EP0083: Amazing Spider-man: Renew Your Vows, Volume 3, Shadow/Batman, Patsy Walker: Hellcat, Nightwing, Volume 5

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It’s a brand new format as discuss four different comics:

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Brace for a brand new format as we discuss not one but four different trade paperbacks: Spider-Man, Batman, the Shadow, Patsy Walker and Nightwing. We’ll talk about them all straight ahead.

Welcome to the Classy Comics Podcast where we search for the best comics in the universe. From Boise, Idaho here is your host, Adam Graham.

This is the start of a brand new format. We begin the series with doing two episodes a week, generally covering one book per episode – though there were a couple episodes where we did go ahead and extend it out, and do multiple episodes for a single book. So now we’re going to go through generally three to four different graphic novels/trade collections, and probably not go into detail as much so that we cover more books, and hopefully in a little bit less time. And we’ll only be doing one episode a week. So we’ll start out with Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows, Volume Three eight year later.

The Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows mini-series was a tie-in to the Secret Wars event and then it led to a series that was initially written by Spider-Man legend Jerry Conway, and with art by Ryan Stegman who took over the writing duties after Conway left. With Issue Thirteen Jody Houser took over the writing duties and it was decided to take the story of Peter Parker and Mary Jane Parker, and their daughter Annie eight years ahead. And I think there a lot of good reasons to move this story to when she’s a teenager, just because there’s so much more you can write about with a teenager in a series as they’re facing so many choices about what direction they’re going to take in life. So, I think this definitely had potential.

There are two stories in this volume which collect Issues Thirteen through Eighteen of the series. First three Issue arc eight years later finds the family going for a day off at Coney Island when the Lizard attacks and they all change into their costumes. While Spidey and Mary Jane have the same costumes they did previously, Annie AKA Spiderling has got a new costume and it looks nice. It plays on the classic Spider-Man design but with a greater emphasis on the blue, with just a few red accents like the webbing across her chest is blue. So, I think it’s a good design. At any rate it turns out that the Lizard does have a reason for attacking, and that there are a bunch of people who are deformed or who would be identified as freaks who are imprisoned in the sewer, and so they have to fight to save them. It’s not a bad story but it’s also nothing special. There is one point in the story where Peter gives her a lecture about what it means to be a hero, and the type of decisions that heroes make and need to make, and the risk that they have to decide to take. That wouldn’t be out of place if she was just starting off, but she’s been doing this thing for eight years. So it doesn’t feel like a particularly believable interaction.

The second story is, ‘Fast Times at Midtown High’. Peter gets a job teaching at Annie’s high school – which is the same high school that Peter went to when he was a kid. Annie finds a couple of kids who have developed superpowers and lies to her dad about it, and decides that instead she’s going to train with them and train them to be superheroes. However, things get out of hand and she ends up needing some help from her parents. I like this story. It’s the type of thing that I imagined happening in this book once we got into Annie being a teenager, and this really does give us a little bit of a sense of her character. And you also get this feel of a teenager who is growing up, struggling for kind of her own sense of identity, wanting to have her own sense of place in the world, and even making some wrong choices in pursuit of that – but still being basically a good kid. And there are also some great moments with the kids that have gotten superpowers, and the interplay between them is really good.

So I really like this story, and even though the first one was kind of flat for me I’ll still give this book a rating of Somewhat Classy. It’s just great to read a current ongoing Spider-Man series with a Spider-Man who hasn’t made a deal with the devil, and I am enjoying the family and I’m looking forward to what happens in the next volume.

Next up we have a joint production from Dynamite and DC, ‘The Shadow/Batman’. In this book, much to his father chagrin, Damian Wayne is investigating a sinister conspiracy going on in New York which is the territory of the Shadow. And Damian, as well as eventually the Shadow and Batman, are led into the path of a conspiracy that involves Rha’s Al-Ghul teaming up with Shiwan Khan, a shadow villain and his Silent Seven, in a plot to take over the world. Now, this is an interesting story – I will admit that this is actually the second Batman-Shadow story, and I didn’t read the first one, so there are some thing that are from the previous book that are referenced that I’m not familiar with, but they do really make effort to make sure that you know what’s going on in just this volume. And apparently in this particular alternate world, the Shadow was one of Batman’s mentors, and that definitely makes sense given what Bruce Wayne did in going out and seeking mentors, and training in a wide variety of different arts and sciences in order to become the great crime fighter. So, if you lived in the same world as the Shadow it’s perfectly believable to go that route.

