Comic Review: What If Conan the Barbarian Walked the Earth TODAY?

Published: February, 1979
Written by: Roy Thomas
Art by: John Buscema, Ernie Chan, Glynis Wein
Based on: Conan the Barbarian by Robert E. Howard

Marvel Comics, 37 Pages

Review:

finally collected all four issues of What If? that feature Conan the Barbarian. So I figured that I’d read them all and review them. In fact, I’ve had plans to review all of the What If? comics in my collection, as some of them are great alternative takes on the heroes and villains we all love.

This is the first story to feature Conan and it’s probably the most well-known of the four. Also, it is penned by regular Conan the Barbarian comic writer Roy Thomas.

The question posed by this issue of What If? is an intriguing one, especially for the time when it came out. While Conan has been to the modern world several times since the 1970s, this was the first of those stories.

Now I can’t call it the best of those stories, as I am digging the absolute hell out of the Savage Avengers title that started last year but this took a typical “fish out of water” story and just made it more badass and cooler than they typically are.

This also features a very brief cameo by Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson but unfortunately, we don’t get to see Conan and Spider-Man tussle.

The story sees magic from Conan’s time send him to 1970s New York City, a time of rampant crime and a Times Square filled with grindhouse theaters, lots of drugs and affordable sex services. Being that Marvel likes to sell comics to kids, we don’t get to see Conan partake in any of these awesome activities.

What we do see, is Conan not knowing how to adapt to this strange land and quickly finding himself a wanted man because half naked dudes swinging swords in New York City was really frowned upon, even in the ’70s.

He also meets a cool chick that is way too trusting and they do “Conan and lady” thangs.

Ultimately, he arrives back home by the end of the issue and it left me wanting more. I get that What If? is a series of one-shots, essentially, but this really could’ve worked and been better as a multi-issue story.

In the end, it was a solid read and I liked seeing Roy Thomas’ take on Conan in the then-modern world.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: the three other What If? comics featuring Conan.

Comic Review: Civil War II

Published: February 1st, 2017
Written by: Brian Michael Bendis
Art by: Jim Cheung, Oliver Coipel, David Marquez, Marko Djurdjevic (cover)

Marvel Comics, 317 Pages

Review:

Man, this was bewilderingly bad.

Historically, I’ve been pretty 50/50 on Brian Michael Bendis’ writing but man, it’s like when he did this, he already knew he was leaving Marvel. It also reads like he was given orders to use certain characters and he was begrudgingly forced to work them in. Granted, he’s also created some of the terrible modern characters.

While I’ve been well aware of the criticism that the Captain Marvel character gets in modern times, I always liked her when she was Ms. Marvel. But this new, short-haired, suddenly pushed into a leadership role Carol Danvers is not even the same character, remotely.

Based off of how she’s written here, as a self-righteous, fascist, tyrant bitch, I totally see why fans can’t stand her. If this story is an accurate portrayal of how she is post-2015 or so, I have no interest in following her character unless she’s actually made into a permanent villain. But even then, there are so many better villains I’d rather read about.

And I’m not really sure how I’m supposed to interpret her character. Is she supposed to be psychotic, god-powered, tyrannical piece of shit? Or am I supposed to empathize with her point-of-view?

What made the first Civil War so great was that you could emphasize and relate to both points-of-view and it made for a compelling read. Civil War II just made me hate Carol and every character that so easily sided with her. These characters aren’t heroes, as their actions in this story crossed the line into villainy.

Whatever. Fuck this comic. Fuck Bendis. Fuck post-2015 Marvel. But at least the art was really good.

Rating: 4/10
Pairs well with: all the other Civil War II crossover tie-in trade paperbacks.

Comic Review: Spider-Man: Maximum Carnage

Published: July 11th, 2007
Written by: Tom DeFalco, J.M. DeMatteis, Terry Kavanagh, David Michelinie
Art by: Mark Bagley, Sal Buscema, Ron Lim, Tom Lyle, Alex Saviuk

Marvel Comics, 335 Pages

Review:

This big crossover event started right around the time that I was mentally checking out on comics, as I had moved, gotten older and was more concerned about high school girls and trying to woo them with my heart-melting charm.

