The Great Comic Book Cull Of 2010/2011 Part 57: Marvel Comics – Spider-Man Part 3!

Spider-Man – Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane Vol. 1 & 2

Yes, I’m a straight male in my 30s. And yes I have lots of comics with punching, and kicking and shooting. And boobies. And I also have these: Some of the best romance comics you’ll ever read in your life.

This is the story of a young high-school student named Mary Jane Watson. She’s pretty, she’s smart, and she has a crush on a guy who dresses up as a human spider. It’s a slightly alternate take on the early days of Spider-Man, and specifically aimed at the teen girl audience. So why do I own these? And love them? Because genre doesn’t matter to me. I love good stories with interesting characters, and these have both in spades. These are well-crafted relationship comics, expertly done by Sean McKeever and Takeshi Miyazawa. The familiar backdrop of Peter Parker’s tumultuous high school love life is the setting here, and as such it takes some minor familiarity with the Spider-Man legend. What do you need to know? That Peter Parker is Spider-Man. That’s it, but you do need to know it in advance as the series itself never actually states it. Again, this is a story about Mary Jane. Spider-Man is just one of the characters in her life. Two, actually, as he and Peter Parker are very much treated as separate entities, although we know they’re not.

I know, this is an unconventional choice for a superhero comic. But it’s funny, it’s sad, and it’s got some great character beats.

KEEP

Spider-Man & Human Torch – I’m With Stupid

This is one of the first things that Dan Slott ever did for Marvel Comics, and it’s a big part of the reason why he’s currently the Shepherd of all-things Spidey. Why? Because it’s fun. So much fun. If your Spidey is the Marvel Team-Up Spidey of the late 1970s and 1980s, this book is for you. It’s the story of two friends, Spidey, and the Human Torch. Now, they may not always know that they’re friends, and sometimes they don’t act like it, but they are. Best friends in fact. And so Slott puts them through hijinks after hijinks, and what we get is just a good, all-ages superhero story, the likes of which are few and far between these days.

KEEP

YAY! No more Spider-Man!

What’s next?

Spider-Woman. Boo.

The Great Comic Book Cull Of 2010/2011 Part 54: Marvel Comics – She-Hulk!

She's like the Hulk, but with a vagina and a law degree. So basically she's Nancy Grace.

There’s been a lot of talk about how comic culture has bled into the mainstream, and that it’s more culturally accepted than ever before to hoist your nerd flag high. I say BS. If you ever really want to know what your non-comic reading friends think of your passions, bring up the latest issue of She-Hulk at your next dinner party. And wait for the laughter. And that’s usually just from my wife.

Yes, I said She-Hulk. She’s like the Hulk, but with a vagina and a law degree. So kind of like Nancy Grace.

So how did a cheap knock-off a male character become arguably the greatest feminist comic book character of all time?

Two words: John Byrne.

Byrne is currently best known for his decades-long audition for the role of the internet’s Crankiest Old Curmudgeon. But before that, he was known as not only one of superhero comics premier creators, but also one of the best writers of female characters mainstream comics  has ever seen. And while he might be best known for his revamp of the Fantastic Four’s Susan Storm, it’s She-Hulk that is his finest achievement. She was originally conceived in the late 70s as the Hulk’s cousin, and was never treated as much more than a way for Marvel to guard their copyright, until Byrne started writing her in the pages of FF. He recast her as a fun, thrillseeking adventurer that was a great counterpoint to most of the dour, angst-ridden women that starred in Marvel comics those days. But it wasn’t until Byrne got to write and draw her in the pages of her own book that she really started to shine.

She-Hulk – The Sensational She-Hulk Vol. 1

It’s easy to forget just how groundbreaking this book was in it’s day. It was the first mainstream comic to really break through the fourth wall, and interact with it’s readers in a way that no superhero book had ever done before. And even though others (Grant Morrison…cough…) have arguably done it more effectively since then, there’s no denying that Byrne got there first. But that’s not to say that the book is all parlour tricks and comedy. Byrne revamps She-Hulk in the truest Marvel tradition, and turns her into a working joe, albeit one with green skin. She’s in full lawyer mode here, juggling her career with her duties with the FF and the Avengers. Although the book is slightly dated, it still remains a fairly revolutionary comic for it’s manipulation of the medium, and one that stands up well today.

KEEP

She-Hulk – Ceremony, Part 1 & 2

This was part of Marvel’s 80′s and 90′s graphic novel experiment, and it’s one that rarely gets discussed today,  for good reason. I’m not sure if Dwayne McDuffie had ever heard of the character before he wrote this, as he somehow managed to remove all of the joy and fun Byrne had injected into the character. I’m sorry to say that this is barely readable.

CULL

She-Hulk – Vol. 1-8

There was a time in the middle of the last decade, where this might have been Marvel’s very best title. It was funny, emotionally engaging, and had plenty of superhero action. So I was a little surprised to find myself not enjoying it on the same level that I did when these trades first hit the stands. The book still starts out well. Writer Dan Slott straddles  a nice line between madcap humour and character development, and his “Spidey sues Jonah Jameson” story has to go down among the funniest superhero comics ever written. Slott focuses on the legal side of Jennifer Walter’s persona here, and fleshes out the character in ways that hadn’t really been done before. Add a great supporting cast, and some interesting approaches to Marvel continuity, and you’ve got yourself a pretty good series. But eventually, Slott (and the title) lost it’s way. The humour side of the title eventually beat out the character and story side, and the end result was a bit of mess that was neither funny, nor interesting. Although the first four trades of Slott’s run are well worth your time, by the time he hit the fifth volume he had overstayed his welcome. Peter David took over for him, and while his approach was definitely more grown-up than Slott’s, it was definitely a welcome look at the character, and one that actually stands up better than I thought it would. He turned the book into a comic book version of Thelma and Louise, with She-Hulk on the road trying to find herself. She does, and as a result we get some well-written comic book stories that manage to be better than I thought possible.

Vol. 1-4: KEEP. Vol. 5, 6: CULL. Vol. 7, 8: KEEP

Next up: Your friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man!

The Great Comic Book Cull Of 2010/2011 Part 34: Still. More. Avengers. Sigh…

I’m about as sick of talking about the Avengers as Charlie Sheen is of being sane. But an unanticipated result of Brian Bendis’ commercial success on Avengers was the spin-off book. Or I should say spin-off books. Lots and lots of books. I should say that although this period had a lot of spin-offs, for the most part they felt like natural, organic parts to the larger story that Marvel was telling at the time. I happen to like this period (Civil War/Secret Invasion/Dark Reign) of Marvel’s history, as I felt that it flowed together quite well, and that everything served a larger purpose.

Breasts. Evil, evil breasts.

Mighty Avengers – The Ultron Initiative, Venom Bomb, Secret Invasion Book 1 and 2

This was also written by Bendis, and was a direct result of the events that took place in Marvel’s Civil War cross over. At this point in the storyline, this team was the “official” Avengers team, and basically filled the more “traditional” Avengers role: They only took care of planetary threats, were sanctioned by the government, etc. This book was a little bigger, a little more epic than the New Avengers book. It also attempted to break some new stars, specifically Ms. Marvel and Ares. I think it succeeded with the latter, but maybe not as much with the former. This book started with a bang. The Ultron arc is awesome, in the truest sense of the word. It’s a big-time, world is about to end, Avengers story, and with incredible art by Frank “I can create better breasts than God” Cho, and it stands up well as one of the better self-contained Avengers stories of the past few years. The Venom story is also good, but gets a little bogged down with some of the subplots of what’s happening with the other Avengers team. After that, the book becomes just another Brian Bendis Avengers book, and it loses a lot of the scope and wide-screen adventure that the first two arcs had. All in all it’s a good superhero book, and the first arc in particular is a barn burner.

KEEP

Eeeevil. So very evil.

Dark Avengers – Assemble, Molecule Man, Siege

If Mighty Avengers was a response to Civil War, then Dark Avengers was a response to the Secret Invasion storyline. Quickly then: The supervillain formerly known as the Green Goblin has somehow become in charge of America’s security. As such, he leads a new team that he calls “Avengers”. In actuality, the new team is composed of criminals, posing as popular heroes (Moonstone as Ms. Marvel, Bullseye as Hawkeye, Venom as Spider-Man), as well as Ares and the Sentry, and of course Norman himself. I would have thought that the fans would have been up in arms over this, but for the most part people embraced this, and so did I. I don’t think this would have worked so well without the years of set up that Bendis had prepared us with beforehand, but by the time this storyline came out it felt as a very organic part to the epic that Bendis was crafting. Even though the team is composed of nothing but villains, Bendis still makes you care about them, if by care you mean ” I REALLY can’t wait until someone comes along and kicks their ass”. By this point Mike Deodato had evolved into one of the better superhero artists on the market, and his work here is exemplary.

KEEP

Because training child soldiers is always a good idea.

Avengers: The Initiative – Basic Training, Killed In Action, Secret Invasion, Disassembled

Yep, another spinoff, this one coming out of Civil War. So now every hero has to “register” with the government, and The Initiative the government’s way of training all these new heroes. This was writer Dan Slott’s first big book, and he did a nice job with it. He put familiar faces like Tigra, Hank Pym, and Justice in as the trainers, and then threw a combination of new and old (but still not well-known) characters in as the students. When I started rereading this, I think I thought I would be getting rid of these. But I was pleasantly surprised to find myself enjoy this book, mostly for its engaging character development. Slott is pulling out all the stops in trying to get us to love these new characters, and for the most part it works. Unfortunately, the book is not without its problems. Like his previous work on She-Hulk, the book did start to get bogged down with sub-plots. Because so much was happening in the Marvel Universe at the time, it feels as if this book was being pulled in too many directions at times. That being said, it’s still an enjoyable read, if not entirely essential.

KEEP

Young Avengers – Sidekicks, Family Matters

This book started not long after the original New Avengers title started, and shares the bleak “Our heroes are gone, what will we do” vibe that Bendis’ book did for a time. The premise is that a group of young heroes with costumes and code names reminiscent to Avengers of the past is patrolling the city, and Jessica Jones (formerly of Alias fame) is trying to get to the bottom of it. And so are Captain America and Iron Man.

This is a very good teen superhero book. It’s more superhero than teen, but it’s still quite good, and easily the equal (if not better) than DC’s recent Teen Titans books. The question is this: Why would trained, experienced combat fighters like Iron Man and Captain America let untrained children dress up and fight crime. The answer: They wouldn’t. Which of course leads to conflict, which is something that teen superhero books often lack. What is forgotten is that no matter how powerful these people are, they’re still kids, and should act like them. I don’t mean have scenes with them making out with each other, or playing X-Box all the time. YA avoids these clichés (thankfully), but it does show them acting the way teens do: erratically, but trying to do the right thing. Allen Heinberg and Jim Cheung did a beautiful job with this series, and it’s nice to see that they’re currently in the middle of another one with the same characters.

KEEP

Next up: NOT AVENGERS! YAY!