Tag Archives: Marvel comics

July Bonus Review: Spider-man Unlimited

The late 90s were a bad time for Marvel cartoons. There were animated versions of the Avengers, Spider-man & Silver Surfer and none of them lasted for longer than a single series. So, where exactly did Marvel and Saban go wrong with these properties? I might look at the other two later and give a really detailed answer, but I’ll start with a look at Spider-man Unlimited and let’s see where it went wrong.

Spidey unlimited.png

Story:

We open with John Jameson preparing to launch to the newly discovered, mysterious, Counter-Earth. Peter Parker is taking pictures when he notices Venom and Carnage sneaking aboard the shuttle. He goes to stop them but fails. The shuttle launches with them aboard and crashes on Counter-Earth, seemingly killing John. Naturally, the public blames Spider-man because no one noticed the symbiotes going aboard or happened to take video of the historic launch. Because why would you? Eventually, a video comes from John Jameson explaining that he’s on Counter-Earth and warning of some kind of danger that could threaten Earth if it’s not stopped. Spidey responds by hijacking a shuttle and going to Counter-Earth. Not to deal with the situation he just wants to bring John back. Does he seem like the type of heroic person who would face that kind of threat? He finds out that this new Earth is a lot like ours, but it’s got beast people and normal people and the beast people are in charge under the High Evolutionary.

There are two massive issues with this cartoon and I’ll list them both before explaining how they come into play since they’re frequently connected. The first is that it never really commits to its Counter-Earth gimmick. The second is that the writers can’t be bothered to think anything through. Let’s look at Spidey’s journey to Counter-Earth. He announces to everyone that he’s going to rescue John and clear his name. Then, in the exact same voice, he tries to explain why he’s going as Peter Parker in a truly pitiful attempt to salvage his secret identity. To make this even more inexplicable, he tries to hide the fact that Peter Parker is there from John because if John knew he’d figure out the truth. Now, think about that for a moment. Literally everyone on regular Earth knows. If them knowing is a give away, your secret identity is over. Period. There’s no need to try and hide it any more. John’ll just find out when he returns and learns that Parker left with Spidey. But the writers want to keep the secret identity because it’s in the comics and everyone knows that element of Spider-man stories.

The symbiotes are another great example. In this cartoon, the symbiotes are part of a great hive mind called “the Synoptic” but they still talk to one another like two separate beings because they wanted them to retain something of their unique identities. They also display new powers, becoming liquefied or opening holes in their chests to let projectile weapons pass through them. However, in spite of that, we’re still expected to believe that they have human hosts. Because Cletus Kasadt really has no torso and Eddie Brock can become mush. It makes perfect sense until you spend a millisecond thinking about it.

Spidey’s motivations  are also impacted by this combination of not wanting to commit and generally not thinking. He keeps whining that it’s not his planet or his fight because the writers don’t want to have a story about Spidey as a resistance fighter. They want him to swing around New Yory city, yes Counter-Earth has its own, and fight bad guys, including Counter-Earth versions of Kraven & Electro, because it’s more similar to what he actually does. Seriously, if you just wanted to have Spidey swinging around and fighting crime you should’ve just skipped the whole Counter-Earth bollocks.

There are some smaller issues too. The final episode ends on a cliffhanger, because they wanted to punish the five invested viewers they had. Spidey’s signature wit is basically absent. I mean, they try, but they’re really bad at it. For example, when he meets the knights of Wundagor Lady Vermin says they shouldn’t fight because he looks fair to her eyes and he responds with “And you look most rat-like to my own.” Somehow, she considers this flattery even though it’s just a description. Does she also think it’s flattery when someone says that she’s pale? There’s a point where Venom says he’s history and his response, in Unlimited fashion, is to say that History was never his best subject. He prefers Phys Ed, before knocking some support pillars over. That’s the best he could come up with in that situation? What about “History’s written by the winners. You’ll never decide what goes in the books.” or maybe “I just hope they remember my ability to bring the house down.” Either of those would have been much better and fit the character better. And there are moments that don’t make sense, like the guy who can become moving bandages being unable to use his powers to escape a cage with openings that he should be able to fit through.

Characters:

Here’s another major failing of the cartoon. These characters are boring. There’s no reason to care about anyone in the resistance because they’re such non-characters. the High Evolutionary was more interesting in the one episode of the 90s X-men cartoon he appeared in than he manages to be in the entirety of this where he’s the big bad. Then again, that show had competent writing. This version of Spider-man comes across as whiny and completely lacking in endearing qualities.

Art:

I can give the artwork some praise. There are some nice visuals and the action sequences look fine. There are some issues. Spidey’s new costume is trying way too hard to be “extreme.” Most of the symbiotes look identical and leave identical growths on their hosts which is boring and causes you to question what makes the ones we’re familiar with different besides the writing being terrible. This series also has the most unimaginative tattoos. John has one that just looks like the pencil outline of a crescent moon. And there’s another dude in the Resistance who has one that’s just the word “Mum.”

Sound:

The acting is mostly passable enough. It’s not good, but it’s functional. Then there’s Rhys Huber. He is truly awful. Michael Donovan is a bit rubbish too, but nowhere near that bad. The music is, likewise, pretty passable but not good.

Final Thoughts:

Ultimately, I think this series failed because of unlimited poor decisions. It can’t decide whether it wants to do the same old types of stories or have its Counter-Earth gimmick and the result is a mess. There are constant dumb writing choices that are, frankly, insulting to the audience. Because kids aren’t stupid. They can tell that there’s something off when it’s that blatant about it. In general, it’s just bad. My final rating on this one is going to stand at a 3/10. If you guys are interested, maybe I’ll look at the other two at another time and explore why they failed to grab audiences.

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What’s Really Costing Marvel Sales?

For those of you who aren’t aware, Marvel Comics recently came under fire when VP David Gabriel, made a statement about their sales slump being the result of having “too much diversity.” Because readers just don’t want to hear about women and people of colour. He has since retracted the statement due to the understandable backlash. 

So, what’s really to blame for the lack of sales? Well, as someone who used to buy Marvel comics , let me try and provide some insight into why they lost my money and, I’d wager, quite a few other people’s. 

1.) Consistent Editorially Mandated Events

Remember when company wide events were incredibly rare to the point where you might have one a decade? Remember when those events were basically relegated to their own mini-series and every comic wasn’t dedicated to tie in material? Well, I’m old so I do. I also miss those times. And that’s one of the big reasons I stopped buying Marvel comics. Writers are constantly having the story arcs they’re doing disrupted so that the comics they’re working on can tie into the latest House of M, World War Hulk, Civil War or whatever. You can’t just be a fan of the X-men and Spider-man or of the FF and Iron Man any more because you never know when those stories are going to be disrupted for actual months to tie into the latest event. Which probably makes it hard to find new readers too. How many people do you think want to read all the big books just to know what’s going on? But there’s something else that ties into this. 

2.) The Big Events Themselves

Honestly, I  was a fan of a lot of Marvel’s characters and titles. So, for me, the big events might not be a problem if they were well written. The problem is that, well, they aren’t. Most of them have heroes fighting one another instead of villains for stupid and contrived reasons. Most of them also feature a lot of wasteful character deaths, that may or may not last, for cheap shock value. It’s not even shocking at this point because they do it all the time. That’s not good writing and what it tells me, as a fan of a lot of these characters you’re killing, is that you don’t care about my ability to enjoy your comics. “You like Bill Foster? Well, too bad we’re going to kill him in an exceedingly disrespectful way.” Is it any surprise that I don’t want to give them my hard earned money to see that?

3.) Character Ruination Everywhere

Marvel doesn’t have to kill characters off to ruin the experience for readers. They can just make really stupid changes to them. Hello, Hydra Agent Steve Rogers. But it’s not just Cap losing all his nobility and dignity. It’s a pretty persistent issue. Jubilee was a cool character. Then she was a vampire and sucked, both literally and figuratively. Speedball was cool, then he went full emo- Penance mode and he’s been an awful character since. They tried to fix him, but the damage was done. Luke Cage was a cool character, but then they saddled him with Bendis’ Mary Sue and now he sucks. The Scarlet Witch was a cool character, but then they made her quasi-incestuous and mentally unstable. And those are just a few examples. There are many, many others who have been ruined by a combination of bad decisions and editorial interference. 

4.) The Handling of Legacy Heroes

In theory, legacy heroes are a great idea. Have the old hero step down, bring in a new, interesting one. The trouble is that Marvel’s been handling these heroes in a way that alienates the fan base for the previous hero. Gone are the days when Tony Stark stepped down to let James Rhodes take the Iron Man mantle due to some personal problems. These days, the old heroes die or turn evil, most of the time. Marvel, I know this is complicated but maybe the way to retain your fans is to treat your characters with respect? 

5.) There’s No  Reason to get Attached to the Heroes

This kind of connects a lot of the prior points. For me, as a comic fan, there’s no impetus to get attached to Marvel’s new characters. Because I know that there’s a good chance they’ll be killed off during a lousy event, get completely changed in a way that’s absolutely devastating to their character or turn evil for stupid reasons. If I get invested in that character, I’ll be setting myself up for disappointment later. And it’s, frankly, not worth my time. 

6.) The Writing Aesthetic

This is going to be the final point I bring up. Speaking personally, my favourite Super hero comics are from the Bronze Age. Back when they could incorporate serious themes, ongoing story lines and character development while also maintaining a lot of the fun, goofy elements. You got good stories that could balance serious themes with more light-hearted moments. A lot of modern Marvel comics, in contrast, are fixated on being dark and edgy. There’s a reason so many heroes die cheaply or turn evil. There’s a reason the good points of so many characters have been lost in a bid to make them darker. There may be an audience for that aesthetic, but I’m certainly not a part of it and it seems like I’m not the only one who feels that way.

