“We Are Venom” – Bonding with My Favorite Monster

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.

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A.X.E.: Judgment Day – Seeking a Plan for the End of the World

Unexpectedly, I can’t stop thinking about Kieron Gillen (writer) and Valerio Schiti (artist)’s A.X.E.: Judgement Day.  It’s unexpected because, while I love Gillen as a writer and adore Schiti’s art, of the three teams involved, I only regularly read Avengers.  I often avoid team books (as they lead to lots of tie-ins) but I read Avengers because I’ll read anything Jason Aaron writes.  However, I didn’t expect this story to connect to his run (and it didn’t).  Then, while I feel Eternals is the most gorgeously shot Marvel movie yet, I’ve never read any Eternals comics – now or in my youth.  Lastly, I LOVED the X-Men as a kid but I’ve really struggled to find a story to pull me back into the mutant world since returning to reading comics in 2015.  I dropped X-Men: Gold (Vol. 2) by issue #6.  I dug X-Men: Red (Vol. 1) but the run ended before I knew it existed.  I’ve tried to read Jonathan Hickman’s House of X and Powers of X twice but lost interest a few issues in each time.  Maybe I can’t go home again with the X-Men :/.  So, I was intrigued by the idea but didn’t expect this story to really grab me.  OH MY GOSH WAS I WRONG.  I’ve read it twice (once as it came out monthly and then all at once) and can’t stop thinking about what I’d do if I knew the world was going to end tomorrow.  See??  How can a story with a hook like that not captivate me?!?

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When She-Hulk Met Santa Claus! – A “What Christmas Means To Me” Reflection

A few years ago, Stevie Wonder’s “What Christmas Means To Me” came on as I listened to Christmas carols while decorating.  It led me to reflect (reflectin’ and decoratin’ and dancin’ to Christmas carols made for a great night!) which in turn led to a series where I ruminated on what Christmas means to me, using various Doctor Who Christmas specials as a frame for the reflection.  It turns out – just like Stevie sings about, “All these things and more, darling (all these things and more)” – Christmas means a lot of things to me, too!  ‘Tis the season for me to watch and read Christmas-y things and write about all Christmas means to me.  First up this year is The Sensational She-Hulk #8.  For many, writer/artist John Byrne’s quirky, eccentric, fourth-wall demolishing version of Jen Walters/She-Hulk is the definitive version of the character.  Keeping in line with the wacky and unpredictable hijinks of the title, its eighth issue saw Shulkie literally team-up with Santa Claus to convict a serial killer.  Nothing says “Christmas” like a ho-ho-homicide conviction!

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Spider-Man and Anna Maria Marconi: The Healing Power of Love

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.  

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The Ol’ Parker Luck – OR – Why It’s Good to Have a Friend Like Spider-Man

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.

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Spider-Man and Lily Hollister: She’s My Best Friend’s Girl

Harry’s been a friend.  You know he’s been a good friend of mine.  But lately something’s changed, it’ ain’t hard to define.  Harry’s got himself a girl and I wanna make her mine.  It’s time for the latest installment in my series using only Spider-Man comics to examine the variety of romantic archetypes we find in literature (illustrating the variety of romantic experiences we find in life)!  Here we see Peter in a good place.  His best friend Harry Osborn is alive!  Harry’s returned from an extended stay in Europe where he got sober.  He’s in a new relationship with Lily Hollister, a girl he really likes.  He’s starting his own business out from under the cruel shadow of his infamous father.  He and Lily are trying to fix Peter up with her best friend, Carlie.  There’s so much to celebrate!!!  Oh, and Peter also kinda has a thing for Lily.  He thinks she’s cute.  In fact, he thinks she’s a “knockout.”  In fact, he kinda struggles with not thinking about her.  But it happens, right?  While the significant other of a best friend should set our Bad Idea Sense tingling, sometimes we can’t help but be drawn to them anyway.  Oh Peter, tread carefully here…     

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Daredevil’s Violent Vocation: God’s Calling or the Justification of Man?

