Tag Archives: Spider-Man

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 — X-Men #123 (1979)

Fun fact: Colleen Wing, whom you may have met in the new Iron Fist Netflix series, briefly dated Cyclops of the X-Men. Yep—Colleen Wing and Scott Summers. That was a thing for a few seconds a long time ago, during the first interval in which Scott believed Jean Grey was dead.

The Marvel Universe can be a small world indeed, as shown in X-Men #123, which begins as Spider-Man just happens to run into Scott and Colleen strolling along the streets of New York. If your characters are going to share a fictional universe, why not have fun with it? And these sorts of quick guest appearances helped develop the MU as a setting worth visiting—you never knew who you were going to run into (well, unless they announced it on the cover so they could boost sales).

So Spider-Man, Cyclops, and Colleen Wing walk into the panel (or swing in)…and a kidnapping sets the plot in motion. This issue begins a two-parter in which the villainous Arcade captures the X-Men and a few friends and traps them in Murder World (it’s like Disney World, but the attractions try to kill you).

It’s a fun premise that splits up the X-Men and throws them into various death traps. But surviving is only half the battle! They’ll then have to navigate this maze, find their way back to each other, and rescue their friends from a sociopath.

It’s good times. Another classic from the Claremont/Byrne era. (I dare you to find one bad issue from that run. Just one. Can’t do it, can you?)

Writer: Chris Claremont

Penciler/Co-Plotter: John Byrne

Inker: Terry Austin

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; The Essential X-Men vol. 2 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Mockingbird #5 (2016)

Zombies. A super-powered Mockingbird (sort of). Back-up in the form of the Miles Morales Spider-Man and Howard the Duck.

Yep, it’s a fun time indeed in Mockingbird #5. You really can’t go wrong with zombies overrunning a SHIELD medical facility. I’m surprised it hasn’t happened before (or maybe it has—I can’t read everything, alas).

Writer Chelsea Cain has developed a distinct voice for this series, keeping both the humor and the stakes high throughout. She also brings an unconventional plotting style. Each of the first five issues can stand on its own as a self-contained story (well, maybe less so with #1 and #5), and they can ostensibly be reread in any order while still building the same larger narrative. I haven’t tried the latter, but the idea is certainly intriguing. Nothing wrong with a good structural experiment, especially since it’s all entertaining regardless.

I’m up for more.

Writer: Chelsea Cain

Penciler: Ibrahim Moustafa

Cover: Joelle Jones and Rachelle Rosenberg

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: recent back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Mockingbird vol. 1: I Can Explain (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 13 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 — Peter Parker: Spider-Man #20 (2000)

For Spider-Man more than most superheroes, the man behind the mask is far more important than the colorful crimefighting persona. That was a huge part of his original appeal, which was pretty novel back in the ‘60s—Peter Parker was, at his core, a regular guy with regular problems who just happened to be a superhero, and a highly imperfect one at that.

When writer Paul Jenkins took over Peter Parker: Spider-Man, he did an excellent job focusing on Peter’s humanity. It’s especially evident in his first issue, #20, in which Peter, despondent over a recent loss, visits his Uncle Ben’s grave for some soul-searching.

Nothing is funny anymore, Peter feels, and he reflects on his childhood growing up with his aunt and uncle, particularly how he and Ben would repeatedly prank each other, constantly trying to make the other laugh.

The flashbacks fill in details about this important relationship in his life. After all, it was his uncle’s avoidable murder that motivated Peter to use his powers to help others. Not only is it nice to deepen the relationship, but it also shows us how Peter developed his distinctive sense of humor. Great character work throughout.

There’s no super-villain plot here, but there’s plenty of emotion. And it all comes to an uplifting ending.

Writer: Paul Jenkins

Penciler: Mark Buckingham

Inker: Dan Green

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; included in Peter Parker: Spider-Man: A Day in the Life (TPB)

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 — Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars #1 (1984)

marvel_super_heroes_secret_wars_vol_1_1This is one that works much better with kids. When I first read Secret Wars as a middle schooler, I thought it was among the coolest things ever. When I reread the miniseries as an adult, I was far less impressed, but it’s not without its charms.

The concept is simple. An infinitely powerful entity called the Beyonder summons a bunch of superheroes and a bunch of super-villains to a distant galaxy and plops them onto a bizarre patchwork planet. He tells both sides they must slay their enemies, and all they desire will be theirs.

The appeal, then, is also simple. It’s like playing with all your favorite toys at once. You get to watch the Avengers, X-Men, Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, and Hulk all interact over the course of 12 issues as they face some of their more well-known foes. It’s like Battle Royale or The Hunger Games, but with superheroes and far less bloodshed.

