Nov 15, 2018

Review: Rainbow Brite #2

So, I’m halfway through this year’s NaNoWriMo and I’m behind a few thousand words. I’m not even sure if I’m attached to the synopsis I wrote up before the month began. But Duy proverbially waved the second issue of Rainbow Brite in my face and I jumped on it like a Black Friday sale at Michael’s. And really, I wasn’t let down.

Review: Rainbow Brite #2
by Samantha Anne

This new run of Rainbow Brite continues to hit me right in the feels when it comes to my love of nostalgia and escapism in general. Jeremy Whitley keeps the charm consistent with this simple and classic story, while Brittney Williams triggers both delight and whimsy with her artwork. I’m giving full props to Team Rainbow Brite here, make no mistake – the comic itself reads smoothly and flows well from page to page. I’m running out to the comic store this weekend though, because this whole digital comic experience is kind of weird for me as a person who will never stop loving the smell of a book.

I don’t like spoilers, so I’m doing my best to avoid that, but we get to see a few new things here as the story progresses forward. Readers are introduced to the Shadow Hound, which I’m sure could be introduced to kids as a scary part of what it means to lose all the color in the world. I, on the other hand, saw a big grey puppy and, aside from wanting to snuggle it back to the good side, am now beyond wildly interested in knowing exactly what a “common canine of Rainbow Land” looks like and when I can get the goddamn stuffie in stores.

Next – Murky and Lurky! I wanted to see these guys, because they were so goofy in their moody dismay when I was a kid that they were never actually a team of Big Bads as much as they were dummies who didn’t like happy things. Brittany’s artistic take on the pair is obviously different, but kind of up the ante in terms of what Rainbow’s nemesis looks like. Lurky’s still a dummy, thankfully, and Murky? I’ve definitely seen this guy in Brooklyn before and Brittney nailed it – the guy’s a jerk and wants to suck the colorful life out of the world to benefit his own jerk agenda. Basically, Murky’s a bad guy you’ll nod your head over; again, no disappointment here.

The last four pages are bright, exciting, and extremely satisfying as kid’s comics go, and I won’t tell you why, because I want you to pick this issue up and lock yourself in a closet with a flashlight to read it and let out a tiny little "yay" when you see it. The wrap up of this issue just confirms for me that this run is shaping up to be a charming and fun ride. I was starting to hope for a new cartoon series on the strength of the storyline unfolding, then I found out that I completely missed a reboot in 2014 that wasn’t exactly well-received. So – okay, then! With any luck, this will revive hope for the cartoon that launched a thousand lunchboxes (and stuffies, and sheet sets, and records).

So, go pick up a copy – support comics and support Rainbow Brite. Because guys, the world is dark as f**k and Stan Lee is no longer on this plane of existence. A rainbow and a smile will do us all good.

Nov 13, 2018

In Pace Requiescat: Stan "The Man" Lee

Stan Lee (December 28, 1922–November 12, 2018) has passed away. Known for many things, including being the co-creator of the entire Marvel Universe, Stan needs absolutely no introduction. He's made cameos in almost all of the Marvel movies, and has, since at least 1961, been the face and the voice of Marvel Comics.

In Pace Requiescat: Stan "The Man" Lee
Comics Cube Roundtable

MIGS: Stan Lee taught us that heroes are normal people too. They are flawed. They make mistakes. They have problems. That's what makes them relatable. Stan Lee humanized superheroes. I became a comic book fan because of his creations. Without a doubt, The Face of Marvel.

BRIAN: Comics wouldn't be comics without what Stan brought to 'em.

KATHERINE: I love this quote that’s on Marvel’s homepage right now:

MATTHEW: When I was a kid, I wrote him a letter with a couple drawings inside. He wrote me back. It was one of my prized possessions. I'm going to lose it in the theater when I see the inevitable "In loving memory..."

TRAVIS: My nephew just asked how many days they get off school because Stan Lee died.

BEN: I’ve always found the argument about how much credit Stan should get for his creations to be yet another bit of annoying “see how much I know” fan bullshit. Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby should be lauded and remembered for their enormous contributions to creating Marvel as we know it, but that doesn’t mean we need to tear down Stan Lee to do it. He was the voice of the comics, and the voice of the company loudly proclaiming to the fans and readers, "See how great these comics are!" Not to mention, he edited every single book, which doesn’t mean he just corrected typos. He requested art changes, storytelling changes, reworking entire pages for clarity and impact if needed. Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Steve Ditko together revolutionized comics, and changed fictional storytelling as a whole. It’s only unfortunate that he has to die for some of us to appreciate him. I will forever be grateful for his contribution to comics that have impacted my life. Not to mention, he created an all new collaborative style for comics “the Marvel method,” which is still used to this day by superstar writers like Dan Slott and Grant Morrison.

MATTHEW: I honestly think that without his work alongside Kirby and Ditko, ushering in The Marvel Age, comics may very well have become a dead art. At least, comics as we know them.

LIZZY: Absolutely. The world of comics wouldn’t be at all what it is today without Stan Lee. Love him or hate him (and I loved ol’ crusty Uncle Sam, despite his less than savory attributes), he changed the world.

JD: Stan Lee is my personal Walt Disney.

MATTHEW: In the world of comics, there is a Before Stan Lee, and an After Stan Lee... and I don't think anybody else has ever even come close to his impact. Yes, his many wonderfully talented collaborators played heavily into it, and he couldn't have done it without them, but "Stan Lee Presents..." was something that was printed in every book for a reason.

NOAH: Stan going out to speak at college campuses about comic books elevated the art, not just in terms of recognizing comics could be for adults, but by intellectualizing the entire comic book process and making the discussion accessible. We’ll never know what comics would have been without Stan, and I’m glad for that.

MATT: He did make the state motto of New York world famous. The indelible nature and perseverance of “with great power comes great responsibility” will easily stand the test of time. If nothing else, that is the true motto of the Marvel hero.

DUY: There's going to be much debate in the next several days about Stan's merits and flaws, but there are a couple of the latter that I want to address in particular. First, the idea that Stan is "less" for being a hands-off writer, in letting Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko do much of the writing work, like pacing, blocking, and whatnot. As anyone who's ever worked on a group project knows, when you're working with someone who's really good, you stay the hell out of their way. Scottie Pippen's not taking the last shot from Michael Jordan. I will point out that Alan Moore, who writes super-detailed scripts, also leaves leeway for his artists, acknowledging that artists have a better visual sense. And Stan had two of the greatest of all time. And the script, the dialogue, all that stuff's important too. Do I wish he'd been more liberal with the credit? Sure. But let's not take away the credit he does deserve. Without Stan to tie together everything in the Bullpens, in the copies on the covers, in the splash pages; without his distinctive voice; without his narration and dialogue, nothing would have been the same.

MATTHEW: It's impossible to have any type of lengthy discussion about Stan without some of his flaws coming up. That's inevitable. It's important to remember that he never even pretended to be perfect, and he infused a lot of his imperfections and flaws into his characters. Those imperfections and flaws were the foundation for The Marvel Age. He crafted a great big, imperfect world, full of wild, imperfect characters that made mistakes, lost, got knocked down... and the heroes always got back up. He put the flawed hero at the forefront of the genre. Previous to that, a superhero was perfect, always knew what to do, and were the absolute best at what they did.

JEFF:  I enjoyed how he engaged readers, he spoke to us and made us feel like we were part of a special club for reading Marvel.

DUY: That's the best part.

JEFF: No, the enthusiasm he brought was the best. It was such a part of him, no one could fake the excitement he always seemed to have when he talked about what he was doing or promoting. It was like a neverending supply.

LAMAR: In scholarly circles you'll hear the phrase "man created God, so God could create man" thrown around often, and with a bright insistence. When I think about what that means, across ages, Stan Lee is one of the people that comes to mind first.

He didn't just create one God, he gave these Gods all the traits of mankind in a prominent manner not seen often in fiction until he did it.

Comic books are our modern day mythology and folklore, and Stan Lee is undoubtedly the singular scribe responsible for the spreading of these gospels to every corner of Earth. Another caretaker of gods, Julius Schwartz, said that if you take what you love and infuse passion into it, you will have more of what you love for both yourself and everyone else. To do so for 60 years, and never lose an ounce of this passion and fortitude through success as well as failure, is a task us mere mortals were fortunate to have eaten the labor fruits of.

