TV Review: The Comic Book Greats: Episode 1 – Spotlight on Todd McFarlane (1991)

Released: 1991
Created by: Stan Lee
Directed by: Rick Stawinski
Music by: Rick Stawinski, Rob Stawinski
Cast: Stan Lee (host), Todd McFarlane

Excelsior Productions, Stabur Home Video, 1 Episodes, 50 Minutes

Review:

I didn’t have all of these VHS tapes when I was a kid but I did have a lot of them. Luckily for me, and all of you, these are on YouTube. I’ve wanted to revisit these for ages but I haven’t had a working VCR since the Bush II administration.

I was going to review the series as a whole. However, after watching the first episode, which featured Stan Lee interviewing Todd McFarlane, I felt that each episode probably deserves its own review.

This was great to see, twenty-seven years later, as I’m no longer twelve and I had a much greater appreciation of this now than I did back then.

First of all, it was fantastic seeing Stan Lee, still with some youthful vigor, interviewing Todd McFarlane and discussing art techniques and the history of the business, as well as Todd’s career.

It’s pretty clear that Todd would have been a great teacher, as he shows the how and why he employs the techniques he does. For those wanting to get into drawing comics, this is a pretty valuable tool and I’m assuming the other episodes in this series are too. That’s actually why I bought a half dozen of these back in the early ’90s.

All in all, I liked hearing Todd and Stan share stories of the comic industry. Watching them shoot the shit for an hour was a lot of fun.

McFarlane is one of the all-time greats and what makes this even more interesting, is that it came out when he was transitioning away from Marvel and Spider-Man and just gearing up to establish Image Comics and his greatest creation, Spawn.

I really enjoyed this episode and I hope the others live up to the precedent set with this first one.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other episodes in The Comic Book Greats video series.

Comic Review: Marvel’s What If? (2018 Minieries)

Published: October 3rd, 2018 – October 31st, 2018
Written by: various
Art by: various

Marvel Comics, 136 Pages

Review:

Marvel has had several different runs with their What If? title. I have always been a fan of it, as it gives us new and different takes on Marvel characters. Usually, they show what happens if characters made different choices or if a major event had a different outcome. I couldn’t read enough of these when I was a kid and in a lot of ways, when I first came into comics, it was What If? that pinpointed the moments throughout Marvel history that were the most pivotal.

This 2018 miniseries was only six issues and all of them were unfortunately released over just five weeks. I wish they would make this an ongoing series again or at least spread them out more.

Like the X-Men: Black miniseries, which also came out weekly over October, this had different creative teams with each issue and it showed.

The six stories in this series were What If Flash Thompson Became Spider-Man?What If X-Men? (not a clearly defined title), What If Peter Parker Became the Punisher?What If Marvel Comics Went Metal with Ghost Rider?, What if Thor Was Raised by Frost Giants? and What If Magik Became Sorcerer Supreme?

Out of the six titles, the only ones I really enjoyed were the Magik and Punisher ones. Thor and Flash Thompson were okay but the X-Men one was a mess and the Ghost Rider one was one of the worst comics I’ve read in several years. I mean, it was beyond atrocious and getting through it was a hell of a chore.

Marvel could rectify their problems with this series, if they don’t rush them next time. If this was a regular monthly series like it was at its peak, the stories would probably have more time devoted to them.

Some of the art even felt rushed and half assed.

Ultimately, I liked a few issues but I can’t really recommend the series over all.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: old school What If? comics, many of which have been re-released for $1 under the True Believers imprint.

Comic Review: Ultimate Comics Spider-Man, Vol. 5

Published: May 1st, 2014
Written by: Brian Michael Bendis
Art by: David Marquez, Sara Pichelli

Marvel Comics, 125 Pages

Review:

This is the final volume in the first Miles Morales Spider-Man comic book series. It picks up one year after the previous volume, which saw Miles quit being Spidey after the death of his mother. Ultimately, this was a good finale to the first Miles run.

The story arc here mostly deals with Miles’ grief but even if it takes a few issues to get him back in the saddle, I didn’t mind seeing him work through his problems and trying to figure out who he is supposed to be.

Plus, this is still action packed once it gets going and we also get to see a team form between Miles, Spider-Woman, Bombshell and Cloak & Dagger, who make their Ultimate continuity debut. In fact, this also serves as the Ultimate Cloak & Dagger origin story.

In addition to that, we get to see Roxxon become exposed, come to understand more about the events that led to Miles getting Spidey powers and just how shady S.H.I.E.L.D. is in this universe.

