This week’s column is a little delayed. I’d like to blame Comixology going down under a giant Marvel promotion and me being unable to get images and links, but mostly I spent the weekend at DC Gameday playing fantastic RPGs with great people and just didn’t finish reading my comics over the weekend. But I’ve found some gems for you once again!
I know I feature this title a lot, but there’s a reason for that. Dan Slott is hitting it out of the park and continually raising his own bar.
In this issue, we continue the story of Massacre, a very lame 90s era Spider-Man villain who is all about killing people and being a sociopath. There’s really not much more to him. Thanks to some explanation that hardly matters, he’s unable to experience emotion, and really likes to kill people. Spider-Man Classic spared him, he’s broken out, and is doing what he does. This is not the interesting part of the story.
The interesting part of the story is seeing the new Spider-Man (whom, if you recall, is Doctor Octopus’s brain in Peter Parker’s body) go up against him, and cross right over that line. He’s covered the city of New York with “Spider-Bots”, which constantly survey and report on possible crimes. And in this issue, he hooks up facial recognition software to them, which does help him find Massacre. And he smartly understands how that villain works, and defeats him much more intelligently than Peter Parker ever did.
And then, he’s confronted with a merciless killer with very little hope of rehabilitation, and it feels like the book spins into Act II: This is so not going to work out.
I’m so grateful they’re taking the time to do this story justice. There’s been a rise of the Superior Spider-Man, and he’s succeeding in ways that the old one never did. Now we’re transitioning to the inevitable fall. This is going to be one of the great Spider-Man stories of all time, talked about in the future like we talk about the Black Suit story, or the Gwen Stacey story, and other great tales from previous eras.
47 Ronin is a very famous historical story in Japan, and considered key to understanding the character of this peculiar island. We Americans are extremely lucky to get an english language adaptation drawn by the incredible Stan Sakai, known best for Usagi Yojimbo. He’s taking a brief break from his Samurai Rabbit to bring us this tale. (Though if you like Japan and are looking for great stories in historical Japan, Usagi Yojimbo rivals any manga written in Japanese. Stan is a Japanese American, and knows both his history and his storytelling.)
In previous issues, we met the honorable Lord Asano. Summoned to the capital, he encounters the villain of the story, Lord Kira. Kira attempts to solicit a bribe from Asano, who will have nothing of it. Asano ultimately threatens Kira and draws his sword, a capitol offense, and Kira is well enough connected that Asano is ordered to commit Seppuku, and his lands are forfeit.
This issue picks up with his loyal retainers. Many of them want to immediately go after Kira, but instead they petition for a cousin to be named head of the clan and their honor restored. But plans are put in place in case this is denied, and things are set to come to a head.
This is a rich, deep story, and it really is full of the character of Japan. It’s on issue 3 out of 5. Hunt it down, Japanophiles, or the inevitable graphic novel collection. It’s great!
Most of the Marvel Universe has a conceit that they’re more or less happening in a universe that mostly mirrors ours, with the Superhero stuff layered on top. Barack Obama is president, it’s 2013, there are US troops in Afghanistan, and so on. Not so in the Ultimate universe, and they’ve recently started running with this freedom.
This issue is about the growing pains of the reconstruction after the recent unrest period in America. President Steve Rogers, aka Captain America, is learning about real politics, and particular factions out in California, which was briefly independent and still has leadership that isn’t that thrilled that they’re part of the Union again.
To make matters worse, there’s a group of unstable heroes that have been put in statis chambers, because people are dumb like that. And California Separatists have them, and when Cap doesn’t give in to their demands, they’re released.
This is a very interesting mix of alt-history and superheroes going on. I mean, President Captain America. If that doesn’t sound interesting, I’ve got nothing for you. Marvel’s doing really interesting things with their Ultimate line again, after a muddy period, and there’s a real sense that anything is fair game.
That’s it for this week! Thanks for reading, and hope you’re all enjoying my picks!