Jan 16, 2019

Spider-Rama: Amazing Spider-Man #2

Welcome to Spider-Rama! Each Wednesday, Ben and Duy will look at a Spider-Man issue from the very beginning, in chronological order, and answer questions for various categories, inspired in large part by one of our favorite podcasts, The Rewatchables by The Ringer. Our goal is to make it to Amazing Spider-Man #200. Will we make it? Grab your Amazing Spider-Man Omnibus or crank up your tablet to Marvel Unlimited, and then tune in every Wednesday to find out!

by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko

Spider-Man battles the Vulture, and prevents an alien invasion led by The Tinkerer.


BEN: Peter sells photos he took as Spider-Man to J Jonah Jameson for the first time.

DUY: First appearance of the Vulture and the Tinkerer.


DUY: This entire sequence is kind of a precursor to the stuff Ditko can do with motion.


BEN: Spider-Man using technology to neutralize the villain. Is he the first superhero that didn’t punch his way to victory?

DUY: It's definitely the technology thing. Peter invents a new device two issues after inventing his first device, so it's a wonder that it took so long for someone like Dan Slott to just think, you know what, he should just be inventing all the time.

BEN: Ben Reilly was the next time anyone probably looked at these early stories and thought, he sure was inventing a lot of stuff.

DUY: Also actually, the fact Peter is motivated by money. Everyone thinks the superhero with realistic motivations is a new thing, but it's right here.

BEN: Once again, Spider-Man’s initial primary motivation was making money, not responsibility. He wasn’t even going to attempt to stop the Vulture until he accidentally revealed himself.

DUY: As far as motivations go, there's still nothing on how he could have prevented Uncle Ben's death. 


BEN: Spider-Man fighting aliens that were hiding secret spy devices in radios was so off-brand that I’m pretty sure it was explained away many years later.

DUY: It was, by Roger Stern. I forgot until I saw this article that it also made it so that one of the aliens was Mysterio! But I think the fix was forgotten, by which I mean that if someone were to build on the original Lee/Ditko story and forgot the Stern retcon, only the most hardcore fans would bat an eye. But the story is like they had a spare short script lying around for one of their anthologies, or even a leftover Amazing Fantasy story, that they just retooled for Spider-Man.


BEN: Jonah is identified as the publisher of Now Magazine. It’s not incorrect, we just always associate him with The Daily Bugle.

DUY: Did Now ever come back or make another appearance?

BEN: Yeah, they always tried to reconcile these little mistakes later on. But Jonah paying a fair price for the photos, and Peter solving his financial worries for a year, is not in line with what comes after.

DUY: Yeah, my nitpick is that there's no way those photos would pay New York rent for a year.


DUY: I'm just gonna go with the Vulture. It's a decent first appearance.

BEN: He deserves credit for staying active at his age. It’s been noted before how the teenage Spider-Man was pitted exclusively against adults at the beginning here, his elders, adding a subtle extra layer of anti-establishment to the comics. You don’t get much more elderly than the Vulture and Tinkerer. I’m not sure if this was a conscious decision by Stan or Ditko, but it works.

DUY: It works so well that I don't know who came up with it, but even JJJ is old. It's become a key factor as well.

BEN: The only people that like Spider-Man, in-universe, are other teenagers. I can see why college students would list him as a revolutionary icon.

DUY: And he was voted third in terms of being a revolutionary icon in a 1965 issue of Esquire, along with Bob Dylan, Che Guevara, and The Hulk.

BEN: That's it for Spider-Rama this week.

DUY: Thank you, Stan Lee and Steve Ditko—

BEN: —for telling us we aren't the only ones.

Leave us a comment below or on our Facebook page. See you next week!

Jan 14, 2019

Roundtable: Aquaman

Hey! We saw Aquaman! And now we're gonna talk about it!


Aquaman was released on December 21, 2019, and made $68 million on its opening weekend. As of this writing, it has earned $288 million domestic and over $1 billion worldwide.

KIMBERLY: It was awesome. Best DC movie so far and not because Momoa is in it. I mean sure that helps but I like how it follows the Hero’s Journey really well. It wasn’t as dark as most DC movies. Plus, the underwater world gives it a new movie scene feel and not just another random city being attacked.

DUY: I really, really liked Momoa in it. Very charismatic. Unfortunately I can't say the same for Amber Heard as Mera and Patrick Wilson as Orm, who if you told me they had cue cards off camera and were reading off it, I'd have believed you. Also the last movie I watched in the theaters was Creed 2, and I still didn't recognize Dolph Lundgren in this.

