Peter Parker relives how he fell in love with Gwen Stacy in Spider-man: Blue.
Find out what Adam Graham thinks of Watchmen and Pirate comics.
The Doctor and Clara meet up with some World War II pilots carrying an Atom Bomb in Doctor Who: Skyjacks
Donatello accidentally opens an inter-dimensional gateway allowing Bane to come through to their New York which means time for another Batman, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Team-up in Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II.
Also we take a look at Graphic Audio and present another Hero of the Public Domain as we look at Blue Lady who appeared in Amazing Man Comics #24-26
Today Spider-Man’s feeling a little blue, Batman meets up with the Ninja Turtles once again, and we talk about a little comic book called Watchmen, 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.
Today we have four different graphic novels to discuss, and then we have a couple of what I call ‘department segments’ we’ll get through which are not our typical reviews but I think you’ll find interesting. Alright, well we’ll go ahead and we will get started with Spider-Man Blue, written by Jeph Loeb and art by Tim Sale. It’s a 2002-2003 miniseries in which Peter Parker is making a recording to Gwen Stacy, and recalling that time in his life when he met Mary Jane Watson but also started to fall for Gwen Stacy. Essentially the book retells mini incidents that occurred in the early part of Stan Lee and John Romita’s partnership on The Amazing Spider-Man.
Now the art on this book is just great. Tim Sale always does a fantastic job whenever he’s assigned to a project, particularly with Loeb, and in this case it’s no exception, and what he does here is he really captures the feel of the John Romita era and makes that whole John Romita senior feel be really apparent in the way that he draws the book. So it was very authentic and well done.
The plots are good because they’re essentially the same plots that Stan Lee used. However, the story by Loeb it fills in some plot holes from the time, for example, well one thing that happened in this early period with Amazing Spider-Man is Peter goes out and buys a motor scooter which is really odd because the comics portray Peter as always being in a constant battle with poverty. So, where’d he get the money for that? And this book answers that sort of question, so it takes away some of the silly stuff, and it gives some reflection and depth to Peter’s emotional state because this is Peter Parker who has grown up, he’s gotten married and he’s gone through all those things that Spider-Man has gone through through 2003. So he’s more in touch with his feelings and better able to express a lot of things that were going on in his head and going on in his life at the time. So it’s got the gift of hindsight and a little bit of additional reflection.
Now one criticism I’ve seen out here for this book which I don’t think is particularly fair is that the book doesn’t really give a whole lot of depth to Gwen Stacy. Well that is really not Loeb’s fault because he’s going based on what Stan Lee had, and there really wasn’t a lot of depth to Gwen Stacy as written by Stan Lee. In addition, as the story is about him recalling his thoughts on falling in love, he’s really not close and just wanting to be close to Gwen just wanting to be close to Gwen so he wouldn’t see a whole lot of her emotional reflections. If there’s a complaint about the book is that it’s not really essential, it doesn’t cover a whole lot of new ground. It essentially retreads ground from the Stan Lee-John Romita Senior era, and enhances it but you could just as well read the original Stan Lee and John Romita stuff and not miss much.
I suppose if you wanted to understand a bit about Spider-Man’s formative years and didn’t want to go back and read those backs, this could be pretty important – though if you don’t want to read the Spidey stuff from that Lee-Romita run, that’s really unfortunate for you because that is one of the best comic runs in history, but it’s very Silver Age in its sensibilities. For those like me who loved the original run, this adds a little bit more detail and expands on some things, and has some fantastic Romita-esque art. And for me, that’s enough for me to give it a rating of Classy.
Next up is Watchmen. Awhile back a listener asked my thoughts on it and I decided I needed to read it if I’m going to be doing this show, and also because I want to read Doomsday Clock and have some understanding of what’s going on. My overall impression of it is that I did not like it – it was really a slog to get through. And the content is very disturbing, and so, particularly in the early chapters I found myself putting off reading this. That said, that I found it disturbing and that I didn’t like it doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily bad. I can separate those two ideas between quality and what I think about it, as much as I think anybody can. That said, I do think that the book is a bit overrated. I’ll get into that in a second.
