Mar 30, 2015

The 50 Best Marvel Movie Moments, Part 1

Part One – I Got 5 On It
Ben Smith

I was having a discussion with other human beings one day, and out of that discussion birthed an idea. An idea to reveal the greatest moments/scenes in Marvel Studios history. What was the conversation, you might ask? We were discussing the reasons why Thor might collectively be the least successful of the Avengers movie franchises (a discussion that forgets about Incredible Hulk, and is all relative since any other studio would love to have a franchise that makes as much money as Thor). I surmised that it might be because Thor has arguably (and inexplicably) the worst fight scenes, something that tends to arguably make a movie more rewatchable. Setting that argument to the side for the moment, it did get me thinking about the greatest scenes in the Marvel movies, and I do love a good list, so here we are.

Now, for the purposes of this list, I’ll only be including the Marvel Studios produced films, so all X-Men and Spider-Man movies are out (and they suck anyway). What constitutes a scene will be based purely on my opinion, so just know that going in. (It’s also very possible I don’t know the technical definition of what constitutes one single scene, so that’s why I’ve been adding ‘moments’ in where I can, but then again nobody has ever read Back Issue Ben for facts.) Also, in the interest of coherence (and to avoid a top 5 that would be all Avengers scenes) I’ll be determining the five best scenes from each Marvel movie, and presenting them in descending order. That means this week, I’ll be giving you the fifth best scene of each movie, and next week will be the fourth best scenes of each movie, and so on. I’ll probably nominate one as the best of each grouping, I don’t know, we’ll see when we get there. (Also, since just about all of the “after the credits” teaser scenes would probably make these lists, they will be excluded.)

With the explanations and introductions finally over, let’s delve once more into the madcap insanity that is the innermost recesses of my convoluted mind.


Iron Man – 10%

“Okay, we're gonna start off nice and easy. See if 10% thrust capacity achieves lift.”

The first scene up from the inaugural Marvel Studios movie, is Tony Stark building the Mark II suit. Testing out his boots for the first time, Stark sends himself flying backwards into the wall, before getting doused with foam by his robot assistant. These scenes provided the perfect mix of special effects and comedy, which would be a staple of the studio moving forward. This scene in particular never fails to get a laugh, even on repeat viewings.

(There were several great quotes that didn’t qualify as great scenes in my estimation. From “Tony Stark was able to build this in a cave,” to “I am Iron Man,” I tried to go with overall scenes instead of quotes. That last one was a tough omission though.)

Incredible Hulk – On the Run

“Me angry… very bad.”

Bruce Banner, on the run in a foreign country from General Ross and his soldiers, runs into a bully from work, and we get our first glimpse of the Hulk.

(The Incredible Hulk is the forgotten child of the Marvel Studios family, having been the least successful film in their catalog. They even went so far as to recast Bruce Banner, but that probably has more to do with Edward Norton’s reputation as a difficult actor to deal with. Regardless, this is an underrated movie.)

Iron Man 2 – The Donut

“Sir, I’m gonna have to ask you to exit the donut.”

Nick Fury makes his first legitimate appearance in the Marvel movies, and helps Tony unlock the secret to saving his life (and get over what is probably a vicious hangover).

(I have to say, Iron Man 2 is a bit of a tough watch now. Robert Downey Jr. absolutely saves this film from being all the way terrible. He deserves every dime Marvel pays him. Rockwell as Justin Hammer is not bad either.)

Thor – Unworthy

“You better call it Coulson, ‘cause I’m starting to root for the guy.”

Thor fights his way into the S.H.I.E.L.D. research station where Mjolnir is located, but in the end, finds out he’s still unworthy. An emotional moment that further humbles Thor on his continued redemption arc.

Captain America: The First Avenger – The Right Candidate

“He’s still skinny.”

Steve Rogers finds a simpler way to capture the flag at the top of the pole, earning himself a free ride back to camp. This scene highlights Steve’s strategic mind, which is the real power behind the character of Captain America, as well as his self-sacrificing dedication, as highlighted in the scene with the grenade. All are meant to highlight to the audience why Steve is the right choice, and to develop the burgeoning appreciation of the lovely Peggy Carter.

(I love Peggy Carter so much.)

The Avengers – The Big Three

“You want me to put the hammer down?”

Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America meet for the first time, and in true Marvel fashion, fight each other.

(The power of seeing all these characters in the same movie can only diminish with time, but this was an unprecedented moment in the history of superhero movies.)

Iron Man 3 – PTSD

“I’m sleeping downstairs! Tinker with that!”

Stark has nightmares about the battle of New York, and his suit almost hurts Pepper as a result.

(I loved how his experience with the Avengers in New York had such a lasting effect on Tony, that he didn’t just walk away from it like it was any other thing.)

Thor: The Dark World – Surrender

“Perhaps next time you should start with the big one.”

Thor, Sif, and the Warriors Three are locked in battle against an army, but Thor easily dispatches their giant rock monster, ending the conflict. A very fun scene that makes good use of the under-utilized Thor supporting cast, and ends on the Indiana Jones-type nonchalant defeat of a preening foe.

(Also a cool callback to the first appearance of Thor in the comics.)

Captain America: The Winter Soldier – The Lemurian Star

“I thought you were more than a shield.”
“We’ll see.”

