The High Five Podcast Episode 42 – Favorite Book & Comic Discoveries Of 2021

With 2021 coming to an end, I’m looking back at some of my favorite pop culture experiences of the year. This time around, I’m focusing on books and comics I read for the first time this year, with plenty of nods to previous episodes for newcomers (see links below)!

If you’re curious about the other episodes I mentioned, here are a bunch of handy-dandy links!

As always, you can email me at high5tj at gmail.com or follow me on Twitter and Instagram. Also feel free to subscribe to my YouTube Channel!

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.

Youthful Marvel Heroes Trade Post: Secret Warriors Vol. 1 & Young Avengers Presents

SECRET WARRIORS VOLUME 1 (Marvel) Written by Brian Bendis and Jonathan Hickman, drawn by Stefano Caselli Collects Dark Reign: New Nation excerpts, Secret Warriors #1-6 One of my all-time favorite comic book characters is Nick Fury. I love the old Steranko stuff and pretty much anything else the guy appears in. Unfortunately after the sub-par Secret War miniseries, my boy disappeared for a while, but eventually popped back up in Secret Invasion and got his own book again during Dark Reign. I think I’ve gone on record as saying that I haven’t been a big fan of the huge sweeping events that have plagued Marvel from Civil War on. It’s so hard to pick up a trade and try to figure out when the hell it fits in with all that nonsense. It takes away the classicness of some really good stories and lead to even more bad stories. Lucky, Secret Warriors was a damn good book, though I’m not a big fan of the basis behind the book itself: Hydra has been running S.H.I.E.L.D. from the beginning. I’m getting sick of stories that pull that “Everything you knew was a lie!” comics. But, that’s not enough to keep me away, hell they did something similar to this story back in Nick Fury Vs. S.H.I.E.L.D. Fury’s in this bad boy being all cool and secretive, training a group of young super powered people related to familiar heroes and villains, but also putting an army together made up of former S.H.I.E.L.D. guys, so you get a great mix of storylines from the missions to the relationships of the characters. I read this book pretty regularly when I was still at Wizard and even a little while after, but left off at some point. I always felt like this book should have been more important in the eyes of the greater Marvel Universe, but as far as I know it never turned out to be that. Ah well, I still dug the story and Caselli’s art is absolutely amazing. It’s stylized and a little cartoony, but still has an edge that integrates the multiple elements I mentioned. I’d check out anything this guy draws. For now, I’m keeping this book in my collection because it’s Fury and I dig the story, but I might get rid of it if the later volumes turn out to suck. We shall see. YOUNG AVENGERS PRESENTS (Marvel) Written by Ed Brubaker, Brian Reed, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, Paul Cornell, Kevin Grevioux and Matt Fraction. Drawn by Paco Medina, Harvey Talibao, Alina Urusov, Mark Brooks, Mitch Breitweiser and Alan Davis. Collects Young Avengers Presents: Patriot, Hulkling, Wiccan & Speed, Vision, Stature and Hawkeye. Another team of young superheroes related in some way to other heroes, Young Avengers was fun when it came out. And by that I mean that original writer Alan Heinberg did a great job, but the book was SO late that it got really frustrating. Anyway, instead of getting forgotten or only featured in their own book like The Runaways were the Young Avengers were integrated into the rest of the Marvel U, including Civil War and the following events. Some even chose different sides of the Registration Act to support, effectively breaking the team up. this series of one shots came out to bring the focus back to the teen characters with a murderer’s row of Marvel’s hottest writers. Overall? The book suffers from the “when does this take place?” syndrome I mentioned above. It’s cool that they got Captain America writer Brubaker to write the Patriot story and Ms. Marvel‘s Brian Reed to write a story featuring the time displaced Captain Marvel meeting his supposed son Hulkling. I believe it turned out that Captain Marvel was a Skrull which kid of cuts the legs out from the story, but at least Hulkling’s emotions ring true. Aside from that, the book adds a few nice bits to the characters, but I’ve got to say that they would have been better off in an ongoing or a series of minis. Instead, this feels too little too late. I believe Heinberg’s coming back to the team which should be interesting. I’ll come back for that (after finishing this trade, I went back and re-read the original 12 issues which were pretty great still, I love how it seemed like they were related to some Avengers, but were actually related to others).