May 31, 2016

Mary Jane Watson's Top 10 Most Unhealthy Reactions to Spider-Man Stress

Cigarettes and Dancing:
Mary Jane Watson's Top 10 Most Unhealthy Reactions
to Spider-Man Stress
Ben Smith

Special thanks to Travis Hedge Coke for the title and idea. Partial credit, or full blame, for what follows should be directed towards him.

It’s pretty obvious at this point that the marriage between Spider-Man and Mary Jane Watson was an abject failure. In the over 50 years of Spider-Man’s existence, his comics have been some of the most consistently entertaining in all of the medium, except for the nearly 20 year span when he was married. If you look at the list of his most beloved storylines, almost all occur before or after the marriage years, with a few exceptions. That cannot be a coincidence. But how could something as relatively minor (in a fictional sense) as a relationship status be such a detriment to entertaining comics? Let's explore further.

There never was a whole lot of substance to Mary Jane Watson, and that was fine when she was the occasional love interest. I liked that Mary Jane Watson a lot. (When I was a kid, she represented the ideal girlfriend that I would someday like to have.) It’s when she became Mary Jane Watson-Parker, that writers and editors had to try to find something to do with her, and she’s just not that interesting on her own. The fundamental problem with her becoming the wife of Spider-Man, was that it made it mandatory for her to appear in every single story, no matter if she had anything relevant to do. Story is born from conflict, and there’s only so much conflict you can present in a marriage without it becoming unbearable to read. Now, I’ll grant you that many writers were able to handle the marriage fairly well. It wasn’t exactly entertaining, but it wasn’t an anchor dragging down the series. However, the majority of writers did not do a very good job at all with the marriage and Mary Jane’s role in the comics.

With that in mind, here are the 10 worst ways Mary Jane dealt with the stress of being married to Spider-Man, in no particular order.


Every bad decision has to start somewhere, and the simple act of marrying Peter Parker in the first place is where it all begins. She knew from the very beginning that she struggled with the danger Peter puts himself in on a regular basis, and that his sense of responsibility would never allow him to quit, and yet she did it anyway. Marrying someone with the hopes that they will eventually change something that defines them as a person, is never a great idea. Granted, it’s not like she didn’t struggle with the decision, which leads us to the second example.


Lots of people get cold feet in the days leading up to their wedding, but I’d think most would agree that spending the night with a romantic competitor isn’t a very decent thing to do. Exactly what happened that night with Bruce (otherwise known as Batman) is left open to each reader’s interpretation. Considering she spends most of the night unsure that she even wants to marry Peter and then shows up late to the wedding the next day, I think we can all agree that whatever happened, it falls on a spectrum of kinda bad to awful.


From time to time, Spider-Man goes missing because a crazed lunatic in a loincloth will shoot him with drugs and then bury him alive so that he can take his place. As the wife of a superhero, this is just something you’re going to have to accept as a certainty. The proper thing to do would be to carry on with life as best as possible, until the eventual moment when he returns. The incorrect thing to do is, is to patrol the streets alone at night in the hopes of finding him yourself. As Teddy KGB in the classic film Rounders would say, “Bad judgment.” (You have to read that in Malkovich’s terrible but awesome version of a Russian accent for it to have the proper effect.) I'll give her the benefit of the doubt as a newlywed irrational with worry and feeling powerless. But c'mon, make better choices.


Some might say that spending the night performing a strenuous activity in a public setting might be a terrific way to relieve stress, and maybe that’s true. Except that the reason Mary Jane usually went out dancing was as a punishment to her husband for leaving her while he went out to go punch criminals. She was almost always by herself when she went out, and always was in the company of strange men. Look, I'm not shaming her for trying to have a (presumably) harmless good time in a very stressful situation, but her dependence on this bordered on the pathological. That cannot be healthy.


The previous examples before this one may not have been healthy ways to deal with stress, but at least they provide some level of entertainment value to read. There is nothing entertaining about a woman using cigarettes to both relieve stress and punish her husband. For the most part, Mary Jane is at least a sympathetic character. She may not have always been entertaining, but you could at least understand her pain at having to live with a husband that was constantly risking his life. But her smoking habit (combined with the next example on this list) simply made her unlikable. (While I personally don’t like cigarettes, I’m not trying to suggest that smokers are bad people. I’m only saying that in the context of these stories, she was clearly smoking to punish Peter. That's not cool. Plus, smoking kills people, so there’s that.)


While there were many times when Mary Jane was loving and supporting of Peter’s life as Spider-Man, there were just as many when she decided that he should give up on his overwhelming sense of responsibility and quit. For some reason, many writers felt that this would be something entertaining to read. Nobody in any walk of life likes to be nagged for being who they are, and it’s just as unbearable to read about in fictional circumstances. Again, in a real world sense, Mary Jane is probably right in a lot of cases, but that doesn’t make it fun to read in a comic book. Especially since we know that Peter can never quit being Spider-Man (clones aside) so it’s a losing proposition to demand otherwise. For all the talk about how relateable Peter Parker is as a character, most people read the book to see him as Spider-Man at some point.

One of the more perplexing choices in comics history came in 1999, when Amazing Spider-Man relaunched for the first time with a new #1, with Peter Parker having made a promise to Mary Jane to retire as Spider-Man. Never before had their been a better jumping-on point for new or lapsed readers, and then he spends months avoiding being Spider-Man as much as possible. Riveting!


Granted, it is a rat. But still, beating a small animal to death with a boot is probably not the healthiest way to relieve stress. Or is it?

Since that one really shouldn't count, let's go with...


From time to time, usually when fraught with worry, Mary Jane might pull out an old yearbook and start reminiscing about the good old days when her husband was in love with her best friend. I don't care what you say, that's just complicated and weird.


There was a time period where Mary Jane entertained the idea of having an affair with a character named Jerome James, accompanied by the clichéd reluctant kiss. While this may be a realistic story to tell of a wife that often feels abandoned by her husband, there’s probably no quicker way to turn an audience against a character than infidelity. Even the contemplation of infidelity. (The one and only time I ever wrote and mailed a letter to Marvel as a kid, was to express my complete disgust of this subplot.) Even her eventual "heroic" denial of his advances did little to undo the damage done.


