Comic Review: Thor by J. Michael Straczynski

Published: 2007-2008
Written by: J. Michael Straczynski
Art by: Olivier Coipel

Marvel Comics, 440 Pages (total)

Review:

When this was current, I had the series added to my pull box at my local comic shop. I loved the hell out of this series and thought that J. Michael Straczynski’s reboot of the Asgardian part of the larger Marvel universe truly reinvigorated the Thor title and all the characters within.

I was a bit worried in revisiting this, as I felt like maybe I wouldn’t enjoy it nearly as much and with nearly a decade and a half of extra comic book reading mileage. I thought that I’d discover it was riddled with glaring flaws and an overabundance of bad tropes, overused clichés and redundancy.

I’m happy to say that this held up exceptionally well and that it is one of the best comic book reads I’ve experienced in quite some time.

The story is exceptional and it does such a superb job in balancing all of these cool, important characters. Every major Asgardian gets their time to shine and is given their own subplots that have real meaning and tie into the larger story arc of the series. Straczynski even creates some new characters and they all bring a lot to the series and the new lives of all the other core characters.

Additionally, this is where Loki returns in the form of a woman. It gives the character a fresh start in the eyes of many Asgardians, even if she can’t be trusted due to her past. However, she wins over some key characters just enough to develop an evil masterplan alongside Doctor Doom, who is waiting in the shadows for his big reveal, after Loki manipulates her people into accepting a dangerous proposal that effects all their futures.

Beyond the great story, the art of Olivier Coipel is incredible and I don’t mean to use that word lightly. It was this series (alongside Geoff Johns Green Lantern run) and especially its art that got me to pick up comics again, after checking out for a decade.

Coipel creates beautiful compositions in every panel and his work was just on a completely different level than most of the artists at the time. His work looks like paintings and it fits the aesthetic of the Thor mythos and style. It gave these stories a more fantastical and magical look than what was common for the era.

My only gripe about this long run by Straczynski and Coipel is that it didn’t have a definitive ending. It left things open for the next creative team and I get that, as that’s how these things typically go. However, the work of these two guys was so great that I felt like they should’ve been allowed to bring it to a close.

Really, though, I just wish their run was longer.

Rating: 10/10

Comic Review: Spider-Man: Hobgoblin Lives

Published: 1997
Written by: Roger Stern, Glenn Greenberg
Art by: Ron Frenz, Luke Ross, John Romita Jr. (cover)

Marvel Comics, 182 Pages

Review:

I was looking forward to reading this for awhile, as it’s been in my Comixology queue for quite some time. However, I wanted to read all of the core Hobgoblin stories leading up to this one.

So this is actually a collection of the three-issue Hobgoblin Lives miniseries, as well as three issues of The Spectacular Spider-Man that continue the story.

By this point, Norman Osborn the original Green Goblin has been revealed to be alive. So with that, we get to see what happens when the Hobgoblin is confronted by the evil mastermind that he stole from.

What unfolds in this is pretty good. However, I thought that it started out fairly weak and didn’t find its footing until the end of the Hobgoblin Lives miniseries. Beyond that, it got exceedingly better.

I also found it pretty crazy that this came out about a decade and a half since the Hobgoblin’s debut and his real identity still hadn’t been discovered. But by the end of this, all the big Hobgoblin plot threads are closed. Well, except for the new ones that popped up once he was a free man again with Spider-Man in hot pursuit.

All in all, this was a good read with pretty solid art.

Rating: 7/10

TV Review: Spider-Man (1994-1998)

Original Run: November 19th, 1994 – January 31st, 1998
Created by: John Semper, Bob Richardson, Avi Arad, Stan Lee
Directed by: Bob Richardson
Written by: John Semper, various
Based on: Spider-Man by Stan Lee, Steve Ditko
Music by: Kussa Mahchi, Jeremy Sweet, Shuki Levy, Joe Perry, Shuki Levy, Kussa Mahchi, Udi Harpaz
Cast: Christopher Daniel Barnes, Ed Asner, Jennifer Hale, Roscoe Lee Brown, Mark Hamill, Hank Azaria, Joseph Campanella, Martin Landau, Richard Moll, Don Stark, Dawnn Lewis, Majel Barrett, David Warner, Earl Boen

New World Entertainment Films, Genesis Entertainment, Marvel Enterprises, Fox, 65 Episodes, 23 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

After the success of the early ’90s X-Men cartoon on Fox, it was natural for the network to ask for more Marvel properties to adapt for their Saturday morning audience. The Spider-Man series was the longest running and most successful of these animated spinoffs.

