A Spider-Man/Spider-Gwen: Sitting in a Tree Review – Across the Spider-Verse

TITLE: Spider-Man/Spider-Gwen: Sitting in a Tree
AUTHOR: Brian Michael Bendis, Jason Latour
PENCILLERS: Sara Pichelli, Robbie Rodriguez
COLLECTS: Spider-Man #1214Spider-Gwen #1618
FORMAT: 
Softcover
PUBLISHER: Marvel
PRICE: $17.99
RELEASED: May 24, 2017

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Who says there’s no such thing as modern romance? A good love story, especially in a teenage superhero book, can really hit the spot sometimes. But surprisingly, Sitting in a Tree doesn’t hit that spot in that respect. It never really delivers like you think it will.

Miles Morales’ father, now an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. again, has gone missing. A mission gone awry has seemingly left him lost in the multiverse. As such, Maria Hill recruits Miles for an off-the-books inter-dimensional search-and-rescue mission. Our hero’s search quickly takes him to Earth-65, a world where Gwen Stacy was bitten by a radioactive spider, and has become Spider-Woman. The two are already acquainted. So in Gwen, Miles finds a partner in his search. But does he also find an unlikely romance?

Typically, one of the goals of a crossover like this is to get readers of one book (in my case, Spider-Man) to start picking up another (Spider-Gwen). Years of comic book reading have left me pretty callous to such attempts. But as someone with little to no exposure to Spider-Gwen, I found myself pretty intrigued by what I saw. That’s a credit to Jason Latour, Robbi Rodriguez, and everybody on that book. Spider-Gwen #16 explores the Earth-65 New York City, as we meet it’s alternate versions of Matt Murdock (Daredevil) and Doctor Octopus. We also get a quick refresher as to how this world’s Peter Parker was different from the one we all know. It’s a great introduction to that character and her world.

More importantly, Robbi Rodriguez’s funky animated style is a treat. Combined with colorist Rico Renzi’s relatively bright palette, what we get is pretty unique. I found myself looking forward to Spider-Gwen just to see what they’d give us next. Renzi in particular gets to show off when we get to the Club Scorpion scene in issue #16 (shown left).

On the subject of art, I can’t find a lot of bad things to say about Sara Pichelli and colorist Justin Sponsor’s work here. Any time they work together on Miles it feels like a homecoming, as they did his earliest stories in Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man. That’s why it was so cool to have them on those early issues of Spider-Man. Pichelli gets to play with the multiverse stuff in issue #14, as Miles and Gwen jump into the Spider-Man: Noir universe, the Marvel Zombies universe, and then even the DC Universe for a quick jab at the competition (shown below). The latter got under my skin, but it also got a begrudged chuckle.

So the big selling point for Sitting in a Tree is the blossoming romance between Miles and Gwen. The premise made me think of how amazingly Bendis wrote Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson in Ultimate Spider-Man. When he wants to do the teenage romance stuff, he’s as good as anybody…

Which is why it’s a pretty big disappointment that the romance stuff almost gets glossed over until the third act. Even then, we don’t get much. Instead of this being the story where the two get together, it’s the story that lays the foundation for them to get together later. There’d be nothing wrong with that, except the book’s title and cover suggest otherwise. You close the book feeling like you were sold one thing but given another.

Still, it’s fun seeing our creators play with around with the Spider-Verse stuff. Spider-Ham pops up during the third act, and he brings in some extra back-up during the finale. It doesn’t make up for us not getting the inter-dimensional love affair the book advertises. But it’s a cool little bonus.

Sitting in a Tree is…fine. That’s it. Just fine. It’s got elements of an epic crossover between titles, but it comes up short of meeting its dramatic needs. What can I say? Some days I’m a hopeless romantic. I have no idea if they plan to come back to this Miles/Gwen thing at any point. But by God, if anybody can make the cross-dimensional romance thing work, it’s those two crazy kids!