I’ve read some of the issues within the larger arc but I never sat down and read the whole thing in its fourteen issue entirety. That being said, this was kind of tough to get through.

Maximum Carnage truly embodies that old adage about there being too many chefs in the kitchen. With this, that saying doesn’t just apply to having too many writers but it also applies to this being overloaded with characters that no one cares about.

Carnage returns and with that he forms his own supervillain group. It’s kind of like the Sinister Six but it’s made up of new and D-list level villains like Shriek, Doppelganger, Carrion and Demogoblin. Apart from Carnage, all these villains suck and frankly, after reading this, they had such an adverse effect on the coolness of Carnage that I don’t really have the same opinion of him. This made him lose his luster. Granted, Marvel also fucks him over, after this, by introducing a bunch of symbiote Carnage babies.

Spider-Man is pretty much in over his head but he re-teams with Venom in an effort to stop Carnage and they also get help from Black Cat, Cloak & Dagger and a slew of other heroes that pop in and out. Morbius even shows up just to remind you that in the ’90s he was batshit crazy. We also get an appearance from Nightwatch, who was a ’90s Marvel character that blatantly ripped off Spawn just to piss off Todd McFarlane for becoming a self-made millionaire after leaving the company. They showed him!

Anyway, this is a clunky story without a real clear point to it other than Carnage is bad and he does terrible shit. This didn’t need to be fourteen issues long but Marvel was trying to bank on Carnage’s popularity. I’m sure it made money for them, at the time, but the story didn’t do much to help the Spider-Man mythos in any sort of long-term way. In fact, when people bring up Maximum Carnage nowadays, it is in reference to the old 16-bit video game and not the comic book story it was tied to.

This story featured good writers and good artists but it felt sloppily put together and like all the creative parties just kind of rushed it out or phoned it in. Some of the art, surprisingly, is actually hard on the eyes but I think that’s more to do with the colors than the illustrations. Also, I read this digitally and sometimes that can really fuck up the color of older comics.

I had some high hopes for this because I really felt like I missed out on it years ago. However, comics shouldn’t feel like doing chores. I didn’t really want to finish this but I did in order to review it, as it is considered an iconic story by many.

Rating: 4.5/10
Pairs well with: other mid-’90s Spider-Man comics and Marvel crossover events.

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: Spider-Man/Red Sonja

Published: 2007
Written by: Michael Avon Oeming
Art by: Mel Rubi, Michael Turner (covers)
Based on: Red Sonya by Robert E. Howard, Red Sonja by Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith

Marvel Comics, Dynamite Entertainment, 144 Pages

Review:

Man, I really wanted to like this but it left me mostly, underwhelmed and baffled.

A long time ago, back when Marvel had the full-time publishing rights to Red Sonja, they did a one-off story about Mary Jane being possessed by Sonja and then had her team-up with her boyfriend, Spider-Man.

This longer, five-part miniseries is just a rehash of that story, as opposed to having Spidey actually team-up with the real Sonja in the flesh.

Still, it’s not the worst idea for bringing these characters together but doing it a second time seems lazy and uninspiring. But then, so does the rest of this story.

Red Sonja’s villain Kulan Gath shows up in modern day New York City to create havoc because that’s what villains do. He then uses Venom to try and take out Sonja and Spidey but ultimately, he steals the Venom symbiote for himself because this story is already cookie cutter as shit and aiming low seems to be what they were going for.

We also get suped up magical versions of well-known Spidey villains because why wouldn’t we?

I don’t know, more often than not, crossovers like this are really bad and half-assed schlock made to grab a buck from multiple fan bases. I guess this one didn’t strive to be anything different.

I mostly liked the interior art though and the covers were solid.

Rating: 4.25/10
Pairs well with: other Red Sonja crossovers or stories that put her in modern times.

Video Game Review: The Amazing Spider-Man (Gameboy)

The Amazing Spider-Man was the game that made me want to get a Gameboy for Christmas the year it came out.

I was really hardcore into Spidey at the time and having the ability to play a Spider-Man game was something that excited the hell out of my eleven year-old brain.

This beat the superior Genesis game by a few years but it was still a really fun game for the time even if it was pretty hard due to wonky controls, poor mechanics and really simplistic graphics and level design.

