REVIEW: In Amazing Spider-Man #14, Nick Spencer and Chris Bachalo payoff plots from the first issue

Amazing Spider-Man #14 is out 1/30/2019.

By Zack Quaintance — It is perhaps telling of exactly how old I am that to me Chris Bachalo is an artist that reminds me of how comics used to be, which is a phrase I think everyone uses to describe the time they first got into the hobbie. Simply put, Bachalo was huge when I was a new reader, helping to launch Generation X (the start of which was still a few years before my time), before moving over to help with some of the main X-titles, maybe even drawing Uncanny for a while as Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely did their thing on New X-Men.

Anyway, this is all a means to say that Bachalo is an absolutely perfect fit for a fill-in artist on Nick Spencer’s Amazing Spider-Man run, which is playing out holistically as a series as another example of how comics used to be, at least back in my day. This entire issue—from the art to the narrative construction to the use it makes of continuity—really feels like just a bit of a throwback to a different time, as has this run overall. The clearest example of this is that these Amazing Spider-Man comics are pretty clearly not written for trade compilations, not even a little bit.

You can really see it in this issue, which is 14 issues and six months into the run...and just now playing out pretty minor narrative threads that were dropped loosely into the background of Amazing Spider-Man #1, specifically thinking here of Peter’s offer from Conners. Now, not to sound like that old guy, but this is something that was once commonplace, back when stories weren’t conceived in six-issue bursts that should leave it all on the page lest the market dictate a sudden ending.

And the Connors thing isn’t the only bit in this issue drawn from #1. The conflict with Taskmaster and Black Ant was also seeded way back, possibly in the same scene with The Lizard (though I’d have to go back and verify to be certain). This is all well and good, and I like it because it scratches my long-form narrative itch as a reader. I think it’s an especially good thing for a book like Amazing Spider-Man, that publishes every other week. There really isn’t a need to so clearly define story arcs when the next chapter is generally 13 days away when you finish any given issue. The book should flow from plot to plot, carrying with it remnants as it moves into new territory. That’s certainly what Spencer and his artistic collaborators, whether it’s back in the day Chris Bachalo or regular series linework provider Ryan Ottley.

In terms of an individual read, this is a dense one, with multiple narrators, long conversations, and some pretty strong ideas jockeying for position, be it Aunt May’s disgust at her deceased husband’s sleazy accountant, or The Lizard’s son heartbreakingly wanting to just be a regular kid. There are so many emotional beats in this issue that it fades into a cacophony of feelings at times, making it hard for any one to move to the forefront and land with major resonance.

For me as a reader, that’s a great problem to have, especially for a comic I’m paying $8 a month to keep up with.

Overall: A dense issue of Amazing Spider-Man, packed with bits of continuity, big feelings, and payoffs to plot threads that have been dangling since the first issue. This series continues to have a narrative construction that calls back to times when stories weren’t written for trade, and it’s refreshing. 8.4/10

Amazing Spider-Man #14
Writer:
Nick Spencer
Artist: Chris Bachalo
Letterer: VC’s Joe Caramagna
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Price: $3.99

For more comic book reviews, check out our review archives.

Zack Quaintance is a tech reporter by day and freelance writer by night/weekend. He Tweets compulsively about storytelling and comics as BatmansBookcase.

REVIEW: Amazing Spider-Man #13 ends Jameson story arc with growth, emotional honesty

Amazing Spider-Man #13  is out 1/16/2019.

Amazing Spider-Man #13 is out 1/16/2019.

By Zack Quaintance — Amazing Spider-Man #13 continues an interesting trend I’ve noticed throughout this young: it continues to take Spider-Man continuity deep dives and translate them into new stories. This is not all that novel of an approach for stories about decades-old characters. It is perhaps a bit less common at Marvel (where characters are generally a bit younger), but over at the distinguished competition, writers like Geoff Johns and Grant Morrison have told some of our best modern comic stories by plumbing the continuity depths and teasing old ideas, concepts, principals to the surface.

That notion is one that’s been evident multiple times throughout Nick Spencer and Ryan Ottley’s still-nascent Amazing Spider-Man run and is evident yet again this week with Amazing Spider-Man #13. In this issue, the big bad who’s been tormenting both Spider-Man and his foil-turned-friend J. Jonah Jameson since issue #11 is revealed to be Frederick Foswell...Jr., who is the son of Frederick Foswell, Sr., a Daily Bugle reporter who once nearly pulled off a successful investigation of Spider-Man’s true identity before becoming way too close to his sources and ending up as a crime boss.  

Indeed, Foswell made his first appearance all the way back in Amazing Spider-Man #10 (1964), created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko themselves. Like many characters, Foswell has popped up here and there through the years, most recently in previous writer Dan Slott’s Dead No More: The Clone Conspiracy storyline, having his evil Big Man alias in story as a clone. This issue, however, takes his life and death a bit more seriously than prior appearances, having his son return to get revenge on Spider-Man, motivated as he is by J. Jonah Jameson’s now-gone hatred for the hero.

And you know what? I really liked all of that. It was a nifty way to accomplish the dual feats of A. giving Spider-Man a relevant foe to battle for a few issues, and B. continuing Jameson’s growth arc and transition from Spider-Man hater to someone who’s now seen the error of his ways. Heck, in this issue Jameson publicly admits to having been a bad journalist for all those years. For long-time Spidey fans and readers this is no small thing. It won’t garner the headlines the same way something like giving Aunt May cancer does (see Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #1), but from a character growth standpoint it’s really much more impactful and rewarding to careful readers, to all of us who have rolled our eyes at Jameson so thoroughly eviscerating Spider-Man’s public image no matter how heroic he proves himself to be.

I know for me—a nigh life-long Spiderman fan and a professional journalist by trade—I’ve found his constant inflammatory editorializing frustrating as all get out. To see him grow away from that (even at personal cost for himself) was just so much more compelling than killing or maiming the character. And so far, that’s really what’s marked this run: characters moving at deliberate pace towards moments of growth and emotional honesty. Pepper in some of Spencer’s pithy humor and a seemingly-irrepressible desire to use every last Spider-Man villain ever, and this continues to be a fantastic run for Marvel’s flagship character.

Overall: Amazing Spider-Man #13 doubles down on two of the strengths of this run: deep and serious dives into Spider-Man’s long continuity, and finales that deal more with emotional honesty and growth than they do with punching and kicking. This time it’s J. Jonah Jameson’s turn to be a better man, and the result is a thoroughly enjoyable Spider-Man comic. 8.8/10

Amazing Spider-Man #13
Writer:
Nick Spencer
Penciler: Ryan Ottley
Inker: Cliff Rathburn
Colorists: Laura Martin and Andrew Crossley
Letterer: VC’s Joe Caramagna
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Price: $3.99

For more comic book reviews, check out our review archives.

Zack Quaintance is a tech reporter by day and freelance writer by night/weekend. He Tweets compulsively about storytelling and comics as BatmansBookcase.

REVIEW: Amazing Spider-Man #11 alternates between media commentary and laughs

Amazing Spider-Man #11  is out 12/12.

Amazing Spider-Man #11 is out 12/12.

By Zack Quaintance — Amazing Spider-Man #11 marks the return of this series’ primary art team (or at least the one that gets top billing): penciler Ryan Ottley, inker Cliff Rathburn, and colorist Laura Martin. As such, it’s a bit of a shift. Nothing is lost in transition, but it does require a few moments of quick re-orienting at its start. Perhaps more consequentially, Amazing Spider-Man #11 is also a slight emotional reset for this ongoing story, which makes sense given that it’s a new story arc (although, arcs have so far been a little amorphous in this young run).

As I wrote in my review of Amazing Spider-Man #10, that issue featured a satisfying emotional crescendo for a team-up between Spider-Man and Black Cat, who have romantic history together but have both very much moved on. It used the concept of mine erasure (a very comics-y concept) to get at universal truths about respecting the emotional impact one’s behavior has on an ex, even if nobody’s carrying a burning torch. It was well-done and went straight for the heart strings with its ending. This issue doesn’t involve Black Cat, which is expected because of how the last one wrapped so nicely, but it also doesn’t involve Mary-Jane Watson either. It doesn’t involve Peter’s love life at all. Thus the shift.

In Amazing Spider-Man #11 we get a Christmas story starring members of Peter’s supporting cast not seen since the first arc with Ottley/Rathburn/Martin, almost as if Spencer had his collaborators pick teams from among the massive Spidey friends and family bunch (there are plenty to go around). What we get here is a story that involves the folks Peter knows from the Daily Bugle, mainly J. Jonah Jameson and Robbie Robertson, both of whom are used well as polemics for philosophies within the modern media industry, plus also for laughs.

Jameson (who scores laughs in almost every panel he’s in) is a cartoon representation of the media at its worst (as he has been for years), wildly oscillating between impassioned stances against/for whatever passes in front of his face. He’s hungry for credit and quick to get egotistical by insinuating his name alone causes seismic shakes in organizational profitability. Robertson, meanwhile, is a thoughtful journalist who Jameson’s behavior has forced into an impossible situation. He can’t pander in the slightest or he’ll be lumped in with Jameson’s ilk, yet a certain segment of his audience is prone to/expectant of blatant pandering. It’s pretty smart media commentary wrapped in an entertaining blanket of Spencer-penned curmudgeonly one-liners. I’m a reporter by trade, and I found it alternately cathartic and funny.

