Comic Review: Spider-Man: The Revenge of the Sinister Six

Published: 1991-1992
Written by: Erik Larsen, Terry Kavanagh
Art by: Erik Larsen, Scott McDaniel

Marvel Comics, 165 Pages

Review:

I was really digging re-reading all the earliest Sinister Six storylines. But then I got to this one, the third of the three I wanted to re-experience and it really took the wind out of my sails.

This was a complete clusterfuck, narratively speaking.

I guess there is a big difference between the skill level of David Michelinie and Erik Larsen when it comes to writing. The two teamed up for the storyline, The Return of the Sinister Six, a year earlier in The Amazing Spider-Man. In this arc, Larsen took the reigns pretty much solo, as he had been moved to the Spider-Man title while Michelinie was still working on The Amazing Spider-Man with artist Mark Bagley. While that great duo were introducing us to Carnage, Larsen gave us this mess.

The biggest problem with this miniseries, is that it seemed like Larsen was using it as a way to feature and draw all the characters he wasn’t able to touch before this. This is a cameo bonanza in the worst way and many of these characters enter the story just for the hell of it and don’t serve much purpose to the overall narrative. It’s like Larsen just wanted to draw splash pages of the Hulk, Ghost Rider, the Fantastic Four, and a billion different villains. We also get a small and incredibly pointless cameo from Sleepwalker, one of my favorite ’90s characters.

Larsen’s art here was pretty damn solid, I have to give him that. He has a very distinct style and people either love it or hate it, similar to the style of Rob Liefeld. I have mostly liked Larsen’s style and this was interesting to see, as he did this right before jumping ship to Image Comics and his own creation, The Savage Dragon.

I do have to say that Larsen’s writing improves once he goes to Image and I’m thinking that he knew he was leaving when he took on this project and he felt that it was the only chance he would get to draw a lot of these characters.

To put it bluntly though, this story is ’90s as fuck and I don’t mean that complimentary. It’s trying really damn hard to be edgy. In fact, in the final battle all the villains are shooting machine guns like common street thugs while Spider-Man is wearing all this expensive, over the top, ’90s style tech. Hell, Spidey even gets a cyborg arm in this.

Also, the Sinister Six isn’t really even fully formed. Sandman is not on the team and is trying to get the other villains to stop Doctor Octopus. So really, this is the Sinister Five but then they bring in the giant beast Gog. So is he the sixth member now? It’s not really clear and it’s just one of many things that makes this story total chaos.

This was bad, dreadfully bad. I remembered liking it when it originally came out but I was also thirteen years-old and way more into the visual side of comics over having a coherent plot.

Rating: 4.75/10
Pairs well with: Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s original Sinister Six story, as well as the prequel to this one, The Return of the Sinister Six. Also, anything from the Michelinie and Larsen run on The Amazing Spider-Man.

Comic Review: Spider-Man: The Return of the Sinister Six

Published: 1990
Written by: David Michelinie
Art by: Erik Larsen, Terry Austin, Mike Machlan

Marvel Comics, 141 Pages

Review:

This story arc took place in The Amazing Spider-Man issue numbers 334 through 339. It was a follow up to the original Sinister Six story that Stan Lee and Steve Ditko gave us with the first ever Amazing Spider-Man annual way back in 1964.

What’s strange to me, is that it took so long for six of Spidey’s best villains to team-up again. However, with Kraven the Hunter being dead, this version of the group replaced him with Hobgoblin. But the team is still led by Doctor Octopus and also features Electro, Mysterio, the Vulture and the Sandman. However, in a bit of a twist, Sandman has gone straight and Octopus blackmails him into joining the group.

This story also features a lot of cameos from other villains and heroes but Spider-Man ultimately faces the Sinister Six on his own and at one point, he finally fights them all at once, which he didn’t do in the first story.

While the Dave Michelinie/Todd McFarlane era of The Amazing Spider-Man is heralded as one of the best of all-time, the Dave Michelinie/Erik Larsen era is also damn good and really just continues off of what Michelinie developed with McFarlane. This came out at the height of me reading Spider-Man comics. To me, this was an event bigger than any of those Infinity things and this wasn’t really even an event.

Reading this now, I almost have a deeper appreciation for it than I did as a kid in 1990. The plot is well constructed and it has a lot of layers to it. Also, there’s a few subplots that have their own interesting narratives. There’s much more here than Peter Parker’s Royal Rumble match with his rogues and it makes this a really rich tale with good character development and real depth.