I think the thing that captivated me the most, at the time, was that it had a good amount of enemies from Spider-Man’s deep rogues gallery.

This featured Mysterio, Hobgoblin, Scorpion, Rhino, Doctor Octopus and Venom, who was new at the time and the favorite comic book character for most boys circa 1990. There are also Lizard cameos throughout the game. Well, I’m assuming it’s either Lizard or people he infected with his condition, as he/they appear at every manhole in the game.

Sadly, the game hasn’t held up well. I don’t think that it was necessarily great for its time either but being that I was such a hardcore web-head, I excused the game’s flaws and just tried to immerse myself into the role of Spider-Man.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: its sequel, as well as the Spider-Man game for the Sega Genesis and the Maximum Carnage game for multiple consoles.

Comic Review: Spider-Man: Life Story

Published: March 20th, 2019 – August 28th, 2019
Written by: Chip Zdarsky
Art by: Mark Bagley

Marvel Comics, 200 Pages

Review:

When I first heard about this miniseries, I was pretty stoked for it.

The concept is that it starts in the ’60s when Spider-Man debuted and it follows him over the six decades he’s existed but it does that in real time. Basically, instead of Spider-Man only aging fifteen years (or so) since his debut, this story covers his entire life span, as he ages accordingly from decade to decade.

Each of the six issues represents a decade. But that is also kind of a problem with the story too.

You see, you can’t wedge a whole decade into twenty or thirty pages of a comic. So each issue just focuses on some sort of event in Spider-Man’s life from that era.

The total package of this series is really cool and interesting but it almost feels as if each decade could’ve been a miniseries of its own and that this is a comic that could have lived on for several years. And with the team of Chip Zdarsky and Mark Bagley, it could’ve been like a Spider-Man renaissance.

But ultimately, each chapter was pretty damn good. I only thought that the last one was a bit weak but I wasn’t too keen on how it ended. I felt like Spider-Man’s fate was kind of predictable, as this was his “life story”.

The thing is, it was hard investing into the weight of the finale, when you haven’t lived through the emergence of the massive threat that they face to end the series. And that just gets back to my feeling about there needing to be more time devoted to each decade than just single issues.

However, I’m hoping that this is just a framework or a road map and that Marvel at least has some plans to expand on this story in the future. If that’s the case, I really hope it is brought to us by Zdarsky and Bagley, once again.

If not, well… this was still one of the best comic book miniseries to come out this year.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: the recent Symbiote Spider-Man miniseries by Peter David and Greg Land.

Comic Review: Symbiote Spider-Man

Published: April 10th, 2019 – August 14th, 2019
Written by: Peter David
Art by: Greg Land

Marvel Comics, 131 Pages

Review:

Man, this was a really refreshing miniseries. And at the end, it promised that there would be more to come with this symbiote era version of Spider-Man.

Granted, I don’t know exactly where this fits within the established canon or if it is just an alternate Earth but for a self-contained story, Peter David brought his A game and it really made me want to go back and read some of his classic Hulk stories.

I also enjoyed Greg Land’s art and I thought from a stylistic standpoint, the combining of Land and David created a really late ’80s to early ’90s feel for this book. While that can be good or bad, it worked well and just made this a really entertaining and exciting comic.

The story takes place in that small window of time where Spider-Man and Black Cat were a couple. It was a rocky relationship that had a lot of baggage but this story really captures the feeling of it from the days when I was just discovering Spider-Man comics.

The plot focuses on Mysterio and his attempt at trying to get a piece of Spider-Man’s symbiote suit. With the help of Black Cat, who is blackmailed, he succeeds and this leads to Mysterio becoming a host for a piece of the symbiote suit. In essence, we get a mash up of Mysterio and Venom and while that may sound cheap and gimmicky, it works out really well and man, he’s just cool as hell.

I sincerely dug this comic and honestly, I hope that Peter David gets to continue to work on this version of the Spider-Man character. Also, I’d love to see him get to tackle more stuff in modern times, as most of the writing in 2019 is nowhere near Peter David on an off day.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: the Spider-Man: Life Story miniseries, as well as symbiote era Spider-Man comics.