My 2022 Reading Stacks #1

Barry Windsor-Smith Monsters!

Maybe not the best place to start while writing over July 4th weekend…or is it?

Welcome once again to our recurring MCC feature in which I scribble capsule reviews of everything I’ve read that was published in a physical format over a certain page count with a squarebound spine on it — novels, original graphic novels, trade paperbacks, infrequent nonfiction dalliances, and so on. Due to the way I structure my media-consumption time blocks, the list will always feature more graphic novels than works of prose and pure text, though I do try to diversify my literary diet as time and acquisitions permit.

Occasionally I’ll sneak in a contemporary review if I’ve gone out of my way to buy and read something brand new. Every so often I’ll borrow from my wife Anne or from our local library. But the majority of our spotlighted works are presented years after the rest of the world already finished and moved on from them because I’m drawing from my vast unread pile that presently occupies four oversize shelves comprising thirty-three years of uncontrolled book shopping. I’ve occasionally pruned the pile, but as you can imagine, cut out one unread book and three more take its place.

I’ve previously written why I don’t do eBooks. Perhaps someday I’ll also explain why these capsules are exclusive to MCC and not shared on Amazon, Goodreads, or other sites where their authors might prefer I’d share them. In the meantime, here’s me and my reading results, which I should’ve begun tracking months ago…

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Yes, There Are Scenes During and After the “Spider-Man: No Way Home” End Credits

Spider-Man No Way Home!

It wouldn’t be a true Spidey film if Peter didn’t unmask for the final battle.

Here’s the Too Long, Won’t Read version: despite some wonderful interplay among the main cast and the special guests at the heart of the film (and one beautifully meta performance in particular), Spider-Man: No Way Home is my least favorite Marvel Cinematic Universe film since Thor: The Dark World. I’m in the minority on this, but no other 2021 film has aggravated me as much as this box-office leviathan did.

Hope that helps? You’re now free to go. Thanks for stopping by. I do understand. I just need to get the following 5000 words out of my system. Imagine it’s Martin Scorsese’s rapid voice so it’ll move faster.

Still here? Cool, but fair warning: it’s been a long time since I front-loaded a movie entry with a courtesy spoiler alert. There’s no way I can adequately express my reactions without moving beyond the trailer-approved plot points and into its numerous surprises, some of which were foretold on various geek clickbait sites and some of which I predicted from the trailers. Really, the courtesy spoiler alert is for real, anything goes. You might find plenty of reasons for irritation with me, but by venturing beyond the courtesy spoiler alert guard post you hereby forfeit the right to count “AAAHH! SPOILERS!” among them.

Once again, for those just joining us: courtesy spoiler alert. Thank you.

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Yes, There Are Scenes During and After the “Spider-Man: Far from Home” End Credits

Spider-Man Far from Home!

And now my paychecks are thiiiis big!

The inspired, rambunctious Spider-Man: Far from Home marks Tom Holland’s fifth film as everyone’s favorite put-upon wall-crawler, meaning he’s now done as many Spider-films as Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield combined. While every Spidey has had his high points in my estimation, Far from Home may be the best translation to date of the Spidey-era from my own childhood, roughly 1978-1989 plus Marvel Tales reprints of the first sixty issues of Amazing Spider-Man (the entire Steve Ditko oeuvre plus John Romita’s first two years). It’s a winning coda to the emotional pinnacles and pitfalls of Avengers: Endgame, an encouraging sign of heroism to come and a herald of hopefulness for the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Fair warning: this entire film follows the events of Endgame and reverberates from its ramifications. If you’re waiting for Endgame to hit DVD and living in the off-grid wilderness has sheltered you from learning of its major MCU-changing moments, you may want to flee now if you want to maintain your cone of silence. (True story: I know at least one person in this very situation. It is possible. I realize it’s hard to imagine, but not everyone in America is as entrenched in online living as you and I may be.)

On another level, anyone with zero foreknowledge of the antagonist Mysterio and his motifs from old Spidey-comics will want to skip the regular “Meaning or EXPLOSIONS?” section because, frankly, it was kind of boring to ruminate on that aspect spoiler-free. I’m not revealing all his secrets or recapping his scenes shot-for-shot, but…well, there’s stuff that spoke to me.

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Yes, There’s a Scene after the “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” End Credits


Introducing: Spider Squad Six!

Midlife Crisis Crossover calls Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse one of The Year’s Best Films!

So…there’s that. But I can’t simply post a screen shot of Ralphie’s teacher from A Christmas Story writing “A++++++++++” on her chalkboard and be done with it, because we know that’s not how I roll.

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My Favorite Steve Ditko Comic, According to Me at Age 7


If you only know Steve Ditko from Spider-Man movie credits, there’s a lot you don’t know.

Comic book fans are in mourning tonight over the news that legendary artist Steve Ditko was discovered dead in his apartment on June 29th. To the majority he’s known for a variety of creations and co-creations to his name — not just Spider-Man, but Dr. Strange, Squirrel Girl, DC’s the Question, the Creeper, and a long list of lesser-known quirky, oddly dressed champions of justice.

If anyone asks what the quintessential Ditko comic is, the correct answer is Amazing Spider-Man #33, an unconventional story then and now. Our Hero spends nearly the entire issue trapped under several tons of wreckage, unable to free himself easily, despondent that this may be his last hurrah, but slowly, surely, convincing himself he can find some way to save the day.

When I heard of Ditko’s passing, Spidey #33 wasn’t the first comic that popped into my head. As my brain is wont to do, it went obscure and reached farther back in time to a comic I hadn’t thought about in years.

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Yes, There Are Scenes During AND After the “Spider-Man: Homecoming” End Credits

Spider-Man Homecoming!

Window painting at our local theater. Yes, it has been a while.

If Marvel had simply decided twenty years sooner that Spider-Man films should be made once every three years, and that a different young British actor should play him every time, perhaps fans wouldn’t have fussed about Spider-Man: Homecoming coming so soon after Amazing Spider-Man 2. We’d be used to the rotating lead spot by now. Granted, this would’ve caused seismic shifts in our entertainment timeline — imagine if Spidey had been played years ago by a younger Daniel Radcliffe and left a weird hole in the Harry Potter franchise. Ah, what might have been.

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Yes, There’s a Commercial During the “Amazing Spider-Man 2” End Credits

Pow! Zap! CG Spider-Man vs. CG Electro!

The avatars of Andrew Garfield and Jamie Foxx duel for CG supremacy in this cutscene from the new Amazing Spider-Man 2 video game. Wait, no, my fault, this is from the movie.

At long last, the sequel to the reboot of the film series based on the comics is here! In the jam-packed Amazing Spider-Man 2 director Marc Webb’s trilogy continues with more villains, more angst, more money for special effects, more merchandising tie-ins, more credited screenwriters, less closure, and much lower expectations because of all of the above elements that have made many a super-hero sequel unwatchable.

This way for frenetic web-swinging action!

“Amazing Spider-Man” Reboot Likely Superior to What “Spider-Man 4” Might Have Been

Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 remains one of my favorite super-hero films, but Marc Webb’s Amazing Spider-Man approaches the same old origin from such a unique perspective of its own, I’ve decided I don’t mind their mutual existence. If I can handle the separate-but-equal Marvel-616 Spidey and Ultimate Spidey holding their own concurrent series, I suppose it’s not too far a leap to afford the movies similar tolerance, regardless of the debates about “How soon is too soon?”

Honestly, after the corporate-mandated mishmash that was Spider-Man 3, I’m relieved that Sony had the gall to buck popular opinion and return to square one. If the downward spiral had been allowed to continue, Spider-Man 4 would have been the franchise’s answer to Batman and Robin (some would argue SM3 was just that — witness Peter crossing over to the Dark Side, where there’s soulless dancing and self-inflicted haircuts), and Spider-Man 5 would have been a two-hour QVC Spidey Merchandise Marathon with no actual story, just five villains as hosts and a 1-800 number flashing onscreen all through the movie, with the house lights still turned on so viewers could use their cell phones to order while they watch. In much the same way that Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins eliminated the stigma from the Dark Knight Detective’s own series, Amazing Spidey restores honor to his own series by returning to the classic super-hero movie formula, by which I mean it only has one villain and fewer opportunities to push new action figures on us.

The web-swinging technology has improved to the point where I can no longer tell which Spideys were live stuntmen versus which were pure CG renderings (as opposed to the first film, which often switched to an animated Spidey only slightly more convincing than Kirk Alyn’s Superman cartoon-takeoffs). The speed-ramping effects to achieve super-cool slo-mo poster shots was annoying at first, until I realized that, for once, Spidey actually did look cool in action. Admittedly, some cityscape sequences felt more like cut-scenes from the Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions PS3 game, but that may simply be because video game art has been catching up to movie effects in recent years. I opted for the 2-D version, but even without a set of Upcharge-o-Vision glasses, the visuals were dynamic and occasionally wondrous without being a complete blur.

As our new Peter Parker, Andrew Garfield brings a winsome vulnerability and a more impish demeanor to the role, while at the same time seeming fiercer when pushed to his limits during the mandatory scenes where he’s unmasked for the sake of Acting. While Cliff Robertson and Rosemary Harris nailed the original Stan Lee/Steve Ditko versions of Uncle Ben and Aunt May, I found the younger versions reinterpreted by Martin Sheen and Sally Field to be a worthy, loving old couple whom you could believe spent thirty-seven years together as a finely tuned family unit. As for Emma Stone’s version of Gwen Stacy — who’s far from helpless, yet just sensible enough to know when she needs to vacate the premises instead of playing victim-to-be — I’d be very content if this series allowed Gwen never to be murdered or usurped by Mary Jane as the original comic-book Gwen was.

I wasn’t exactly giddy at the choice of the Lizard as a villain, but his presence works in the context of the rewritten origin, which takes a cue from the Ultimate Spider-Man comics and gives Peter’s deceased parents a scientific backstory set at the blatantly nefarious OsCorp. Whereas the comics used this setup as an excuse to reinvent Venom, the movie offers a logical series of mad-science events that result in sufficient excuse for two animal-based characters to be spawned at once. Rhys Ifans does what he can with his few all-human scenes, but I wish that Dr. Curt Connors had been allowed to retain his wife and son from the comics. Poor li’l Billy Connors’ shocked reactions to the dad he loved unconditionally used to deepen the tragedy of Connors’ circumstances even more. Even so, at least the Lizard’s makeup and visual effects are well above Black Lagoon quality, though his stiff plastic-surgery grins reminded me of Jack Nicholson’s unsightly Joker makeup. Despite that, as the Lizard tore through the streets of Manhattan (and sometimes through its citizens), I couldn’t help wondering how much better the TV series V would’ve been if the Visitors had been this formidable.

I liked the modernized look chosen for this film, rather than Sam Raimi’s timeless, occasionally old-fashioned design, which was a great recapture of Lee and Ditko’s world, but not necessarily one that needs to be enforced in perpetuity. I’m glad J. Jonah Jameson was nowhere in sight, because replacing J. K. Simmons would be a fool’s game. Filling the gadfly role with Denis Leary as Gwen’s dad (constantly irritated, but a hard-working hero when needed) was a smart move to sidestep that issue. Flash Thompson was what he needed to be, albeit capped with a final scene that was a great nod to the comics, though I have to wonder how in the world an aggro basketball jock could gain admission to the renamed “Midtown Science High School” that Peter and Gwen attend in this version for some reason. Would a typical New York high school have been an inadequate setting here? Or was this a subtle plug for magnet schools?

In one or two places, I was irked. In some places, I was blown away. In general, I was content. Whether it counts as a reboot, remake, relaunch, reimagining, recycling, or whatever, I’m not much concerned at this point. After Spider-Man 3 I’m just happy to be able to call Amazing Spider-Man a comeback.

(For those who are wondering: there’s a bonus scene not too far into the end credits, none at the end of the credits. It’s the exact same kind of end-scene we had in the Avengers series — ominous foreshadowing of evil scheming by a shadowy man. His identity is ridiculously easy to guess unless this movie is your very first experience with a Spider-Man product. If you paid attention to the trailers or even read this entry closely enough, you can guess who he is without even seeing the movie.)

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