Writer Jim Shooter made some good choices with the set-up that’s outlined in #1. He has the Beyonder group Magneto among the heroes, because in Magneto’s mind he is a hero to his fellow mutants. Doctor Doom quickly asserts himself as the chief antagonist, putting himself above the mandated fray to embark on his own personal quest for power. And the world-devouring Galactus, who has often been portrayed as a force of nature above personal conflicts, is present among the villains as a powerful wild card.

Marvel also made a good call during the original execution of this miniseries in 1984. The participating characters ended an issue of their respective regular series by entering a mysterious portal. Then Secret Wars #1 came out. Then in the next issue of those regular series, the characters return to Earth, and some changes have occurred, big and small. For example, Spider-Man has a nifty black costume made of an alien material, and She-Hulk has replaced the Thing in the Fantastic Four. So what exactly happened between issues? Read the rest of Secret Wars to find out! I was too young to read in 1984, but I imagine it sparked a fun How did we get here? type of curiosity.

So, yeah, it’s basically just a fun wild ride for kids, but I absolutely ate it up when I was the right age. Marvel team-ups are often great, and this is a super-sized mega team-up.

Writer: Jim Shooter

Penciler: Mike Zeck

Inker: John Beatty

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Secret Wars (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 8 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Nova #7 (2013)

nova-7-2013So the first issue wasn’t a fluke. Seven issues in, and Nova is tremendous fun.

I appreciate how the creative teams take their time developing this young new Nova into a superhero. Sam Alexander learned a lot in the first storyline, but he’s still got ways to go before he’s ready for the big leagues (i.e., the Avengers, the team his mother prefers he not join at the age of fifteen—very smart mother there).

Issue #7 is framed around Sam searching for an opportunity to save the day in grand heroic fashion. He flies all the way from Arizona to New York City looking for action. He bumps into a Spider-Man who’s not himself (he’s Doctor Octopus in Spidey’s body, which is a whole other long story), but that’s the closest he gets to encountering a super-villain.

He keeps looking to lend a hand somewhere, and he keeps failing to be of any use—in the big situations, anyway. But when he thinks smaller and stops aiming too high, he manages to perform a good deed of genuine value, and he matures just a smidge.

Much more interesting than reading about a superhero who’s perfect from issue #1.

Writer: Zeb Wells

Penciler: Paco Medina

Inker: Juan Vlasco

Cover: Ed McGuinness, Dexter Vines, and Marte Gracia

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Nova vol. 2: Rookie Season (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 11 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Damage Control #1 (1989)

damage-control-vol-1-1-1989It’s good not to take yourself too seriously, and Marvel certainly doesn’t in Damage Control, the miniseries that answers the question, “Hey, who cleans up after those big epic super-battles?”

That would be Damage Control, of course. They’re basically like a Public Works crew coming in after a severe storm to clear debris and get the roads back in working order—only it’s a private company, they come in after the Avengers and the like save the day, they have a lost-and-found full of rather distinctive items, and every so often one of their employees randomly acquires super-powers.

In the first issue, the Avengers and Spider-Man topple a skyscraper-sized robot in NYC, and now its inert body is just sprawled out across the city, lying atop and between buildings and impeding the flow of traffic. So Damage Control must figure out how to get rid of it. And poor Spider-Man is trapped in the robot’s head, so they’ve also got to figure out how to get him free. Just a day in the life…if you live in Marvel’s New York.

The writer/co-creator is the late, great Dwayne McDuffie, who went on to write for the excellent Justice League cartoon, so I’m not surprised that this is good fun.

Excellent concept, highly amusing execution.

Writer: Dwayne McDuffie

Penciler: Ernie Colon

Inker: Bob Wiacek

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Damage Control: The Complete Collection (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Fantastic Four Annual #1 (1963)

Fantastic_Four_Annual_Vol_1_1Marvel’s early Silver Age was in top form in the Fantastic Four’s first annual.

The story, the FF’s longest-ever at the time, builds on elements previously established, such as the attraction between Namor and Sue Storm. Namor has finally found his Atlantean race, and they declare war on the surface world.

What’s most interesting, and groundbreaking for the era, is how Namor meets his defeat. (I’m going to spoil the ending, but this story is 53 years old, so…) The FF don’t succeed in overpowering the Sub-Mariner, but when the Invisible Girl is seriously hurt, Namor drops everything to get her to a hospital. The Atlanteans see this as a betrayal and abandon him, leaving Namor ostracized both on land and in the sea.

The issue represents what ‘60s Marvel was all about—epic action and big sci-fi ideas, all grounded in character. Sure, it’s dated, but it remains a fun time nevertheless because of the colorful characters inhabiting this imaginative world.

As a bonus, we get a short back-up story that expands a scene from The Amazing Spider-Man #1, in which Spidey crashes in on the FF’s home. And we all know what inevitably happens when 1960s Marvel superheroes meet for the first time…

Writer: Stan Lee

Penciler: Jack Kirby

Inker: Dick Ayers

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in The Essential Fantastic Four vol. 1 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 8 and up