Last but certainly not least, we get to see the Ultimate universe version of the Taskmaster, who is one of my favorite villains of all-time. I don’t like this version of the character as much as the original but it was still cool to see Miles take on one of the most dangerous villains in Marvel history.

This was well paced, even with the slower start, it had great character development and frankly, this is really Brian Michael Bendis at his best. I know that Bendis gets a lot of slack for a lot of things but this showcases the man’s talent and should be held up pretty high on his long list of stories that he’s wrote over the last few decades.

Solid, through and through, I truly loved this series and the Miles Morales character.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: The other early Mile Morales Spider-Man stories. Also, Spider-Men I and II and Spider-Verse.

Comic Review: House of M

Published: February 1st, 2006
Written by: Brian Michael Bendis
Art by: Oliver Coipel

Marvel Comics, 280 Pages

Review:

This picks up after the events that happened in Avengers: Disassembled. This story also has effects that will go on to be felt in Marvel’s Civil War event, as well as X-Men: The Messiah Complex.

So following the tragic events of Avengers: Disassembled, the Avengers and the X-Men meet to discuss the fate of the Scarlet Witch. Wolverine leads the charge pretty much calling for her death, as the potential for what she can do with her powers is too great. Other Avengers and X-Men disagree but ultimately, you get the idea that this is going to go somewhere really friggin’ dark.

After that, Wolverine wakes up in an alternate reality and is aware that he’s not where he’s supposed to be, even though all of his allies are buying into the mystical charade. Wolverine has to go against his friends, search for answers and has to convince his allies that something happened that completely changed reality.

In the end, the Scarlet Witch only leaves like ten percent of the mutants in the world with their powers intact. So Wolverine saves the day, essentially, but the Scarlet Witch with her insane powers is still a crazy bitch.

This story was a cool idea but it didn’t really move forward in a way that excited me. Granted, I wasn’t too fond of Avengers: Disassemble, which lead to this.

This is one of the big Marvel stories of the ’00s and it is certainly better than the schlock they are synonymous with now but it still pales in comparison to the great epics that came before this. Don’t get me wrong, Marvel has some events that were duds in the old days too but this book just missed the mark and frankly, it could have been longer and probably needed to be, as the pace was insanely quick.

I really enjoyed Oliver Coipel’s art, though.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: Avengers: DisassembledThe Messiah Complex, also it has ramifications that carry over into the Civil War event.

Comic Review: Ultimate Comics Spider-Man, Vol. 4

Published: January 9th, 2014
Written by: Brian Michael Bendis
Art by: David Marquez, Sara Pichelli

Marvel Comics, 106 Pages

Review:

Like every new Spider hero of the last half decade or so, Miles Morales’ Spider-Man had to get his own Venom story. This also happened early on in the careers of the Superior Spider-Man and Spider-Gwen. It’s sort of a trend with Marvel but maybe it’s also a right of passage for Spider-Family characters that have made it beyond just being one-offs or quick cash grabs.

What sets this Venom story apart from the others like it, is that the symbiote is a giant beastly thing that doesn’t resemble the classic look and is more like a gigantic mess. I don’t like this version of Venom or its weird origin story. Also, apparently there’s a host but you don’t see him until Venom is defeated and it’s no one you’ll know.

You also get to see Gwen Stacy and Mary Jane Watson come into the story but they don’t feel like their characters, at all. I’m not sure if the Ultimate universe versions of these two ladies are supposed to be hipster sitcom characters but that’s basically all that they are. And their dialogue is atrocious.

What makes this work though, is how well this story, despite it’s cosmetic flaws, taps into Miles’ larger, personal arc. This chapter in the series has a huge effect on the character and where he goes moving forward. This is the turning point in the series, where things get serious and too real. This is that defining moment that makes or breaks a hero.

This is very Bendis. And what I mean by that is that it’s an inconsistent, mixed bag where there are glaring issues but it still has the makings of a great story.

There is only one more volume in this series and I am looking forward to it, I just hope that it ends on a great note, as I have mostly enjoyed the Miles Morales story up to this point.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: The other early Mile Morales Spider-Man stories. Also, Spider-Men I and II and Spider-Verse.

Talking Pulp: Why I’ve Grown to Hate Deadpool

If the title of this article is fightin’ words, then prepare for 1485 more.

I’ve come to the realization that I just don’t like Deadpool. I mean, I used to love him back when Rob Liefeld created him and he was a thorn in the New Mutants and X-Force’s side from time to time. Plus, I was twelve years-old.