Some of the plot points, like the bizarreness of Octavius’ scheme are baffling but even the questionable stuff is amusing and just makes me yearn for the early ’90s comic book storytelling style. Twenty-nine years later, I definitely see issues I didn’t as a kid but it in no way wrecks the experience that is this great arc.

Also at the time, I was a hardcore Erik Larsen fan. I first discovered his art on this title. While I always preferred McFarlane, through the eyes of an eleven year-old, Larsen was a comic art superstar. I loved how he drew Spidey and his iconic villains and I think it still looks great. While I respect Larsen and McFarlane for forming Image and coming out with their own comics, there’s that part of me that wished that they both would’ve stuck around and worked on Spider-Man books a bit longer, as I was just so in love with what they were doing at the time and wasn’t ready to let them hand it off to someone else. But then, Mark Bagley did do a fine job, as well.

All these years later, this was fun to pick up again. I was a little worried that I’d think it’d suck now but it brought me back to where I was, reading it for the first time in 1990. Sometimes picking up old comics is like opening a time capsule. With this one, I was happy to find that it was even better than I remembered it.

And now I can’t wait to revisit its sequel, The Revenge of the Sinister Six.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s original Sinister Six story, as well as the sequel to this one, The Revenge of the Sinister Six. Also, anything from the Michelinie and Larsen run on The Amazing Spider-Man.

Documentary Review: So Much Damage: How Image Comics Changed the World (2017)

Original Run: November 20th, 2017
Directed by: Jon Erwin
Written by: Michael Avila
Music by: Paul Terry

Syfy, 5 Episodes, 15 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

This is the second documentary I have seen on Image Comics but this isn’t just a rehash of what was already covered in the slightly superior The Image Revolution.

This one was broken out into five 15 minute web episodes and put out by Syfy, who used to be the much cooler Sci-Fi Channel before they changed their channel’s spelling into something stupid.

Anyway, like The Image Revolution this documentary interviews all the key players and gets their stories. But what I like most about this is how it spends a good deal of time talking more about modern Image Comics and not just the revolution of 1991. As cool as that revolt was, modern Image has grown into something that I don’t feel any of the founding members could have fathomed back then.

It’s always fun to hear these guys talk about themselves, their experiences and the creation of Image, as it was a really exciting thing for me to experience as a fan in 1991. It was and still is the coolest thing that happened in the comic book industry in my lifetime.

So this certainly stirs up nostalgia but that doesn’t mean that this survives on that alone. It’s informative, has a good pace and is well organized and presented.

Younger comic book fans today will probably find some value in this, even though it’s made to attract the older fans who remember all of this like it was yesterday.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: The Image Revolution and Chris Claremont’s X-Men.

 

Comic Review: The Savage Dragon Vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Published: June 30th, 1993
Written by: Erik Larsen
Art by: Erik Larsen, Rob Haynes

Image Comics, 28 Pages

Review:

This was the first real crossover to feature Dragon but sadly, this was just a one-off issue and not a larger story arc. Also, the Dragon and TMNT battle and then team up only really takes up half of this single issue, as the second half deals with another character entirely.

This story was quick and not all that important to the big scheme of things other than having a reason to throw two hot comic book titles together in the most gimmicky, cash cow way possible.

I don’t fault Erik Larsen for throwing the Turtles aimlessly into this book, as Dragon was already in New York City but it just felt kind of random and soulless.

Granted, it was cool seeing five green badasses on the same page together, even if there didn’t seem to be much of a point to any of it. And at the time, crossovers like this weren’t as common, so it was really cool in the early ’90s when I first read this book. I was also in 8th grade.

I don’t want to call this a total waste, as it probably contributed to crossovers becoming more common. Image Comics would go on to do that big crossover with Valiant Comics called Deathmate, which was also kind of cool when I was fourteen.

Still, this was fun to revisit, even if it was an extremely quick read and not much happened.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: Other comics starring the Savage Dragon or the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, especially the really old school stuff.

Documentary Review: Comic Book Independents (2007)

Also known as: Independents
Release Date: July 21st, 2007
Directed by: Chris Brandt
Music by: Tana Rusitanonta

Bain Street Productions, 77 Minutes

Review:

This was an interesting little documentary.

Mainly, it just interviewed several comic book creators, about two dozen. It focused on what it takes for them to create, how they work and also discusses some philosophical stuff within the comic book industry.

This isn’t a documentary that gets too political or anything like that, which is good as the comic book industry has no gotten incredibly political the last few years. This really just lets the creators talk about themselves, their work and their process. There are some general questions proposed to all of the interviewed subjects but a good portion of this is dedicated to their own unique styles and viewpoints.