Okay, that’s just a joke, but on the subject on outfits…


Mary Jane’s feelings were hurt by Venom, so she decided that Peter could no longer wear what was arguably the best alternate costume ever created. I liked the black costume, and she was just being unreasonable. Okay fine, maybe she was being perfectly reasonable, and with the creation of Venom there was a good editorial reason for Spider-Man to stop wearing the costume. But still, I liked it.


Almost from the moment the decision was made to marry Peter Parker and Mary Jane, editors were looking for ways to erase it. Nobody wanted Peter to be a divorcee or widower, so that left only convoluted methods to end this vile abomination of a status quo. The Clone Saga famously began as a way for Peter and Mary Jane to ride off into the sunset and return a younger-seeming, unattached Spider-Man to the forefront. That didn’t work out, so next came John Byrne. His first attempt was to have Mary Jane appear to be killed in a plane crash, but despite how unlikable she sometimes became, nobody wanted to her to die. So instead, it turns out she was really kidnapped by an obsessed stalker, and Spider-Man had to find her and save her. (I’ve never actually read this story, so if I got the details wrong, whatever, you win.) The trauma of her imprisonment, and Peter’s continued adventuring, forces her to decide that they’re better off apart. (I’m guessing those were the reasons, because I’m not reading that comic in full.) Thus began the separation status quo, with Mary Jane out of the picture off in California, and Peter on his own but not really single in NYC. It was not a good look for either character. You either have to end the relationship, or embrace it (for all of JMS’ faults as a Spider-Man writer, and human being, at least he decided to depict the marriage as positively as possible) but keeping the marriage in limbo served no one.

(For the record, I think the McFarlane and Larsen runs had some of the best depictions of Mary Jane as a loving and supportive wife. They also had Jonathan Caesar, but that's a whole other topic.)

Infidelity, abandonment, cigarettes, and dancing. Not a good look for what was once one of the best supporting characters in the Spider-Man comics.

That's not even mentioning the other terrible subplots we were subjected to that were not her fault. It may not have been her fault in-story that she was sexually harassed by Jonathan Caesar in a story that refused to ever end, but it's not like we would have ever had to read it if she didn't become Spider-Man's wife. To be clear, I'm not blaming the victim in any way, I'm blaming the creative teams for believing that would be even remotely interesting to read. I do not like reading or watching anything like that, ever. I actively choose to avoid fiction like that. Beyond that, there were the little dramas that came with being, and I hate even typing this, a soap opera star. Nothing says fun-filled superhero action like Mary Jane being chastised by overzealous elderly fans. Hey kids, this issue Mary Jane and Aunt May get in a spat over Peter's best interests! Excelsior!

I know some of you will read this and come to the conclusion that I hate Mary Jane as a character, but I can assure you that is not the case. Like I wrote earlier, when I was a kid she helped form the template for what I wanted in a wife one day. Now, that was mostly based on her being smoking hot and usually very loyal and supportive (and also they had sex a lot, like A LOT) but those things don’t hold as much weight on an ongoing basis as an adult reader. The fact remains, that beyond her usefulness as eye candy and that occasional support system, her status as the wife of Spider-Man was so badly mishandled that there’s no objective way to conclude that the marriage was a success narratively. Almost everyone that argues otherwise, argues for the marriage as an idea, or because it represents something to them, and not based on actual storytelling execution. Sure there are always exceptions (the Sensational Spider-Man annual written by Matt Fraction being one of the best) but the examples above are far more damaging than any of the good. At her best, she was a loving partner and friend to our main character. At her worst, she made Peter (and us) feel bad about him continuing to save lives as Spider-Man.

Either way, she was always dancing.



May 28, 2016

Let’s Overreact!

Let’s Overreact!
Travis Hedge Coke

So, io9, in its continuing sad bid for the most pathetic, trembling, threatened-by-life faction of comics fandom, started a new article about a currently serializing Captain America storyline, thusly: “So writer Nick Spencer had a bad idea for Captain America. And Marvel had the worse idea of letting it happen. But, as is often the case, the fans took the shitty lemons they had been handed and made lemonade.” And, then they publish “the best” overreacting panic tweets, and close with, “Cap now gets to join the bad characterization wasteland.”

Based on one line in a storyline that’s just starting and obviously a something has gone wrong hook.

But, this isn’t just about Cap seeming to have been secretly a long-time Hydra agent, it’s not just io9, and it’s not just this storyline. This is what this sort of fan, what too many “fans” do. We overreact. We panic. OMG, something blatantly and obviously wrong is happening, and we’re going to take it personal and assume writers we previously trusted and enjoyed suddenly don’t know what they’re doing instead of there being a plan.

No, obviously, when Stan Lee had Beast turn X-Men villain, when Grant Morrison teased the possibility that Alfred was evil or had a villain claim to be Batman’s dad, when Black Panther was solicited with a red, white, and blue costume as American Panther, when Cap was killed, the next time Cap was killed, the next next time, when Batman was replaced by an armored psycho, there’s no plan. They just done goofed. Obviously.

No one writing or publishing a serial comic featuring characters worth millions of dollars ever have a plan other than to burn everything to the ground, destroy the characters, ruin the comics, and lose all the fans.

Or… every time Captain America has died, or “died,” he’s come back. Every time a major character is replaced by a satire of recent trends in a sillier costume, the replacement is always terrible and the original comes back looking better, fighting harder, feeling purer. Only a moron would watch the first ten minutes of a movie and decide that’s the whole movie, the problems faced by characters will never get better, the situation isn’t a lead into a story but a permanent horrible status quo. And, that’s what part one of a serialized story is, it’s ten minutes of a movie, a chapter of a novel.

And, I can say that confidently, because I’ve been there. American Panther pissed me off. I wouldn’t even read it when it came out, because, hell no does the Black Panther turn his back on his culture and nation to be all American Flag Boy. Of course, it wasn’t him, it was a satirically-costumed replacement, a white supremacist drumming up hatred, but I overreacted and fumed for a few days, then forgot about it for about a year, before I finally read the comic, and oh, it wasn’t that bad.

Even at twelve, though, I was never convinced Batman being replaced by a zealous psycho in asymmetrical gold and blue (then gold and red) armor and big claws, killing people was going to be a permanent change. That would just be dumb. Looking back, I can see that there were plenty of adults at the time who really did buy into it. They freaked right out.

