REVIEW: Amazing Spider-Man #13 ends Jameson story arc with growth, emotional honesty

Amazing Spider-Man #13  is out 1/16/2019.

Amazing Spider-Man #13 is out 1/16/2019.

By Zack Quaintance — Amazing Spider-Man #13 continues an interesting trend I’ve noticed throughout this young: it continues to take Spider-Man continuity deep dives and translate them into new stories. This is not all that novel of an approach for stories about decades-old characters. It is perhaps a bit less common at Marvel (where characters are generally a bit younger), but over at the distinguished competition, writers like Geoff Johns and Grant Morrison have told some of our best modern comic stories by plumbing the continuity depths and teasing old ideas, concepts, principals to the surface.

That notion is one that’s been evident multiple times throughout Nick Spencer and Ryan Ottley’s still-nascent Amazing Spider-Man run and is evident yet again this week with Amazing Spider-Man #13. In this issue, the big bad who’s been tormenting both Spider-Man and his foil-turned-friend J. Jonah Jameson since issue #11 is revealed to be Frederick Foswell...Jr., who is the son of Frederick Foswell, Sr., a Daily Bugle reporter who once nearly pulled off a successful investigation of Spider-Man’s true identity before becoming way too close to his sources and ending up as a crime boss.  

Indeed, Foswell made his first appearance all the way back in Amazing Spider-Man #10 (1964), created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko themselves. Like many characters, Foswell has popped up here and there through the years, most recently in previous writer Dan Slott’s Dead No More: The Clone Conspiracy storyline, having his evil Big Man alias in story as a clone. This issue, however, takes his life and death a bit more seriously than prior appearances, having his son return to get revenge on Spider-Man, motivated as he is by J. Jonah Jameson’s now-gone hatred for the hero.

And you know what? I really liked all of that. It was a nifty way to accomplish the dual feats of A. giving Spider-Man a relevant foe to battle for a few issues, and B. continuing Jameson’s growth arc and transition from Spider-Man hater to someone who’s now seen the error of his ways. Heck, in this issue Jameson publicly admits to having been a bad journalist for all those years. For long-time Spidey fans and readers this is no small thing. It won’t garner the headlines the same way something like giving Aunt May cancer does (see Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #1), but from a character growth standpoint it’s really much more impactful and rewarding to careful readers, to all of us who have rolled our eyes at Jameson so thoroughly eviscerating Spider-Man’s public image no matter how heroic he proves himself to be.

I know for me—a nigh life-long Spiderman fan and a professional journalist by trade—I’ve found his constant inflammatory editorializing frustrating as all get out. To see him grow away from that (even at personal cost for himself) was just so much more compelling than killing or maiming the character. And so far, that’s really what’s marked this run: characters moving at deliberate pace towards moments of growth and emotional honesty. Pepper in some of Spencer’s pithy humor and a seemingly-irrepressible desire to use every last Spider-Man villain ever, and this continues to be a fantastic run for Marvel’s flagship character.

Overall: Amazing Spider-Man #13 doubles down on two of the strengths of this run: deep and serious dives into Spider-Man’s long continuity, and finales that deal more with emotional honesty and growth than they do with punching and kicking. This time it’s J. Jonah Jameson’s turn to be a better man, and the result is a thoroughly enjoyable Spider-Man comic. 8.8/10

Amazing Spider-Man #13
Nick Spencer
Penciler: Ryan Ottley
Inker: Cliff Rathburn
Colorists: Laura Martin and Andrew Crossley
Letterer: VC’s Joe Caramagna
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Price: $3.99

For more comic book reviews, check out our review archives.

Zack Quaintance is a tech reporter by day and freelance writer by night/weekend. He Tweets compulsively about storytelling and comics as BatmansBookcase.

FIRST COMICS: How Amazing Spider-Man #327 created a new comics fan

By Theron Couch — One wonders if Peter Parker would be any fun at parties, following guests who don’t have napkins for their drink and insisting, With great power comes great responsibility…to not leave rings on tables. Or perhaps he’d examine each cocktail hors d’oeuvres to see if his spider sense is triggered, With great power comes great responsibility…to prevent food poisoning. Seriously—you never want to get sick off the cocktail shrimp. It sounds funny, but this is the kind of responsibility overdrive that was alive and well in the first Spider-Man comic book that came my way as a younger reader, Amazing Spider-Man #327.

As the story in this book would make clear, it turns out there’s good reason for Peter’s sense of overwhelming caution. Today I want to look at the elements that made this book so impactful for me as a reader, as well as the story and artwork’s strenghts and nuances.

Amazing Spider-Man #327

The Cover: As if Erik Larsen and Al Gordon’s dynamic art didn’t sell the idea that Spider-Man—complete with energy blast powers—is fighting Magneto, a word bubble on the cover also makes that clear. In fact, the word bubble gives away the fight’s ending, which to me reinforces that writer David Michelinie’s real story is about something else.

The First Page: A full page spread with a word balloon of exposition informs the reader that Spider-Man’s powers are expanding in new ways that he doesn’t understand. It’s a solid scene-setter. The image of Spidey looking at the molecular formula of his web fluid—as depicted by webs—is also a bizarre enough one to immediately make readers want to turn the page.

The Story: Spider-Man was a busy fellow at the end of 1989. He was swept up in Marvel’s Acts of Vengeance while also smack dab in the process of getting the power of Captain Universe. Amazing Spider-Man #327 is primarily a rumination of Peter’s sense of responsibility (the one that keeps away those invites to parties), and the ultimate vehicle for that is a fight with Magneto. The fight between Magneto and Spider-Man is never a contest. During the battle, Spider-Man uses the Captain Universe powers to successfully lift a fully-loaded barge, deploy energy blasts, transform a crane to glass just by thinking, form his web fluid into a giant bat to hit a car, and fly. Unfortunately the car Spider-Man dispatches hits a yacht—this is where the flying comes in—and if no one can rescue the passengers, they’ll drown. As Spider-Man handles that crisis, Magneto departs and the fight ends in a weird draw. Back home Peter laments that, as he’d predicted, his powers were too much to handle and others nearly paid the price.

