Comic Review: What If THIS Was the Fantastic Four – A Tribute to Mike Wieringo

Published: June, 2008
Written by: Mike Wieringo, various
Art by: Mike Wieringo, various

Marvel Comics, 48 Pages

Review:

Back in the early ’90s when I was spending all of my allowance money on comics, the short-lived Fantastic Four team of Spider-Man, Wolverine, Hulk and Ghost Rider blew my adolescent, pre-teen mind. I was always kind of bummed that it was over as quick as it started but I loved the team and had always wanted to see more of them as a unit.

While they never got a series or anything more than a few issues and a Marvel trading card, the world was given this pretty cool issue of What If?, which was also a tribute to Mike Wieringo, who was working on the issue when he died.

Due to Wieringo’s passing, this issue was completed by other people stepping up to get it done and to get it out as a tribute.

This is a pretty cool story but because it’s a single issue of What If?, they have to cram a lot into a limited space. So this progresses through time quickly, once it gets rolling.

There are several villains and some hero cameos in this. The highlight for me was seeing Sandman form a new Frightful Four team that included himself, Venom, Sabretooth and Abomination. While I don’t like the lineup as much as the original Frightful Four, it was a cool villain group tailor made for the new Fantastic Four.

All in all, this was a blast to read and it churned up feelings of nostalgia for when I first read the debut of this team nearly thirty years ago.

Rating: 7/10

Comic Review: The Amazing Spider-Man – Epic Collection: Cosmic Adventures

Published: July 31st, 2014
Written by: Gerry Conway, Stan Lee, David Michelinie
Art by: Sal Buscema, Steve Ditko, Colleen Doran, Gil Kane, Erik Larsen, Todd McFarlane, Alex Saviuk

Marvel Comics, 501 Pages

Review:

When I was a kid and probably because I was a kid, nothing seemed cooler than Spider-Man getting cosmic powers. Basically, seeing him become a hero more akin to Superman was a neat idea and it felt like it upped the ante, as it also brought with it, bigger and badder villains than his typical foes.

However, this also happened during the Acts of Vengeance crossover event, which saw Marvel villains switch which heroes they would fight, thinking that taking on different heroes would give them a tactical advantage and catch the good guys off guard.

So with that, Spider-Man got to tie up with tougher foes anyway. However, these foes were the ones caught off guard by Spidey’s new cosmic abilities, which evolved from issue-to-issue and also surprised Spidey.

One thing that this short era of Spider-Man did was it shook up the series and made it kind of fresh. But sometimes, that isn’t the best thing to do. Especially, if something isn’t broken and Spider-Man comics in the late ’80s weren’t broken.

Reading this now, this saga is really a mixed bag. Some single issues collected within are entertaining while others just seem like they’re just not hitting the typical Spider-Man beats.

Still, this was cool to experience a second time, over three decades later. It’s not my favorite era of Spider-Man comics but it’s strange and different enough that long-standing Spidey fans who haven’t read it, might want to check it out.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other Spider-Man stories of the ’80s and early ’90s.

Comic Review: Fantastic Four – Masterworks, Vol. 10

Published: May 18th, 2017
Written by: Stan Lee
Art by: Jack Kirby, John Romita Sr.

Marvel Comics, 289 Pages

Review:

Here we are, at the end of the legendary 100-plus issue run on Fantastic Four by the truly dynamic duo of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. And man, they really went out with a bang, as this final volume was packed full of many of the great characters that have been in the series since its beginning.

Now Kirby exited the series with one issue left in the final story arc that he worked on but John Romita Sr. slid right in and gave us some pretty stellar art as well. But other than the final issue, collected here, this is all Kirby and Kirby really at his best.

This is also Stan Lee at his best, as he finds a way to work in so many classic characters without this turning into a convoluted mess. The only noticeable omissions from this beefy volume were Silver Surfer, Galactus and Black Panther but just about every other character that debuted in Fantastic Four, up to this point, shows up, even if it’s just a quick cameo. Most of that happens in the 100th issue.

Beyond that, this is full of good stories and we even see the brief return of the Frightful Four, one of my favorite villain groups that gets no love in modern times.

Overall, I’m glad that I read this entire run and this was a nice cap off to a great series.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Marvel Masterworks collections.

Comic Review: Fantastic Four – Masterworks, Vol. 7

Published: February 23rd, 2017
Written by: Stan Lee
Art by: Jack Kirby

Marvel Comics, 301 Pages

Review:

This stretch of issues in the classic Stan Lee/Jack Kirby run of Fantastic Four really enhances things quite a bit.

At this point, we’re about a year removed from the big arrival of Galactus and the Marvel universe has truly taken shape. Things feel less experimental and as if Lee has truly found his grove.

Additionally, Jack Kirby’s work seems to improve slightly with each volume of this classic series and that’s impressive, as the guy was damn good before he even started drawing these characters. I mean, the guy was already working on Captain America as far back as the 1940s and he started professionally drawing comics in the late ’30s.

This stretch also introduces some new villains and reworks some already classic ones like The Sandman, who now has a cool suit and feels like a legit threat on his own without the help of the other three members of the Frightful Four.

We also get the debut of Ronan the Accuser, Blastaar, Adam Warlock (going by “Him” in these earliest stories) and one of my favorite and very underutilized villains, Psycho-Man.

Plus, we also get more appearances by the Inhumans, Black Panther and Silver Surfer.

All the stories within this volume are action-packed and top notch classic Marvel stuff. Just when you think that Lee and Kirby had found their stride, they find ways to surprise you. Both men are f’n legends for a reason.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: the other Marvel Masterworks collections.

Comic Review: Fantastic Four – Masterworks, Vol. 6

Published: February 23rd, 2017
Written by: Stan Lee
Art by: Jack Kirby

Marvel Comics, 240 Pages

Review:

I feel like it would be hard to top the greatness that was the previous Fantastic Four – Masterworks volume but this did follow it up pretty nicely and also expanded the Marvel universe by introducing the world to Black Panther and his enemy Klaw.

The earliest arc in this collection focuses on Black Panther and his home of Wakanda. It also brings in the Inhumans, as well. While I love this story, it’s somewhat overshadowed by the epic tale of Doctor Doom stealing Silver Surfer’s powers and cosmic surfboard.

It also features some other Fantastic Four villains sprinkled in but it’s the Doom story that really takes the spotlight, here.

As is the norm for these early Fantastic Four – Masterworks editions, the stories were written by Stan Lee with art by Jack Kirby. While I’m now sixty percent of the way through their 100 issue run, the series hasn’t gotten dull or even really tapered off. Everything is still damn solid and Kirby’s artwork seems to still improve with each volume, even if he was a long-time veteran by this point.

All in all, this is still a great collection that lives up to the hype and only serves to make me appreciate Lee and Kirby’s partnership on this title even more.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Marvel Masterworks collections.

Comic Review: Fantastic Four – Masterworks, Vol. 5

Published: August 7th, 2014
Written by: Stan Lee
Art by: Jack Kirby

Marvel Comics, 248 Pages

Review:

This right here is the volume I’ve been waiting to get to! This is the collection of the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby run on Fantastic Four where everything changes and the Marvel universe expands exponentially!

This edition of the Masterworks series covers issues 41 through 50, as well as the third annual.

Within this collection, we get a great Frightful Four story, the marriage between Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Girl, the full debut of the Inhumans, as well as the first appearances of Silver Surfer and Galactus! There are also cameos from just about every hero and villain from the Marvel universe of the 1960s! This chapter in the saga literally has everyone and everything!

What’s even better than that, is that Stan Lee is absolutely on his A-game with these stories and scripts and Jack Kirby’s art was on-point.

If you can only ever read one Fantastic Four collection, graphic novel or trade paperback, it should be this one.

This is quintessential Fantastic Four at its finest. It’s the epitome of what was so damn great about ’60s Marvel and the work of Lee and Kirby.

Just buy it, read it, read it a dozen more times and cherish it forever.

Rating: 10+/10
Pairs well with: the other Marvel Masterworks collections.

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.

Video Game Review: Spider-Man: Return of the Sinister Six (NES)

While not all licensed property video games are created equal, most in the 8-bit era were terrible. While this isn’t as good as DuckTales or the ’89 Batman game, it is actually better than most games like it. It certainly blows that Nintendo X-Men game out of the water! It’s also a lot less frustrating than the Silver Surfer game, which gave me an ulcer and a permanent lifelong migraine when I was eleven years-old.

This Spider-Man game is fairly okay but it pales in comparison to the 16-bit games like the first Genesis Spider-Man title and the much beloved Maximum Carnage.

Still, this brings together the Sinister Six and lets you fight through them all in an effort to stop their nefarious plan.

This version of the villain group consists of Doctor Octopus, Hobgoblin, The Vulture, The Sandman, Electro and Mysterio. All of them are regular Sinister Six members so I was pretty happy with the lineup, as we didn’t get stuck with some schmo like Carrion, Boomerang, Tarantula, Vermin or Shocker.

As far as design goes, the levels are pretty basic and a bit tedious to work through. Granted, the game certainly isn’t unbeatable and you can get through it with enough practice or if you’re just an 8-bit platform master.

The biggest thing working against you though, isn’t the level design and overabundance of enemies and projectiles, it’s the clunky, shitty mechanics. Spidey is a bitch to control and the physics are terrible.

When it comes to boss battles, most of them seem pretty hard the first time but once you figure out the enemy’s pattern, they aren’t too hard to beat. I actually thought the final boss, Doctor Octopus, was one of the easiest in the game.

Overall, this is both fun and frustrating. For those who grew up in this game’s era and who loved the Sinister Six story arcs in the comics, you’ll most likely enjoy this. Even if it overwhelms you about midway through, it’s not a hard game to adjust to and eventually conquer.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other side scrolling 8-bit era action games based on comic books characters.

Comic Review: Fantastic Four – Masterworks, Vol. 4

Published: June 5th, 2014
Written by: Stan Lee
Art by: Jack Kirby

Marvel Comics, 272 Pages

Review:

I’ve been blowing through these Fantastic Four – Masterworks collections pretty fast. But these represent the collaboration of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby at its best while also showcasing the earliest stages of the Marvel universe, as it was still developing, taking shape and hitting its stride.

This one kicks off with the second Fantastic Four annual and then collects issues 31 through 40.

I’ve always wanted to read the second annual and man, it did not disappoint. It actually tells the origin of Doctor Doom, as well as showing him meet Rama-Tut a.k.a. Kang the Conqueror for the first time. I knew enough of what was in this massive 72-page issue but I never got to read it until now.

Beyond that, this gives us more Namor, the return of the Mole Man, as well as a great Skrull story. Probably my two favorite things come in the second half though, which sees the debut of the villainous Frightful Four, as well as the first time that the Fantastic Four meet Daredevil, which is a great story on its own.

This was a real high point for me in the overall grander Fantastic Four mythos. A lot of cool stuff happens and this just keeps building up the Marvel universe in a great way.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: the other Marvel Masterworks collections.