Captain America dying at the end of Mark Gruenwald’s run, when I was a kid, was followed by a resurrection one issue later, but I remember grown men at my local comics shop insisting they were quitting comics if Cap was “really dead.” When Ed Brubaker staged the fake death of Cap in his run, I saw complete repeats. When Batman appeared to have been murdered halfway through Final Crisis, even though we absolutely and clearly saw Batman at the end, trapped in ancient times, you still have people, today, talk about how Batman was killed in Final Crisis. (While, the actual clinically-dead deaths of Batman that happen on either side of Final Crisis don’t get mentioned at all, because we’re not responding to the stories with these panics, we’re responding to hype and how pissed off the rest of the fan-world are getting.)

Batman: RIP split the difference for me. I was in my late twenties. I knew enough to be sure DC wouldn’t burn all the bat-mythos, but each successive issue would tease us about who else the villain could really be. Was it Alfred Pennyworth? Did the butler do it? Is the villain actually Bruce Wayne’s dad? Is Daddy Waynebucks evil!?! Is! It! The! Devil!?!!?!?! Is it actually the writer, himself, transposed into the comic book world of Batman? I knew it wouldn’t be permanent, whatever it was, there would be an excuse, an out, but I was along for the ride, because it was nuts. The ideas of these horrible revelations were better than actually doing them ever could be.

Get excited. Get mad, even. But, don’t freak out. Stop embarrassing our entire community with this. If you’re nine years old, okeh. If you’re a grown adult with a bank account, stop embarrassing your community. You know Captain America hasn’t been a Hydra agent since before World War 2. You know this is ridiculous. That’s why your heart rages against it. And, that’s why it’s the hook at the start of a story, not the final word at the end.

Stories start with something that needs fixing. Something wrong or missing. That gets fixed. That’s how stories work. If you’ve made it to the point where you can find and read this article, but you can’t work that out clearly enough to not tweet out a bunch of panic, you need to sort yourself out. Because you are dragging us down.

May 23, 2016

GI Joe: America's Elite: War's End

GI Joe: America's Elite: World War III Begins
Part Three – War's End
Back Issue Ben
Ben Smith

Previously, Cobra Commander has taken over the world. After gaining full control of Destro’s M.A.R.S. technology, Cobra used it to arm extremist groups worldwide. With the U.S. military and G.I. Joe forces spread thin responding to those crisis all across the world, Cobra seized the White House, Ft. Meade, and New York City. Allied with Alexander Destro, they also took control of the United Kingdom. Now, Cobra Commander has control of nuclear arsenals stateside and abroad. The Joes have to strike back if they’re going to save the world.

This storyline was originally featured in G.I. Joe: America’s Elite, written by Mark Powers with art by Mike Bear, Mike Shoyket, and Pat Quinn. It was not written by Larry Hama, but we won’t hold that against it.

Can the Joes fight for freedom? Wherever there’s trouble? Will G.I. Joe be there?


Cobra Commander gives his estranged son Billy a choice, join him or die.

Longtime G.I. Joe comic book readers will know Billy from the original Marvel series, G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, written largely by the legendary Larry Hama. Hama, along with Walt Simonson and Frank Miller, is a god among men and should be treated as such.)

Duke and Rourke are holed out in an apartment Rourke maintained in New York City. Duke asks Rourke how he got like this. Rourke promises to tell Duke his story if they make it out of this alive.

They head outside only to be immediately attacked by Cobra’s elite “the Plague” commando unit.

In Priest Lake, Idaho, Snake Eyes and Scarlett finally rendezvous with General Colton and Hawk. Colton brings them up to speed, on how they’re looking for Destro and Baroness to help neutralize the M.A.R.S. technology, and that Storm Shadow is on the case. In Prague, Storm Shadow is fighting the (freshly recruited by Cobra) assassin Dela Eden (who is previously responsible for killing Lady Jaye, apparently).

He, of course, gets the best of her, and it about to forcibly remove any information she has, before her hostage Dusan (friend of the Baroness) agrees to tell them what they need to know to find the Baroness. In New York, Rourke and Duke retreat into the darkened subway tunnels, where they almost take out the Plague with some well-placed explosives. In Detroit, Stalker returns home to find that the locals have allied themselves with gangbangers and criminals to stay alive. He’s not happy about that, but Cobra is the bigger enemy for everyone. In Fort Meade, Billy easily subdues his captors and escapes into the facility. (Billy trained with the Arashikage ninja clan, including Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow.)

The Plague are searching for Duke and Rourke, when Spirit arrives out of nowhere and gets his Spider-Man on.

Wild Bill and Gung-Ho aren’t far behind, and as the Plague try to fight back, citizens of the city begin barraging them with bottles and projectiles until they’re forced to retreat, while in Tokyo, Japan, Storm Shadow has found the Baroness and Destro. After a brief skirmish, Destro halts the hostilities, and agrees to help the Joes find a way to neutralize the M.A.R.S. tech. Destro believes it’s only a matter of time until Cobra Commander comes after them, and their son.

Destro has only two conditions: they’re coming with, and Alexander must be shown mercy. Storm Shadow has only one condition, that after this is over, Destro will be taken into custody to pay for his crimes.

In Scotland, men dressed in Cobra uniforms knock out other Cobra soldiers and take control of a Night Raven jet. Back in Ft. Meade, Billy believes he is sneaking up on Cobra Commander and breaks his neck. Unfortunately, it was a decoy, and Billy catches a poison tipped dart to the neck. Cobra Commander needed to see if he could do what was necessary, now that he is master of all.

“I loved you once. Now, I feel nothing. My victory is complete.”


Major Bludd is shocked to see Billy’s dead body strung up a flag pole with a note that reads “nobody is untouchable.”

This was the scene that got the attention of, I want to say it was, Wizard Magazine. Which, subsequently, got my attention. People can rag on Wizard all they want, I read a lot of great comics primarily because they pointed me towards them.

In Priest Lake, Idaho, Storm Shadow delivers Destro and the Baroness straight to General Colton and the Joe team.

Outside, Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow reconcile, finally together again as sword brothers.

I’m not sure if I like Storm Shadow more as ruthless villain, or loyal sword brother. They’re both such appealing concepts. I think we can all agree his original costume is the best.

Sparks, Firewall and Destro compare what they know about the reconfigured M.A.R.S. tech, but they’ll have to continue that conversation on their way to London. In London, Alexander watches as the city burns all around him. He wonders just how loyal his woman, Armada, is to him.

The Plague have moved on to Philadelphia, to squash an uprising, and are tearing the city apart. With new intel from Storm Shadow’s contact inside Cobra, the Joe team would be splitting into two groups and heading toward Antarctica and the Amazon jungle. Hawk address the Joes. The intel indicates that Cobra Commander is enacting something called Operation Jiao Tu, translated as “scorched Earth.”

Fans that only watched the cartoon might be surprised to learn that Hawk was the primary Joe leader from the beginning of the comic. As a kid, I always assumed the blonde guy leaping out front on that iconic cover to G.I. Joe #1 was Duke, but it was Hawk. Duke didn’t show up until around #19. Duke was always the lead guy on the cartoon, until they brought in General Hawk in the second season.

The main Joe team will split up and travel to those two locations, while General Colton and his team attempt to take back Fort Meade.

Destro and Sparks arrive in London, to meet up with Barrel Roll, who was able to commandeer a Night Raven disguised as a Cobra pilot. The Night Raven will give them an up close look at the Cobra upgrades to the M.A.R.S. cloaking tech.

The separate Joe teams prepare for their missions in the Amazon, Antarctic, and Wyoming.

In Fort Meade, Bludd asks Cobra Commander what exactly this Jiao Tu operation means.

“We’ve placed tactical nukes in the two most environmentally precarious regions on Earth. If I can’t have this world, no one will.”


Duke and his team are ambushed by Snow Serpents in Antarctica. In the Amazon, Stalker and his team are surrounded by Jungle Vipers. General Colton and his team move in on Fort Meade, leaving Hawk behind (Hawk was paralyzed from the waist down in a previous story).

Duke tries to get the drop on the Cobra outpost by pretending to be captured, but the Serpents see through it. The disguised Rourke and Shipwreck are hit, but the body armor holds.

In the Amazon, Wild Bill is hit, but Storm Shadow and the rest hold off the rest of the Cobras while Snake Eyes tries to find the bomb.

In England, Sparks and Destro argue over if the virus they created to neutralize the M.A.R.S. tech is ready to deploy, but as they do, Baroness hits the button anyway.

All around the world, the M.A.R.S. cloaking technology fails on the Cobra aircraft, and the ordnance stops functioning.

At a new hidden location, Cobra Commander watches as his advantage begins to crumble. He orders Tomax to activate the nukes.

In the Arctic, the Plague start evacuating after the nuke is activated, but Rourke is able to locate the bomb.

In Fort Meade, Scarlett works on uploading the virus that will get the NSA intranet back online, while Colton, Jane, and Spirit cover her. The virus succeeds, and they have control of government communications again. Before they evacuate, Spirit insists that they collect the body of their brother in arms, Billy.

Cover Girl is able to successfully disarm the nuke in Antarctica, while Snake Eyes does the same in the Amazon jungle.

In England, Destro is refusing to surrender himself into Joe custody just yet, and instead wants to stop his son Alexander. The Grenadiers will listen to him, if he intervenes.

Cobra Commander and Tomax are on the move. After all the scorn and failure, today Cobra Commander was a God. Tomax asks him if the war is over now.

“…only God decrees when this conflict ends.”


Cobra Commander thinks back to his first murder, back when he was still a used car salesman. Yes, as longtime comic readers already know, Cobra Commander started as a used car salesman. That’s so absurd and yet perfect in every way.

Inspired by that, Cobra Commander returns to where it all began, in the Appalachian Mountains.

With the nukes defused, the Joes try to figure out where Cobra Commander will run to. Rourke believes he knows exactly where he’ll go.

In London, the Grenadiers throw down their arms and pay tribute when the real Destro returns. Major Bludd catches Storm Shadow’s undercover Cobra contact trying to contact the Joes. Instead of turning him in, he has his own ideas about reinforcements.

In Petra, Jordan, General Rey finds and secures the U.S. President.

Rourke thinks back to the day he abandoned Cobra. He had been seduced by the people of Cobra. Not the crazy ones in charge, but the normal people that were angry or disillusioned, that were easy recruits for Cobra. The day he was forced to shoot and kill his best friend, Tomas, was the day he disappeared from both sides.

Now, he and the Joes prepare to storm Cobra Commander’s Appalachian camp.

All around the world, the Joes are finally overwhelming the Cobra forces. This time, they cannot afford to let them escape. There will be no regrouping to attack again.

Once again, the paralyzed Hawk is left behind when the Joes move in to attack.

Cobra still has the superior numbers, but the sides are evened when Bludd’s reinforcements, the Dreadnoks, arrive to help the Joes.

I’m not sure why Bludd is helping the Joes.  I must have missed this. Maybe it was Billy, or maybe Cobra Commander just went too far this time.

In London, Destro is fighting his upstart son, when Alexander gives up. He removes his Destro helmet and walks away, no longer believing in the honor of it. Alexander’s girlfriend Armada, thinking that she will get back in Destro’s good graces, shoots Alexander from behind.

Destro, of course, is not pleased by this, but is above killing women. Unfortunately for Armada, the Baroness is not.

I love the Baroness so much.

The battle rages on in the Appalachian Mountains. Bludd gets the drop on Sparks, but is saved by the undercover Cobra soldier, revealed as Recondo. Lt. Bailey (remember him?) has the drop on Rourke, but Rourke is able to talk him down. Firefly and Snake Eyes face off in a deadly battle, but this time, Firefly falls.

Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow try to get their vengeance on Zartan, but he disappears into the forest before they can.

Inside, Colton subdues Tomax and demands to know where Cobra Commander is. Unfortunately, he finds him the hard way, by a gunshot to the back.

Cobra Commander is attempting to retreat, when Hawk comes flying in on a jetpack and saves the day. Even paralyzed, there was no way Hawk was letting him get away this time.

All over the world, G.I. Joe and military forces from multiple countries celebrate the victory. The conflict has brought them all together closer as people, a brotherhood born in the fires of battle.

The most dangerous Cobra operatives have been rounded up and returned to the Coffin. Wild Bill is recovering from his injuries.

Destro made good on his word, and turned himself in for trial.

The Dreadnoks escaped while the Joes were busy rounding up Cobra, but Zartan has left them, intent on making some kind of life change.