The Heavy Hand of Michelinie: I always forget when I read comic books from the ‘80s and earlier just how much story used to be packed into a single issue. For starters, the books themselves were several pages longer. They also frequently still used third person narration and thought balloons. This is all a way of saying how much easier it was to do what writer David Michelinie did back then. Michelinie wrote this one like a dog that won’t let go of a bone. Having introduced the idea of responsibility in the opening panels, Michelinie turns it into an overt theme within just a couple of pages. Scenes with Flash Thompson and the exploration of Peter’s new powers reinforce this concern in the reader’s head to the point that when the fight with Magneto begins, Peter doesn’t need to say—or think—anything on the topic; every single one of his defensive moves leaves the reader thinking, Damn—who’d he just horrifically injure? The impact to the yacht is the exclamation point everyone was waiting for, poised as they were on the edge of their seats. Peter defeated Magneto using great power, but for a moment he also forgot his responsibility.

Larsen’s Master of Magnetism: Art wise, the standout images from Erik Larsen’s work in the issue are Magneto. Larsen gives Magneto his typical intensity and anger, but he also gives him a cape that seems to have a sycophantic mind of its own; the cape is always drawn in a way that makes it an extension of Magneto, defying gravity to give him a non-stop regal appearance. Magneto is in a relatively short chunk of the issue given his high billing on the cover, but Larsen makes him memorable.

Final Thoughts: This issue has a fun battle with an enemy Spider-Man doesn’t normally face, and Michelinie absolutely nails Magneto’s arrogance. But the fight with Magneto has never been what this issue is about to me, not even when I read it as a kid. Amazing Spider-Man #327 made me a comic book fan. Beyond that, it made me a Peter Parker fan. I like Spider-Man, but Peter is the character I connect with. To this day I measure my own life against the ideals Peter lives by. This issue illustrates, arguably with a heavy hand, that with great power comes great responsibility motto, and it also explains that being responsible isn’t just about the immediate and close at hand. Being responsible includes forethought. It includes gaining additional information and opinions. It includes choosing to do something in a more difficult way so as to avoid negatively affect others by cutting corners for yourself. The issue is, simply put, a must-read for this period in Spider-Man history.

Theron Couch is a writer, blogger, and comic book reviewer. His first novel, The Loyalty of Pawns, is available on Amazon. You can also follow him on Twitter at @theroncouch.

REVIEW: Amazing Spider-Man #10 is an emotional conclusion to another solid story arc

Amazing Spider-Man #10 is out 11/28.

By Zack Quaintance — I’ve maybe written about this in past Amazing Spider-Man reviews, but I tend to view this title as Marvel’s vanguard book, its flagship, a barometer for how the publisher is doing as a whole (in much the same way Batman indicates what’s up at any given time with DC). This title re-launched in July after nearly a decade under one writer, Dan Slott, and in that decade, the book became a complex one, capable of pulling together months of patient storylines into mostly-satisfying and always-ambitious crescendos. Slott’s Amazing Spider-Man, to me, always felt urgent and dancing on the cusp of lasting change, even if the realities of corporate comics prevented that change from becoming permanent.

This new run, courtesy of writer Nick Spencer (Superior Foes of Spider-Man, Astonishing Ant-Man), has a different set of strengths, and while it’s still way way too soon to speculate which run will ultimately be better, Amazing Spider-Man #10 is a great example of this. In this issue, Spencer and his new direction do something well that was maybe a bit lacking in the Slott Spidey era. I’m talking specifically here about a small-yet-intensely-emotional character-driven moment that draws from Peter Parker’s long history rather than the events of the most recent issues.

Yes, in Amazing Spider-Man #10, Peter and Black Cat sit together on a rooftop after a wacky and outlandish superhero team up. This is familiar territory for Spencer, who uses the exhausted heroes on a ledge conversation fairly often, generally to great effect. I definitely remember at least one really well done such talk in Ant-Man that saw Darla Deering calling out Scott Lang on his shit. In fact, come to think of it, the rooftop conversation I enjoyed so much in this issue of Amazing Spider-Man was, to an extent, Black Cat calling Spidey on his shit, or at least being emotionally honest in a way that gave him a choice between ignoring her suffering or being a good guy (he picks being a good guy).

I won’t give away the exact nature of the conversation or of Peter’s choice. I will, however, note that it sort of brings back an element that had been missing from the Spider-Man mythos in recent years, his long history with Black Cat and how it’s affected them both. In some ways, through the first 10 issues (nearly a year by traditional comics standards), returning missing elements to the Spider-Man mythos has been the bedrock of this new run, with the biggest of course being Peter’s relationship with Mary Jane. With that noted, it’s perhaps poetic that memory was a theme in Peter’s conversation with Black Cat, because one can only assume it will again come into play as the story more directly unpacks Peter and Mary Jane getting back together. Basically, it seems like some thematic foreshadowing is being done here, and being done well.

Speaking of Mary Jane, the other primary strength of this individual issue was her secondary arc (or maybe it was primary? I think it may have been…) in which she attends a support group for the significant others of super-powered beings and ultimately takes a step toward healthy independence within her relationship. It’s an emotionally nuanced storyline, and, as with the exchange on the rooftop, Spencer’s scripting handles it well. I’ll note one more time that it’s early, but part of this run’s success so far seems to be a death by 1,000 cuts approach to the narration, stacking little humanizing moments upon each other in a way that enables the book to hit big emotional beats (as in this issue) when it needs to. If this is how it feels after 10 issues, I’m curious to see where we’ll be at after 20-plus, or, cynically, whether or not the team can maintain it.

