Salvatore Pane

Tag: DC

Here’s a Comic Book I Read in 1996: Spectacular Spider-Man #241 In Which Spider-Man Grieves His Daughter’s Death

At AWP, I somehow ended up explaining Mary Jane’s (of Spider-Man fame) miscarriage to Amber Sparks, her husband and Lauren Becker. I don’t know why this one particular issue has stayed with me so much over the years (especially considering that I’ve probably read hundreds, or more likely, thousands of other issues) in the interim. But I thought I might talk about it, and that maybe this could be a regular thing. That maybe occasionally I’ll dig through the tupperware container under my bed that has all my comics from the ’90s and reread one, then post some thoughts. Because, for the most part, the ’90s was pretty fucking awful.

The Spectacular Spider-Man #241 written by J.M. DeMatteis with art from Luke Ross.


The first thing that surprised me while rereading is that DeMatteis and Ross are names I’m familiar with now. Luke Ross is a phenomenal penciler and I loved his work on Captain America with Ed Brubaker. And DeMatteis is a classic scribe who recently completed a run on Booster Gold, one of my favorite DC characters.  I’m always surprised to go back to my ’90s comics and realize I was reading stuff by legends like Mark Waid or John Romita Jr., because at the time, I literally thought Stan Lee wrote all the comics and even wrote him a letter asking why the Clone Saga was so tough on old Spidey.

Ok. Some background on the issue. #241 takes place immediately after a multi-year storyline in which Peter Parker was replaced with a clone that culminated with said clone’s death and the miscarriage of Pete and MJ’s baby. There is a ton of good info on this whole debacle on the web, so I won’t go into detail, but if you’re interested, check this out.

#241 opens an undetermined amount of time after the miscarriage. At that time, editorial wanted to move as far away from the moroseness of the clone saga and the miscarriage as humanly possible, so DeMatteis had essentially one issue to sum up Pete and MJ’s feelings on a trauma far more terrifying than any of the over-the-top villains that shuffle in and out of the book on a monthly basis. So what we get here are three stories. The most typical is the Chameleon storyline. Superhero comics are eternally stuck in Act II and must always be paving the way for future stories. So a third of the page count is dedicated to setting up the return of the Chameleon which will pay off in future storylines.

But it’s the other two that are really noteworthy. This isn’t a nuanced look at loss, but it is pretty complex for a comic that at the time was aimed at 12-year-olds. I even remember my comic shop guy, at the wonderful Comics on the Green in Scranton, suggesting I buy something a little more fun. DeMatteis chooses to give us Spider-Man and Mary Jane’s separate reactions to the miscarriage before bringing them together. Spidey reacts in a way you might expect. He swings around the city trying to knock the cobwebs loose. At the time, he had only just returned from retirement in Portland where he expected to become a family man, leaving the web slinging to his now dead clone. But what’s really impressive are the Mary Jane scenes. Tucked between the Chameleon lamenting his obsession with Kraven the Hunter and bizarre Crash Bandicoot ads is a really quiet scene between MJ and her Aunt Anna. Mary Jane has just emptied her daughter’s room and delivers a kind of monologue which is pretty heartfelt and just shockingly mature.

The story weaves in and out of the Spider-Man/Chameleon scenes, but culminates with something much more emotional and earnest. Peter and MJ discuss moving away to be free of their memories before going to bed. But Pete can’t sleep, and in the middle of the night, puts his Spidey gear on and decides to swing around the city a bit to tire him out. But before he leaves, MJ wakes up and asks to go with him, a callback to simpler days in their courtship when Spider-Man would rescue MJ from more colorful foes like the Hobgoblin or Hammerhead or whoever. What follows is a really nicely rendered two-page, silent spread of the married couple swinging through Manhattan, at the end of which they embrace beneath a sunrise.

