Zeb Wells and John Romita Jr. kicked off their Amazing Spider-Man #1 (Vol. 6) in April of 2022 with a six month time jump in the narrative. Mary Jane Watson and Peter Parker, reunited as a couple in Nick Spencer’s run on Amazing Spider-Man (starting in July 2018), had broken up. Peter was despondent and angry. Everyone was angry with Peter, too – Aunt May, Randy Robertson, even the Fantastic Four and Captain America. MJ wasn’t taking his calls. Creditors were hounding him. He was working for Norman Osborn! Most shocking of all, Mary Jane was living with her new partner, Paul…and their two kids. It was certainly a jaw-dropping reveal at the end of Wells and Romita’s first issue. Now, a year later, the gaps are being filled in with Amazing Spider-Man #21-25. Why did Peter and Mary Jane break-up? Who is Paul? Why is everyone angry with Peter? What happened in those six months? Will Mary Jane and Peter get back together?? For me, a bigger question has been on my mind since I first saw Stephanie and Owen run into her arms at the end of that issue: Should Mary Jane even be with Peter in the first place?
Note, this piece contains plot spoilers for Amazing Spider-Man #21-25.
A few weeks ago I wrote about how, as the X-Men were crossing over with Spider-Man in last December’s Dark Web event, I decided to go back and read four years worth of the Krakoa Era of X-Men comics. It’s the first time I’ve read X-Men comics regularly since the ‘90s and I’m following X-Force, Marauders, New Mutants, Excalibur-cum-Knights of X, and, of course, X-Men. Presently I’m up to August 2022 in all those titles so I’m almost ready to read Dark Web! To say I’ve encountered a few new characters along the way is to put it mildly. To say I’ve encountered so many new characters it’s given me whiplash and I sometimes wonder if authors are just making up names to mess with new/old readers like me because there is NO WAY this many new characters could’ve popped up in the twenty-five years since I last read X-Men comics feels closer to the truth. One of the (many) new characters was Laura Kinney/Wolverine. As she appeared in the pages of X-Men and New Mutants I felt a pull between what I’d’ve done as a kid and how I’ve learned to read comics now. So, how was I to meet Laura? How do I get to know Wolverine? I decided to take a breath, set aside those new habits, and read like a kid again. I kind of loved it! And it illuminated an interesting comparison for me about how we tend to consume narratives today.
The modern superhero was born with Superman and the release of Action Comics #1 in June of 1938 began the Golden Age of Comic Books. None of the superhero comics, movies, TV shows, or video games we have today would exist as we know them if not for Superman. He was the foundation on which everything else was built. This new series nicks it’s title from Frank Miller’s seminal 1987 work Batman: Year One, in which Miller reimagines the origins of the Dark Knight in a darker, grittier fashion. Retelling and reimagining superhero origins is something both DC and Marvel love to do. But in this series I’m examining the actual first year of a superhero’s comic to get a sense for who they were when they first captured our cultural attention. What feels familiar? What feels different? In the case of Superman in particular, it’s often observed that he’s “too powerful,” “too unrelatable,” “too morally pure to be interesting.” That seems…unlikely to me. How can any character with 85 years of stories across all pop culture mediums not resonate? But let’s do our due diligence and see what Superman’s year one reveals about the character who birthed a genre.
Here we are folks, the sixteenth installment in this series using only Spider-Man comics to talk about the variety of romantic archetypes we find in literature (mirroring the variety of romantic experiences we have in life). Who would’ve thought I’d be able to milk sixteen different articles out of this?? The series is old enough to drive now! (I mean, if each individual piece represented a year (but I do more than one a year (but I did start this back in 2017 so it’s been going for over five years (which is still pretty impressive!))).) Here we’re going to examine the intersection of some SERIOUS forces in the world of comic books. Spider-Man – Marvel’s most iconic character! Chris Claremont – one of the most iconic comic writers of all time! Cissy Ironwood – a love interest Chris Claremont created specifically for Peter Parker when he was writing Marvel Team-Up in 1979 which…uh, went nowhere. And that’s why I love Cissy and Peter as a couple! In our romantic exploits we all have those relationships which seemed to have so much potential but just never went anywhere. They inexplicably disappear and become someone friends may ask about, years later, wondering, “Hey, whatever happened to…”
It’s Tuesday March 8th – International Women’s Day 2023! Once again I’ve teamed with other bloggers – Kalie of Just Dread-full, Nancy of Graphic Novelty2, and Jeff of The Imperial Talker – to celebrate some of our favorite female characters in all of fiction. In a wave of ‘90s nostalgia I decided to write about Xena this year. How has it taken me five years of doing this series to get to Xena?!!? Xena: Warrior Princess ran for 134 episodes over six seasons from 1995 through 2001. Starring Lucy Lawless as Xena and Renee O’Connor as her best friend Gabrielle, the show took hold of pop culture in a way few things have in my lifetime. It left a lasting impression, too. As I told everyone who I was writing about this year I kept getting the best responses. “Ahh! I loved that show!” “She was my hero!” “I loved Xena!” “I watched her show all the time!” With Xena: Warrior Princess premiering when I was in seventh grade, Xena wasn’t just an iconic character for me; she was also archetypal. In many ways, Xena formed my understanding of a “fearless female hero.” She was my first fully fleshed out example. She wasn’t part of an ensemble cast. She wasn’t guest starring in another male hero’s show. Xena rode alone (well, with Gabrielle of course!) and there was nothing she couldn’t do.
