Toy Commercial Tuesday: Spider-Man Spider Force

Oooh, I stumbled upon a doozey this week! Even though I was a die-hard fan of 80s toys and cartoons growing up, most of them were gone by the time I started getting an allowance or going to the toy store with my grandma. Luckily, by then (the mid 90s) a whole slew of comic-based cartoons were hitting the airwaves as their toy counterparts appeared in stores. I was already into comics by then and loved watching superhero adventures, even if they were based on Marvel books (I was a DC kid through and through then). So, the Spider-Man and X-Men cartoons and toys were where it was at for me. Back then you could get a figure for about $5 and if you happened to hit a sale, you could walk out with a bag of figures for what it costs to get one today.

In other words, I have a lot of Spidey toys, including some of the ones from the Spider Force line which included the Avenger Wasp, Beetle, Nazi bee villain Swarm, Tarantula and CyberSpider Spider-Man. Oh, and apparently a Spider-Mobile (or Web Car) too! This is a pretty bonkers line-up when you think about it, but a fun one nonetheless. Notice how pose-y the bodies are. That’s the influence of companies like McFarlane Toys on the industry back then. I know for sure I picked up the Wasp and maybe a few others.

Spider-Man Trade Post: Big Time & Matters Of Life And Death

amazing spider-man big time The Amazing Spider-Man: Big Time (Marvel)
Written by Dan Slott, drawn by Humberto Ramos with Neil Edwards & Stefano Caselli
Collects Amazing Spider-Man #648-651

Want to know something? I’ve never really read Spider-Man comics. I’ve loved just about every incarnation I’ve seen on TV, some of the movies and really dig the idea of the characters, but every time I asked someone to recommend a definitive Spider-Man run from the modern era, there wasn’t much of a general consensus. That all changed in the past few years when Dan Slott took over the book. He was part of the rotation when the line was slimmed down to just Amazing Spider-Man after One More Day, but eventually took the reigns himself. I actually tried getting into the run with New Ways To Die, but it didn’t stick. Still, I wanted to give it a shot and Big Time seemed like the place to go.

And boy, was it! I think I’m in love with this run and have already requested the next six or seven volumes from the library. Much like with Jonathan Hickman’s Fantastic Four run that I love so much, Slott takes what the general public knows about the character while also incorporating new elements and (I assume) offering plenty of tasty bits for longtime fans. No, I didn’t know that Aunt May was married to J. Jonah Jameson’s dad or that JJJ had been elected mayor, but those details didn’t derail me at any point from enjoying the story. Even when characters with highly complicated back stories like Hobgoblin and Mac Gargan come into play, Slott conveys the exact right amount of information without coming across as a mega info dump.

But, you don’t stay on a book for so long just because you write stories that are easy for me to read. You stay on a book because you create great stories with characters readers can’t get enough of. I’m reminded of the love I had for Peter Parker when I watched the 90s cartoon. Sure he has the problems he’s always had (or new versions), but he’s also not a total sad sack about them as he was in Spider-Man 2. In fact, as these two books move along, things start going really well for Pete as he scores a killer new job. But these are comics and we’re talking about Spider-Man, so it can’t really last, can it?

amazing spider-man matters of life and deathThe Amazing Spider-Man: Matters of Life and Death (Marvel)
Written by Dan Slott with Fred Van Lente, drawn by Stefano Caselli, Humberto Ramos, Marcos Martin, et al
Collects Amazing Spider-Man #652-657, 654.1

The fun times start to decline for Spider-Man and Peter in this volume as Smythe attacks J. Jonah Jameson’s family and loved ones with an army of insect-enhanced people who share his distaste for the former Daily Bugle Editor-In-Chief. Unfortunately for everyone involved, Smythe makes good on his threat and offs someone Jonah loves and, even though I’ve only read these few issues with this character, I’d grown quite fond of them and felt pretty darn bad myself.

Though nowhere near as bad as Peter who shuts down a bit before deciding that he’s not going to let anyone else die. Leading up to that, though, we get Amazing Spider-Man #655, an issue that deals with death and loss in such a raw, real way that it’s easily one of the best, most honest comic books I’ve ever read.

There’s a lot more going on in these books as well including the first appearance of Flash Thompson as Venom (which spun out into its own series), Parker’s new workmates and what they think they know about Spider-Man and not one, but TWO different costumes for our hero. I’m a sucker for that kind of stuff.

