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Daniel's Comic Book Column # 6, April 2002
by Daniel P. Dern (

Free Comic Book Day! Spider-Man Retrospective!

Daniel's Comic Pick of the Month: Free Comic Book Day!   

HEY! KIDS! IT'S FREE COMIC BOOK DAY! With the exception of DC's recent BATMAN: THE 10-CENT ADVENTURE (which I plugged here in the January 2002 column), priced at one thin dime, and issue #60 of Fantastic Four, which Marvel will apparently price at nine cents, new comic books ain't cheap these days. It's hard to find a new issue for less than two bucks; most of the mainstream titles are between $2.00 and $3.00, with larger and "prestige format" issues easily in the $3.50 - eight buck range. (E.g., Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Strikes Again.)

Except on Saturday, May 4 (the day after the Spider-Man movie is scheduled to open), which is Free Comic Book Day. At participating comic books stores -- while supplies last -- you can get one or more comics for free, thanks to the participating publishers. No, you can't pick anything you want. Each publisher has designated the title(s)/issue it's making available -- but what's being offered is far from shabby.

There's "Star Wars Tales: A Jedi’s Weapon" -- "a brand new story set shortly before the events of Star Wars: Episode II." JUSTICE LEAGUE ADVENTURES #1 (based on the animated TV series). TOMB RAIDER #˝ (Yes, that's issue number"one half") Not surprisingly, Marvel's offering is ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN #1.

Check with your local store(s) to find out what/when hours they'd participating -- even if the store opens, say, at 10 a.m. on Saturdays, they may not start offering the freebies until noon. You may also want to inquire how many freebies you can have, whether you get any choice, etc. If you're a regular at the store, you can ask whether they'll hold one or two titles for you. My store won't -- fair enough, the event's intended to attract new readers, and meant to be an in-person kind of thing. Obviously, your best bet in any case is to arrive early. I'd suggest planning to be at the store half an hour (or more?) before their participation in Free Comic Book Day starts. You'll get to schmooze with fellow comic fans while you're in line (this is either good or bad, depending). When you're doing reading your freebies, try to pass them along. And, of course, try to bring a friend who's not yet a comic reader, but open to the possibility. (Note to parents: some of the free comics may not be suitable for younger children; ask or check if you're not sure.)

Spider-Man Swings onto the big Screen...and we look at the book...

IT'S WEB-SLINGING TIME: SPIDER-MAN HITS THE BIG SCREEN Although you'd never know it from Marvel Comic's web site, at least not as of early April, there's a Spider-Man movie due out Real Soon Now. So, let's talk about everybody's favorite web-slinger, the Amazing Spider-Man, a.k.a. Spidey. Unofficially, I'd guess that along with Superman and Batman, Spider-Man is probably one of the best-known comic book superheroes around. Spidey burst onto the scene in August 1962, in Amazing Fantasy #15, for a mere twelve cents.

Written by Stan Lee, with art by Steve Ditko, and cover by Jack Kirby & Steve Ditko, this issue gave us Spidey's origin, costume, motivation, and core starter cast of characters -- with room to spare for a non-Spidey back-up story. For those of you who aren't familiar with Spider-Man's origins, and plan to see the movie -- SPOILER ALERT, albeit for the comic version; the movie may/will do some of this differently), here's the capsule version: Nerdy, even nebbishy science-oriented high-school student Peter Parker gets bitten by a radioactive* spider, endowing him with "spider powers" including "the proportional strength of the spider," the ability to cling to things via his hands and feet (e.g., "crawl walls," hang from the ceiling), and a "spider sense" which lets him be aware of things like people about to slug him from behind. * Interestingly, nearly all of Marvel's super-powered-by-accident heroes got theirs through some form of radiation/radioactivity event.

Marvel had a great two-issue title -- "Conspiracy" -- with a seriously paranoid take on this. Peter tries to capitalize on his new powers to make money; ensuing events lead to the Spider-Man costume, and a family tragedy that makes him swear to use his powers for good, because, as Stan Lee would have Peter articulate at least to himself several issues later, "With great power comes great responsibility." Thus started adventures both for Spider-Man and Peter Parker (often intertwined), with the help of a cast of characters including Daily Bugle editor-in-chief J.Jonah Jameson, "Flash" Thompson, Aunt May, Gwen Stacey, Mary Jane Watson... and the requisite villains (some 'borrowed' from other Marvel superheros) -- "Doc" Octopus, the Kingpin, the Vulture, the Sandman, Mysterio, and, of course, the Green Goblin.