The Joes have earned some much needed leave, to rest and recuperate. Their families had been targeted in the Cobra attack, but thankfully, they all survived unscathed.

The U.S. President meets with General Colton and Hawk. As of now, G.I. Joe is fully activated, with no red tape, and no restrictions.

(I thought they already were activated, with a full green light. That was one flaw of the storyline. Every single chapter seemed to emphasize that “NOW, the Joes have full authority to do what was necessary.” I kept thinking, didn’t they already say that in the last issue? How can they have even more unchecked authority?)

In a familiar location below the Fort Wadsworth Motor Pool in Staten Island, New York, the G.I. Joes once again answer the call.

Some time later, Hawk meets with the captive Cobra Commander in his cell. Cobra Commander tells Hawk that he may think he’s won, but his legend will grow, and some day, war will break out again, and they will have him to thank.

Hawk responds, “Maybe, Commander. But understand this: no matter what happens… you won’t be taking part in any of it.”

The camera pans back to reveal Cobra Commander’s cell in a facility deep in the bottom of the ocean.


As usual, I love the buildup to the bad guys thoroughly taking over and having the good guys on the ropes, but that always leads to the eventual turn towards victory seeming just a little bit too easy and clean for the forces of good. I could have used a higher body count on both sides to really drive home how big and serious the conflict was this time too. It’s the blood thirst in me. All that being said, it was still a great story and some of the emotional moments really hit home for me as a longtime Joe fan.

This may not have been one of Hama’s storylines, but it was still really enjoyable, and it used Hama’s original continuity, which is the next best thing to the real deal. Cobra Commander was always much more of a threat in the comic, compared to the buffoon of the cartoon, but this was a Commander at the height of his strategic and ruthless capabilities. A father killing his own son is always a useful shorthand to highlight just how evil a character is, and it had that much more significance with Billy being such a longstanding Joe character.

I wasn’t that into any of the new Cobra special operatives, all of the Plague members looked the same to me. I didn’t have much interest in Agent Delta either, and he got a lot of “screen” time. That’s to be expected though, since nostalgia is a major factor in my appreciation of G.I. Joe and Transformers comics. Anytime they try to feature new characters, or characters I wasn’t familiar with as a kid, I stop caring. On the flip side, the featured Joes in this story could have used less Flint and Shipwreck, but really that’s just splitting hairs at this point. Overall this was a very enjoyable comic run, that could also serve as a satisfying ending to the series. Can’t ask for much more than that.

Next week, more robots or anti-terrorism task forces, probably.

May 18, 2016

All My DC Books Are Closing

All My DC Books Are Closing
Travis Hedge Coke

Constantine: The Hellblazer. Starfire. Batgirl of Burnside. DC’s ending all my loves of their current line. And, I’m good with it.

(Doyle, Tynion IV, Rosso, Del Rey, Donovan, Fitzpatrick, Placencia, Visions, et al)

The beauty in Ming Doyle and James Tynion IV’s Constantine: The Hellblazer is, for me, not in the ghosts and ghouls and succubi, though they’re good at that, or the involving layouts and moody art handled by Doyle and others, including Riley Rossimo, but in the existential freakout that being a sexual being can get you, if you’re honest about it. The first run to really dive feet first and up over the hairline into John’s otherwise longstanding bisexuality, they really hit on something that rings right into my brain. I suppose for some bisexuals, there’s a frisson of I can sex up anyone!, but for me, and John, it’s more along the lines of “I can make a complete mess of things with women and men! So awesome.” That a fear I can indulge in for awhile, comic in hand. That, and frustration with death and failure (and a conflation of the two), which is more familiar Hellblazer territory.

John falls into a relationship with a genuinely excellent man over the course of the twelve issues, and he’s pretty crap to him in one way or another from the very first moments. The first thing he does, actually, is to shout in his general direction, angrily. Then he cuts out while the guy is asking him out, to have inane sex with an old friend who he knows is using him. I’m not that guy, but I know that anxiety. The path of least resistance and the path to self-condemnation are suspiciously very similar in appearance.

And, if your heart doesn’t break as it becomes slowly apparent that Georgina Snow, the Heckblazer deeply loved a woman John may have ruined unto death being reckless and careless and dumb, maybe it will crack a little once you come to to terms with something Georgina won’t let herself acknowledge; she’s as bad as John and hurt people, including said woman, just as much and just as horribly.

So, why do I want to read a comic about two bisexuals who very much dislike each other, screwing up the lives of anyone they become to close to? Shouldn’t I be offended by this grotesque dankness? This doomed perspective of a perfectly respectable sexuality?

It’s a horror comic. Even if John’s boyfriend didn’t slot in as the good rep, if we’re not ballooning up the anxieties, if we’re not playing with razorblades, then what’s the point? Horror is not about how bad life is, it’s about seeing how bad it can get in a fictional setting. What I want from horror is not a sociological mirror or a true crime wiki. I want to feel hopeful, anxious, then stupid for being hopeful, silly for being anxious instead of resolved. I don’t want a moral lesson, but an inoculation. Biological sex horror is easy, makes anyone an easy mark, but it’s too easy for it to become silly, too. That third V/H/S movie and its cartoon evil genitals aren’t scary, they’re just as stupid as anyone actually afraid of vagina dentata. Social sexuality horror, though, psychological attraction and fetish horror, that’s got some meat and bile that could turn your stomach or tighten it up.

And, this will make a perfect package at twelve issues, too. “Will they live…?” its acceptable horror, but it’s not great. “You’ve always been here,” that’s great. I’m not opposed to good-the-first-time horror, where you are mostly concerned about who will survive and how, but this is going to sting more with rereads, because I can see what the characters can’t yet. I’ll know, reading, that it’s not important who survives, because everyone’s going to be fucked up. Everyone already is.

Song I Listed to Reading the Last Issue: Pansy Division’s Bad Boyfriend

(Conner, Palmiotti, Lupacchino, Charretier, et al)

The Starfire fans seem to despise Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti’s Starfire series, both the fans of Scott Lobdell’s Red Hood and the Outlaws fans and the New Teen Titans crowd. A lot of fans of previous takes dislike the writing, they dislike the Lupacchino and Charretier art, the tone, the style, the fact it exists. A lot of people who aren’t really fans of those earlier versions, either, but who have a clear vision in their head of what Starfire should be in comics they won’t read or tv shows they wouldn’t be watching anyway.