The Shadow in comics and often in novels really does tend to use guns quite a bit, but that’s not something Batman’s into, and he suggests some different tactics for dealing with Silent Seven – including using Wayne Enterprises financial position in order to wipe out the Silent Seven’s financial resources, to ruin their shell companies. And this seems to work but then it turns out that it doesn’t, and people start forgetting that the stock’s ever dropped, and the record starts disappearing. And this is out where the book really, for me, runs into quite a bit of trouble because it turns out that the Silent Seven is in the business of killing people and then bringing people back to life as slaves; and the people not even knowing that they’re slaves of the Silent Seven. And because of all the key infrastructure they control they can rewrite history and rewrite what has happened, and the people they have reanimated have no control over what they do. And in fact, at one point it’s even stated that Batman is dead and under control of the Silent Seven.

And the big problem with this book is that they massively overpower their villain to such a level that it’s not even believable that the Batman or the Shadow could triumph over them. And so therefore, the resolution we get to the story isn’t particularly satisfying nor does it make a whole lot of sense, given what they tried to establish before. And it wouldn’t hurt the story so much if that didn’t become such a centerpiece of ‘Ooo, we villains are so powerful and there’s nothing you can do’ and psychoanalyzing the heroes and psychoanalyzing the villains, and on and on. And it does end up on a little bit of an up note, but to me the book just isn’t satisfying and I would give it a rating of Not Classy.

Next up is Marvel’s Patsy Walker-Hellcat, and this book is from 2008. It has two separate stories in the trade. The first is from Marvel Comics Presents and it has Patsy Walker going out on a date, however, different iterations of her all start showing up and really confusing her romantic situation and her date, and there’s a bunch of magic going on. The story plays off the idea that Patsy Walker is such a longtime character with Marvel, that she was originally like in romance magazines, and then as Marvel stopped doing those they brought her into the superhero one and there was all sorts of versions of her – either things that different people wrote or the things that are supposed to be fantasies. It’s a bit confusing but OK on the first story.

The second story is a five-part mini-series and this is set in the Marvel Comics universe after the events of Civil War where they had the Fifty State Initiative by S.H.I.E.L.D. and she is sent out to cover Alaska. And, of course, with the great research they do for Alaska, they produce a story that involves her dealing with polar bears and an Eskimo shaman family seeking to reclaim their rebellious daughter and her going out to help them do it for some reason. “The State of Alaska thanks you for all your thorough research and your good job of portraying the State in a non-stereotypical way”. This story just didn’t really do a lot for me. I think they were trying to go for a fun, light-hearted feel, but it just kind of came off as confusing and a bit convoluted. I think there has to be a grounding for a character particularly if you’re going to use them in a shared universe with serious characters. With a few tweaks I could kind of see this as a sort of zany, kids, Teen Titans go-type story, but it has a few gray moments and just weird stuff that wouldn’t even work in that way.

So, this one I’m going to give a rating of Not Classy and it was aiming for the right place, but I think it missed by a good bit.

Finally, we have Nightwing Volume Five: Raptor’s Revenge, which collects Issues Thirty to Thirty-Four of Nightwing. And in Issue Thirty of Nightwing things really start to go wrong for him. First, Senator Polito who represents this area – Blüdhaven – in the United States Senate, the whole State obviously, is attacked and Nightwing protects him from being killed, but observes in the caption ‘Despite winning in a landslide has been struggling and unpopular lately ever since he backed his party’s healthcare bill which cuts support for the poor to fund a tax cut for the wealthiest Americans’. And the book really is not being political at all, so that was kind of out of left field, and you kind of like, hmmm, I wonder what he was talking about there? And then Senator Polito goes on television to really give a very tortured explanation. He says that, ‘We need to cut funds to community centres and shelters because we need to get strong on punishing thieves’, which is not actually a real position anyone holds, even these days. But I guess you’d never know when that might happen. And this hits people at the community centre where Dick has volunteered and even worked, and where his ex-girlfriend, Shawn, works quite hard; and I kind of loved the way the comic acts like a Senator from a State declares that ‘We’re going to cut funds’, and it’s like they’re assuming the funds are going to be cut. It doesn’t quite work that way.