Essentially the plot of Watchmen is that superheroes existed in real life and they begin to emerge in the 1940s and then through the ’60s, it changed the course of the Vietnam War, and Watergate wasn’t exposed; superheroes were banned in 1977, although at least one continued to operate illegally. And then when one vigilante knows as the Comedian is murdered it starts an underground vigilante known as Rorschach out to investigate and to find out who is behind the killing. So, first off, what did I like about the book? The art by Dave Gibbons is really superb – there are so many great uses of imagery. I love the concept of the nine panels which is used effectively mostly throughout the story to show the progression of events, and there were so many really good artistic choices made in this that really did fit the story they were trying to tell.
There was actually one chapter of Watchmen that I finished and I thought this was actually a pretty good chapter. Essentially it’s a situation where Dr. Manhattan has fled the planet for reasons I’m not going to get into, and he has gone to Mars and kind of built his own little world, and he brings Laurie, his ex-girlfriend there, and they have this conversation about Laurie’s life as she finally puts together the pieces of what happened to her mother, and the origins of her birth; while Dr. Manhattan argues that there really is no reason for him to go back and save humanity as Laurie is begging him. And while I think there were a few moments in that debate where it just kind of felt pretentious, I felt for the most part it was a really cool section of the book. Dave Gibbon’s drawings of what they were looking at on Mars really brought home the beauty of the place, and gave form to Dr. Manhattan’s arguments.
The negatives: the big thing, I think, is the characters. There’s no one in this book who is actually likeable, who you’d like to spend time around. Essentially, I spent the entire book in the company of a bunch of self-important narcissists, psychopaths, etc. The only one who tries to maintain any sort of moral code is Rorschach, and even then it’s a very flawed code which has led him to murder multiple criminals. In many ways the approach that Allan Moore takes to superheroes…it’s not so much superheroes as it is VH1 Behind the Music and the stories of Rock Bands and how everybody was into drugs and sleeping with this person and that person. And it’s all without exception. So these are very unpleasant people to spend time around…pretty much down to a person.
Digressions also don’t help the book which is known as a general rule. The first eleven chapters of the comics features a text file of some sort – whether it’s a book excerpt or report excerpt or something from like an encyclopedia. Some of these are fine. They add some real detail and help you understand the world, with information that’s not really related elsewhere in the story. On the other hand, some of it is repeated in story and some of it is really irrelevant to the story. In addition, the story frequently cuts to a news vendor and also to someone reading a pirate comic story because they – Gibbon and Allan Moore – decided that in this alternate universe American kids would have taken to reading pirate comics because superheroes wouldn’t be as popular since there were actual superheroes out there, because we all know that war comics were not published because we have real soldiers, so who would want to read about that. Oh, well, wait…actually we did publish a lot of war comics. And if I really wanted to nitpick I would question how in the heck pirate comics became as popular as Moore said, and it seems like this alternate America is not believable and he doesn’t really establish why we would have gone from pirate comics. You just have these couple guys sitting around and saying, ‘Well, if it’s not superheroes then what? Pirates! We’ll go with that.
But at any rate we get into this digression to the pirate comics where we flash over to the news vendor and then we flash over to somebody reading the pirate comics and seeing parts of the story. Now, parts of the story as well as some of what’s being said by the people who are visiting the news vendor do reflect what’s going on with the main characters, but it’s really an unnatural squeeze. We just introduce this extra setting to kind of show reaction shots, and to me it just slow down the story and made it more frustrating to read. And I also think that the book is dated. While Moore tries to avoid going after any current political officials of the time, he is trying to speak to the issues of the day and the dangers of nuclear weapons, and the dangers of trusting these leaders of the West as they’re dealing with the Soviets to do the right thing, and speaks to that anxiety of nuclear war and the potential for that. In reality, we were from the time Watchmen Number One came out, we were less than five years away from the fall of the Berlin Wall and less than six years away from the collapse of the Soviet Union. So, rather than reflecting timeless concerns and timeless issues, Watchmen reflected a concern of the 1980s that didn’t really pan out.