Most of all, I love how fully Slott embraces Peter Parker’s intelligence. Before I worked at Wizard and was exposed to a lot more comics, I never really thought about how Parker fits up there with Banner, Stark and Richards, but he does and Slott goes right in for that idea. Smart is sexy and nerds are cool. We need more of that pretty much everywhere.

I’m also a big fan of the artwork in these books. Ramos is an artist I generally associate with horror comics like Crimson, but drawing Spider-Man is in his blood! He mixes the flexibility of the character with the ability to capture facial expressions perfectly AND kill it when it comes to the villains. I also quite enjoy Caselli’s style and have since I first saw him draw Secret Warriors. And, boy, I hope Martin won all the awards for Amazing #655. The script for that was top notch, but the art came up to the same level.

Toy Commercial Tuesday: Spider-Man

He-Man, Transformers and G.I. Joe might have been the action figures that made me fall in love with toys, but it was Marvel related comic and cartoon figures that kept me in the game for a while. I was a big fan of X-Men and Spider-Man when they aired on Fox in the mid 90s and quickly focused my toy buying gaze on figures from those lines. I have two large copy paper boxes filled to the brim, one with all X-Men related figures, the other packed with toys based on the Iron Man, Fantastic Four, Silver Surfer, Hulk, Avengers and Spider-Man cartoons. So, seeing this commercial with many of the early Spidey figures as well as that 90s-tastic opening theme music made me smile. Of the toys shown in this spot, I had that weird Spider-Man with built-in webs, Dr. Octopus. as well as Carnage and Hobgoblin who only show up at the end. I hope Lu’s still into Spider-Man by the time she’s old enough to play with action figures.

Late To The Xbox Live Party: The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

amazing spider-man xbox 360 I’m probably starting to sound like a broken record here, but Spider-Man 2 for the PS2 is still one of my all time favorite video games. It did the open world/mission-based thing incredibly well while also offering all kinds of Spidey-based add-on powers and moves to keep things interesting as you swung through NYC, stopping occasionally to kick a criminal’s teeth in. There was a connection to the movie of the same name, of course, but not a huge one, which is great for me because I think the middle of that movie stinks

As I mentioned when I talked about the trailer for Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions — which I erroneously referred to as Dark Dimensions for some reason — I really wanted to like Ultimate Spider-Man which took many of its cues from Spidey 2, but also seemed to dumb things down more than I liked. Since then I’ve kind of shied away from the franchise after not hearing great things about games like Friend Or Foe and Web Of Shadows. But, when some of my friends who are far more into video games than I started telling me that Amazing Spider-Man — based on the film reboot I still haven’t seen — might just be the next Spidey 2, I was definitely interested and actually got a copy of the game for Christmas. 

And it’s close, but it didn’t really hit all the same notes for me. In fact this game, while a lot of fun and challenging at times, really didn’t seem to offer much in the way of new gameplay experience. I’m far from an unbiased voice in this conversation, but the game itself really just felt like an updated version of a game that’s nearly a decade old. There’s nothing particularly wrong with that, but I was really hoping for something that would take a great game, update it for a new console and also add a lof of new goodness on to it. I mean, the open world style of games have been around for a long time and yet this one didn’t seem to add much to the sandbox. 

And yet, I still had fun with the game. I’ve mentioned plenty of times here and there that my daughter Lucy actually really got excited about this game. For a few weeks she liked watching the old 60s Spider-Man cartoon, but then lost interest but still liked the character. She saw me playing Amazing Spidey and really dug it. In fact, one of the reasons it’s taken me so long to finish this game is that I basically stopped playing it when the kid wasn’t awake. Also, not for nothing, but when a toddler is yelling at you to play a game, it can take away some of the fun. 

So there was an added level of doing something cool with my daughter that she dug while also going through a game that I liked for the most part. Again, it’s not a bad game by any means, but I was just hoping for more. Even though it didn’t do everything I wanted, I still had a great time web-swinging around a digital New York City, trying to figure out where I’ve been and where I can throw down with some bad guys. I even enjoyed the main storyline which does a cool job of mixing a zombie outbreak story and some crazy big mech robot stuff. That’s all aces in my book. 

I’ve already moved on to my next video game which actually happens to be Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions which is much more of a straight-ahead action game than an open world sandbox. I think I’m getting the hang of it and it’s a lot of fun to mash buttons while kicking bad guy butt and also hopping from timeline to timeline while experiencing one cohesive story. Fun stuff so far. I’ll probably review it when I finish, which might be another five months, we’ll see! 