I could easily include the entire sequence of Captain America and Black Widow infiltrating the Lemurian Star with brutal effectiveness, but I’ll keep it specifically to Cap vs Batroc. Batroc proves himself to be a formidable opponent for just about anyone else, even taunting Steve into fighting without his shield, but Cap puts him down with ruthless efficiency.

Guardians of the Galaxy - Thanos

“I will bathe the starways with your blood.”

Finally, the moment many have been waiting for since the end of Avengers, moviegoers get their first full look at Thanos. While the scene may not have resonated as much with the casual viewer, for a fan like me, it was pure joy to see the evil cosmic despot on the screen in all his purple-faced glory for the first time.

Note: this was the hardest movie to omit all of the great quotes from. From Star-Lord's pelvic sorcery, to his Jackson Pollack paintings, and Drax's great reflexes, this is easily the most quotable Marvel movie ever made.

That covers the first ten. As for the best single moment of this group of moments, we’ll go with the Avengers. I have a feeling that’s going to end up being a theme as we continue.

Tune in next time for the fourth best selections. I have a feeling I’ve made another huge mistake.

Mar 26, 2015

Common Criticisms Reconsidered: The Invisibles

Travis Hedge Coke

If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve seen a fair amount of criticism before, be it reviews in a magazine, someone tweeting out a one-line takedown, or shooting the bull with friends and their friends (whose dumb opinions sometimes make you wonder about your friends and the friends they choose). And, when you like something, or when you hate it, or when it’s simply really popular at the moment, you’re exposed to a lot of repeated criticisms until those become things you just say without much consideration, like “Frank Miller can’t write a script without saying “Whores whores whores.”

So, let’s take some oft-repeated criticisms (this time, of Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles) and see how they stack up. Bearing in mind that you're not actually participating (unless you write in!), I’ll try to be fair and equitable while I’m opinionatedly giving you my opinions in rhetorical structures based around my tastes.

It Starts Weak

“People think the best part, or the most important, is at the beginning or the end, but it turns out, it's in the middle.” Kiarna Boyd, Blessed and Cursed Alike

While I don’t lay the blame with the artist of the launch, Steve Yeowell, and I wasn’t feeling the same Vertigo-style burnout that some were when the series premiered, I wasn’t a fan of the initial storyline, composed of an extra-length one-off to get us going and then the part examination of the protagonist’s homelessness, childhood paranoias, and his indoctrination into the open secret order called The Invisibles. Looking at the pitch documents and the early goals Morrison had for the series, I understand why it opens with a very glib attitude followed by a note-for-note Hero’s Journey riff.

I’m not opposed to a conscious mimicry of the Hero’s Journey, just as I may like Don’t Stop Believing if it comes in the middle of a set, but I don’t want to own a Journey album. That initial storyline makes it seem as if The Invisibles is that kind of album; tired, twee, overly familiar.

The follow-up story, drawn by Jill Thompson, is one of my personal favorites out of the whole series, but it was very talky, much less shooty, and the second page is a drawing of a page of writing. As much as I may adore Thompson’s Mary Shelly or Fanny shoving her high heeled shoe into the eye of a faceless and sadistic demon, it was planned as a firewall, by the author, to let people who wanted a different ride off before the roller coaster stated going strong, and in that sense, it did it’s job. People did then, and still do jump off the ride somewhere in those early issues.

But, the comic has several other entry points. Some issues were one-offs that could be read on their own. There are like seven different trade paperbacks, comprising three “volumes,” each reintroducing the characters and with its own tone and style. Compared to a lot of comics, The Invisibles changed gears regularly, reintroduced everything at a new angle hoping for new or different readers. Volume Two was deliberately slicker, more Hollywood. Volume Three was talky and poppy with a cartoon aesthetic. “Royal Monsters” was class and family horror with a chase through the woods and a weird beast in a secret room of a castle. “Satanstorm” was detectives pursuing a conspiracy that goes to the top, while Mob goes about getting the band back together “Liverpool” was you-can’t-go-home-again with a young man on the run, visiting old friends and his mum and realizing what his child’s eyes and ears couldn’t catch the last time he was home. The final issue is, itself, a standalone story marked as issue one, taking place a decade after the previous comic.

Conclusion: True-ish.

Sex, Gender, and Fanny

Lord Fanny was the breakout character, the Fonzie of The Invisibles, but Morrison’s treatment of her gender and sexuality frustrated some readers from early on. Is Fanny a woman with a penis? Is she a man dressing in women’s clothes as an act? Is he gay or is she straight and transgendered?

Fanny is Fanny. She’s not allowed to be unsure or hypocritical or a little fucked up by her upbringing and friends like the rest of us?

Fanny feeling like a “she” for a bit, and a “he” some other times, or feeling that feminine attire is dress-up costuming aren’t contradictory. Fanny being into guys one minute and later, the comic telling us that she doesn’t enjoy sex with men, she’s all about sex with women, that would be contradictory. Life isn’t textbook or tumblr. Fanny is Fanny, fat or thin, young or old, man or woman, boygirl or magician or dancer or hooker or Morrison in a wig and cocktail dress or the person next to you on the sofa, Fanny is Fanny.

Conclusion: People are too uptight.