Overall: Nick Spencer’s Amazing Spider-Man run continues to find a cruising altitude with this emotionally-satisfying conclusion to a storyline that saw our hero teaming up with Black Cat. Perhaps more promisingly, the book seems bent on enshrining Mary Jane Watson less of a supporting character and more of a co-star right at the heartfelt center of the action. 9.0/10

Amazing Spider-Man #10
Nick Spencer
Artists: Humberto Ramos and Michele Bandini
Inker: Victor Olazaba and Michele Bandini
Colorists: Edgar Delgado and Erick Arciniega
VC’s Joe Caramagna
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Price: $3.99

For more comic book reviews, check out our review archives.

Zack Quaintance is a tech reporter by day and freelance writer by night/weekend. He Tweets compulsively about storytelling and comics as BatmansBookcase.

Did Marvel Comics Low-Key Launch a Prestige Imprint?

By Zack Quaintance — Take out your tinfoil hat (or whatever), because I have a theory that might sound a little absurd: I think Marvel Comics is low-key running a new prestige imprint, one where creative teams are kept largely intact and allowed to tell stories independent of constant crossovers and editorial interference.

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t think Marvel is stopping those bad habits. In fact, in sections of its line, it’s maybe worse than ever. Hunt for Wolverine and Return of Wolverine, with all due respect to the talented creators putting in work on those, has a foundation that feels like a direct order from someone in marketing who ran a focus group with 10 randos from the mall who all like Wolverine. Meanwhile, a pair of creators who freely voice opinions via social media have been unceremoniously dumped by editorial in recent weeks.

Problems at Marvel Comics, however, aren’t what we’re here to talk about today. No, what we’re here to discuss is how amid corporate meddling and blatant cash grabbery, a surprisingly solid crop of titles that are concerned first and foremost with long-form narrative storytelling has begun to emerge, and—get this—it’s now been roughly six months or so and there’s nary a crossover in site. Wild.

So, join me as I lay down this theory today in three distinct sections, starting with when this first began...

Marvel’s Fresh Start

In recent years, Marvel has built a seasonal model for comics, rolling out line-wide renumberings roughly every 18 months, with new trade dress, titles, and creative teams, often announced on the same day. Earlier this year, however, the publisher tried something new. Dubbed Fresh Start, its latest initiative has been amorphous, with news of creative teams and titles trickling out slowly and with no clear start date or fancy new trade dress. In fact, I’m fairly certain the words fresh start have never appeared as a label on any Marvel Comic.

This is a strong move. As Don Draper famously noted in Mad Men, if you don’t like what they’re saying about you, change the conversation. That’s what Marvel has done. Fans were loudly complaining about the constant rebranding and new #1s. Now, however, there’s no blast of new #1s, no sensational promise they’ll change comics forever. In fact, this recent wave has been akin to a soft re-focusing, one that’s gotten fans talking with strong storytelling instead of flashy gimmickry. Which brings us to our next section...

The Books of Marvel’s Low-Key Prestige Imprint

Marvel’s low-key prestige imprint is, to be specific, a group of between eight and 12 titles. We’ll look at a list in a second, but it’s perhaps more telling to first look at which books aren’t included. Put simply, Marvel is still putting out plenty of comics feel like cash grabs, complete with insignificant crossovers and events.

This month, it’s been Infinity War one-shots, with their namesake connection to the recent hit movie. They seem to have little (if any) impact on the actual comic book event of the same name (which has been strong). These are far from an isolated incident. In the months and weeks to come, we’re getting something called Spider-Geddon (this may be going on right now), so many weekly X-Men books, and a grab bag of other weekly titles too. There are new books that seem destined to end quickly and clear cash-ins on old ideas.

None of this is unusual, but what has changed is that none of it seems to affect Marvel’s strongest and most high-profile ongoings, a list of which I’ve included below:

  • Amazing Spider-Man by Nick Spencer, Ryan Ottley, and Humberto Ramos: Even in the midst of Spider-Geddon, Marvel’s flagship Spider-book skates by untouched.

  • Avengers by Jason Aaron, David Marquez, Ed McGuinness, and more: Aaron is Marvel’s best long-form writer, and they know this, giving him space to do his thing with their flagship team.

  • Black Panther by Ta-Nehisi Coates & Daniel Acuna: When you have a winner of a National Book Award willing to write your comics, give him space. That’s exactly what Marvel has done.

  • Captain America by Ta-Nehisi Coates & Leinil Francis Yu: While Black Panther has been hella strong, Coates writing on Captain America is his best yet. Make no mistake, though, both are fantastic. Speaking of which...

  • Fantastic Four by Dan Slott & Sara Pichelli: Most-telling about Marvel’s interest in getting this book right is they’ve pushed the third issue a month.

  • Immortal Hulk by Al Ewing and Joe Bennett: This is a runaway hit, a deeply scary and cerebral take on a long-tenured superhero character. This book is being widely praised by critics (myself included). Look for it to win Eisners next year. It’s that good.

  • Ms. Marvel by G. Willow Wilson and Nico Leon: Thor aside, Ms. Marvel is Marvel’s strongest long-term ongoing, and a beast in trade sales. May it live long.

  • The Punisher by Matthew Rosenberg and Szymon Kudranski: I’ve been blown away by these first two issue. Rosenberg and Kudranski are a perfect pairing for Frank Castle.

  • Thor by Jason Aaron and Mike Del Mundo: This is, simply put, the best ongoing long-form run in all of superhero comics.