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A Champions: Change the World Review – Social Justice League

TITLE: Champions, Vol. 1: Change the World
AUTHOR: Mark Waid
PENCILLER: Humberto Ramos
COLLECTS: Champions #1-5
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: Marvel
PRICE: $15.99
RELEASE DATE: May 3, 2017

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Champions simultaneously is and is not a product of it’s time. Stories about the new generation rising up and righting the wrongs of the world have been around as long as storytelling itself. And of course, it’s a teenage superhero book. Not exactly a new concept.

At the same time, Mark Waid is going out of his way to be contemporary with Champions. You’ve got some standard teenage superhero stuff, sure. But the book also tackles Islamaphobia, Islamic Fundamentalism, feminism, and police brutality. This is very much a book for 21st century issues, as seen from one side of the political aisle.

In the aftermath of Civil War II, Ms. Marvel (Kamala Kham), Nova (Sam Alexander), and Spider-Man (Miles Morales) have left the Avengers. Determined to give the world heroes they can believe in again, they form a team of their own. A team that refuses to punch down or use unjust force, but instead win the day with wisdom and hope. With the addition of Hulk (Amadeus Cho), Viv Vision, and Cyclops, the Champions are born.

I feel like I owe Humberto Ramos an apology. HIs style is so exaggerated, cartoony even, that one can fall into the trap of underestimating just how good he is. I’ll admit it: That happened to me. But what makes Ramos so special is his versatility. Champions is a potpourri of what superhero comics can offer. It’s a teen dramedy. It’s a superhero action thriller. It’s a look at what it means to be a hero. It’s an inspiring look at what happens when seemingly ordinary people stand up for themselves. But Ramos’ work fits all of it, and ties everything together seamlessly. Visually, nothing feels awkward or out of place. I can only imagine the talent it takes to pull that off.

Mind you, there are some minor bumps in the road. Issue #2 give us a pretty pitiful case of panel duplication. There’s also a splash page where Hulk and Viv are making out that I still don’t get. Hulk is so much bigger than her. I just don’t get how their mouths would…match up? Nothing too intense. But it does briefly pluck you out of the story.

Both Mark Waid and Humberto Ramos have been outspoken regarding the Trump administration, and some of the moves they’ve made. Waid, along with other creators, has made efforts to create “safe spaces” at comic book conventions, and has generally been very public about his feelings toward bullies, hate-mongerers, etc. Ramos, on the other hand, has simply opted not to appear in states that voted for Trump.

Champions, issues #3 and #5 in particular, doesn’t hide that it’s a book written by people with those beliefs. The upside to that is we get some powerful material about standing up to hate, and not being afraid to put yourself at risk to do what’s right. The downside is that this isn’t what a lot of people want in their comics. Though I doubt Waid, Ramos, and the Champions team care who they piss off.

In this sense, the book can overplay it’s hand at times. Especially in issue #3, when we get to the Amal character. She’s a fierce young woman standing up against a militant extremist group committing gender apartheid. It’s pretty obvious how the reader is supposed to feel about her. But Waid makes a point of slipping in little lines about how she should be the leader of the Champions, and how she’s a bad ass. He’s coming from a good place, but that’s overkill.

Gwenpool pops up in issue #5 to join the team’s efforts against a crooked and racist sheriff turning a blind eye to hate crimes. Enraged when a mosque is set ablaze, Gwen and the Champions are tempted to respond with violence. They instead opt to take a more difficult, non-violent route. This has a little bit of a PSA feel to it, but it’s a good message, and an effective use of the Gwenpool character.

Champions has become arguably the most provocative and inviting book Marvel has on the stands right now. It’s not for everyone. But it doesn’t necessarily try to be. It’s also a tremendous example of how the superhero genre can be used for more than just popcorn fun. Change the World has that. But it’s clearly about much more.