Love of Gold

“I fought in the Battle of the Somme. Summer of 1916. 42, 000 British troops died… I don’t know how many Germans and French… and believe me, the sons of the rich were ground into the mud just as impartially as the sons of the poor. Death doesn’t accept bribes. And… I fell in love with a rich girl.” Grant Morrison. The Invisibles, "Sensitive Criminals”

Even diehard Invisibles fans have asserted that everyone in the comic is either rich or wants to get rich. And, this is bad, of course.

Dane, the protagonist, is never wealthy, spending the series sleeping rough or at friend’s houses, but he is certainly enthralled by the glamor of money early in the series. King Mob, the other consistent face and proxy for the author has money, calls himself “rich” at some points, but his “rich,” as the son of two immigrant artists who writes scary novels, is not rich like Tom Cruise or Bill Gates is rich. He’s just not living in a shared apartment and eking it out paycheck to paycheck. Mason is a billionaire. His employees like Takeshi are not. Fanny grew up dirt poor and was a hooker on street corners before joining up with the Invisibles and basically living off their dollar. Mr. Six teaches high school in Liverpool. He has some fancy furniture, yeah, but having eclectic chairs or open-front shirts doesn’t magically give you money, it means, at most, that you put money you had into those things.

The Invisibles are glamorous. They’ve got style or eccentricity. But it’s mostly affected and it’s all communally pooled. The old set, who were in their prime in the 1930s, are mostly from rich families, but not all, and in the modern day and future, the rich are throwing in their wealth while the poor and working class contribute what they have, as well. Of Mob’s team, he’s the only one with a car.

Conclusion: Money’s useful if you want to buy things.

Past Its Sell-By

“Those who purchase it secure for themselves a piece of history. Who will buy, who will buy, who will buy? An historical dress going - such a bargain! Who, who will buy” - L.T. Meade, A Sweet Girl Graduate

2012 has come and gone. It won’t be back. So, is a series about the 1990s, in which a mythical and huge event scheduled for late 2012 worth reading after we know it won’t come to pass? Now that the calendar is a few years later and everyone wears different style jackets than they did then?

Not to rile the Matrix Warriors in the audience, but these things are never prophecy. Yes, now when you read The Invisibles the 90s don’t feel like today, the way they could when they were today. And, 2012 isn’t entirely like the one we actually had. But, as far as the big in-story events, while there was no nanite storm unleashed, we do have super-flus and kids sitting in beanbag chairs stoned and horny and talking shit. We can get TV in our cars and internet on our everything. And, you can’t prove we didn’t all have an incredible moment of understanding or empathy sometime, vaguely, around December 2012, or at some other point during our life. King Mob has a vivid hallucination during the event, but King Mob does a lot of drugs and probably has vivid hallucinations. Boy just crying and said, “Hi.” Dane saw Jesus. Audrey Murray or Mary the teacart lady from “House of Fun” probably just felt warm for a moment and laughed a little before rubbing a cat’s head and getting off the sofa.

The comic is very, very 90s in tone and execution, styles and affectations. It’s a bit more universal in concerns and characterizations. And as far as the big Event at the end, we just don’t know. We, as readers, put far more into it than we are ever given in the series. It’s left wide open and intriguing and we fill in the blanks. And, looking at it freshly, from this side of the deadline date, it might look different than it did while we weren’t counting up.

Conclusion: This is just silly.

Study Time!

“Some books you may have to reread more then once, since they have a lot of depth and other clues in other books are needed to understand what is happening. Understanding Grant Morrison's Batman is not going to be easy if you want to reach those deeper levels.” - Silkcuts, Required reading to understand Grant Morrison's Batman

And, what is this 2012 event? Do I have to read a book? On page one, Elfayed tells a story about a beetle carrying the sun, and Dane’s teacher talks about the October Revolution. “Ontic sphere”? “Mictlantecuhtli”? “Air Supply” and “Simply Red”? Should I know look these up on Wikipedia?

This is not an uncommon feeling when first reading the comic, or just approaching it. Mainly because there are annotations out there and explicatory books, there are a lot of fans who insist you know the ins and outs of everything mentioned in the comic. But, no, you really don’t. What’s important to the comic is in the comics. When Mictlantecuhtli is mentioned, what he is, is said immediately after. The guy at the lab is listening to Simply Red, so you can suss it’s music, because he wouldn’t be listening to flowers or a peculiar bird on his headphones.

The author was by no means an expert in most of the things mentioned or shown in the comic, from the cosmogonic to the mechanical, he probably never made a hand of glory or drove a car with a bomb installed in it. Morrison had not read much Philip Dick when he did The Invisibles, but there are shoutouts to Dick and his influence on others throughout because it’s the sort of thing you pick up talking to people who do read Dick. Iron Empires that never fell and divine visions and the importance of perspectives and empathy.

Conclusion: These same people think you need to have advanced physics degrees to read Jonathan Hickman’s Fantastic Four or literary pedigree to enjoy the same issues of Sandman that hundreds of teenagers traced Death and Desire from in case mom and dad let them have a tattoo.

