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10 Best Spider-Man Comics You Should Check Out

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For the third time in 15 years, Sony (and now Marvel Studios) decided to start over the Spider-Man franchise with a much younger lead actor, a much younger Aunt May, and a new cast of supporting players and villains. Thankfully, Spider-Man Homecoming didn’t kill Uncle Ben for the umpteenth time, but Peter Parker is back in high school and again beginning to come to terms with his great power, as well as the responsibility that it comes with. The producers and directors of the Spider-Man films like sending the pop culture icon (he’s practically the Mickey Mouse of Marvel Comics) back to high school even though the main universe version of Peter Parker graduated over 50 years ago in 1965’s Amazing Spider-Man #28, which also introduced the unfortunately (and alliteratively) named villain, Molten Man.

I think the reason for this is that some of the greatest Spider-Man stories came in the pages of Brian Michael Bendis, Mark Bagley, Stuart Immonen, and others’ Ultimate Spider-Man, which featured a teenage Peter Parker and ran from 2000 to 2011. This series skillfully used the superhero genre to tell a coming-of-age story focused on Peter’s relationship with his family, friends, and eventually other heroes, like Human Torch and Kitty Pryde, instead of just having him punch and “thwip” at things. It even successfully and powerfully killed off Peter and replaced him with the Black/Latino teenager Miles Morales, who is currently Spider-Man alongside an older Peter Parker in the main Marvel Universe.

Honestly, you should just drop everything and pick up a copy of Ultimate Spider-Man “Power and Responsibility” from your local library, bookstore, or Comixology if you want to get into Spider-Man, but if you prefer stories of Spidey’s college or young adult days from a variety of eras, including some groovy stories by his creators Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, here are ten comic book storylines you should check out before watching Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 for the millionth time:

10. “The Night Gwen Stacy Died” from Amazing Spider-Man #121-122 (1973)

“The Night Gwen Stacy Died” is a crucial two-part storyline not only for the character of Spider-Man, but also for superhero comics as a whole. Written by Gerry Conway (who was only 20 at the time.), penciled by Gil Kane, and inked over by John Romita Sr and Tony Mortellaro, it features the triumphant return of the Green Goblin/Norman O, the only supervillain who knows that Spider-Man and Peter Parker are the same person. Armed with this knowledge, he kidnaps Gwen Stacy and drops her off the George Washington Bridge. Spider-Man tries to save her with his webs, but ends up snapping her neck in the process in one of the saddest uses of sound effects in comics. The next chapter is dedicated to a quest for revenge against Green Goblin while he ignores his friend, Harry Osborn, who is all alone and withdrawing from LSD. Spider-Man engages in a brutal battle with the villain and almost kills him, but the Green Goblin ends up being impaled by his own glider in a scene that appeared in the 2002 Sam Raimi Spider-Man, and Spidey walks away empty, sad, and alone.

You can feel superhero comics growing up overnight in Amazing Spider-Man #121-122 as Gerry Conway and Gil Kane make the red and blue spandex-wearing, joke-cracking Spider-Man the vehicle for his girlfriend’s death. In previous storylines, Stan Lee and Kane had killed off Gwen’s father, George Stacy, but he was a police officer in the line of duty. Gwen’s death was senseless and sudden, and led Spider-Man to behave more violently and callously, starting with assaulting his cop buddy instead of having his usual friendly chat. Kane, Romita, and Mortellaro depict the fight between Spider-Man and the Green Goblin in harrowing close-ups, with the hero confessing his love for Gwen after every punch. You can feel bones cracking with each rage-filled blow, and after the battle, Spider-Man looks like the sad figure that Steve Ditko originally drew him as, instead of John Romita’s big man on campus. What makes this “final” fight scene even more brutal is the fact that Spider-Man is recovering from the flu, and is barely at half strength.

However, what makes “The Night Gwen Stacy Died” a dated storyline is that Gerry Conway and Gil Kane killed Gwen Stacy solely to increase Spider-Man’s man-pain and add some darkness to his heroic, soap operatic journey, as well as possibly set up a romance with the vivacious redhead, Mary-Jane Watson. Gwen barely speaks in the storyline, and she is just there to play the role of victim. Her death opened up the potential for darker superhero stories with life and death stakes, but also set a bad precedent for killing off female characters to further a male hero’s story.

