Comics Review

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.

Comics Review

Kingdom Come

He had not turned his back on us. He stands in the sky … faith rewarded. He is returned … and – dear God. The threat of Armageddon hasn’t ended. It’s just begun …

Kingdom Come, a DC Elseworlds masterpiece by writer Mark Waid and artist Alex Ross, is the best graphic novel ever produced by a major comic publisher. A philosophical tale of Armageddon in the DC universe, Kingdom Come is filled with biblical parallels which cast our heroes and antiheroes into haunting roles that we are all too familiar with.

The world of Kingdom Come begins several years after the mainstream continuity of the DC universe. An aged and maddened Joker rampages through the Daily Planet, claiming the lives of ninety-two men and one woman. Magog, a modern-age antihero enraged by Superman’s inaction, arrives at the scene of the massacre and ends the Joker’s life in front of a stunned Superman. The resulting controversy leads the people of Metropolis to choose Magog as the man who would best safeguard their future. They choose the man who would kill over the man who wouldn’t, and this choice will cost them dearly.

Disheartened by the changing times, and unable to change with them, Superman made a decision to turn his back on humanity and live in exile in his Fortress of Solitude. Following Superman’s example, many of the Earth’s greatest heroes similarly retired into exile. In their absence, a new breed of antiheroes, inspired by Magog and completely devoid of any concern for human safety, emerged to conquer anyone who who would oppose their own definition of righteousness. These events set the stage for Kingdom Come.

Ten years later, a relentless attack by Magog and his Justice Battalion on a weary and beaten Parasite leads to a cataclysmic nuclear explosion which destroys the entire state of Kansas. In response to the catastrophe, the safe coexistence between humans and meta-humans is questioned by those with enough authority and firepower to end it, and a derelict hero returns to set right the wrongs that had been committed in his absence. The war has begun, and Armageddon is not far behind.

Kingdom Come‘s haunting and emotional story is told through the eyes of Norman McCay, a Pastor who begins to lose his faith and feels as if he has betrayed his congregation, as he can find nothing to comfort them in this time of crisis. He is guided through time and space by the Spector to bear witness to the events that will lead to Armageddon and to judge those responsible. The weight of this responsibility causes Norman to question the true meanings of humanity, faith, and evil.

Mark Waid’s story offers an imaginative look into the future of the DC universe and effortlessly blends it with the book of Revelation. Biblical scripture from Revelation, foretold by Norman McCay and his dying friend, Wesley Dodds (the former Sandman), is masterfully woven into the story and paints an eerie future for our childhood heroes.

Alex Ross adds his powerful imagination to the story by beautifully illustrating his vision of the future heroes. Ross is legendary for the quality of his artwork, his use of paints, his imaginative vision, and his attention to detail. Kingdom Come is his best work.

Alex Ross’ beautiful artwork fills all two-hundred and twelve pages of this novel, masterfully illustrating every emotion, every struggle, and every sacrifice, while Mark Waid’s story is gripping, passionate, and powerful.

Kingdom Come is a story about what it truly means to be human, and the sacrifices we make in order to achieve what is right. It can easily reach a common ground with any reader, and reach into the soul of even those who perceive themselves to be soul-less.

This review was previously published on Splash Panel on July 6, 2006.

Comics Review

Transformers vs. G.I. Joe

Who are these people, Duke?

They’re Cobra’s prisoners, Optimus, their salves. We believe they’ve done this to millions more in Europe. We hope they have…

You hope this has happened? To millions of your people? But…

Optimus, if they aren’t slaves, they’re dead.

Autobots, ROLL OUT!

Transformers vs. G.I. Joe is not just another Transformers and G.I. Joe crossover, but rather a dark and war-torn recreation of the Transformers and G.I. Joe universes in tandem by writer John Ney Rieber and artist Jae Lee. In the twentieth century’s darkest year, a world at war will find itself caught in the middle of a titanic alien conflict that has lain dormant for the last four million years.

The year is 1939, and the world has fallen before the might of the Cobra Empire. Desperate to drive back the tyrants, the United States Government plays their last hand and forms the world’s first elite strike force, G.I. Joe. But Cobra Commander has made his own desperate play for the few remaining free territories. He has made a deal with the Devil, a devil forged of metal and disdain, a devil known throughout the universe as Megatron.