But what’s not to like?

He’s pretty much a ninja or at least, he looks like the bastard lovechild of a ninja and Spider-Man. He was also snarky and a pain in the ass. He even wore a badass red outfit with badass swords and badass guns. He had lots of pouches… so many pouches.

However, as much as I enjoyed seeing him pop up in stuff, I never really liked it when he had his own solo comics.

Okay, I did like those first few miniseries that he had because he still wasn’t quite the Deadpool that we would eventually get and I actually loved the bromance between villains Black Tom Cassidy and Juggernaut. But Deadpool would go on to change and he would also go on to have a villain problem.

Let me get to how he changed first.

In 1997, Joe Kelly came along and wrote an ongoing series for Deadpool. It was here where the character’s real super power debuted: the ability to break the fourth wall. This would continue to be a trait that Deadpool would have going into the future. Without Joe Kelly, Deadpool wouldn’t be talking to you and me, the audience, during his movies. Kelly, essentially turned the “Merc with a Mouth” into Zack Morris from Saved by the Bell. It was unique and fun at first but as time rolled on, I personally found it more distracting than amusing. But I also prefer tough looking characters that kick a whole lot of ass to spend less time chatting and more time kicking a whole lot of ass.

But really, breaking the fourth wall is not a super power. And neither is talking and being a snarky jackass.

Deadpool’s actual power is pretty much just a super healing ability, which makes him Wolverine without the claws, cool skeleton and good looks. And since Wolverine speaks softly and carries a big can of whoop ass into every situation, I will always prefer Wolverine.

Wolverine is a man’s man where Deadpool is that awkward thirty-something juvenile guy that shows up at parties, makes a fuck ton of jokes and people just leave the room. And then he follows them around making more jokes, oblivious to the fact that his routine is stale and he can’t converse like a normal, well adjusted adult.

I’m not saying that he’s completely unfunny but there comes a time when you need to nut the fuck up and shut the fuck up. This is why Deadpool is amusing from time to time when he cameos in someone else’s comic but to read 30 pages of his shtick, every single month, doesn’t interest me in the slightest. Point being, he’s a character that is much better and more welcomed in smaller doses.

Now circling back to the villain problem, Deadpool just doesn’t have any that are worthwhile. This is really apparent in his movies. Sure, Juggernaut and Black Tom show up in Deadpool 2 but they aren’t a main focus and are really just afterthoughts in the film.

Deadpool typically goes after one-off scumbags. I guess that’s fine if you only read Deadpool for Deadpool but for the rest of us, we want to see him actually face off with credible threats. Comic stories of Deadpool cracking jokes, leading up to killing a random mob boss have been done to death at this point. Lack of good villains is why I’ve never been a huge fan of the Punisher in his own titles either. I prefer the Punisher when he actually goes against Jigsaw or the Kingpin, as opposed to a random Russian sex trafficker.

The times where I do love Deadpool is when he is a real fish out of water and playing against his typical situation. For instance, whenever he’s trying to court Death and drawing the ire of Thanos. Or in Venomverse when he’s one of a few dozen characters but he finds a way to be more than his one-dimensional self and stands out while adding something worthwhile to the story beyond just comedic relief. I just don’t want Wade Wilson to be to Marvel what Santino Marella was to the WWE for several years. But he’s basically Marvel’s Jerry Lewis. A lot of people liked Jerry Lewis but a lot of people also post Onion stories like they’re real news… still.

Getting back to his humor, what is it mostly comprised of? Sex jokes and chimichangas.

A good sex joke can go a long way but when you’re writing a character that’s in comics for teens, there is only so far that you can go. And really, while this does work for a juvenile audience, the humor is still juvenile and who hasn’t heard these tired ass jokes for years already? Well, assuming you’re older than high school age.

Chimichangas are just delicious deep fried burritos. I guess it’s a funny sounding word but how many jokes can you make centered around chimichangas? Apparently, at this point, over twenty years worth strung over multiple creative mediums. You know that meme of the cartoon taco that says, “I don’t wanna taco ’bout it?” Now imagine someone holding that in your face for twenty-plus years.

Another aspect of Deadpool’s humor is pop culture references. He runs off at the mouth referencing movies, video games, bands and everything else like it’s the final battle in Ready Player One. He’s like Marvel’s equivalent to Family Guy, which I guess a lot of people like but I don’t see the humor in just mentioning some past nerdy thing. Actually, doesn’t that make Deadpool The Big Bang Theory of the Marvel universe then?

When it comes to the comics themselves, looking beyond his humor style, the stories are typically a jumbled up clusterfuck. Everything beyond his dialogue is wacky for wacky’s sake. It’s like reading a Sunday paper comic strip that is stretched from a few panels to 30 pages worth of panels. And nothing in his stories ever seem to hold much bearing over the bigger picture. It’s like every story could just be his own delusional power fantasy where he’s the only one laughing at his jokes.

Additionally, what’s the fucking point of it all? Where is he going as a character? Is he even a character that has the elements that a character should have? What’s his life arc? It’s just a long running aimless joke. Thankfully, the films fleshed him out into something actually tangible with real human emotion but I think that Ryan Reynolds and the writers were smart enough to know that the film wouldn’t succeed as a two hour dick joke. People need to connect to something and Deadpool, in comic book form, doesn’t have anything to connect to. He probably doesn’t connect to you either unless you’re just a basic bitch that thinks Semi-Pro is a better film than The Shawshank Redemption.

Looking back to the beginning at what Deadpool was, as a character, he’s just Rob Liefeld’s attempt at parodying Deathstroke. He was also purposely given a look that is reminiscent of Spider-Man. Deadpool has never been anywhere near as interesting as either of those characters though. Seriously, read Deathstroke by Christopher Priest (the current run of the character) or go back and read Teen Titans: The Judas Contract. Deadpool has never had a story arc anywhere near the quality of Deathstroke. And I don’t even need to compare him to the incredible history of the Peter Parker version of Spider-Man.

Other things to nitpick about is that the character has a terrible origin story, the art in his books is usually mediocre, he’s an amalgamation of ’90s cliches that people have made fun of for years, all he cares about is amusing himself at anyone else’s expense, he’s a prick most of the time, he’s barely heroic, he fucks up constantly and we’re supposed to laugh about it because he’s a Mary Sue that can survive anything, he’s usually in the way when other heroes are present and he relies on his healing ability over honing his actual skills.

I used to love Deadpool. But again, I was twelve years-old. I never cared about his own solo books because I guess I never thought he had much to offer outside of quick appearances. But as time moved on, the gimmick ran tired and Deadpool became the Dane Cook of comic books.

Plus, when someone says that he’s their favorite superhero, chances are they didn’t know who the hell he was until three years ago… and they probably don’t read comic books either.

Comic Review: Ultimate Comics Spider-Man, Vol. 3

Published: January 30th, 2014
Written by: Brian Michael Bendis
Art by: David Marquez, Kaare Kyle Andrews

Marvel Comics, 171 Pages

Review:

The last collection in this series left you hanging, wondering what was going to happen in regards to Miles Morales being blackmailed by his Uncle Aaron into helping him take out the Scorpion and build his own criminal empire. Uncle Aaron is the famous Spidey villain the Prowler and of course, Miles is just getting his feet wet as the new Spider-Man.

This starts off with a massive bang that changes Miles’ life forever. I don’t want to spoil it but I’ll just say that up to this point, Miles has never been in a situation where the responsibilities of being Spider-Man have been more real and hit as close to home.

The rest of the book deals with a massive battle that sees Miles team up with the Ultimates, who are the Marvel Ultimate universe’s version of the Avengers. He convinces Captain America to let him join, despite his age, but this leads to him being a soldier in a violent war against Hydra. Even for Marvel and for Spider-Man, this is so unbelievable that it just doesn’t work, at all. Despite how good Miles is and where his heart is at, anyone who would send a thirteen year-old to war is an insane person. I’m looking at you Captain America, also the president of the United States in this continuity. But really, I’m looking at Brian Michael Bendis who wrote this asinine and preposterous storyline. I mean, seriously, what the fucking fuck?!

This isn’t Robin helping Batman or some New Mutants adventure, this is an all out war for America between the Ultimates, S.H.I.E.L.D. and Hydra. Professor X never sent Boom Boom to face off with Apocalypse. Batman never sent Robin into an Arkham Asylum riot without proper training.

Additionally, the big war was a massive distraction to the larger arc here, which is Miles becoming Spider-Man and finding himself in that role. This was one giant speed bump in this series but I hope that things come back down to Earth in the volume after this one.

I really liked this series, up to this point. This didn’t just jump the shark, it jumped an ocean full of sharks.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: The other early Mile Morales Spider-Man stories. Also, Spider-Men I and II and Spider-Verse.