So I invite you, dear reader, to wander down this road of memories with me as I celebrate one of the most iconic and important heroes I’ve ever met. (And if you wanna let out your best rendition of Xena’s famous warrior yell as we go, feel free! I won’t tell anyone ;D. I’ve been doing it again for weeks now, too.)
We have an interesting relationship with the fictional characters we love, don’t we? I can divide my life into eras with them. He-Man and She-Ra. The Ghostbusters. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer. Duncan MacLeod, the Highlander. Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Han Solo, and Chewbacca. Neo, Trinity, and Morpheus. The Gilmore girls. Sydney Bristow and all her aliases. The Doctor. Fleabag. The list goes on but they are the most important :). Loving comic books since I was three-years-old, there are obviously many superheroes who land on that list. Recently, my mind wandered to the superheroes most important to me. Three came clearly and quickly to mind and, as I thought about each, deep feelings of love and gratitude for all they’ve given me began to fill my heart. So with those feelings still moving within me, I figured it would be fun to examine why those characters are so important to me.
Years ago, out to lunch with one of my best friends, he made an observation, “You know, I think you’d be happy never getting married. You’re comfortable on your own. You don’t need someone else to enjoy life. But if you get married, I think you’ll marry a single mother. Lots of guys wouldn’t. Lots of people avoid dating single parents. But you don’t. You’re good with kids. You love kids and you’d love her kids, which would be great for everyone.” While this friend knew me better than most (at the time, we’ve lost touch a bit), he rarely weighed in on my personal life. So it was unexpected but I didn’t disagree. It felt authentic. Still, I’d’ve never guessed this would be a bridge to see a little of myself in the Joker :8. Gah! The Clown Prince of Crime. The Harlequin of Hate. The Jester of Genocide. The King of Arkham Asylum. This is the guy – thanks to HBO Max’s mind-bendingly brilliant and sensationally subversive Harley Quinn – I’m now empathizing with?? Color me surprised.
This week Kalie guest lectured for my MARVELous Justice course, my class which uses comic books and comic book movies to examine social justice issues and the Sisters of Mercy’s Critical Concerns in particular. Kalie is getting her PhD in literary criticism, with her focus on the mad monster. I’ve asked her to come in a few times to give my students an introduction to Monster Theory so they can add it to the avenues of analysis we use for the comics and films we explore. As part of her presentation, Kalie always asks my class what their favorite childhood monster was and why they liked it. The first time I heard her ask this question, I found myself lost in thought. What was my favorite monster as a kid? Did I even have one? I never liked being scared, that’s for sure. The answer hit in a bolt of clarity! What an easy question! It’s no contest! My favorite monster was Venom. As soon as Eddie Brock bonded with the symbiote, I was hooked. I love Venom! I adore Venom! Looking at my relationship with this monster as I followed along with Kalie’s lesson taught me a lot about myself, too.
Welcome to the fifteenth installment in my series using only Spider-Man comics to explore the variety of romantic archetypes we find in literature (illustrating the variety of romantic experiences we find in life)! This time we’re looking at one of the most prominent themes around romantic love – how love heals, how the right person’s love can save us. When I began this series I made myself a promise. No alternate reality Peter Parkers. No movies. No TV shows. No other comic universes. I’d explore Peter Parker’s romantic exploits in Marvel’s main 616 universe and when I had exhausted those relationships, the series would end. Anna Maria Marconi will date Peter Parker in the 616 universe…but she dates “Peter” when he’s dead and his archenemy Otto Octavius/Dr. Octopus is controlling his body. So she dated Doc Ock even though she thought she was dating Peter. I’m including their relationship as a) it’s a significant one in the 616, b) the reader alone knows it isn’t Peter, and c) most important of all, their relationship illustrates something about love Peter Parker himself isn’t yet mature enough to find on his own. It’s a trope that can’t be ignored when writing about love so here we are. Otto’s time as the Superior Spider-Man is one of comics’ greatest redemption stories. Reflecting on the role romantic love plays in his salvation helps us consider the role such love plays in our own healing and growth, too.
With Fall 2022 having officially arrived just days ago, I find myself a little over a month into the new school year, my twelfth year teaching. Over the last decade I’ve gathered a few traditions to accompany the start of each new year. One of my favorites (and most helpful!) is a Spider-Man binge-reading session. Each year I pick a particular author and era (or two (or three or four)) and dive into the world of The Amazing Spider-Man. Teaching can be stressful and exhausting so, as summer falls away and work resumes, I find comfort in the familiar. I’ve had a longer relationship with Spider-Man than any other fictional character, getting my first Spidey comic when I was three-years-old and still loving him now. Plus, it’s nice to spend my night laughing when my days get harder and few characters have a better q.p.a average (quips-per-adventure, obvs.) than Peter Parker/Spider-Man. But I’ve realized there’s more to it than that. One of the most important reasons I turn to Spidey when school resumes is because of the ol’ Parker Luck.