The future of the free world begins to look hopeless, until a chance encounter leads the Joes to wake the dormant Autobots and their noble leader, Optimus Prime.

The battle for the free world has begun. Brother will face brother, man will fight machine, and old foes will dual to the death as four of the universe’s most powerful forces collide on a tattered battlefield. One will be victorious, one will see their dreams die before their eyes, and one will pay the ultimate sacrifice.

Unlike previous Transformers and G.I. Joe crossovers, Transformers vs. G.I. Joe does not take place during each series’ canonical time period. Instead, Transformers vs. G.I. Joe takes place during the year 1939 on an Earth that has been ravaged by World War II, where the Cobra Empire, instead of Nazi Germany, is poised to conquer the world, and ties the activation of the Transformers on Earth with Cobra’s rise to power and the formation of G.I. Joe.

John Ney Rieber’s story is dark, grim, and emotional, with an overwhelming feeling of hopelessness for our heroes, a feeling unlike any previous G.I. Joe or Transformers tale.

Jae Lee’s artwork is astounding and captures the atmosphere of Rieber’s story with a melancholy war-time environment that is all too fitting.

Transformers vs. G.I. Joe is a fresh look at both franchises and a must-have for any fan of Transformers or G.I. Joe. A second volume was produced, but cancelled after issue #1 when the publisher’s financial troubles led it to declare bankruptcy in 2005. Fortunately, Rieber’s brilliantly crafted masterpiece is best as a stand-alone novel.

This review was previously published on Splash Panel on December 13, 2006.

Comics Review

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.

Comics Review

Star Wars Infinities: Return of the Jedi

After so long in hibernation, and with damage to the carbonite unit, there’s little hope that Captain Solo will ever regain his sight.

Star Wars Infinities: Return of the Jedi is an adventurous and thought-provoking “What if?” tale by writer Adam Gallardo and artists Ryan Benjamin, Dan Norton, and Juvaun Kirby. It begins in tandem with the original Return of the Jedi script, but when a rescue mission goes terribly wrong, history is forever altered.

The stage is lit, the curtain rises, and the battle for the galaxy begins as we are all too familiar with. But, what is familiar can become unfamiliar in the the blink of an eye. You see, the future is made possible through a series of events, like a chain whose links are defined by the laws of action and reaction. Alter a single link, and the overall position of the chain is altered. Like the position of the chain, the future can be altered by simply altering one of the events that led to it.

On the desert planet of Tatooine, Princess Leia Organa, on a secret rescue mission to free Han Solo in the guise of Boushh the bounty hunter, barters with Jabba the Hutt for the bounty on Chewbacca’s head. When Leia demands “Fifty-thousand, no less,” Jabba angrily lashes out at C-3P0, knocking him to the ground with such force that his head detaches. Without a protocol droid to translate her attempt a Boushh’s native language, Leia is forced to remove her mask and reveal her thermal detonator.

Lando Calrissian, disguised as one of of Jabba’s guards, tries to stop Boba Fett from firing at Leia. He fails, and Fett’s blast hits Leia’s shoulder, accidentally activating the thermal detonator and sending it to the ground.

Events begin to spin wildly out of control as Boba Fett flees with the frozen Han Solo and Leia, Lando, and Chewbacca are forced to flee the palace without Han.

The delay of Han Solo’s rescue will result in the death of Yoda before Luke’s final visit to Dagobah, the capture of both Luke and Leia by Imperial forces, a desperate battle with Boba Fett over the fate of Han Solo, the loss of Han’s eyesight, and a final confrontation between a father and his children.

Star Wars Infinities: Return of the Jedi will introduce you to a Star Wars that you never knew and never thought possible. George Lucas’s script only lasts for one page before Adam Gallardo slightly alters one seemingly insignificant event and ignites a radical domino effect, forever altering history as we know it.

The “What if?” concept has been explored by almost every comic series to date. It gives us a way to experience familiar characters and familiar settings in an unfamiliar way. Will the Empire be defeated? Can the mission to disable the Death Star’s shield succeed without Han Solo’s leadership? Will Darth Vader redeem himself, or will he sacrifice his own children at the will of his master? The possibilities are endless.

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This review was previously published on Splash Panel on September 30, 2006.