A SPIDER-MAN PRIMER
You just got out of the theater after seeing the greatest superhero movie of all time (or so I'm told) and you want to read a comic book. If you haven't bought a comic book in a long time -- or perhaps never have -- you have a lot of choices today. Marvel publishes a number of regular Spider-Man titles, and keeps plenty of the past ones in print. With the movie coming up, everyone and their brother published a Spider-Man book of some kind in the past month or two. I saw a coloring book in CostCo the other day that was entertaining because it looked like it was drawn by a six year old with bad tracing paper and a broken arm. I'd much rather see you read something good, instead.
Go to your local comic book shop and ask your local retailer what he or she might recommend. In case they're flooded with people for this weekend's Free Comic Book Day, here are my thoughts on what's good for the beginning Spider-man reader today.
MARVEL ESSENTIALS are cheap thick reprints of the classic original Stan Lee Spider-Man tales, drawn by Steve Ditko and John Romita Sr. They look like phone books. They each collect more than 20 issues of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN in black and white on cheap paper. These are the stories that form much of the basis for the movies. AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #50 is the key book for the new movie, so you'll want to be on the lookout for the second ESSENTIALS volume.
The price is right, too, at about $15 for 500 pages. Six volumes are out right now, collecting more than 100 issues of the cornerstone AMAZING SPIDER-MAN comic series. That should offer you plenty of summer reading material. Plus, it's cheap enough that you won't feel guilty using it as a coloring book afterwards.
If you have a younger child who wants one of the comics, but won't sit still for a black and white comic with all that text on each page, I can recommend MARVEL AGE: SPIDER-MAN. This is a more recent invention on Marvel's part. They're taking those classic stories (reprinted in the ESSENTIALS volumes) and retelling them for today's audiences. The art is a little more slick. The color is glossier. The writing is a bit breezier. The fashions and technology are up to date. Each issue is a complete story, so you won't have to worry about going looking for Part Two. And there are also MARVEL AGE trades collecting four of these issues at a time for less than $8, which is a couple bucks cheaper than buying the original issues. Marvel is giving away copies of MARVEL AGE SPIDER-MAN #1 this weekend for Free Comic Day at participating comic shops. There is a similar MARVEL AGE series for FANTASTIC FOUR right now, with more planned down the line.
If you're looking for something from the current crop of Spider-Man series, though, I'd go with ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN. The series is a relaunch of the Spider-Man mythology. Picture what Spider-Man would go through if he were created just a few years ago. The series plays with the legends, but creates something new completely. It's a big seller, and a favorite amongst many female and teenaged fans. The stories are set in Peter Parker's high school days, and include Mary Jane as his girlfriend. More than 60 issues are out now, but just about the entire series can be found in trade paperback and hardcover compilations. The trades will run you about $15 for six issues at a time, in full color. The hardcovers run $30, but collect 13 issues each, with an oversized page format.
For something a bit more offbeat and personal, I would go with a couple of trades from recent runs on PETER PARKER: SPIDER-MAN, "A Day In The Life" and "One Small Break." The series has since relaunched under a different name and with a different focus, but Paul Jenkins wrote his best work for the character here. The series won't give you a slam bang action comic that you might be looking for, but it will give you a thoughtful and very personal character-driven series.
There are more books than just those, but I think there's something for everyone in that selection. Anything else would be extra, and some of it would just be confusing for new readers, anyway. Give one of them a try and you'll likely find something you like.
If you'd like to see how the face of Spider-Man comic books has changed in the time since the first movie, here's a link to the version of this column I wrote back then.
PIPELINE PREVIEWS FOR SEPTEMBER 2004
Every month, Diamond Comics Distributors puts out a catalog titled PREVIEWS. In it, you get hundreds of pages of items solicited for a release date at a comic shops near you a couple of months in the future. This month, the time frame lands you in September 2004. Due to time constraints, I'm only looking at the front half of the catalog this month. I always suggest grabbing a copy of the catalog for yourself and flipping through it thoroughly in your next stop at the comics shop. You never know what might pop up to your eye that I might have missed. Discuss those findings at the Pipeline Message Board when you're done, so we all have a chance.