RACHEL: He created things that made me feel. I was afraid of me and it was largely because of the way other people responded to me. I was a mutant and after, after his stories told me my own story, it made sense.

MAX:  I feel like anything I have to say about the man has been said better by others...but what an amazing life and talent.

TRAVIS: Stan Lee is Stan Lee's greatest creation, because no arguing or arbitration will take Stan's Stanness and credit it to anyone else. Stan Lee's hair. You can cartoon Stan Lee just from the hair on his head and face and it's Stan Lee. Did he grow it, did someone else make it? Doesn't matter: It's Stan Lee. And, he did invent this image. Stan Lee played a public role to the hilt for over sixty years of his life, a role so solidly conceived, so individual, that he is imprinted on all our minds.

DUY:  I also want to take this time to talk about Stan's social consciousness, in particular, Joe "Robbie" Robertson, one of the first African-American characters to be treated seriously, and Amazing Spider-Man #96-98, the drug issues that Stan decided to publish even without the Comics Code Authority's seal of approval. But that social consciousness is most evident in the Bullpen Bulletins that he wrote, which were as much a part of the Marvel manifesto as anything else. He wrote three Bullpen Bulletins that are now being reposted today all over social media, about how comics should say something, how they should stand against hatred and bigotry. 

That's as much a part of his legacy as any line of dialogue he's ever written and any character he ever created. And I'd like to close this off with four of the greatest lines in comics, and all of fiction:
"With great power must come great responsibility." -Amazing Fantasy #15 
"Only truth is constant. Only faith endures. And only love can save them. But where shall love be found?" -Silver Surfer, The Ultimate Cosmic Experience
"'Tis not by dropping out -- but by plunging in -- into the maelstrom of life itself -- that thou shall find thy wisdom! There be causes to espouse!! There be battles to be won! There be glory and grandeur all about thee-- if thou wilt but see!" -Thor #154  
"In a sleazy hotel room, in a shabby hotel, some sneaky sinners are startled by the sight of a sparkling spider signal!" -Amazing Spider-Man #22

Nov 2, 2018

Q&A With Jeff Smith

I recently reread Jeff Smith's Bone with my girlfriend, and it strikes me that this is a comic that I've used time and again to get non-comics readers to read comics. While reading it, I had a lot of thoughts, namely about the nature  of world-building, the idea that characters need to have story arcs, the  influence of Carl Barks, and a whole host of other stuff. I was gonna write articles about them, but you know what? I decided to go one better. I reached out to Cartoon Books, and with the help of their Production Manager Kathleen Glosan, was able to get some answers straight from the man himself, Jeff Smith.

Spoilers for Bone are up ahead, so if you've never read it, stop reading this now and go buy yourself a copy, and then come back.

Q&A with Jeff Smith
by Duy

DUY TANO: Who do you consider the actual protagonist of Bone? Fone Bone is the ostensible main character, but Thorn is the one who goes through this big heroic arc, while Phoney drives a massive portion of the plot.

JEFF SMITH: Fone Bone and Thorn share the role of protagonist, I think. You are right that Thorn is the one who goes on the classic hero’s journey, but Fone Bone and his cousins are still the stars of the book. It’s like the Marx Brothers in A Night at the Opera. There the “story” is really about two young star-crossed performers in the opera that are thwarted by the powerful elite that run the show, but everybody knows it’s the Marx Brothers who help them succeed that are the real stars!

From the very beginning, the Bone cousins were fully formed.

Bone is notable in 2018 I think because it shows three very strong women: Thorn, Gran'ma Ben, and Briar. It must have been notable in the early 90s as well because these very strong women are presented as full characters and not oversexed secondary characters. This is something I think has led Bone to age very well. May I ask if you have any insight on the readership of Bone, and if perhaps the gender breakdown is more even than with other comic books?

In the early days, my readership was mostly all male because that’s who bought and read comic books. Over the course of the work, the readers changed. First women and then children started showing up at book signings, and to this day I have a pretty even mix of males and females, adults and kids.

I am not aware of the gender breakdown on other books. Certainly, the range of subjects and the influx of female creators and readers has exploded since the days when Bone started, and in general the community of comics is more reflective of real life. That has really upped the quality of our art form and makes me happy.

