Monday, August 2, 2010

What I've Been Reading - Secret Warriors and Amazing Spider-Man

In this edition of What I've Been Reading I take a look at further volumes of two series - Secret Warriors and Amazing Spider-Man. On the Secret Warriors side of things, I give the second volume a look hoping the potential I saw in the first volume comes to the fore. On the Amazing Spider-Man side of things, I take a look at the Red-Head Stranger collection which marks the return of Mary Jane Watson to the series. Plus, I take a look at the 24/7 collection as well. Hit the jump see what I thought of all of these comics!

Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Alessandro Vitti and Ed McGuinness
Collects Secret Warriors #7-10 and Dark Reign: The List - Secret Warriors

I would call this book a disappointment if I cared enough to be disappointed. Much like the first volume, there are some good ideas here but the execution is sloppy and actively takes away from the good parts of the story. What is mostly at fault with the comic though is that it takes a massive detour from the Nick Fury vs. Baron Strucker plot in the first volume to do Fury vs. Norman Osborn plus some dealings with Ares and his son Alexander, one of the Secret Warriors, none of which I'm particularly interested in. Taking this massive plot detour just baffles me, much like a lot other stuff in the collection.

Hickman makes a lot of odd plotting choices that I can't understand and have no idea why he chose to make them. First, why does Strucker turn to Osborn to kill Fury? Secondly, why does Osborn even talk to Strucker? The little amount of Dark Reign comics that I've read haven't portrayed Osborn as that outright evil. He is more interested in maintaining his own power than anything else so why even deal with Strucker since he isn't part of Osborn's little cabal? Third, why does Osborn use "You're not even American!" as an insult? Seriously, this isn't a little thing. I honestly have no idea what Hickman was thinking with that line and it's kind of bothering me since he's created much higher quality work before and the line feels really amateurish. Fourth, what happened to Black Widow and Songbird? They show up, get captured by H.A.M.M.E.R. and then literally vanish from the comic once the Secret Warriors show up to rescue them. There is no hint whatsoever as to what happens to them. Fifth, why does a bullet that can go through who knows how many feet of concrete and steel and blow up a guy's head not continue going and blow up Bullseye's head? Sixth, why does Hickman introduce even more secret groups or organizations to bog down his story? Finally, why are Fury, Strucker, the head of The Hand, and Dum Dum Dugan, among others, all a part of one of those organizations?

Like I said though, utterly baffling aspects of the comic aside, there are still some good ideas here, like Ares and Alexander. I enjoyed Michael Oeming's Ares miniseries from a couple of years ago but Hickman doesn't particularly do much with them here. Yeah, there are some nice ideas that Hickman puts forward but they don't have time to develop since they aren't the main plot of the series. The Ares/Alexander stuff cover two, maybe three issues worth of material but are sandwiched between the other plots until issue #10, but that issue is just kind of dull overall. Further more, it just feels out of place in the title given the tone that was set up in the first volume. Other than that, there was hardly anything interesting to be found in the collection.

As I said above, I can't really call Secret Warriors disappointing because it's what I was expecting. Hickman ended up as just another writer whose individual voice gets lost in the need to homogenize various comics in order to fit into whatever overarching story or status quo Marvel is currently pushing. I'd say it's a rather depressing phenomenon since it's one of the reasons why I've generally given up on Marvel but I don't care because I've found other creators and comics that I find better and/or more interesting.

Verdict - Avoid It.

Like this review? Interested in Secret Warriors Vol 2, God of Fear, God of War? Buy it on and help support The Weekly Crisis!

Written by Fred Van Lente and Brian Reed
Art by Barry Kitson, Robert Atkins, Javier Pulido, Luke Ross and Yanick Paquette
Collects Amazing Spider-Man #602-605

All things considered, this isn't the massive train wreck you might expect. Actually, it's pretty good overall and is one of the few stories you can't do with a married Peter and MJ but not the kind that you would probably convince One More Day skeptics.