The Jam Failed
“There’s no way around it: the three issues of “The Invisible Kingdom” are artistically frustrating because of the decision to make them artistic jam sessions, with different artists doing just a few pages apiece. The concept may have been interesting in theory, but the end result is frustrating. An artistic jam can work when there’s logic behind the artistic changes. If One wanted an artistic jam, a better approach would have been to give perhaps the three biggest artists from the series (Jimenez, Weston, and either Yeowell or Thompson) one issue each, or to split up the various story threads between them, rather than using artists who didn’t make much of an impact on the series.” - Patrick Meaney, Our Sentence is Up

The Invisibles had a ton of different artists, pencilers, inkers, painters, letterers, and colorists. Mark Millar may have dialogued an issue or two. Cameron Stewart redrew a page or two when the series was collected and several of the collections feature minor art tweaks, including backgrounds, patterns, and at a couple points, the stars in the sky overhead. But, the last three issues just before the actual last issue had different artists contributing one or two pages at a time, in quick succession, which has become called in comics jargon a jam.

Did that jam story, “The Invisible Kingdom” fail artistically or aesthetically? Meaney believes so, many agree, and he cites Morrison as admitting it did. It’s one of my favorite bits in the whole thing, and that technique in particular is why. I like that it shifts style and techniques abruptly, that some of the clothing isn’t on model page to page, that some details get fuzzy. For them, it failed. For me, it justified the whole shebang.

“The Invisible Kingdom” is, as a surface story, a stop-the-bomb thriller that we’ve already seen and we’re rewatching. Dane narrates the thing and tells us it all worked out before we see it work. We know everything’s going to come off. Our peeps are too cool for it not to.

What makes “The Invisible Kingdom” crackle and sing for me isn’t the rush to hit a deadline, it’s seeing everyone from different angles, both narratively and visually. Helga looking lazy and smirky in her underwear or spiffy and academic. Mob under the gun, and Mob holding the gun. Etchy, dark, dense claustrophobic horror and vibrant, loud sound-fx-blaring excitement! A single penciler, even one doing different styles or indulging in homages or experiments would feel far too cohesive for the culmination of a comic about accepting alternate perspectives, a comic steeped in embracing variations and contradictions and the inexplicable.

Conclusion: The jam didn't fail. You failed the jam.

Indecipherable; Nonsensical

While there is a lot packed into The Invisibles, it’s not impenetrable or really all that difficult a comic. The ethical questions are probably more deserving of deep rumination than whose hand the Hand of Glory might have been or what the dead cow symbolizes. Sometimes surprising or beautiful or inelegant things occur, both in comics and in life. That does not make life or comics “nonsensical.” Nonsense is not another word for “I don’t like it” or “Not the way I see it.”

There has been some argument that the art obscures the meaning of the scripts or dialogue, or that the dialogue obscures Morrison’s meaningful points, or that slang or violence or sex, horror, dancing make things confusing, that there shouldn’t be aliens or ghosts or America, because those are just ridiculous and distract too much. It’s too easy to go online or to a comics shop and prod someone into saying eagerly that the comic is pure nonsense.

And, maybe there are points that are obscured by the art or overcomplicated by conversation or panel arrangement.

However, something like the King Mob fight from “The Invisible Kingdom,” which is repeatedly pointed to as being difficult to understand, quite clearly shows soldiers holding guns on King Mob, then Mob grabs his sharp-looking headdress, cuts guy's face with it, gets shot in the back, kicks the guy who shot him… and a few pages later finishes that fight before we see him stumble away and try to die in a phone booth.

I’m sorry, but the only way those pages are all that difficult to understand is if you’re trying not to understand them. Or skimming, in which case, well, you’re skimming. Skimming is fine, but you can’t fault any work of art or entertainment if you miss things because you were barely looking.

Other scenes are presented without answers, like what happened with John A’Dreams and King Mob in the early 90s, because it’s a mystery. They don’t know what happened. You’re not meant to have answers yet.

And, the dream sequences or trips are, well, dreams and stuff. They aren’t being related to us as stories (So what if they were?), but as experiences of the characters and they follow the logic and patterns one should expect.

Conclusion: Boys keep swinging. Boys always work it out.

You can get the Omnibus here:

Mar 25, 2015

Carl Barks, Walt Simonson, Catapult, and Frog Thor

Duckburg's Catapult and Frog Thor
by Duy

One of the most beloved storylines in Thor history is the time Loki turned the Thunder God into a frog, who, by virtue of still being Thor, ends up being a 6'6" Frog of Thunder when he lifts Mjolnir, the magic hammer.

In the first issue of the storyline, Simonson dedicates the story to "Catapult, Carl Barks, and all the other heroes and villains of Duckburg." I was wondering who Catapult was, since I've been reading the Carl Barks collections put out by Fantagraphics, and I haven't run into any character named Catapult. So I looked it up and it turns out Catapult is from a 1958 story called "Old Froggie Catapult." In the middle of a storm, Donald Duck, Huey, Dewey, and Louie get a knock on their door and it turns out to be a frog. Not an anthropomorphic talking frog the way they're basically humans but in Duck form. Just a frog.

Frog jumping is Duckburg's most popular competition (in this story anyway), and it happens on a barge. Unfortunately, a typhoon hits, putting everyone in danger, so Donald sends Catapult on his way to Grandma Duck's house to send a message.

Walt Simonson is a big Carl Barks fan, and he even did drawings that ended up being on the endpapers of a Carl Barks hardcover collection in 1981:

Here's a drawing of his with Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge, with a rooster from Plain Awful and an animal I feel I should recognize, but don't. (So if someone knows, tell me. Edit: It's the Lemming with the Locket. Thanks, Unca Walt!)

As for Frog Thor? Thor's frog friend Puddlegulp, once a man named Simon Walterson (get it?), found a sliver of Mjolnir and struck it on the ground, turning him into Throg, wielder of Frogjolnir, member of the Pet Avengers.

That's all quite a legacy for what started out as a tribute story to Catapult and Carl Barks and turned out to be one of the most beloved stories in the annals of Marvel history.

Mar 23, 2015

The Night Gwen Stacy Died: A Comprehensive Visual History, Part 1

The Night Gwen Stacy Died – A Comprehensive Visual History
Part 1

A few years back, I started collecting original comic book artwork. I love getting commissions from artists, or sketches in my sketchbook at conventions, but my main focus is buying the original art used to publish the comics we all read and love. It is a very expensive hobby, but really rewarding when you snag that original page you were hoping for. Especially since, unlike comics, only one of each page of original art exists in the world. (Or at the most, two. The original pencils, and the original inks from bluelined copies of the pencils. Even then, those are two distinct pieces of artwork.) Once it’s gone, it’s gone, unless the owner decides to put it up for sale one day.

There are many reasons I might seek a page out. I love the artists involved, or the character depicted. It may be the overall artistry of the page. Or, the page is of a particular scene from the comic that I enjoyed, or depicts a scene that resonates with me. So, as you may imagine, sometimes when I’m reading a comic, I might be looking at the artwork in a different light than the average reader.

I’ve said it before, but The Night Gwen Stacy Died is my favorite comic book story. It has been ever since I read it as a small child. Being an original art collector, I’d of course love to get my hands on the originals for this classic storyline. However, the odds of me ever being able to afford even one page from that monumental issue are slim to none, much less one of the infamous pages depicting Gwen’s fall from the bridge. My only chance is to try and find and own any of the numerous times the scenes from that classic issue have been referenced or reinterpreted in other comics.

All of that useless blather is to say, this will be an ongoing, non-regular series of mine where I find and catalog all the various times that the death of Gwen has been depicted in comic book form. The goal is to find specific depictions of the incident in question, not necessarily homages or similar situations.

It may be morbid, but that’s kind of my thing. Let’s get started.

Before we begin, we’re going to take a look at the scene itself, from Amazing Spider-Man #121 by Gerry Conway, Gil Kane, John Romita, and Tony Mortellaro.

Gwen is knocked from the bridge by the Green Goblin.

Spider-Man famously tries to catch her with his webbing, to disastrous results.

After pulling her up, a distraught Spider-Man cradles her lifeless body in his arms.

So now you have a bit of an idea of the imagery that I’m going to be looking for.

First up is a truly disturbing reinterpretation from Amazing Spider-Man #655 by Dan Slott and Marcos Martin. Following the death of Marla Jameson, Peter has a nightmare about all of the people he’s lost throughout his life.

In the mini-series Spider-Man & Daredevil: Unusual Suspects, by Paul Jenkins, Phil Winslade, and Tom Palmer, an agent from Hell gets into the head of our intrepid hero (issue #4 of 4).

Incredible Hulk #607, by Greg Pak and Paul Pelletier, in an effort to get them to help him, Bruce Banner appeals to a group of heroes that have lost people before.

The mini-series Spider-Man and the Secret Wars by Paul Tobin, Patrick Scherberger, and Terry Pallot featured expanded looks at Spider-Man’s role in the original Secret Wars series. Here, the Enchantress is trying to keep Spider-Man from succumbing to the hallucinations caused by the heroes’ attack on Galactus.

What If? #24 by Tony Isabella, Gil Kane, and Frank Giacoia is an obvious reference, since it asks the question “What if Gwen Stacy Had Lived?” Not only does it have a full recreation of the original scene, but it’s drawn by the original penciler Gil Kane.

This time, when Gwen is knocked from the bridge, Spider-Man dives down to catch her instead of using his webline.

It’s a sure bet that anytime a goblin shows up, you’re probably going to see Peter thinking back to that monumental moment in his life. Amazing Spider-Man #136, by Conway, Ross Andru, Frank Giacoia, and Dave Hunt, would be no different. After Peter and Mary Jane are nearly killed by a bomb in his apartment, Peter wonders if the Green Goblin has returned from the dead to take yet another woman he cares about out of his life.

Amazing Spider-Man #177 by Len Wein, Andru, and Mike Esposito (incidentally with a publication date the same as the month and year I was born) another Green Goblin shows up, causing Peter to think back to that terrible incident.

Of course, there is the seminal Marvels #4 by Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross.

Which beautifully depicts the fight from the viewpoint of the story’s narrator.

Amazing Spider-Man #700 by Slott, Humberto Ramos, and Victor Olazaba reinterprets the incident through the mind of Doctor Octopus, who had recently switched minds with Peter Parker, setting up the Superior Spider-Man series.

That’s all I have for now. Like I said, this will be a non-regular ongoing effort to catalog every visual reference to the infamous death of Gwen Stacy scene. As I find more images, I’ll release more parts to this series. If you’re reading this and find, or know of, any references yourself, please feel free to contact us and let us know.

Next time, something less morbid (maybe)!

Mar 19, 2015

Bullet Points: 52

In 2006, DC Comics had just finished a series called Infinite Crisis, a big multiversal epic that got me back into comics after about a half decade of not reading anything new. As a result of Infinite Crisis, DC moved all their regular titles up by a year, leaving an untold story of a full year, one without Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. To fill in this gap, DC released its first modern weekly series, just called 52 way before they every fell in love with that number, written by Geoff Johns, Greg Rucka, Grant Morrison, and Mark Waid, laid out by Keith Giffen, and drawn by a bunch of artists. It was supposed to focus on those big guys, but quickly developed into its own thing.