  • Tony Stark: Iron Man by Dan Slott and Valerio Schiti: See the above note about Fantastic Four because it applies here, too.

  • Venom by Donny Cates and Ryan Stegman: Cates is Marvel’s fastest-rising writer. He’s had great success with brief runs on titles like Thanos and Doctor Strange, and now with Venom he’s proving to be great on a longer running book too.

  • X-23 by Mariko Tamaki and Juan Cabal: The X-line is super chaotic, but this book is seemingly being kept out of the fray of the main line.

Future Outlook  

The thing about these titles is that except Black Panther and Thor, none existed in their current iterations six months ago, and so it remains to be seen how Marvel will handle these books long-term. A massive, presumably line-wide event—War of Realms, coming next year in Thor—has been announced, and it seems likely some of these books will participate. If that happens, fine. War of the Realms has been expertly built over the course of like half a decade— merits line-wide participation.

In terms of the future, I also see other titles likely to join this crop. Iron Heart and Miles Morales Spider-Man are both incoming and could rise, and, heck, maybe even an X-Title could emerge too. The real test of my theory, though, will be taking stock at this time next year, to check how many of these creative teams remain intact (or at least just the writers), and to see how many have had their narratives disrupted by crossovers, events, or spin-offs. Here’s hoping we can count them on one hand.

Zack Quaintance is a tech reporter by day and freelance writer by night/weekend. He Tweets compulsively about storytelling and comics as BatmansBookcase.

REVIEW: Amazing Spider-Man #5 by Nick Spencer, Ryan Ottley, Cliff Rathburn, Laura Martin, & Joe Caramagna

Amazing Spider-Man #5 is out 9/12.

By Zack Quaintance — We as readers have maybe come to take for granted twice-monthly flagship superhero books, now basically standard at both Marvel and DC, with Amazing Spider-Man and Batman both on that schedule (plus others too). To write and edit a title at that pace surely means a yeoman effort of planning, an inability to have even a minor misstep in terms of completing one’s work, lest a high-selling title in a publishing line skip a week and cost the company all kinds of money.

As much as I’ve loved Tom King’s Batman (and overall I have loved it, quite a bit), there’s no denying the sometimes major gaps in consistency, story arcs flawed in both conception and execution. For whatever reason, Dan Slott’s recently-concluded Amazing Spider-Man run seemed to suffer from slightly different problems. Whereas King’s scripts never lack for the grandiose or poetic, leaving him prone to mischaracterizations or over-writing in service of grand ambitions, Slott’s run on Amazing Spider-Man at times mired in the minutiae of seeding the future, leading to occasionally slow or less than fully-satisfying comics.

That struggle, I think, is also an issue with Nick Spencer and Ryan Ottley’s Amazing Spider-Man #5, the end of this new team’s first story arc. I absolutely loved Amazing Spider-Man #4, to the point I wrote an effusive and glowing review, but this finale landed for me with a bit of whump. That’s right, a whump. Spencer lays quite a bit of track for the future—be it with MJ, Boomerang, or two other villains I won’t mention here for fear of spoilers—leaving the actual hero versus villain conflict of this story to resolve itself in the space of less than four pages.

And I get that the real conflict here is between two versions of the protagonist—Spider-Man and Peter Parker, who’ve been separated via sci-fi hijinx—but their conversations with each other don’t hit any ground that wasn’t covered in more interesting and concise scenes in prior issues, and, really, what resolves their plight is pretty convenient and lucky, with neither side acting in a way we haven’t just seen last issue. And, yes, this is superhero comics and growth for the main character is all but forbidden, but Spencer’s past work (especially on Astonishing Ant-Man) has found ways to obscure that stagnation with poignant heart-to-hearts or conflicts that force telling choices from the hero.

All that said, Spencer continues to have a knack for Peter’s world and voice, and Ottley’s art is sharp as ever. Slott on his run did have an established pattern wherein he absolutely nailed the biggest issues of his run, the anniversaries and events and the like. Spencer certainly showed in Amazing Spider-Man #1 that he has it in him, too. In an age of high-pressure double-shipped books, that kind of writing rollercoaster may very well be inherent to these characters.        

Overall: The end of Spencer and Ottley’s first Amazing Spider-Man arc does a better job laying track for the future than paying off this first story arc. It has quite a bit to say about the Spider-Man ethos, but it’s all stuff we heard last issue. Still, the voice and ambitions here remain strong, and I’m optimistic for this run’s future. 6.5/10

For more comic book reviews, check out our review archives.

Zack Quaintance is a journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at @zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.

Top Comics to Buy for September 12, 2018

By Zack Quaintance — I spent this past weekend at Rose City Comic Con in Portland (which was pretty fantastic, as one might expect from a smaller-ish con in a cool city), and as a result I didn’t have as much time as usual to go over my advanced review copies for the week. Luckily, I’d had a chance to read some books in advance and some others while I’m there. That, plus the strength of previews, is what has given us our list.

You know what? For the second straight week I’m putting six comics in our Top Comics to Buy section (plus the new #1s and the 15 in the lower section). It’s my list, I make the rules, etc. I just find that dropping that last book down to others receiving votes is too thin a margin to really justify keeping it out. And, hey, what’s the hard in just one more tiny recommendation, right? Comics are too good right now.


Top Comics to Buy for September 12, 2018

Archie 1941 #1 (of 5)
Mark Waid, Brian Augustyn
Artist: Peter Krause
Colorist: Kelly Fitzpatrick
Letterer: Jack Morelli
Publisher: Archie Comics
Price: $3.99
THE HISTORIC, GROUND-BREAKING MINI-SERIES STARTS HERE! Archie has been around for over 75 years and has been through many significant moments in time, but never before have we seen the characters take on real-world events as they unfold. WWII is looming and Archie and many young men from Riverdale are close to enlistment age. If you're a Riverdale teen, how would you cope with a looming world-changing event? Join the writing team of MARK WAID and BRIAN AUGUSTYN along with artist PETER KRAUSE for the all-new mini-series that is sure to have everyone talking!

