Great Moments In Comic Book History: The Debut of Man-Wolf in Amazing Spider-Man


As a super hero, Spider-Man never got any respect.

From the beginning of his costumed career, Spider-Man was often misunderstood.  Perhaps because of his early days as a professional wrestler, he was often dismissed as being an immature attention seeker.  Unfortunately, when you combine that with Peter Parker’s legendary lack of luck, bad things are going to happen.  Especially during the early run of Amazing Spider-Man, being close to Peter Parker meant that there was a good chance that you would end up dead and Spider-Man would somehow be blamed for your death.  Leading the charge would always be J. Jonah Jameson, the bombastic editor of The Daily Bugle.

At the start of Amazing Spider-Man #124, Spider-Man is again finding himself being blamed for two deaths.  This time, though, it’s personal.  Spider-Man is still coming to grips with the death of his first love, Gwen Stacy.  Meanwhile, both the police and Jameson suspect that Spider-Man is also to blame for the death of businessman Norman Osborne.  (What they didn’t know, however, was that Norman had actually been terrorizing the city as the Green Goblin and, as was revealed decades later, Norman wasn’t really dead.)  While Peter Parker struggles to get back into rhythm of everyday life, Jameson demands that Spider-Man be brought to justice.

However, Jonah has a bigger problem to worry about.  His son, John, has returned home.  John is an astronaut and, up until this issue, was always portrayed as being everything that Peter wasn’t.  While Peter was struggling to pay the bills and keep Aunt May from being evicted, John was going to the moon and returning a national hero.  John, however, has brought back something from his mission.  The moon rock that John wears around his neck as a necklace causes John to turn into the Man-Wolf, a werewolf who is full of rage at John’s father, J. Jonah Jameson.  Can Spider-Man save the man who has dedicated his life to making him miserable?

Spider-Man always had a rich and well-drawn supporting cast, with characters like Mary Jane Watson, Flash Thompson, Liz Allan, and Harry Osborne becoming almost as well-known as the webslinger himself.  No character, though, was as beloved and hated as J. Jonah Jameson.  For all of his bluster, Jonah was frequently portrayed as being not evil but misguided.  He may have been too stubborn to admit that Spider-Man was not a menace but Jonah was often portrayed as having his own brand of integrity.  Usually, he tried to do the right thing.  The Man-Wolf saga put Jonah’s integrity to the test.  After years of accusing every super hero in New York of being a menace, how would Jonah react when the menace was his own son?

These two issues also provide a turning point in Spider-Man’s character.  Despite being haunted by Gwen’s death, Peter realizes that he cannot shut himself off from the world.  And, despite his justifiable anger at Jonah Jameson, Spider-Man still saves his life and protects his son because he know that’s what a hero does.

This saga ends with John Jameson temporarily cured and freed of the curse.  Of course, it wouldn’t last.  Man-Wolf would return, sometimes as a hero and sometimes as a menace.  And Spider-Man would be there to meet him.

Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 1 #124 (September, 1973)

“The Mark of the Man-Wolf”

Writer:Gerry Conway
Inker:John Romita Sr., Tony Mortellaro
Colorist:Dave Hunt
Letterer:Art Simek
Penciler:Gil Kane

Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 1 #125 (October, 1973)

“The Man-Wolf Strikes Again”

Writer:Gerry Conway
Inker:Tony Mortellaro, John Romita Sr.
Colorist:Dave Hunt
Letterer:Art Simek
Penciler:Ross Andru

Previous Great Moments In Comic Book History:

  1. Winchester Before Winchester: Swamp Thing Vol. 2 #45 “Ghost Dance” 
  2. The Avengers Appear on David Letterman
  3. Crisis on Campus
  4. “Even in Death”

Great Moments In Comic Book History: “Even in Death…”


The Uncanny X-Men #144 finds Scott Summers (better known as Cyclops, the occasional leader of the X-Men) working on a fishing boat in the Florida Everglades.  Scott’s new boss, Lee Forrester, is obviously interested in him but Scott is still mourning Jean Grey.  It’s been months since Jean, consumed by the Dark Phoenix, chose to protect the universe by destroying herself.  Scott has taken a leave of absence from the X-Men to grieve and, as they used to say back in the day, find himself.

When the fear-inducing demon D’Spayre shows up, it not only drives Lee’s father to suicide but it also forces Scott to deal with his deepest fears.  Scott hallucinates the plane crash that led to him and his brother being separated from their parents.  He visualizes the X-Men dead, having been killed by Sentinels.  And finally, in the issue’s most famous scene, he finds himself walking down a church aisle with Jean.

