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A Relative Newbie Review: Kick-Ass #1

Kick-Ass #1 is the relaunch of Mark Millar and John Romita Jr.‘s mega franchise. For most people Kick-Ass either makes people extremely happy or divides them in about five seconds. That’s the nature of Mark Millar, it seems, as people either love or hate his writing with little in-between. Here’s the thing, I actually have had more good experiences with Millar than bad ones. The Kick-Ass franchise is one that I’ve not delved into as much as other aspects of Millar’s world. I know a lot of the basic concepts of Kick-Ass but not much more. If you ever wanted a new reader perspective on Kick-Ass, this review is it. Strap yourselves in my friends for a blazing fast vigilante spectacular of a review with Kick-Ass #1. Time to find out if this relaunch is worth your time and mine as well.

Hard to believe I’m one of the few people who hasn’t experienced Kick-Ass in full but here we are. We are in for a ride.

The story of Kick-Ass was initially a guy named Dave Lizewski deciding to make a superhero costume and fight crime. There aren’t superheroes in this world and the inspiration for the Dave and other heroes to follow is from comic books. Do you need to know any of this going into this #1? You can walk into this blind and be fine. The story focuses on Patience Lee coming back after 8 years in the military with her tour being up and she’s coming home. Her plans are to take care of her kids, go to college, and let her husband take up the slack for awhile. Only to see that her plan falling apart as her husband leaves her. Then that is when she has to figure out just what to do from there while being a single Mom. From there is for us to learn what leads her to get into the Kick-Ass suit.

Now what Millar does is let us get to know Patience as a person before she adopts the suit. By the time she’s in that suit you know everything you need to know. For you as a new reader this is a fresh new character and a new story. This is all from the perspective of Patience and how she plans to operate as a vigilante. Since she has military training this is actually a good fit for her and Millar makes a point to show us this. We learn too that outside of her military training that she is a good Mom and wants to do what is best for her kids. That’s one part of this that really works, Patience is a likable character and someone who knows how to take care of herself. For what Millar is going for it works.

Okay, so in the case of Patience Lee we’re in good shape. Good new reader friendly character and direction. Everything is ship shape here right? Well, yes and no.

I mean you would think that by liking the character and her motivations, I would dig Kick-Ass #1 right? Well it is a simple enough motivation but not much to hook into. I can imagine people wondering how she got the suit for one. It becomes the game of we learn why she wants to become a vigilante but the suit magically appears. Yeah I can see Millar revealing more later but I’m left wondering where the darned thing came from. It has a lot of action but outside of Patience and her family there isn’t much more sink into. Now I will add an extra note here, there is potential for this comic. Then we can go back and say that the story got better later on. For now though, it’s a little weak yet I will say I didn’t hate what I saw. There is a lot to build on and it could easily improve.

Kick-Ass #1 Opening Page

I do applaud Millar for making this first issue as new reader friendly as possible. There are references to other things in this world but it’s so loose that it doesn’t matter. Yes the way Patience gets into this game is a little cliche and goofy at points, maybe a tad over blown, but I will admit I was entertained. It’s Mark Millar and I knew what I was getting into for the most part. For the potential I see in this though and in such a strong black female character in Patience Lee, I’m willing to hang in there. I want to see where this story goes and what Millar does with it. Yet I haven’t gotten into the art yet and there is a lot to praise in that aspect of the book.

My goodness, Kick-Ass #1 has a strong art team. That cannot be denied here at all. Not one single bit.

Now John Romita Jr. is the co-creator of Kick-Ass and an oddly polarizing artist in his own right. He is in the same category of Millar in the love or hate scale of things. When I was first getting back into comics Romita’s work on Dan Jurgens Thor run hooked me like no other. You can put me squarely in the category of digging Romita’s art. In all honesty, this is some of my favorite work of Romita’s. It’s briliant at capturing the energy of the action sequences in Millar’s script. There’s even something to how he captures even the quieter sequences in and around the action when Millar is detailing Patience’s family. It’s good at capturing fast movement in battle as well as quiet emotional moments too, a perfect balance for this story.

What also helps Romita’s art here is the digital inks and colors from Peter Steigerwald. One of the opening shots replicating how it would look if our hero was caught on camera somewhere, really cool grayscale effect. Then add in the smooth lines Steigerwald adds to Romita’s art and some brilliant lighting effects alongside, this book just looks good. John Workman‘s letters in particular are always classic as they are big, bold, and exciting in the already powerhouse battle scenes. With added ink assistance from Megan Madrigal, this is one killer art team. No matter how hit and miss I am on the story so far, the art here is spectacular.

Overall it’s New Reader Friendly but with some flaws, but gorgeous art. It may not be perfect but Kick-Ass #1 is a solid read.