KIMBERLY: I wasn’t sold on Amber Heard as Mera, but she actually was OK. Still not my ideal Mera though. I liked Willem Defoe and Nicole Kidman.

DUY: I agree with you; I think it's the best DCEU movie so far and a big part of that is that they got the basic structure done right. There's a clear throughline from beginning to end that the other movies just didn't have because they were plagued with holes. Is it a bad sign that I think that "back to basics" is a positive for a DCEU movie? I guess it would depend on how you look at it. Everyone knows how I feel about Man of Steel and Batman v Superman, but even Wonder Woman I feel was plagued with a lot of structural and character-specific problems. I think Aquaman is a major step in the right direction. But again I don't know how much of that I'd feel if I didn't really like Momoa in the role. 

PAUL C:  I agree with you both about Momoa, he was fantastic and just really fun to watch. I enjoyed Patrick Wilson's performance though. I liked that it would have been very easy for him to chew the scenery in that role but he more or less played it straight. I think this was the right call as unlike Momoa he spent almost all of the film underwater and so him taking it completely seriously helped sell the artificial environment. Also he contrasted nicely with Momoa's performance.

DUY: I think it's partly because I've never liked Patrick Wilson in anything, to be honest, so I was a little predisposed.

KATHERINE: I really enjoyed it! Momoa is a delight and I think the force of his natural personality probably added a lot to the more fun and light tone. And finally a DCEU movie with an unabashed bright color palette!! It was beautiful! I liked Patrick Wilson just fine, he was good and felt menacing and credible enough, though the casting choice didn’t seem particularly inspired. I realized after that he was in a possible Loki role in this story (baby brother fighting for the throne cutting some underhanded deals, soft spot for mommy and possibility of redemption), but I don’t think he popped and garnered the same kind of audience love that Loki did. Made me wonder how things could have been different in either case if they had cast different actors.

DUY: But that's also another thing. This is the third major superhero movie with an "Overthrow the King" angle, and the villains for the other two are Loki and Killmonger. Don't blame me if the bar is high.

KATHERINE: I don’t even want to say that it’s Patrick Wilson’s fault — they also didn’t give him any of the fun juicy lines of dialogue that helped make Loki and Killmonger memorable. I thought the general structure and fundamentals were such a huge improvement compared to the other films, but I do wish they had taken one more dialogue pass.

DUY:  it absolutely felt to me like Momoa was ad libbing all over the place and the others had their cue cards just off camera.

TANYA: I liked that we didn't spend 45 minutes on an origin story for Aquaman from birth to adulthood. I like that his training as a child/teenager was in flashbacks. We got to jump to an action sequence with Aquaman and the future black manta. Found love story with Atlanta and the father to be heart warming and touching. Kidman really sold me on it, and I'm glad she got to kick ass. Mera had a lot of agency and wasn't the pretty thing in the background. She took a lot of initiative. Jason Mamoa made for a perfect Aquaman!

PAUL C: It was such a relief to me that this film was devoting all its energy to telling the story it was telling. Yeah, sure there were plot threads that can be picked up in other films, but for the most part it was a complete film in its own right. Like you both said, it was mainly telling the Hero's Journey, and that story came to a satisfying conclusion. At no point was the plot derailed to advertise films that DC might make someday in the future, like in Batman v Superman. Yeah, there's more to be said about Orm and Black Manta, but if they never made another Aquaman film again (which hopefully they will) this film feels satisfying enough to stand on its own. 

JEFF: It's a lot better then all the other DCEU movies so far. Glad to see the darker tones being given a rest. I think it was a bit too long, it would have been better if it was 20 minutes or so shorter and while it looks really nice visually the plot felt pretty predictable. I think it would have been better if the Black Manta revenge scenes had been cut and his story left for a sequel.

DUY: I thought the movie was too long, but I had just also gotten back in town after a three-hour ride, so I guess I was also just exhausted. But when I realized they were going to go to all Seven Seas, I was like "Oh my God, they're going to go to all.... seven.... I don't know if I can make it through." I did, because giant drum-playing octopus for the win.

KIMBERLY: I like how long it was. Even my youngest son made it all the way through. I don’t like when movies are rushed.

