Like many, I had feelings when I read Zeb Wells and John Romita Jr.’s Amazing Spider-Man #26 Wednesday evening. The feelings were such that they generated a piece just a few days after the comic came out. However, I don’t think they were the feelings the creative team intended (though I have no way of knowing for sure). So I figured a li’l piece to unpack those feelings and explore what happened in this issue was in order. Billed as a “monumental story” which would be “the most shocking issue of Amazing Spider-Man in fifty years,” the death of someone close to Peter Parker/Spider-Man was teased. Fifty years after the death of Gwen Stacy in Amazing Spider-Man #121, it appeared another tragedy was on the horizon. This all came to a head as Spidey, Ms. Marvel, the Gold Goblin, and the Fantastic Four battled to protect Mary Jane, her partner Paul, and their two children, Owen and Stephanie, from Rabin, the mathematician-cum-zealot-cum-would-be vessel of the demonic deity Wayep.
As one would expect, SPOILERS for Amazing Spider-Man #26 follow.
Though this story has been widely reported already so maybe they aren’t SPOILERS? Still, you’ve been warned.
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.
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.
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.
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?
I adore HBO Max’s Harley Quinn: The Animated Series. It fundamentally shifted my relationship with the character. Before I watched the show, I enjoyed Harley Quinn. After watching it, I began tracking down every Harley comic I could find! In the process, she became a very important character to me. Naturally, I was excited when I heard of Tee Franklin (writer) and Max Sarin (artist)’s Harley Quinn: The Animated Series: The Eat. BANG! Kill. Tour, billed as Season 2.5. The comic captures everything I love about the show and features serious character development for both Harley and Poison Ivy, something all too rare in stories set between films in a series or seasons of a TV show. This development, woven through a story with all the profanity, insanity, and hilarity you’d expect from Harley Quinn: The Animated Series, enriches the characters and serves as a beautiful model for readers. Any comic which can do all that while also including the line “Piss cakes of a dick” is a true gift :D.
This month marks the 80th Anniversary of Wonder Woman!!! I didn’t read her comics as a kid but Diana of Themyscria is a character who’s come to mean very much to me. As Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman (2017) was my gateway to Diana and her world, it felt apropos to mark this occasion by (finally) posting the piece I wrote after seeing Wonder Woman 1984. I LOVE the movies. Since I got my driver’s license, rarely more than a week went by in between trips to the theatre. However, after a 10:05 pm showing of Brahms: The Boy 2 on 7 March 2020, lockdown hit. So when I saw Wonder Woman 1984, it’d been over TEN MONTHS since I’d went to the movies. I wanted my return to be special and WW84 was the logical choice. I wasn’t disappointed! Wonder Woman 1984 was a worthy successor to the masterpiece that was Wonder Woman. Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot did it again! They captured lightning in a bottle twice…at least as far as I was concerned. I was stunned when I began talking to friends – close friends who often share my opinion of films – and learned not everyone felt the same. Some did, but some didn’t. Granting all art is subjective, I still became curious, wondering what they saw in this film. Many conversations followed and this piece was born of my side of those conversations. This is an exploration of all I see in WW84.
Which comics go in my file/pull list is a decision I ponder regularly. What must be read monthly in single issues? Which stories/characters/creators can’t wait? I ask myself this whenever I consider juggling the comics in my file because, well, money’s a thing and I only have so much for comics before they turn off my electricity and water and I use those all the time. Despite Spider-Man being the fictional character I’ve had the longest running relationship with, The Amazing Spider-Man is rarely on my pull list simply because I favor newer characters (or characters new to me). Miles Morales/Spider-Man or Cindy Moon/Silk or America Chavez or Jane Foster/Valkyrie don’t yet have as bedrock a status quo to reset to so their characters feel more dynamic and thus, with more potential for lasting change, there’s a greater sense of urgency to read those stories each month instead of waiting for them to pop up on Marvel Unlimited or be collected in a trade paperback. However, last night I learned Ben Reilly was donning the webs once more so today I went to my local comic shop to add The Amazing Spider-Man to my file for the first time in years!
Perhaps the most oft repeated observation about the Fantastic Four is they are a family first, superheroes second. This piece of their identity has been their cornerstone since Stan Lee ushered in the “Marvel Age of Comics” with their creation in 1961. With the FF poised to enter the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Dan Slott was given the reins of “The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine” in 2018. Understanding the nature of the FF – a family of explorers and travelers who save the day when needed – he uses it to examine a captivating concept which seems uniquely suited to the Fantastic Four. When their explorations take them to the planet Spyre, Reed Richards/Mr. Fantastic, Sue Storm/the Invisible Woman, Johnny Storm/the Human Torch, and Ben Grimm/the Thing meet the Overseer, the leader of the Spyricans, a people who have technology they claim will show you your Soul Mate with absolute certainty. Families are born in the bonds of love and there’s no love like a Soul Mate…should such a thing exist. What better place to drop explorers defined by their family than the questions raised at the intersection of loving communion and a technology that can predict the mystical movements of the heart?!!?
As readers we can’t help but take this journey with the Fantastic Four and wonder are Soul Mates real? And if they are, would we want to know?
I DID IT. I DID IT. It took me three years but I read over 300 comics and have successfully walked through all fifty-seven years of Black Widow’s comic history! Natasha Romanoff has gone from a character I was familiar with from Avengers comics and team-up stories to one of the comic characters I know best of all. I AM SO HAPPY I DID THIS! Now, with a month left until Black Widow finally hits theatres, I’m examining the stories marking Natasha’s journeys from 2010-2020. As usual, kudos goes to Kiri (of Star Wars Anonymous) for casually asking if Black Widow was ever blonde in the comics (she was! see ’00-’10) waaay back when the Avengers: Infinity War trailer came out and kudos to my over-committing parts for deciding to read everything from Natasha’s first appearance in Tales of Suspense #52 (1964) up through Web of Black Widow (2019-20) instead of just googling it.