Welcome back to Longbox Junk, the place to find all the comic reviews you never asked for!
Once again, apologies for the time between my posts being pretty random these days. As the head of a skeleton crew at my job, I'm doing the work of 3 people and my schedule is just sort of swingin' in the wind. But at least I still have a job, so I'll keep the complaints to a minimum. I've been READING a lot of comics, I just don't have as much time as I'd like to write about them.
ANYWAY. . .
I'll tell you true. . .things ain't great out there. Every time I turn on the news, I feel like taking a Xanax and climbing UNDER the bed. My gut gets sour just looking at the headlines of a newspaper these days. Forget toilet paper. . .I need to stock up on TUMS!
I don't have the stomach to add to all the negativity in the air, so I've temporarily decided to make Longbox Junk a place to come and relax a bit as I take a journey through the lighter side of the comic book world. I'll get back to grinding through some rotten comics eventually. . .but not just yet.
THAT SAID. . .
I've come to discover that my comic collection tends to lean quite a bit to the darker and dramatic side of things. . .which is sort of a problem when deciding to spotlight some fun comics for Longbox Junk readers.
Luckily, my comic-lovin' daughter has come to the rescue! Since she's out of school for the time being, and generally likes her comics to be on the fun side of things, we've been having a great time digging through her collection together and finding some stuff to bring a smile to both of our faces, and I hope it will do the same for you.
Case in point. . .the comics at hand.
A five issue mini-series put out by Marvel in 2005 showcasing five stand-alone (but loosely connected) tales featuring the High-Flyin' Human Torch and your Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man in light-hearted adventures paying homage to various eras of Marvel Comics from the Silver Age to the Modern Age.
DISCLAIMER. . .
These issues assume a familiarity with Marvel Continuity I don't really have, and don't specifically say when the stories are set or what creative teams they are paying tribute to. . .which will be part of the fun for readers that are established fans of these characters. I'm NOT a big fan of these characters, so if the bit of research I did do is wrong, feel free to shame/correct me in comments for my own good.
Okay? Ready? Let's do it!
SPIDER-MAN/ HUMAN TORCH
SCRIPTS: Dan Slott
PENCILS: Ty Templeton
COVERS: Paul Smith
A nice homage to the good old "heroes fight until they don't" character crossover cover hook. Overall, it's a fun cover with some great colors that puts both main characters firmly in the spotlight. I'd definitely give this one a turn on the "Wall O' Covers" on my office wall at work.
This story seems to be set at the beginning of Spider-Man and Torch's careers in the early 1960's and pays homage to their Silver Age adventures.
When Johnny "The Human Torch" Storm decides he isn't getting the publicity he deserves, he hires his sometime pal Peter "Spider-Man" Parker (but without knowing Peter is the "menace" known as Spider-Man) to follow him around for a few days as a personal photographer.
On the first day, Peter gets on Torch's bad side when during a bank robbery he steps in to help as Spider-Man. Torch (not knowing Peter is Spidey) is convinced that Peter tipped off Spider-Man in order to steal his glory for stopping the robbery. He almost fires Peter, but gives him another chance.
On the second day, Peter decides he'll shadow Torch as Spider-Man without him knowing in order to get better shots and keep his alter-ego out of trouble. After a brief encounter with Paste Pot Pete laying in wait for the Torch, Spider-Man follows the High-Flyin' hero to the Latverian Embassy, where Torch plans on confronting Doctor Doom by himself!
Of course, Doom is prepared for Torch's ill-advised one-man assault and freezes him in a block of ice. . .leaving the secretly-watching Spider-Man as the only one able to come to the rescue.
Spider-Man pretends to be willing to join Doctor Doom as a fellow villain, and agrees to kill Torch, but at the last moment Spidey makes his escape with the frozen hero, earning Doctor Doom's promise of future revenge in the process.
Later, Spider-Man accidentally breaks off Torch's frozen hair while chipping him out of the ice, leaving the vain hero bald! Even though Peter secretly snaps a picture of the humiliated Torch, J.J. Jameson at the Daily Bugle decides to run a picture of Spider-Man together with Doctor Doom instead, further cementing Spidey's reputation as a menace.
In the end, Torch is bald and Peter Parker made things worse for Spider-Man. Nobody can catch a break in the big city. The End.
Like I said above, I'm generally not a fan of either the Fantastic Four or Spider-Man, but I really enjoyed this story a lot! Dan Slott really channeled some goofy Silver-Age fun and nonsense into this little comedy of errors. I especially liked the "Nobody wins" ending, that almost had me hearing the "Wha-wha-whaaaaaaaaaaaaa" sad trombone sound on the last page. Spidey's encounter with Paste Pot Pete, where he basically laughs the villain into leaving without a fight (because of his ridiculous name), is also a great moment.
The art really helped sell the story as well. It's got some nice dark lines and beautiful, bright colors. There's a great sense of motion in the action scenes, and the facial expressions in the more comedic scenes are perfect. The artist DOES make Peter look a lot older than a teenager, but I think Peter Parker looking like he's 30 years old is part of the Silver Age homage, if I remember from the very few Spidey comics I have from the 60's, so I can give it a pass.
Overall, a silly story backed up with some very nice artwork makes this first issue a lot of fun! As a standalone story, I'd recommend this one even if (like me) you aren't a big Torch or Spidey fan for a good lighthearted comic to read. But this is only the first issue. . .Let's get to the next one!
CATCH YOU ON THE FLIPSIDE
I'm not going to get too negative here, but this cover is just sort of "Meh". It's not BAD, but it's not really that good, either. It's just sort of. . .there. It seems a bit cluttered and isn't the kind of cover that would have made me pick this issue up off the stand for a look.
Based on Captain George Stacy (1st appearance 1968 - Death in 1970) appearing in this issue, I'd say this story is set in the late 1960's and pays tribute to the late Silver Age adventures of our heroes.
After a disagreement between Peter Parker and Johnny Storm, Spider-Man and The Human Torch decide to switch places for a day. . .with Spidey going along with the Fantastic Four on a trip to another dimension while Torch watches over the streets of New York City.
Of course, things quickly begin to go wrong for both heroes. Spider-Man finds himself on a terrifying journey that barely fazes his Fantastic Four companions while Torch discovers that his super-powers are TOO powerful when trying to take down street thugs instead of alien menaces.
In his panic, Spider-Man ruins most of Mr. Fantastic's experiments as he tries to "save" the Fantastic Four from the dangers of what would have normally been a routine mission. In the meantime, Torch finds himself in conflict with Kraven The Hunter.
In the end, Johnny Storm comes out on top by defeating Kraven, breaking his drug ring, and earning the key to the city in the process. But he also learns that his powers are more suited for the alien threats he normally faces and gains new respect for the street-level heroics of the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. As for Spidey, he learns that he's not likely to be invited on more trips with the Fantastic Four any time soon. . .The End.
Another great issue! This one has even more humor than the first issue, as well as a little dose of heart as our heroes learn a bit more about each other when they switch places for a day. It's a great idea for a story and Dan Slott pulls it off very nicely.
The initial setup will probably appeal a bit more to fans who can appreciate the appearances of the many supporting characters that show up, like Captain Stacy, Flash Thompson (on leave from Vietnam), and the Inhuman Crystal. . .characters I have very little knowledge of. But once the story itself gets going, it's pure fun!
My favorite parts were Spider-Man's fish out of water terror as he travels to another dimension with the Fantastic Four. Even though the story really focused more on Johnny Storm, the occasional flashes to Spidey were comedy gold!
And once again, the art delivers the perfect compliment to the story. . .even giving a bit of signature "Kirby Crackle" during Spider-Man's terrifying ride with the FF. A nice touch.
Overall, I'd have to say I liked this issue even more than the first. It has a great story hook and some really funny moments. Once again, the story pretty much stands alone, so that makes it even better in my book. So far we've had two for two great issues in this series, which is saying something for someone who isn't really a fan of either starring character.
Like the cover on the previous issue, this one also seems pretty cluttered. The art itself is good, but the cover is just sort of busy. Extra points for the Spider-Buggy, though! That's enough of an oddball nostalgia hook that I would have at least taken a look at this issue when it was on the stands.
Based on Spider-Man's depression over the death of Gwen Stacy (1973) in this issue, I'd say it's set in the middle 1970's and is a homage to the early Bronze Age adventures of Spidey and Torch.
Peter Parker takes on an internship with Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four in order to try and get out of the funk he's in over the recent death of his girlfriend, Gwen Stacy.
While there, he meets a fellow intern, a beautiful Russian woman named Nina Pushnikov. . .who is actually a Soviet spy working for the villain Red Ghost, who is after one of Reed Richard's inventions, the "Gravity Localizer". A device that can create small anti-gravity fields that can be controlled.
In the meantime, Johnny Storm (AKA the Human Torch) has been helping Spider-Man with a new project. . .the Spider-Mobile. It's a spider-themed dune buggy being sponsored by a car manufacturer as part of an ad campaign featuring Spider-Man.
Unfortunately, during Spider-Man and Torch's test run of the vehicle, they quickly realize WHY no New York superheroes drive around in cars when Daredevil has to take down Stilt-Man after the Spider-Mobile gets stuck in downtown traffic.
The pair of hapless heroes decide to "borrow" Reed Richards' Gravity Localizer in an effort to improve the Spider-Mobile, not realizing that the Red Ghost and his trio of super apes are after the device. As Torch and Spidey joyride around on the sides of Manhattan's skyscrapers, Red Ghost breaks into the Baxter Building and discovers the device is missing.
Red Ghost tracks Torch and Spider-Man down and lays a trap for them, managing to steal the Spider-Mobile and the Gravity Localizer. The heroes quickly go into pursuit, and Spider-man is able to stop and capture the villains without a fight using the flaky crust and delicious fruit filling of "Mostess" fruit pies. The End.
Although this one starts off on a somber note (with Spider-Man reflecting on the death of Gwen Stacy), it's really played for laughs even more than either of the previous issues. The whole thing is just light nonsense that has a couple of good chuckles and a lot of heart (as Spidey confesses to Torch that he's his only REAL super-friend).
I REALLY enjoyed the nod to the old Hostess (here as Mostess) fruit pie ads as the final chase is ended in a way that's sure to bring a smile to any Bronze Age comic fan reading this!
The art in this one seems a bit more rushed and incomplete than in the previous two issues. I'm not going to say it's bad, just that it could clearly be better. Not sure if there was a schedule problem that caused a rush or something, but I hope it improves in the next issue.
Overall, I got a big delight in every bite of this issue! The art looked a bit rushed and sketchy in places, but that didn't stop this from being a story full of humor, heart, and delicious fruit filling. . .making this one three for three good issues in this series so far. Let's get into the next one!
I like this cover a lot! The contrast between the dark outfits of the characters and the bright red background really makes things pop. Also, you can just tell there's gonna be lovestruck comedy shenanigans of some sort to be found inside. This is the kind of cover that makes me want to check out a comic! I plan on snagging this issue from my daughter to give it a turn on the "Wall O' Covers" next February.
Based on She-Hulk being a new member of the Fantastic Four and Spidey's inexperience with his new "Alien Costume" in this issue, I place this story immediately after "Secret Wars" in 1985. Paying tribute to the late Bronze Age/ early Modern Age adventures of our heroes.
Our story begins with an argument between Spider-Man and his newest love/ crimefighting partner, Black Cat, over her wanting his help getting into an exclusive showing of Wakanda's greatest national treasure. . .a jeweled tribal mask belonging to the first ruler of Wakanda.
He is disappointed that Black Cat seems to be slipping back into her criminal ways and refuses to be part of it. She is disappointed that Spidey won't break his rigid moral code and walk on the wild side now and then with her.
Later, at the Wakandan embassy, Peter Parker (there on assignment from the Daily Bugle) is surprised to see his girlfriend enter Red Carpet Style on the arm of none other than Superstar Superhero and friend, Johnny Storm (AKA The Human Torch).
Peter is determined to stop Black Cat's theft of the jeweled mask and save his friend from being used by Black Cat. Using his symbiote suit's ability to change appearance, he infiltrates the Embassy disguised as a guard as he tries to follow them. Unfortunately, the security team has been hand-picked and his disguise quickly fails, raising the alarm and putting both Black Panther and his Royal Guard in pursuit of Spider-Man.
The battle between Spider-Man and Black Panther (who assumes that Spidey is the villain the newspapers claim him to be) provides the perfect diversion as Black Cat uses her skills and Torch uses his super powers to break through the tight security measures surrounding the Wakandan Mask!
After Spider-Man makes his escape and tracks down Torch and Black Cat, it's revealed that the mask is still safely in place. All Black Cat wanted was a lock pick left behind by her father when he tried to steal the same mask years before. It really was just a little walk on the wild side, with no real crime committed. Spidey and Black Cat make up and Torch leaves, a little confused but having had an interesting night out. The End.
Yet another great issue! I really enjoyed the "comedy heist" feel of this story as Spider-Man blunders through a comedy of errors and misunderstandings while unwittingly providing the distraction for Torch and Black Cat to be able to pull off their end of things.
I'm not very familiar with Black Cat as a character, but based on this issue I wouldn't mind reading more about her and Spidey's adventures together. They seem to have been an interesting couple. Black Panther's guest appearance here was also great.
My concerns about the art's slipping quality from the last issue are relieved here with a return to fine form, with the expressive faces, dynamic movement, and great colors providing a perfect compliment to the light-hearted comedy heist story at hand.
Overall, we have yet another very entertaining issue here, with an engaging comedy heist story backed up by some very nice comic artwork. What I liked most about it was that this is the fourth really good issue in a five issue series. . .which is something that, in my Longbox Junkin' experience, doesn't happen very often at all. There's usually at least ONE clunker.
Can this thing possibly go five for five? Let's find out!
They saved the best for last! Great colors, great composition, a very nice sense of movement, and an equally- shining spotlight on the two star characters of the series make this cover one I have no hesitation deciding that it deserves a turn up on my office "Wall O' Covers" rotating comic cover display.
Based on Peter Parker being a high-school teacher, I place this story right before "Civil War" (2006), and bringing the story right into the time this mini was originally put out in 2005 for a look at the (then) current versions of Spidey and Torch.
When an assembly of students at Peter Parker's High School featuring The Human Torch is taken hostage by a Maggia boss seeking revenge for the death of his son in prison by killing a student that is the son of the District Attorney who convicted his son. Peter is finally forced to reveal his identity as Spider-Man to Torch in order to stop the crime boss and his armed thugs.
The pair team up to save the day, but later at a meeting on top of the Statue of Liberty, Torch vents his anger at Spider-Man for keeping his identity secret from him for so long. . .and it gets worse when Spidey reveals that Reed Richards (and many others in the super hero community) knew who he was while Torch was in the dark.
The two heroes make up after a heartfelt discussion where they both reveal how envious they've always been of each other (and how many of Torch's adventures with Spidey were actually with a clone).
After everything is sorted out, Torch invites Spider-Man to bring his family to the Baxter Building for dinner with the Fantastic Four, so that everyone can finally get to know each other better. It's shown at the end that Peter Parker and family are accepted as members of the extended Fantastic Four Family and Torch and Spidey's friendship continues to grow. The End.
Simply a great ending for a great series! This issue has a little action, a little comedy, and a lot of heart as Spidey and Torch reminisce about past adventures and we see them get closer as they are finally able to let their two families come together.
It's not as "stand alone" in nature as the previous four issues, as it looks back through previous adventures and also brings things forward into the (then) current continuity of the characters, so established fans will probably get a bit more out of it than new readers like myself, but that said. . .it's still a great read that packs a nice emotional punch into a small space as we see Spider-Man and Torch become more like brothers than friends.
Overall, this is a fine finish to this outstanding series. It digs deep into the heart of Spider-Man and the Human Torch's friendship in a way that makes me want to read more comics featuring these two heroes together. There's probably more here for established fans, but that doesn't stop this from being the delicious cherry on top of a very nice sundae of enjoyable comic books.
I've been Longbox Junkin' for a while now and it doesn't happen very often that I can get through a mini-series without at least ONE clunker in it. Well. . .Spider-Man/Human Torch is that rare occasion when every issue is good!
This series is simply a pleasure to read. It features well-written stories told with humor and heart. These light-hearted adventures were EXACTLY what I needed to read right now to bring a bit of a smile to my face, and I heartily recommend Spider-Man/ Human Torch to anyone who just wants to read some really fun comics during these troubling times. . .whether you're a fan of these characters or not!
Is this a PERFECT series? No. Nothing is perfect. The art gets a bit sketchy from time to time, it's really written more for established fans than new readers, and some of the humor doesn't quite hit the target. But for all the fun to be found in these pages, those are extremely small complaints.
All in all, I highly recommend this series for some silly, heartfelt fun. I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one who needs a bit of that these days.
Up Next. . .
With my current work schedule it's taking WAY too long for me to write up full comic series, so I think I'm going to throw down some single-issue reviews for a while. Still on the lighter side for now, of course. Not sure exactly what.
I've been grabbing a lot of #1 issues from my comic shop's back issue boxes lately as I try to spend the same amount of back issues weekly as I normally would on new comics (not the bargain bin, although I still dig through there as well). Maybe I'll feature a few of those. . .
In any case, be there or be square!