Does a character really need to have a growth arc? Phoney Bone is the same greedy character he is from beginning to end. There is a bit of a development in him refusing to leave his cousins at the end, but he still tries to steal the Harvestar treasure and is regretful when that doesn't push through.

He’s a stinker, isn’t he? It goes back to my Marx Bros. comparison. Like the Bone cousins, the Marx’s are cartoon characters, but the world doesn’t seem to notice. They exist outside the rules. The rest of the cast and the story advance only with their help. In Bone, Thorn, Gran’ma and even Lucius, along with almost all the rest of the characters had real arcs. Some were life changing. The cousins needed to show a little growth, but only just enough.

The ability to lead the audience into believing that a story is about one thing (humor, slapstick) while then slowly leading them into another genre altogether is something I've seen mostly with the Simpsons and Carl Barks Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck comics. How did you manage to balance out so many conflicting tones, spiraling from epic fantasy to humorous slapstick? This is a world where some people have read Moby Dick and have copyrights on ice cream and pastries, but where dragons exist in valleys where no one has heard of any of those things. And none of it feels wrong, or out of place. How did you manage that balancing act?

The trick was to keep the story and humor going so fast that folks wouldn’t stop and ask questions. I had rules that I followed but tried to keep them as invisible as possible. I’ll give you one example: whenever Fone Bone and Thorn would talk to animals, like Miz Possum or Ted, it always took place at the farm, far away from the town and humans. That kept the world of Aesop’s fables separate from the more frontier-like setting of the tavern.

If you had to name just three things that you took from Carl Barks (another creator I talk about a lot on the Cube), what would they be? Are there specific Barks stories that have stuck with you?

From a Carl Barks Donald Duck story in the Golden Age. Coincidence?

Three things. Ok. One: The sense of adventure and imagination. The Ducks roamed the earth, visiting distant cultures real and made up. And always on a ridiculous but awesome premise. Two: Pacing. Barks knew how to move a story and make it alive. He knew when to skip around and speed up the pacing or when to slow down and spend time with the characters. Three: The art. I loved the line art! I loved the simple cartoony characters shown against a hyper detailed and realistic background.

There are certain things in Bone that feel to me like Jeff improvised in the middle. I'm thinking mainly of the reveal that Briar was the Hooded One, when prior to it, it seemed that the Hooded One was male, and also that the traitor was originally a nursemaid. But I'm also thinking of Rock Jaw, and how at the very end, he did nothing, despite the build-up going in that direction. How much of Bone was planned out, and how much of it was improvised? How important is flexibility when running a serialized story?

There absolutely was improvisation during the writing of Bone. Things would come up, I’d get new ideas, but I always attempted to steer the story toward the ending that I’d settled on. However, the reveal of Briar as the Hooded One was not one of those things. Ten years earlier, during my first bash at Bone in a college newspaper strip called Thorn, I revealed to a stunned Fone Bone and Thorn that the Hooded One was Gran’ma Ben’s evil twin sister! The fact the rat creatures didn’t know she was a woman and assumed the Hooded One was male (fooled by the whispery word balloons) was an intentional misdirect.

How do you think your background as an animator affect the way Bone reads? Personally, I find that most of your contemporaries had a type of staggered pacing, as if they read a bunch of Peanuts strips and mimicked that type of pacing, but Bone flows completely differently, and more smoothly.

Animation definitely played a role. But even before that, back when I was a teenager looking at comics by Carl Barks and Will Eisner, I thought there was a way to combine those styles and create a more seamless, complete  flow.

Thorn Harvestar, Princess of Atheia

Jeff has said that he didn't create Bone for children; he did it for himself, and that children back then were likely not to be reached by comic shops. Given that he managed to create what I would argue is the go-to all-ages comics recommendation, how would he propose that the comics medium and industry reach a wider audience, and what is the comic shop's place in it?

Well, the thing I latched onto was graphic novels. The format allows for a more durable product and promotes the idea of restocking books for new customers. The relative newness of the form also invites new ideas, new topics and genres, as well as new distribution possibilities, like libraries, bookstores and on-line stores. A wide selection of genres is key. As for comic shops, they started this movement. Most shops have graphic novel and Indy sections, and most are very welcoming to the general public. Women and children have dollars, too!

