It may be May, but the last day of April offered the usual stack of notable comic book offerings!
Book of the week: Amazing Spider-Man #1
It has come to this; yet another relaunch of the core Spider-Man title (the second since January 2013) and the third edition of "Amazing Spider-Man #1" published by Marvel Comics since 1963 (and the second since 1999). It is easily the most expensive edition, at $5.99 U.S. dollars (compared to $2.99 in 1999, and 12 cents in 1963). However, it offers 51 pages of stories by various talents (even if most are written by Dan Slott and Christos Gage) as well as a reprint of "Inhuman #1" by Charles Soule and Joe Madureira. What is the connection between "Amazing Spider-Man" and "Inhuman"? None, but apparently Marvel Comics is seeking to push this already-behind-schedule series, especially since it features the rare art of "Joe Mad". At any rate, this magazine sized (and priced) debut issue offers not only the return of Peter Parker in full control of his body, super-hero destiny and ongoing series since December 2012, it also offers a look at the wide variety of stories and spin-off's being offered for 2014. It is both a narrative and an advertisement, featuring tons of great artists and more than a few good moments.
Although it isn't clear on the cover, this issue takes place right after the final issue of "Superior Spider-Man", where Peter managed to regain control of his body from Dr. Octopus without issuing any sort of retribution upon the tentacled menace who cheated death before saving Manhattan from the Green Goblin and his "Goblin army". The very first page offers a peak at Peter's origin which is itself an advertisement for the upcoming "Original Sin" crossover. From there, Peter is seeking to put together his web of a life from the tangled mess that Ock made of it. On the positive side, he's now officially a doctor and owner of his own corporate laboratory. On the negative side, virtually everyone in his life believes he's a power mad psychopath, and the woman Ock loved within Peter's body and identity, Anna Maria Marconi, is still haphazardly wandering around Peter's routine. There are also scores of villains who were experimented on or brutalized by Ock who now want Spider-Man's blood with more of a vengeance, such as Electro and Black Cat, with both J. Jonah Jameson and the city at large have the biggest hate for Spider-Man than they've had in a while. Conveniently, Peter seems to have little memory of the things Ock did within his body, otherwise he'd probably be angst ridden about all of the people Ock murdered within his body (including Massacre, scores of ninjas and to the best of his knowledge, Wilson Fisk) as well as seeing the appearance of Anna Maria as the tragedy of a woman who was romantically and sexually manipulated by a super villain using his form instead of a sudden inconvenience.
For better or worse, Dan Slott and artist Humberto Ramos (alongside inker Victor Olazaba and colorist Edgar Delgado) want to keep things light, fresh, and energetic without being bogged down by too many emotions. On the whole they succeed, having Spider-Man take on White Rabbit and her new "Menagerie" of animal themed allies, including the costume destroying Gypsy Moth (or "Skein", as she insists). The result is a bit which may remind some long time fans of Spider-Man's exploits as "Bag-Man" in previous comics, which does bring about some chuckles even if the overall tone seeks to ignore what should be essential character reactions for the sake of a good time. Perhaps after being bogged down as an anti-hero for over a year, an new introduction which bypasses the angst could be seen as a wise move, so long as certain consequences are followed up on in future issues. The finale offers a chance for Anna Maria to become more essential to Spider-Man's universe, with the shame of it all being that she is a far more unique romantic foil than Carlie Cooper is, yet her narrative has been complicated by the entire "superior" era.
From here, we get a series of shorter strips which by and large exist to focus on other related characters as well as to add hype to their upcoming appearances in "Amazing Spider-Man" or other books. Slott and Christos Gage unite with artists Javier Rodriguez and Giuseppe Camuncoli in two short strips covering Electro and Black Cat, respectively. Felicia Hardy's tale is a tad more interesting as her role has been more organic in Spider-Man's life; from enemy to lover to crime-fighting partner, to enemy again and everything in-between. Having served a stint in prison after Ock's brutal thwarting of one of her heists, Felicia apparently has no idea Peter was impersonated and has vowed to destroy him with all the patience of a woman scorned. Joe Caramagna and Chris Eliopoulos do a cute strip explaining Spider-Man's powers to the five people in the known universe who don't know what they are after over a thousand comics, soon to be five films, as well as decades worth of TV animation.
The last three back up strips prove to be the most interesting, even if they are also the most shamelessly promotional. Peter David and Will Sliney, who will soon be working on a "Spider-Man 2099" spin off series this summer, use a few pages to reintroduce the character's status quo. Originally from the year 2099, Miguel O'Hara is currently stuck in modern day New York City, trying to use his powers as responsibly as possible while keeping an eye on things and not altering the future too much. David is reunited with a character he helped create in the 90's, and offers a simple tale of Miguel being confused after saving a woman from a robbery who didn't quite want to be saved. Chris Yost and David Baldeon, at one time the writer and artist of the canceled spin-off "Scarlet Spider", offer a short tale of Peter Parker trying to keep tabs on his clone "brother" Kaine, who fled Houston, Texas in disgrace believing he'd failed at being a hero. Although this is a naked advertisement for Yost's "New Warriors" (which is already struggling to maintain consistent sales), it is a good epilogue to a run on a book which was often great if under appreciated. The final story, by Dan Slott, artist Ramon Perez and colorist Ian Herring, is a prologue to the "Amazing Spider-Man #1.1" mini series which seeks to offer a "lost tale" from Peter's first days at Spider-Man. It comes off as a love letter to the original 1962 "Amazing Fantasy #15" story by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, only from the point of view of a new background character named Clayton Cole as well as seeking to update the technology of the world to something more modern. Marvel and Slott insist Peter has only been Spider-Man for 13 years regardless of the fact that in 2001 most social media/video sharing websites did not exist, yet are crucial to this strip's plot. Regardless, it captures the spirit of the era and properly introduces Cole as someone who will have a larger role to play in this "retroactive continuity" tale in an otherwise successful manner.
All in all, "Amazing Spider-Man #1" succeeds at what it wishes to do more than it fails, even if the stories within do have some glaring flaws. With a film debuting this weekend and with a whole year's worth of stories to tell, it will remain to be seen whether "Superior Spider-Man" will be seen as a bump in the road for Slott's long term legacy, or the moment he web-swung over a shark.
Batman Beyond Universe #9: DC Comics' anthology reprint of its' "Beyond" digital comic strips enters upon its' most ambitious plot to date. "Justice Lords Beyond" seeks to tell one overarching story across both Kyle Higgins' "Batman Beyond" and Christos Gage's "Justice League Unlimited" strips as one flowing narrative. As weekly digital comics, this offers a lot of instant gratification, but as a reprinted anthology it offers two sides of one overall story, which is itself ambitious. In the future of 2041, Wonder Woman has returned to Paradise Island and her allies in the "JLU" for the first time in years in a plot which borrows heavily from the second season "Justice League" episode "A Better World". Having encountered parallel versions of themselves who were violently corrupt, Wonder Woman left the team to aid that world's "Lord Batman" in restoring order to a broken universe. Unfortunately, her return sparks no end of concerns about an invasion of more corrupted superheroes as well as to whether she is who she says she is, instead of the parallel world's version of Diana. To that end, Terry McGinnis is zapped to the alternate world to investigate, and runs across his own counterpart, who is a mask-toting member of the "Jokerz" gang. The "Batman Beyond" strips are drawn by Thony Silas and Mateo Guerrero, while the "JLU" strip is drawn by Dexter Soy. True to form, Gage's stories seem to offer the most exposition and assembled characters, while Higgin's segments do a good job of keeping things focused on Terry, even doing a dark mirror of the pilot episode of "Batman Beyond" for Terry's gang banging counterpart. After only a single issue, this is easily the best issue of "Batman Beyond Universe" within a year, even trumping some of the stuff from its' previous incarnation, "Batman Beyond Unlimited". For my four dollars, this is still the best and most accessible thing that DC Comics publishes.
Silver Surfer #2: Marvel Comics' relaunch of one of their premiere space heroes continues under the scripting of Dan Slott and the jaw dropping artwork of Michael and Laura Allred. Considering that most of the appeal of an Allred comic is the art, it is unknown whether this series is written normally or under Stan Lee's "Marvel Style" which gave the artist far more leeway on narrative details. Despite the terrific artwork, not a whole lot happens in this issue, although what is accomplished is pulled off so marvelously that few readers will care. Silver Surfer has been manipulated into attempting to defend a planet sized city from "the Never Queen" by the Incredulous Zed, who has sought to "motivate" the Surfer by kidnapping a seemingly random Earth woman named Dawn Greenwood who is apparently tied to his fate. Despite not knowing Dawn from a hole in the wall, the Surfer accepts the terms only to learn from the "Never Queen" that he has been fooled and it is Zed who sparked the conflict with her to his own ends - a revelation which will fool no one. Fortunately, the plucky and curious Dawn is not one to await rescue and who manages to not only liberate herself, but the scores of other prisoners of Zed's previous attempts to manipulate champions. The angle of tying Dawn to the Surfer based on a wish could be considered a simplistic way to attach him to this new heroine, but the story manages to make it work on its' own terms. As previously stated, the artwork is absolutely gorgeous, and Slott seems to be at home with the bombastic dialogue and ridiculous over-the-top metaphors of most classic space comics. So long as Thanos doesn't possess the Surfer for fifteen months as "the Superior Silver Surfer" while Dawn acts oblivious, this looks like another hit for the "all new Marvel NOW" push.