Sometimes I’m surprised I’ve not written of Daredevil before.  I spend a lot of time thinking, talking, and writing about the intersection of comic books and theology and teach theology at a Catholic Mercy school and am a lifelong Catholic.  So Matt Murdock/Daredevil feels like a character made for me.  A lawyer by day who lost his sight as a child, Matt uses the radar sense he gained, along with his extensive martial arts training, to protect the people of Hell’s Kitchen as Daredevil.  As Marvel’s most prominent Catholic character, his faith and his relationship with God influence all areas of his life, superheroing included.  He attends Mass.  He goes to confession.  His parish priest and nuns are trusted natural supports.  But I never “got” Daredevil.  My brother David loved him but I wasn’t interested.  He felt like a bargain basement Spider-Man (when quippy) or bargain basement Batman (when dour).  Then I began reading Chip Zdarsky (writer) and Marco Checchetto (main artist on the run)’s Daredevil and OH. MY. GOSH.  I get it now!  Twenty-seven issues in and I love it!  A major story beat is Matt discerning God’s will in his life and, naturally, I was excited to explore this myself.  Is Daredevil’s vocation divinely ordained or an example of someone trying to sanctify their all-too-human violence in God’s name?

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AHHHHH!!! – OR – Reflections on Dan Slott’s Return to Writing Spider-Man

It’s like Marvel knows it’s my Birthday Week!  On July 1st it was announced Dan Slott will be returning to write a new monthly Spider-Man book – the adjective-less Spider-Man, which first debuted in my youth as a vehicle for the artist/writer Todd McFarlane in August of 1990 – this October.  Dan Slott was part of of the Webhead Braintrust of writers who launched Spider-Man’s “Brand New Day” Era in January 2008 alongside Marc Guggenheim, Bob Gale, and Zeb Wells and grew to include Mark Waid, Joe Kelly, Fred Van Lente, Roger Stern, Brian Reed, and Tom Peyer before BND ended in November 2010.  He then took over as solo writer for The Amazing Spider-Man which he wrote from that November’s #648 through June 2018’s #801.  Dan Slott can be a bit of a divisive writer among Spider-fans so I wanted to take this chance to reflect a bit on his writing and why I’m pretty excited for the return of such an amazing (heh) Spider-Man writer.  THWIP onward for Spider-Reflections!

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What If You Woke Up to the Wrong World?: A Heroes Reborn Reflection/Discussion

Jason Aaron took over the writing duties on Avengers in May of 2018.  His Avengers roster boasted one of the most powerful lineups in the team’s history, with T’Challa/the Black Panther serving as the Avengers’ chairperson and Steve Rogers/Captain America, Jennifer Walters/She-Hulk, Thor Odinson, Tony Stark/Iron Man, Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel, and Avengers newcomer Robbie Reyes/Ghost Rider filling their roster.  Soon, Blade the Vampire Hunter would join their ranks.  Their headquarters is the body of a dead Celestial, a race of cosmic space gods responsible for the creation of much of the universe, located in the unforgiving terrain of Antarctica and imbued with all sorts of universe-shaping tech.  T’Challa’s Agents of Wakanda, led by Okoye, fill the information gathering and covert action void for the Avengers in a post-S.H.I.E.L.D. world.  Together they have battled Celestials, waded into a vampire civil war, faced the Phoenix force’s return to Earth for a new host, halted Namor’s holy war against a pollution-spewing surface world, and juggled the always-mounting international tensions as all countries of the world wonder whose interests the Avengers serve.

Then one morning Blade woke up to a world where the Avengers never formed and he was the only one who remembered the way it was supposed to be.  And I can’t stop thinking about this!

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Spider-Man and Danielle: Wait…Is This A Date?

The time has come for this 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) to hit LUCKY NUMBER THIRTEEN!!!  What lays ahead to consider in ol’ Peter Parker’s romantic misadventures?  Only one of the most vexing (and potentially awkward) of all romantic quandaries – how do you know if you’re actually on a date with someone or not?  Warning: Reading this piece may yield spontaneous full-body shame cringes which involuntarily rise when we remember awkward memories so proceed with caution.  If there’s one thing looking at all Peter Parker’s romantic exploits teaches us, it’s we’re never alone when it comes to awkwardly pursuing love.  When the web-head meets Danielle, the woman working at a jewelry store he returns stolen diamonds to in the all love stories-oriented Amazing Spider-Man #605, sparks fly.  Emotions run high.  She actually talks to him.  It’s a tractor beam – vzzzzzzzt – and it sucks Peter right in.  But, regardless of sparks and emotions we feel when we meet someone new, how do you know when your hanging out has become a real date?  

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