Toy Commercial Tuesday: Spider-Man 2000 Web Splashers

If you’re like me, the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Spider-Man is awesome ocean adventures. Ridiculous as these toys might seem, I gotta say, they’re actually pretty cool. I always loved water toys as a kid and would have definitely been all over a floating action figure play set to play with in the tub or at the lake. I especially like that the first Spidey we see is actually the Ben Reilly version of the character instead of the classic one. That dude LOVES the water.

The Box: Mortal Kombat Battlewave #4, Web Of Spider-Man #81 & Deathwatch 2000 Earth 4 #2

As I explained last week, my pal Jesse bought me a longbox packed with comics, many of which had five or six copies. I put what I had in alphabetical order, put them in my sliding-top coffee table and I’ll reach in, pull out comics at random and give them a read. Sometimes I discover a gem, sometimes, not so much.

First up, I read Mortal Kombat: BattleWave #4 from Malibu, which seems to have been purchased by Marvel at this point (1995). This comic was written by Charles Marshall and drawn by Patrick Rolo and it was surprisingly one of the best of the box so far. I figured I would be completely lost because I only ever rented Mortal Kombat games in the past. But, I actually found myself pretty interested in what’s going on.

I don’t know why the different people are fighting on their particular sides, but you’ve got Johnny Cage and Jax fighting Smoke and Jade on a crashing airplane. This is a tricky thing to write and some of the artwork is a little out of control, but I think it was handled really well. There’s other stuff I didn’t necesarrily get and a back-up story about a cat-man fighting Goro, but I was actually pretty intrigued by the world that Marshall was working with here. Iconic characters doing cool things in such a way that a new reader can understand is not a terrible thing.

Also, I dug Rolo’s art. I don’t I’m familiar with his work, but it’s got an almost cartoony, exaggerated nature that never looks too cartoony or exaggerated. In other words, I wouldn’t be upset if I found more MK comics by these guys in The Box. Bonus piece of info: Marvel editor Mark Paniccia edited this comic!

I had less fun reading Marvel’s Web Of Spider-Man #81 written by Kurt Busiek and drawn by Steve Butler. The story follows two brothers, one who decides to be a good person and goes to school while the other decides to become the oh-so-90s villain Bloodshed. It’s not a bad story, but it’s one I’ve read before. Actually, it’s one I’ve read from Busiek before in the pages of Astro City: Dark Ages Books 1 and 2 which set several miniseries’ worth of comics around this idea. So, seeing it done all in a compressed format with different characters just feels a little repetitive.

Mind you, this is not a slam against this comic. I’ve come to realize that there are certain kinds of stories you can read done plenty of different ways and others that you don’t. I feel like I read this idea done really well by the writer already and just didn’t feel the need to go through it again.

I will note that Butler, an artist I’m not very familiar with, did a great jon in the issue. His Spidey looks iconic, his characters bold (when they’re supposed to be) and he gets to work with several great facial expressions that he nails.

I do admit, there is a part of me that misses villains like Bloodshed. His motivations are the same as villains today, but that look is insane. He’s basically got enhanced strength and…spikes as well as a pink ponytail for some reason. In reality, if you saw this guy, you’d be torn between quivering in terror and snickering.

Lastly, I read Deathwatch 2000 Earth 4 #2 from Continuity Comics. I think that’s the title at least, I honestly can’t tell. I remember having a few Continuity books from various grab bags as a kid and never knowing what the hell was going on. That continues to be the case with this issue written by Neal Adams and Paul Stone with art by Aron Weisenfeld. Honestly, I can not tell you what happened. There’s one group of super people all with silly names like Urth and Fyre fighting another group and then a third shows up at some point.

There are some explanations along the way but they just wind up confusing more. I’m not the biggest fan of those basic information recap pages, like the ones that Marvel did in the mid-2000s, but it would have been immensely helpful in these comics, even more so considering these are brand new comics from a presumably brand new comic company. I didn’t do any research (yet) on Continuity or what was going on because I like to go in fresh, but I probably should have. The art doesn’t help matters any either. This was in the middle of the 90s heyday where nothing comes in a grid and all the panel lines look like they’ve been singed. It’s like mental color overload with stuff you’re not given enough information to care about. I think it’s also environmental, which makes it feel like a more “extreme” version Captain Planet, which I do not want to read.

Oh, I forgot to mention, this book was polybagged AND came with a trading card. Anyone want to trade for Firebat?