Why It’s Cool: Mark Waid is a thoughtful writer with a vast respect for comics history...and this is a book steeped in thoughtful concepts and comics history. It seems like an ideal fit, a great way to look at the universality of being young and facing the churn of a tumultuous world.

Amazing Spider-Man #5
Writer: Nick Spencer
Artist: Ryan Ottley
Inker: Cliff Rathburn
Colorist: Laura Martin
Letterer: Joe Caramagna
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Price: $3.99
Things look bad for Peter Parker......but GREAT for Spider-Man! The first arc of the epic new run on ASM comes to a climactic finish!

Why It’s Cool: We’ve been pretty effusive with our praise for this new Amazing Spider-Man creative team, which you can read about in this review of Amazing Spider-Man #4. Given that excitement, we are understandably psyched to see how they rap up their very first arc with Marvel’s flagship character. They've set up a pretty intriguing plot point, and we're excited to see how they pay it off and what kind of seeds they plant for the future in the process (ahem, more Mary Jane?)

Cemetery Beach #1 (of 7)
Warren Ellis
Artist: Jason Howard
Letterer: Fonografiks
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.99
From the creators of the acclaimed TREES graphic novels, which are currently being adapted for television, comes something completely different. A professional pathfinder, his only ally a disaffected young murderess, breaks out of a torture cell in pursuit of his worst extraction scenario ever: escaping on foot across a sprawling and secret off-world colony established a hundred years ago and filled with generations of lunatics. WARREN ELLIS & JASON HOWARD ignite a high-speed new action serial.

Why It’s Cool: This is a high-speed, high-concept action thriller with a ton of the usual big Warren Ellis ideas waiting just beneath the surface to be explored. Howard’s artwork is kinetic and crackling, and the team as a whole does a fantastic job, putting together one of the best debut issues all year. Read more here.

House of Whispers #1
Writer: Nalo Hopkinson
Artist: Dominike “Domo” Stanton
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $3.99
An all-new corner has been added to Neil Gaiman's Sandman Universe! Welcome to the House of Dahomey, the houseboat of Erzulie Fréda, where the souls of Voodoo followers go when they sleep to beseech the flirtatious and tragic goddess to grant them their hearts' desires and counsel them on their futures and fortunes. When you arrive, you'll find a party is in full swing, filled with all kinds of fabulous and fierce folk, while fish fry and music blasts. From her bayou, Erzulie scries upon the mortal realm and sees four human girls open a mysterious and magical journal filled with whispers and rumors that, if they spread, could cause a pandemic unlike any the Earth has seen, with the power to release Sopona, the loa lord of infectious disease and cousin to Erzulie, who is currently banned from the human plane. But even the fearsome Erzulie cannot be of assistance when her dream river turns tumultuous, tossing her house from her realm and into another…

Why It’s Cool: This book had me at all-new corner has been added to Neil Gaiman’s Sandman Universe...mostly because I’m a Sandman neophyte (who is very publically and shamefully making up for this on Twitter by reading an issue of that series every night). Not having a lengthy pre-existing relationship with the seminal series—but still wanting in on the fun—this book is perfect for me. I also heard Hopkinson and Stanton discuss their plans for the book at SDCC, and it sounds fantastic.   

Long Lost Book 2 #2
Writer: Matthew Erman
Artist: Lisa Sterle
Publisher: Scout Comics
Price: $3.99
Thought. Void. Space. Hazel Patch. Piper is lost and must work with an unlikely ally to find a way home while Frances is reunited with Jody as she sheds new light on everything that has happened. Piper and Frances are fast approaching the end and as questions are answered, they are forced to make game-changing decisions.

Why It’s Cool: Long Lost is a hazy and haunting dream of a comic, one that deals in nostalgia, regret, the lasting effects of childhood damage, and the ongoing fade of America’s small’s also one of my favorite new comics discoveries this year. This book is clearly headed to a massively intriguing climax, and I for one can’t wait.

Wicked + Divine #39
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Artist: Jamie McKelvie
Colorist: Dee Cunniffee
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.99
END OF STORY ARC! A 2018 Eisner Award nominee for Best Continuing Series and Best Lettering by CLAYTON COWLES! "MOTHERING INVENTION": Conclusion-Well, it's the end of the arc, in just about every way you could define those particular words.

Why It’s Cool: Wicked + Divine is far into its end-game now, and so many plot points from its distant past are coming around to matter. The end of last arc was certainly heavy with revelations, and we expect the last issue of the penultimate arc of this fantastic ongoing title to be much the same. As always, here’s hoping for HBO or a similarly-prestige heavy network to tap this one for adaptation.

Recommended New #1 Comics for September 12, 2018

  • Iceman #1

  • Journey Into Mystery: Birth of Krakoa #1

  • Low Road West #1 (of 5)

  • MCMLXXV #1

  • Wrong Earth #1

Others Receiving Votes

  • Champions #24

  • Crowded #2

  • Fantastic Four #2

  • Flash #54

  • Hawkman #4

  • Hot Lunch Special #2

  • Infinity Wars #3

  • Mech Cadet Yu #12

  • New World #3

  • Seeds #2

  • Supergirl #22

  • Wasted Space #5

  • Weatherman #4

  • Wildstorm: Michael Cray #11

  • Wonder Woman #54

See our past top comics to buy here, and check our our reviews archive here.

Zack Quaintance is a journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at @zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.

