Open Mike Night: Mars Attacks KISS #1 and Superior Spider-Man #1

Martians, KISS, and Evil Spider-Man! Let’s do this!

Mars Attacks KISS #1

Written by: Chris Ryall
Art by: Alan Robinson
Colored by: Jay Fotos
Lettered by: Shawn Lee
Published by: IDW
Cover Price: $3.99

Mike Maillaro: Before I start this week’s column, just want to give a huge thanks to my brother and co-writer for indulging me on this one. I was not expecting much from it, but the idea was just so ridiculous I really wanted to talk about it.

Thanks to my brother in law, I am a huge fan of the band KISS.  I start every day at work blasting Psycho Circus. IDW has been doing a KISS comic for the last few months, reimagining the band as cosmic avatars fighting against a powerful force called the Destroyer. Might sound a little absurd, but it has a ton of in-jokes for KISS fans, and Chris Rydall (who also wrote this issue) clearly has a great love for KISS.

I actually don’t have any real attachment to Mars Attacks. I was born way after the cards came out. I did love the Tim Burton movie, just because it was probably the biggest cast ever to star in a B movie. I also believe it is the only Tim Burton movie not to have Johnny Depp in it…

Mike Weaver: I’m going to get payback for this somewhere down the line…

I’m not really a fan of KISS. I know their bigger hits and a little bit about their history and such, but it’s not a band I ever really sought to look further into. KISS has a lot of ties to comics, not just from starring in them, but one of the stories behind the origin of the “devil’s horns” rock and roll hand gesture was that it was Gene Simmons attempting to emulate Spider-Man’s web-shooting gesture. Even with my casual knowledge, though, I picked up on some of the in-jokes in this issue. It’s by no means inaccessible to non-fans of KISS.

I know less about Mars Attacks than I do about KISS. I’m aware of the cards, but I don’t recall ever seeing them. I know I watched the movie, but it didn’t make a big impression. So basically, picking up this issue, I had only the flimsiest of knowledge of either of the two genres.

This wasn’t a serious drawback. What we have here is a comic that knows exactly how dumb of an idea it is and has some fun with it. I give the writer some props for that. Most of the story was pretty good, I liked the deus ex machina acknowledgement in particular, and the joke about losing the lead guitarist and drummer to bad decisions. I think the end was ill-paced, though. We spent a lot more time with KISS rationalizing the one particular Martian seeming like a decent person than any story reason for them to make that rationalization. At the same time, I feel bad asking this story to follow any kind of literary convention.

Maillaro: Also, Gene Simmons’ “wings” are based on Black Bolt. I actually first heard the name Black Bolt from Gene Simmons during an interview long before I had ever seen him in a comic.

I am not sure at all where there were going with that ending with the alien and the military guy working with the fledgling band. Almost seemed like the set up for some really bad 80’s cartoon or something. They need to get a flying van and go out to solve mysteries or something.

One thing about this comic that I loved was the twist of the Martians becoming the KISS avatars. They ended up having a really cool design to them.

And the end with She crushing the Martian ships between her hands and then flashing a devil sign really said, “We are having a lot of fun with this comic.” Chris Rydall is a warped writer, and I really didn’t expect this comic to be doing as well as it has been. I didn’t know there were that many KISS fans out there!

Weaver: The KISS Army is no joke. Those guys can definitely execute a KISS Tax on their fans every so often, and their general policy of fun over substance is a pretty infectious idea. I know they experimented with more cerebral stuff, but at its heart, KISS is about dudes in make-up playing flaming guitars without any pretense past that. This comic, at its heart, is about space avatars in make-up dealing with a martian invasion without any pretense past that.

Speaking of the art, I thought at first that there was some lazy penciling/inking on the Starman, only to discover that he’s intended to more or less have a blank face. I liked the KISS avatar/martian hybrid designs. The art was pretty solid. However, some of the lettering was a bit small for me. I know, I’m getting old, but this is the first comic that I had any consistent issue with reading the words on. I’m going to give the art, including the lettering, a 3/5, with the possibility of them having climbed to 3.5 if not for the overly small letters.