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An Ultimate Comics Spider-Man, Vol. 3 Review – Hangin’ With the Big Guns

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man Vol. 3TITLE: Ultimate Comics Spider-Man, Vol. 3
AUTHOR: Brian Michael Bendis
PENCILLERS: David Marquez, Pepe Larraz
COLLECTS: Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #1118
FORMAT: Hardcover
PUBLISHER: Marvel
PRICE: $24.99
RELEASED: January 9, 2013

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Nobody can deny Ultimate Peter Parker had his share of problems. But at least he never got mixed up in a friggin’ war that divided the country. But Miles Morales endured. While he was still learning the ins and outs of the hero business, no less!

Shortly after a fateful showdown with his Uncle Aaron, a.k.a. the notorious Prowler, our new Spider-Man finds himself in the middle of a conflict that has literally split America apart. As The Ultimates do battle with the Hydra, Miles must prove to Captain America that he’s worthy of being the new Spider-Man. Worthy or not, Miles will soon be hanging with Iron Man, Thor, and a person who’s not overly fond of him, Spider-Woman.

With the Miles Morales character, Brian Michael Bendis continues to play around with some of the same themes that went into shaping Peter Parker, but inverting them to give Miles a different, yet familiar story. In almost every version we’ve seen of Spider-Man’s world, Peter’s Uncle Ben is virtually a saint. He’s a warm hearted, nurturing presence in Peter’s life, who teaches him that all important lesson of power and responsibility. Miles’ Uncle Aaron is, to put it mildly, not a saint. When the Prowler learns of his nephew’s new abilities, he uses his relationship with Miles to make a power play on the city’s crime scene.

Ultimate Spider-Man #12, David MarquezFittingly enough, Miles ends up learning a lesson about power and responsibility from his uncle, just as Peter learned one from his. Sadly, what happens to Miles’ uncle also leaves him with a similar sense of guilt. The themes are the same, but the circumstances are different. It’s very clever.

Once we get into the “Divided We Fall” storyline, things start to get bumpy. It’s difficult not to compare Miles’ journey to Peter’s, given they’re on such parallel paths. At this point in the original Ultimate Spider-Man book, Peter hadn’t really ventured into the grander Ultimate Marvel universe yet. His supporting cast was expanding in the form of a modernized Gwen Stacy, as was his rogues gallery in the form of an angry and vengeful Dr. Octopus. With Miles, a lot of that same expansion is missing. Granted, this is a different ball game entirely. In the original series, Bendis was reworking a classic set of characters. Miles is an entirely new character running around in a universe that’s already very familiar to us. But as Miles is still learning how to be a hero at this point, I’d have rather seen him on his own, as opposed to getting swept up in a crossover.

Still, Bendis makes the best of the situation and provides us with some good character moments along the way, the best of which happen in issues #13 and #14 when Miles meets Aunt May, Gwen Stacy and Mary Jane Watson. It’s a pivotal passing of the torch moment, which for good measure includes Captain America. Cap comes around on the issue of there being a new Spider-Man a little fast for my taste, but it was the best we could hope for in order to get Miles into the big battle fairly quickly.

USM, Gwen Stacy, Captain AmericaIn terms of his trademark witty dialogue, Bendis manages to hit the mark a little better this time around. Miles’ best friend and confidant Ganke came off strong in this book, particularly in the scene where he’s geeking out over little phrases and tag lines Miles could yell out during fights (“Yahtzee! “Sacagawea!” “Charles Barkley!”). I get the impression that Bendis sees a lot of his childhood self in Ganke. But in terms of humor, the best line in the book belonged to Gwen Stacy. When Cap arrives to rain in Miles’ meeting with Aunt May and the others, she says: “I didn’t know the eagle from the Muppets was going to show up and fart on us.” There’s a visual for ya…

While the previous volume had a problem with a revolving door of artists, David Marquez stays with us for the majority of this book. For my money, he now has as much claim to shaping the Miles Morales in his “formative” years as Sara Pichelli, if not a little more. During the “Divided” proceedings we get a two-issue interlude from Pepe Larraz, who does alright. The fact that he has the same colorist as Marquez helps the proceedings.