The Punisher’s Code: A Look at Frank Castle’s First Appearance in Amazing Spider-Man #129

By Theron Couch — Unlike Marvel’s other vigilante heroes, the Punisher has always used lethal means to accomplish his goals. Whether in his own series, a guest appearance in another character’s book, or even during an extended alternate future tale like the one in this week’s Old Man Logan Annual, Punisher always carries the chance for serious casualties. Frank Castle’s history of lethal justice dates all the way back to his first appearance in Amazing Spider-Man #129, wherein Spider-Man was his target and readers could be forgiven for not being able to tell whether Punisher was good or bad...despite who he was aiming his gun at.

Spider-Man vs. The Punisher

Through a lie that Spider-Man had murdered Norman Osborne, the Punisher was manipulated by The Jackal into trying to kill the wall crawler. Much of the issue focused on Peter Parker, yet I’d still call it action packed, since we are talking about a battle between Spider-Man and The Punisher, after all. And that fight started off decidedly in The Punisher’s favor, at least before Spider-Man summoned the strength to break the titanium bonds Punisher put on him.

Even after getting free, Spider-Man still wasn’t a match for the combined forces of Punisher and Jackal, the latter of which scratched him with electric claws and sent him off the side of a building. Of course, Spider-Man survived, eventually finding a clue planted by The Jackal that leads to a dead friend of the Punisher’s. The Punisher and Spider-Man arrive in the same place, and Spider-Man explains the frame job to Punisher—only Jackal could have planted the clue leading to the body, clearly killed by Jackal’s claws, but it’s Punisher who would have taken the fall. Spider-Man and the Punisher depart tolerably, if not amicably.

The Punisher’s Code

Old Man Logan Annual #1 is now available.

Even in this first appearance, Gerry Conway establishes a code of conduct for The Punisher that puts him closer to the side of the angels than the devils. The Punisher will only kill murderers. Indeed, his justification for killing Spider-Man was the supposed murder of Norman Osborne. The Punisher’s code is so rigid, in fact, he believes he must kill a target rather than allow that target to die in an accident—such as when Spider-Man falls off the roof following Jackal’s attack. Siding with Jackal may be a stain on Punisher’s shield, but Punisher remarks that he believed they were teaming up to rid New York of a criminal element.

The thing that ultimately lands Punisher in the villain column, however, comes at the end of this issue. Once Spider-Man has revealed the frame job and exposed Jackal, Punisher calls him a hero and leaves him alone, instead vowing to get revenge on Jackal. Unfortunately this set of circumstances does nothing to absolve Spider-Man of the Normal Osborne murder—the reason Punisher was hunting Spider-Man in the first place. To stay loyal to his code, the fight against Spider-Man should have continued.

The Punisher is often likened to a simple villain in Amazing Spider-Man #129, and maybe that’s the case, but I think there’s more to it than that. The Punisher follows his code of conduct throughout the issue, acting in a consistent way with a clear and avowed goal to end crime. If there is a villainous moment, it’s when he decides to stop fight against Spider-Man—abandoning his code—in favor of the pettiness of revenge.

Theron Couch is a writer, blogger, and comic book reviewer. His first novel, The Loyalty of Pawns, is available on Amazon. You can also follow him on Twitter at @theroncouch.

REVIEW: Amazing Spider-Man #4 by Nick Spencer, Ryan Ottley, Cliff Rathburn, Laura Martin, & Joe Caramagna

By Zack Quaintance — If Amazing Spider-Man #1 was a series intro and primer, than Amazing Spider-Man #4 seems to be our first real glimpse of its scope, giving readers a better idea of where the fresh creative team wants to take Marvel’s flagship character. As I wrote in my review of #1, I loved that issue, but if I’m being totally honest, I still had trepidation, albeit buried somewhat deeply.

Basically, I wondered if I’d simply given in to Spencer’s quippy scripting and Ottley’s shiny kinetic pencils, and if that meant eventually the glow would fade and the book would feel hollow. Ottley is a massive talent, to be sure, and I’ve liked Spencer’s work, especially Astonishing Ant-Man and The Superior Foes of Spider-Man. Those books, however, were decidedly straightforward in terms of ideas, and neither sustained the type of multi-year run all signs suggest is coming on Amazing Spider-Man.

And, really, it’s almost certainly too soon to say Spencer and Ottley have shown they’re able to tell a meaningful long-form story about Peter Parker. That said! I’m doing it anyway, because in Amazing Spider-Man #4, I saw hints that Spencer was interested in far more than jokes (which he’s great at) and bringing back bygone plot points that if mishandled could end up being fan service.

There were two decisions in this issue that made me more bullish about the future of this title. The first was the choice of villain, which was a fantastic reveal that both changed the way I viewed the past two issues and made me nod my head back like—respect—in regards to Spencer’s knowledge and use of Spidey’s deep continuity.

The second was how the sci-fi hijinx in the foreground was able to meaningfully unpack and examine part of Spider-Man’s defining belief system, which is perhaps the defining belief system in all of superhero comics: With great power comes great responsibility. I won’t spoil the details of how this happens, but I will note that a great way to realize the impact of ethos is to revisit what life is like when that ethos is absent. And Spencer, Ottley, and co. found a really entertaining way to do just that.

As a friend on Twitter noted, this book is benefiting right now from some great Spidey alchemy between Spencer and Ottley, and as I noted on Twitter (I really need to spend less time on there), Amazing Spider-Man is etched in stone on my pull list, but when it’s at its best (as it has been now through these first 4 issues), it makes Marvel’s entire line feel more exciting.

Anyway, I’ll wrap up by noting I like this series so much (and it’s so prominent) that I’m going to add it to the regular review rotation here, meaning we’ll have a new Amazing Spider-Man review for every new Amazing Spider-Man issue.