So yes, I liked this individual issue quite a bit. There’s also the question of where does this little story fit into the larger tapestry of what Spencer et. al are trying to do here? It definitely advances Spencer’s commitment to touching more corners of Spider-Man’s deep mythos than have been used in the recent past, incorporating rarely-seen villains like Arcade and the old-timey Enforcers. In an age where the go-to superhero foe has become other superheroes, this book is a well-done refutation to the standard, and I for one am loving it. Spencer is also adept at handling the double-shipping schedule, layering plot developments in a way that blurs the arcs into one long ongoing story. If he can keep it up, a year or two from now we might be talking about this era of Amazing Spider-Man as something truly special.

Overall: Heavy on media commentary, old supporting cast members, and solid laughs, Amazing Spider-Man #11 shifts the tone from recent issues and continues to seed plot points for the team to develop moving forward. Despite the always-tricky double-shipping schedule, this comic is rock solid. 8.5/10

Amazing Spider-Man #11
Writer:
Nick Spencer
Artist: Ryan Ottley
Inker: Cliff Rathburn
Colorist: Laura Martin
Letterer: VC’s Joe Caramagna
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Price: $3.99

For more comic book reviews, check out our review archives.

Zack Quaintance is a tech reporter by day and freelance writer by night/weekend. He Tweets compulsively about storytelling and comics as BatmansBookcase.

Top Comics to Buy for December 12, 2018

By Zack Quaintance — Despite the name of this website (which is ironic!), I’m prone to Batman fatigue. It’s not that I don’t like the character. No, I think it’s pretty easy to make a case for Batman being one of the most compelling characters to ever grow from American fiction. It’s just that I don’t often see much new ground for stories about Batman to cover, so prolific are DC’s Batman releases. That said, I still fairly regularly find myself drawn into and torn up by well-done Batman stories.

This week ambushed me in that way. As you’ll notice shortly, two of our Top Comics to Buy for December 12 star the Dark Knight, while a third gets a recommendation in our new #1 comics section. So yes, this is a great week for all things Batman. It’s also a great week for Marvel’s (arguable) flagship character, Spider-Man, as Amazing Spider-Man hums right along and Miles Morales returns to Marvel’s pages just in time for his big screen review. Coincidence? Hardly. This is Marvel, and synergy is what’s for sale.

Now on to this week’s comics!

Top Comics to Buy for December 12, 2018

*PICK OF THE WEEK*
Batman Annual #3
Writer:
Tom Taylor
Artist: Otto Schmidt
Letterer: A Larger World’s Troy Peteri
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $4.99
"THE OTHER SIDE OF THE PENNY!" Alfred Pennyworth has been Batman's most trusted ally and confidant since the Dark Knight first hit the streets of Gotham City. Now, witness Batman's battle for justice from Alfred's perspective and learn how harrowing that journey has been as Batman experiences one of the worst nights Gotham City has ever seen-a night that will push Alfred to the breaking point! Best-selling writer Tom Taylor presents an epic tale that promises to be one of the most Alfred stories ever told!
Why It’s Cool: This is an emotional and well-told Batman story that may have you tearing up within the first three pages. Taylor and Schmidt are a pair of creators deserving of much bigger stages, and hopefully incredible work like this will help them get there. This is also a self-contained story, so even readers who have been off Batman proper for a while, can still pop into buy this comic.

Amazing Spider-Man #11
Writer:
Nick Spencer
Artist: Ryan Ottley
Inker: Cliff Rathburn
Colorist: Laura Martin
Letterer: VC’s Joe Caramagna
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Price: $3.99
J. JONAH JAMESON has a new job as a shock jock, but is the world ready for a pro-Spider-Man JJJ? More importantly, is Spider-Man ready? His post-secret-identity relationship with Jonah was already complicated, but this very public embrace may put him over the edge! Spidey's definitely not ready for the Enforcers to come at him harder than ever!
Why It’s Cool: If it weren’t for Immortal Hulk, Amazing Spider-Man might be our favorite book at Marvel right now (with apologies to Black Panther and Captain America). It’s just been so good since launching with a new #1 issue in July, and now it has artist Ryan Ottley rejoining writer Nick Spencer to presumably replicate the creative alchemy that made the first arc so special. It also has some momentum, with last month’s Amazing Spider-Man #10 ranking as one of our favorite issues of Marvel’s flagship Spidey title in many, many years.

Bitter Root #2
Writers:
David F. Walker & Chuck Brown
Artist: Sanford Greene
Colorists: Rico Renzi & Sanford Greene
Letterer: Clayton Cowles
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.99
An evil force stalks the streets of Harlem as Berg and Cullen face off against a deadly creature that may be more than they can handle. Meanwhile, in Mississippi, a mysterious stranger unleashes furious retribution in the name of justice.
Why It’s Cool: The work of building this world and the way it works was set into motion so wonderfully by Bitter Root #1. Now, the creators are free to let us know more about their story and its characters. This is a visually lush and intellectually complex book, one that doesn’t flinch as it depicts monster hunters confronting ghoulish members of the KKK. In this second issue we learn more about the long-standing family dynamics at the heart of the relationships between our character. This book, simply put, continues to be an utter joy to read.