While the X-Men show still stands as my favorite of these animated Marvel series, Spider-Man is a very, very close second and nearly as good.

The stories are generally well written and even if they have to take some liberties and alter the plots from the comics. This was due to time constraints and by trying to wedge in the debut of Venom really early in the series, which changes the overall timeline of events in Spider-Man’s life, greatly. Also, the showrunners probably wanted to get as many villains added into the mix, early on, so that each new episode felt fresh.

Spider-Man has a massive rogues gallery and this show utilized the core villains really damn well.

The tone of the cartoon is pretty perfect. Sure, there are cheesy and hokey bits in every episode because this is a kid’s cartoon but it does stay pretty true to the tone and style of the source material. Most importantly, it’s true to the characters and the writers obviously knew the Spider-Man mythos well.

I love this show and it’s still fun to have minimarathons of episodes. Honestly, to me, it’s one of the highlights of Disney+.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: the other animated Marvel television series from the ’90s.

Video Game Review: Spider-Man (PlayStation 4)

I bought this game way back when it came out but I didn’t actually play it until this year, as I had spent about 18 months completely immersed in Conan Exiles and The Witcher 3. Between that, I also spent a lot of time playing hundreds of retro games on my RetroPie.

I can’t say that this was worth the wait, as it’s really just mediocre.

The graphics as far as how the city looks and the smoothness of gameplay are great but the characters’ designs certainly don’t blow me away. Also, most characters don’t look like how you’d expect them to and I’m not sure why. The game sort of ignores the comic book designs and tries to go with something more “realistic” and cinematic, akin to the films. I feel like it’s trying to meet the comics and the films somewhere in the middle but it fails at that.

As far as the gameplay goes, it’s fun but it’s way too similar to the Batman: Arkham City games. Granted, I love swinging through New York City and seeing the iconic sites but after really exploring for a day or so, even that gets old.

My real issue with the game is the story. I just don’t like it and it puts a lot of emphasis on villains that aren’t all that popular to begin with like Mister Negative. While I don’t mind the character, he is the primary antagonist for the first two acts of the story. While Norman Osborn is the mayor and Otto Octavius starts out as a good guy, there are still so many great, iconic Spider-Man villains they could’ve used as a focal point. Is Mister Negative even C-list?

I also heard all this noise about how many villains were going to be in this game and after playing through it, I’m completely underwhelmed. Sure, there are many baddies but it’s the cast of villains that they went with that are the problem. Plus, there are glaring omissions that are a bit baffling.

I get that you might not want to do a full fledged Hobgoblin or Venom story but the game could’ve introduced their normal selves, as both had interesting backstories that tie back to either Peter Parker’s personal life or the lives of his friends and allies.

Beyond that, Mary Jane is just kind of Plain Jane and she’s not even a model or actress. Instead, they made her an investigative reporter and her character is basically just ginger Lois Lane. Mary Jane is nothing like Lois Lane and this creative choice was just strange.

Speaking of MJ, I hate when this game makes you play as her or pre-Spider-Man Miles Morales. I bought this to be Spider-Man. Not his no superpowers having peeps. And there are just too many of these stupid side character sneaking missions.

Complaints aside, this is still a decent game that laid some groundwork to build off of. I’ll probably check out the sequel, if it’s ever made. I’ll also probably play the Miles Morales spinoff when it’s not still full-price.

The thing is, this could’ve been something great had they made it more loyal to the source material and not used a scrub that casual fans won’t know as the big bad for the first two-thirds of the game. Can you imagine if they made a Batman game and the main villain was someone like The Clock King?

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: its Miles Morales spinoff game, as well as other recent Marvel games and old Spider-Man games.

Comic Review: Spider-Man: Origin of the Hobgoblin

Published: May 18th, 2017
Written by: Tom DeFalco, Bill Mantlo, Roger Stern
Art by: Ron Frenz, Al Milgrom, John Romita Sr., John Romita Jr., Marie Severin, Mike Zeck

Marvel Comics, 266 Pages

Review:

One thing that’s been pretty consistent with Spider-Man comics over the years is that there have been great origin stories for the title hero’s major villains. 

Origin of the Hobgoblin may seriously take the cake, though, as this is a beefy collection and by the end of it, it’s still not clear who the Hobgoblin is, even though the first few chapters make it obvious and because I read the big reveal years ago.

This collects his first ten or so appearances and even then, his ability to trick and dupe Spider-Man is so damn good that his true identity remains unknown to the hero.

Hobgoblin has always been one of my favorite villains and this just made me love him more and it’s easy to see why he became so popular throughout the ’80s until Venom came along and stole everyone’s thunder for a solid decade.

In this collection, we meet a guy that is pure evil, calculated, smart and able to stay several steps ahead of Spider-Man and his rivals on the crime side of things like The Kingpin. And while Hobgoblin may appear as if he’s simply ripping off Norman Osborn’s Green Goblin persona, which he most definitely is, he also takes the gimmick and improves upon it. Hobgoblin is born out of stealing another man’s legacy but with that, he builds his own, unique identity and he’s still a very different man behind the mask.

The best thing about this collection of issues is the writing. It’s just so damn good and makes me wish that modern mainstream comics could muster up just a tenth of this creativity. The plot is well-structured, layered, unpredictable and not even a wee bit derivative or redundant.

While the year is still young, this is the best comic book that I’ve read so far in 2021. 

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: other Spider-Man comics of the ’80s, specifically stories involving the Hobgoblin.

Film Review: Spider-Man 3 (2007)

Also known as: 3 (trailer title)
Release Date: April 3rd, 2007 (Uruguay)
Directed by: Sam Raimi
Written by: Sam Raimi, Ivan Raimi, Alvin Sargent
Based on: Spider-Man by Stan Lee, Steve Ditko
Music by: Christopher Young
Cast: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Rosemary Harris, Thomas Haden Church, Topher Grace, Bryce Dallas Howard, J.K. Simmons, Bill Nunn, Elizabeth Banks, Ted Raimi, Bruce Campbell, Dylan Baker, Elya Baskin, James Cromwell, Willem Dafoe (cameo), Cliff Robertson (cameo), Joe Manganiello (cameo)

Marvel Entertainment, Laura Ziskin Productions, Columbia Pictures, 139 Minutes, 137 Minutes (Editor’s Cut)

Review:

“Whatever comes our way, whatever battle we have raging inside us, we always have a choice. My friend Harry taught me that. He chose to be the best of himself. It’s the choices that make us who we are, and we can always choose to do what’s right.” – Peter Parker

While this wasn’t as bad as I remembered, there are still some things that are very off about this picture.

Starting with a positive, I do like the visual tone of this film the best out of the trilogy. It abandoned that overly copper, sunset look the other ones had and most of the film takes place at night or in normal daylight.

However, the improvements in the visual look are overshadowed by the film’s very shoddy CGI effects. It’s kind of baffling but this is the worst looking film of the three when it comes to digital effects. I’m not sure if the studio cut some corners or were rushed but most action heavy CGI sequences looked like a video game. It was distracting and pulled you out of the magic.

I think it’s possible that they overextended themselves in trying to include both Venom and The Sandman, as it’s damn near impossible to create those characters, in all their glory, without the use of CGI. In fact, their battles in the film needed to be larger than life spectacles.

Now the problem isn’t the use of either villain but it’s the use of both of them at the same time. Plus, Harry Osborn also becomes the new Green Goblin.

