Tag Archives: Brian Michael Bendis

Today’s Super Comic — Ultimate Spider-Man #13 (2001)

Yesterday I discussed when main-continuity Aunt May discovered Peter Parker’s secret identity. Now let’s turn our attention to the Ultimate continuity, when Peter told Mary Jane.

This is basically the inverse of yesterday’s revelatory issue. Ultimate Spider-Man #13 was very early in this Spider-Man’s career, so no secret-identity tensions have been building up over the course of years. Peter and MJ are teenagers who have been friends for a long time, and Peter proactively reveals his secret because he doesn’t want to lie to her (and, being a teenage guy, he no doubt wants to impress his closest female friend).

But like yesterday’s issue, this entire comic is a conversation. The action and adventure take a break, allowing us to zero in on the characters—which will help us care about them more when the action/adventure commences again.

Comics aren’t supposed to feature talking heads, but this one works remarkably well because of Brian Michael Bendis’s writing and Mark Bagley’s art. The page layouts are key here. The panels are used to punctuate each beat of the conversation, allowing everything to flow smoothly and organically. The reader gets an excellent sense of the pacing and timing of everything that’s being said. And Bendis knows when the keep quiet and let Bagley show the characters’ reactions so that even with the focus on dialogue, it remains a visual experience.

It’s a rather happy issue (and funny in places), providing a nice break from the angst, and it deepens the bond between two main characters. It also does what every teen superhero book should—it captures that wonderful anticipation of exciting new possibilities.

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis

Penciler: Mark Bagley

Inker: Art Thibert

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Ultimate Spider-Man vol. 2: Learning Curve (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 11 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Ultimate Spider-Man #5 (2001)

I’ve heard people complain that origin stories are boring. That’s a misleading statement, though. How characters gain their powers generally isn’t all that interesting. Why they decide to use those powers to help others…that’s the interesting part. That’s when the characters are at their most dynamic.

Peter Parker getting bitten by a radioactive spider is a utilitarian plot device. At best, it qualifies as an attention-getting inciting incident. But Peter deciding not to stop a thief, and that thief then murders his uncle, thereby supplying Spider-Man with motivation for all future stories? That’s the compelling part.

When Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s original story ran in Amazing Fantasy #15 back in 1962, it packed a surprising amount of depth for an eight-or-so-page comic story. In 2000-01, Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley expanded it to six issues for the inaugural storyline of Ultimate Spider-Man, which gave us a modern teenage Spidey free from any continuity baggage (until the Ultimate line amassed its own messy continuity, that is, but Spider-Man had the only series that remained strong throughout).

The story deserved this expanded retelling. The extra length allows us to spend more time on each significant moment, and issue #5 depicts the defining night of young Peter’s life. He’s just learned his Uncle Ben was murdered, but his recently acquired powers allow him to at least apprehend the killer.

Bendis and Bagley take us from Peter’s anger, to his shock at recognizing the killer, to his anger at himself, to his guilt, to his understanding of what his uncle was always trying to teach him, and ultimately to a heartrending final page. Peter wasn’t Spider-Man in the first four issues; he is by the end of this one. The creators utilize the extra space to such superb effect, it makes it all the more impressive that Lee and Ditko nailed the story in so few pages all those years ago.

Whether told in eight pages or more than a hundred, Spider-Man’s origin story holds up as among the greatest—not because of any sci-fi spider bites, but because he learned a life-changing lesson through tragic failure.

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis

Penciler: Mark Bagley

Inker: Art Thibert

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Ultimate Spider-Man vol. 1: Power and Responsibility (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 11 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Daredevil #26 (2001)

Speaking of “decompressed” comics … the quintessential example when the trend first got going was Daredevil by writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Alex Maleev, beginning with issue #26 of the Marvel Knights series.

As a whole, the run is fantastic. It shook up Daredevil’s status quo, and it stands apart as a distinctive era for the character, an era that built on what came before rather than rehashing the classics. Bendis’s snappy dialogue lent an engrossing new voice to the franchise, and Maleev’s gritty, sketchy style suited the world of Hell’s Kitchen perfectly.

But this is also a series that benefits from binge reading and suffers from a pace of 22 pages per month. Since the run is long since finished and compiled into collections, the latter no longer matters, though.

Issue #26 kicks off with a monologue that leads into an attention-grabbing inciting incident. The book cuts to Matt Murdock in court, which serves as a Daredevil primer—if you’ve never read a DD comic, the character’s essential components are covered here, not in any depth, but you get a foundation. And then disaster, during which Bendis foreshadows a major upcoming development without telegraphing it.