Overall: Amazing Spider-Man #4 continues with the great art and hilarious quips of the first three issues, also adding a villian expertly culled from deep Spider-continuity plus a well-done examination of Peter’s core beliefs. Simply put, there’s seriously good comic book-ing going on here. 9.5/10

For more comic book reviews, check out our review archives.

Zack Quaintance is a journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at @zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.

Best New #1 Comics of July 2018

The new comics fireworks started July 4th and just kept coming. Groan, I know. But anyway, the most impressive thing about this month’s new #1 was the wide variety of stories they told. So many boxes got checked by these books: New Orleans plus horror and drugs? CHECK. Encouraging new direction for Amazing Spider-Man? CHECK. Ethereal exploration of death that reads like literary magical realism in graphic format? Somehow also CHECK.

July’s variety of #1 comics speaks to a major change in the industry: a broader and expanding audience is fostering broader and expanding demand. You know what that means? That’s right—broader and expanding supply. Or, more and weirder comics. With this in mind, it’s easy to be bullish on comics right now, and the entries on our list today re-enforce why.

Let’s do it!

Quick Hits

The Long Con #1 came out the Wednesday after SDCC, telling a story about a never-ending apocalyptic con. Its timing was perfect and its concept sharp. Read our full review.

Cliche alert! Catwoman #1 was a (fancy?) feast for the eyes. The story and art—both by Joelle Jones—were phenomenal. Most importantly, though, Jones gets Selina...the aesthetic, narration, villain...nigh-perfect.

I saw Donny Cates at SDCC on a panel about Image Comics. Someone was Cates, obviously, put Pantera on his phone and growled into his mic, WELCOME TO IMAGE. This is also the aesthetic of his latest Marvel #1s: Cosmic Ghost Rider and Death of Inhumans, which are both madcap and grandiose.

Mariko Tamaki and Juan Cabal had to follow Tom Taylor’s excellent 3-year run on All New Wolverine. Tough challenge. In X-23 #1, however, the team meets it, preserving the best of Taylor’s work (the heart) while also heading in a horror-tinged new direction.

Everyone said read Bone Parish #1 by Cullen Bunn Jonas Sharf. They said it was excellent, frightening in a way I wouldn’t expect. Everyone was right. Bunn’s latest horror book (of an estimated 19) is frightening in a way you won’t expect, either. Now I’m the one urging you to read it.

Speaking of horror, check out Clankillers #1, a gritty story about gaelic mythology. Read our full review.

Ever think to yourself: I’d love to read Miami Vice meets Fast Times at Ridgemont High? Of course not, few probably have, but someone is writing it as a comic and it’s a winner. The Mall by Don Handfield, James Haick, and Rafael Loureiro is a solid debut, rich with ‘80s camp. Recommended.

James Tynion IV and Alvaro Martinez nailed Justice League Dark #1. In a summer of strong new directions for DC, this is one of the strongest, with stellar art and gleeful depictions of the publishers oft-underused bench.

Vault Comics (one of our favorites) has had a great year, and Submerged #1 is the latest book to become a part of it. Vita Ayala and Lisa Sterle craft a story with intriguing family dynamics, a natural disaster, and a potpourri of mythos. 

It’s tough to evaluate Brian Michael Bendis’ debuts via Superman #1 and Action Comics #1001. Bendis is a prolific and veteran writer, a student of superhero history who thinks in eras, not in single issues. So far, he’s established tones and started unveiling his the vanguard of his plans. The full scope of his aspirations, however, largely remain to be seen.

Top Five Best #1 Comics of July 2018

Unnatural #1 by Mirka Andolfo

This book lives in an intriguing world of dystopian reproductive laws, one that has enabled Italian comic auteur Mirka Andolfo to craft a story that is at once poignant, tantalizing, and horrific. This issue is the first of 12 parts, and I knew about halfway through reading it that I was onboard for the long haul.

To quote our Unnatural #1 Review: Andolfo clearly has strong thoughts about the intersection of sex and government, but she is also well-aware that those thoughts are best served by first and foremost telling an entertaining story. As a result, Unnatural #1 is not to be missed. And we very much stand by that.

Captain America #1 by Ta-Nehisi Coates & Leinil Francis Yu

Early indications are strong for Ta-Nehisi Coates & Leinil Yu on Cap.

This debut fittingly dropped on July 4, and it’s the best single-issue Captain America story I’ve read since Ed Brubaker’s all-time great run ended. Ta-Nehisi Coates is a writer I first became aware of via his articles in The Atlantic, before then reading his non-fiction works, specifically Between the World and Me. When he came to comics in the spring of 2016 to write Black Panther, I enthusiastically added the comic to my pulllist.

And Black Panther has been decent enough, a little wordy and dull in parts as Coates struggled to reconcile the new medium with his writerly instincts. With Captain America #1, any and all growing pains are clearly behind him. Coates and collaborator Leinil Francis Yu have made a declarative statement with this book...this is going to be a dark and action-heavy take on Cap, one that will test Steve Rogers with problems that grow out of his past continuity as well as the modern state of the U.S. It won’t be heavy handed, no, on the contrary the book seems bent on making its thematic intent slow-burning and subtle. Come along if you dare. Read our full review.

Amazing Spider-Man #1 by Nick Spencer & Ryan Ottley

I think it was in one of those retailer columns on Bleeding Cool that I read about someone saying a back-to-basics well-done Amazing Spider-Man book could be the industry’s top seller. Well, we’re about to find out if that’s true. Nick Spencer and Ryan Ottley’s debut on Marvel’s flagship title is almost indisputably those two things: well-done and back-to-basics.

We here at Batman’s Bookcase, however, have now written two full pieces about why we like it, so rather than trying to find a facet of the comic we haven’t explored, we’ll just wrap up quickly here by pointing you toward our Amazing Spider-Man #1 Review and our 5-Panel Amazing Spider-Man Explainer.