Maillaro: Yeah, the lettering was really tiny, especially when it came to the “translations of Martian speak.” I kept having to go panel by panel on my tablet to read it. I like that this column deals with coloring and lettering. Open Mike Night: we cover the entire comic cover to cover.

And that was just a cheap transition for me to cover the last thing I wanted to talk about for this comic. The cover was so damn generic. The covers for the earlier issues of this book were so damn cool with the different versions of the Avatars.

KISS as gangsters:

KISS meets D+D

KISS as girls

Some kind of KISS fighting aliens in a Mars Attack style of art would have really been a nice touch. Instead, we have Martians attacking a generic street on a proto-Kiss poster. LAME!

All in all, I would probably go 3/5 for the writing. This comic felt a little rushed to try and get everything in, but it still was a lot of fun.

I did think the art and presentation were much better than the writing on this issue, and would give it a 4/5. And a lot of that purely is because I thought Martian Kiss was just cool looking.

Weaver: Not every cover can be awesome. This one didn’t specifically bother me in any way, when presented in a vacuum, but it does pale in comparison to the other ones. I’m going to give it the benefit of the doubt here. It at least presents us with stuff that sort of happens in the comic, a cover idea that went way out of fashion in the 1990’s.

Going back to the writing, I’m going to have to tag that with a 3/5 as well. It’s clever at times and has neat references, but the pacing is sort of a mess. Also, despite this being style over substance, I wanted just a little more substance to it. Like some rationale for recruiting the Martian at the end. That’s all I want, some rationalization of the absurdity every now and then.

Superior Spider-Man #1

Written by: Dan Slott
Art by: Ryan Stegman
Colored by: Edgar Delgado
Lettered by: VC’s Chris Eliopoulos
Published by: Marvel
Cover Price: $3.99

Weaver: Dang it, we’re going to have to start disagreeing on something. Maybe Superior Spider-Man?

After the already-infamous Amazing Spider-Man #700, we get our first glimpse of Otto Octavious trying to be a better Spider-Man. I love this cover, by the way. The webs evoked the traditional Ock tentacles. Subtle, but nice. If we were going to judge this book on its cover alone, this would be a winner. But we aren’t.

I felt Spider-Ock had a lot of promise. The first few pages were genius as we have Otto confront a new Sinister Six, with his reaction reminding me of Baron Zemo’s Thunderbolts fighting the Masters of Evil for the first time. But then…I’m not sure. The Sinister Six was traditionally a group built up through the course of a few issues and pushed Spider-Man to the brink. Otto handles them pretty easily, and maybe that’s intended to show his superiority, but to me, this is more about this being a pretty weak Sinister Six. Shocker, Speed Demon, and Boomerang are legit enough, and I like the current Beetle, but Living Brain and Overdrive are diving a little too far into the dumpster. No one here is on a par with, say, the Rhino or the Sandman or Electro. I also see that we’re going to get specific mentions of people mentioning how brutal the new Spider-Man is with some frequency, and I get that, but I’d like a little less of it.

I wanted to like you, Spider-Ock, but you’re not what I want you to be. And I also want to say that I semi-predicted that ending even before I read Amazing #700.

Maillaro: Yep, just from your intro, I suspect we will be disagreeing on this one. While this wasn’t as good as some of Slott’s best issues of Amazing Spider-Man, I really thought it did everything it needed to do really well. It laid down the new status quo, it showed Doc in action against a pretty entertaining group of villains, and it really felt like a completely different Spider-Man book that deserved being it’s own separate series. I never thought “this is just Amazing Spider-Man 701” it felt like I was reading a completely different series, even though the writer and artist are the same.

I actually think we need to see that brutality, or else this character really is just “the same.” The only way this series has any really life to it is if we see this as a different (and inferior) Spider-Man, so that when Peter takes the mantle back, it allows him to be in the best possible light. Sort of reminds me of Knightfall.