This picture suffers across the board because trying to wedge in three villains just didn’t work from a narrative standpoint and it forced the effects artists to focus their efforts into multiple effects heavy characters.

Now the film did a superb job with The Sandman’s story and if this movie just focused on him, it could’ve actually been incredible. The Sandman gets thrown to the side at multiple points throughout the movie though, as they then have to rush through Venom’s origin in the most half-assed way possible. Then they have to deal with Harry and his Goblin thing, Peter and Mary Jane’s relationship issues, introducing Gwen Stacy and even having Peter turn into an emo douche because I guess that’s what the Venom symbiote does in the movie universe.

The narrative is disjointed as hell but where it’s good, it’s great. But every time you really get into a portion of the story, it shifts gears or throws something stupid at you. The misfires and shifts are pretty maddening, especially when there are things in the film that work and come across as spectacular. It’s like you can see the real love for these characters rise up like cream to the top but then the filmmakers stir the coffee again. By the third act, they just keep throwing hot coffee in your face.

In a nutshell, this is a clusterfuck but it’s a clusterfuck that has greatness in it. I still like the movie despite its massive flaws and for fans of Harry Osborn, his journey comes to a beautiful end. With it, the film hits you right in the feels, as you feel the pain that Peter and Mary Jane share over the loss of their dear friend and how wrecked their own relationship has become.

The film does leave you with some hope but the ending is still kind of a downer. Granted, they planned a followup (or three) to this film but those movies never happened.

In the end, this movie was a weird end to the film series. I know it wasn’t intended to be the send off for these characters but it left the film series in a strange, uncertain place. I would’ve liked to have seen this cast get to make at least one more picture but that ship has sailed.

Maybe a comic book sequel could work but with the comic industry being in the shitter, waiting to be flushed, that’s probably wishful thinking. Plus, they’ve already rebooted the film series twice since this came out.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: the other two films in this mostly great series.

Film Review: Spider-Man 2 (2004)

Also known as: Spider-Man: No More, Spider-Man 2: Lives, The Amazing Spider-Man (working title), Spider-Man 2.1 (recut version)
Release Date: June 25th, 2004 (Lithuania)
Directed by: Sam Raimi
Written by: Alvin Sargent, Alfred Gough, Miles Millar, Michael Chabon
Based on: Spider-Man by Stan Lee, Steve Ditko
Music by: Danny Elfman
Cast: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Rosemary Harris, Alfred Molina, Donna Murphy, J.K. Simmons, Bill Nunn, Elizabeth Banks, Ted Raimi, Bruce Campbell, Dylan Baker, Daniel Gillies, Vanessa Ferlito, Elya Baskin, Hal Sparks, Joel McHale, Emily Deschanel, Joey Diaz, Chloe Dykstra, John Landis (cameo), Willem Dafoe (cameo), Cliff Robertson (cameo), Phil LaMarr (uncredited), Peyton List (uncredited)

Marvel Entertainment, Laura Ziskin Productions, Columbia Pictures, 127 Minutes, 135 Minutes (extended cut)

Review:

“We need a hero, couragous sacrificing people, setting examples for all of us. Everybody loves a hero, people line up for ’em, cheer for them, scream their names, and years later tell how they stood in the rain for hours just to get a glimpse of the one who told them to HOLD ON a second longer. I believe theres a hero in all of us, that keeps us honest, gives us strength, makes us noble. And finally gets us to die with pride. Even though sometimes we have to be steady and give up the thing we want most, even our dreams.” – May Parker

I always thought of Spider-Man 2 as the superior film between the first two. However, having revisited them for the first time in over a decade, I think they break even. And that’s a good thing, as the first was a wee bit better than I remembered and this one was just about the same.

I like the story and the stakes in the first one better but this film has what I consider to be one of the greatest moments in superhero film history, if not the greatest.

That moment comes at the end of the train battle where Spider-Man exposes himself to the people on the train while he is risking his own life to save them from a horrible death. Those people, in a very powerful moment, stand up for Spidey and vow to protect his identity. Shit gets me misty… every fucking time.