Oct 16, 2018

Milk Morinaga’s Secret of the Princess: Easily Circumventable Trauma

Secret of the Princess, by Milk Morinaga, is an easy fiction. An easy fiction, is an untruth that soothes, that rewards the audience with an inspiring comfort. Secret is the kind of easy fiction that kids, and sometimes adults, need.

Easily Circumventable Trauma
Milk Morinaga’s Secret of the Princess
Pop Medicine
Travis Hedge Coke

Tradition dictates that queer first love stories go dark, go tragic. The world and its microcosms are set against a new couple, definitely the protagonist, whether they come out at thirteen or thirty-nine. This is an anglo tradition, but since this is a Japanese comic (translated into English), let us be clear that it is as well a Japanese tradition. And, in our cynicism and carefulness, we might consider that a most realistic portrayal, a reflection of callous and homophobic society, family expectations, social negotiations. But, Secret is not a reflection of reality. It’s a demonstration of anxiety designed to relieve it.

By and large, the young couple find that their school handles the queer aspect of their relationship without much troubles. The servants in the wealthier student, Fujiwara’s household are enthusiastic, if not entirely cognizant of what their relationship is. Our protagonist, Miu’s mother is ecstatic that she’s dating an awesome girl. The coming out is slow, as the characters, themselves, are not fully aware of their feelings, their sexualities. But, the slowness is not rooted in an uncaring or homophobic world, so much as internalized feelings of worthlessness or flaw. They’re not good enough to date one another, only to pretend to date one another.

The difference, and why it makes a difference, is that self-criticism can be overcome without external changes. If the witch in Snow White just went at Snow with an ax, it would be much harder for a prince’s kiss, or a bear knocking apple from her throat, to bring her back to life. Poison from a witch, is an easily circumventable trauma, because you only have to apply more magic to solve the problem. Fairytales are, by and large, easy fiction.

As adults, reading, these easy fictions can be frustrating or sometimes boring, but I think we can use the reminder that things can be easy, if we need it less often than children and teens. We have life experience to draw on, a cache of days and nights that followed other days and nights to remind us that the world does not completely end even when things go somehow unpleasantly. Young people have less life experience and the world does feel like it might easily end, that humiliation or exhaustion could be the end.

There are students jealous of Miu and Fujiwara's relationship, there are societal barriers, but the societal hardship bars in Secret are set at a level both girls can jump if they want, and they do. The internal struggle is given greater weight, it has the more serious effects, but it, too, can be, and is circumvented. It has to be, for the purposes of the comic. Fujiwara must acknowledge her nerdier hobbies do not need to be kept private. Miu has to acknowledge she is not only valuable for her eventual achievement as someone’s bride.

Even with drama and things to fight past, Secret is here to facilitate some charming date scenes, to let the girls hold hands and admire each other’s clothes, to make zombie-themed lunch boxes and share secrets that to an adult would seem frivolous but to a teen are possibly world-enders. The comic is here as reassurance, and it is a kind of reassuring that even its neighbors on the shelf might not provide.

Oct 12, 2018

Review: Rainbow Brite #1

Today we turn the Cube over to Samantha Anne, musician, writer, chef, and comic book reader. I got a review copy of Rainbow Brite #1 and immediately opened it up to the Comics Cube family, and.... here's Samantha!

Review: Rainbow Brite #1
by Samantha Anne

Yeah, so. I’ve never reviewed a comic before. 

I’ve reviewed other things, sure – bands, books, recipes. I’ve even written a couple of novels and recorded an album. But no comics. So, when this landed in my lap, the first hour after involved me questioning whether I was even qualified to review a Rainbow Brite comic. 

“But consider the operative words there, Sam.” I told myself. 

Rainbow Brite. It’s been years, granted, but I’m a pretty big Rainbow Brite fangirl. It was the kind of fangirl love that inevitably led to my Lisa Frank obsession in my teens that, even now, still manages to rear its technicolor head from time to time. I watched the cartoon, I had the dolls, and a vinyl album or two…hell, I’m humming the theme song as I write this. So, feck yeah – I’m qualified. 

Now. After reading Issue #1, I was compelled to track down the variant covers and find out as much about the artists involved as I could. Man, I was not disappointed. I managed to find a total of seven variants, almost all of which I wanted to print and plaster all over a full wall of my apartment. The nostalgia of the Rainbow Brite I remember combined with the fresh imagery presented directly from the minds of Paulina Ganucheau and Tony Fleecs made me smile unabashedly as I Google searched, thirsty for more information and graphics about the new incarnation of Wisp and the Color Kids. The covers are honestly glorious. But that’s just me… I love colors. (Maybe just not on me, I think to myself as I realize that I’m wearing black and white for the millionth day in a row.)

Jeremy Whitley, Princeless creator, handled the writing and I legitimately have no basis for comparison because I admittedly don’t know much of his work. But, as kid-friendly comics go, he worked a great story, nailing it in terms of simplicity while keeping it intriguing enough to be a page turner. And really, if simplicity in storytelling isn’t your thing, bear in mind that this, while it certainly is appropriate for all ages, is a kid-forward comic. This might not be for you, but you’ll be okay! That said, I researched his work for all of two minutes and ended up adding six comics to be TBR list – like *that* needed to get any bigger. Tony Esposito, fearless Letterer, provided a great flow throughout the issue, and I can imagine this series being any kid’s bedtime story and a sweet bonding moment between them and their comic-loving parent. 

The art and color are playful, super complementary of one another, and both really clean and pleasing. Valentine Pinto and Brittney Williams are both delightful artists, and it shows in every panel. The drawing is wonderfully bubbly and easy on the eyes, kind of like a cartoon show that makes you feel like you’re 10 again and faking a sick day. The color is fun, bright, and almost prismatic in places, and it really triggered a feeling of anticipation as the story continued to build (I was all “Oh god, I want to get to Rainbow Land!). Also, you should know every artist involved with this issue got cyber-stalked (including Tony Esposito, who actually followed me back on Twitter. Do I… do I send him stuff now?)

So, I did the thing. And I liked it. Not only did I enjoy the visit with a childhood favorite, but I found a ton of artists to follow which, given that it’s Inktober, is terribly appropriate and amazing. Plus, tonight’s pre-writing procrastination will likely include spiraling down a Rainbow Brite-themed rabbit hole, sponsored by YouTube and Google Images. So, there’s that. 

Oct 10, 2018

There's a Spider-Man for Everyone

Has it really been over a year since I wrote a full column about Spider-Man? That's weird, huh? Spider-Man was one of the topics I built this website on, with articles that still get hits to this very day for some reason (no, really, a bunch of you are damn passionate, and that's great for Spider-Man, because that means there's always going to be an audience). It's eight years later, and now I find that I haven't written about Spider-Man, my favorite character, in a year.

But man, have I got feelings about Spidey, though. So much has happened for our friendly neighborhood wall-crawler in 2018, and a whole year has passed, and I gotta talk about it!

Spider-Man Musings in 2018
by Duy

One of the main reasons I haven't written about Spider-Man in a while is because I dropped the comics. One of the first articles I wrote on The Comics Cube is about how ending Spider-Man's marriage to Mary Jane Watson revitalized the character for me and brought him back to a state where I could believe he could have personal drama, as well as to not have it be so overwrought that it felt like I was reading Strangers in Paradise (No offense to SiP fans; I just don't read Spider-Man for the same thing).

Close to ten years later, I'm looking back and realizing that my preference of that particular status quo is only a part of it; a lot of it actually had to do with creative team and tone. While I think John Romita Jr. is a great artist, I've never particularly liked him on Spider-Man unless he was working on crime genre stories. and the main writer for most of Spider-Man's run in the first decade of the millennium, JMS, has never been written comics that I like. I acknowledge that he's got a solid fanbase, but whenever said fanbase tries to show me examples of his "great writing," I get turned off and it solidifies my stance. Put the same exact creative team on the status quo of the past 10 years, and I'm still pretty sure I wouldn't have read the book.

Even when they broke them up, I didn't read the book right away, as Amazing Spider-Man had rotating creative teams under the Brand New Day line. What got me back on it sporadically was a very specific creative team: Dan Slott and Marcos Martin. Now here's the weird thing about it: at that point in time, 2008, I hadn't read the original Stan Lee/Steve Ditko run on Amazing Spider-Man in full. I did so soon after, and writing this now, I realize why I loved Slott and Martin's take on it so much. So much of it was evocative of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, not exactly the same beats, but some of the same riffs. Martin, especially, felt to me like Steve Ditko brought into the modern day. Quirky figures, imaginative layouts, and a range of motion. This was an artist I'd follow anywhere, and I thought Slott brought out the best in him.

So it was that Dan Slott's full-time run on the book, starting with Big Time in 2011, got me back fully. With artists like Martin, Humberto Ramos, Stefano Casselli, and Ryan Stegman, it was a pleasure to read. Unfortunately (for me), the one who'd eventually become Slott's main artist was Giussepe Camuncoli, a guy whose art I'm not crazy about. I think his figurework is too stiff for Spider-Man and his facial expressions are kind of robotic, but he was Slott's guy, and you can't fault someone for choosing someone he wants to work with, to work with.

If that were it, I'd probably have kept reading the book, but it coincided with a few things as well:
  • The line had been flagging for me since the end of Spider-Verse, a storyline that was completely in my wheelhouse and yet managed to disappoint me in the end. (I actually wonder how much of this had to do with editor Steve Wacker leaving. We're never really sure how much editors do and don't shape a book, but Wacker is one of the most visibly felt editors in modern comics. He's not on the same level of Stan Lee, Harvey Kurtzman, Jim Shooter, or Karen Berger, but he's up there in terms of logistical planning and talent selection.) 
  • Slott introduced a new status quo, in which Peter Parker was the global CEO of Parker Industries, basically giving him a Tony Stark setup. This is a drastic departure from his classic setup, obviously, but also a logical one given that he's a master inventor. Read the Lee/Ditko run — he's basically inventing things all the time. But it wasn't a change that I wanted to last and it would have had to eventually bring Peter back down. I might have kept reading the book to see this happen, except I used the status quo opportunity to switch completely to trades. Seriously, I have bought three single issues in the last two years, and two of them were only because Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez had interior art in them and I wanted them. And when this status quo was still in place for three or four trades, I decided to spend my money on other comics, like Carl Barks and Don Rosa collections.
  • Camuncoli eventually left the book to be replaced by Stuart Immonen, an artist right in my wheelhouse, for Slott's big finale involving Norman Osborn and the Carnage symbiote. It all sounds intriguing, but by that time, I'd been gone from the book too long. I'll get to all the ones I missed at some point. Eventually. 
I did come back to the book one final time though: Amazing Spider-Man #801, which came out this past May, as Slott closed off his run with the most fitting artist to close it off with. You guessed it: Marcos Martin. Slott and Martin were the team on "No One Dies," in Amazing Spider-Man #655 and on "Spidey Sundays," both comics I want Marvel to print out in an oversized hardcover. I could not pass it up. I had to buy it. 

Of the three things I just mentioned, 801 ranks third in the Slott/Martin stories in terms of how much I loved it. But that is high praise, because that's how highly I regard those stories. 801 was about someone Spider-Man saved early on in his career, who was always thankful to him because it meant he had a chance to say goodbye to his dad. And we get this spread, this wonderful spread, about how Spider-Man saves a world every day, because every person out there means the world to somebody.

Shoutout also to the sheer inclusiveness of this page, another thing
I love about Slott's run and a lot of Marvel over the past few years.

I love it so much. For all that I thought Slott's run eventually went off the rails, this single issue summarized everything I loved about it in the first place. Motion. Emotion. The idea that what you do has an effect on everything. And I wrapped it up and said, that's it, I'm okay with Spidey now. See, when I love a long run on a character, and that run ends, I can stop indefinitely until I get the itch again. The first comic I ever collected was The Silver Surfer by Ron Marz and Ron Lim. When Lim left the book, my interest waned and I trailed off. I have never bought a new Silver Surfer comic again. When Mark Waid and Brian Augustyn left The Flash, so did I, and that's when I realized I wasn't a Flash fan or a Wally West fan; I was a Waid and Augustyn Wally West fan. Characters like Superman and Captain America, I found, I have multiple short runs of, not years-long runs. (The one exception to all this? Thor. I have four long runs of the Mighty Thor — Stan Lee/Jack Kirby, Walt Simonson, Dan Jurgens/John Romita Jr., and Jason Aaron/Esad Ribic/Russell Dauterman. That's more than I have of any hero. Shit, maybe Thor is my actual favorite character.) And with that, I figure, that's it. I can say bye to Spidey for the foreseeable future.

Except for the fact that the succeeding writer, Nick Spencer, put this in his second issue of Amazing Spider-Man.

Antonio Nelson Ruiz is a friend of mine, and while he won't tell me exactly what his contribution was (is he under an NDA? Only Antonio can know for sure), I find it incredibly funny that it happened in the storyline that finally reunites Peter Parker with Mary Jane Watson. Antonio and I differ on where we stand on the Peter/MJ thing; for me, it's a preference that they're not married  (not necessarily that they're not together, though I still would like to see them make an actual, full attempt to create a third "real" girlfriend for Spider-Man); for him it's a selection. And this was a storyline in which Spider-Man split off into a different personality from Peter Parker, so it seemed like it was going to eventually end with their breakup again, which even I thought would be too mean for fans who waited really long to see their favorite couple back together.

But then that storyline ended, the next story started, Antonio still got his credit, and Boomerang moved into Peter's apartment as his new roommate, and now I'm starting to think this was Antonio's idea.

It's definitely an interesting take on Spider-Man, and I'm gonna let people enjoy it, even if it isn't really clicking for me. Spider-Man is for everyone, and is open to many interpretations.

2018 was also the year of Infinity War and the entire Comics Cube Family was on board for that particular roundtable. What took me by surprise was that almost unanimously, the most powerfully emotional moment was Spider-Man dying.

Strangely, it didn't really hit me in the gut, probably because I'm too deep into the material to really appreciate Infinity War (or any comic book movie, really) as a story. But it was incredible to me to see how much that moment resonated for people, and how important it was for them. And this is a different version of Spider-Man than any we've seen before, as well. This is a young Spider-Man with heroes to look up to, being mentored by an established hero, with friends in school and who's more of an actual nerd than an outsider. Really, he's closer to Miles Morales than any comic version of Spider-Man.

By far my favorite Spider-Man product of 2018 has to be the PS4 game, and once again, it's a completely different version of Spider-Man. A graduate student who's recently broken up with Mary Jane, Peter is reminiscent mostly of Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield put together, in the sense that he's got Garfield's scientific acumen from his movies and kinda sorta even looks like him, but he acts more like Tobey Maguire, if Tobey Maguire were more mature and less annoying in those movies.

The game works with an open environment, which is no stranger to Spider-Man video games, as the Spider-Man 2 game on the PS2 had it. It has Spider-Man's unique set of powers, which has always made him the perfect video game superhero to me. You can replicate Batman's skill set onto a generic video game character. You can replicate Superman's. You can replicate Wolverine's. But you can't replicate Spider-Man's without it feeling exactly like Spider-Man's.

And it's got a story that is tight and well thought out, cinematic and emotionally engaging. It ties Dr. Octopus with Norman Osborn, the Green Goblin, and involves villains such as the Kingpin and the Shocker. It's the most immersive version of Spider-Man yet. And again, it's a different version. I love it.

Spider-Man is for everyone. If one version of Spider-Man isn't for you, another is. There's an animated movie coming out at the end of the year called Into the Spider-Verse, which deals with a Spider-Man multiverse, focused on Miles Morales. I can't wait to see it. At this point in time, Spider-Man is a palimpsest, a piece of fiction that has been written and revised so many times and has fragmented into so many audiences. There is a Spider-Man for everyone. In a weird way, the only "canon" that truly exists is the original Stan Lee and Steve Ditko run; every single version of Spider-Man comes from that.

Which brings us to 2019. Starting January 2nd, Back Issue Ben and I will go back to the beginning and take every Wednesday to discuss an issue of Spider-Man, from his first appearance in Amazing Fantasy #15 all the way to, we hope, Amazing Spider-Man #200. We'll look at things like what aged the best, what didn't, our favorite panels, bits of trivia, and other things. We're going to track how Spider-Man evolved in small but significant ways, and we'll do it every week, as regular content.

If you're a Spider-Man fan, join us. Leave some comments. We'll have a good time.

In the meantime, enjoy Spider-Man. Somewhere, out in the ever-expanding marketplace, in your local comic shop, on Amazon, on Netflix, wherever... there is a Spider-Man story for you.

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