I will be curious to see how many other new to newer readers check out Kick-Ass #1. I have some issues but overall I enjoyed my time with it. A solid B ratings wise as it passes my tests but with some room to improve. Give this a shot yourself and I really do want to know what you think if you try it. In my own case, I now have a bunch of Kick-Ass trades to dive into and learn more about this universe. Thanks for reading and enjoying my newbie adventure into the world of Kick-Ass.

Story: Mark Millar Pencils: John Romita Jr. Digital Inks and Colors: Peter Steigerwald
Letterer: John Workman Digital Ink Assistant: Megan Madrigal
Story: 8.0 Art: 9.0 Overall: 8.0 Recommendation: Buy

Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for Review

Review: Kick Ass # 1

Kick-Ass is back but Dave Lizewski, the earnest, bespectacled, nerd of days past is gone. In his place is Patience Lee, a black woman and mother of two who leaves the military only to find that her husband has abandoned her to pursue a musical career. Faced with few options and mounting debt Patience decides to rob a gang to provide for her family.

Mark Millar is a divisive figure in the comics industry. While many people adore his high concepts and cinematic storytelling others are revolted by the mean streak that runs through most of his work and his tendency to fall back on highly problematic tropes of disability, race, sexuality and violence, especially towards women. As a reader I’m highly conflicted since it was Miller’s run on Marvel’s Ultimate X-Men that brought me back into the comic book fold and it was his MillarWorld forum that nourished my resurgent fandom. I want to like what he does but, sadly, I didn’t much like this.

One thing you have to give Millar credit for on the original Kick-Ass was it’s realism. For all that it could be offensive, it still had a solid emotional core that was grounded in the experiences of a lifelong fanboy. It’s story of a young man  trying to make a difference in the world in the only way he could conceive how was at once poignant and pathetic and gave that book some value despite the worst of its creator’s excesses.

In this new book it feels like Millar has heard all the criticism about the lack of diversity in comics and tried to answer it. Unfortunately the result, while brilliant in concept, is sloppy in its execution. Patience feels less like a fully rounded character and more like a bucket full of cliches: a woman of color raising her kids alone because of a feckless spouse who has to turn to crime to make ends meet. He’s put a minority character into the spotlight but she’s never allowed to transcend the stereotypes of her race if not her gender (at least no one threatens to rape her in this first issue). Millar has veered so far out of his lane here that it feels like he’s gone right into oncoming traffic and that’s a shame because the idea of a veteran (and a female veteran of color at that) as a superhero is one that has a lot of potential for good storytelling.

One thing about which I can find no flaw here is the artwork. John Romita Jr continues to amaze and delight me with this new career resurgence he’s been on for the last year. His work, which felt boring and staid after too many years at Marvel, has come alive once again in his creator owned project and his work for hire at DC. He’s drawing like a much younger artist and the passion is evident where before there was a growing sense of a man who had been there and done that a thousand times before. This is Romita at his best, raw and unfiltered. The digital inks of Peter Steigerwald and Megan Madrigal keep his lines from straying and Steigerwald’s colors add to the comic’s already strong flavor of the cinema. It almost looks like you’re watching one of Netflix’s Marvel shows, an effect that I’m sure was intentional. Letterer John Workman is brilliant as always, with an understated hand for his craft that you can’t help but notice while you’re not noticing it.

Overall the new Kick-Ass is a mixed bag, a fumbled attempt at producing the kind of comic the industry needs with some really nice looking art. It might have been successful if Millar had bothered to delve a little deeper into the inner life of his protagonist and brought to light something that felt half as true as Dave Lizewski did at his best. He can do great stuff when he doesn’t try to outdo Garth Ennis in being edgy. I wish he would remember that.

Story: Mark Millar Artist: John Romita Jr
Ink: Peter Steigerwald and Megan Madrigal Lettering: John Workman
Story: 5.0 Art: 9.0 Overall: 7.0 Recommendation: Pass

Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Review: The Silencer #1

The Silencer is the story of Honor Guest (not her real name), a woman who appears to be an ordinary suburban housewife with a devoted husband and a young son. She’s also a trained assassin with the ability to create a cone of silence that disrupts sound in her immediate vicinity, a very useful ability in her line of work. After years of being free of the killing trade, someone is now after her with a vengeance.

I liked this book quite a bit. With Damage (the first book in DC’ New Age of Heroes line-up) we got a DC version of the Hulk. The Silencer is set up to be a lot more of a riff on the seminal manga Lone Wolf and Cub than anything in mainstream superhero comics. 

Your opinion of The Silencer is largely going to be based on what you think of John Romita Jr. His style tends to be pretty polarizing among fans, something that surprises me since I consider him one of the modern masters of the form. This story has Romita’s fingerprints all over it. He’s credited as a “storyteller” rather than simply an “artist” and his name comes first so I can only assume that he contributed more to the mix than just drawing what he was told. The plot and characters seem to be the sort that have always appealed to his sensibilities: tough, no nonsense types with more down to Earth power sets and a lot of very big, sometimes outlandish, guns. The action also moves like it was plotted by an artist with a pencil rather than a writer at a computer. There is a cinematic quality to the layouts, for example, that it’s almost impossible to plan out with mere words.