Look, I realize that the way Spectacular Spider-Man deals with a child’s death is reductive and on many levels, absolutely ludicrous. And I realize that this portion of Spider-Man lore is particularly maligned (for good reason), and that the daughter is never, ever mentioned in contemporary stories. But I have to give credit for DeMatteis and Ross for even attempting to tackle this subject in a serious manner. For starters, they were written into this hole and had to find a way to dig the character out. And so many times, comics deal with stuff like this by using clones or magic or alternate realities. But here’s a somber, serious take, or at least one as somber as you can get in a 1990’s superhero comic book. I guess I’m not saying you should track down this issue or these older storylines, but you should know they existed, that superhero comics and comics in general have the capacity of dealing with issues more important than which spandex-wearing dude can win in a fight.

Yeah, this ad makes total sense conceptually for this issue.

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Comics Roundup XI: Remember the Spider

The last time I did a comics roundup was back in September. September! Oh, how the world has changed. O lost!

Basically, I’ve just been in a bit of a comics rut. I’m down to only a few superhero books a month (mostly from the Batman and Spider-Man families) and a ton of indies that I’ve ranted about too many times. Irredeemable. Sweet Tooth. The Walking Dead. American Vampire. And I only want to do these when I have new books to talk about.  But luckily, after five full months, I finally have enough new titles to get excited about to share with you people.

What you want me to do? Keep your shit the hardest.

1. Chew written by John Layman with art from Rob Guillory

This is the surprise of last year for me. Chew launched with a lot of hype, but the first issue (included in black and white in the back of an issue of The Walking Dead) didn’t capture my attention in the way I’d hoped. Recently, I picked up the first volume and realized just how stupid I’d been. For one thing, the coloring really adds a lot, and the way Layman has structured this series has to be seen to be believed.

Background: Chew‘s about a world where in the wake of a bird flu pandemic all chicken is banned. That leads to a hyper militant version of the FDA who cracks down on all black market chicken dealers. Our protagonist is Tony Chu, a mysterious FDA agent with the ability to see the past of anything he eats. For example, if he comes across a dead body, he can take a bite and learn how it died.

That’s a pretty wacky concept, but Layman just layers more and more with each new issue. Aliens. Vampires. Conspiracy. If you like longterm mysteries like Morning Glories but want something a little lighter, go with Chew. It’s only three volumes deep, so you can catch up fairly quickly. And the art by Guillory? Future Big 2 superstar.

2. Detective Comics #871 written by Scott Snyder with art from Jock

I think I’ve talked about how much I like Scott Snyder’s comics and prose work about a million times on this blog, BUT NOW HE HAS THE REIGNS TO MOTHERFUCKING DETECTIVE COMICS!!! This is huge, guys. Huge. A lit fiction guy handling Detective?! And it’s good! Really good.

Right now, the Batman franchise is in kind of an odd place. Living legend Grant Morrison is taking Bruce to all kinds of wacky heights in Batman Incorporated (which is also really great), but Scott Snyder’s taking the more grounded approach with his series about Dick Grayson (also Batman now; long story) in Gotham. This one’s gritty. This one’s dark. This one takes cues from Dark Knight Returns and The Killing Joke. And Jock is delivering a master’s course in storytelling and panel construction.

Buy it. Love it.

3. Infinite Vacation written by Nick Spencer with art from Christian Ward

Nick Spencer is another rising star I’m keeping my eye on. Morning Glories is awesome. Thunder Agents is pretty good. I’m looking forward to his War Machine run. And Infinite Vacation is just utterly spectacular.

IV has one of the better indie concepts I’ve seen in some time. It follows Mark, an everyman cubicle monkey who lives in a world where people can buy into other realities through an app in their phones. Want to see what would have happened if you went to art school instead of business? Buy in. Want to see what happened if you went left instead of right? Buy in. But the central mystery involves a murderer who is killing all of the various Marks across the different realities. An intriguing first issue. Incredibly original.