So, those are the reasons that I turned away from Marvel. And they probably hold true for a lot of other people as well. So, David Gabriel, maybe instead of blaming the levels of diversity you should focus your efforts on helping the company “get good” as the Internet would say. 

February Bonus Review: DC vs Marvel Comics

Anyone who’s familiar with western comics knows Marvel and DC. They’re the big two. The ones with extended cinematic universes and adaptations of widely varying quality. Comic fans have long debated which characters should fight and who would win. In 1996 the companies themselves decided to come together for a crossover that would explore those very questions in a mini-series written by Ron Marz & Peter David that ran for four issues. So, is it everything that comic fans hoped for? The back of the trade promises the showdown of the century. So, let’s take a look. 

dc-vs-marvel.jpg

Story:

The walls that separate universes are coming undone. Several heroes and villains are finding themselves transported elsewhere. Spidey appears in Gotham. The Juggernaut finds himself in Metropolis. Tim Drake finds himself right in the X-mansion and those are just a few examples. Everyone wonders what’s happening. The answer comes fairly quickly, two brothers are responsible for creating the universes and, after losing their consciousness from a climactic battle that destroyed everything, they’ve remembered everything and become aware of one another. They decide that instead of fighting directly and letting everything end in the cross fire, they’ll select champions from their own universes. The universe that wins gets to live. And that’s how the battle between these two universes is joined. 

Let’s talk about the writing flaws. The first is that a lot of the battles seem more like popularity contests than an actual examination of who would win given the powers and skills of the combatants. To go into some examples, Wolverine beats Lobo in a straight out brawl. And, as much as I like Wolverine’s character when he’s written by Chris Claremont, Larry Hama and several others, including Peter David. Lobo’s whole shtick is that he’s over-powered and over the top. The bloke can go toe to toe with the Justice League in its entirety. Wolverine is not that strong by half. You get the same thing with Storm against Wonder Woman. You’ve got a woman who’s effectively a Goddess against a lady who can control the weather. And somehow Storm wins with a couple lightning bolts even though Wondey should be able to stand up to far worse without a problem. As much as I love Strom, that’s nonsense. We’ve also got Batman against Captain America. A fight between two experts at hand to hand combat. Two tactical geniuses. With one having a measurable advantage in terms of strength, stamina and speed. And yet the one with the disadvantage wins and in a very lazy way. Which is the general problem with these fights. They can’t even give a conceivable explanation for why the less powerful combatant wins. At least the Spidey and Robin fights show you some cleverness on their part that lets them win. The Aquaman vs. Namor fight is also very lazy. This is a fight that could have gone either way, given how evenly matched they are. But we get bullshit involving a whale jumping out of the water and belly flopping onto someone standing on land. That is really stupid. Is the whale supposed to have super powers? 

There’s also a lot of bluster about these heroes working together, learning from one another and we see very little of that. The series really could have benefited from some extra length to let us see these actual interactions in a more substantial way than a few panels. 

With that being said, I do like the idea of the characters being put against one another by cosmic forces outside of their control. It certainly beats having there be some misunderstanding to clear up or having them all get tricked by some villains so that they can halt their battle and come together later. I also do rather like the big climax. 

Characters:

I’ll give the mini-series some credit here. They use a lot of characters and they’re pretty good at giving them a sense of personality that meshes with their regular characterisation. They aren’t deeply complex and I suspect the aftermath of these events was never dealt with in the comics proper. I don’t remember hearing anything about it in them, any way. But the characters are in character and I think that’s the best you can really expect from an event like this. The worst thing I can say about it is that the “romantic tension” betwixt Tim and Jubilation is really forced. 

Art:

So, we get artwork by Dan Jurgens & Josef Rubinstein. Overall, it looks really nice. There are some good action sequences in the story. They could have certainly benefited from being longer since most of them are over in two or three pages, but what we do get is pretty nicely done, mostly. The character art is dynamic with some really good designs for the Amalgam portion and the colourists did a really good job. There are occasional moments of minor fail. There are a couple panels with Bane where it looks like he was drawn without a top and it was lazily added in by the colourist later. There’s an original character called Access who’s drawn a bit inconsistently. All in all, though, the art fails are relatively minor and rare. 

Final Thoughts:

So, that’s DC vs. Marvel. Is it “the showdown of the century?” Not really. The writing can be lazy. Particularly when it comes to explaining how certain characters manage to win their bouts. The concept is a good one, but it’s not explored all that thoroughly and, when it comes right down to it, the actual bouts are too short for that particular accolade. That being said, it is fairly entertaining and there are things to like about it. In the end, it’s a pretty average read. My final rating is a 5/10. Have any ideas for what March’s bonus review should be? Leave them in the comments. Until then, expect the Wednesday anime reviews to continue as scheduled.