PAUL C: I agree with Kimberly about the film's length. it was just right. Another thing I reckon raised it above the other DCEU films is that as well as a stunning CGI world the film also did a lot of really beautiful location work. Compare this to Man of Steel, where every Earth based location, from North Pole to farmland to Metropolis, looks and feels the same in terms of lighting and colour and atmosphere. Or to Batman V Superman which mostly all happens in a city. Or to Justice League, which happens mostly in a city and a CGI wasteland (even Themyscira is just a big field). These films feel like they're happening in a superhero bubble. The beautiful location work in Aquaman on the other hand (like Wonder Woman before it) makes it feel like it's happening in a world populated by other people, not just the characters in the film.

KIMBERLY: I loved the seahorse ride. Sooooo Aquaman.

DUY: The location work was beautiful. I thought it was one of the prettiest location movies I've seen all year. Maybe second only to Black Panther. But because of the prettiness and the color, there's talk about this movie borrowing from Marvel's playbook and I don't really see it. At most the plot is the reverse of Black Panther's, but that's virtually every story about royalty.

PAUL C: If anything this film, of all the DCEU films, borrowed the least from Marvel's playbook. All the other DC films were trying to crowbar in bits that built a shared universe to rival Marvels, whereas Aquaman just concentrated on the story it was telling.

TANYA: I liked this article. Aquaman and Ant-Man and The Wasp Both Do This Exact Same Thing.

DUY: I didn't even notice the Ant-Man parallel, because I'd forgotten so much about Ant-Man, but they involve Michelle Pfeiffer and Nicole Kidman. We just need Kim Basinger now.

KATHERINE: It’s funny that you guys are talking about whether or not it borrows from Marvel’s playbook. I could see it either way, but my older sister who’s not a comic fan at all said immediately after that it reminded her of a Marvel movie. Possibly primarily because it was fun and colorful. She said it felt like a mix of Thor and Black Panther underwater.

DUY: I just think it's "fun and colorful" is such a shallow thing to be taking out of a Marvel playbook. DC was so far into the grim and gritty that "fun and colorful" basically comes out of any playbook. They even seemed like they consciously tried not to make it really funny.

KATHERINE: I think for most casual fans that just want to have a good time and don’t think about these movies beyond the time they spend watching them, fun and colorful is what they notice and associate with Marvel movies rather than DC movies.

Jan 9, 2019

Spider-Rama: Amazing Spider-Man #1

Welcome to Spider-Rama! Each Wednesday, Ben and Duy will look at a Spider-Man issue from the very beginning, in chronological order, and answer questions for various categories, inspired in large part by one of our favorite podcasts, The Rewatchables by The Ringer. Our goal is to make it to Amazing Spider-Man #200. Will we make it? Grab your Amazing Spider-Man Omnibus or crank up your tablet to Marvel Unlimited, and then tune in every Wednesday to find out!

by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko

Spider-Man tries to join the Fantastic Four, battles the Chameleon, and is the target of a media slander campaign by publisher J Jonah Jameson.


BEN: The first instance of his Spider-sense.

DUY: The recap of his origin at the beginning doesn't show that he could have stopped the burglar, which would eventually become the defining moment of his entire origin.

BEN: Also the first appearance of J. Jonah Jameson and John Jameson.


BEN: This one, only because Stan forgot the name of his own character halfway through the first issue of his own comic series.

DUY: This one, because there'd be letters just a couple of issues in just complaining about how they ended this. How dare you give Spider-Man a sad ending! What have you done? People complaining about putting protagonists through the wringer have existed since forever.


BEN: Unfortunately, a respected news source distorting facts for profit,  and people readily believing it

DUY: Yeah, JJJ basically being a villain for both Peter and Spidey is a huge thing that's aged well. I'm always of two minds about how to treat JJJ. He's a criminal, he starts out as a criminal, but he's too lovable and too important to the mythos to really treat as a criminal.

BEN: We often like to put people in boxes, but I like to think of JJJ as an overall good person, it’s just this one thing that drives him crazy and to the extreme.

DUY: "There are always those that will believe it" makes me wonder if you could easily retell this story highlighting the people who think Jameson is full of it.


BEN: The booking agent trying to pay Spider-Man by check.

DUY: Worse, Spider-Man trying to cash it as Spider-Man.

DUY: Also, hey Ben, do you know where your nearest FBI office is?

BEN: Who doesn’t?


BEN: It’s later revealed that Jonah attacks Spider-Man because he envies his selfless heroism, but he isn’t known to be a hero yet when he first starts attacking him here. Unless we take him at his word in this story, that kids should look up to real heroes like his son John

DUY: Spider-Man trying to stop a loose ship is so outside of his core that it's weird that it happens in the first issue. Also, the fight with the Chameleon isn't a fight at all. Think about all the fight scenes Ditko would choreograph later on.

BEN: At this point he’s really only a teenager with spider powers. He hasn’t done much heroing yet


DUY: It has to be JJJ, right? The rest of the issue feels like a misfire in terms of core Spider-Man stuff — except for him having a sad ending. But JJJ is basically spot-on.

BEN: He was basically fully-formed from the beginning.

DUY: I guess there isn't really much to say about this issue, other than it feels weirdly off the mark for me. And Ditko drawing the FF is just so out there that I'm disappointed it didn't happen later on in the run, when he was really cutting loose

BEN: He’s still mostly self-absorbed in this first issue. He’s motivated to act for his own benefit in both stories. There’s really almost no lasting impact over the death of Uncle Ben in this comic, except the money problems. Like you said last time, the twist of the origin story was likely thematic to the Amazing Fantasy title, and they hadn’t yet realized how powerful the “great power, great responsibility” message would become.

DUY: That's it for Spider-Rama this week.

BEN: Thank you, Stan Lee and Steve Ditko—

DUY: —for telling us we aren't the only ones.

Leave us a comment below or on our Facebook page. See you next week!

Jan 7, 2019

50 Creators, Ben's List

Because Duy got his list wrong, I’ve decided to do my own list of the most influential and important comic book creators to me.  Yes, I know his list is personal and subjective, that doesn’t mean he can’t definitively be wrong.

50 Creators
Ben Smith

If you click on a creator's name, it'll take you to an Amazon link for a recommended book by that creator.

In no order:

Bill Watterson
Every time I think I might try and create my own comic strip, I sit down to draw it and all I can think of is Watterson’s style.  He is far and away the best comic strip cartoonist to ever do it.

Mike Zeck
The first comic book artist I ever knew by name, he will always be my favorite artist.  Kraven’s Last Hunt is a masterpiece.

John Byrne
The second comic book artist I ever knew by name, and mostly because I got him and Zeck mixed up at times.  The greatest superhero artist of the ‘80s. George Perez fans can bite me. (Editor's Note: The objective ranking is Byrne is better for the first third of the 80s, Perez is better for the back third, and they're kind of neck-and-neck in the middle there. But by the 90s it would no longer matter. But George is better in every other decade and also better as a human being, so George wins.)

Frank Miller
Nobody gets fans angrier by continuing to produce new material more than Miller.  In their defense, when you’re competing with your prior work as one of the ten most influential comic book creators ever, it makes it hard to accept anything new that isn’t a masterpiece.

Walt Simonson
Enough has been said about his Thor, so go read his Fantastic Four, it’s pretty great too.

Stan Sakai
This word gets overused, but Sakai is a genius as a storyteller.  If you’ve never read Usagi Yojimbo, you’re not really doing this comic book thing right.

Brian Michael Bendis
One of the first comics I read when I rediscovered the medium in the early ‘00s was Ultimate Spider-Man #13 when Peter Parker reveals his powers to Mary Jane.  I remember thinking comics had reached a whole new level while reading it.  Not only did it make sense that a teenage boy would do that, it was rule-breaking in a lot of ways because that wasn’t how comic book heroes acted.  Anyone that grew up reading comics, we all imagined having to brag to someone about having powers, and this was the first time a comic really did it.

Sara Pichelli
She’s fairly new to be on my list, but that’s how much I love her style.  She’s probably my favorite artist working today.

Jack Kirby
Steve Ditko
Stan Lee
John Romita Sr.

‘Nuff said.

Jack Kirby and Stan Lee

Stan Lee and Steve Ditko

Stan Lee and John Romita

Larry Hama
Doesn’t get enough credit and recognition for shaping entire childhoods by creating nearly every G.I. Joe character.  His comics put the cartoon to shame.

Chris Claremont
Claremont defines the X-Men so much for me that the characters collectively represent my second favorite comic book superheroes ever (behind Spider-Man) while anything with the X-Men since then is lucky if it reaches “that was fun.”  There’s no greater disparity between one creator and all the rest on a specific franchise I can think of.

Dave Sim 
Cerebus is a fascinating look at a brilliant creator’s descent into madness over the course of 300 issues.  It’s at times hilarious, an insightful parody, political satire, a heartbreaking look at love lost (which hit me hard at the time) before it descended into sexism and insanity.