Dark Horse has two interesting art books on the docket. The first is AL WILLIAMSON: HIDDEN LANDS. It's a 224 page black and white trade paperback that collects the fine pen and ink linework of one of the 50s' masters, with annotations from Mark Schultz, Thomas Yeates, and Steve Ringgenberg. At $23, it's worth a flip test at the very least.
THE ART OF USAGI YOJIMBO gives Stan Sakai's wonderful cartooning a chance to shine. The 200 page black and white oversized hardcover follows in the footsteps of Dark Horse's SIN CITY and HELLBOY art books. It includes three color sections with plenty of Sakai's paintings. Plus, tribute artwork from Frank Miller, Sergio Aragones, Jeff Smith, Matt Wagner, and more. There's also a 12 page primer on how Sakai creates his stories. For $40, this one's a real steal.
DC continues to make my life easier by involving all its Bat-books in a massive crossover. I can just skip right over those core titles now. Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale begin a new CATWOMAN mini-series. It's only six issues, so it'll be no problem to wait for the inevitable hardcover collection afterwards. It's also the reason I can skip the upcoming Carlos Pacheco-drawn run on SUPERMAN/BATMAN. I wonder if Loeb's contract includes a provision that everything he works on must end up in a hardcover collection when it's done.
DC: THE NEW FRONTIER concludes in September. Darwyn Cooke has said all along that everything in all these issues leads up to the big finale. It all ties together. No page is wasted. It's going to be a heck of a thing if he pulls this off, but I look forward to it.
Walter Simonson is vexing me this month. I love his art and want to follow it wherever he chooses to go. But Michael Moorcock's work? Don't really know it, but this fantasy/sword and sorcery thing doesn't excite me. ELRIC: THE MAKING OF A SORCEROR is a four issue prestige format mini-series beginning in September. I think the first issue will be a flip test.
I mentioned it here a couple of weeks ago, but it's such a good book that it bears repeating: Alan Moore and Zander Cannon's SMAX mini-series gets the hardcover treatment on 01 September. At only $20, the book is a jam-packed value.
Over at Image Comics, Brian Haberlin has a second wave of instructional CDs coming out this summer. The official solicitation peg them for September release, but I get the feeling I'll be able to pick them up from him in San Diego at the end of July.
The batch includes tutorials on digitally painting photos, digitally painting in a "smudge style," digital inking (hey, kids, it's all the rage), and special effects work. For process junkies like myself, it's a wonderful look behind the curtains.
The CDs are $30 each, but you can get all four for the price of three. I reviewed the original batch of CDs in Pipeline last September.
LIBERTY MEADOWS gets its third hardcover collection, this time putting together issues #19-27. That's the period in which I stopped buying the issues to wait for the collections. That's finally paying off. The more series you begin dropping for the trade like that, the more trades you'll find popping up to fill in those monthly gaps. I'm still a long ways away from converting everything to collections, but it's getting easier and easier.
At Marvel, the much-anticipated JMS-penned (with Samm Barnes) DOCTOR STRANGE mini-series finally hits the shelves in September. Brandon Peterson is doing the art, as announced last month in Philadelphia. His current run on ULTIMATE X-MEN has looked great, so I'm up for this one.
Art continues to be the main draw, as Bill Sienkiewicz begins a BLACK WIDOW mini-series, Jae Lee starts the four part HULK & THING slugfest, DAREDEVIL gets a dozen special guest artists to celebrate the character's 40th anniversary, and Steve Dillon gets sucked into the five part BULLSEYE: GREATEST HITS.
Most excitedly, Robert Kirkman continues his mad march through the stomping grounds of comics. Besides five new one shots featuring a new Marvel 2099, he's also starting a JUBILEE series. It scares me how much of my generation Kirkman is. The man's even writing a YOUNGBLOOD series. Many of us who came up in comics around the time of 1990 or so dreamt of writing many of these books, if not all. Most of us didn't stick to it and didn't take it seriously. Kirkman did, and now he's got toys in every sandbox he can find. It's impressive.
Avengers Disassembled begins to set the record for most discombobulated and intrusive crossover since the last INFINITY GAUNTLET crossover. (Maybe "Acts of Vengeance?") Ignoring the typo which lists three comics as part 3 of 4 of the core story, you also get "Avengers Disassembled" stories in series that are in the middle of storylines of their own. FANTASTIC FOUR is part 2 of 3. SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN is part 3 of 4. THOR is part 4 of 6. Yet all are also now part of "AD." Those poor writers...