As they walk down the aisle, Jean’s costume changes to reflect all of the different roles that she played as member of the X-Men.  She goes from being in her underwear to being in her green Ms. Marvel costume to being the Phoenix to being the Hellfire Club’s Black Queen to finally being the Dark Phoenix.  When they reach the minister, Jean is dressed as a bride.  When the minister tells Scott that he may kiss the bride, Jean suddenly reaches up and lifts Scott’s visor.  A blast a red energy brings the wedding to an abrupt end.

Eventually, Scott teams up with the Man-Thing (who is Marvel’s version of Swamp Thing) and is able to easily defeat D’Spayre.  Since all you have to do to make D’Spayre go away is refuse to believe what he’s showing you, he is not one of Marvel’s most intimidating villains.  Still, Scott’s church hallucination provides not only a perfect coda for the Dark Phoenix saga but it also shows a comic book character dealing with depression.  That’s an emotion that, until Chris Claremont started writing the X-Men, super heroes rarely had to deal with for more than an issue or two.  Even Spider-Man, with all of his problems and guilt, always kept his sense of humor.  This issue of the X-Men finds Scott deeply mired in his grief.  Even after Scott defeats D’Spayre, the sadness remains but he swears to himself that will not surrender to it.

Of course, the impact of this issue is lessened by the fact that Marvel would later reveal that the Dark Phoenix who sacrificed herself was just an energy force that took on Jean’s memories and personality while the real Jean remained in suspended animation at the bottom of Jamaica Bay.  X-Men #144 is still a good issue and a good example of Chris Claremont’s ability to bring out the humanity in even those with super powers.

Plus, we learn how Cyclops plays pool

The Uncanny X-Men #144 (April, 1981)

“Even in Death”

  • Writer: Chris Claremont
  • Guest Penciler: Brent Anderson
  • Inker: Josef Rubenstein
  • Letterer: Tom Orzechowski
  • Colorist: Glynis Wein
  • Editor: Louise Jones
  • Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

Previous Great Moments In Comic Book History:

  1. Winchester Before Winchester: Swamp Thing Vol. 2 #45 “Ghost Dance” 
  2. The Avengers Appear on David Letterman
  3. Crisis on Campus

Great Moments In Comic Book History: Crisis on Campus


This has always been one of my favorite Spider-Man covers.  Credit for it goes to John Romita, Sr.

This issue of The Amazing Spider-Man came out in 1969, at the height of the student protests that rocked campuses across America.  Since Spider-Man was a student at Empire State University at the time, it makes sense that he would eventually be drawn into the protests.  In typical Marvel fashion, Spider-Man ended up supporting both the protesters and the police who later busted them.  Spider-Man felt the protesters had a right to protest but that the police were also necessary to maintain the peace.  Of course, in the end, the Kingpin would use the distraction of the protests to steal an ancient tablet, leaving the students to take the blame.

This cover perfectly captured the ambiguous place of both Spider-Man and Marvel in the counter culture.  Spider-Man may appear to be with the protesters but it’s also not a coincidence that he’s swinging above them, indicating that Spider-Man was both a part of the counterculture and yet above it all at the same time.  At a time of intense national polarization, Marvel manged to pull off the balancing act of supporting both sides at the same time.

Is Spider-Man a part of the protest or is he the one being protested?  It all depends on what you want to see.

The Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 1 #68 (January, 1969)

“Crisis On Campus!”

  • Writer: Stan Lee
  • Penciler: John Romita Sr. and Jim Mooney
  • Inker: Jim Mooney
  • Letterer: Sam Rosen
  • Editor: Stan Lee
  • Cover Artist: John Romita, Sr.

Previous Great Moments In Comic Book History:

  1. Winchester Before Winchester: Swamp Thing Vol. 2 #45 “Ghost Dance” 
  2. The Avengers Appear on David Letterman

Great Moments In Comic Book History: The Avengers Appear On David Letterman


Remember that episode of Late Night with David Letterman with the Avengers?

It happened in 1984 and, as you can see, even Paul Shaffer came down with a case of Avengers fever.

As you can see below, The Avengers didn’t send their top members to meet with Dave.  Back in 1984, the Avengers had over a dozen members but Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor were all presumably busy so Dave had to make due with Hawkeye, Wonder Man, and The Beast.  At least Black Panther and Black Widow tagged along.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a day in the life of the Avengers if a wannabe super villain didn’t show up and try to take control of the show.  This time, it was a real idiot named Fabian Stankowicz.  Fabian was always trying to make a name for himself as a super villain but he was always easily defeated by The Avengers.  This time, he was actually defeated by none other than David Letterman himself!

Atta boy, Dave!