While Morris quoted Nietzsche in the sixth chapter, I think it does have a point and it does have some relevance to superheroes in general, battle not with monsters lest ye become a monster, and if you gaze into the abyss the abyss gazes also into you. There’s certainly some relevance and some warning in that. I think when you have an entire book where every character is just unlikeable and morally compromised, it takes what can be a fair warning and turns it into a truism that really isn’t true to everyone and everything, and is in its own way as unrealistic as pretending that no one would ever succumb to that sort of temptation. Its effects on the comic book industry, I think, were not very positive, and Moore actually acknowledged that when he gave an interview to… So, there you go!
That’s my thoughts on Watchmen; and I’m aware that my views are definitely in the minority on this title, and if you like Watchmen and enjoy it, I’m not aiming to talk you out of that. But for me this book just doesn’t do it, and that’s putting it mildly. [missing audio 15:27] the AV[?] club, and he says, “I think that what a lot of people saw when they read Watchmen was a high degree violence, a bleaker and more pessimistic political perspective, perhaps a bit more sex, more swearing, and to some degree there has been in the fifteen years since Watchmen an awful lot of the comics field devoted to these grim, pessimistic, nasty, violent stories which kind of used Watchmen to validate what are in effect often just some very nasty stories that don’t have a lot to recommend them. And some of them are very pretentious where they’ll try and grab some sort of intellectual gloss for what they’re doing, by referring to a few song titles or the odd book.” And, yeah, that’s the type of thing that Watchmen produced. I mean, my honest opinion of Watchmen is that if you fell into an alternate timeline where this thing didn’t exist, the world would probably be a better place; and if this book at some point becomes lost to the ages due to whatever cataclysm, that post-cataclysmic world will not be poorer for not having this book. So now I’ll give this book a rating, and it’s one I’ve never given any other book. I will give it a rating of Anti-Classy. It’s the exact opposite of the type of book I like to read.
And now after that section we’re going to an interlude where we’re going to do a couple of ‘department features’, looking at a couple things outside the general forte of the show, and then we’ll get it in for a couple other reviews.
I don’t know when I did these shows on different ways to save money on comics…if I told you about Humble Bundle… Humble Bundle is a great site where companies will list a whole bundle of books or games, and you get them name your own price and you get them and a portion of it goes to charity, a portion of it goes to the company selling it, and a portion of it goes to Humble Bundle; and you get to choose how that works. And they were actually doing a Humble Bundle for Graphic Audio, and I’ve seen these online where they’re advertised as a movie for your mind, and these were all audio books featuring superheroes from the DC Universe. And they had…I think it was fifteen that you could get for fifteen dollars.
So, I got that whole bundle and I listened to the first one, ‘Never Ending Battle’. And essentially it’s a plot where the Justice League with Superman as its chairman are taking on a dangerous terrorist who has gained the ability to control the weather. In many ways, and it’s kind of hard to describe what this listening experience is like, but it’s more like you’re following Superman around rather than watching a Superman movie, or reading an actual Superman book. And that’s somewhat ironic because this is actually from a novel. And there is a ton of talking between all of these characters in the book – probably a lot more talking than there is action. But looking at it as like you’re riding along with these heroes and seeing them interact, it’s actually not as problematic as a story filled with a lot of dialogue and exposition, and exposition as dialogue – because while they’re communicating a lot of basic information that you wouldn’t really think they would need to. It’s done in such a way that it’s believable, because you and I…I at least have had relationships with people where we talked about things that we perfectly well know of and understand.
And it’s just…it’s really driven by all these interactions, particularly between Superman and these other people. You’re dealing with a post-crisis Justice League that’s pre-New 52 and pre-Blackest Night. So that means that you have Wally West as the Flash and Kyle Rayner as the Green Lantern, and they are fun to listen to. All of the actors on this are great. The sound effects are really good.
To my mind, a lot of this would not work in a written novel. I think I would have found it tiresome to be reading all this text, but the actors do a good job of bringing it to life. That said, I wouldn’t necessarily say this is a movie for your mind because a movie would generally be a lot more cinematic. I’ve heard a lot of very cinematic audio dramas and this one is not it, so I’d say this particular graphic audio book…and again I have not listened to every single one I’ve purchases…but judging by this one, this is the type of thing to listen to if you’ve got some patience and you just like to spend a lot of time listening to these characters. They’re very well brought to life by a good cast, great effects; but it really does have much more of the feel of a dramatized audio book rather than a full-cast audio.
Now we turn to Heroes of the Public Domain and we’re going to take a look at the Blue Lady. She appeared in Issues Twenty-Four through Twenty-Six of Amazing Man from Centaur Comics. Issue Twenty-Four opens with Lucille Martin aboard a ship, and she has made friends with a Chinese lady named Lotus who gives her a ring for safe keeping and is then murdered. And she goes home and wonders about what happened, even though her boyfriend has said ‘Forget about it for your own safety’, but she messes around with the Bluebird Ring until she opens it, it releases a gas, knocks her out and when she wakes up she has super-strength. And she goes and takes on the bad guys. She’s able to get the Jade statue that was so important to Lotus and bring it back to its rightful owner.
In Issue Twenty-Five of Amazing Man the rightful owner tries to open the statue to get what’s inside but is hit by a gas that slowly begins to poison him. He calls for Lucille and hands the statue over to her. Meanwhile, some of his disloyal servants decide to try and take it from her, but then she assumes the guise of the Blue Lady. She’s able to fight them and get away. She ends up falling into a pit and they’re going to try and close the walls on her, but she is able to walk up the side of the walls and using her strength, hold things open, until she’s able to get to safety. And she gets a clue and some of the thugs follow her and attack her, and they are able to negate her powers by spritzing oil on her ring. We’re given no clue as to why that actually works; but they knock her out and leave her unconscious, and she is able to as soon as she wakes up go and beat them after fighting a tiger.
In Issue Twenty-Six we get an unrelated adventure which is essentially a haunted house story where her boyfriend is receiving some threats convincing him not to list a property. And she finds evil men behind it and she fights them, shows off her super-strength and then they knock her out with laughing gas. They wake her up to ask her where she gets the source of her powers, she won’t tell, and so they put her on the rack and then they wake her up again just because they want her to be awake to feel the pain. However, when they wake her up this time she’s able to easily escape the rack and beat them up, because they did not know the secret that all they needed to do was sprit oil on her ring and she would become powerless. Overall, I found these stories to be fun, though not particularly well-developed. I like the general idea of the Blue Lady. Her costume was a bit odd but certainly unique. I like the idea of how she got her powers. I think they needed to develop the rules a bit better, and apparently she had the power to emit a blue mist but it was kind of confusing in the story. So, I like the character, things could have been a bit clearer. And that’s it for the Blue Lady.
Now we have two more reviews and we start out with Doctor Who Skyjacks. I should note that that is the title that this was originally published by IDW who was the original publisher since IDW no longer has the Doctor Who rights and it’s gone to Titans. You can find this as the first half of Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor, Archives Volume Three. The book opens with Clara waking up in the Tardis and finding a button that says Don’t Press This Button. So, of course, she presses the button and falls out of the Tardis and is caught by a World War II atomic bomber. The Doctor is there and has been there for many years; and there is some weird timey wimey technical thing that’s going on that the Doctor has to figure out, and this missing Skyjack actually is carrying a third atomic bomb that was never dropped in our actual history.
This story isn’t terrible but the art’s not that great, and it is kind of bland at times. And some of that may come down to the fact that it’s going off of the TV show, and you’re talking about the Clara Oswald from Series Seven with the Eleventh Doctor. And she was not really written with a lot of personality, and I don’t think was a particularly interesting companion in Series Seven. I think they would make her so on the television show in Series Eight but there’s a bit of a blank slank quality about her, and this Skyjack story is four Issues long and takes up the bulk of the book. There’s also a story in here from the Annual ‘Infeztation’ with ‘Fez’ emphasized, and it features the Doctor and his companions Amy and Rory. The Eleventh Doctor was known for liking a fez, never really getting to wear if for long. However, he has found a musical festival where you’re required to wear a fez to enjoy it. However, once Amy and Rory don their offered fezzes at the door, the Doctor realizes that there is an alien plot afoot.
