Good Superhero Comics: Week of May 9

I’ve really been enjoying the Dr. Thirteen backup story in Tales of the Unexpected, and it concludes this week in issue #8. The skeptic and his motley band of misfits fight a group of empty superhero costumes (a rather lovely metaphor, from my point of view) before finally confronting the Architects in a setting that combines the Batcave, the Fortress of Solitude, and Captain Marvel’s subway tunnel.

Maybe I’m seeing connections just because I’m taking a larger view these days, but I thought the panel where Genius Jones makes a terrible pun, complete with character feet in the air, stunned by its awfulness, was a nice allusion to an older genre of comics, the gag panel. The characters seem a bit wackier in this final go-round, winking at each other and wisecracking, perhaps in a salute to the Silver Age of superhero battles. And I loved the button marked “plot device”. Of course, that’s what every fun team-up story needs.

I do wish a little more care had been taken in the details: The second caption box has a rather glaring typo (“heals” instead of “heels”) and later on, there’s a “hust” that should have been “must”. Overall, though, a triumph from Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang. I strongly recommend purchasing the eventual collection just to read an involving story that takes the refreshingly big-picture view that “this too shall pass”. The unusual characters should be seen as an asset, not a liability to be eliminated. Plus, they’re fun on a more literal level, making for an involving team with distinctively unusual voices.

Also enjoyed this week: two Spider-Man comics, which is odd, because I normally don’t care for the character.

Spider-Man/Fantastic Four #2 cover
Spider-Man/Fantastic Four #2

I expected to like Spider-Man/Fantastic Four #2 because it’s written by the talented Jeff Parker. (Art is by Mike Wieringo with inks by Wade von Grawbadger and Andy Lanning.) What confirmed it for me, though, was the first page scene, when Peter’s Aunt May won’t let him go back out to fight the aliens until he has lunch. That’s what our loved ones are for, always looking out for us.

I like the way Parker so nicely sums up characters in short bits true to their personalities. The Fantastic Four have never been for me so much a family as when Sue and Reed, bailing out of their flying car ready for action, are also telling their kids who’ll be babysitting them and how many cartoons they get to watch.

It’s an Invasion of the Body Snatchers-type scenario, with the heroes needing to work together to stop and reverse alien possession. Since it’s part 2 of 4, by the end of the issue, things are looking grim, as Reed concludes they need more research to more intelligently fight the symbiotes. (And how refreshing that is, to see a measured, thoughtful response.)

Sensational Spider-Man Annual #1 cover
Sensational Spider-Man Annual #1

My enjoyment of The Sensational Spider-Man Annual #1 can also be credited to the writer, superstar-to-be Matt Fraction. He’s created a nice done-in-one story that’s a great choice for movie fans to sample the characters while still nodding to current Marvel continuity and acknowledging the characters’ history.

Mary Jane’s talking with an old friend at the Coffee Bean, but there’s more to the reunion than meets the eye, given Peter’s status as a wanted criminal post-Civil War. The best part of the book for me was the way it demonstrated how cool a partner Mary Jane is for Spider-Man.

One of the reasons I don’t personally care much for the character is the discrepancy between his original concept (schlubby “normal guy” with big contrast between powers and his everyday life, which doesn’t go so well) and what he became (supermodel wife, well-known photographer). Much as I disliked what the Civil War crossover event became, I do like the way it gave Peter a new, valid excuse to complain: he made some bad decisions and is on the run.

Another big plus: no feeling left out. I got everything I needed to know to understand and, more importantly, enjoy the story IN the story. (And a giggle at them making fun of the classic “tiger/jackpot” line, which really is cheesy and unrealistic.) The dialogue’s both solid and creative, too, and Salvador Larocca’s art is classic comic book in an excellent way. It’s a wonderful portrait of what stands behind a solid marriage: belief in each other to rescue you.

5 Responses to “Good Superhero Comics: Week of May 9”

  1. Tim O'Shea Says:

    Fraction and Parker in one week!?! Ooh, I can’t wait until the weekend (first chance I’ll get to the store).

  2. Jim Perreault Says:

    Also enjoyed this week: two Spider-Man comics, which is odd, because I normally don’t care for the character.

    I find that quite an odd statement, because I think the character is one of the greatest created in comics ( at least, western comics).

    On the other hand, while I love the character I very rarely pick up a book starring him. This is partly due to the heavy angst the tends to prevade his books, and partly due to the fact that the same stories are told over and over again.

    So my question: is there something inherent about the character you don’t like? Or do you just don’t like the typical stories that feature him?

  3. Johanna Says:

    That’s an excellent question. In general, I think if one doesn’t like a character, one tends not to like their typical stories either; it’s easier to like a character but dislike the stories often chosen to be told about them.

    In this case, I don’t think I like the character. Whenever he’s whining about how hard his life is (a key part of the concept as I understand it), I just want to shake him and yell “snap out of it! you’ve got it pretty good!”

    I can certainly see why others would love the character, so I don’t think he should have been created some other way. I think it’s just a mismatch between him and my taste. I’d love to hear you say more about why he’s a great character.

  4. Jim Perreault Says:

    I had to think about it for a bit, but here is why I think Spider-man is a great character:

    They way he combines the larger-than-life superhero adventure with the down-to-earth day to day troubles that real people face.

    On the superhero side, he has fun and unique powers; a colorful, visually distinct costume; and a good dose of humor and adventure.

    But he is not so powerful that he is hard to relate to. On the human side, he has a believable life and a geeky awkwardness that I identify with.

    I think balancing all these aspects is tricky. At times, I do find the whining and angst is overbearing. Maybe that is inherent to the character. But there are plenty of good Spiderman stories that do strike a better balance.

    The bigger problem I have is the retreading of old plotlines. And that is certainly an artifact of the serial, never ending nature of comics.

  5. Johanna Says:

    Thank you very much for coming back to that. It’s thought-provoking.




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