I decided to give it a reread recently. I thought I'd write something about it, but realized I was lazy, so I decided to give you these one- to two-sentence reactions/observations of each issue of 52. Spoilers follow for an almost-decade-old comic. I give you...

52 Things About 52

1. I only remember the broad strokes of where these storylines are going, but I'm pretty sure my favorite character of this reread is going to be Renee Montoya, whereas for the first go-around it was Ralph Dibny, the World-Famous Elongated Man. I'm pretty sure the Black Adam story's just going to annoy me now, even though I loved the push he was getting back then.

2. After the Phantom Stranger and the Question, does any single superhero get their names worked as casual words into sentences anywhere near as much?

3. When Lex Luthor speaks, I hear Clancy Brown.

4. We finally get Montoya and the Question actually interacting, and it's just this delightful tiny bit of characterization.

5. For all the talk that the New 52 turned Starfire into a sex symbol, well...

6. Rip Hunter's blackboard makes its first appearance. I remember being engrossed by this when it came out, trying to figure out what it all meant, but now I read it and I see "Oh, there's a lot of stuff," and then flip to the next page. It's not that I don't appreciate it; I've just got more stuff to do now. C'est la.

7. I just now realized Renee Montoya is the only one with first-person captions up till now, which sets her story even farther apart from everyone else's. Also, this is the first time two different stories interact, with Booster and Ralph meeting up. I wonder how much Geoff Johns and Mark Waid split these scenes up. Waid also has an interesting note in the extra features: if there's a question that befuddles the audience, have the characters themselves ask it. It will add drama.

8. This is my favorite cover from the first batch of stories, and probably the entire series.

9. Animal Man gets the first-person captions this time around, so I guess there was no cardinal rule saying it was Montoya's shtick. And hey, remember when references to the number 52 weren't overplayed and annoying?

10. I love every scene Clark Kent was in in this one. Going from completely inept at everything (his job, shaving) to just throwing all his eggs in one basket by forcing Supernova to catch him by jumping out a window is one of those great dramatic shifts that I love so much, like Brodie at the end of Mallrats or Uncle Scrooge when he loses his money and moans for a half page and then gets back to work. Also, it's nice to see that the Martian Manhunter is seen, in-universe, as a big hero. If I had to guess, that's a holdover from Grant Morrison's idea of having him be the Southern Hemisphere hero. Also, I totally broke my two-sentence rule for this issue, so while I'm at it, I'll just say giving Black Adam a Captain Marvel–style cape was a nice touch.

11. Montoya figures out Batwoman is her ex when she looks at the back of her head. Of course.

12. In late 2005, I discovered The Mighty Isis on TV Land, realized DC had the rights to the character's concept, if not the character, Andrea Thomas, straight-up, and wondered why they never used it. In 2006, 52 introduced Adrianna Tomaz, who becomes the modern version of the character. Sometimes life is weird, like when you discover the existence of a certain word and then hear it eight times in the next two days. Also, I like how when they walk into the Rock of Eternity, Greed's face (on the Seven Deadly Sins statues) is broken, revealed to have been smashed by Captain Marvel, and it's fixed itself later in the issue.

13. Holy crap, wicker Sue, what the holy hell.

14. I enjoy it when the superheroes start fashion trends. In an earlier week, a woman wore Wonder Woman's costume as her bathing suit. This week, we've got Kahndaqian girls showing they care about superfashion too.

15. The original breakdowns of Booster dying have him getting cut in half, and it is hilarious..

16. This has my favorite cover of the second paperback, and may beat Week 8 for my favorite cover of the series. Or maybe something else will beat it later on. JG Jones' covers got stronger as the series went on.

Also, I've been pretty good at spotting writers' "tells" and realizing who wrote what (I'm not even really trying, and I'm not anywhere near 100% accurate, but some things are obvious who they're written by, like all the dismemberment), but when someone does what I like to call a Yellow Ring Idea, which is to say an idea that's so obvious I can't believe it took this long to figure it out, like The Red Inferno (because there is a Red Tornado) or The Seven Virtues of Man (because there are The Seven Deadly Enemies of Man), I can't figure it out. Is it Johns? Is it Waid? Is it Morrison? I've seen them  all do that kind of thing at multiple points in their careers — creating something obvious out of a pre-existing idea.

And look, happy Black Adam. You know this won't end well. I call this the Joss Whedon Rule.

17. "The cosmic distances, the immensity of scale... it can overwhelm your mind, Buddy Baker. Just remember: no matter how big it seems, it's never too big to fit inside your head," is a great line.

18. Montoya kills a child terrorist and feels guilty about it for two weeks. Black Adam shows absolutely no signs of ever being regretful he ever killed anyone, even innocents. I hate trying-to-be-sympathetic Black Adam, and I used to love him around the time this comic was coming out. That's me being an old fan-man. Homicidal murderers aren't cool; I don't care if you feel like you're justified.