The rest of the film is pretty great too and while I get bored with there being a lot of romance in superhero films, Sam Raimi did a stupendous job with these pictures, as he truly captures the emotions and the heartbreak of the characters, showing both sides of the equation equally and fairly.

A lot of the credit also has to go to Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst, who played these roles greatly while also having incredible chemistry. Sure, their story gets a bit fucked up in the third film but I’ll review that one in about a week.

Another thing I like about the film is how Raimi foreshadows things to come. Spider-Man is exposed to the public, which sort of foreshadows his identity becoming known to his love Mary Jane and his best friend Harry Osborn, who has vowed to get revenge on Spider-Man for the accidental death of his father.

It also foreshadows stories to come after this film by including Dr. Curt Connors, the man who would become The Lizard, as well as J. Jonah Jameson’s son, who would become Man-Wolf. Granted, Raimi never got to explore these characters more, as Spider-Man 4 and the films following it were eventually cancelled after the third movie misfired pretty hard.

It also felt like the groundwork was being laid for a Sinister Six story, which would become a focal point of The Amazing Spider-Man films that followed but that series was also cancelled in favor of another reboot that brought Spidey into Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe via Captain America: Civil War and his own solo films and guest appearances that followed.

Anyway, getting back on the topic of this film, my only real criticisms of it are the same as the previous one and that’s the visual style of it and how it looks overly copper. Granted, that feels like it is less of a problem here and the visual aesthetic was a bit more fine tuned and natural looking.

Apart from that, I just don’t like Dr. Octopus as much as I liked the Green Goblin. Both characters had weird designs and outfits in these movies but with the films being so good, you quickly look passed that. But Octopus feels kind of generic and uninspiring. While I like Alfred Molina in the role, I felt like he needed more meat to chew on and a much better look. In the end, however, you do really sympathize with him when he realizes what he’s done and decides to undo his work in an effort to save New York City and redeem himself in the eyes of Peter Parker, a kid he likes and respects.

Wrapping up two movies, this picture has an absolutely perfect ending. If the series ended here, it probably would’ve been remembered even more fondly but we did get that third film that derailed everything and it sort of left a stink on top of the series. Plus, after this, it would’ve felt almost criminal not to continue on.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: the other two films in this mostly great series.

Film Review: Spider-Man (2002)

Also known as: Spider-Man: The Motion Picture (working title)
Release Date: April 30th, 2002 (Philippines premiere)
Directed by: Sam Raimi
Written by: David Koepp
Based on: Spider-Man by Stan Lee, Steve Ditko
Music by: Danny Elfman
Cast: Tobey Maguire, Willem Dafoe, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Cliff Robertson, Rosemary Harris, J.K. Simmons, Joe Manganiello, Bill Nunn, Elizabeth Banks, Ted Raimi, Bruce Campbell, Randy Savage, Octavia Spencer, Macy Gray, Lucy Lawless, Jim Norton

Marvel Entertainment, Laura Ziskin Productions, Columbia Pictures, 121 Minutes

Review:

“Remember, with great power comes great responsibility.” – Uncle Ben

Spider-Man blew my mind when it came out in 2002, as the vast majority of comic book movies before it were terrible. Also, Marvel didn’t have a good track record up to this point, other than 2000’s X-Men, which was just one movie that seemed to have taken a step in the right direction.

Sam Raimi made magic, however, and seeing this for the first time in a very long time, I’ve got to say that the magic is still there. Frankly, I loved this movie in 2002 and I love it now in 2020.

Side note: how the hell is this 18 years-old already?

From top to bottom, this is a solid picture. Sure, I have some issues with the creative direction but it achieved what it set out to do, which was to tell a great origin story, close to the source material, and to entertain and give fans something spectacular.

On top of that, it’s well acted, everyone plays their parts well and even if Tobey Maguire wasn’t 100 percent perfect as Spider-Man or Peter Parker, it’s hard not to love him and become invested in his journey. I’m from the camp that really liked Tobey Maguire and I still think he’s the best live-action Spider-Man, overall.