I’ve seen this series derided so many times as “like a fucking cartoon,” which, really, it probably should be since the cartoon version of Starfire is by far the most successful. But, it’s not really like either of the cartoon series. And, I’ve seen it called a kid’s book, a baby book, a children’s… which, again, it probably could’ve done well being, but given the serial murderer, the adult situations, and the joke visual of Starfire literally up someone’s giant butt, not hugely parent-friendly, even if a kid might enjoy it. None of us who grew up on Claremont X-Men have any idea what kid-appropriate is, anyway. Let’s just admit that.

The cartoon version of this character is my preferred version. I’m not a huge fan of when she shows up in a comic and by panel three someone, usually a male between the ages of twelve to twenty-four has commented on her breasts or tried to get a photograph of them. That’s a joke that should have died a long time ago, but it will probably get reused next year. And, I’m not huge on insipid, unsure, smart, talented, super-powerful, beautiful Kory who doesn’t know she’s those things because she’s unsure and implausibly naive and needs a strong man, probably Dick Grayson, to hold onto. I check out.

I like the cartoon version. I like this one. I like that they gave her pupils and a sensible range of emotions. That they gave her agenda instead of just a default setting. A cast to revolve around her. Even in ensemble things, that never really happens. She’s always an attachment. An appendage. Even at the best of times.

This, for me, did not feel watered down or whatever some other fans were afraid of. It’s been smart, heightened achievement. Fun. It’s a fun comic, bright and raring to go, yes, but with real risks and serious compassion. The fights have been excellent. The smiles, genuine. The drama is soapy without being maudlin, the heroism real without being cornball. Starfire has been twelve issues of no-enjoying-this-ironically and I’ve loved every step of the way.

Song I Listened To Reading the Last Issue: Suzi Quatro’s Can the Can

(Stewart, Fletcher, Tarr, LaPointe, Doyle, et al)

Technically, Batgirl has one more issue on this run, but issue 50 was it. This is a transitional something, and it’s not a bad two-parter at all, but it’s not the run. The run is over. It’s not just the shift in artist, it’s a shift in… tectonics, maybe. Something dramatic and planetary that’s hard to put your finger on firmly.

Batgirl of Burnside flipped my switches when it was announced. Cameron Stewart? Bas Tarr? Brenden Fletcher? A guy I love and remember fondly from the old Barbelith board, joined by some equally ace talents, on a character who probably means far more to me than she should. I’m in. And, Stella Chu did cosplay of the sparkly gold costume, which amused me. For some reason, seeing even the cover image, I kind of suspected that was a dude in bat-drag. Maybe it’s the eyebrows, like when Morrison sketches Lord Fanny and she looks like him in a wig in a big way. Maybe I want everybody to be dudes in bat-drag, but this time I was right.

And, there we had our first falling hard during the run. Batgirl, realizing Dagger Type is a dude (Dagger Type does not seem to be trans at all, and I’m not going to try to explain to angry people that there is a difference), kind of freaks about it, for a second. That’s dumb. It’s even dumber, because they’d kept her trans roommate from the previous run in the mix of characters, so it’s not as if Babs has never dealt with gender or clothing issues of a similar nature. Even as a case of her being caught off guard, it just seems unlikely to me.

But, the talent apologized, and everything bounced back and bounced even to new heights. This book climbed high. It rocked on all the levels it could. It was charming and smart and scary and goofy and hard and fast and cute and weird. Serious cheese. An elegant stumble. It was her makeshift costume in narrative and multi-character form.

The Albuquerque cover is the second fall, if there was one, and yeah, I don’t like that cover. It’s not a hero cover, and Batgirl is a hero. Parodies using Robin, using Superman show how absurdly unheroic and awkwardly gendered it is. But, Albuquerque, himself, asked for the cover to not be used, and he’s both a talented artist and seems like a good guy, so I wish him the best on his upcoming run on this same title.

So, how far can a cover that doesn’t grace the comic actually pull you down? Not very far. If anything, it was pulling on a rubber band so you can ssssssppooooooooing it across the room and bounce it off a wall. This comic just kept rocking on, villain to villain as the big bad became more apparent, evermore unavoidable and maybe undefeatable, except that, natch, this isn not the kind of comic where a villain can’t be defeated.

Spoiler: the heroes win.

Song I Listened To Reading the Last Issue: Taylor Swift’s Teardrops on my Gui… no, it was Monster Magnet’s CNN War Theme (and then the Taylor Swift song)

So, Constantine ends on a cliffhanger, Starfire promises new adventures, and Batgirl will keep serializing, with new writers, new artists. The tail end of Starfire’s last issue is a note from the talent that closes, “Your support has meant the world to us… and remember, in comics, nothing goes away forever.” With fandoms in a constant state of frenzy and readerships who feel, consistently, like anything they love will be snatched away or changed out of all recognizability, this is something we need to remember. All of these characters and scenarios can and will return some day, and if DC is too slow for you in bringing them back, you can always revisit what you love right in these same pages we’re discussing. These comics aren’t going away. DC’s not going to raid your house or delete them off your tablet. If you don’t own them now, you can buy them in six months, or two years from now. Cancelation does not take the comic out of your hands, and nobody can take them out of your heart.

May 16, 2016

GI Joe: America's Elite: Cobra Wins

GI Joe: America's Elite: World War III Begins
Part Two – Cobra Wins
Back Issue Ben
Ben Smith

Last week, we covered the beginning of the World War III storyline original featured in G.I. Joe: America’s Elite, written by Mark Powers, with art by Mike Bear, Mike Shoyket, and Pat Quinn. It saw Cobra Commander gain full control of Destro’s M.A.R.S. technology, and then use that to arm extremist groups worldwide. The Joes are spread thin as they try to prevent Cobra’s plans to destabilize governments all across the globe. After a devastating missile attack on the city of Boston, the United States has no choice but to declare war.

G.I. Joe is and always will be Larry Hama, but this is one of the exceptions. The story continues.


The world is on the brink of global war after it’s discovered that the missiles that devastated Boston were fired from a Russian submarine. In Jerusalem, Agent Delta neutralizes some Cobra agents before reporting back to G.I. Joe, warning them about Cobra’s plans to assassinate the Prime Minister of Israel. Duke rallies the Joe team to prevent that from happening.