19. Skeets' turn to the dark side was inspired, and still has value for me even if I knew it was coming. What makes it more impressive is that this wasn't the original plan; Morrison came up with it as an explanation for why Skeets would lie to Booster, only because the original plan of having time be broken and Booster having to fix it no longer interested the writing crew. Quick changes like these may happen in any and all fiction, but they're never more evident than in serial fiction, when you planned to be going one way and then decided to go another, except you already have parts of the story out that were supposed to be headed to the original destination.

20. I don't know if the Emerald Eye of Ekron, long used in the Legion of Super-Heroes, was actually revealed to have been ripped out of the Emerald Head of Ekron before this issue, but if it was, it's one of those Yellow Ring Ideas and I don't know who to credit for it.

21. The Steel story is my least favorite, and Johns even says in the notes for this issue that it didn't end up the way they planned it. But this issue is classic Lex Luthor: he forgives a teenage girl for telling him off, and then orchestrates her death to be shown on TV. The short list of positives from John Byrne's Superman revamp starts with Businessman Lex Luthor. (It goes on to Ma and Pa Kent being alive, Lana knowing the secret, and then... I don't know what else.) Also, I like that the Teen Titans is the "cool" team in-universe.

22. Is that a Sentinel?

23. We don't get enough scenes where a hero really goes "We cannot handle this. We will die if we handle this and we won't be any good to anyone. It really sucks, but we have to accept it."

24. Phil Jimenez draws this issue, and he's my favorite artist in all of 52. "ESPete" is a fun name. Also, I love how Firestorm has, in his room, a poster of Starfire in her modeling days, and that the poster actually is something that existed in continuity prior to this comic.

It was a photo taken by Donna Troy back in the New Teen Titans days, specifically at the beginning of "The Judas Contract."

That's the kind of small continuity nod that gives a good feeling of history and doesn't detract from a story.

25. Okay, "Happy Halloween, Judeo-Christians!" made me laugh.

26. Yeah, this kinda thing happens a lot in a roomful of guys not accustomed to talking to pretty girls.

27. Oh, come on, killing Waverider's just mean.

28. Making the Emerald Head of Ekron a Green Lantern instead of a villain was a great twist.

29. Man, but they made a mistake getting rid of Egg Fu's mustache.

30. Dick Grayson, AKA Nightwing, AKA the first Robin, one of the twenty greatest superheroes of all time, meets Batwoman, and he, not knowing she's not into guys, starts off by hitting on her. Because of course he would.

31. Ralph Dibny, the second-best detective in the entire DC Universe, figures out who Supernova is and gives us enough clues. As a fan who's read comics since he could read, I figured out the who pretty easily (I mean, really...). I couldn't from this point until the eventual reveal figure out the how, even though it should have been really really obvious to a lifelong Superman fan like me.

32. Pat Oliffe writes "Hey, look, a Neal Adams effect" in this panel of Rama Kushna.

Which is in itself a tribute to Neal's "Hey, look, a Jim Steranko effect" in an old Deadman story, from Strange Adventures #215.

33. I remember a certain section of the comics internet community going nuts because Ralph is drinking all this stuff from his flask, and Waid and the rest of the writers were saying it was liquor; there was no way it was gingold, the liquid that gives Ralph his Elongated Man powers. Then, when it was revealed to actually be gingold, that section of fandom went nuts, because the writers were lying, which just made me wonder, what in the world were they supposed to do, give away the twist?

Additionally, I always liked that Hal Jordan and Barry Allen were close friends, Hal Jordan and Oliver Queen were close friends, Barry Allen and Ralph Dibny were close friends, but it didn't mean Hal and Ralph were close, or Barry and Ollie. Not that any of that's enough for me to prefer Barry and Hal and Ollie over Wally West and Kyle Rayner and Conner Hawke, though.

34. This is what Travis would call a field of insets, and it works beautifully here.

35. Man, the first page of this one is just incredible. Five horizontal panels of superpeople falling, each at a different stage in the sky, just slowed down so you can really take it all in. I love Phil Jimenez.

36. In this issue, Animal Man and the Question both come closer to dying. I've always liked them both more as concepts than as actual characters (more on the Question later), but I've always enjoyed the fact that Buddy was one of the few very happily married heroes in comics. It doesn't work for everyone, and it actually doesn't work for most, but it works for Buddy Baker and it works for Adam Strange, which, really, makes the decision to strand them in space with Starfire kinda brilliant.

37. So apparently, the identity of Supernova, who I thought was obviously Booster Gold because I couldn't imagine them just killing Booster early on with no real payoff, was speculated by many fans to be the Atom. I guess I could see that, but that particular reveal, that specific payoff, would have been too intertextual (more so than these stories already are), and I thought one of 52's strengths was that it stood on its own. As it was, I loved the Booster Gold reveal, even if I saw it coming, or maybe because I saw it coming, because it meant I couldn't wait for it. I still didn't see the how of it though, which is why I am not an actual writer.

Also, why would you spoil the reveal on the cover?
Sometimes I don't understand things.

38. I was never the biggest fan of Keith Giffen as a guy who writes his own stuff, but he is a marvelous storyteller. The number of splash or almost-splash pages, spreads, and bleeds he uses has been increasing as the weeks have gone by, but it's never not appropriate for the situation. They're not just money shots (although most are); they give each moment the proper scope and space.

39. Was this old not-Aquaman guy ever explained?

40. I will forever think The Death and Return of Superman is one of the greatest events in the history of comics, and one of the reasons is because it gave us at least three reusable new characters, one of which is Steel. I really do love Steel. It's just a shame that it took him 40 weeks and the end of this story to do something cool.

41. I think the reason I may love the Montoya storyline the most is because it is a spiritual, existential journey, and I'm always a mark for that kind of thing, because I consider myself a spiritual (but not religious) person. But man, blame linguistic shifts and everything, but these sound effects undercut it.

42. "Because Faust... I'm a detective," is my single favorite moment of all of 52, and it can only be Waid. No disrespect intended to the other three guys, but I don't think there's ever been anyone in the history of superhero comics who's made me fistpump and given me an adrenaline rush more than Mark Waid. Ralph Dibny always knew what was going on. Of course he did — how could we ever have doubted him?

43. "The Rock of Finality" is another one of those Yellow Ring Ideas, and I see Mary Marvel shifts from red costume to white costume. More superheroes should switch costumes the way we switch clothes, because why not? The joke, if it was intended, in this one is that Mary is Billy's twin sister, so "telling her when she's older" is really patronizing.

44. Black Adam losing everything and reverting to form, with Isis, as Rucka puts it, going from advocating hope to hopelessness, really annoyed many fans back then who wanted Adam to have a happy ending. But in serial fiction, there are no true endings, and Adam is infinitely more interesting as the man who has lost everything and continues to go about things the wrong way. He's an interesting character, if not a particularly aspirational one.

45. Ugh, leave Montoya alone, you bastard, she's just trying to help. It's weird; when this series was coming out, Black Adam's story was near the top of my list of favorites, definitely above Montoya's and maybe even above Dibny's. On this reread, I think I find it even less compelling to go through than Steel's, though it does, still, beat out the space guys.

46. The supernerds come together to beat up the superjock. They are, of course, all jerks, nerds and jock alike, and will all get what's coming to them.

47. Greg Rucka, who is the only one of the writing crew to have written Wonder Woman's regular series, calls the particular rationale behind this scene "garbage" in the commentary, decrying the idea that Wonder Woman is "not human enough." Wonder Woman to me is the single most compelling character in the DC Trinity (Superman is my favorite character, but Wonder Woman is the one that fascinates me the most, as evidenced by the fact that I wrote an eleventy-word thing talking about her once that took me months to write instead of my usual one or two days), and I would have to agree with Rucka. Wonder Woman is an aspirational character, but she has always had human elements. What makes her (and Superman, and Batman) godlike is the way she handles her problems, never losing hope, and always finding the way that is right for the people she protects. I can see the rationale behind this scene, and this is the same premise they used to reboot her series, but I'm with Rucka here. I don't agree with it. On another note, it's fun to see that writers sometimes disagree as much as fans.

48. I've said before that the Question, Vic Sage, is one of the characters I like more in concept than in actual execution. When I was a kid, I opened up a Who's Who and saw a faceless guy in a fedora hat and a suit. I always liked the design, even if I didn't understand the heavy Objectivist politics behind the character. Vic was fun in Justice League Unlimited, where he served as both a superserious character and comic relief. But when it came down to the comics, I could never really ride with it, even when Rucka wrote Vic in Batman/Huntress: Cry For Blood. There was just something missing, and I think it's that, whether he was an Objectivist or a Zen practitioner, there was always a detachment. Renee Montoya, in her very brief stint as the Question, had some of that going on, but never went overboard, and I was with Renee Montoya on her journey to becoming the Question, just like I was there with Wally West when he stepped out of Barry Allen's shadow and took his place as the Flash. And while I may have been introduced to the concept of the Flash when he was Barry Allen, my Flash is Wally West. While I may have been introduced to the idea of the Question as Victor Sage, my Question is Renee Montoya. However short that stint lasted, however it ended up, this remains my third favorite moment in all of 52.

49. This whole China/Great Ten angle seems more politically charged now.

50. Geoff really did, for a long time there, stake his claim as the best writer of knockdown dragout group battles. His JSA is what got me back into comics. Also, this issue was expanded in the World War 3 miniseries, which I also have. I did not reread it for this column, and I missed nothing.

51. Mr. Mind as a big space moth is another Yellow Ring Idea, and Mark Waid says there was debate on whether or not to let him keep his glasses. I would have voted yes.

52. There is no concept, in all of fiction, that fills me more with a sense of wonder than a multiverse. Everything about a multiverse, done right, makes me feel the vastness of possibility and the true freedom of fiction and its reflection of the world. There is no multiverse, not one,  in all of fiction, that is better than DC Comics'. I will stand by that forever, or until the arbitrary day I decide that Spider-Verse was the best multiverse. Whatever. Unfortunately, DC hasn't done the best job capitalizing on their multiverse, but the sequence of events leading to this spread makes this my second-favorite moment in all of 52. (It'd have been first if they ever actually did anything with it that didn't involve waiting eight years.)

Rip Hunter says, "Welcome to a multiverse of possibility, Booster. Welcome home." This is Waid's favorite line in the series,and he continues:

"Home," both to us as writers and to our characters, is not a constriction of rules and regulations in which only one "definitive" interpretation of the DC heroes can exist and everything not currently in vogue is "Wrong."; it's a multiverse of possibility where absolutely anything can happen and where imagination has no limits. From the time a caveman told the first bedtime story to today, no good fiction ever has come out of worrying first and foremost whether its events are "in continuity."