In looking at the solicitation text posted at CBR, I noticed the text for WARLOCK #1 has Charlie Adlard listed twice in it. In the descriptive text for the issue, he's credited as "Charlie," but in the credit list above it, it's spelled out carefully, "CharlES." Hmm, is he trying to change his credited name, and Marvel is slowly catching up?
SHE-HULK #7 has the kind of cool cover that should be for a comic Robert Kirkman is writing. Forbush Man looks so sad on the court house steps.
Now for the long-awaited and biggest Marvel news: The ULTIMATES hardcover is finally coming out! It's only $30 for 368 pages, which means it collects the whole series to date. Wasn't it ABSOLUTE AUTHORITY (art also by Brian Hitch) which kicked off the craze for oversized hardcovers? Sadly, Marvel is still an inch or two short on making their hardcovers that same size.
If you're a Millar fan, you'll also be happy to see the first six issues of his MARVEL KNIGHTS SPIDER-MAN run is getting a trade paperback collection at the same time. It's listed as 96 pages for $10, so it's probably only four issues in there.
PREVIEWED NO MORE!
The long thought lost section of Pipeline Previews from last month returns on time this month. This is where I look at the "Cancellations" section of the PREVIEWS catalog to see what we can learn from the foibles of the various publishers.
Astonish Factory has cancelled SPOONER #3 and #4. The second issue just hit stores this week, but last month's PREVIEWS solicited for a direct-to-trade publication of the strips. Looks like they're bypassing the 32 page pamphlets for the spined books on this series for the future.
CrossGen canceled two more issues of EL CAZADOR and (now officially) the AMERICAN POWER PREQUEL comic for Free Comic Book Day.
Dark Horse and DC sold out of an awful lot of stuff, but DC gets the funniest line of the catalog:
MAY040736X PLEASE DO NOT ORDER FROM THIS LINE
That listing has been "Cancelled by Previews." Go figure.
The last issue of STORMWATCH: TEAM ACHILLES and the second and third issues of BATMAN: CYBER REVOLUTION likewise bit the dust from the publisher.
BURGLER BILL #4 and 5 (of a projected six part series) have been canceled by "Diamond Comic Dist - England." I'm not sure what this means. Is that just the British distribution that's been canceled, or the American copies, as well? It would be a shame to see good Paul Grist art go to waste.
Gund Inc killed two plushies featuring characters from GET FUZZY. Would this be a really bad time to admit that I just don't get this strip? It has some very fervent fans, but it just comes off as stupid to me. Topping it off, the art is stiff and awkward.
Previews canceled the third volume of BAKI THE GRAPPLER, by Gutsoon Entertainment. It's like watching the last dying ember of RAIJIN COMICS finally burning off.
Image canceled HELLHOUNDS and, making retailers across the coutry very very happy, announced that they will be resoliciting SPAWN #138-144. Seven issues were so late that they had to be resolicited. Unbelievable.
Marvel announced that they've officially run out of stock of BACKPACK MARVELS X-MEN Volume 2. I have a copy up on my bookshelf. This was Marvel's attempt to be manga before manga hit. People laughed at the idea of teenagers stuffing comics in their backpack in a neat, smaller size. They wouldn't want a black and white comic for a lesser price like that. Hah! Whoops.
Joe Quesada hits the twofer, with "Will Resolicit" next to DAREDEVIL: FATHER #3 and NYX #6.
TokyoPop announced the cancellation of LIZZIE McGUIRE CINEMANGA COLLECTORS ED. Talk about your niche audience.
And that's that for Pipeline Previews this month. Return here in another thrilling month for the next installment of the comic industry's mania.
Pipeline Commentary and Review took on two romance comics this past Tuesday, and will take on more comics this coming Tuesday.
Special thanks to my friends at Dewey's Comic City in Madison, NJ for their unwitting help with some of the Spider-Man details at the top of this column.
For my American readers: Hope you get a long weekend out of the holiday, and that your barbecue isn't rained out.
It's been a busy week for Various and Sundry again, with news of a new TMBG album, Alf talk show, the long-awaited IRON GIANT Special Edition DVD, more on hybrid cars and live concert CDs, and much more all around.
More than 500 columns are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They're sorted chronologically. The first 100 columns or so are also still available at the Original Pipeline page.