In Scotland, Cobra Commander prepares Alexander Destro and his army of Grenadiers for their role in the conflict.

The President of the United States is ready to retaliate against the Russians for the Boston attack, but General Colton assures them that Cobra definitely has to be responsible for the attack.

In Chechnya, Falcon and the Oktober Guard have their own problems with M.A.R.S. equipped extremists attacking throughout the city.

All throughout Jerusalem, the Joes find and neutralize every Cobra soldier, sniper, and agent they can.

In the White House, the United States and Russian Presidents are smoothing things over via video feed, when the power goes out. They look outside and shockingly discover that they are being overrun by Cobra.

Duke finally meets Agent Delta face to face, and asks him if he’s finally ready to take orders again.

With the majority of the nation’s military stretched across the globe, Cobra Commander easily takes the White House, and captures the President.

Like I mentioned last week, I love that this is a Cobra Commander that actually knows what he’s doing. Arming extremists across the globe, overstretching the Joes and the U.S. military, all so that the can waltz right into the nation’s capital and take over. That’s just great comics.

The Joes continue to remain on high alert, looking for Cobra assassins, as the Prime Minister begins his speech. All hell breaks loose when the Joes lose communications, and Wild Bill is forced to bring in helicopter support.

Agent Delta correctly guesses that the assassin must be one of the Prime Minister’s guards, signals the helicopter, and Flint is able to take the Cobra agent out with a rifle shot before he can do any damage.

Duke contacts General Colton to let them know the mission was a success, and that the Prime Minister is safely on his way to Tel Aviv, when Colton informs them that the White House has been taken, and he is invoking the “Cobra Protocols.”

A lot of times in a story of this scale, the heroes end up looking a little incompetent as a result of the villains taking over so thoroughly, but this story does a good job of setting up how outnumbered and overmatched the Joes are. They’re winning the little battles, but keep losing the bigger war.


Cobra Commander addresses the country, spouting his rhetoric about the ineffectiveness of the government, and the need for a change. For Cobra to bring order to the nation. His first action will be to respond to the devastating attack made by the Russians.

Cobra Commander orders Tomax to go to Greenland and free his brother and other Cobra prisoners from “the Coffin” prison facility.

General Colton, Hawk, and Sparks are under attack in Joe headquarters. Sparks catches a bullet to the arm as the three of them desperately try to hold off the Cobra B.A.T.S. untiil the computers are wiped and the facility is evacuated.

In Israel, Duke is giving Agent Delta an earful about what he knew, and when he knew it. Delta reminds him that Boston is his hometown, and assures them that he got played along with everyone else.

As the team debates what to do next, the wall explodes, and in comes a squadron of Cobra agents, self-identified as “the Plague.”

On a road in New Hampshire, Storm Shadow receives a mysterious phone call, with orders to travel to a specific set of coordinates, or else what happened in Boston will seem like a tea party.

Look, there’s no way, if you were a child in the ‘80s, that the mere mention of the names Snake Eyes or Storm Shadow does not bring a smile to your face. It’s impossible.

In a bunker at Ft. Meade, Cobra Commander looks on as the Russians have launched their missiles at the United States, but a M.A.R.S. satellite easily takes them down.

One hour later, U.S. officials contact the Russian President and admonish him for firing on them. The Russian President defends his move, saying that Cobra is already attacking Moscow, and he needed to try and eliminate Cobra Commander’s access to the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

The Vice President tries to convince Russia that attacking each other is exactly what Cobra wants, and that they’re convinced Cobra has undercover agents in their government, business, and the media. The Russian President responds that if the U.S. has been infiltrated, then Russia certainly has as well.

In Saratov, Russia, Falcon and Vorona are arguing with Russian border agents for not allowing them to cross and assist in rescue efforts in Moscow. The Oktober Guard sneak up on the agents and take them out, convinced they are Cobra traitors.

Back in Israel, the outnumbered Joe team engages the Cobra Plague team.

In London, the British government is pledging their full support of the United States in a televised press conference, when Alexander Destro and his army attack.

At the Coffin in Greenland, Storm Shadow arrives too late, the prison has already been attacked. He soon finds himself surrounded by red ninjas. He slowly but surely takes them out, as he thinks to himself that this is the ultimate battle that he and his sword brother (Snake Eyes) always knew would come, and this time they fight on the same side.

“Soon, Snake Eyes. Soon we’ll stand side-by-side, and nothing will be able to defeat us.”

Like I’ve said before, I didn’t read the Joe comics as a kid, so I never knew that Storm Shadow was working deep undercover in Cobra all along. The thought of Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow being best sword buddies just sends my heart all a flutter.

The Joes are fighting off the Cobra soldiers as best they can, but the numbers are too lopsided. Duke orders them to split up into separate teams, so they can lessen the impact of Cobra’s superior numbers. Agent Delta reveals his real name to Duke, Lorcan Rourke. Turns out the Rourke that was hired to assassinate the Israeli Prime Minister that was covered last week, is Agent Delta. I wasn’t paying enough attention I guess. That’s why you come to me, for half-assed analysis. Hey, you get what you pay for.

Tomax locates Major Bludd’s prison cell and sets him free. Storm Shadow addresses them over the loudspeakers, and tells Tomax that if he values his brother’s life, they’ll meet him in the medical ward.

Tomax finds the medical ward, only to see that the unconscious Xamot is being threatened at swordpoint by Storm Shadow. (Clearly, Xamot is in critical condition from some prior incident.)

Storm Shadow offers Tomax a deal. He’ll spare his brother’s life, as long as not one more prisoner goes free today. Tomax accepts the deal, collects his brother, and leaves. After they’ve left, Storm Shadow addresses a figure shrouded in shadow. He’s not happy about letting Bludd go free so soon after his capture. The shadowy figure is revealed as an undercover Cobra soldier. He hands Storm Shadow a disc containing valuable intel, and assures him that they will capture Bludd again.

In a helicopter flying over a desert in the Middle East, Cobra Commander talks to the U.S. President. All around the world, Cobra forces are attacking and winning. Colombia, North Korea, Russia, and China. The helicopter lands, and Cobra Commander pushes the President out into the barren wasteland.

“Your empire is over. Mine is just beginning. Welcome to a brand new world, Mr. President… now fend for yourself.”