In addition to this, Raptor has come to Blüdhaven. Raptor was introduced in the very first volume of Tim Seeley’s run on Nightwing as this guy who knew Dick Grayson’s mother and was very critical of Batman and Dick’s relationship to him. And he’s back to bring vengeance on Blood Haven because Nightwing is there and he’s upset at Nightwing for not joining his crusade against rich people. And so Raptor is a big threat to the city and he needs help, but the ex-super villains are mad at him because one of them got killed helping out Nightwing in the previous volume, and they’re also really nervous because of Senator Polito’s saying they were going to cut funding for the community centres. And the police detective who had helped him in the past and who had given him CPR in the previous volume doesn’t want to have anything to do with helping him with this Raptor thing because the brass has come down on cooperation with vigilantes, and also because of the kiss, i.e. the mouth-to-mouth resuscitation she gave to Nightwing has led her to conclude that Nightwing is “warm for her form”, and that she needs to stay away from his “hot little bod”. Again, a quote.

And Nightwing apparently didn’t want to hurt her feelings by correcting her, so he goes away and makes a deal with Blockbuster who, if you recall from our previous review, had taken over the casino and all crime in the city, to leave the city if Blockbuster would help him get rid of Raptor, because Raptor’s just that big a threat to the city. And that’s all in the first Issue. And then after that first Issue I think the story just does actually keep getting better. It builds a lot of tension and you begin to have more and more characters getting involved, and a great realization of what threat Raptor poses to the city.

You also have some great scenes with Raptor and Dick Grayson confronting each other with Raptor kind of coming off in some ways as like an almost Occupy Wall Street sort. And I guess in many ways the whole Senator Polito thing was maybe a bit of a balancing act to the way he would be in this story, just this absolute…kind of like the Anarky character in Detective Comics, though with a stronger, more personal pull on Dick Grayson and anger over Grayson not joining him. And it ends on a really solid note. It wraps up everything from Tim Seeley’s run in this sort of big…if it was a TV series it’d be like a big series finale. Probably my biggest concern is that the book feels like it was rushed out a bit, because it feels like there should have been more stories between what we got in Volume Four and this big finale – a little bit more buildup. It feels like there were decisions made, either by Seeley or by DC’s Editorial Board to move writers around, and so Seeley got this arc to wrap everything up and he did so, even though I think it probably would have been more impactful if we’ve had another couple books with Blockbuster running the city. And that speed of wrapping everything up does lead to a few things that don’t quite work, particularly in relationship-wise. His relationship with Helena AKA Huntress is kind of very quickly tossed aside by her in the middle of the book; and then there is a resolution given to his relationship with Shawn AKA Defacer, which has her spouting some pretty nonsensical dialogue about why she and Dick can’t be together. She says, “I love you too. Too much. Everything is stronger, every feeling. I can’t be that happy and I can’t be that angry”. And it just leaves you wanting to wish her well and hope she finds someone to which she can be happily and totally indifferent, because that’s the nature of romantic relationships is there are extremes and it’s just an incredibly silly thing to say; though I think what we’re all reading here is Tim Seeley just trying to put away his run on Nightwing. It’s like putting together a toy box and leaving the things so that the next writer can be able to play around with them as they see fit.

Certainly if a future writer like the whole Shawn and Dick Grayson relationship it would not be a problem to bring them back together, but Seeley’s trying to give them a more or less of a blank slate. So, despite maybe some of my riffing and some of my problems with the book, I still enjoyed it and I thought it was an end to what was a really fine run on Nightwing. I will give Nightwing Volume Five: Raptor’s Revenge a rating of Somewhat Classy. It’s flawed and a bit rushed in places but it really does build to a satisfying conclusion.

So, to summarize the books I’ve looked at today, Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows Volume Three, ‘Eight Years Later’ it gets a rating of Somewhat Classy. After a slow start it really does begin to explore Annie as a character and point a promising direction for the future of the series.

The Shadow/Batman rated Not Classy. While it has some interesting ideas, it overpowers its villains and makes the ending a little less satisfying than it should be. Patsy Walker: Hellcat rating Not Classy. It tries to be fun and light and loose but mostly comes off as chaotic and convoluted, and not really sure what it’s going for.

Finally, Nightwing Volume Five: Raptor’s Revenge earns a rating of Somewhat Classy. Despite a somewhat rushed setup, it does come to a pretty satisfying conclusion for Tim Seeley’s run on Nightwing, with some good exploration of Dick Grayson and his relationship to Raptor; as well as successfully wrapping up so many elements that had been in Tim Seeley’s run on the series.

Alright, well that’s all for now. If you do have a comment email it to me: classycomicsguy@gmail.com. Check me out on Twitter @classycomicsguy, and be sure and rate the show on iTunes. From Boise, Idaho this is your host, Adam Graham, signing off.

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