And that’s basically the first issue of the run. It takes about two seconds to read (even with monologues), but just enough happens, some basic exposition is knocked out of the way, we see Daredevil’s hyper-senses in action … and it’s all the start of something great.

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis

Artist: Alex Maleev

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Daredevil by Brian Michael Bendis Omnibus vol. 1 (HC)

Appropriate For: ages 14 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Spider-Man #6 (2016)

Even with a Civil War II tie-in, Spider-Man remains strong. It always helps to have a Jessica Jones guest appearance.

However, Jessica is ultimately a small part of issue #6. Iron Man swoops in and steals a chunk of page-time with his current moral conundrum. I’ve read only the first three issues of Civil War II on Marvel Unlimited, so I’m reserving overall judgment, but it’s at least stronger than the original (many like the original story, but I’m not a fan; the movie’s great, though). Basically, there’s an Inhuman who can see the future. Captain Marvel wants to use the young man’s powers to preemptively avert disaster, but Iron Man foresees a slippery slope in going after criminals before they strike. It’s a solid sci-fi premise.

So Iron Man poses his conundrum to young Miles, and Miles, in turn, poses it to his father. The latter interaction is what helps this tie-in be successful, as it facilitates a nice father-son moment. Miles’s family life grounds the series in a relatable, human foundation…even when his grandmother does things like hiring a private investigator to find out if he’s on drugs.

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis

Artist: Nico Leon

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: recent back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Spider-Man #5 (2016)

What a fun series this is!

In #5, Spider-Man (Miles Morales) is captured by Black Cat, foe and ex-girlfriend of the original Spidey, and Hammerhead, foe of the original Spidey but not an ex. His best friend has to cover for him with his mother, shortly after he’s committed a major secret-identity faux pas. His father meets with a certain government agency to protect him. His grandmother hires a certain private investigator to see if Miles is doing drugs. And a former trainee of a certain mutant team has entered his life.

The book is so full of character. Life is never easy for the protagonist. No one in the supporting cast lacks motivation for their behavior. And the various plotlines move forward at just the right pace, always plenty going on.

It’s Spider-Man as he’s meant to be, even if he’s not Peter Parker in this case.

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis

Artist: Sara Pichelli

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: recent back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Spider-Man: Miles Morales vol. 1

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up

Today’s Super Comic — All-New X-Men #40 (2015)

all-new_x-men_vol_1_40Late in the original run of ­All-New X-Men, we get a quiet, talky issue, which provides a good opportunity to check in with how extended time-displacement is affecting some of the teenaged original X-Men trapped in the present. The experience is changing some of them, and others are trying to change as a result of what they’ve learned about their futures.

A good chunk of issue #40 focuses on Iceman during a revelatory heart-to-heart with Jean Grey, and also on Angel as he shares a moment with X-23, the young female Wolverine clone. The issue comes after a big cosmic storyline, so pacing-wise, it’s an excellent way to bring us back down to Earth.

Writer Brian Michael Bendis also works in several comedic beats that keep everything fun, while artist Mahmud Asrar deftly handles the shifting facial expressions—which is essential in making a talking-heads issue work in a visual medium.

Remarkably, this time-travel premise was not running out of gas 40 issues in.

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis

Artist: Mahmud Asrar

Cover: Andrea Sorrentino and Marcelo Maiolo

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in All-New X-Men vol. 7: The Utopians (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comics — All-New X-Men #1-5 (2012-13)

all-new_x-men_vol_1_1Pop culture, you may have noticed, is locked in a trend of repeatedly resurrecting old stuff in the modern era. Results have varied, but at least with All-New X-Men, nostalgia serves an interesting story.

The original five X-Men are transported from their early days to the much darker present, and these inexperienced teenagers confront the decades’ worth of convoluted backstory that lie ahead of them (decades to us, about one decade to them).

The X-Men had kind of gone off the rails in the time leading up to this—no X-Man more so than Cyclops, who’s basically on his way to becoming the next Magneto. While possessed by the Phoenix force, Cyclops killed Professor Xavier…and yeah, that sentence pretty much sums up the state of affairs.

So the Beast decides to bring their innocent younger selves to the present as the ultimate guilt-trip to Cyclops. Of course, the plan is to send them right back after modern Cyclops comes to his senses, but also of course, things don’t go according to plan, and five very young founding X-Men must integrate with the present.