As you may have gathered and remembered from what I've said in previous columns, I was pretty oblivious to Spider-Man (or X-Men, Fantastic Four, Hulk, Iron Man, etc.) the first time around; I was busy reading all those DC comics: Superman, Batman, World's Finest, Justice League, Green Lantern, etc. For all I know, the places I was getting my comics didn't carry Marvel, though that seems unlikely. (I caught up a decade later thanks to a friend who had pretty much all the Marvels from 1960 on in his basement, yum.)

Follow me to the Marvel Spidey-Bio Page to learn my secrets!I was following Spiderman and other Marvel titles pretty seriously for, mmm, probably a decade or so -- the 80's, I think -- but slacked off again, until, at least for Spider-Man, recently when Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski picked up the authorial baton. (See my December 2001 column in SFRevu for more, including a link to the trade paperback, "The Amazing Spider-Man: Coming Home.") Peter Parker, along with the Fantastic Four, epitomized part of Stan Lee's approach to comic book characters differentiating them from the ones over at their Distinguished Competition. In a word, angst. Peter, for all his powers, had anxiety, interpersonal troubles, and more, up the wazoo and beyond. For somebody not exposed to or affected by Red Kryptonite (wrong comic book universe, anyway), Peter/Spidey has managed to go through more than his share of weird changes (which, unlike Red K's, didn't wear off automatically in twenty four or so hours, either). For more info on Spidey, here's some sites I turned up in doing this column:

Spider-Man's currently got several on-going titles all to himself, plus several "limited/mini-series" and the usual assortment of one-shots, team-ups, cross-overs and spin-offs (Spider-Girl, Spider-Man 2099). Here's a quick look at Spider-title issues due out in May 2002:

Dern's Web-Slinging/Surfing
Tip:  seems to come up much faster than , even though they resolve to the same site. Go figure. Be patient, Marvel's web site's been getting slow, and with the movie approaching, I predict it'll only get worse.

Spider-Man: The Movie, $12.95, on sale May 1 Ultimate Spider-Man #22 $3.50, on sale May 1 Marvel's somewhat newish "Ultimate" line offers (cough) revised (updated, revised, rehashed) versions of characters. For Spider-Man, they started back from "the bite that began it." The art's nice, but I found these to be watered down, and downright skimpy for the price. Less is sometimes less, IMHO. (Or, if you prefer, in words from "Cinescape": "ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN is a brilliant ‘re-imagining’ that follows a younger and slightly hipper Peter Parker easing into the role of hero for the first time.") If you are interested in Ultimate Spider-Man, you'll probably find it easier (and MUCH cheaper) to get the 352-page collection of issues 1-13, listing for $34.95. That's about what it would have cost you to buy the issues first time around -- and I predict you can't find copies of most for any fair price by now.

One Spider-mini-series I am looking forward to is SPIDER-MAN: BLUE, by Jeff Loeb and Tim Sale. Loeb was one of the parties responsible for, most recently, DAREDEVIL: YELLOW (sense a theme here), and, most notably in my opinion, the awesome four-issue A SUPERMAN FOR ALL SEASONS. (The hardcover of this is currently on sale on Amazon. Recommended!) Issue #1 goes on sale May 8, $3.50. I've already talked about Amazing Spider-Man; issue #42 goes on sale May 8. Peter Parker Spider-Man #44, on sale May 15. I haven't followed this title. It apparently focuses more on, quel surprise, Peter Parker, and I've seen good things about this title, but ya can't buy and read 'em all.

Speaking of Ultimate Spider-Man, ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN SPECIAL #1, $3.50, goes on sale May 22. An all-star group of artists, lots of "guest stars" from the Marvel Universe. I may pick this one up. SPIDER-MAN'S TANGLED WEB #14, $2.99, May 29. I have no idea what this one's about, so I can't offer any opinions.

SPIDER-MAN: THE MOVIE One thought I had when I saw "Crouching Tiger..." was, "If they can do this, they can do Spider-Man web-slinging his way from building to building. Will the movie be good? Will be be faithful enough to the spirit of Spider-Man? (I'm prepared to accept a fair amount of fact/continuity differences, if it makes sense, as did some of the X-Men movie changes, ditto what's been done in the excellent new TV series, Smallville -- and decided not to think about for The Fellowship of the Rings.) Dunno. Will I go see and find out? You bet. Up until last year's X-Men, Marvel's had less than steller success with movie-izing its comics. Here's hoping. (Here's some good info on the movie, courtey of Corona Productions>.) SOME SPIDER-FANS WEIGH IN Given how much of Spider-Man I've missed, one way or another, over the years (for example, I missed the Venom stuff, and -- thankfully -- the "Ben Reilly, clone" fooferah), I thought it best to consult, and share the floor/podium with, some of my fellow comic book fans who are more Spidey-savvy than I. First, the energetic, engaging and prolific Keith R.A. DeCandido ( ), whose ability to talk knowledgably, fast and humorously all at the same time never ceases to amaze me when I see him on panels at science fiction conventions. Keith's written, among many other things, books in the Buffy, FarScape, Star Trek, Young Hercules and other universes/character sets. You should buy some.

Here's what Keith had to say:

"Spider-Man's always been one of my favorite heroes, going back to when he was on THE ELECTRIC COMPANY, because he's the type of hero that I like best -- not the square-jawed, noble, I-must-always-do-good-because-I'm-the-hero heroes, nor one of the I'm-out-to-avenge-some-wrong heroes, but the type of hero who is, at heart, an ordinary person who is moved to do the extraordinary despite every reason to not do anything.

Spidey's always had tons of fecal matter thrown in his direction, but no matter how far down he's kicked, he always crawls out and does the right thing. That's true heroism, and that interests me both as a reader and a writer much more. Most of my favorite heroes (and the ones I find myself regularly writing) are that type: Buffy, Worf, Kira Nerys, the FARSCAPE crew, the X-Men, and Spidey.

I have always been proud of the fact that both my first published fiction and my first novel were Spider-Man tales -- "An Evening in the Bronx with Venom" (with John Gregory Betancourt) in THE ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN in 1994 and VENOM'S WRATH (with Jose R. Nieto) in 1998, respectively -- and years later, I'm still proud of those stories and glad that with them (and also with my solo story "Arms and the Man" in 1997's UNTOLD TALES OF SPIDER-MAN) I was able to contribute to the ever-growing Spidey legend. And yeah, I'm very much looking forward to the movie. I mostly despised THE MATRIX with a fiery passion -- arguably the most overrated picture of the past decade -- but the one thing I liked about it was that it gave me hope that Movie Technological Wizardry had finally gotten to a place where a convincing Spider-Man movie could be made. Add Sam Raimi -- a man who has proven his love and respect for the genre over and over again, and also a fine filmmaker -- and you've got all the ingredients in place. Personally, I think Nicholas Brendon (Xander on BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER) would've been a better casting choice for the lead, but I'm looking forward to Tobey Maguire's performance."

And from my friend and former co-worker Tom LaSusa, now Site Editor and Producer for Network Computing Magazine -

"Back in the Early winter of 1989, I sat in an auditorium in the New York Hilton, waiting with both anticipation and skepticism for the lights to darken and for everyone sitting there to get a glance at Michael Keaton as Batman. What I saw that afternoon blew me away, and instantly I began to pray for June -- the movie's release month. Since then, there's been a healthy number of superhero-based movies - some positive, some disappointing. Most have left me apprehensive about the next one that I hear about. To be honest, I usually keep my expectations low now -- so if the movie surprises me, it's a bonus. In the case of Spiderman, however, I really hope I am not setting myself up for a major letdown, because I am absolutely and totally psyched for this movie. NOTHING I have seen so far has left me nervous, or skeptical. The casting has been perfect. The alterations to the Spider Man mythos are either minor (The Goblin's appearance) or very acceptable (In case you're not aware, there is a significant change to Spidey's abilities). The effects, the dialogue (that we've heard thus far)...everything screams that his movie is going to rock. We've come a long, long way since the 70's and the Spider man TV movies (which, come gotta admit were alot of fun), and Spidey's appearances on "The Electric Company" (and yes, that WAS Morgan Freeman under the mask). If they play their cards right, they could have a franchise here that would put Warners to shame for what they did to the Dark Knight. Man...I really REALLY hope I'm not setting myself up here."

Thanks Keith, Tom. Here's hoping we aren't disappointed.

-- Daniel P. Dern

Daniel P. Dern is a free-lance technology writer. He was previously Executive Editor of He can be reached at: /(

© 2002 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu