Jun 26, 2019

Spider-Rama: Amazing Spider-Man #24

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!

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #24
Spider-Rama
by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko

Spider-Man sees a therapist named Dr. Rinehart, who turns out to be his old enemy, Mysterio, master of illusion!


POINTLESS TRIVIA

BEN: Villain appearance count:
  • The Vulture: 3
  • The Chameleon: 2
  • Doctor Octopus: 4
  • Electro: 2
  • Kraven the Hunter: 2
  • Mysterio: 3
  • Sandman: 2
  • Green Goblin: 3
  • The Enforcers: 3
  • The Ringmaster and The Circus of Crime: 2
DUY: Peter gets angry here about the Ned thing. It's issue 24. I think this is when him just snapping all the time, building up to issue 33, really starts.

BEN: I read the Ditko biography, and his high school classmates said that Peter Parker was basically him. So I wonder if there was a bit of “if I could go back and do it again,” in Peter telling people off, or it just reflected his growing frustrations at the time he was working on the comic.

DUY: Wow, I wonder if his classmates saying he was basically Peter is a compliment.

BEN: If it's an exact translation, then no.

WHAT'S AGED THE BEST?

BEN: I remember the desk on the ceiling being an appealing visual to me as a kid.

DUY: Yeah, Spider-Man walking into the office and it being upside down is pretty trippy. But also, a woman saying she doesn't really hate Spider-Man, but she'll think up a reason just to get in the papers, kind of predates all of reality television.



WHAT'S AGED THE WORST?

BEN: I know I’ve had to have read this comic before, but I remembered almost nothing about it. And yet, I still knew it was Mysterio the whole time. Basically from the cover alone.

DUY: Me too. I knew it was Mysterio, and absolutely nothing else about the comic.

NITPICKS

BEN:  Instead of wondering if you’re crazy, maybe assume it’s the guy that’s played optical tricks on you before. You have an established villain that does this kind of thing.

DUY: Jameson saying "I've hated him for years!" I know we weren't strict about any sliding timescale back then, but this comic came out in 1965. Jameson's first appearance is 1963. When he says "years," he means a maximum of two years.

BEN: Maybe three. When he unmasked in Civil War, Peter said he was 15 when the spider bit him. He’s a senior in high school by now. Also, I’m pretty sure newspapers used to validate sources before printing their statements, but this is The Daily Bugle after all.

FAVORITE PANEL

DUY: It's Spider-Man walking into the office.

BEN: Yep.



DUY: But I want to point out this one too. I know that some readers struggle with the idea that a character is lying, but I love how for a character like Jameson, it's just so obvious. "All I'M doing is publishing the result of an absolutely impartial, unbiased newspaper survey! La dee dah!"



BEN: You’d have to be pretty dense not to understand Jameson’s duality.

WHO WON THE COMIC?

DUY: How can the winner of this issue be anyone other than Flash Thompson? Mysterio tries to pull one over on Jameson and Spider-Man. Jameson has enough journalistic integrity to investigate Mysterio, and then instantly regrets it. And Flash Thompson goes around the entire issue defending Spider-Man and gets the last laugh in the end.

MYSTERIO

BEN: It’s comforting to consider that even in a universally praised and highly influential run as Ditko’s Spider-Man, there are still some absolute clunkers in the mix.

DUY:  I actually don't think it's a clunker so much as just a weird issue. Mysterio has, as I've said before, seemed to be the single most purely Ditko villain, at least until the mask comes off. Images like the hallucinations or the upside-down office are more at home in a comic like Dr. Strange than a comic like Spider-Man. I do think there's something to be said for the fact that Mysterio just never really broke out of the third- or second-tier mold, and in fact was best as a Daredevil villain for one storyline. There's not only something missing from him; it's also just a mismatch. In a world where some characters can cause actual hallucinations, he's strictly low-tier.

BEN: In Daredevil he was more of a psychological manipulator, than an optical illusionist. That would be a better track for him. But he absolutely must keep the fishbowl.  As we’ve seen from the trailers for Far From Home, the fishbowl absolutely works in live action.



DUY: It's so comic accurate too.

BEN: I love how confident the movies are now. There is zero chance they do the fishbowl in 2006. In fact, Bendis tried to get rid of the fishbowl with Ultimate Mysterio (who incidentally had some alternate dimension angles to his storyline).

DUY: Dan Jurgens tried getting rid of it too, in the 90s. But by the second time he used Mysterio, he had put it back. It's just too iconic. And weird.

BEN: Mysterio is a villain I always forget how much I love until I read these old comics again. It seems like they always get hung up on the practicality of his “powers” now.

DUY: He's a highlight in the Spectacular Spider-Man cartoon too. He overwhelms Peter's senses so Peter has to do that thing where he closes his eyes and relies on his spider-sense.

BEN: You need an artist that’s good at psychedelic imagery, which is why his Bronze Age run wasn’t very good.

DUY: Is it safe to say Quentin Beck has never been actually defined? I feel like his personality changes with each writer, and even his overall visual look changes. Only "Mysterio" is consistent, but Quentin is whoever the story needs him to be.

BEN: I certainly don’t remember what his deal is.

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 on Monday! We're going daily for two weeks!

Jun 24, 2019

The Best of Marvel's What If?

Of all the exciting things Disney announced as part of their upcoming streaming service app Disney+, one of the most intriguing was that Marvel Studios will be producing an animated series based on the What If? comic book. What-If? was a comic book series that began all the way back in 1977, and explored what would have happened if different decisions had been made at key inflection points in the history of the fictional Marvel Universe. While the animated series will probably focus on the history of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, that doesn’t mean we can’t look at some of the better stories from the comics.

(Duy's note: The excitement level is, in order: Falcon and Winter Soldier, Loki, What If?, Wanda and Vision, and Hawkeye.)

The Best of Marvel's What If?
Ben Smith

The premise of the What If? comic revolves around The Watcher showing us alternate timelines where a key moment in the history of a Marvel hero or villain had a different outcome, sending the character down a new path.

The first issue of the comic asked the question, What If Spider-Man Had Joined the Fantastic Four? It was written and edited by Roy Thomas, with Jim Craig and Pablo Marcos handling the art. In Amazing Spider-Man #1, Spider-Man infiltrated the Baxter Building and fought the Fantastic Four in an effort to prove himself worthy of joining the team. However, when he found out the FF was a non-profit group he quickly left, disappointed.



In this story, Sue calls out for him to come back, and they work out a deal where they can pay him to be on the team. Everything works out great for a while, as combined they easily handle some of the canonical villains that Spider-Man and the FF went on to face separately.

But eventually Sue begins to feel overshadowed by her new teammate, so when it comes time for her to choose between Namor the Sub-Mariner and Reed Richards, this time she picks Namor.



One of the themes of the What If? series was that the alternate timelines almost always end badly. It was a subtle hint to the fans that the way the comics originally played out was the best option, and not to second guess it too much.

Another early highlight was the tenth issue, which asked What If Jane Foster Had Found the Hammer of Thor? Written by Dan Glut, art by Rick Hoberg and Dave Hunt, and edited by Roy Thomas.



This time, instead of going on a Norwegian vacation alone, Dr. Donald Blake is accompanied by Jane Foster. When they get separated, Jane finds the mysterious walking stick, and is found worthy of the power of the mighty Thor.

Her going by the name Thordis, and the hammer becoming a hairbrush when she’s not using it have not aged well, but it’s still an intriguing story.



(Intriguing enough that in recent years Jane did become Thor for a period of time, much to the chagrin of a small contingent of grumpy internet fans. They don’t like when you bring up old comics like this as proof that they’re wrong.)

Sif and Donald Blake end up falling in love, and Odin eventually “rewards” Jane for helping to defeat Loki by giving the hammer to Blake and making Jane an immortal goddess of Asgard, at which point he puts the moves on her and she becomes his queen. Needless to say, it gets weird at the end there.



The twenty-third issue asked What If the Hulk Had Become a Barbarian? Written by Peter Gillis, art by Herb Trimpe and Mike Esposito, edited by Denny O’Neil and Mark Gruenwald.

Hulk at one point had a girlfriend named Jarella that died saving a young boy. In this story, she doesn’t, and they both return to her world in the microverse (the quantum realm for our MCU-only fans) where he becomes a barbarian warrior.



I included this because it was a precursor to Planet Hulk which became partial inspiration for the Hulk’s story in Thor: Ragnarok, and he also melds the mind of Banner with the body of the Hulk in this story, like he does in Avengers: Endgame. Lots of reference points for MCU fans.

The backup story by Steve Skeates and Alan Kupperberg shows us what would have happened if Aunt May had been bitten by the radioactive spider, which is surprisingly not the last we’ll see of a spider-powered May in the comics.


The very next issue plays off of my favorite comic of all time, Amazing Spider-Man #121, in which the Green Goblin causes the death of Peter Parker’s long term girlfriend Gwen Stacy. What If Spider-Man Had Rescued Gwen Stacy? was written by Tony Isabella, with art by Gil Kane and Frank Giacoia, and edited by Denny O’Neil.

This time, instead of using a webline to break her fall (and possibly breaking her neck) Spider-Man jumps down and catches her, slowing her fall and shielding her with his body as they land in the water below.



When Gwen recovers, she’s shocked to discover that Peter is Spider-Man, but he explains away all the past misunderstandings and asks her to marry him, and she accepts.



Since he was not driven into a murderous rage like in the original story, the subsequent conflict with the Green Goblin ends perfectly, with Norman breaking out of his madness to reconcile with his son Harry, and both ending on good terms with Peter.

Peter and Gwen do get married, and it seems like it will be a happy ending for all, until J Jonah Jameson bursts in with proof that Peter is Spider-Man. Peter is forced to flee, and is now on the run as a fugitive from the law.



Obviously, this is my personal favorite of the What If? comics, and does the best job of providing an alternate story that you’d actually like to continue reading about. It was always great when the writer and/or artist of the original story contributed to the alternate tale, which was legendary penciler Gil Kane in this particular case.



In the classic Uncanny X-Men #137, Jean Grey commits suicide before she can cause further damage with her out of control Phoenix powers, but that was not Chris Claremont and John Byrne’s original ending for the story. They originally were going to have the Shi'ar give Jean a psychic lobotomy, returning her to the X-Men as if nothing had ever happened. Jim Shooter wisely forced them to change that ending because Jean needed to face consequences for murdering an entire planet of sentient beings.



What If Phoenix Had Not Died? explores what would have happened if Jean had gotten a psychic lobotomy. Written by Mary Jo Duffy, art by Jerry Bingham and John Stuart.

In the story, her Phoenix powers eventually return, but she appears to have them under control for a time. When she sneaks off to consume another star, Kitty Pryde chastises her for it. Enraged, Phoenix burns Kitty to ash.



The despondent X-Men attack her once again, but this time she ends up killing them one by one. After killing Cyclops, Jean snaps out of it, and in her grief the Phoenix force expands out, consuming the Earth and eventually the universe. So yeah, this story had a much darker ending.



The thirty-fifth issue of the series asked What If Elektra Had Lived? by the legendary writer/artist Frank Miller, inked by Terry Austin. Frank Miller had what is now a classic run as the writer and artist on Daredevil, in which he created Elektra, before Bullseye kills her on behalf of the Kingpin only thirteen issues later.

This story breaks from the previous format of the series, and has The Watcher speaking to Matt Murdock directly as he mourns at the gravesite of his beloved Elektra.



In this alternate universe, Elektra and Matt run off together and live happily in paradise. While it seems like this would be the better outcome, the Watcher hints that Elektra’s demons will always hunt her down and destroy her happiness, so at least in our timeline the city has not lost one of its heroes.



There were two backup stories in this comic, one by Roger Stern and Steve Ditko, which sounds like it would be much cooler than it is. The other is What If Yellowjacket Had Died? by Alan Zelenetz, Greg LaRocque, and Mike Esposito. In Avengers #213, Hank Pym has a mental breakdown resulting in his court martial from the Avengers and an unfortunate slap that has forever marred the character.



In this short story, Hank dies in battle instead of needlessly killing an opponent that had ceased fighting. His wife Janet Van Dyne loses it for a little while, changing her name to The Black Wasp and using excessive force against criminals. She eventually comes to her senses, but quits the Avengers, and Captain America doesn’t seem to care much that she does. Look, it’s not a great story, but it would have been much preferred to having to argue about whether or not Hank Pym is a wifebeater for the past 30 years.

Let us know in the comments what your favorite What If? comics are, or what episodes you hope to see in the upcoming animated series.

Jun 19, 2019

Spider-Rama: Amazing Spider-Man #23

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!

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #23
Spider-Rama
by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko

The Green Goblin wants control of Lucky Lobo’s mob, and Spider-Man is caught in the middle!


POINTLESS TRIVIA

BEN: Villain appearance count:
  • The Vulture: 3
  • The Chameleon: 2
  • Doctor Octopus: 4
  • Electro: 2
  • Kraven the Hunter: 2
  • Mysterio: 2
  • Sandman: 2
  • Green Goblin: 3
  • The Enforcers: 3
  • The Ringmaster and the Circus of Crime: 2
BEN:  This is the First time Peter has to wait for a wet costume to dry. Coincidentally enough, I was just thinking about him washing his costume earlier today, and how they used it as an excuse to switch back and forth between the classic and the black costume. I didn’t remember that this was yet another bit created by Stan and Ditko.

DUY: Spider-Man has had more high-tech costumes recently, and given who he is, it totally makes sense. But I'll always have a soft spot for him just trying to fix and clean his cloth costume the way we do regular clothes. I came into comics when Peter was alternating costumes. I liked it; why shouldn't a superhero be allowed to wear costumes? Now it's just a normal thing he does. In the Far From Home trailer, he has three different costumes on.

BEN: The Green Goblin finds Spider-Man’s banter confusing, which will eventually become an intentional bit of mental warfare on the part of our hero.

DUY: It's very possible that this is the first appearance of Norman Osborn, as a man with this design shows up multiple times until Norman actually appears and is named. I know Ditko just really, really likes that hairstyle, so it may be a coincidence, but I'd like to think he was planting seeds.


BEN: I’m going with planting seeds, it seems too coincidental. We like to make fantastic stories for why things happen, like the Stan and Steve split, but it’s much more likely Steve was mad about not getting any of the merchandising money.

DUY: The counterargument against planting seeds is that was pretty rare for the time. But Steve was... not a conventional person.

BEN: I think you can dismiss that based on them keeping the Goblin’s identity a secret in the first place.


WHAT'S AGED THE BEST?

BEN: All the elements of my favorite era of Spider-Man comics can be traced back to this single issue. When I was a kid, I was obviously more interested in the colorful super villains, but it was the combination of them with the gangs and mobs that made up the Roger Stern and Tom DeFalco runs. Specifically, the Hobgoblin wanting control of the gangs, and a masked mob boss like The Rose. Amazing Spider-Man #10 started that history of a secret villain in disguise taking over the underworld, and this continued off of that, now with an established villain attempting to do the same. Spider-Man stuck in the middle of a New York gang war adds a semblance of realism that works much better for me as an older reader. It’s a real life danger. That really helps provide a solid foundation underneath all the masks and goblins.

DUY: There's the crime stuff, and newer readers might be surprised to know that Peter was the original Marvel crime guy (I'm going with Marvel as the brand as established in 1961 with the FF), but there's also the teenage romance that just kind of makes sense and shows how flawed our characters are. Peter sees a letter from Ned. He talks to Betty and tries to fish it out. He gets neurotic. He leaves. Betty remembers she forgot about the letter.

BEN: Most aspects of the Spider-Man comic were revolutionary, but the romance was very much a ‘60s juvenile take. "Ned likes me, I have no choice but to consider him!"

DUY: It's so dumb. And fun.

WHAT'S AGED THE WORST?

DUY: Also, I'm pretty sure Ned is going for an underage girl here.

BEN: Ned's a bit weird.

DUY: There's no way at all that anyone, let along J. Jonah Jameson, would rehire a man who tried to frame him. Aunt May spends all her time worrying about Peter, but Peter shows up and Aunt May's not around and he worries about her just as much. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree — even if they're not actually blood-related.

NITPICKS

DUY: Aunt May hoping Peter gets enough exercise seems off. It seems to me that she'd rather have him not exercise at all.

FAVORITE PANEL

DUY: The composition of this, the contrast of their color schemes, and the fact that it's Spider-Man chasing the Green Goblin, all make this panel for me.



BEN: Peter pausing to call Aunt May becomes a trope.


WHO WON THE COMIC?

DUY: The Green Goblin. The only reason Spider-Man wins in this issue is because Goblin won too much. That makes him the biggest winner.

BEN: He needs all the victories he can get with that hair.

DUY: Ditko's fascination with that hair is an article in itself.

BEN: I know it’s probably a visual flair type of thing, I doubt it was supposed to be representative of a hairstyle. It just got weird because every subsequent artist copied it.

DUY: It probably is visual representation. The way Norman is depicted in the PS4 game, if you were to draw that in a more abstract way, would resemble his comic hairstyle.


BEN: Wait, what if he did it purposefully, as a visually distinctive hint?

DUY: I'd be morewilling to buy that he did it as a visually distinctive hint if Sandman didn't have the exact same hairstyle.

BEN: I forgot about Sandman.

DUY: I think what's weird to me is that "Norman" is there up until his reveal, but these appearances are never mentioned.

THE EXTRA PINUP

DUY:  Let's take a moment to appreciate the pinup at the end. He has five supporting characters. It would balloon over the years, and his supporting cast is and has always been one of his strengths, but it's weird to think of a time when he had five regular supporting cast members, and that already probably is a lot for the time.



BEN: Betty goes against the established superhero model at the time, by eventually not being his “true love” ala Lois Lane.

DUY: I might give it to this one just for kicking off the silly bonuses, like "How Stan Lee and Steve Ditko Create Spider-Man!" Enjoy!

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!

Jun 17, 2019

Hey Archie, How About a Complete Works of Harry Lucey?

A while back on Facebook, Mark Waid said "You could argue with me all week that Harry Lucey wasn't the best Archie artist ever, but you'd be wasting your time." Even further than a while back, I called Harry Lucey the third most influential Archie artist in the company's history. And yes, I stick by that. But he is my favorite, and in this column, I'll show you why.

Reclaiming History: Harry Lucey
by Duy

After a stint in the war, Harry Lucey joined Archie Comics (or rejoined MLJ Comics, which was now going by Archie Comics) in 1948, regularly started drawing the Archie characters in 1956, and did so for 20 years. For those 20 years, he was one of two main Archie artists, the other one being Dan DeCarlo. For the sake of reference and comparison, here are the two of them drawing the classic Archie image, "Three on a Soda." That's Lucey on the left, DeCarlo on the right.



Who the better draftsman is is subjective, but I think we can safely say that Lucey's style is a bit more unique than DeCarlo's, whose clean, crisp style is the platonic ideal for anyone working at Archie. So I'm willing to give this one to DeCarlo since it's his style that everyone's based theirs off since.

But when it comes to comics, draftsmanship is only a part of it. There's a whole range of skills needed to succeed in the business. Some guys are great draftsmen but can't really convey motion and "acting." Some guys don't draw the best figures, but are great cartoonists and storytellers. I would call Harry Lucey a good artist, and I would call him a great storyteller.

Any look at Harry Lucey has to start with his mastery of gesture. In drawing, there's something called "The Action Line," which is a single stroke that defines where a body is going to go and the shape it's going to take. Here's a comparison from Stan Lee and John Buscema's How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way that shows how a more dynamic action line can affect how a picture is going to look.



With Harry Lucey, the action lines are always clear. This is true regardless of if someone is actually in action:


If someone's getting hit:


If the action line has to encompass a distance between two people:


And if someone is falling (Lucey's staple):

The key to this mastery of gesture? Take up space. Take up all the space.


If he needs to have someone stand perfectly still for contrast, he will:


No analysis of old-school Archie would be complete without us talking about the cheesecake factor. There's a whole conversation to be had about whether or not it's appropriate for such depictions in popular culture, especially since these characters are high school students, but for better or for worse, sex appeal and Good Girl Art was a backbone of Archie Comics, something that the Riverdale TV series perfectly understood and executed (albeit in a completely different way). Here is what I think is a drawing fairly representative of the skills and artistic process by Dan DeCarlo, feature Josie and Melody of the Pussycats, and Pepper.


And here is what I believe is a fairly representative drawing of Betty and Veronica that is fairly representative of the skills and artistic process of Harry Lucey.


DeCarlo's drawing certainly seems more realistic and anatomically correct and idealized — and that's what he was hired for, having worked in pin-up art prior to Archie — but in my opinion, Lucey's characters speak more. There's just more character, more life, and not just with the girls, but also with Archie. I'm not knocking on DeCarlo at all. I do think he's the better draftsman. It's just that Lucey is the better cartoonist.

For completion and reference, here's Stan Goldberg's take on the exact same scene:



Lucey is also a master of facial expressions, and a part of that is exactly because his style gives more creative freedom to interpretations. In classic Archie, most girls look the same — they'll just have different hair, and Sabrina will have freckles. In Lucey's world, Sabrina looks off-kilter. She's a witch, and you won't forget she's different.


Big Moose, likewise, isn't just one of the guys scaled up and bulked up. Under Lucey, he loses his neck and gets more rectangular, fortifying his position as the big guy.


Here's a sequence starring Fred Andrews, Archie's dad, whom the gang comes to when a book is banned from them. Look at the variety of facial expressions he goes through in only five panels.


Let's look at Fred again, trying to troll his wife Mary.


It's this simultaneous mastery of facial expressions and gesture that make Lucey so suited to silent stories, or stories with limited dialogue. Check out this sequence where you can absolutely tell what's going on, and there are only two repeating lines of dialogue throughout. (This is true of the entire story.)



Lucey also played around quite a bit with panels. Other Archie artists, most notably Samm Schwartz, did it too, mostly as a joke, but with Lucey it was almost always a problem solver. How can you emphasize that Archie's butt is getting pulled off a wall?



Or maybe Betty is on a table but you want to save some space?


Or how about Archie hitting the floor?


There's also this cutaway, which isn't really something I see Archie Comics do:



And while we're at it, this isn't from Archie Comics but is from Archie the publisher, can we just mention his wide range? He drew a series called Sam Hill, Private Eye, as gritty and moody as they come:


Harry Lucey was a very good artist. But he was a great cartoonist. I hope I've convinced you of the greatness of Harry Lucey. He's my favorite of all the Archie artists, and I find myself more and more just gravitating towards his stuff when I read Archies. I would want a whole collection of his works, digest-sized or in hardback, but for now these volumes will have to do. In the meantime, let me leave you with what may be my favorite Harry Lucey story, "Sssh!", which shows up in the Best of Archie Comics Book 4.



So how about it. Archie Comics? The Complete Works of Harry Lucey. Sounds pretty good, doesn't it?