Chapter 1: Hero falls

Chapter 2: Darker version of hero emerges. At first people like this, but it quickly wears on everyone and makes them uncomfortable about this new hero.

Chapter 3: Original hero returns, confronts new darker version.

Chapter 4: Original hero reclaims the mantle that is rightfully his, and the reader is refreshed on why it’s so damn important for Peter Parker to be Spider-Man.

I like Doc Ock as Spider-Man TEMPORARILY, but no part of me has thought for even a second that this will be a very long term change. This is Knightsquest. This is Empire Strikes Back. This is Matrix Reloaded. This is The Two Towers.

This is Skitch showing an unhealthy obsession with middle parts of trilogies…

Weaver: Where’s your Temple of Doom? Oh, right…

I’m okay with that, better than okay, I’m on board with that. But this isn’t Carnage or Venom in Spider-Man’s body, this is Doctor Octopus, a guy who on a few occasions couldn’t seal the deal (mentally) on killing his arch-nemesis despite having more than enough power to do so. The worst that I’ve seen Ock do to someone one on one is toss Pete out of a helicopter over farmland, hoping he would fall to his death. I like the sections here that imply Spider-Ock is working on all sorts of awful scientific things in his lab, because that’s very Dr. Octopus to me. I like the sections where he completely ignores Mary Jane in order to focus on his planning, because that also felt very Otto-ish to me. A shout out to the lettering there, having his thought boxes directly on top of MJ’s conversation was great.

I understand this is a villain and he’s going to do villainous things, and I want that, but I don’t think it’s with his character to do this TYPE of villainous thing.

I’m going to disagree on the villains being all that interesting, too. I like some of these guys, but it’s a solid B and C list of villains, not a single A list solo threat in there. None of them even developing much. When the Thunderbolts went against the Crimson Cowl Masters of Evil, which I’m going to reference because it’s a similar event, the Masters of Evil were their match and had interesting subplots. Here, it’s the standard losers with a weather control machine. Yawn.

Maillaro: Indy really wasn’t a connected trilogy. Temple of Doom was stand alone, not the “dark middle chapter.”

And I will point out I said the new Sinister Six entertaining, not interesting. These guys aren’t Magneto or Doom, but they did make me laugh quite a few times. I like that Slott seems to play with the idea that “most villains kind of suck, that is why the heroes always win.” We talked about that some last week in regards to Trapster. I think that was necessary to keep the book from getting way too grim dark.

As for Doc being “not that evil” don’t forget, this is after his near death experience. Doc tried to burn the whole world up during Ends of the Earth. He was pretty much in “fuck it” mode. Over the years, Doc Ock has become a darker and more violent character. Changing with the times. I will admit that this is not necessarily a trait I like added to the character, but it’s not a sudden switch.

Weaver: Still, there’s a difference between wanting to take the world out with you and personally killing people one by one when you have a new lease on life. Ock has had numerous plans that involved large scale injury or death, but he never struck me as the sort that could strike one person down, mano a mano.

I agree some silly villainy was a good thematic idea, but I really wish that his first encounter out of the gate was not so weak. Sorry, Otto, you’re not going to sell me on being superior while you’re smacking down the Living Brain and Overdrive in the Big Wheel.

I dunno. I liked the dialogue in here a lot, especially the opening few pages, which were hilarious. I liked Otto being all mad scientist at Horizon. I liked the MJ scene. There were elements of his plan to take out the Sinister Six that I liked, but also elements I didn’t like. However, I dislike the level of violence that Superior Spider-Man is exercising, I dislike the incredibly low threat level for his first battle, and I dislike that last page happening just two weeks after Amazing #700. It almost seems like he felt he had to say that to prevent the negativity. I’m going to give the writing a 2/5. The words were good, but the didn’t overcome a lot of things that weren’t working for me on the plot side.

Maillaro: I don’t think that last page was about getting rid of the negativity as much as making it clear “this Doc Ock Spider-Man doesn’t have the free ride people think he has.” I suspect we will still see Doc Ock as Spider-Man for quite a while.