Luckily for fans of Gwen Stacy (whether in the old comics or Emma Stone’s performance in the Amazing Spider-Man films), there is now an alternate universe of her affectionately known as “Spider-Gwen,” co-created by Jason Latour and Robbi Rodriguez. Spider-Gwen has her own comic book and is a superhero in her own right with a really rad hoodie costume.

9. “Torment” from Spider-Man #1-5 (1990)

For better or worse, Spider-Man in the late 1980s and early 1990s is defined by the work of Canadian writer/artist Todd McFarlane, who would later go on to create Spawn and co-found Image Comics and McFarlane Toys. In 1990, McFarlane was such a popular artist at Marvel Comics that he got to write and draw his own title simply called Spider-Man. The first issue of the title sold 2.5 million copies, as McFarlane attempted to marry the hardboiled narration and grim cityscapes of Frank Miller’s work on Daredevil and The Dark Knight Returns with his personal interest in horror stories. What follows is an intense, style over substance, and “edgy” story called “Torment,” where McFarlane tells of Spider-Man tracking down one of his old villains, Lizard, who has become a beastly serial killer manipulated by Calypso, a mysterious sorceress. Also, Mary Jane Watson-Parker hits the club while this is going on.

Even if the storyline drags on for an issue too many, McFarlane’s artwork has a unique style to it. There’s also no real resolution to the plot, and it’s more of a “dark night of the soul” mood piece showing what Spider-Man’s life would be like if he was separated from his friends and family. It’s obvious that McFarlane hates drawing human beings, but loves monsters and cool architecture, so he spends most of the time showing Lizard stalk the streets of New York like a reptilian killer in a slasher flick. There is a retelling of his origin about midway through the arc, but there is no trace of Curt Connors, or any kind of humanity, in the Lizard. McFarlane’s take on Spider-Man is more arachnid-like than that of his predecessors (except for Steve Ditko), so it’s fitting that “Torment” centers around a primal ritual conflict between two humans that have adopted the identity of or (in Lizard’s case) become animals. McFarlane’s art and rat-tat-tat captions bend and flow as Spider-Man is infected with Lizard’s poison. Any time Spidey uses his webs in combat or to swing around New York City with his big eyes popping is poster worthy, and he knows it.

If you want to know what comics were like in the 1990s without drowning yourself in bullshit X-Men or Youngblood continuity, “Torment” is worth taking a look at. It’s also just exciting to see Spider-Man transported from the sunny streets of New York and quip-filled battles with colorful supervillains to being dropped smack-dab into a New York City horror wasteland, caught up in a battle to survive after he spends Spider-Man #1 acting super confident in all aspects of his life. This edgefest pairs well with The Crow soundtrack if you want a double dose of 90s dark superhero nostalgia. Todd McFarlane definitely succeeds at putting his personal stamp on an iconic character that often defaults to a “house” style.

8. Spider-Man/Human Torch #1-5 (2005)

Dan Slott has been the lead writer on Spider-Man’s flagship title, Amazing Spider-Man, since 2008, but arguably some of his best work with the webslinger came in this fun miniseries that focused on the relationship between Marvel’s first two teen heroes, Spider-Man and the Human Torch. Each issue is drawn by Ty Templeton (Batman Adventures), with help from inkers Drew Geraci, Nelson, Tom Palmer, and Greg Adams, who do an excellent job pulling off the different art styles of Marvel Comics, including the work of Fantastic Four co-creator Jack Kirby and Spider-Man creator Steve Ditko. Each issue is set in different time period for the characters, and it’s fun seeing Spider-Man going from being a student in high school to actually teaching it, while Human Torch hasn’t gained a single ounce of responsibility to go with his great power.

Spider-Man/Human Torch has its serious moments, like when Spider-Man is dealing with the death of Gwen Stacy, but it’s flat-out funny too. The characters are in on the joke, like when Spider-Man busts out laughing when he faces Paste Pot Pete, who was Human Torch’s nemesis in his not-very-high-selling solo series that came out in the 1960s, or when Torch cracks wise about a lot of Spidey’s rogues being senior citizens, like the seriously decrepit Vulture. If you’ve flipped through old comics from the 1970s, Spider-Man/Human Torch #3 is a heck of a hoot, with a plot centered around the Spider-Mobile and Hostess fruit pie ads that ends with Spider-Man and Torch being utter trolls and doing donuts on the side of the Daily Bugle. As the series progresses, Spider-Man and Human Torch go from laughing at each other to laughing together, although the practical jokes persist into adulthood. Who can resist the old web or flame on the hand trick?

Spider-Man/Human Torch is a fun way to learn about the history of Spider-Man and Marvel Comics in general without digging through hundreds of old back issues or Wiki summaries. Each issue has a thrilling action plot, from stopping Cold War super apes from sabotaging Mr. Fantastic’s lab, to helping Black Cat pull off a tenderhearted heist to get her dad’s lucky lockpick back, and there’s plenty of banter between Human Torch/Johnny Storm, Spider-Man, Peter Parker (who is usually in the background as a photographer), and their supporting casts, including Human Torch’s legion of girlfriends (I totally forgot he dated She-Hulk for a while in the 1980s). With a winning sense of humor and clean, expressive art, Dan Slott, Ty Templeton, and company turn decades of Marvel continuity into a tasty comic book treat and a heartwarming story about how friendships develop as people age. It also might make you miss the Fantastic Four comics…

7. “Nothing Can Stop the Juggernaut” from Amazing Spider-Man #229-230 (1982)

One thing that makes Spider-Man such an endearing superhero is his underdog status. He might have the proportional strength and speed of a spider, as well as genius intellect, but Spider-Man has money problems, constantly gets his ass handed to him by supervillains, and can barely hold down a job. In other words, he’s a lot more relatable than a guy who dresses up like a rodent and has a butler. A classic story that shows Spider-Man’s determination in the face of unbeatable odds is the two-parter “Nothing Can Stop the Juggernaut” from writer Roger Stern, artists John Romita Jr and Jim Mooney, and colorist Glynis Wein. In the comic, the Juggernaut and his accomplice, Black Tom Cassidy, are looking to forcibly add the psychic, clairvoyant Spider-Man supporting character Madame Web to their criminal gang. Because all the other superheroes are otherwise occupied, Spidey is the only one standing between and the total destruction of New York City.

“Nothing Can Stop the Juggernaut” is basically a fight comic with a few simmering Daily Bugle subplots to keep the story down to Earth (Peter Parker has a rival photographer named Lance Bannon who is stealing his assignments, and is quite the misogynistic douche). Romita Jr, who would later draw the universe-shaking World War Hulk, excels at showing the sheer extent of destruction that the Juggernaut wreaks on New York. Three-ton wrecking balls, old collapsing buildings, and even a gas tanker truck are no match for the Juggernaut, who snaps Spider-Man’s webbing like it’s flimsy string. Until the final few pages, where he happens upon an ingenious solution to finally defeat the Juggernaut without the help of a last-minute Professor X psychic blast, Stern, Romita Jr, and Mooney put Spidey on the defensive, which is just good for drama.

If Home Alone were a superhero movie, it would be “Nothing Can Stop the Juggernaut,” although Spider-Man has a sense of responsibility to go with his traps and jokes. The comic is the triumph of creativity and heart over brute force, and Spider-Man’s everyman nature is on full display as he quickly runs to the Daily Bugle to get a voucher for some photos after being brutally beaten by an unstoppable villain. Roger Stern easily balances Spider-Man’s life in and out of costume, while John Romita Jr is a true master of making disaster movie-type situations personal, so this story holds up 30+ years later. Plus, there’s the general novelty factor of seeing one hero defeat a villain that the whole X-Men lineup could barely beat.

6. “Confessions” from Ultimate Spider-Man #13 (2001)

As I mentioned earlier, writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Mark Bagley’s Ultimate Spider-Man series is the gold standard for Spider-Man comics, but if you only have time to read one Ultimate Spider-Man, it should be this standalone story that single-handedly sold me on the romantic pairing of Peter Parker and Mary-Jane Watson after Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst had less than searing chemistry in the Spider-Man films. In this issue, Peter tells Mary-Jane, who is his best friend and soon-to-be girlfriend, that he’s Spider-Man, and also that he has feelings for her. It’s more of a slice of life story than a superhero one, filled with awkward teenage dialogue and facial expressions (the comic gets even more awkward when Aunt May almost gives Peter “the sex talk”), but there is also the pure joy on Mary-Jane’s face when she realizes that her friend is a freaking superhero. Sure, the Daily Bugle doesn’t like him, but wouldn’t it be exciting if someone close to you could cling to walls, swing from building to building, and avoid rush hour traffic in New York?