Romita is aided by Dan Abnett, a writer who has consistently proven himself to be one of the best working for DC or any other company. Of all of his comics that I’ve read, this is the one that hews the closest to the work that first brought him to my attention: his novels set in the grimdark universe of the Warhammer 40,000 tabletop games, particularly the Eisenhorn trilogy. Abnett has always excelled at finding the humanity behind hard edged characters who must justify some pretty extreme means with a greater good in mind. He’s great at transforming people who might otherwise come off as very hollow and uncompromising suits of cool looking armor into compelling individuals and he does so here. I knew what Honor was about after two pages of reading and that’s down to Abnett’s dialog and captions as much as Romita’s art. I thought Romita and Scott Snyder were a great team on All-Star Batman but at this rate I think Romita and Abnett might just be a better fit for each other.

Colorist Dean White and Letterer Tom Napolitano both do their jobs well but special mention has to be given to inker Sandra Hope. I don’t think Romita’s work has looked this good since he left Amazing Spider-Man in the early 2000’s. As much as I enjoyed Klaus Janson’s rougher finishes, Hope brings a quality and confidence to the pencils that really stood out for me.

If I have one criticism it’s this: The Silencer is heavily tied into the end of Grant Morrison’s Batman run (I can’t really reveal how without spoilers). While it’s not hard for longtime DC readers to follow (even those like me who haven’t read many of issues in question), I don’t think that brand new readers are well served by the level of name dropping, especially in a first issue. It’s particularly annoying given that this a brand new character. Depending on how the story develops and how the creators handle the exposition in issues to come it might not be a long term problem but as things stand now I would hesitate to recommend this to anyone without at least passing familiarity with recent Bat-history. For everyone else it gets a hearty thumbs up.

Story: John Romita Jr and Dan Abnett  Art: John Romita Jr
Story: 8.0 Art: 9.5 Overall: 9.0 Recommendation: Buy

DC Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review.

Preview: The Silencer #1

Silencer #1

(W) Dan Abnett (A/CA) Sandra Hope, John Romita Jr.
RATED T+
In Shops: Jan 31, 2018
SRP: $2.99

“CODE OF HONOR” part one! She’s one of the DC Universe’s deadliest assassins…and you’ve never heard of her. Super-strong, highly trained, armed with devastating and stealthy meta-human abilities, the Silencer is virtually invincible. Or at least she was. After decades as Leviathan’s chief assassin, Honor Guest put in her time and managed to get out with her skin intact. Now she lives a normal life with a normal family in a normal house on a normal street. But the past has come back to haunt her in the form of her old employer and a deadly new mission…and Talia Al Ghul won’t take no for an answer.

Black Panther– Start Here! A Free In-Store Sampler

Just in time for the leader of Wakanda to stage center stage in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Marvel is excited to announce the release of Black Panther– Start Here, a FREE sampler celebrating Black Panther stories across the Marvel Universe.

Featuring excerpts from Marvel’s current Black Panther ongoing series, as well as World of Wakanda, Black Panther and the Crew, and portions from Reginald Hudlin and John Romita Jr.’s Black Panther run, Black Panther– Start Here serves to introduce brand new readers to the character’s expansive 50-year Marvel history, while long-time fans will be able to relive some of T’Challa’s most epic adventures.

The FREE Black Panther– Start Here sampler will be available to retailers on January 31st in local comic shops!

Early Preview: The Silencer #1

The Silencer #1

Written by: Dan Abnett
Art by: Sandra Hope, John Romita, Jr.
Cover by: Sandra Hope, John Romita, Jr.
U.S. Price: $2.99
On Sale Date: January 31, 2018

“CODE OF HONOR” part one! She’s one of the DC Universe’s deadliest assassins…and you’ve never heard of her. Super-strong, highly trained, armed with devastating and stealthy meta-human abilities, the Silencer is virtually invincible. Or at least she was. After decades as Leviathan’s chief assassin, Honor Guest put in her time and managed to get out with her skin intact. Now she lives a normal life with a normal family in a normal house on a normal street. But the past has come back to haunt her in the form of her old employer and a deadly new mission…and Talia Al Ghul won’t take no for an answer.

Early Preview: The Silencer #1

The Silencer #1

Written by: Dan Abnett
Art by: Sandra Hope, John Romita, Jr.
Cover by: Sandra Hope, John Romita, Jr.
U.S. Price: $2.99
On Sale Date: January 31, 2018

“CODE OF HONOR” part one! She’s one of the DC Universe’s deadliest assassins…and you’ve never heard of her. Super-strong, highly trained, armed with devastating and stealthy meta-human abilities, the Silencer is virtually invincible. Or at least she was. After decades as Leviathan’s chief assassin, Honor Guest put in her time and managed to get out with her skin intact. Now she lives a normal life with a normal family in a normal house on a normal street. But the past has come back to haunt her in the form of her old employer and a deadly new mission…and Talia Al Ghul won’t take no for an answer.