I also thought that Willem Dafoe was genius casting as Norman Osborn a.k.a. the Green Goblin. While I’m not a fan of the Goblin’s suit in the movie, as a character, his was pretty close to perfect. It actually kind of sucks that they only really got to use him in one film but the story that emerged from his demise makes up for it, as these movies become just as much about Harry Osborn’s journey, as they are Peter Parker’s.

This is just so well crafted and executed that it set the bar really high for the series. It would actually be eclipsed by the second movie, which I once considered a near masterpiece. We’ll see how I still feel about it in another week or so. Let’s try not to talk about the third film until I review that one. I have a feeling that time did it some favors in spite of its creative misfires.

Anyway, the emotional high points of this movie still hit me right in the feels and regardless of having seen this multiple times, it’s all still very effective. The Uncle Ben stuff really feels like a punch to the gut, even if you know it’s coming and you’ve already experienced it.

Apart from the Goblin costume, my only real gripe about the movie is the overly copper look to it. It’s not terrible but I’m not a fan of everything sort of looking like it was shot at sunset, excluding the night scenes. This just feels really filtered and overly vivid. It’s an obvious creative choice but it’s not one that makes the visual presentation look more like the comics. Well, maybe the comics of the time but it kind of detracts from what could’ve been a more colorful, more cheerful look to the film, more akin to the classic artwork and tone of Steve Ditko.

One thing that really stood out to me quite a bit was Danny Elfman’s score. What happened to movie scores? There really aren’t very many that are that memorable in modern times and this one just really points that out, as it’s dynamic, energetic, fun and I’d say, by this point, iconic. While it’s not on the level of Elfman’s Batman scores, it feels more refined and complex and it doesn’t come off as derivative of his older work, which some of his scores do.

Spider-Man still is one of the best superhero movies ever made. I think it’ll maintain that status forever, as it helped push Marvel properties down the right cinematic path and it exceeded 2000’s X-Men by quite a bit.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: the other two films in this mostly great series.

Comic Review: Secret Invasion

Published: 2008
Written by: Brian Michael Bendis
Art by: Leinil Francis Yu, Gabriele Dell’Otto (cover)

Marvel Comics, 218 Pages

Review:

Secret Invasion came out after a series of good storylines from Marvel like Civil War, The Death of Captain America and the feud between the two Avengers teams that followed Civil War. I guess this was supposed to be a good payoff for sticking through that solid run of most of Marvel’s major titles. However, this was mostly a clusterfuck that created more problems than the Marvel continuity needed.

This was ambitious, damn ambitious.

Brian Michael Bendis’ ambition really overreached, though, and this mega event became a jumping off point for me back when it was coming out. After a few issues, I dropped it an never looked back.

Since years have passed and Marvel has gotten even worse, I thought that I might enjoy this a bit more and since I never actually finished it the first time, I wanted to give it another shot.

This is just one of those ideas that sounds good on paper but once you start really fleshing it out, you know it’s not going to work. Well, Bendis should have figured that out on his own, especially since the industry considers him a legend.

The biggest problem with this mega event is that it could have worked on a smaller scale. We could’ve seen that the Skrulls had infiltrated the superhero community, replacing some heroes with themselves in disguise. It didn’t need to be so damn grandiose where nearly half the heroes were just Skrulls in hiding. The conspiracy was too big and thus, came across as really fucking dumb.

In fact, this would’ve been much better had the Skrulls just replaced a few key people and there were still less than a handful in disguise. When you expect half the heroes to be impostors, the reveals of who is who loses its impact and you’re left with a half-assed handjob from a drunk instead of great sex from a pretty hot sexual partner.

In the end, when half the characters were impostors, it poses too many questions that just break continuity and it’s way too hard for editorial to keep track of, especially editorial from this era or any after.

Someone really should’ve grabbed Bendis by the shoulders and shouted, “Scale this the fuck down!”

Rating: 4.5/10
Pairs well with: other Marvel mega events.