Detective Comics #994
Writer:
Peter J. Tomasi
Artist: Doug Mahnke
Inker: Jaime Mendoza
Colorist: David Baron
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $3.99
Batman's strangest case begins as the new creative team of writer Peter J. Tomasi and artist Doug Mahnke take over DETECTIVE COMICS! Commissioner Gordon calls in the Dark Knight Detective when there's a murder at the Gotham City Aquarium-staged to look exactly like Thomas and Martha Wayne's crime scene, right down to the Playbill and pearls. How does this bizarre homicide tie into the shadowy monster that attacks Dr. Leslie Thompkins? This creature looks to wage a war on Batman-and it's using Joker Gas to do it!
Why It’s Cool: There’s so much Batman goodness packed into this first issue of the countdown to Detective Comics #1000, the comic that launched the character. It starts with a bizarre mystery and just gleefully builds from there. I didn’t quite know what to expect from this Tomasi/Mahnke run and hadn’t heard the kind of buzz one might expect for something like this, but this first issue is poised to build that excitement right back up.

Fearscape #3
Writer:
Ryan O’Sullivan
Artist: Andrea Mutti
Colorist: Vladimir Popov
Letterer: Andworld Design
Publisher: Vault Comics
Price: $3.99
Having escaped the clutches of the Fearscape, Henry Henry tries to... Aha! You'll use my name, I see, but won't let me speak! That you would require solicitation copy for the third issue, after the genre-redefining brilliance of the first two, is nothing short of a personal insult. The work speaks for itself. Any tale of my exploits should not be hawked to those asleep at the wheel.
Why It’s Cool: This meta story of literary writers’ doubt barrels forward, with protagonist Henry Henry returning from the mythical storytelling Fearscape realm to the real world. This is a singular comic unlike anything else coming out today, and every issue is one to be poured over. This story brims in equal parts with braggadocio and imposter syndrome. For serious patrons of the art and would-be creators, this series continues to be a must.

Check out our reviews of Fearscape #1 and Fearscape #2.

Top New #1 Comics

  • Batman Who Laughs #1

  • Defenders: Doctor Strange #1

  • Defenders: Silver Surfer #1

  • Fantastic Four: Wedding Special #1

  • Goddess Mode #1

  • Magic the Gathering: Chandra #1

  • Miles Morales: Spider-Man #1

  • New Talent Showcase 2018 #1

  • Planet of the Apes: Simian Age #1

  • Sasquatch Detective #1

  • Spawn Kills Everyone Too #1

  • Vampirella vs. Reanimator #1

Others Receiving Votes

  • Avengers #11

  • Black Panther #7

  • Cemetery Beach #4

  • Dead Kings #2

  • Electric Warriors #2

  • Hawkman #7

  • Lone Ranger #3

  • Murder Falcon #3

  • Oblivion Song #10

  • Outer Darkness #2

  • Redlands #9

  • Skyward #9

  • Supergirl #25

  • Superman #6

  • X-Men Red #11

See our past top comics to buy here, and check our our reviews archive here.

Zack Quaintance is a tech reporter by day and freelance writer by night/weekend. He Tweets compulsively about storytelling and comics as BatmansBookcase. He also writes comics and is currently working hard to complete one.

REVIEW: Amazing Spider-Man #5 by Nick Spencer, Ryan Ottley, Cliff Rathburn, Laura Martin, & Joe Caramagna

Amazing Spider-Man #5 is out 9/12.

By Zack Quaintance — We as readers have maybe come to take for granted twice-monthly flagship superhero books, now basically standard at both Marvel and DC, with Amazing Spider-Man and Batman both on that schedule (plus others too). To write and edit a title at that pace surely means a yeoman effort of planning, an inability to have even a minor misstep in terms of completing one’s work, lest a high-selling title in a publishing line skip a week and cost the company all kinds of money.

As much as I’ve loved Tom King’s Batman (and overall I have loved it, quite a bit), there’s no denying the sometimes major gaps in consistency, story arcs flawed in both conception and execution. For whatever reason, Dan Slott’s recently-concluded Amazing Spider-Man run seemed to suffer from slightly different problems. Whereas King’s scripts never lack for the grandiose or poetic, leaving him prone to mischaracterizations or over-writing in service of grand ambitions, Slott’s run on Amazing Spider-Man at times mired in the minutiae of seeding the future, leading to occasionally slow or less than fully-satisfying comics.

That struggle, I think, is also an issue with Nick Spencer and Ryan Ottley’s Amazing Spider-Man #5, the end of this new team’s first story arc. I absolutely loved Amazing Spider-Man #4, to the point I wrote an effusive and glowing review, but this finale landed for me with a bit of whump. That’s right, a whump. Spencer lays quite a bit of track for the future—be it with MJ, Boomerang, or two other villains I won’t mention here for fear of spoilers—leaving the actual hero versus villain conflict of this story to resolve itself in the space of less than four pages.

And I get that the real conflict here is between two versions of the protagonist—Spider-Man and Peter Parker, who’ve been separated via sci-fi hijinx—but their conversations with each other don’t hit any ground that wasn’t covered in more interesting and concise scenes in prior issues, and, really, what resolves their plight is pretty convenient and lucky, with neither side acting in a way we haven’t just seen last issue. And, yes, this is superhero comics and growth for the main character is all but forbidden, but Spencer’s past work (especially on Astonishing Ant-Man) has found ways to obscure that stagnation with poignant heart-to-hearts or conflicts that force telling choices from the hero.

All that said, Spencer continues to have a knack for Peter’s world and voice, and Ottley’s art is sharp as ever. Slott on his run did have an established pattern wherein he absolutely nailed the biggest issues of his run, the anniversaries and events and the like. Spencer certainly showed in Amazing Spider-Man #1 that he has it in him, too. In an age of high-pressure double-shipped books, that kind of writing rollercoaster may very well be inherent to these characters.        

Overall: The end of Spencer and Ottley’s first Amazing Spider-Man arc does a better job laying track for the future than paying off this first story arc. It has quite a bit to say about the Spider-Man ethos, but it’s all stuff we heard last issue. Still, the voice and ambitions here remain strong, and I’m optimistic for this run’s future. 6.5/10

For more comic book reviews, check out our review archives.

Zack Quaintance is a journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at @zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.

REVIEW: Amazing Spider-Man #4 by Nick Spencer, Ryan Ottley, Cliff Rathburn, Laura Martin, & Joe Caramagna

By Zack Quaintance — If Amazing Spider-Man #1 was a series intro and primer, than Amazing Spider-Man #4 seems to be our first real glimpse of its scope, giving readers a better idea of where the fresh creative team wants to take Marvel’s flagship character. As I wrote in my review of #1, I loved that issue, but if I’m being totally honest, I still had trepidation, albeit buried somewhat deeply.

Basically, I wondered if I’d simply given in to Spencer’s quippy scripting and Ottley’s shiny kinetic pencils, and if that meant eventually the glow would fade and the book would feel hollow. Ottley is a massive talent, to be sure, and I’ve liked Spencer’s work, especially Astonishing Ant-Man and The Superior Foes of Spider-Man. Those books, however, were decidedly straightforward in terms of ideas, and neither sustained the type of multi-year run all signs suggest is coming on Amazing Spider-Man.

And, really, it’s almost certainly too soon to say Spencer and Ottley have shown they’re able to tell a meaningful long-form story about Peter Parker. That said! I’m doing it anyway, because in Amazing Spider-Man #4, I saw hints that Spencer was interested in far more than jokes (which he’s great at) and bringing back bygone plot points that if mishandled could end up being fan service.

There were two decisions in this issue that made me more bullish about the future of this title. The first was the choice of villain, which was a fantastic reveal that both changed the way I viewed the past two issues and made me nod my head back like—respect—in regards to Spencer’s knowledge and use of Spidey’s deep continuity.

The second was how the sci-fi hijinx in the foreground was able to meaningfully unpack and examine part of Spider-Man’s defining belief system, which is perhaps the defining belief system in all of superhero comics: With great power comes great responsibility. I won’t spoil the details of how this happens, but I will note that a great way to realize the impact of ethos is to revisit what life is like when that ethos is absent. And Spencer, Ottley, and co. found a really entertaining way to do just that.

As a friend on Twitter noted, this book is benefiting right now from some great Spidey alchemy between Spencer and Ottley, and as I noted on Twitter (I really need to spend less time on there), Amazing Spider-Man is etched in stone on my pull list, but when it’s at its best (as it has been now through these first 4 issues), it makes Marvel’s entire line feel more exciting.

Anyway, I’ll wrap up by noting I like this series so much (and it’s so prominent) that I’m going to add it to the regular review rotation here, meaning we’ll have a new Amazing Spider-Man review for every new Amazing Spider-Man issue.

Overall: Amazing Spider-Man #4 continues with the great art and hilarious quips of the first three issues, also adding a villian expertly culled from deep Spider-continuity plus a well-done examination of Peter’s core beliefs. Simply put, there’s seriously good comic book-ing going on here. 9.5/10

For more comic book reviews, check out our review archives.

Zack Quaintance is a journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at @zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.

Best New #1 Comics of July 2018

The new comics fireworks started July 4th and just kept coming. Groan, I know. But anyway, the most impressive thing about this month’s new #1 was the wide variety of stories they told. So many boxes got checked by these books: New Orleans plus horror and drugs? CHECK. Encouraging new direction for Amazing Spider-Man? CHECK. Ethereal exploration of death that reads like literary magical realism in graphic format? Somehow also CHECK.

July’s variety of #1 comics speaks to a major change in the industry: a broader and expanding audience is fostering broader and expanding demand. You know what that means? That’s right—broader and expanding supply. Or, more and weirder comics. With this in mind, it’s easy to be bullish on comics right now, and the entries on our list today re-enforce why.

Let’s do it!

Quick Hits

The Long Con #1 came out the Wednesday after SDCC, telling a story about a never-ending apocalyptic con. Its timing was perfect and its concept sharp. Read our full review.

Cliche alert! Catwoman #1 was a (fancy?) feast for the eyes. The story and art—both by Joelle Jones—were phenomenal. Most importantly, though, Jones gets Selina...the aesthetic, narration, villain...nigh-perfect.

I saw Donny Cates at SDCC on a panel about Image Comics. Someone was late...so Cates, obviously, put Pantera on his phone and growled into his mic, WELCOME TO IMAGE. This is also the aesthetic of his latest Marvel #1s: Cosmic Ghost Rider and Death of Inhumans, which are both madcap and grandiose.

Mariko Tamaki and Juan Cabal had to follow Tom Taylor’s excellent 3-year run on All New Wolverine. Tough challenge. In X-23 #1, however, the team meets it, preserving the best of Taylor’s work (the heart) while also heading in a horror-tinged new direction.

Everyone said read Bone Parish #1 by Cullen Bunn Jonas Sharf. They said it was excellent, frightening in a way I wouldn’t expect. Everyone was right. Bunn’s latest horror book (of an estimated 19) is frightening in a way you won’t expect, either. Now I’m the one urging you to read it.

Speaking of horror, check out Clankillers #1, a gritty story about gaelic mythology. Read our full review.

Ever think to yourself: I’d love to read Miami Vice meets Fast Times at Ridgemont High? Of course not, few probably have, but someone is writing it as a comic and it’s a winner. The Mall by Don Handfield, James Haick, and Rafael Loureiro is a solid debut, rich with ‘80s camp. Recommended.

James Tynion IV and Alvaro Martinez nailed Justice League Dark #1. In a summer of strong new directions for DC, this is one of the strongest, with stellar art and gleeful depictions of the publishers oft-underused bench.

Vault Comics (one of our favorites) has had a great year, and Submerged #1 is the latest book to become a part of it. Vita Ayala and Lisa Sterle craft a story with intriguing family dynamics, a natural disaster, and a potpourri of mythos. 

It’s tough to evaluate Brian Michael Bendis’ debuts via Superman #1 and Action Comics #1001. Bendis is a prolific and veteran writer, a student of superhero history who thinks in eras, not in single issues. So far, he’s established tones and started unveiling his the vanguard of his plans. The full scope of his aspirations, however, largely remain to be seen.

Top Five Best #1 Comics of July 2018

Unnatural #1 by Mirka Andolfo

This book lives in an intriguing world of dystopian reproductive laws, one that has enabled Italian comic auteur Mirka Andolfo to craft a story that is at once poignant, tantalizing, and horrific. This issue is the first of 12 parts, and I knew about halfway through reading it that I was onboard for the long haul.

To quote our Unnatural #1 Review: Andolfo clearly has strong thoughts about the intersection of sex and government, but she is also well-aware that those thoughts are best served by first and foremost telling an entertaining story. As a result, Unnatural #1 is not to be missed. And we very much stand by that.

Captain America #1 by Ta-Nehisi Coates & Leinil Francis Yu

Early indications are strong for Ta-Nehisi Coates & Leinil Yu on Cap.

This debut fittingly dropped on July 4, and it’s the best single-issue Captain America story I’ve read since Ed Brubaker’s all-time great run ended. Ta-Nehisi Coates is a writer I first became aware of via his articles in The Atlantic, before then reading his non-fiction works, specifically Between the World and Me. When he came to comics in the spring of 2016 to write Black Panther, I enthusiastically added the comic to my pulllist.

And Black Panther has been decent enough, a little wordy and dull in parts as Coates struggled to reconcile the new medium with his writerly instincts. With Captain America #1, any and all growing pains are clearly behind him. Coates and collaborator Leinil Francis Yu have made a declarative statement with this book...this is going to be a dark and action-heavy take on Cap, one that will test Steve Rogers with problems that grow out of his past continuity as well as the modern state of the U.S. It won’t be heavy handed, no, on the contrary the book seems bent on making its thematic intent slow-burning and subtle. Come along if you dare. Read our full review.

Amazing Spider-Man #1 by Nick Spencer & Ryan Ottley

I think it was in one of those retailer columns on Bleeding Cool that I read about someone saying a back-to-basics well-done Amazing Spider-Man book could be the industry’s top seller. Well, we’re about to find out if that’s true. Nick Spencer and Ryan Ottley’s debut on Marvel’s flagship title is almost indisputably those two things: well-done and back-to-basics.

We here at Batman’s Bookcase, however, have now written two full pieces about why we like it, so rather than trying to find a facet of the comic we haven’t explored, we’ll just wrap up quickly here by pointing you toward our Amazing Spider-Man #1 Review and our 5-Panel Amazing Spider-Man Explainer.

This is easily one of our favorite covers in recent memory.

Euthanauts #1 by Tini Howard & Nick Robles

Remember way back at the start of this piece when I mentioned an ethereal exploration of death that reads like literary magical realism in graphic format? Well, here we are. The Euthanauts #1 is a unique comic, as self-assured as any debut issue in recent memory. It does understated and deliberate work familiarizing you with a relatable character, one who is maybe even a bit on the mundane side, before fitfully plunging you into a world where life and death intermingle.

Someone on Twitter asked me recently if this comic was good, and I told them yes, very good, but pretty abstract and best consumed in a way where it just sort of washes over you—read twice for good measure. That’s how I read it, and it has been haunting me ever since. I can’t wait to see what this creative team has in store for this story. Oh, and I should also note that as mesmerizing as Tini Howard’s ideas are, this without question seems to be one of those ideal books wherein her and artist Nick Robles lift each other, both seemingly poised to do career best work. Read our full review.

Relay #1 by Zac Thompson, Eric Bromberg, Donny Cates, & Andy Clarke

While reading Relay #1, I got a feeling I’ve maybe only previously had while emerging from a classic sci-fi novel. Basically, this comic reads like layered and complex sci-fi being doled out by an engaging plot line, one with evident shades of the masters of its genre, namely Philip K. Dick and Ursula K. Le Guin.

I really dug Relay #1, to the point when someone recently asked me what books I was reading (always a difficult question to answer on the spot), I stumbled around for a moment before just blurting out: Relay. For more on why I enjoyed the first issue of this book so much...that’s right...read our full review here.

Thanks as always for reading, and make sure to come back this week for our Best Comics of July 2018, period.

Check out more of our monthly lists here.

Zack Quaintance is a journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at @zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.

Amazing Spider-Man #1 Brings the Funny: A 5-Panel Explainer

By Zack Quaintance — The with great power comes great responsibility ethos of Amazing Spider-Man is almost universally relatable, especially for middle class Americans who’ve had even minor opportunities. It definitely resonated with me as a kid in a blue collar suburb of Chicago. The sum total of my power back then was manipulating my brothers into unholy pacts to combine birthday money for new video games. Yet there I was, reading ASM and nodding along, like, This story gets me.

That deeper meaning, however, was only half of why I loved the comic. I was also there because Spider-Man’s jokes were funny. Last Wednesday, a new team of writer Nick Spencer and artist Ryan Ottley took over Amazing Spider-Man (we loved the first issue), and while a more holistic view of their run will ultimately determine whether they do justice to that ethos, it’s immediately clear the humor is on point. I, for one, chuckled while reading...chuckled!

Anyway, today we're looking at five funny panels from Amazing Spider-Man #1. It’s not as insightful as some other recent Tuesday analysis pieces (ahem, see this thing about Deathstroke, please!), but like Spider-Man, we are also here to bring some funny (plus we're at San Diego Comic Con next week, so we have to do five day's worth of posts this weekend).

Let’s do this!

Panel 1 - Kiss B-Sides

The previous Amazing Spider-Man writer, Dan Slott, had a good sense of humor, to be sure, but you try writing 10 years worth of quips for the same voice and see how your results are toward the end. What struck my as different about Spencer's humor right away was how it extends past Spider-Man to include jokes at the expense of or said by other heroes in the Marvel Universe.

Take, for example, this excellent bit with the Guardians of the Galaxy. The writing here is funny, first as the Guardians banter and Groot lets slip something speciesist, and next as Hawkeye (a quippy fellow himself) mocks the way '80s music has become part of the Guardians' DNA via their depiction in the movies. 

Panel 2 - Workshopping Jokes

This was a nice little set them up and then knock them down kind of joke, wherein Spider-Man admits to workshopping past jokes to evaluate whether they're fit to be used again (although his ability to perceive their reception is a little questionable). Oh and stick with this, it's a long one...

Panel 3 - Doom-ocracy

In the (almost) words of the immortal Kent Brockman of The Simpsons, if Doom has said it before, he'll say it again...democracy simply doesn't work.

Panel 4 - Pop Culture

Now, I'm not saying that Spidey should become Deadpool (oof, no thanks, one is enough), but it's nice when his books have a little pop culture perspective in them. There's this quote—and I can't remember its exact wording nor who said it—and its gist is that comics are sort of a fast and immediate reflection of the pop culture zeitgeist at any given time (ignore that the panel below quotes dialogue from a movie released in 1977, please!). 

Also, I for one have always been curious about how superheroes manage to find the time and nutritional obsessiveness to stay in such great shape. Nice to get a little nod to that here.

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Panel 5 - The Magic Chair

This is absolutely the bit that made me chuckle. It should be noted that while I've placed these disembodied panels beside each other, this third panel is separated from the first one by quite a bit of narrative, making this joke what we who have listened to podcasts about the business like to refer to as a call back. 

Peter loves his chair.

Peter loses his chair.

Peter's chair (much later) finds a good home.

But Not So Fast

This is the part of this feature wherein I take a step back to taper my excitement. I must admit, however, that it's pretty challenging here. Spencer and Ottley's Spider-Man isn't yet demonstrably superior (heh) to Slott's. It's been one (very very very good) issue for them, while Slott did his thing with varied level of success for almost 10 years. So, I guess I'll pump my enthusiastic brakes here a moment by noting that they need to show they can perform at this high a level for more than just one outing.

Still, what a great start for the new team. It's a comic review cliche in an industry that runs on nostalgia, but this really is much closer to the Spider-Man stories I remember reading and watching when I was a kid. 

Zack Quaintance is a journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at @zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.

REVIEW: The Amazing Spider-Man #1 by Nick Spencer, Ryan Ottley, Cliff Rathburn, & Laura Martin

Amazing Spider-Man seems to be in good hands with Nick Spencer and Ryan Ottley.

By Zack Quaintance — Taking a beloved superhero back to basics in 2018 seems to mean a new creative team uses a whiteboard to free associate essential qualities that make a character compelling. They undo some of the last team’s work, while keeping other pieces that fit their vision. They then write and draw the hell out of their first issue, inspiring us fans to rush off and Tweet: THIS is the Spider-man I’ve been missing!

It’s not a bad thing, far from it. It certainly works here, as writer Nick Spencer and artist Ryan Ottley take over Amazing Spider-Man, marking the book’s first new creators in a decade. So, what do I think Spencer and Ottley put on their white board? WARNING, here come SPOILERS…I’d it included voice, humor, bad Parker luck, with great power comes great responsibility, and...wait for it…Peter’s relationship with Mary Jane.   

Now, I could spend this entire review discussing how Spencer expertly capture’s Peter’s interiority, how his writing made me laugh aloud, or how he nails Spideys relationship with other heroes—well-meaning but overly chatty and insecure. I could also easily heap 500 words of praise on Ottley’s artwork, which is that good. There’s a two-page spread in particular that made me realize what fans stand to gain by having Ottley on a flagship title.

This is all, however, overshadowed by Spencer’s clear intent to undo One More Day. For those who somehow missed it, in the 2007 story One More Day, Peter trades his marriage with Mary Jane to the demon Mephisto, who revives his Aunt May, effectively making Spider-Man single again. I personally disliked this decision, and I wasn’t alone.

But Spencer bookends this issue with scenes that seem to promise Peter and Mary Jane are getting back together. I try not to be overly prescriptive about comic book writing (much respect for vision and craft), but if I may let down my analytical guise: Holy hell this is everything I’ve wanted for a decade ahhhhhhhhh!

Ahem, now where was I?

Oh right: this issue left me feeling really good about Amazing Spider-Man’s future, both in terms of Spencer capturing what makes Spider-Man special and spinning (heh) interesting plots. Spencer’s take on Spider-Man’s villains is also unsurprisingly great, and not just because he makes them so relatable (Venture Bros.-esque, as he did in Superior Foes of Spider-Man).

In this debut, Spencer includes a ton of Spidey’s excellent rogues, using at least five villains plus a sixth who is discussed but not seen. Spencer, however, isn’t out to re-invent dynamics as Dan Slott seemed to be in his run. Spencer instead appears determined to let shared history between characters influence new battles in ways that feel fresh, which as we’ve seen elsewhere in superhero comics recently (DC Rebirth), is a great way to tell compelling stories about aging properties.

Overall: It sounds cliche, but Nick Spencer and Ryan Ottley really do take Spider-Man back to basics in the best possible way. The Ottley artwork is phenomenal, and the plot and characterization feel both fitting and natural. If this debut is a mission statement for what the new team is planning, I am firmly on board. 9.5/10

Zack Quaintance is a journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at @zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.