I really like Bendis and Bagley’s approach to Spider-Man’s dual identity in “Confessions.” As Peter says in this issue, he wears the mask so that Aunt May and his friends aren’t targeted by his enemies, and so that he isn’t nabbed by the U.S. government as an experimental super soldier or something. He wants to help everyday people in his own way. However, being a teenager is tough enough without compounding it by keeping such a great secret from everyone, so it makes sense that he would confide in someone he cares about. Mary-Jane is totally okay with him being Spider-Man, and is happy that he is upfront with her after bailing on a date with her for secret superhero reasons. There is a real honesty and self-awareness to Bendis’ writing, and he definitely cares about Peter Parker the person just as much as Spider-Man the hero. He also relaxes the quips a little bit and uses silent panels and beats to let Peter and Mary-Jane process this big moment in their lives.

Ultimate Spider-Man #13 is one of the finest pieces of character-driven superhero writing, and the entire plot is Peter Parker having a conversation with Mary-Jane, then Aunt May. It’s a shining example that Spider-Man is at his best when his stories have some slice of life to go with the webslinging and supervillain fights. Ultimate Spider-Man isn’t just a great teen superhero comic – it’s a damn good teen romance book too, and Peter Parker’s relationship with Mary-Jane as a friend and/or girlfriend throughout the series is often more exciting than his fights against Doc Ock or the Green Goblin.

PART TWO

By day, Logan is a data entry administrator in Louisville, home of the Kentucky Derby. But when he has free time, he enjoys writing about his favorite comics, movies, and TV shows. He also interviewed a vampire once and cries about the future of the L.A. Lakers at least once a day. Logan will watch, read, or listen to anything by Joss Whedon, Neil Gaiman, Edgar Wright, Damon Albarn,Donald Glover, Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer, Gerard Way, Grant Morrison, Kieron Gillen, St Vincent, and Black Mask Studios so you should ask him about those things on his Twitter. (https://twitter.com/MidnighterBae)

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‘Ruins Of The Empire’ is The True Followup to ‘The Legend Of Korra’

The Legend of Korra continues the second Team Avatar’s adventures through an ongoing follow-up comic book series in collaboration with Dark Horse Comics…

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Ruins of The Empire

For every fan of The Legend of Korra, ‘Ruins of The Empire’ is a must-read.

Over five years ago, Nickelodeon’s The Legend of Korra ended with its fourth and final book ‘Balance.’ As Korra and Asami ventured off together into the spirit world, it was obvious that the journey may have concluded on the small screen- or rather on the network’s website after being yanked off the air- but series co-creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko were likely not going to allow their narrative to come to an indefinite close. In the same fashion as its predecessor Avatar: The Last Airbender, The Legend of Korra continues the second Team Avatar’s adventures through an ongoing follow-up comic book series in collaboration with Dark Horse Comics.

I probably do not have to tell you this, but Dark Horse Comics has had an overall strong history with the Avatar universe. The Avatar: The Last Airbender comics from over the course of almost the last decade are nothing short of exceptional and are the next best thing for those wanting to see more of Aang and the gang. While they certainly may not always be able to achieve the best aspects of the show we grew up with due to the limited medium it has been adapted into, each arc published has both visually and textually felt like a direct follow-up to the original series in many regards with even some comics such as Team Avatar Tales filling in fun gaps during the show’s continuity. They are faithful sequels- or rather prequels in Korra’s case as the comics do connect the two shows- that every major fan of this franchise will tell you are well worth your time if you are just dying for more stories from the world of the four nations.

That being said, once The Legend of Korra was set to hit store shelves in its newly adopted format it seemed like another guaranteed hit was on the line for Nickelodeon and Dark Horse. The Legend of Korra’s first comic story arc Turf Wars, however, was not the followup most fans wanted from this show. It was undoubtedly a comic series that fans expected a lot more from as the post-Earth Empire world had tons of narrative points to explore. I’m certainly not in the minority when I say that Turf Wars was a trilogy that let me down due to its story’s focal point. Turf Wars often falls flat as it treads on a narrow line attempting to fill a justified relationship rather than focusing on telling a story well suited to the established mythologies of Avatar and Korra. The new villains that you could not sympathize with or even just enjoy for a three-book story, some odd character dialogue, questionable decisions to help move the plot forward, and ignored consequences of the show’s finale did not help the reception of these books from fans either. It is certainly a story with substantial themes and moments, but it is not what you would want from a followup tale to Book 4’s incredible closing moments.

The Legend of Korra had so much more to tell with its story that was not being explored in the comics- or at least with its first run. The writers have listened though and they have gotten themselves back on track with their newest series Ruins Of The Empire. This comic series is exactly what fans of this show wanted since the last episode aired. Not only is it the best Legend Of Korra comic so far, but it might just also be one of the best Avatar franchise comics currently available. In the same way that The Promise and The Search were real followups with answers to questions posed in Avatar: The Last Airbender’s finale, the latest story arc in The Legend of Korra’s post-finale is exactly that. Ruins Of The Empire not only explores the transition into the Earth Kingdom’s attempt at establishing a democratic system of government, but it smartly highlights the shaky aftermath of Kuvira’s surrender from both character and worldbuilding standpoints as those who hailed the great uniter quickly fell into organized chaos.

Right off the bat, the story of Ruins Of The Empire is not spotlighting one character relationship or slowly building up a new villain that is set to be dismissed with no real consequences. Korra and Asami’s lover dynamic is explored in this story arc but more appropriately in a blended storytelling fashion comparable to the source material. It unfolds exactly as you would expect an episode of the show to play out- not forced or made plot-driving as what had previously been mistakingly done. It is now implemented as something on the sidelines that has a dangerous toll on the narrative which ultimately leads to character decisions that have real consequences. Turf Wars chose to ignore the entirety of the Beifong family and the collapsing Earth Empire, despite the fact that those two subjects practically revolve around every plot point you would expect a followup of the finale to explore. The shift in focus inevitably makes for a properly developed story that is able to draw a spotlight on several subjects.

It is not just the narrative that has been correctly altered either. When it comes to the way in which the cast talks with one another and the overall look of the book, everything feels properly adjusted. For one, each character is actually here this time around and not blatantly missing. Michael Dante DiMartino really stepped up his game with Ruins of The Empire’s script that aims to draw closure with the show. It is not perfect, but it is a major step up that pushes the narrative forward rather than being stuck in still water. The questions you probably had about where characters went after the finale are tackled here. Everyone is overall done justice. As I said previously, the Avatar comics were written as well as if you could hear the characters talking and the same can be said here. If you had not read what was going on in the photo above, have a look again here below!

Ruins Of The Empire feels more akin to its source material than its predecessor run thanks to more so the art then its speech though. The art quality jump between the two is unmistakable- beyond noticeable when put side by side. It is a massive improvement that needless to say has already enhanced the post-television comic run and given it back the life it needed. Turf Wars’s covers are a complete deception to what lies inside each graphic novel. While the face value may look as appealing as the television show, adopters will quickly realize Irene Koh’s art lacked character details, expressions, and even backgrounds. It accumulated into an experience that felt more like a fan project than something from the original creators. Koh’s artwork was unbearable by any means, but it never hit a certain point of quality fans expect- especially from Dark Horse Comics, and at times it shamefully felt thematically disconnected with the Avatar universe.

The new runner-up artist Michelle Wong has done a fantastic job adapting Korra into the comic book medium. Wong’s work is miles ahead of everything Koh previously drew in Korra’s first Dark Horse outing. The jump in improvement artistically is undoubtfully perceptible based on a mere first glance at the two. Every character here feels more animated, the action is more engaging to look at, and the backgrounds are no longer completely flat and detailless. Wong deserves serious credit for her work on these books. Her dedication to the source material is something that generally falls behind in other television to comic adaptations, but she did the absolute best she can do here. The fact that she personally went out of her way and rewatched the entire series before starting to draw the artwork for this story arc just shows her dedication and care for the fans. Wong has successfully made this comic run feel as if you are watching the show again, something Turf Wars should have achieved first.

For those interested in reading the complete set of Ruins Of The Empire, Dark Horse Comics will be releasing a hardcover library edition of the full story arc on September 22nd. If you are dying in reading Korra’s latest story now, however, you can go ahead and grab volumes one through three separately in either a digital or softcover format today. For any fan of The Legend of Korra, it is without a doubt well-worth your time and money. After your television binge of both Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra, you will not be disappointed with this story.

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Ghosts and More in this Year’s Hellboy Winter Special

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Hellboy Winter Special

Before spring arrives, there’s still time to cozy up with the latest Hellboy Winter Special, a single anthology issue of three supernatural tales. The eponymous demonic-looking investigator features in only one story, and it’s the strongest in the collection. However, the remaining tales satisfy with their own glimpse at the occult world Hellboy inhabits.

The anthology issue opens with Hellboy’s story, “The Miser’s Gift.” Hellboy creator Mike Mignola is back to write another tale for his iconic hero, crafting a solid short story. Hellboy is a warmly familiar presence while he helps out a guy with a ghostly problem. The paranormal investigator subtly shows his depth of character as he intervenes, ranging from his matter-of-fact attitude in the face of weirdness to his ever-present undercurrent of kindness, particularly demonstrated when he tries to initially talk down the spirit causing the problem. The other characters serve their purpose, with brief glimpses of nuance. The man Hellboy helps show a nice mix of mild and genuine, and the ghost ends up with a heavy sense of melancholy that feels like a consequence of a greed-filled life. The most paper-thin character is the professor, but he moves things along with exposition well enough, and even winds up as a morbid punchline in the end. Regardless of one character’s fate, the whole cast ultimately shares a story of compassion and goodwill winning out over greed, fitting the ideal spirit of the holidays.  

Excerpt from "The Miser’s Gift" in the Hellboy Winter Special.
Hellboy gets a new case in “The Miser’s Gift.” (Writer: Mike Mignola, Artist: Mark Laszlo, Colorist: Dave Stewart.)

While Mignola writes for Hellboy again, Mark Laszlo takes care of the art this time. Mignola’s stylized and shadowy drawing for Hellboy is unquestionably the signature look of his creation, but Laszlo’s illustration is wonderful in a different way. Laszlo’s lines feel looser and sketchier, creating a warmer tone. Dave Stewart’s colors bring extra warmth, and are used to distinguish between flashbacks, the characters’ present in the ‘80s, and even past worlds literally encroaching on 1989 Budapest. Laszlo’s art helps with the border between worlds, warping the ghostly city while the buildings of 1989 are more straight. Altogether the art does feel like a good match for a winter special and a perfect fit for Mignola’s story. Laszlo and Stewart’s work even feels a little reminiscent of Peter de Sève’s illustration.

Though the remaining two stories don’t feature Hellboy, they feature other characters found in his world: fellow paranormal investigator Sarah Jewell and the Knights of St. Hagan. Jewell’s story, “The Longest Night,” is a paranormal riff on murder-mysteries that starts in media res and goes straight to figuring out the culprit. But this is a murder-mystery operating in Hellboy’s world, and even if he’s not around to carry out justice, it feels fitting that another supernatural being takes care of things—though far more viciously. Overseeing all of this is Jewell herself, whose character gets the most time to shine with masterful grace and perceptiveness.

The anthology concludes with “The Beast of Ingelheim,” arguably the weakest tale in the collection. It’s a vague and ambiguous little thing featuring the Knights of St. Hagan that may mean more to someone who knows the full continuity of Hellboy, but isn’t as accessible as the previous stories for new readers. However, towards the end, its ambiguity seems to transform into something a little more intriguing due to a twist and the realization that the ending leaves with a question—did the narrator spare or take a life?

Excerpt from "The Longest Night" in the Hellboy Winter Special.
A swift and brutal karmic payback strikes in “The Longest Night.” (Writer: Chris Roberson, Artist: Leila Del Duca, Colorist: Michelle Madsen.)

After debuting in 2016, the seasonal series is still going strong today. With a classic Hellboy vibe, a mix of murderers devoured by paranormal creatures, and self-proclaimed holy warriors chasing shadows in the woods, this year’s Hellboy Winter Special is a nice collection of stories to peruse.

Cover for Hellboy Winter Special.
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‘Avengers: Endgame’ and the Golden Easter Egg

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Aki- hiko Avengers Endgame Easter Eggs

Let’s Talk About Hiroyuki Sanada

With Deadpool 3, Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness coming soon, everything is taking shape for the introduction of mutants into the MCU, yet there is one Easter egg left un-cracked from Avengers: End Game that could show how mutants have been a part of the world this entire time… enter Hiroyuki Sanada. 

During the brief scene where we catch Clint Barton, Jeremy Renner, on a murderous rampage, we found he has retired Hawkeye and taken up the mantle of Ronin. Clearly distressed about what the Yakuza have been doing and the fact that they were spared from the snap, Ronin makes quick work of all the goons, except for one, Aki- hiko (Hiroyuki Sanada). The only real take away from their brief exchange of dialogue is that Clint is as much of a villain from his new murderous persona, setting him up for his character’s arc later in the movie. But the question people have ignored has been left without a real answer, who is Akihiko and why would Marvel put him in the highest-grossing movie ever made for such a small role? 

So, who is Akihiko? Put simply, Akihiko is a nobody scientist who works for the Yakuza used in one issue, Nick Fury #7 from 2017, written by James Robinson. The plot is simple, Nick Fury Jr. goes to the moon to chase down some of the Yakuza’s Shogun Reapers, which are led by Akihiko. They are planning to finish building a cannon that can control Earth’s plate tectonics from their lunar base. On the moon’s surface, the Yakuza are piloting their War Machine like suits, the Shogun Mechas. Fury chases down the Yakuza and takes control of Akihiko’s Mecha forcing him to fire a ray at a room that decompressed it and everyone in it, Akihiko included. A tried and true, one and done issue threat. 

The question of who was Akihiko is a simple answer. Not so much the latter of why Marvel would use this character out of their endless sandbox of villains. Taking a look at the first appearance of Ronin in New Avengers #11, written by Brian Micheal Bendis, the answer may be revealed. 

The basic plot of Ronin’s first story goes like this. The hero is in Japan on the trail of the Silver Samurai who the shadowy gang we’ve seen in Daredevil and the Defenders, both on Netflix, has just sprung free along with 40 other prisoners from the government’s water jail, the Raft. The jailbreak was orchestrated by Viper, and an agent seeking to take control of the splintered and leaderless Hydra. The Japanese Yashida clan is in a similar state as Hydra with their leader, the Silver Samurai away from his duties. Viper uses the opportunity to mend rifts and create a more international alliance in organized crime. 

Backtracking to the news that Ryan Reynolds will be returning as Deadpool for the MCU confirms that at least some of the Fox X-Men franchise will be part of it as well. This puts Hiroyuki Sanada in a very good position to branch worlds considering he not only played Akihiko in Endgame but also Shingen Yashida, the Silver Samurai, in The Wolverine

Ronin Marvel Avengers

A rewatch of The Wolverine with this information fresh in memory is very telling. It includes almost all the characters of Ronin’s first appearance including the Yakuza and Viper herself. After Days of Future Past, the events of the movie would have been rewritten and these characters would still be alive. In the movie, Shingen’s father had the family company on the verge of bankruptcy and without Logan coming to Japan it very well could have happened. Shingen was ashamed of his father and wanted to distance himself from this legacy. Adding this to the fact that he already had Yakuza gang ties in the movie, it’s not a far reach to think he could have changed his identity to Akihiko and went on to pursue the sciences his family’s company started with them. 

This holds especially true when you compare these two pictures. On one side is the Silver Samurai suit from The Wolverine. The other is taken from Nick Fury #7, Akihiko’s Shogun Mecha suit. 

Marvel is known for hiding details from fans to set up future movies and this tiny Endgame moment is a perfect storm. It bridges worlds and further expands on the multi-verse and alternate timelines bringing the Silver Samurai to the universe connecting the X-Men and their gallery of villains. It sets up Viper looking to head Hydra, which very coincidently is who was head of the organization in the comic books when Sam Wilson took up the mantle of Captain America. The prisoners, broken free from the Raft, could easily include members of the Sinister Six for the next Spiderman installment. The ramifications are massive and if true would be a brilliant and believable future for the MCU. 

  • Andrew Smith 
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