This is easily one of our favorite covers in recent memory.

Euthanauts #1 by Tini Howard & Nick Robles

Remember way back at the start of this piece when I mentioned an ethereal exploration of death that reads like literary magical realism in graphic format? Well, here we are. The Euthanauts #1 is a unique comic, as self-assured as any debut issue in recent memory. It does understated and deliberate work familiarizing you with a relatable character, one who is maybe even a bit on the mundane side, before fitfully plunging you into a world where life and death intermingle.

Someone on Twitter asked me recently if this comic was good, and I told them yes, very good, but pretty abstract and best consumed in a way where it just sort of washes over you—read twice for good measure. That’s how I read it, and it has been haunting me ever since. I can’t wait to see what this creative team has in store for this story. Oh, and I should also note that as mesmerizing as Tini Howard’s ideas are, this without question seems to be one of those ideal books wherein her and artist Nick Robles lift each other, both seemingly poised to do career best work. Read our full review.

Relay #1 by Zac Thompson, Eric Bromberg, Donny Cates, & Andy Clarke

While reading Relay #1, I got a feeling I’ve maybe only previously had while emerging from a classic sci-fi novel. Basically, this comic reads like layered and complex sci-fi being doled out by an engaging plot line, one with evident shades of the masters of its genre, namely Philip K. Dick and Ursula K. Le Guin.

I really dug Relay #1, to the point when someone recently asked me what books I was reading (always a difficult question to answer on the spot), I stumbled around for a moment before just blurting out: Relay. For more on why I enjoyed the first issue of this book so much...that’s our full review here.

Thanks as always for reading, and make sure to come back this week for our Best Comics of July 2018, period.

Check out more of our monthly lists here.

Zack Quaintance is a journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at @zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.

Amazing Spider-Man #1 Brings the Funny: A 5-Panel Explainer

By Zack Quaintance — The with great power comes great responsibility ethos of Amazing Spider-Man is almost universally relatable, especially for middle class Americans who’ve had even minor opportunities. It definitely resonated with me as a kid in a blue collar suburb of Chicago. The sum total of my power back then was manipulating my brothers into unholy pacts to combine birthday money for new video games. Yet there I was, reading ASM and nodding along, like, This story gets me.

That deeper meaning, however, was only half of why I loved the comic. I was also there because Spider-Man’s jokes were funny. Last Wednesday, a new team of writer Nick Spencer and artist Ryan Ottley took over Amazing Spider-Man (we loved the first issue), and while a more holistic view of their run will ultimately determine whether they do justice to that ethos, it’s immediately clear the humor is on point. I, for one, chuckled while reading...chuckled!

Anyway, today we're looking at five funny panels from Amazing Spider-Man #1. It’s not as insightful as some other recent Tuesday analysis pieces (ahem, see this thing about Deathstroke, please!), but like Spider-Man, we are also here to bring some funny (plus we're at San Diego Comic Con next week, so we have to do five day's worth of posts this weekend).

Let’s do this!

Panel 1 - Kiss B-Sides

The previous Amazing Spider-Man writer, Dan Slott, had a good sense of humor, to be sure, but you try writing 10 years worth of quips for the same voice and see how your results are toward the end. What struck my as different about Spencer's humor right away was how it extends past Spider-Man to include jokes at the expense of or said by other heroes in the Marvel Universe.

Take, for example, this excellent bit with the Guardians of the Galaxy. The writing here is funny, first as the Guardians banter and Groot lets slip something speciesist, and next as Hawkeye (a quippy fellow himself) mocks the way '80s music has become part of the Guardians' DNA via their depiction in the movies. 

Panel 2 - Workshopping Jokes

This was a nice little set them up and then knock them down kind of joke, wherein Spider-Man admits to workshopping past jokes to evaluate whether they're fit to be used again (although his ability to perceive their reception is a little questionable). Oh and stick with this, it's a long one...

Panel 3 - Doom-ocracy

In the (almost) words of the immortal Kent Brockman of The Simpsons, if Doom has said it before, he'll say it again...democracy simply doesn't work.

Panel 4 - Pop Culture

Now, I'm not saying that Spidey should become Deadpool (oof, no thanks, one is enough), but it's nice when his books have a little pop culture perspective in them. There's this quote—and I can't remember its exact wording nor who said it—and its gist is that comics are sort of a fast and immediate reflection of the pop culture zeitgeist at any given time (ignore that the panel below quotes dialogue from a movie released in 1977, please!). 

Also, I for one have always been curious about how superheroes manage to find the time and nutritional obsessiveness to stay in such great shape. Nice to get a little nod to that here.


Panel 5 - The Magic Chair

This is absolutely the bit that made me chuckle. It should be noted that while I've placed these disembodied panels beside each other, this third panel is separated from the first one by quite a bit of narrative, making this joke what we who have listened to podcasts about the business like to refer to as a call back. 

Peter loves his chair.

Peter loses his chair.

Peter's chair (much later) finds a good home.

But Not So Fast

This is the part of this feature wherein I take a step back to taper my excitement. I must admit, however, that it's pretty challenging here. Spencer and Ottley's Spider-Man isn't yet demonstrably superior (heh) to Slott's. It's been one (very very very good) issue for them, while Slott did his thing with varied level of success for almost 10 years. So, I guess I'll pump my enthusiastic brakes here a moment by noting that they need to show they can perform at this high a level for more than just one outing.

Still, what a great start for the new team. It's a comic review cliche in an industry that runs on nostalgia, but this really is much closer to the Spider-Man stories I remember reading and watching when I was a kid. 

Zack Quaintance is a journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at @zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.