Still, this wasn’t a very engaging documentary. Informative, yes… but not engaging. I think that this is due to how things were edited and cut together in post production. The film jumps around more than it should and I get that it is trying to tie together the ideas of different creators in regards to the same subject but sometimes this felt like a collection of soundbites.

It just didn’t seem like it flowed organically or all that coherently. And while I love the subject matter, I was kind of bored watching this.

It’s not a total waste and is worth checking out if you have an interest in comics, especially from the creative side. I just wish that the finished product was more fluid and orderly.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: Other documentaries on the comic book industry: The Image RevolutionRobert Kirkman’s Secret History of ComicsSuperheroes: A Never-Ending BattleChris Claremont’s X-Men and 24 Hour Comic.

Comic Review: Hack/Slash – Omnibus Four

Published on: June 12th, 2012
Written by: Tim Seeley
Art by: Dan Leister, Erik Larsen

Devil’s Due Publishing, Image Comics, 300 Pages

Review:

It has been a really long time since I first picked up Hack/Slash and even though I’ve read through the first three omnibuses a few times, I hadn’t picked up the fourth and fifth until recently.

I forgot how much I enjoyed this series. It’s perfect for fans of ’80s era slasher films and it brings me right back tot hat special place where I was a young kid perusing the aisles of mom and pop video stores looking for the next low budget slasher flick.

Where something like this could easily run its course and get repetitive, Tim Seely keeps things fresh and new and knows how to write complex and interesting characters.

The stories in this collection start to steer the series in new ways. Cassie decides that her and Vlad need to go it alone, as all their allies are constantly in danger due to their association. Also, we learn much more about the Black Lamp Society and Samhain. Additionally, some of the classic villains from earlier stories start to return to be thorns in Cassie and Vlad’s sides.

I wasn’t sure if this collection would have any cool crossovers in it and they don’t come till the end. There is a really well done crossover with Victor Crowley of the Hatchet film series. That one is then followed up by a crossover with Zombies vs. Cheerleaders, which I don’t know much about but it is a comic series and a card game. I’ll check out some of the comics in the future.

I liked the stories collected here and things felt new again with some of the narrative shifts.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: The other Hack/Slash omnibuses. But They should be read in order.

Comic Review: The Savage Dragon, Vol. 1: Baptism of Fire

Published: May 6th, 2002
Written by: Erik Larsen
Art by: Erik Larsen

Image Comics, 160 Pages

Review:

I recently watched a documentary about the formation of Image Comics in the early 1990s. It was a company that I immediately aligned myself with as a fan, as every artist that I loved at Marvel left and went independent in an effort to buck the system and make more money, all while having the creative freedom to do whatever the hell they wanted.

Erik Larsen left his cushy job at Marvel, working hard on the top Spider-Man titles, and brought his creation The Savage Dragon to Image. In fact, this series was so huge and successful upon its debut that it has had a long lasting effect, being only one of two of Image’s launch titles that continued to be published from its 1992 debut all the way into the 2010s. The other title was Todd McFarlane’s Spawn.

I actually haven’t read The Savage Dragon since the ’90s but I stuck with it for several years until later high school social responsibilities monopolized my schedule. Plus, I got burnt out on comics for awhile, even though I was once an aspiring comic book artist. I think I just picked up on how bad a lot of the ’90s comic book tropes were and when I did read comics, I was more driven to check out all the older classics that were readily available in my comic shop or in trade paperbacks in bookstores.

While The Savage Dragon is still cool, it does fall victim to some of these unavoidable tropes, just as the other Image Comics titles did. It has clunky, uninspiring writing, bad dialogue and some pretty awful character designs, especially where the villains are concerned. I think a lot of artists, whether they realized it or not, were taking creative cues from comic book wunderkind Rob Liefeld in how he loved big odd-looking guns, cyber body parts, metal masked villains with huge capes and well… just about everything that became synonymous with ’90s comics. In this first chapter of The Savage Dragon saga, I don’t know if Larsen even knew where he was going or if this was just more about experimentation.

Dragon is a cool hero and I’m happy that Larsen didn’t try to answer the mysteries of his past too soon. This collection covers his original four issue miniseries before he would go on to have an ongoing series. Enough is established here to get you interested in the characters and situations but there really isn’t much of a traditional story arc in this limited series’ narrative structure. It serves as a four-part origin story with just enough origin to get things rolling but certainly not the whole backstory of how Dragon came to be Dragon.

While I did like my experience in revisiting the earliest Dragon story arc, I’ll have to get back into the longer running series in order to get a real feel for the character and Larsen’s larger vision.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: Other early Image Comics releases: SpawnYoungblood, WildC.A.T.S., etc.