Black Widow: A Comic Book Retrospective – the ‘80s and ‘90s

On the heels of the first trailer for Avengers: Infinity War, a conversation with Kiri (of Star Wars Anonymous) about whether or not Black Widow had ever been blonde in the comics showed me how shamefully few of her comics I’d read.  Naturally, I took the next logical step – I waaaay overcommitted and have spent over two years now figuring out a reading list, finding the titles, and then reading my way through decades of Black Widow stories.  Three months back, I wrote a piece looking at Natasha’s most important appearances in the ‘60s and ‘70s.  Now it’s time to dive into the ‘80s and ‘90s as I continue my little journey through her comic book history, from Natasha’s first appearance in Tales of Suspense #52 (1964) to her most recent miniseries, The Web of Black Widow (2019-20). Continue reading

Ghost Rider – A Vision of the Spirit of Vengeance in 2020

As a character, the Ghost Rider fascinates me.  But, with the exception of the ‘90s Spirits of Vengeance title that teamed the Dan Ketch-possessed-Ghost Rider with his (then) demon-free first host Johnny Blaze, I’ve read very few of his comics.  Looking back, outside of movies like Ghostbusters 2 (which scared the $#!T out of me), Spirits of Vengeance was really my first foray into horror.  Well, horror-lite.  Well, horror-lite for a comic book.  Well, after I’ve come to enjoy things like Penny Dreadful, It Follows, and The Shining and have had to endure horrors like Hereditary (WORST THING EVER), I wouldn’t really call Spirits of Vengeance “horror” anymore.  It’s more a supernatural thriller.  But for young me, it was the first time I willingly and intentionally entered the (Ghostbusters-free) world of demons, possessions, and fiery hellscapes.  Lately, I’ve found myself thinking of the Ghost Rider.  A lot.  I can’t stop imagining what shape this Spirit of Vengeance would take if it flamed into being in 2020. Continue reading

Black Widow: A Comic Book Retrospective – the ‘60s and ‘70s

Before Avengers: Infinity War came out I was having a conversation with Kiri (of Star Wars Anonymous).  We were discussing several aspects of the trailer, including Black Widow being blonde.  Was it because Cap and his band of Avengers were undercover and off the grid?  Was it because, as their time in the MCU was coming to a close, Scarlett Johansson got to be a blonde Black Widow as Chris Evans got to be a bearded Captain America, more closely resembling their real life looks?  Kiri said she didn’t remember ever reading a blonde Black Widow in the comics when she was a kid.  Nor did I.  During the conversation I realized the number of comics starring Natasha Romanoff – the Black Widow – I had read was shamefully small.  One thing led to another and, as usual, I overcommitted.  What follows is the first part of a little journey through Natasha’s comic book history, from her first appearance in Tales of Suspense #52 (1964) to her most recent miniseries, The Web of Black Widow (2019-20). Continue reading

Goodbye Squirrel Girl, Thank You for Everything

Once upon a time, Mom bought li’l three-year-old me a copy of Web Of Spider-Man #12 at the grocery store.  So began a lifelong love affair with the character Spider-Man, the medium of comic books, and the world of superheroes.  When I turned sixteen my comic budget turned towards gas money.  But then, four years ago, I decided to return to my local comic shop and something magical happened.  I rediscovered an old love and found something I never expected in The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl.  This month Ryan North (writer), Derek Charm (artist), Rico Renzi (colorist), Travis Lanham (letter), and Wil Moss (editor) – with a surprise dash of Erica Henderson (artist) – have brought this remarkable title to an end.  That leaves me with a lot on my mind.  How do I say goodbye to something that’s come to mean so much to me?

There will be no significant spoilers for the final issue/arc here, just lots of feelings :). Continue reading

Spider-Man: Life Story – An Evocative Argument for Letting Superheroes Age

I’m not trying to be hyperbolic when I say, Spider-Man: Life Story is the future of the comic book industry.  Now I don’t mean to imply the comics industry as a whole is going to follow Chip Zdarsky’s elegant lead with every comic.  I’m just saying I think they should.  In Spider-Man: Life Story, Zdarsky (accompanied by my all-time favorite Spidey artist Mark Bagley (yay!)) explores what Peter Parker’s life could have been like had he aged naturally, with each issue of this six issue miniseries touching on one decade in Peter’s life.  For example issue #1 is set in 1966, four years after Peter was bitten by the radioactive spider (as Stan Lee and Steve Ditko created Spidey in 1962 (see how that works?)).  Issue #2 looks at the ‘70s and so on as Peter ages in real time.  He isn’t perpetually stuck in his late 20’s or early 30’s.  Four issues in, I’ll confidently say this will stand as one of the greatest Spider-Man stories ever told.  It’s the most interested I’ve been in Peter Parker’s adventures as Spider-Man in almost twenty years too.  In allowing Peter to age, Zdarsky has illustrated the hidden potential of the comic book genre. Continue reading

How To Top Thanos Vol. 1 – Annihilus

The first generation of the Marvel Cinematic Universe – now officially “The Infinity Saga”[1] – has come to a close with Avengers: Endgame.  While I’m only beginning to process all the film had to offer, I still can’t help imagining what will come next.  More Black Panther!  More Captain Marvel!  More Dr. Strange!  Plus we know there are movies in the works for new characters like the Eternals and Shang-Chi.[2]  But, as the name “Infinity Saga” implies, it’s not all about the heroes.  The name points towards the reality that the past eleven years and twenty-two films all led to our heroes’ iconic encounter with the Mad Titan Thanos, in an attempt to stop his destruction of half of all life with the Infinity Stones.  So, thinking of the future of the MCU naturally begs the question…what villain comes next?  Who can possibly follow Thanos??  My (first) guess?  Annihilus – the Living Death that Walks.  BOOM. Continue reading

Tony Stark – Marvel’s Cinematic Masterpiece

“Genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist” – with four words Joss Whedon defined the character of Tony Stark for a generation.  But it was never the words alone that transformed a b-level character into a worldwide icon and the anchor for a groundbreaking interconnected cinematic universe.  It was the man inside the armor delivering those lines.  While it’s easy to forget, eleven years and twenty-two films in, back in 2008 Marvel Studios was far from a sure thing.  Marvel had sold their most successful characters (Spider-Man, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four) to other studios and was left to make their own movies with their second tier.  Robert Downey Jr. made it work.  He incarnated Tony Stark perfectly, seamlessly blending cockiness and charisma, arrogance and vulnerability, snark and heart.  He presented a character who resonated and who meant something.  He carried the world of comic books into the mainstream on his armored shoulders, all but single-handedly paving the way for the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  No matter how much brilliance followed in his wake, this is why Tony Stark will always be Marvel’s cinematic masterpiece to me. Continue reading