Image Comics Gets Kick-Ass

Image Comics has announced that the bestselling trade paperback collections of the hit comic book series, Kick-Ass by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr., will find a new home at Image Comics. Kick-Ass, Vol. 1-4 of the trade paperbacks will hit stores this February 2018—just in time for the February 10th anniversary of the series.

The beloved Kick-Ass series introduces teen comic book nerd Dave Lizewski, who dons his homemade Kick-Ass costume and takes to the streets of NYC to fight the city’s hardest criminals. This New York Times bestseller became a worldwide phenomenon overnight, spending three months at the top spot on the Diamond Direct Market chart and spawning the KICK-ASS movie that opened at No.1 in the box office.

To celebrate the launch of the new Kick-Ass series, all four volumes of Kick-Ass: The Dave Lizewski Years are being released through Image Comics. Relive what happens when Dave Lizewski asks himself “How come nobody’s ever become a superhero before?” and makes his teenage superhero daydreams an ass-kicking reality.

A new ongoing monthly Kick-Ass comic by the series’ original creative team will launch concurrently with Kick-Ass: The Dave Lizewski Years, Vol. 1-4 trade paperbacks all hitting stores from Image Comics. Two weeks later, superstar character Hit-Girl also gets her own monthly series from the creative team of Mark Millar and Ricardo Ortiz.

Kick-Ass trade paperbacks will be available in comic shops on Wednesday, February 14th and in bookstores on Tuesday, February 20th. The final order cutoff for comic shop retailers is Monday, January 8th.

  • Kick-Ass: The Dave Lizewski Years, Vol. 1, ISBN: 978-1-5343-0719-3, Diamond code: DEC170572
  • Kick-Ass: The Dave Lizewski Years, Vol. 2, ISBN: 978-1-5343-0720-9, Diamond code: DEC170573
  • Kick-Ass: The Dave Lizewski Years, Vol. 3, ISBN: 978-1-5343-0721-6, Diamond code: DEC170574
  • Kick-Ass: The Dave Lizewski Years, Vol. 4, ISBN: 978-1-5343-0722-3, Diamond code: DEC170575

The new Kick-Ass #1 will be available on Wednesday, February 14th. The final order cutoff is Monday, January 22nd:
  • Kick-Ass#1 Cover A by Romita, Jr., Diamond code: DEC170560
  • Kick-Ass #1 Cover B B&W by Romita, Jr., Diamond code: DEC170561
  • Kick-Ass #1 Cover C Limited Special Anniversary variant by Romita, Jr., Diamond code: DEC170562
  • Kick-Ass #1 Cover D by Frank Quitely, Diamond code: DEC170563
  • Kick-Ass #1 Cover E by Olivier Coipel, Diamond code: DEC170564
  • Kick-Ass #1 Cover F black cover, Diamond code: DEC170565

Hit-Girl #1 will be available from Wednesday, February 21. The final order cutoff is Monday, January 29.

DC Weekly Graphic Novel Review: All-Star Batman Vol. 1: My Own Worst Enemy

It’s Wednesday which means new comic book day with new releases hitting shelves, both physical and digital, all across the world. We’ve got one more volume from DC Comics featuring Batman!

All-Star Batman Vol. 1: My Own Worst Enemy collects issues #1-5 by Scott Snyder, John Romita, Jr., and Declan Shalvey.

Find out what the trade has in store and whether you should grab yourself a copy. You can find it in hardcover at both comic and book stores now and in softcover in comic stores today and book stores September 12.

Get your copies now. To find a comic shop near you, visit www.comicshoplocator.com or call 1-888-comicbook or digitally and online with the links below.

All-Star Batman Vol. 1: My Own Worst Enemy
Amazon/Kindle/comiXology or TFAW

 

DC Comics provided Graphic Policy with FREE copies for review
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Have Them Fight God: Everything Starts on Yancy Street

I’m reading every Fantastic Four comic and posting four thoughts on each. The concept of articles about the Fantastic Four was invented by Rich Johnston. No infringement is intended.

Today it’s…

Spider-Man #90

Spider-Man_Vol_1_90

… from April 1998. A Spider-Man/Fantastic Four team-up with a difference.  

Written by Howard Mackie. Penciled by John Romita Jr. Inked by Scott Hanna. Coloured by Gregory Wright. Lettered by Kiff Scholl. Edited by Ralph Macchio.

ONE

This issue is a prelude to an event called ‘Identity Crisis’ which….WAIT! STOP! COME BACK! It’s alright. It’s alright. Different ‘Identity Crisis.’ This one’s a bit of harmless fluff about Spider-Man dressing up in four different costumes as part of an elaborate plan to beat a murder rap. It’s bags of fun. Fun which I’m over-simplifying it a little, as Spidey doesn’t just adopt four new costumes but four new names, four new personae, four new fighting styles, and three new speech patterns. The costumes are what matters here though, as this issue is the origin of one of them.

The ‘Hornet’ costume he gets given by a friend, the ‘Ricochet’ costume Mary Jane puts together in a charity shop, the ‘Prodigy’ costume he and MJ design together, and the ‘Dusk’ costume is inherited from the figurehead of a revolutionary uprising within a universe of antimatter. Only that last costume is thought to need a whole introductory issue rather than a brief introductory flashback, which probably sounds fair enough until you know that the look the spider-spouses collaborated on is the one that involves Peter slathering himself in gold body paint and gluing on a big fake nose. My opinion on how entertaining their marriage is to read about could be completely reversed by twenty pages of them workshopping that. Trying on different noses. Brilliant.

But this issue is about introducing the Dusk costume, so let’s try concentrate on that. Which won’t be easy because the issue doesn’t. Before it gets to Dusk it introduces another new costume that’s got nothing to do with any of this. Another new costume that serves no narrative function whatsoever and which only gets referenced once in the text. “A little costume change,” notes Peter as he takes stock of the effects of being converted into anti-matter and crash-landing on an alien world. After that no more is said about it. Not much is shown of it either. Three pages pass between Peter noticing that he’s wearing something different and us getting a proper look at what it is he is wearing.

littlecostume   

That one panel, bunched up at the top right of a page, is as good as it gets for full-length looks at this outfit, which is then just shown in head shots, long shots and ass shots for another four pages before he changes out of it and into into the Dusk clobber. There is an implicit rationale for the design – Peter has been gifted part of the Dark Force of a vigilante called SHOC and this get-up shares some features with SHOC’s costume to the extent that it’s monochrome and John Romita JR-ish – but it’s still incredibly eccentric. We’re given a new costume for Spider-Man that isn’t talked about or shown off, and we’re given it in an issue whose purpose is to introduce a different costume for Spider-Man. What’s going on there?

I’ve got two guesses! Maybe you could look this up somewhere, but guessing is fun. One is that Romita Jr designed this costume for the ‘Identity Crisis’ event without it having been explained to him that the concept wasn’t ‘four different Spider-Mans’ but ‘Spider-Man dressed up as four different people who aren’t Spider-Man.’ The mix-up having left him with a spare spider-look, he decided to get some use out of it here whether the story called for it or not. Does that sound plausible? I don’t blame him at all if that’s how it went. This costume really is pretty cool. Monochrome Spider-Man outfits are almost always onto a winner – the symbiote costume, the Future Foundation costume – and this is no exception.

My other guess would be that JRJR was maybe just trying to put off drawing the Dusk costume for as long as possible because it’s a bit shit. It’s a featureless silhouette, such as could only be of any possible interest as a move in the Anish Kapoor/Stuart Semple artwar, and it’s got those stupid flying squirrel wings that join your arms to your legs. You know the things – Banshee has them sometimes and Spider-Man threatens to go that way whenever his armpit webs are getting out of hand. Here they’re even worse than usual. Take a silhouette, join its arms to its legs by big flaps of material, and put it in an action pose and all you’ve got’s a big ol’ blob. Monochrome Spider-Man outfits are almost always onto a winner and this is the exception.

I might hate the Dusk blob but it means a lot to the people of Tarsuu, the planet within the Negative Zone where all this is going on. There’s a heroic rebellion against an evil empire underway round those parts and Dusk was its inspirational leader until he went missing and a second Dusk took on the identity. That second Dusk  gets wounded in this story and passes the identity to Peter. At this point you’ve probably got suspicious that this is all a bit like the Dread Pirate Roberts from The Princess Bride and that there’s no single individual who is the authentic ‘Dusk’, just a myth and a lineage. Doesn’t seem to be the case though. The leader of the evil empire understands his opponent to be a singular, recognisable individual and the later Dusks to be imposters. The second Dusk believes that the first is out there somewhere, that he’s just keeping his seat warm, and his final words are an unheard repetition of his plea that Peter find the true Dusk.

So becoming Dusk, as it’s explained to Peter, doesn’t mean that you actually become Dusk. Just that you take on his responsibilities and the further responsibility of having a look round to see where the original’s gone. Which I think makes what he does next a little bit rude.

He deals a big blow to the evil empire, which is helpful. Then he gives a speech to the grateful rebels about how Dusk will always be with them when their need is greatest, which is a big fib but also probably helpful. Then he vamooses back to Earth, which is fair enough as it would have been a big ask for “Dusk fights an endless war across the Negative Zone” to be the new status quo of the Spider-Man titles, but the least he could have done is leave the costume behind for a fourth Dusk to stick on. The very least! What’s he need it for back on Earth? He can get new identities just by rummaging around charity shops and gluing on comedy noses, while these beleaguered rebels are short a mythic figurehead now he’s run off with their vantablack pyjamas! What a dick.

Look at what goes through his mind regarding the Dusk role. As he leaves Tarsuu everyone’s cheering him and he’s loving it. As, still dressed as Dusk, he returns to New York with some rescued kids then everyone there is cheering him and he’s loving that too. “I don’t mind basking in a little hero worship for a change,” he tells SHOC. Peter ends this issue thinking about how much he likes being Dusk because everyone likes Dusk.  But once ‘Identity Crisis’ starts then he’ll opt to play Dusk as a sinister crook and disgust himself so much that he’ll start showering excessively. Starting to suspect this boy doesn’t want to be happy.      

Someone else inherits this identity after Peter, so maybe she eventually returns to Tarsuu, finds the original Dusk and sorts it all out. Looking her up, it seems like she falls off a roof and dies in her first appearance so it doesn’t sound too promising.  

TWO

There’s a lot of overlap between the world of Spider-Man and the world of the Fantastic Four and many team-up stories explore that, but there’s another sort of Spidey/FF adventure that works by putting Spider-Man in the parts of their world that are not part of his. Often those stories are written by Dan Slott and often they’re my favourites.

I’m thinking of things like that abortive trip to ‘a weird dimension’ from Spider-Man/Human Torch #2 or the two different jaunts to the Macroverse we see in Amazing Spider-Man #590-1. Stories that have the Fantastic Four going about their most generic day to day work of travelling to new realities with different laws of physics and finding themselves in circumstances where they have to decide the fate of entire alien civilisations, some of which will probably be some kind of techno-barbarians who’ve glued canons to big lizards. The sort of FF stories that can become very overfamiliar, but defamiliarised by having Peter Parker along to be freaked out by it all.

HTFGjaunt  

Beyond having Spider-Man be alarmed and refreshed by the technobabble and the Kirby dots, stories that contrast his life with the Fantastic Four’s tend to want us to notice two big differences; Scale and integration. Swapping jobs for a day in that Spider-Man/Human Torch issue then Peter wishes Johnny good luck with saving the city and Johnny tells him he’ll need good luck with saving the universe. We’ll investigate scale below, but the basic idea of having Spider-Man visit somewhere called ‘the macroverse’ is obviously to put forward the idea that he’s stepping into a bigger world.

Integration’s where the real emotional stakes are in contrasting Spider-Man’s life with theirs. His life is defined by a harsh separation of its components and by the horrors that arise from his struggles and failures to keep those walls up. The Fantastic Four’s lives are defined by the absence of those walls. Being adventurers and being a family are the same thing for the FF, family is the word for the adventure they’re on, and so there’s a real poignancy in seeing Peter Parker on a Fantastic Four adventure. They’re inviting him into their family, where they all have reasons to want him, and there are limits to the extent to which he’s capable of accepting. Limits set by his inability to imagine living one life where the pieces fit together. Imagining being five different people is easier for him than that.       

Spider-Man #90 has almost all the features of a story in which Spidey tags along on an FF romp. We open on Yancy Street, part of their New York, not his. Mary Jane immediately understands that they’ve stepped out of their personal story space and opens the issue with the words, “I told you we shouldn’t have gone walking in this part of town.” Sure enough, this part of town soon leads us to the Distortion Field, and the Negative Zone, and Blastaar the Living Bomb-Burst and having to decide the fate of entire alien civilisations, and everything short of techno-barbarians gluing canons to big lizards.  As soon as he swings down on to Yancy Street then, other than a brief appearance by SHOC, everything he encounters originates from, or is typical of, the Fantastic Four mythos. Spider-Man spends none of this issue in a Spider-Man story.

One odd thing though. The Fantastic Four aren’t in this comic anywhere.

That’s annoyingly disruptive for the rules I’ve chosen for what this project is and isn’t supposed to cover, but really interesting in terms of what it reveals. How does Spider-Man cope with a Fantastic Four crossover to which only he’s shown up?

The answer is “Um…kind of…better?” Or at least with much more comfort and confidence. Part of that is because they’re with him in spirit as a knowledge base; He can remember what Reed once told him about surviving the Distortion Area. He can remember what Johnny once told him about fighting Blastaar. With all these facts in his head he breezes through this issue with aplomb, leaping between worlds and toppling empires without breaking a sweat. He has a lovely time and everyone’s very pleased with him.

If Spider-Man’s life contrasts with the Fantastic Four’s in terms of scale and integration then it’s clearly not the scale part that spins him out. He ignites flames of revolution that burn from world to world without really stopping to reflect that this is an unusual day’s work for him. When it does register then it’s with mild approval. “This is cool! I get to fly… and have an entire world singing my praises!” is as reflective as he gets.  

Spider-Man can step out of his life and into the Fantastic Four’s and it doesn’t rattle him at all. As long as they’re not there. As long as there’s nothing to remind him that the parts of one’s life are parts of a whole.  

THREE

In Onslaught/Heroes Reborn, as I find myself summarising most weeks, the Fantastic Four and the Avengers died, only to be somehow transferred across to a new universe of Franklin’s creation. A lot of things happened and then they sailed back to their original lives in a big space boat.

I am fascinated by every trivial detail surrounding the journey in that big space boat. It feels to me like such a strange and poetic move between the physical and the metaphysical. The heroes who Franklin initially shunted over into his world have different bodies and minds to those that died in their own, so if we grant that he really did save anyone then he can only have done so as an essence distinct from both physicality and consciousness. Those who entered Franklin’s world did so as souls. Then they left it by all physically getting on a big space boat.

How they reenter their original universe is not consistent. The boat explodes and the heroes return home at different times, in different places, with different mental health problems and with differing levels of memory regarding the alternate lives they’ve just lived. Nobody just passes from one world to another as a stable object; They’re run through Google Translate and then run back through it again the other way.

This comic is unusual in that it addresses Spider-Man having been on that boat.

Spider-Man didn’t die in Onslaught, nor did he get reborn in Heroes Reborn. He was kind of just along for the ride. Heroes Reborn: The Return saw him accidentally dragged into Franklin’s universe because he was holding the Hulk’s hair while the Hulk was being accidentally dragged in. Once there he performed his plot function of being an independent witness who could confirm to the Avengers and Fantastic Four that a bigger world existed and they were all from it. Then he stood politely in the background as he caught a lift home. He was with the Avengers and the Fantastic Four as they returned. He was on the boat when it exploded in the gulf between realities.

Then next we see him, in relation to these events, is in Marvel Team-Up #6, where it’s still the night of the Heroes return but now Peter is sat at home learning about it with Mary Jane. She’s keen for details and he’s not really got any to give, unable to recall what Franklin’s universe was, how anyone got there in the first place, or who made it back. The most he can manage is to say that it was “Weird. Very weird.” We don’t know how he got from that inter-reality explosion to that sofa, but the process seems to have left him with less than perfect recall of the details. Then, in Amazing Spider-Man #360, we see him swinging about shouting “They’re alive! They’re really alive!” as if this is information which he’s either only just learned or only just been convinced of. Everything suggests that, for Spider-Man, his late game involvement with Heroes Reborn has been left as a bit of a blur.

Here, however, he seems well appraised of the specifics. Passing through the Distortion Area, he thinks to himself, “I recognise [this] place. Made a trip through it not too long ago… during the return of the heroes from that strange universe. I think I heard Reed Richards call this the Distortion Field. A Portion of subspace where matter is converted into anti-matter and vice versa.”

What’s interesting about this isn’t the inconsistency but rather the consistency with how Heroes Reborn frames the Negative Zone. In Heroes Reborn it’s the place you go to remember things that happened to you outside of your life. The Reborn Fantastic Four visited there from inside Franklin’s universe, met Blastaar the Living Bomb-Burst, and received visions of their lives in their previous continuity. These visions changed Sue, who would continue to dream of a son she’d met but never had. Later, Reed proves to Tony Stark that their lives aren’t what they thought they were by getting him to carbon date some old rock; dating it within the world showed it to be a sensible age for some old rock to be, but taking it outside of the world and into the Negative Zone to run the test showed it to be less than a year old.       

If the logic of Heroes Reborn positions the Negative Zone as a figurative space between the Fantastic Four’s two lives, the logic of the boat trip home goes further, making it the literal gulf between the two realities in a complex multidimensional geography that brings in the Distortion Area and the literal boundaries of Franklin’s imagination and invokes the Microverse. All these bits of what Sandman calls “psychic real estate” are rezoned as places to be traversed in the act of translating yourself from one person to another. The Negative Zone is established as a space between who you are and who you aren’t. As places to acquire a new identity go, it’s at least as good as the rubber nose factory.    

FOUR

Some things become absurd when you try and systematise them (I’m reading every Fantastic Four comic and posting four thoughts on each). ComicVine’s summary of Fantastic Four #29, for example, lists the issue as featuring four different ‘teams’; The Fantastic Four, the Yancy Street Gang, Super-Apes, and Communists.

That FF issue is titled ‘It Started on Yancy Street…’ while this Spider-Man issue is titled ‘It Started on Yancy Street…Again!” but what event is recurring? Can’t find any Super-Apes or Communists round here.

