this collection of issues leading up to the big marriage of Batman to Catwoman. Either the series was getting ready to have a major change to the status quo of Batman or else there would be a big reset button hit before Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle got to the altar.

SPOILER ALERT: It’s the reset button.

But even before we get to the altar, there are about a hundred pages of treading water to get us there. Putting aside the double sized issue that is the wedding issue with splash pages by some of the most influential names in Batman lore, there are two collected arcs here leading up to the wedding. One is Booster Gold trying to make Batman happy and failing miserably at doing so (which should be a warning as to where all this is going) and the other is Joker and Catwoman battling it out, becoming mortally wounded and then discussing their history together for what feels like an eon.

I was beginning to get frustrated with both stories without having to wait a month or so between issues. Whether I would have enjoyed them more in single installments spread out over time is up for debate, but I have a feeling I’d be left feeling frustrated.

I’ve heard some good things about Tom King’s run on the Dark Knight. And I suppose he had some big shoes to fill when Scott Snyder left. But from what I’ve read here, I’m not in a huge hurry to pick up more of his collected editions. I may at some point out of curiosity. But I am not exactly in a hurry.

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Comic Book Friday: Shazam!, Volume 1

Shazam!Until the rumblings of a potential Shazam movie, my only real point of reference with the character was a Saturday morning cartoon that I vaguely recall from my youth. And beyond the fact that someone shouted, “Shazam!” to turn into the super hero version of themselves, I couldn’t have been more clueless when it comes to a comic book character.

Then, I saw the preview out of San Diego Comic Con for next year’s Shazam! movie and I was intrigued. Part of it could be the casting of Zachary Levi, who I loved on Chuck. And part of it could be that the trailer actually made it look like someone was having fun being a superhero in the DCEU.

So, I decided to check out the new take on Shazam’s origin in this collected edition. And man, if the movie is half as much fun as this comic is, I think the DCEU could finally be on to something. Reading this take on the origin of Shazam, I can’t help but think that Levi is perfect casting for this role as he really got the whole “boy trapped in the body of a grown-up” on Chuck.

Orphaned Billy Batson has moved from foster home to foster home, seemingly never finding a place he fits in. When a new set of foster parents adopts him as part of their family, Billy starts looking for a way out. While running away, he encounters a mystical wizard looking to bestow ancient power on someone who is truly worthy and pure of heart. Alas, Billy Batson ain’t exactly first choice, but he’s the only choice available (and he does have some history of at least trying to be better) and suddenly he can transform into an adult with super powers.

So, like most teens who can suddenly pass for adults, Billy and his foster brother decide not to save the world or stem the tide of evil, but instead go for beer. Eventually, Billy will have to face off against Black Adam, the yin to his Captain Marvel yang.

Seriously, if they just wanted to adapt the story that Geoff Johns has crafted here as the movie, they’d be doing well. I’d be one of the first in line to see it (assuming that there isn’t something animated opening that Shortcake might want to see more, mind you). Reading this and watching the preview, I find myself looking forward to a DC superhero movie for the first time since The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises I also find myself wanting to pick up more installments of Shazam in the future to see where this character may go next.

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Comic Book Friday: The Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows Volumes 0, 1 & 2

Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows, Vol. 2: The Venom ExperimentA decade ago, the controversial “One Day More” storyline saw the Spider-universe hit a ginormous reset button and remove the marriage of Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson from the continuity. Years later, another huge crossover event would, the second (or is it the third) Secret Wars storyline saw the creation of a parallel universe where Peter and MJ are still married and raising a daughter.

Their daughter, May, has similar powers to those of her father. In the wake of an evil overlord named Monarch who seems intent on collecting all the super powers he can get his mitts on, Peter is hopping to stay one step ahead of the latest detection devices for himself and his daughter. But when they get noticed and rumors of the Spider-Man’s return begin to surface, Peter finds himself fighting to defend his family — and now the family wants to join the fight.

The resolution of that storyline encompasses volume 0 of this series and then things really get going on volumes 1 and 2. Written by long-time Spider-writer Gerry Conway, these collection of arcs is a lot more fun than they have any right to be. Having recently revisited Conway’s tenure on Amazing Spider-Man, I wasn’t sure what, if anything, I should expect from these issues. But after trying to read much of the current storylines taking place in the Spider-Man universe, I found these refreshingly easy to digest, straight-forward and welcoming to readers who haven’t memorized every detail of comic book continuity for the past decade. Seeing Peter try to juggle his secret identity along with the demands of the two women in his life to be part of the crime-fighting team gives the story some much needed depth. The second collection even raises the stakes a bit by having MJ become motivated to contribute to the team (tech left over from Monarch lets her share Peter’s powers) and turning to Liz Allen for a new version of the Venom symbiote.

These three collections are some of the best recent Spider-Man stories I’ve read and they reminded me of what it was that I initially loved so much about my favorite wallcrawler.

 

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Comic Book Friday: The Infinity Gauntlet

The Infinity GauntletWhile I still haven’t seen Avenger: Infinity War yet, I’m still curious about the source material that led to what I’ll (eventually) see on-screen. (It hits home theater on physical disc in August and I plan to pick it up then)

So, I checked out a copy of The Infinity Gauntlet from my library’s digital collection and started reading.

The first thing I noticed was this six-issue mini-series was written by Jim Starlin, whose work I previously encountered in the much-hyped Batman mini-series A Death in the Family. You may recall I wasn’t a huge fan of that work, so I will admit I approached this one with a bit of caution.

I need not have worried too much. The Infinity Gauntlet feels like the next big crossover event after they were put on the map with Secret War in the 80’s. All of Earth’s heroes are brought together to take on Thanos, who is trying to impress Mistress Death and win her heart. To do this, he’s assembled the Infinity Gauntlet and trying to show her why he’s the baddest guy in all of the cosmos.

And while Thanos takes on a lot of the Marvel cast and crew, he still never quite wins her heart. An epic story, I can see why Marvel Studios chose this as the culmination of ten years of cinematic storytelling. At times, the story feels cinematic and like one that would work well as a movie. I’m going to assume there are some big differences between what I’ll see on-screen and what’s on the page. But that it’s interesting to see how this will be the jumping off point for an epic film.

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