This story is written by comics legend Len Wein and is pretty fun, even though it doesn’t go anywhere particularly interesting. Although it does bring back a well-known, new Who villain who hasn’t been of a mixed reputation. Overall I’ll give Doctor Who: Skyjacks a rating of Not Classy. The subpar art and less than impressive story in the titular story arc makes this one kind of hard to recommend.
Finally we have Batman – Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles II which absolutely thrills me because I was a fan of the original story. In this one, Donatello is feeling insecure about not having the same level of fighting skills as his brothers, and goes into the sewer determined to go and cross dimensions to visit Batman for advice, and he accidentally brings Bane to the Turtles’ universe and Bane sets about to take over, particularly after Shredder was arrested and imprisoned in the first book. Reza Gul makes Batman aware of what’s happened in terms of Bane going over to the Turtles’ world, and he explains that his reasoning for this is that if Batman decides to follow Bane then he gets to get rid of two of his enemies. But Batman does follow and he meets up once again with the Turtles for a really fun adventure.
Donatello gets some good exploration and, in many ways, it kind of calls to mind what would often happen to the TV show where a character is dealing with a certain issue and it plays into the main story. And you see that reflected here as Donatello’s issues spills into Bane’s use of the Venom which he uses to power up all the villains in town. And Donatello is tempted to take some of his own, and actually does and so there’s some hard lessons to be learned. Damian Wayne comes over and he and Raphael are just constantly bickering but in the most enjoyable way. They really manage to get each others goat, and it just plays off each other really well. It’s fun to see them interact. And the plot really does build throughout towards the finale, and what I like is that they do begin bringing over other characters from the DC Universe and the Batman Family, including Batgirl and Nightwing. And so it’s like wow, this just keeps getting better and better.
Now, if I did have some issues it does seem like it does play a lot of the same ideas and themes as the previous book. For example, in the original book Shredder exposed Batman’s enemies to the mutagen. In this book, Bane exposes Rocksteady and Bebop and a whole bunch of other villains to a mortified form of Venom made by Baxter Stockman. I also found it a little unbelievable the way they wrote this that when Batman got to the Turtles Universe, he decides to just go ahead and wait for Bane to run out of Venom since he doesn’t have a supply on this world, which is a really passive approach that doesn’t sound like Batman at all.
There were also a few scenes that were condensed. Splinter gets so severely injured that they decide the only way to cure him is to take him to the DC Universe and dip him in Lazarus Pit which risk him emerging insane. And we don’t actually see the whole fight scene – we get like one picture to give us an idea of what happened, and it just really condensed down. The same thing goes to a point where Batman wanted something with Shredder and Shredder wanted a rematch and Batman gave it to him and we don’t get to see that scene either. It kind of leave me wondering is there an extended edition where we get all the scenes in it, but apparently they had so much plot they had to cut things down. Still I really did enjoy this book. I think it was maybe not quite as good as the first book in the series but certainly generally a very worthy sequel. So I’ll give this book a rating of Classy.
So our overall story reviews: we took Spider-Man Blue and gave it a rating of Classy. It’s a fine retelling of some very good, near great Stan Lee and John Romita stories.
Watchmen I’m giving a rating of Anti-Classy. It’s dark, dated, depressing and also a bit cluttered with a lot of very unlikeable and unpleasant characters.
Doctor Who: Skyjacks gets a rating of Not Classy, and has some interesting ideas but is a bit bland with some weak art.
Finally, Batman – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II is just a really fun sequel, follow up to the original story. It brings out the best of Batman despite repeating a few notes from the previous story. Batman – TMNT II manages to bring these worlds together in a delightful and really enjoyable way. Overall rating of Classy.
Alright, that’s all for now. If you do have a comment email it to me: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Twitter @classycomicsguy and be sure and rate the show on iTunes. From Boise, Idaho this is your host, Adam Graham, signing off.