Rourke Flashes back to a time when he had completely bought into the Cobra vision. He believed Cobra Commander was going to change the world.

Present day, he and Duke have almost made their way back to the United States by boat. Duke asks him what made him stop believing in G.I. Joe. Rouke’s answer, “I made me stop believing. I did.”

In Ft. Meade, Cobra Commander tries to convince a prisoner freed from the Coffin (one that formerly tried to assassinate him) to work for him. If this woman, Dela Eden, truly wants to see the world’s corrupt leaders brought low, she needs to work with Cobra.

In Malta, the remaining Joe members that split off from Duke and Rourke rest for a moment, having momentarily lost Cobra’s elite Plague unit.

In Priest Lake, Idaho, General Colton, Hawk, and Sparks, get Storm Shadow’s update from the Coffin prison break. Cobra was able to free many of its high level operatives, as well as terminate a bunch of loose ends.

Fortunately, Storm Shadow was able to obtain a disc that contains important intel on Cobra’s elite Plague unit. Unfortunately, Cobra’s access to the M.A.R.S. tech gives them a distinct advantage over the rest of the world. Only two people in the world might be able to counteract it: Destro and the Baroness.

In Malta, the Plague have found the Joes and once again engage in a full assault. The Joes teams split up again, with Snake Eyes and Scarlett disappearing into the night.

In Miami, Florida, the Dreadnoks have moved into town, and claimed it as theirs. However, Zartan doubts that they are a part of Cobra Commander’s long term plans.

In England, Alexander Destro has taken the Parliament building, and captured the Queen.

In Malta, Stalker orders Gung-Ho and Wild Bill to retreat while he covers their escape. Wild Bill disagrees, believing that with military and civilian leadership in disarray stateside, that they’ll need someone like Stalker far more than they’ll need someone like himself. Stalker reluctantly agrees, and bugs out with Roadblock and Flint, leaving Wild Bill, Gung-Ho, and Spirit behind.

In a deserted wasteland known as the Empty Quarter, General Rey and a team of U.S. soldiers overrun a Cobra outpost. All over the world, the Joes valiantly try to hold back the tide of attacking Cobra soldiers. Bolivia, England, Georgia (the country), and Madrid.

In Ft. Meade, Cobra Commander knows that the Joes will try to take M.A.R.S. away from him, reducing his advantage. That is why he is sending Dela Eden to find and kill Destro and the Baroness.


Rourke and Duke arrive in the waters of New York City, covertly enter the city underwater, and then navigate the empty subway systems to Rockefeller Center, only to find it overrun by Cobra.

In England, a British officer makes one last ditch attempt to destroy the nuclear codes before Cobra can obtain them, but his partner betrays him, revealing himself as a Cobra ally.

In Idaho, General Colton asks Sparks if he’s had any luck making contact with any of the Joe teams. Unfortunately Cobra has control of the NSA and any means of electronic communication. The Joe teams are on their own.

In a plane high above the Czech Republic, Storm Shadow parachutes out, on a mission to locate Destro and the Baroness. In Malta, Gung-Ho, Wild Bill, and Spirit are being overwhelmed by the Plague’s superior numbers. In the Empty Quarter, General Rey is interrogating a Cobra soldier, when they hear an explosion, and look outside to see a familiar-looking mushroom cloud off in the distance.

Cobra Commander addresses the world. He informs everyone that he has detonated a thermonuclear bomb in the Empty Quarter, as a demonstration of power. Cobra now controls nuclear launch facilities on three continents. If world governments do not cede authority to Cobra, he can deploy these when and where he wants, starting with populated areas.

It’s always seemed like a pretty ridiculous goal for any cartoon or comic book villain to believe they can take over the world, but this story has done a pretty convincing job of making it seem possible. This plan of Cobra Commander’s keeps looking more and more impressive.

In Malta, Wild Bill, Gung-Ho, and Spirit make what looks to be a suicide run, getting buried under tons of concrete after the Plague fire a bazooka at them. Before they can confirm the kill, the Plague are called back to New York.

In Ft. Bragg, the Speaker of the House and the Vice President debate if they should cede power to Cobra. Even if they had the complete control of their military arsenal, Cobra has no singular base of operations, and no need to occupy large areas. (This is actually what makes the “War on Terror” in the real world such a difficult conflict. It isn’t like fighting a war against another country, with an established location and uniform, and more traditional tactics. Terrorists are fractured and mobile, can look like anyone, and can strike from anywhere.) They make the decision to relinquish power, and leave the fate of the country in the hands of the soldiers in the field.

Shipwreck and Cover Girl arrive on a Joe aircraft carrier in the North Atlantic, just in time to see Airborne and other Joes leave to provide air support to England and France.

Alexander Destro and his army of Grenadiers are very close to taking Paris, when Airborne and a squadron of fighter jets arrive. Unfortunately, they are surprised by cloaked M.A.R.S. aircraft. In Prague, Dela Eden is interrogating and torturing a friend of the Baroness, Dusan, when Storm Shadow intervenes.

At Ft. Meade, Major Bludd is outside in the snow when he hears a voice, and turns to see someone he recognizes.

That shot of him standing alone in the snow really jumped out at me. I’ve always been a fan of the way extreme weather can really enhance a scene. It also reminds me of the time I was in Korea during a military combat exercise. We were supposed to evacuate our building and relocate to our backup facility. As we’re running outside, the snow is coming down hard, and the entire ground was covered in white. It was awesome. I got more than a little pumped, and it felt like I was a real actual soldier for once. I watch way too many movies.

Once again, Joe soldiers continue to fight all across the planet, including Kazakhstan, Turkey, China, and Ireland. Yet, with the threat of nuclear Armageddon hanging over them, the governments of England, France, and Russia have capitulated to Cobra demands.

In Ft. Meade, Tomax asks Cobra Commander how he plans to bring all this conflict to a permanent end, but Cobra Commander does not want it to end. His goal is a world of perpetual war. They are interrupted by a Crimson Guardsman with news that they have taken a prisoner. They have captured Cobra Commander’s son, Billy.

Longtime G.I. Joe comic readers will recognize Billy from Larry Hama’s legendary run on the Marvel series. Billy was the son of Cobra Commander that eventually became a member of the Arashikage ninja clan, and an ally of Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow.

It looks very much like Cobra has won. Come back next week for the stunning conclusion.