They’re all over Fantastic Four #29 though. Especially the letters page, the story pages serving almost as a prequel to its debate over how Fantastic Four should address the Red Menace. Alex Nicholson from Nashville wants to see the FF continue to be pitted “against the forces of Communism, which is a much bigger threat to our nation than crime is” while Jim Gibson from Santa Rosa reckons that the book “should quit cutting down the Soviet Socialistic Republic’s leaders.” Jim is concerned that Fantastic Four might start to look a little like propaganda. Surely not!

As ever, the story itself has no interest in considering or discussing Communism as anything other than a Foreign Threat. It likes the idea that it’s Totalitarian, because that’s a bit like Nazis, but that’s about as concerned as it gets with any ideological critique.  But the story is very interested in puzzling through questions such as those raised by Nicholson from Nashville’s letter. Who should the Fantastic Four be fighting? Nicholson’s approach to answering the question is to consider various real world threats (“Crime! The Commies!”) and rank them in order of danger, with the FF best advised to direct their efforts against the most severe. That’s fine as far as it goes, but is sod all help in working out how they should prioritise time travelling Pharaohs and pranksters from the planet Poppup. Where do they fit on your national threat scale, eh Nicholson?

As Superman says in JLA Classified #3, superheroes live in a complex world. Comicvine has it right; Fantastic Four #29 has the Fantastic Four, a street gang, communists and super apes. It has all those things and a real interest in sussing out how they fit together. Does Spider-Man #90 have similar interests, or it it happier to live in the desert of the toybox? Let’s play both stories out alongside each other.

The Spider-Man of Ninety Ninety-Eight visits Yancy Street to investigate some Algerian cuisine he’s read about. The Fantastic Four of Nineteen Sixty-Four visit there to investigate a drastic rise in crime they’ve read about. One is under the impression that they’re someone who gets to go out for a nice meal and the other under the impression that they’re suited to investigating urban crime. Both are swiftly disabused of these notions, Spider-Man by witnessing some teenagers being dragged into another reality and the Fantastic Four by having some cabbages and things thrown at them. Spider-Man throws himself into the portal and the Fantastic Four just go home to have a think.

It starts on Yancy Street for both of them , but it leads them to very different places. On arriving in the Negative Zone, Peter clocks the space war that’s going on around him and thinks, “A good old-fashioned, George Lucas inspired, rebels versus the evil empire rebellion is taking place.” He’s keen to pitch in but unable to tell which side’s which. “Oops! Problem solved!” he says a panel later, “The bad guys would be the ones blasting the buildings with women and children.” His conclusions are shown to be uncannily correct, right down to the rebels being called ‘The Rebels’ and the empire being called ‘The Empire.’

Peter’s journey has two stops; from Yancy Street to the Negative Zone. The Fantastic Four’s has several. From Yancy Street back home to look up who might be behind all this in their Big Book of Baddies, then back to Yancy Street to fight Super-Apes, then to the Moon, then to the Watcher’s home. Each move comes with an escalation of scale; our first visit to Yancy Street deals with spiralling crime so petty that it would be truer to say the area has seen an alarming rise in the prevalence of pranks, our second visit deals with a Communist plot enacted with the help of super-apes, and from there the sky’s the limit.

“Let me warn you that this ship works on magnetic power and can be controlled only by my orangutan!” cautions the Red Ghost, and you’re not going to read a better sentence than that today. Magnets and monkeys lift us off to the moon, where our concerns eventually move beyond the solar system as the Watcher shows off his treasures from other galaxies and our dastardly communist foe falls through one of them and off into infinity.

That’s a move from the criminal, to the super-criminal, to global politics, to the solar system, to intergalactic space, to a vastness beyond knowing; Fantastic Four #29 but every time it gets faster. What’s remarkable though is, as we shift scales, everything remains in play. There’s a little of this in the Spider-Man comic. Peter found himself in the Negative Zone because of his attempt to rescue those teenagers and so, when the rebel leader asks him what he’s doing there, he answers “the protection of innocents” and the rebel leader concludes they are in the same line of work. But other than the endorsement of this uncontroversial principle, there’s no interpolation of the two worlds. Peter is not left with any impetus to fight crime on Tarsuu or incite revolutions on Earth. It starts on Yancy Street, but it will not continue there.

The Fantastic Four issue is the very opposite, in that story then everything is part of everything. Supervillainous microdrones buzz unnoticed around Yancy Street. Familial proximity to supervillains forces Ben to reevaluate his love life. The Russian space program begets super-apes. Super-apes fund street crime. The Fantastic Four may operate more effectively at certain scales, as they abandon their efforts at community policing Johnny comments that he hopes Spider-Man never hears of it, but once again it’s less a matter of scale than of integration. Because what happens on this one New York street happens because of Space Gods and the Cold War and what happens to Space Gods and in the Cold War happens because of one New York street. It starts on Yancy Street and it never leaves.

       

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