Secret War

You are heroes. More than me. Maybe one day you’ll look around and you’ll see the world like I have to, and you’ll know I did the right thing. Or at least you’ll understand why I did it.

Secret War, a masterpiece by writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Gabriele Dell’Otto, is the best graphic novel ever produced by Marvel Comics. Blinded by diplomacy and arrogance, the United States government refuses to acknowledge the imminent danger as a foreign threat continues to grow. How far will one man go to defend his country? The decisions made, and their consequences, will forever change one of Marvel’s most iconic legends.

Luke Cage and Jessica Jones return home to find a strange woman standing by the window. Suddenly, Cage’s apartment explodes in a bright, white light. Cage takes the brunt of the explosion, sparing his wife-to-be. He is rushed to the hospital where he lapses into a coma and is diagnosed with severe trauma to his internal organs. He needs emergency surgery, but the doctors have no way of breaking his steel-hard skin. Cage’s fate is now in the hands of God, and the question on top of everyone’s list is, “Why?”

When Nick Fury, director of S.H.I.E.L.D. (Strategic Hazard Intervention, Espionage and Logistics Directorate), arrives, he is the first to be accused by Jones. Her question, pointedly stated, “Do you know who did this to him? I mean, why are you here? See what I’m saying?”

One year ago, Fury noticed an increase in the quality and power of technology held by some of the world’s deadliest villains, and he was shocked to learn that the funding for that technology came from Latveria, a new Latveria that had supposedly rehabilitated itself in the eyes of the world after the death of its former dictator, Dr. Victor Von Doom. Despite clear evidence of the threat, the President refused to accept the reality of the situation. After Doom’s death, the United States had sent several million dollars in aid to Latveria and even arranged the election of the country’s current Prime Minister, Lucia Von Bardas. The President assured Fury that, if there were a problem, it would be dealt with diplomatically. To Fury, this was unacceptable. He had presented clear evidence that the United States was in danger, and the federal government has refused to acknowledge it. For Fury, there was no choice between diplomacy and the safety of innocent people. He couldn’t let this happen.

Fury rapidly assembled a team of the world’s greatest, yet most misunderstood heroes: Luke Cage, Daredevil, Spider-Man, Captain America, Wolverine, Black Widow, and fellow S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Daisy Johnson. With no knowledge of the mission at hand, they departed under false identities and rendezvoused with Fury to prepare for the overthrow of Latveria’s government.

In the present, Peter Parker (Spider-Man) has been having nightmares of himself and other heroes fighting hordes of technology-powered soldiers. He joins Matt Murdock (Daredevil) on a trip to see Cage at the hospital when they are suddenly attacked by two technology-powered villains. Meanwhile, Steve Rogers (Captain America) barges into Cage’s hospital room after being attacked in front of his home. He is shocked to see what has happened to his friend, and immediately lashes out at Fury screaming, “Damn you for what you did to us!”

Something happened on that mission one year ago. Something that only Fury and Rogers remember. And those who were harmed during that operation, those who lost the war, are back for revenge. What was Fury willing to do to protect his country, and will he be able to face the consequences of his actions? Does the end ever justify the means?

Brian Michael Bendis’ story is a dark tale packed with mystery, drama, and action. The dark, emotional, and character-driven drama of Secret War has led it to be agreeably titled as, “The Darkest Chapter in Marvel Universe History”.

Gabriele Dell’Otto’s art is beautifully painted on every page. It brings the emotion of every scene to life and captures the darkness and characterization of Bendis’ story in a way that I have not seen since Alex Ross’ work on Kingdom Come.

Secret War is a must-have for any fan of great artwork and a great story. It is a tale of right and wrong, of sacrifice, and of consequence, the ramifications of which will be felt for years to come.

This review was previously published on Splash Panel on October 22, 2006.

Spider-Man: The Other

Remember one thing. The man died. The spider was reborn. So the question is, are you you, or are you me? Are you the man who dreamed of being a spider? Or the spider who dreamed of being a man? Are you the one, or are you the other?

Spider-Man: The Other is not your typical comic book death and rebirth story. It’s an immense tale worthy of most high-caliber television series. Woven by writers Peter David, Reginald Hudlin, and J. Michael Straczynski, and illustrated by Mike Wieringo, Pat Lee, and Mike Deodato, Jr., The Other is not without its faults, but it is an in-depth experience not to be missed by any Spider-Man fan.

To be honest, it took three reads before I began to appreciate this graphic novel. Maybe it was the art, which (with the exception of Pat Lee’s pages) really doesn’t stand out. Maybe it was the length, which can seem quite long at first, but merely serves to draw you further into this intricate story. Maybe it was the villain, who seemed ridiculous at first, but was really as close as you could get to an “anti-Spider-Man”. Or, maybe it’s because I know that Marvel can do far worse than kill their star character.

The Other begins with Peter Parker experiencing random blackouts, dizzy spells, loss of his powers, and prophetic dreams. After a failed attempt to thwart a bank robbery results in Spider-Man being shot by the thief, Parker discovers that he is slowly dying due to a radiation-based infectious disease, possibly related to the spider bite which gave him his unique powers years ago.

The following requires a bit of back story. You may have thought that Parker gained his powers after being accidentally bitten by a radioactive spider, but you’re wrong. Author J. Michael Straczynski took it upon himself to give Spider-Man an origin of more mythic proportions. According to Straczynski’s origin, Parker always had a connection to a totemic spider spirit. The irradiated spider did not accidentally bite Parker, but chose to pass on its powers to him before dying. At that moment, Peter Parker became a living spider totem, a “bridge” between man and beast, able to exhibit the properties of both.

After traveling with his family for perhaps the last time, Parker comes face-to-face with Morlun. Morlun is an ancient being who feeds off of totems. He is essentially Spider-Man’s worst nightmare, someone to avoid at all costs. Morlun draws strength from any physical contact with a totem, which includes both punching and being punched. Parker and Morlun fight through the streets of New York, but no matter what Parker does, Morlun simply grows stronger. In the end, Parker collapses, but is saved by the police, forcing Morlun to leave (he apparently wants to feed in private, but this is never explained).

In the hospital, Parker’s face has been destroyed beyond recognition, and the doctors have no hope of saving his life. Morlun arrives to finish the job, but Parker awakes with spider-like eyes, sharp teeth, and stingers protruding from his wrists. With his last bit of strength, he kills Morlun and says farewell to his wife.

Days later, the apparently deceased Parker sheds his skin and cocoons himself to the underside of the Brooklyn Bridge. As he begins to dream, a voice scorns him for only being a man and failing to embrace the spider. Morlun had killed the man, but the spider awoke to kill Morlun. The voice offers to bring Parker back to life, but only if he accepts both the man and the spider equally. He accepts, is reborn in an outwardly human form, and returns to his family.

After further investigation, Tony Stark is surprised to learn that all of Parker’s wounds have healed, even the tonsils that he lost as a child have returned. Now embracing his spider side, Parker is granted new abilities. He has night vision, can feel vibrations through his webbing, can adhere objects to his back, and has “stingers” which can protrude from his wrists.

Parker died and was reborn as a more accurate combination of both man and spider, though he does question the stingers, which spiders don’t have. Parker, still more man than spider, encounters “The Other”, a totem who is more spider than man. “The Other” warns Parker that other mythological forces feel that he should have died. It then retreats and is now cocooned within a church.

The Other is a very entertaining read, and certainly expands on Spider-Man’s mythological origins. Unfortunately, with the events of the later One More Day and Brand New Day, over twenty years of Parker’s life have been selectively removed from continuity due to a deal that he made with the devil (no, I’m not kidding). As a result, the validity of both The Other and Spider-Man’s mythological origins have not been addressed and are now in doubt. Regardless of its value to overall continuity, The Other is worth reading.

This review was previously published on Splash Panel on March 19, 2010.

Spider-Man: Reign

Mary Jane. Aunt May. Uncle Ben. I couldn’t save any of you. Never had the power. Never could handle the responsibility. When I’m buried beside you, will you tell me … why you lied to me?

Spider-Man: Reign, from writer and artist Kaare Andrews, is a powerful and emotional journey through the tortured mind of Peter Parker as he enters the last years of his life and begins to confront everything that he has ever cared for and lost.

Thirty years from now, Manhattan has become an independent and politically corrupt city-state. In exchange for almost a decade of no crime, the people of Manhattan have relinquished their power of government, outlawed their heroes, and accepted the merciless justice of a militaristic police force, The Reign. In a final attempt to forever secure the safety of his city, Mayor Waters is just a few days away from activating The Webb, a protective barrier which will envelope the city, allowing nothing to enter or leave. Enraged by Mayor Waters’ plan, J. Jonah Jameson, an insane and washed-up newspaper editor from days long forgotten, returns from his self-imposed exile. He can no longer stand by and watch his once beloved people destroy themselves by cowering before The Reign, and he knows that the only way to save them is to awaken a long-forgotten hero hidden deep within a broken man named Peter Parker.

Written and illustrated by Kaare Andrews, Spider-Man: Reign was likened to Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns from the moment that it was first announced, but it is far more than Dark Knight Returns could ever hope to be.

While Dark Knight Returns is an action-packed gritty vision of Batman’s future, Reign is is a turbulent and emotional tale which defines the values of humanity and what it truly means to be a hero. Once you open the cover, you will find yourself drawn into a turbulent journey through the mind of an aged and emotionally scared Peter Parker as he attempts to justify his life as a hero and come to terms with everything and everyone that he has lost because of it.

Spider-Man: Reign is a powerful, moving, and thought-provoking tale about freedom, humanity, and the responsibilities of a hero. It is a must-have for any fan of the amazing Spider-Man.

This review was previously published on Splash Panel on August 2, 2007.

Why I Stopped Reading Spider-Man

I stopped reading Spider-Man titles because of events that transpired in One More Day and Brand New Day. I know, you have probably read the same opinions every where else, but I’ve reached that point where I have to express my frustration.

One could say that Spider-Man was Marvel Comics’ flagship superhero, or that he was at least a close second to Captain America. We watched him fight crime as a teenager and we watched him grow into adulthood, and through all of this, his character was expanded through his ever growing responsibilities and his love for Mary Jane Watson. In fact, he even married her. Their relationship was very real, like Louis Lane and Clark Kent, but without the ridiculous “I only love Clark Kent because he’s really Superman” crap. Mary Jane really loved Peter, and though at times she was worried for his safety, she knew that he had to be Spider-Man because she knew that there were people out there who always needed his help.

For twenty years, Peter Parker (Spider-Man) and Mary Jane Watson Parker had been the number-one married couple under the Marvel Comics label. Well, not any more! In fact, they were never married! They had a long-term relationship, but it ended abruptly just before the marriage, and now their relationship is “frosty at best.” Confused? Yeah, you, me and the rest of the world!

Continue reading