Sean Phillips 
Ed Brubaker
They make this list for Criminal alone, but I might like Sleeper even more.  Plus, Brubaker was the first writer to ever have me buying Captain America on a monthly basis.

Marjorie Liu 
Liu always delivers, but even more so on my favorite new character of the past 20 years (and nothing else even comes close) X-23.

Bill Sienkiewicz
Arguably the greatest comic book artist that ever lived.

Jim Lee
Probably the first artist after Zeck and Byrne that I collected every comic they worked on that I could find.  His modern work often looks rushed and has questionable posing, but I still stand by his early X-Men work.

Alan Moore
V for Vendetta and From Hell deserve as much attention as Watchmen.  Top 10 is still overrated though.

Jim Shooter
Shooter presided over my favorite era of Marvel comics, and wrote Marvel Superhero Secret Wars, one of the most influential comics of my childhood.  Not only that, he created the premise and background of the Transformers, the most important cartoon of my life.  Not a bad Legion of Superheroes writer either.

Don Rosa 
Carl Barks
I loved the Ducktales cartoon as a kid because of its globe-trotting adventures, and the Barks comics it was inspired by are even better.  Rosa took the ducks to even bigger highs with The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck.

Top: Barks
Bottom: Rosa

JH Williams III
Marcos Martin
Only a few times in my life have I been blown away by the layout, inventiveness, and overall artistry of a comic book.  Williams on Detective Comics and Martin on Amazing Spider-Man are moments I’ll never forget.



Dan Slott 
Slott’s concepts for stories are so good they make me jealous.  Spider-Island, Superior Spider-Man, and Spider-Verse were all good enough to cement his legacy as one of the best Spider-Man writers on their own, but combined with the rest of his run he arguably ranks as the second best to ever do it, after Ditko.

Roger Stern
Stern was the pinnacle of what I would call straightforward superhero storytelling, before creators began to reinvent and deconstruct the genre.  The spiritual ancestor to Slott.

Jim Aparo
Jose Luis Garcia Lopez 
I wasn’t the biggest DC reader as a kid, but I knew what they were supposed to look like thanks to these guys.



Bob Budiansky
Without Transformers comics I’m probably not even writing this right now.

Bill Mantlo
Mantlo may have never been the most talented Marvel writer, but he ended up working on some of my favorite comics (Rom, Micronauts, Cloak and Dagger) all the same.

Alan Davis
Arthur Adams
Two of the best X-Men artists of the ‘80s and they’re still kicking ass in 2018.

Alan Davis

Art Adams
Geoff Johns
Another fantastic idea guy.  I never would have predicted I’d be a Green Lantern fan before he revolutionized the entire franchise.

Mark Waid
Not many writers can give you great runs on a comic like Legion of Superheroes and also on a comic like Daredevil.  Waid’s ability to find what makes a character great makes him extremely versatile as a writer.

Steve Gerber
Howard the Duck is mostly remembered as a joke because of the terrible movie, but there was a reason he warranted a movie in the first place. That reason is Steve Gerber.

Mike Allred
X-Force/X-Statix remains one of my favorite comic book runs ever and one of my top periodical rereads.

Jeff Smith
If there was one comic I’d give to a young kid to entice them into reading comics, it would probably be Bone.

Ron Frenz
Tom DeFalco
Not the best Spider-Man creative team, but one of my favorites.

Paul Levitz
There are few comic book properties I love more than the Legion of Superheroes and Levitz is arguably the definitive LoSH writer.

Charles Schulz 
You can’t go wrong with Snoopy.

Howard Chaykin 
One of my favorite experiences meeting a creator, and I love his hard-boiled style.

Steve McNiven
The first modern artist that became an instant buy for me.

Humberto Ramos
Chris Bachalo
Both of these guys were acquired tastes for me, but once they won me over, they became two of my all-time favorite Spider-Man and X-Men artists.

Stephan Pastis
Another cartoonist I’m jealous of and can’t get his style out of my head anytime I try to doodle something of my own.

Brian Bolland
The Killing Joke has its problems in today’s society (or in any time period’s society) but it’s still one of the most beautiful looking comics ever produced.

Brian K Vaughan 
Y the Last Man was the first creator-owner book I remember following from the beginning to the end.  The first issue was one of the greatest first issues of a comic series I’ve ever read.

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