Thankfully, now that the big war is over Miles can get back to more “local issues” in New York, which hopefully won’t involve big name heroes. Thus far Miles’ adventures have had their downsides, but Ultimate Comics Spider-Man still has its own distinct charm.

RATING: 7.5/10

Image 1 from comicvine.com. Image 2 from henchmen4hire.com.

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An Ultimate Comics Spider-Man, Vol. 1 Review – A Disney Channel Hero

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man, Vol. 1: The World According to Peter ParkerTITLE: Ultimate Comics Spider-man, Vol. 1: The World According To Peter Parker
AUTHOR: Brian Michael Bendis
PENCILLER: David Lafuente
COLLECTS: Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man #1-6
FORMAT: Hardcover
PUBLISHER: Marvel
PRICE: $24.99
RELEASE DATE: April 21, 2010

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Last year, Marvel’s Ultimate line featured a massive crossover. In Ultimatum, Magneto attempted to destroy the Earth, New York City was hit with a massive flood, and numerous heroes were killed off. The Ultimate line was relaunched, presumably to once again draw in new readers.

Thus, Ultimate Spider-Man has become Ultimate Comics Spider-Man. And I’m not sure I’m happy about it.

When we open the book we find Peter Parker working at a fast food joint, Spider-Man is being hailed as a hero in New York City, displaced heroes like The Human Torch and Iceman (both teenagers) are showing up at the Parker house, plus Peter and Mary Jane Watson have broken up…again.

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man, Aunt May and familyMeanwhile, Mysterio, one of the few Spidey villains Brian Michael Bendis didn’t reinvent during his first run, emerges for the first time in the Ultimate universe. Throw in a new mystery hero that actually makes Peter’s life a bit easier, and there’s plenty of fodder for storytelling.

Bendis, who wrote every issue of Ultimate Spider-man, continues his run with this book. He delivers his usual clumsy wit, mixed in with solid suspenseful storytelling. It’s been said that the great thing about the Ultimate version of Spidey is that so much of the drama comes from Peter Parker’s personal life, as well as his superhero adventures. That thread definitely continues in this book, as awkwardness unfolds between Peter, his ex-girlfriend Mary Jane, his OTHER ex-girlfriend Kitty Pryde, and his CURRENT girlfriend. Did you get all that?

Aunt May, Gwen Stacy, Peter Parker, Ultimate Comics Spider-Man, Vol. 1David Lafuente’s art is solid, and fits the book well, But like Stuart Immonen (who did the art for the last several issues of Ultimate Spider-man), he’s in the unfortunate position of having to follow Mark Bagley’s stellar 111 issue run on the book. When I think of these characters, I still think of Bagley’s art. If Lafuente stays with the title for an extended period of time, fans will probably grow more comfortable looking at his version of this world. But for now, it feels like we’re still breaking him in.

Wall to wall, this book is decent, but the consistent presence of The Human Torch, Iceman, Kitty, and the others makes it feel at times like a Disney Channel show about superheroes. That makes me worried about the direction the title is headed in. Ultimate Spider-Man certainly had its share of team-ups, but now it’s looking like The Human Torch and Iceman will be sticking around for awhile. I’m concerned that the book is turning into Ultimate Comics Spider-Man and Friends.

Marvel officially rates the book as T+, meaning it’s primarily aimed at teen readers. But Ultimate Spider-Man was a teen book too, and it didn’t need to be flooded with teen superheroes to make it interesting. I’d have preferred this Spider-Man book to have the burden of conflict placed solely on Spider-Man’s shoulders, especially since it represents the launching of a new title.

RATING: 6/10

Image 1 from mattfraction.com. Image 2 from dreamwidth.org.

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