Young Cyclops must deal with the fact that he grows up to become basically a villain. Young Beast witnesses the hubris his future self has developed. Young Iceman sees how little his future self has achieved. Young Angel observes that his future self is kind of crazy and not at all himself due to Apocalypse-related machinations. And young Jean Grey learns she’s dead and it wasn’t even the first time she died (she’s truly the standout character in this series).

These five issues are just the beginning of a story that’s yet to be resolved, and it’s a strong start. It’s time-travel shenanigans without a reset button in sight, brought about by one X-Man’s misguided good intentions.

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis

Artist: Stuart Immonen

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; ­All-New X-Men vol. 1: Yesterday’s X-Men (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Invincible Iron Man #11 (2016)

invincible_iron_man_vol_2_11This sure is a consistently entertaining series. I worry that Civil War II might have derailed it (I haven’t read that far yet), but it makes it through the second story arc with the quality intact.

In #11, Rhodey and the Avengers track down the missing-in-action Tony Stark, who’s gone undercover to investigate a new threat. Meanwhile, the task of saving Stark’s company from its own board falls to one Mary Jane Watson. And a teenage girl tests out the Iron Man–like suit of armored tech she built in her dorm room.

A lot going on, all of it fun, and enough remains unresolved to make a compelling case for reading #12.

It’s no secret that the aforementioned teenage girl, Riri Williams, will be taking over the book as Iron Maiden (while Doctor Doom becomes the Infamous Iron Man). Tony Stark is pretty inimitable as Iron Man, so I’m wary of replacements. But Riri, if approached as a new character rather than “the new Iron Man,” does show potential. A genius teenager who literally builds her own powers is prime comic book material. So I’ll keep an open mind.

In any case, Invincible Iron Man has been a thoroughly enjoyable read through this point.

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis

Artist: Mike Deodato

Cover: Mike Deodato and Rain Beredo

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: recent back issues; Comixology; included in Invincible Iron Man vol. 2: The War Machines (HC)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Guardians of the Galaxy #1 (2015)

guardians-of-the-galaxy-1I’m still not a fan of Marvel’s habit of renumbering their titles every couple of years or so. But if they must, this was a reasonably appropriate point to give Guardians of the Galaxy a fresh start.

A few months or so have passed since the conclusion of the previous series, and the Guardians’ lineup continues to add representatives from various regions of the Marvel Universe. They’ve had Spider-Man’s Venom (Flash Thompson) for a while. The X-Men’s Kitty Pryde joined late in the previous run. And now the Fantastic Four’s Thing has left Earth and begun guarding the galaxy (if you want to know what time it is in space, he’ll be happy to answer). Combined with the Guardians’ regulars, this series should never lack for clever banter.

And meanwhile, Peter Quill is king of Spartax, which isn’t the most suitable role for him, thereby producing an entertaining situation for the reader.

I liked the previous series, but I’m greatly enjoying this latest iteration. The humor is stronger, the action is more fun, and the cosmic plots feel more exciting. Now if only there was some way to work in a ‘70s soundtrack, we’d be all set.

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis

Artist: Valerio Schiti

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Guardians of the Galaxy: The New Guard, Vol. 1: Emperor Quill (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — New Avengers Annual #1 (2006)

new_avengers_annual_vol_1_1Sweet Christmas, that Luke Cage Netflix series was excellent. So was the Jessica Jones series.

And oh, look, here are they both are in comic book form…getting married. That’s nice for them.

New Avengers Annual #1 is a good example of how to do a wedding issue right—basically, have the wedding itself take up very little of the overall comic. A full-length wedding issue is almost a no-win situation in superhero comics. Super-villains could crash the festivities, and they have, but that’s far too predictable these days. The ceremony could proceed smoothly, which has also been done, and while it’s nice to see likeable characters interact in a happy setting, it tends to be a tension-free affair.

So despite the wedding-themed cover, this annual largely focuses on an unrelated battle between the Avengers and an especially powerful foe, as they employ both brains and brawn to take her down. The battle ties into ongoing arcs and it’s a fun romp on its own.

As for Luke/Jessica, their relationship had evolved since Jessica’s introduction a few years earlier, and the wedding ceremony is merely the epilogue to an arc that had already reached a satisfactory conclusion. They have a nice ceremony surrounded by friends, and Jessica has her moment to be Jessica (written perfectly in character, of course, with the character’s creator writing the issue). And you have an entertaining, notable annual that shows how comic book characters’ lives aren’t static like they were in the olden days.

And nice Stan Lee cameo, by the way.

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis

Penciler: Olivier Coipel

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up