Project 365: One Comic Every Day, Week 4

The premise is simple: read one comic every day for the entire year. It seems like a simple task but there is no way that I read 365 comics last year, even if you count the individual issues in collections. So, this year, I have committed myself to this reading challenge, in the hope that I can broaden my reading habits and fully engage with my favorite hobby again.

I will always be a Spider-Man fan. He was the first superhero I really got into when I was young and I still pick up copies of the 1980s issues when I see them in the wild. Over this weekend I was sorting through my books and dragged out my box of Spider-Man comics. Whenever that happens I end up with a stack to read through. So I have several runs of different Spidey related titles on my reading desk which I will drip feed in over the next few weeks.

With that said, it’ll come as no surprise as to what my first comic of this week is..

Spectacular Spider-Man
The Spectacular Spider-Man Credit: Marvel Comics

Comic Number 22: The Spectacular Spider-Man #149 (and #s 151, 153, and 155)

I love the Gerry Conway and Sal Buscema run on The Spectacular Spider-Man in the late 1980s. The complex, multi-plot narratives and accompanying noir-esq artwork triggers all the right excitement centers of my brain. There are elements of Dick Tracy (with the grotesques for villains), and pulp fiction noir, but there is also the ongoing soap opera of Peter Parker and friends, fantastical elements with the Chameleon and, of course, horror plays a major role with characters like Carrion, the cover villain for issue 149. Carrion is one of those characters that I have always loved, like the Hobgoblin, because there is a macabre and tragic element to them. This issue sees the birth of a new Carrion, from the jealous science student Malcolm McBride. The setting for the story is suitably creepy as Sal Buscema creates a gothic horror environment in the center of New York through the use of cellars and graveyards.

However, it is the extended fight sequences in issue 153 that really shine in this mini-run. Tombstone, another one of my favorites, is both menacing and imposingly violent. The extended bullying story-line that feeds through all of these issues moves from intimidation to a brutal murder in some very expressive scenes. Conway writes the characters so well. He gets under their skin and brings out their complexities in such a short space of time.

At this period in time, The Spectacular Spider-Man was a blending of genres all wrapped in the cover of a superhero story. Even now, after 25 years, I love this stuff.

Uncanny X-Men
The Uncanny X-Men #130 Credit: Marvel Comics

Comic Number 23: The Uncanny X-Men #130

You can take what I wrote about The Spectacular Spider-Man and apply it to this run of X-Men comics. With Chris Claremont on writing duties and John Byrne/Terry Austin on the art, there’s not much else you need to know.

Inside this issue are: The Hellfire Club; the second appearance of Emma Frost and Kitty Pryde; the first appearance of Dazzler; and it’s all downhill from this point on-wards for the X-crew thanks to a little story line called Dark Phoenix. This issue from the beginning of 1980 comes in the middle of one of the best X-Men sagas and is, itself, an absolute treat to read. The artwork is dynamic but also captures the subtlety of the characters emotions. The color work from Glynis Oliver (credited as Glynis Wein) sets the atmosphere and tone of the story, managing to use the lower grade printing of the time to great effect. The lettering, by Tom Orzechowski, has a crisp, uniform look to it that fits beautifully with the artwork and allows the script to  flow through the page.

Even the feel of this comic is just right; it wants to be held and read, the crisp pages folding back along the spine to reveal the dangerous world that envelopes the mutant family. The very fabric of this comic draws you into a world that is easy to become lost in. It would be a crime to ‘slab’ this comic. It has been designed to be read.

Bulls of Deacon Hill
Bulls of Beacon Hill #1 Credit: AfterShock

Comic Number 24: Bulls of Beacon Hill #1

A little bit of a preview from AfterShock Comics (although it should be in shops by the time you read this). I don’t really know what’s going on with the publisher at the moment which is a shame because they have, over the last few years, put out some of the greatest comics of recent years. So, hopefully they can sort out their problems, pay all of their creators what they owe them, and continue publishing exceptional books.

Take Bulls of Beacon Hill as an example. The narrative follows Christoper Boldt, a doctor on the verge of setting up a hospital for patients who can’t afford medical care and is about to announce his bid for a place on the Boston Council. Also, his father is the head of the city’s mafia and is not impressed by his son’s life.

Steve Orlando tells a riveting crime drama with an excellent central cast. The opening has a wonderful Citizen Kane homage with a baseball standing in for the infamous sledge. Andy Macdonald’s artwork is spot on. It’s emotional, disturbing (when it needs to be) and very powerful. Macdonald captures the mundane experiences of the lead couple, Charles and his boyfriend Bill, with a delightful charm that you almost feel betrayed when a shadow starts to fall over their lives. It is a superb way of drawing the reader into the story.

Additional call outs to Lorenzo Scaramella and Carlos M. Mangual on colors and letters respectively, because the impact of the story wouldn’t work without their work bringing the narrative together.

This is a new comic, on the shelves now, so pick it up.

Manga Spider-Man
Spider-Man: The Manga Credit: Marvel Comics

Comic Number 25: Spider-Man: The Manga (various issues)

It was originally published in 1970 in Japan but it wasn’t until 1997 that Marvel published a translated version. Written by Kōsei Ono and Kazumasa Hirai and illustrated by Ryoichi Ikegami, the series was a rough re-telling of its American counterpart, at least in general terms. High school student Yu Komori is bitten by a radioactive spider and suddenly finds himself able to do anything a spider can do. He builds his own web-shooters and dresses in a loose fitting costume to fight the new enhanced criminals that have started to show up in Tokyo.

The art work contains all of the traits you would associate with manga: extreme close ups, a focus on characters with little backgrounds, and highly detailed scene setting panels. There is an excessive use of motion lines which fits well with Spider-Man’s speed and unnatural movement. Unfortunately, the script isn’t as impressive but I wonder how much of that is down to the translating process. A quick flick through any of the issues of Spider-Man: The Manga and you can instantly tell that the layouts have been altered and edits made. Apparently (according to a quick Wikipedia search) the comics were edited for violence and this is obvious in some of the page layouts.

The flow of the comic doesn’t quite have the energy that I am used to with my manga reading (although I am not a big manga reader) but I definitely enjoyed the handful of issues that I have. I also love seeing a completely different interpretation of the character, seen from a new cultural viewpoint. I am also intrigued by the creators and will be looking into their other work.

Shadow of the Bat
The Shadow Of The Bat cover Credit: DC Comics

Comic Number 26: Shadow of the Bat #12

Before Knightfall all Batman had to worry about was annoying, untrained, semi-thieves like The Human Flea. In this daft little tale penned by Alan Grant, Batman is on the trail of Mortimer Kadaver who is a criminal with a short life expectancy. But before the villain goes into that long sleep he plans to take the rest of Gotham with him using fleas to spread the plague.

This story has a gothic thread woven into its fabric, one that artist Vince Giarrano picks up and runs with. His dark, scratchy style suits the narrative and there is something unhinged about the way he draws the central characters. Even Batman melts into the panels with wiry tendrils and heavy shadows. The story may be simple but the execution is wonderful. Adrienne Roy’s colors create a brooding atmosphere while there is an element of whimsy to Todd Klein’s letters, highlighting the contrast of dark and light, good and evil, drama and comedy.

I haven’t kept many copies of Shadow of the Bat but I hang on to this one because there is a creepy charm to the, quite horrific, story inside.

Amazing Spider-Man
The Amazing Spider-Man various covers Credit: Marvel Comics

Comic Number 27: The Amazing Spider-Man #334

A bit more Spidey action, this time from 1990 and the start of the epic (maybe..) story The Return of the Sinister Six. Doctor Octopus is recruiting some of Spider-Man’s greatest villains as he hatches a plan to finally beat the infuriating web head.

This story written by David Michelinie is unnecessarily elaborate with Doc Ock creating the most ridiculous setup just to get Electro’s attention. Although with Erik Larsen on Art Duties, nothing can be too ridiculous. In all honesty, I’m not a fan of Larsen’s art style and I have trouble getting on with some of his character work, especially his female characters. In this issue there are some panels that have overtly complicated renditions of Doc Ock, so much so that I stopped reading to try and figure out how his arms were working. For me, Larsen’s layouts and over drawn panels pull me out of the story and don’t enhance it. He does draw a very good Spider-Man, though.

I’m two parts into this story and I’m enjoying it, in the same way I enjoy a Ferengi heavy episode of Star Trek. I’m not bothered about the main story and I’m only watching for the small character moments.

Star Trek
Star Trek #4 Cover Credit: IDW Comics

Comic Number 28: Star Trek #1-3

Next week sees the release of Star Trek #4 from IDW Publishing so I’ve re-read the previous issues to bring me up to speed. IDW have released a lot of Star Trek comics over the years but the last few years have had the best runs since DCs series in the 1980s. Year Five was a wonderful run set just after the Original Series and the current run is set after the end of Deep Space Nine. There is an outstanding cast of characters, old and new, with a universe shattering central premise that allows for the return of so many characters and races from Star Trek lore.

Collin Kelly and Jackson Lanzing understand the world they are writing in and, just as importantly, understand the audience they are writing for. If you are a fan of Star Trek you should be all over this series like a Tribble on a Klingon.

Darryll Robson
Darryll Robson
Comic book reader, reviewer and critic. A student of Comics Studies and still patiently waiting for the day they announce 'Doctor Who on The Planet of the Apes'.