Even if I didn’t love the story, Christian Ward’s pencils would be enough to lure me in each month. Seriously. This guy’s art is spectacular. The way he uses lines around characters is impressive and the coloring is just so vibrant and beautiful. And best of all? There’s only one issue out so far. So if you’re one of those people who can’t get into Spider-Man because there’s 600 issues (shame on you) go buy Infinite Vacation #1.

#4. Iron Man #500 written by Matt Fraction with art from Salvador Larocca, Kano, Nathan Fox and  Carmine Di Giandomenico

I love future issues in superhero comics. It frees up writers and artists to really push the boundaries when they know they don’t eventually have to return to the status quo after x however many issues. Iron Man #500 isn’t up there with Old Man Logan, but it’s a really good one-and-done tale that’s highly relevant to Matt Fraction’s ongoing Iron Man epic which has truly been great (if you haven’t read the 12 part World’s Most Wanted, what the fuck is wrong with you?).

So this issue, handled by an all-star lineup of artists, deals with Iron Man and Peter Parker trying to figure out why Tony built some type of super weapon during a period of time which has now been erased from his memory (don’t ask; move on). This storyline is interspersed with the future where the Mandarin has enslaved the world using Iron Man’s doomsday weapon. Meanwhile, the resistance is led by Tony’s son and daughter.

This is superhero comics at its biggest and brightest. Iron Man #500 is loud and brash and utterly budget-less. Fraction aims for the stars, and although this isn’t a perfect issue, it is a great jumping on point for Tony Stark fans.

#5. Fables vol. 4 written by Bill Willingham with art from Mark Buckingham, Craig Hamilton and P. Craig Russell

Ok. I’m totally cheating here. I know I wrote about Fables last time, but that’s when I had only read a few issues. That’s before I knew the truth: that Fables is a modern comics masterpiece.

I just finished the fifth volume last week, and I am stunned, utterly STUNNED by just how amazing this comic is. I don’t even like fairy tales, but Willingham has actually made me really care about the Big Bad Wolf, Snow White, and Little Boy Blue. I can’t even believe that’s possible, but this is a big, modern, urban fantasy epic that can stand toe-to-toe with any other beloved run in comics.

Fables kind of starts a little on the slow side, focusing on a murder mystery that’s a tad predictable, yet charming enough. But after volume one, it’s all balls to the wall awesomeness. You want World War II? You got it. Want an invasion of wooden gangsters on Manhattan? Done. How about a Marxist rebellion of non-humanoid creatures who overthrow the shackles of their Fable oppressors? Hell yeah (and it’s led by Goldilocks and the three bears).

Fables is fucking awesome. Case closed.

Writing Comics and Other Alternative Careers for Literary Writers

Most people know I’m a fan of Scott Snyder. I’ve blogged about two of his comic book series, the oft-praised American Vampire co-written by Stephen King and the less appreciated Iron Man: Noir for Marvel. But I’ve also written about his short story collection, the excellent Voodoo Heart published by the good folks at Dial Press. The reason I became aware of Scott and his work is Cathy Day. During one of her classes maybe a year ago, we got to talking about career aspirations, and somehow we got on the subject of how one day I’d like to support myself financially (and also, artistically) through mainstream superhero work while also focusing on my literary fiction endeavors, namely short stories and novels. She put me in touch with Scott via Facebook and after a brief conversation, I sought out his story collection. A few months later, American Vampire came out which I liked almost as much as Voodoo Heart.

The reason I bring this up is because we’re close to San Diego Comic-Con which means a lot of the big comic-related news is going to come out now as to not be overshadowed by all the movie buzz. One of the biggest stories to break today? Scott Snyder signed an exclusive contract with DC Comics and will write a year-long run on Detective Comics (one of the oldest and most prestigious Batman books on the racks).  What does this mean? Scott gets a salary and is no longer a freelance writer for DC. Scott can’t write for Marvel. Scott gets health benefits (I think).