The Box: Defenders #10, Amazing Spider-Man #351 & Archer And Armsstrong #17

For my birthday, my pal Jesse sent me a long box full of comics from a company called Cardsone that does all kinds of bulk sales. I highly recommend checking out their site and also perusing the catalog which has some amazingly weird stuff in it. The box was packed to the gills and I felt bad for the UPS guy who had to carry it all the way to my door, but got over that pretty quickly and dove right in. Flipping through the box, I quickly realized that the majority of the books in the box were doubles, triples and whathaveyou. That’s probably a good thing because I don’t think my wife would me okay with me storing yet another long box in the house.

Anyway, my first order of business was to alphabetize everything and then go through and pull out one each of the books which was about a quarter of the contents. There were a lot of CrossGen books as well as some Valiant and Comico and a few Marvel and DC comics. With everything in order, I put them in a stack in my table (it’s got a sliding top, so you can actually put things inside of it) and have been reaching in and pulling comics out at random. I will be reviewing them in threes here on the blog moving forward, so let’s have fun with it.

I actually grabbed The Defenders #10 (2001) by Kurt Busiek, Eric Stephenson and Erik Larsen first because I remember buying the first issue when it came out. Not sure why I didn’t continue reading, but in the many years between then and now I’ve come to greatly appreciate Busiek and Larsen as creators in their own right, so then working together should be rad, right?

Yeah, it pretty much is. I’ll admit to feeling a little lost, but that’s to be expected when reading the tenth issue in a series of comics, I think. But there are enough flashbacks to get you caught up. In addition to the rad art by Larsen who gets to draw not only the Defenders, but also M.O.D.O.K. and an army of supervillains that includes Venom, Rhino, Sandman and more. It’s a fantastic example of his powers and Busiek’s ability to work so well within the world of continuity-heavy comics. Both these guys are fantastic and do an excellent job in this book. It makes me want to go and get the rest of the issues so I can enjoy this one all the more.

Up next was The Amazing Spider-Man #351 (1991) written by David Micheline and drawn by Mark Bagley. If the blurb inside the issue is to be believe, this was Bagley’s first issue as the regular ASM penciler, which is pretty cool. Man, that guy was born to draw Spider-Man, wasn’t he? He’s also no slouch rendering Nova and the Tri-Sentinel who gust star in this particular issue.

I’ve gone on record as saying I’m not the world’s biggest Spidey fan. I loved his cartoon, some of the video games and the first movie, but I’ve never really been able to sink my teeth into the comics. I don’t know what it is, but I was able to jump in and enjoy this comic. I think that’s partially because it stars Nova, a character I’ve grown to appreciate both in my own reading of books like Annihilation and also just be being friends with Rich Rider’s number one fan Ben Morse. Plus, like I said, Bagley’s art is so good and accessible that it’s hard to feel lost. He makes everyone look and feel familiar, even with characters like the Tri-Sentinel who I had never seen before.

Apparently Spidey and this thing had beef in a previous issue, but Web Head had the power of Captain Universe to help him defeat the mechanical menace. He and Nova stumble upon this while trying to find out where some high tech weapons are coming from.

Overall, the issue’s pretty fun. You’ve got great banter between Spidey and Nova, some static between Mary Jane and Peter and a big fight with a big ol’ machine. Can’t go wrong with that.

I did not enjoy Archer & Armstrong #17 (1993) by Mike Baron and Mike Vosburg nearly as much as the other two issues, however. I actually know more people who used to work at Valiant than characters in their comics (many Valiant folks moved to Wizard when the former closed up shop). I have one issue of this book in my collection where a dude is hitting another dude in front of a slot machine I think (okay, I looked it up and oddly enough it’s the issue before this one, #16) but never actually read it.

The problem with this issue isn’t necessarily in the story or the art, which kind of looks like it was colored with colored pencils, but the fact that absolutely no attempt is made to explain who these characters are. They hint that Archer (or maybe Armstrong, who knows?) is some kind of ancient indestructible fighter guy…or something. I could look it up on Wiki and maybe some day I will, but I honestly don’t care that much. If you’re writing a book like Spider-Man or Batman where the character is out there in the consciousness, then you can get away without overtly explaining who your leads are, what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. When you’re only in your second year of publishing a pair of characters you just made up? Might be a good idea to throw in some kind of explanation page or even one of those text boxes in the front that explain the basic concept. You know, something like: “Sent from a dying world, an alien boy grew up on Earth to gain amazing powers under its yellow sun. Now he fights for truth, justice and the American way as Superman!” Something like that. Based solely on this one issue, I’m not surprised that the big V didn’t work out so well.