I really thought this was a fresh take on the book, but Slott also made is clear “this might just be temporary.” But at the same time, I think we are in for a lot of twists and turns. I loved seeing that Doc Ock still has a villain mentality even with Peter’s influence (the scenes in Horizon with Max were particularly strong to me), and I also thought you needed to start small villainwise. We always see Spidey beat up jobbers, it helps build up to bigger threats later. If Doc Ock is still fighting schmucks in three or four issues, I would agree, but this was the right group to start this issue. 4/5 for the writing.

One thing we should be able to agree on is that art was far better here than in issue 700. Not saying Ryan Stegman was creating the Mona Lisa here, but it was a solidly drawn comic. My only real gripe about the art is that I would have liked if we got some clearer shots of the new costume. Come to think of it, was he even wearing the new costume? I guess not, I was basing that comment based on the “last issue page” but when I flipped through issue again, it was never really clear. We did see the claws come out a few times…

Weaver: To tell you the truth, I wasn’t really looking for the costume. Stegman did a good job with the art, the action scenes were easy to follow and the characters had unique looks. He also did well with the social scenes, the, um, attention getting shot in the Mary Jane conversation had me laughing even though it was telegraphed. While getting a better look at the new costume would have been nice, I’d also rather not force the story to take a break while we get a look at him. Especially since the ending sequence with Spider-Man in the semi-shadowed web was really powerful due to the lighting.

You could use that same sequence to show off the new look, but it’s at the expense of the overall storytelling. I’m going to give it a 3.5/5 on art. It’s very serviceable art, and I look forward to more of it, but it didn’t have any huge defining moments.

Maillaro Unfortunately, like Amazing, because of the intense release schedule of two to three issues a month, the art will be rotating on this book again every few issues. I miss when comics had JUST ONE ARTIST! With maybe a fill in arc every year or so to help keep the artist on track. 3.5/5 for me. It was solid and like you said, it showed off the action really well.

Weaver: Clearly what these hectic release schedules need is to resurrect Jack Kirby. There is something about a book that has a writer and artist who work well together, and I think the current focus on the writer over the pairing hurts that quite a bit. Lee/Kirby, Claremont/Byrne (70’s and 80’s, anyway), Bendis/Bagley…these teams were really artistic teams where each of them were bringing things to the table and it made the product so much better. The current way of treating the artist as work for hire and imminently replaceable holds the end result down quite a bit. I think that Stegman and the book in general could be better if it was monthly with he and Slott working on it more symbiotically.

Maillaro: Yeah I would rather read 10-12 great issues of Amazing Spider-Man a year than 24 good issues a year. One of the many things Monkeybrain Comics is doing right is by allowing the creators to set their own release schedule that accommodates their schedules. I really don’t think there is anyone out there saying “please Marvel, make me pay 8 or even 12 bucks a month to follow one Spider-Man title.” That is actually one way that multiple titles is better. If there is a writer or artist I don’t like on Spectacular Spider-Man, I can ignore that series far easier than if it’s all in one series.

Weaver: Fully agree. Actually, I rarely if ever bought more than one series with the same character. If I wanted a Batman or Spider-Man comic, I’d glance at all the available ones and choose whichever seemed most appealing that month. Plus, we already have these timeline problems where you have characters that were teens in the 60’s now being twentysomethings and thirtysomethings, stuffing more story in seems like it would only make these problems worse for the people that get bothered by those things.

Maillaro: So, once again, you liked the both you thought you were going to hate, and only sort of liked the book you thought you were going to like. Someday, you will learn to trust me Old Skywalker…

I actually had a better thought for next week. I had originally suggested Threshold, but to be honest, I am not sure I wanna pay 4 bucks for a book that will price drop. Instead, how about we do some of DC’s digital books? Ame-Comi Girls seems like next issue is a huge jumping on point and Arrow is pretty much always stand alone.

Weaver: You’re the boss. I have no idea what either of those are about, which is as close to a recipe for success as we can get, seemingly.

Maillaro: Sounds good!  See you then!

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