What else does this mean? It means Scott might not have to teach college. I don’t know any more than what’s in the above interview, but from what I’ve researched independently over the years, it would seem that contracted comic book writers easily make more than adjunct teachers. So many writers are pushed into teaching writing workshops after getting the MFA, and for many (potentially myself), it’s really what they love. But what few people within MFA programs talk about are the alternative careers. And by alternative, I don’t just mean desk jobs. I mean jobs that fulfill creatively in the same way teaching writing does (I’m not saying desk jobs are inherently uncreative). Obviously, Scott Snyder believes that writing comics is one of these alternatives, a job that allows writers to be compensated for doing what they love. Obviously^2, I agree with him. But what I’m curious about are other responses. Do alternatives to teaching exist for working writers in the 21st century? And if so, what are they? If not, why the hell not?

Bi-Weekly Friday Comics Roundup VI: Fozzie Bear Has a Fucked Up Mustache

DC and Marvel have recently relaunched their lines into all new, all different positive directions (Brightest Day and The Heroic Age respectively). What this means is that much of the continuity baggage that’s been lugged around since Identity Crisis and House of M is being momentarily shifted to the side to focus on slightly more reader accessible tales (more so in Marvel’s case than DC). So now is definitely the time to jump on board if you’re curious about superhero comics but feel uncomfortable about diving into part 365 of a never ending storyline.

1. Green Lantern #54 written by Geoff Johns with art from Doug Mahnke

Dex-Starr was once an ordinary space kitten. Then one day, he was summoned into the Red Lantern Corps due to the unusual amount of rage in his heart. Now he lives on Earth with a giant Red Lantern ogre and murders gang members in the underground subway systems of New York City. His powers include acidic blood, super strength, and flight. Notice how he wears his Red Lantern power ring on his tail. You should now be convinced to start buying Green Lantern.

2. Muppet Sherlock Holmes by Unknown

I couldn’t really find any information on this project. The wonderful BOOM Studios just announced it, but they’ve yet to discuss the launch date or the writer or artist on board. I couldn’t care less. Look at Fozzie’s mustache! Where’s that thing growing from? Out of his fur? I’ll be picking this up for sure, and the only mystery I care about is the Case of the Bizarre Facial Hair.

3. Secret Avengers # 1 written by Ed Brubaker with art from Mike Deodato

There’s been a lot of hooplah about the relaunch of the various Avengers titles, and the one that’s got me the most excited is Secret Avengers by the superstar dream team of Brubaker and Deodato. Brubaker is known for his classic, gritty books like Captain America and Criminal, and Deodato’s page layouts in Warren Ellis’ Thunderbolts and Bendis’ Dark Avengers have been phenomenal. Pairing the two is a stroke of genius and any team lineup that includes War Machine, Beast, and my favorite Marvel character created this decade (Robert Kirkman’s Irredeemable Ant-Man) is an obvious must read.

4. Dong Xoai, Vietnam 1965 written and drawn by Joe Kubert

Dong Xoai is the spiritual successor to Yossel, Joe Kubert’s ambitious reimagining of a WWII-era Jewish ghetto uprising. What links the two together is the art style. Kubert, an industry pro still working well into his 80’s, eschews colors and inks and draws these books in a sketchy, chaotic way aimed at reflecting the madness of war. Dong Xoai is his latest to be drawn in this style and focuses on American advisers during the early days of the Vietnam conflict before the fighting intensified into a full blown war.

5. Deadpool #23 written by Daniel Way with art from Paco Medina

Deadpool is the meta superhero for the 21st century. He’s the only character in the Marvel Universe who knows he exists in a comic book and will frequtnly break the fourth wall to address the reader. Recently, when he ran into Spider-Man, he ended the meeting by telling ol’ webhead that he’d see him later that month in Amazing Spider-Man #613. Daniel Way’s Deadpool is an absolute delight. It’s filled with ridiculous violence that tops any Warner Brothers cartoon and jokes that are actually funny. #23 is the start of a new arc and a perfect jumping on point about Deadpool piloting a robot in Las Vegas and fighting villains attempting to rob casinos. Check it out.