Personally, I wasn't a fan of what OMD did but the whole story left me apathetic towards the franchise rather than feeling any kind of anger, which is kind of weird considering that I quit comics when Marvel brought Aunt May back instead of Baby May since all I read at the time was Spider-Man but I was 14 then compared to being 22 and in college when OMD was coming out so, you know, times changes.

If I needed to be convinced that OMD doesn't matter to all of the Amazing Spider-Man stories that came afterward, and I don't, then Van Lente's would have done it. It is kind of a feat that Van Lente works so many of the more controversial elements that OMD brought with it into a well crafted story that made use of them in such a wonderful manner, especially his use of MJ. The best thing that could have been done with the character, and is what Van Lente did here, is playing up not only her personal independence but the strong-willed side of the character as well. She's written as a character that stands on her own and isn't tied to Spider-Man in a way that makes his being around essential to the character's involvement in the story.

Actually though, I can't really tell you why this collection specifically made me feel that way about OMD. Maybe I hit a critical mass of good to great Brand New Day stories. Maybe it is simply because the stories weren't the worst case scenario train wreck. Whatever the reason though, this is the first post-One More Day collection were what I knew, that OMD doesn't matter, actually came through in the stories themselves.

Of course, this trade shouldn't be the one that has to convince people that OMD should be ignored in favor of just reading some great Spider-Man stories, common sense should be enough, but, even then, there have been plenty of the other excellent and fantastic stories to date, not to mention the ones that were just some well done, regardless of their connection to either One More Day or Brand New Day. If you have been avoiding Amazing Spider-Man because of One More Day then 1) grow up (seriously) and 2) just check out the stories, most of them are good if not just outright great.

Verdict - Buy It.

Like this review? Interested in Amazing Spider-Man: Red-Headed Stranger? Buy it on and help support The Weekly Crisis!

Written by Dan Slott, Mark Waid, Fred Van Lente, Phil Jimenez and Zeb Wells
Art by Barry Kitson, Mike McKone, Phil Jimenez, Paolo Siqueira, Paolo Rivera and Dale  Eaglesham
Collections Amazing Spider-Man #589-594 and material from Amazing Spider-Man Extra #2 & 3

Finally, a Dan Slott Amazing Spider-Man story that actually lives up to the expectations I had when he was originally announced as one of the rotating writers when the title went thrice monthly. Personally, that was the biggest letdown for me about Brand New Day - mediocre Dan Slott stories. Luckily though, Slott turns out a hilarious dimension-traveling story featuring the Fantastic Four followed by, even more shocking to me, another hilarious story by Mark Waid.

Slott's two issues, #590 & 591, are pretty basic as far as plotting and the actual story go but the character interactions are what make it great. He mostly focuses on the Human Torch/Spider-Man relationship the characters have built up over the years and goes humorous angle to the whole story, which he supports with some absolutely hilarious dialog from the Thing. It's a nice showcase of Spider-Man's relation to the FF with some great humor thrown in.

Waid's story though, is just gut-busting hilarious most of the time. I'm not sure who came up with the idea, or why no one has done it before, but making J. Johan Jameson the mayor of New York City is brilliant. And hilarious. I mean, the hilarity of the three issues that make up the 24/7 arc cannot be understated. They are honestly some of the funniest comics I have ever read and there is more comedy than just the Spidey/JJJ rivalry as well. Waid mixes in a lot of character moments for parts of the cast and many of them contribute to the humorous tone of the arc. I've never particularly held Waid's writing in that high esteem, he's written more bad comics than good to my mind, but I was honestly impressed with these three issues, one misstep aside.

Although the majority of this collection is pretty good, there are some problems. First off, there are a couple of extra stories that don't really seem to fit with Slott's and Waid's two stories, which do tie together. First, there is a follow up to the Kraven's First Hunt arc, one of the earlier Brand New Day stories, and then a story about Spider-Man and Wolverine going to a bar and while it isn't as funny as you'd hope, it's still pretty good and has some wonderful art by Paolo Rivera. There is also a done-in-one featuring the Spot which was pretty good until Van Lente blatantly rips of part of the ending to Animal Man #5 and makes me want to slap him. The biggest problem with the collection though is in Waid's story ironically enough and is the revamp of the Vulture, which kind of falls flat for me. It's not terrible or anything but is very obvious, a play on the character's name, and is just kind of there for the most part. Not particularly bad but there isn't anything to recommend it. So far, it's the only classic Spidey villain revamp that I've read and haven't cared for and is a mark against Waid's other fantastic story.

And on another less awesome note, the annoying editor's notes make their annoying come back for no apparent reason other than to annoy me. I can't think of any other reason than annoyance for an editor's note that references a story from EARLIER IN THE COLLECTION! Well, maybe laziness. Yeah, it's probably laziness.

Verdict - Buy It.

Like this review? Interested in Amazing Spider-Man: 24/7? Buy it on and help support The Weekly Crisis!

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Anonymous said...

Have to disagree with your Secret Warriors assessment, I've loved the whole series so far.

Ryan K Lindsay said...

Re: Secret Warriors - that exchance between Osborn and Von Strucker was the absolute best thing about this storyline. I could see Osborn saying that to Strucker, Osborn is the ultimate patriot (kind of) and he's view the Euro-monocled Strucker as a goon at best. That conversation made me laugh so hard, can't state that hard enough.

As for the overall arc, Hickman said he wrote it to try and fit into the Marvel events at the time and instantly regretted it. He has also said he'll be writing SW on his own terms from here until the not that far away end. And I think that's a smart move as this storyline does spin its wheels and was noweher near as strong as the arc before it and definitely not the arc after it. I thought Wake The Beast was brilliant, even though it serves the greater purpose so isn't exactly stand alone.

Philipe said...

@Eric I believe there was a crossover with the Thunderbolts during that Secret Warriors the fate of both Black Widow and Songbird probably was featured there. Weird that there's no reference to that in the trade.

I like SW but I do agree that there were many plots going on at the same time. It's one of those comics that I always have to read the recap page to remember what's going on.

twobitspecialist said...

I had to quit reading the article to make a quick point:

Avoiding ASM because of OMD is not a matter of maturity or "growing up." It's a matter of principle. Marvel is so intent on making Peter Parker all about "youth" that they have forgotten that he is also about "responsibility," of which we haven't seen so much since then.

In truth, we might as well be reading about a different man named Peter Parker and disguised as Spider-man (yeah, because that worked SO well the last time).

Now I'm going to go back to reading the rest of the article.

Anonymous said...

Although Hickman did write the second arc to coincide more with the events of the Marvel universe, I still think he did a good job with it. The Dark Reign: The List SW one-shot is a great set-up for the third story arc as well.

twobitspecialist said...

In regards to Secret Warriors, I think the Black Widow and Songbird thing may have been referring to the Thunderbolts arc taking place at the same time (like Ryan said, Hickman may have been trying to make this fit into current events).

An editor's note probably could've helped with that. ;)

Eric Rupe said...

twobitspecialist - Except the post-BND Peter Parker is the same as the pre-BND Peter Parker but not married. Peter Parker is still fundamentally the same character as he has always been, right down the whole "power & responsibility" thing. OMD has nothing to do many the vast majority of the BND Spider-Man stories. In fact, Peter's status as single has little to do with most of the BND stories as well and it's usually bit parts at that.

"It's a matter of principle."

That is exactly why it's matter of growing up because SPIDER-MAN ISN'T REAL. He was never really married because was real and thus has no actual responsibility to anything. Accepting that and not reading stories based on an imaginary character's imaginary morality is the "grown up" thing to do, as bad as that phrasing sounds. Doing it the other way is what children would do, treating fake characters as real. What should count, matters of taste in genre aside, is whether or not the story is good. Peter Parker being married or not has no barring on whether or not a story is good. At all.

Eric Rupe said...

About Secret Warriors - I didn't keep up with Thunderbolts after Secret Invasion so I wasn't particularly aware of what was going on in that title. Still, Hickman doesn't resolve a plot point he brought up so it's a knock against the story none-the-less.

Ryan - Osborn is too self-serving to be patriotic so that is always to seem bad to me since I consider it so out of character for him.

twobitspecialist said...

@Eric - That is where you are wrong, I'm afraid. Peter Parker is not fundamentally the same character. Since OMD, he has been regressed by the brain trust to be a "man child" (as Breevort puts its). You cannot honestly look back at the past three years and tell me that Peter Parker still cares about responsibility when he is shown as making down-right stupid and morally ambiguous decisions.

And I'm glad you brought up the whole "his single status doesn't affect the stories." Wasn't the whole point of OMD to be able to tell stories that couldn't be told with a married Peter? Red-Headed Stranger came out YEARS after OMD. Where are the other stories that can only be told with a single Spider-man?

Oh, wow. Spider-man isn't real? REALLY? Yeah, I'm still not getting ASM because Marvel has ruined the character for me. But thank you for calling me a child. I respect your opinion but I hope you respect my stance as well.

Henry said...

You know what i find annoying? People with no discernable writing skills that bash writers. In your last paragraph you used the word annoying so many times, I thought maybe you had a stroke. Not to mention your comments in the comment section are complete babbling and impossible to follow. If you are going to rail against the way someone writes, take the extra ten minutes the make sure you aren"t writing like a high school freshman yourself.

(Bet Kirk doesn't let this reach the wall)

James said...

Way to go, twobit. Eric is allowed to bash you and your opinion as much and as harshly as he sees fit, but don't say anything negative about one of the writers on this site, because they don't want you to be a "meany". Pretty soon they won't even allow opinions that are contrary to their own at all.

Eric Rupe said...

"You cannot honestly look back at the past three years and tell me that Peter Parker still cares about responsibility when he is shown as making down-right stupid and morally ambiguous decisions"

But that's not really out of character. He's always acted like that to greater or lesser degrees. Yes, he did grow out that and reverted with BND but it's not a miss characterization, it's just an older one.

"Where are the other stories that can only be told with a single Spider-man?"

Fundamentally, whether Spider-Man is married or not doesn't actually matter to the vast majority of Spider-Man stories told or that will be told. Yeah, BND failed to justify OMD but it never was going to be able to and, honestly, there is never going to be one story that would. It's just a red herring.

As for your final point, I just fundamentally disagree. If I continued to not read Spider-Man until Marvel brought back Baby May then I would have missed on out Shed, the Van Lente/Pulido Sandman two-parter and the Kelly/Fiumara Rhino two-parter. Having read those comics, I believe any kind of stance that is based on something like whether or not Spider-Man is married or has a kid is inherently silly and a little immature because I, or other people, would be passing up on them for reasons that has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not those stories were good. And the whole "power & responsibility" angel is evident in those stories as well so they do star Spider-Man to me.

twobitspecialist said...

OK, yes. The immature man child is an older characterization. But why are we reverting back the character instead of moving forward? Isn't that also bad story-telling?

I started to get off track somewhere along the line. OMD did nothing but burn long-time Spider-man fans, myself included, and there are some stories after OMD that I have enjoyed (New Ways to Die, American Son, definitely NOT Shed). I understand why they dropped ASM and agree with them, so when you started to say it was a childish thing to do, I don't know, that also stung me, so I had to say something.

Anonymous said...

So when are Eric and twobitspecialist going to shut up and make out already?

Ryan K Lindsay said...

@Henry & James - just as a little experiment I've cleared your comments (quite honestly it didn't cross my mind not to). I certainly wouldn't delete them purely because they are contrary to what we think, write, or say. I love it when someone (eloquently) disagrees with me, that's what I think the strongest aspect of this site is, the discussion. We never state that we are the gods of opinion round here, everyone gets a chance to comment - the only time anyone gets deleted is if they are purely rude, aggressive and/or offensive, which isn't often.

So, let's see how you go with your views up there...if it sparks an annoying flame war (which other commenters have stated they don't like) then those comments don't get published anymore, sure, but if we're all just chatting then we're all just fine. I have no problem with that. (Sorry if you felt this was another of those patented TWC essays on playing nice...a shame they're even remotely needed in the first place...keep on smiling!)

@anonymous14 - you got printed because I laughed. Out loud. Thanks.

Philipe said...

I started reading Spider-Man when Venom first appeared...I believe it was issue #300. I think I was 12. He was already married to Mary Jane. It didn't bother me one bit because Peter was older (I always assumed he was 25-30) and that's what "older" people do, get married.

I believe OMD was a vanity project from Quesada. He had this crazy idea and thought it could work. In my opinion, it didn't. I don't care for Michelle or Carlie or any other new girl that came along.

And this whole OMIT is not helping either. One of the worst stories I read all year. Looking forward to the day he's no longer editor of Marvel so that this can all be undone.

Eric Rupe said...

"OK, yes. The immature man child is an older characterization. But why are we reverting back the character instead of moving forward? Isn't that also bad story-telling?"

That can be applied to pretty much any Marvel or DC superhero comic out there nowadays and it's not really a new phenomenon either.

And, to be fair to Marvel, the marriage did seem to make the Spider-Man books a lot more claustrophobic, focusing more on Peter and MJ and ignoring the supporting cast for large periods of time. Yeah, you could just tell the writers to writer differently but, either way, BND did open up the Spider-Man books in a way that they haven't been for a while so it is a success in that regard.

"I understand why they dropped ASM and agree with them, so when you started to say it was a childish thing to do, I don't know, that also stung me, so I had to say something."

Although I generally don't care how or why people read comics, there are a few reasons that people come up that I don't really have time for, the vast majority related to superhero comics.

Generally, they are things that have nothing to do with whether or not a story is good, such as continuity, and I have almost no sympathy towards those kinds of reading habits because I don't get why you would buy a comic for any reason other than you thought it would be good or ignoring a comic for a reason that wasn't also related to the story's quality, like ignoring ASM because of OMD.

Eric Rupe said...

"I believe OMD was a vanity project from Quesada."

Pretty much all EiCs have had those. Quesada and Didio are just unfortunate enough to be EiC when the internet is around and so they have a lot working against them, from a public relations point of view. If there wasn't an internet, I doubt Quesada's reasons behind stories like OMD and House of M would be widely know as they currently are.

twobitspecialist said...

I hardly consider ASM a success when you can count good storylines in one hand after three years.

Continuity is important, especially for a character that's been around for 40 years. Why should I care about a story when the writers clearly have a total disregard for what's been done before?

Eric Rupe said...

"I hardly consider ASM a success when you can count good storylines in one hand after three years."

I've enjoyed BND overall and there were few stories, mostly at the beginning, that I though were bad so, again, it's down to personal opinion.

"Continuity is important, especially for a character that's been around for 40 years."

But it's not because continuity has nothing to do with whether or not a story is good. Ask people what they think the best Superman and Batman stories are and you'll probably get All Star Superman and The Dark Knight Returns more often than not and both are out of continuity.

"Why should I care about a story when the writers clearly have a total disregard for what's been done before?"

Because it's good? I don't get why continuity should matter more than if the story was good or not. If a story's good, I don't care if is out-of-continuity or ignores a story I've never read or maybe even never heard of before. To me, a story's quality should matter infinitely more than its relationship to continuity.

Ryan K Lindsay said...

Have to agree with Eric that continuity shouldn't be the bag to hang your hopes on at all times. He makes a good point with Al Star Superman and DKR as being out of continuity masterpieces. Wasn't Year One also flying in the face of continuity and now not only people love it but it is continuity.

Sometimes you just ignore the dreck, it's that simple.

twobitspecialist said...

I'm sorry, but Amazing Spider-man, with a few exceptions, ceased to be good a long time ago.

The only way I can really enjoy these stories is if I consider them "out of continuity," since that's what they basically are. Although I'll be hard pressed to put them on the same level as All Star Superman or Dark Knight Returns.

Bottom line: ASM is a story about a different character going by the same name. He's had some fun enjoyable adventures, but it's just not the same.

CrispyCritters said...

I haven't enjoyed Spider-man this much since 1981! After dredging through the Clone Saga and JMS' wildly out of character mishagoss, BND has benn a real hoot! Bring on Big Time!

twobitspecialist said...

That JMS run is starting to look really good compared to BND.

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