Avengers Vol. 1 #239 (January, 1984)

“Late Night of the Super Stars”

  • Writer: Roger Stern
  • Penciler: Al Milgrom
  • Inker: Joe Sinnott
  • Colourist: Christie Scheele
  • Letterer: Jim Novak
  • Editor: Michael Carlin

Previous Great Moments In Comic Book History:

  1. Winchester Before Winchester: Swamp Thing Vol. 2 #45 “Ghost Dance” 

“Whatever it takes, I know I can make it through” Here’s the new trailer for Avengers: Endgame!


So, I just watched the latest trailer for Avengers: Endgame.  Here are a few of my initial thoughts:

First off, people always make jokes about how, while Thor’s a God and Captain America is basically 100 years old but still looks like Chris Evans, Jeremy Renner pretty much only brings a bow and arrow to the fight.  But you know what?  I was really happy to see Renner return, even if he does have a questionable haircut.  And I was even more happy to see that, after being underused in the previous Avengers film, it looks like Scarlett Johannson has got a decent role.

Plus, for at least some of the film, Scarlett’s a redhead again!

I loved the trailer’s use of black-and-white.  It added a sense of tragic grandeur to the whole thing.

I’m still traumatized by the end of the Infinity Wars.  Yeah, I know that everyone will probably be resurrected and that there’s no way they’d ever kill off Spider-Man for real but seriously, that was hella depressing!  “Mr. Stark, I don’t feel so good….” AGCK!

Captain Marvel shows up at the end and gets Thor’s seal of approval.  One wonder if they waited to see this weekend’s box office numbers before deciding to include that scene at the end.

Speaking of which — where’s my review of Captain Marvel?  I saw it earlier this week.  I’ll be posting it soon.

It’s hard not to notice that Thanos wasn’t in this trailer.  Of course, we did see him in the previous teaser.

Finally, I love the fact that Avengers: Endgame and Degrassi share the same tag line.  “Whatever it takes!”

Here’s the latest trailer for Avengers: Endgame!

 

 

Film Review: Venom (dir. by Ruben Fleischer)


VenomPosterAbout 20 years ago, a friend and I walked out of a movie theatre for some pizza. On the way to the Pizzeria, I raved about the movie we just watched.  The effects were awesome, and the main character was bad ass. My friend didn’t share the same sentiment, and over the dinner, he went on to explain everything that was wrong with the film. Bad CGI (for its time), 2 Dimensional Characters, and a pretty simplistic plot. By the end of my dinner, all of my joy was sucked away. I wanted to believe, deep down that I walked into a quality production, but there was so much room for improvement.

That film was Mark Dippe’s Spawn.

I mention this because after seeing Ruben Fleischer’s Venom, Spawn was the first film that came to mind. That makes sense, given that a lot of Venom’s genesis is from artist Todd McFarlane, who also created Spawn (and gave Spider-Man some of the best webbing I’ve ever known). There are parts of Venom I truly enjoyed, and I can say that there isn’t much of a problem with the acting on anyone’s side.  However, the levels of boredom in the film’s first hour will have you wanting to bring in a highly caffeinated drink to sip on, just to stay awake. The lady next to me yawned, which made me yawn and it just cycled through the audience. The good sequences are already visible in the trailers.

Here’s a clip of Venom from the Ultimate Spider-Man Video Game (easily recommended) to give you a rough idea of how he is.

From a plot standpoint, Venom does a good job in giving us a story for how Eddie Brock and his Symbiote meet without factoring in Spider-Man at all. Comic readers remember the Secret Wars, where Spider-Man lost his suit and picked up a symbiote replacement. When the Symbiote proved dangerous, Peter Parker got rid of it and it fell into the hands of his former Daily Bugle nemesis, Eddie Brock. Together, they formed Venom, a beast with all of Spider-Man’s powers and Brock’s hatred of Parker. Venom plagued Spider-Man, who was incredibly dangerous because he was one of the few villains that didn’t set of Parker’s Spidey Sense. He could sneak up on him at any time, assume the likenesses of other people, and Parker would never see him coming.

The Sony Spider-Man series changed this up in Spider-Man 3, replacing the Secret Wars with more of a Blob-like story. Symbiote crashes to Earth, finds Parker. Parker decides to rip it off and it finds Brock.  In this new version of Venom, symbiotes already exist in space, and a corporation lead by Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed) are trying to bring them to Earth to intermingle with humans. When investigative reporter Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) stumbles on the corporation’s evil plans, he accidentally joins with a symbiote and finds himself with a near insatiable hunger for the living.

You have the best 2 in 1 team up since Leigh Wannell’s Upgrade. I would not be opposed to a sequel for this if they tightened up the writing. Maybe that’s my problem. Both Upgrade and Venom are similar, but only one had an interesting character that looked like Tom Hardy (sorry, but Logan Marshall-Green does bear a resemblance).

Ruben Fleischer’s (Zombieland, Gangster Squad) direction is okay here. With Cinematographer Matthew Libatique (Iron Man, Black Swan) at his side, Venom doesn’t have many problems there. With the exception of the final confrontation, the shots aren’t too blurry or hard to track when the action starts. Even though Venom is a visibly dark character, I couldn’t complain that scenes weren’t well-lit.

For me, the problem with Venom is that at an hour and 52 minutes, it feels like the first hour is just waiting for that symbiosis to occur. Eddie Brock doesn’t really become interesting until Venom appears (also voiced by Hardy), and that’s a rough thing to say, given the cast involved. We’ve both seen Hardy, Ahmed and Michelle Williams in better roles, but they really aren’t given any real meat here. The dialog is a little shaky in some places. Hardy pushes himself hard here, and you see how disjointed Brock gets as he adjusts to the changes. Brock as a character, however, doesn’t really have a lot going for him. Neither did Peter Parker or maybe even Steve Rogers, but there were elements about who they were that helped you to appreciate who they be became as superheroes.  Steve Rogers was a weakling with a good spirit, which made him a better Captain America. Peter Parker was a chemical whiz kid and came up with his own web-fluid. Brock just…well, reports. There’s a lot of boredom in that first hour. The best scenes are the interactions between Venom and Brock, full of cute banter. It’s like having an unwelcome guest wanting to meet your parents. It just took so long to get to that point. When it does, however, the movie improves. They do manage to get a lot right about what Venom can do.

The CGI in Venom is definitely good in some places. It stands as the best argument for another remake of The Blob. The symbiotes are creepy in their design and motion, slithering up walls and making their way through vents. Venom, in all it’s glory, is quite a sight to behold, towering over humans. It goes a little overboard over the last 3rd of the film. I can’t say I knew for sure what it was I was looking at, but that’s to be expected with some superhero films.

If you see the film, stay for the mid-credits scene, which teases a future character. Also stay for a near 5 minute sneak peek into Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse.

Overall, if you feel you have to see it in a theatre, by all means, do so. If you can wait for it to come out on Digital, that may be the best route.

In Memory Of Steve Ditko


Self-Portrait of Steve Ditko

To many of us longtime comic book fans, Steve Ditko was an enigma.

We knew that, as the original artist on The Amazing Spider-Man and as the creator of Doctor Strange, Steve Ditko was responsible for much of Marvel’s early success.  Though he would never make a cameo appearance in an MCU film and the mainstream media will probably always continue to act as if Stan Lee is solely responsible for every character in the Marvel Universe, true fans know that, without Steve Ditko, Benedict Cumberbatch would never have cast as spells as Doctor Strange and Tom Holland would never have swung through New York as everyone’s favorite web slinger.

We all knew of Steve Ditko’s talent but the man himself remained a mystery.  He rarely gave interviews or made public appearances, saying that he preferred to let his work speak for itself.  And what work it was!  With Spider-Man, Ditko’s art captured not just the excitement of fighting criminals and saving the world but also the angst and anxiety of being young and overburdened.  With Doctor Strange, Ditko brought magic, both literally and figuratively, to the Marvel Universe.  Filling the pages with surrealistic images and out-of-this-world creations, Ditko kept Marvel relevant even as youth culture made the transition from the optimism of the Kennedy era to the drug-influenced psychedelia of the late 1960s.

Ditko left Marvel in 1966.  The exact story of his departure are unknown.  Perhaps, as a committed and outspoken Objectivist, Ditko chafed at the editorial restrictions that Marvel put on his work.  While Stan Lee wanted to sell comics, Steve Ditko wanted to reach minds.  After leaving Marvel, Ditko worked for several different companies, including Charlton and DC.  (He even returned to Marvel in 1979 and regularly contributed freelance work to the company.)  The best-known of his later creations was Mr. A, a reporter-turned-masked-vigilante who dispensed of criminals with uncompromising justice.

Despite his reputation for eccentricity, most people who worked with him described Ditko as being personable and cheerful.  According to Charlton’s Frank McLaughlin, “He was a very happy-go-lucky guy with a great sense of humor at that time, and always supplied the [female] color separators with candy and other little gifts.”

On June 29th, Steve Ditko was found dead in his New York apartment.  Rest in peace, Mr. Ditko.  Thank you for sharing your imagination with us.

From The Amazing Spider-Man #33:

In Strange Tales, Ditko introduced my favorite of all of Marvel’s “cosmic” entities, Eternity:

And finally, the character who may have been closest to Ditko’s worldview, Mr. A: