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Jack Fisher’s Weekly Quick Pick Comic: Spider-Man #1

It’s an unwritten rule in superhero comics. Certain characters are only ever allowed to grow, evolve, and mature to a limited extent. Whereas some like Iron Man, Hulk, and Captain Marvel are allowed to grow and mature, others tend to revert to a rigid status quo that keeps them in a certain state, often for marketing purposes. Few characters are beholden to this rule as Spider-Man.

Whether he’s Peter Parker or your friendly neighborhood wall-crawler, Spider-Man is rarely allowed to grow beyond the down-on-his-luck, can’t-hold-a-job, struggles-with-relationships situation he’s been in since the Nixon Administration. Granted, he can still have plenty of fun, entertaining adventures in that state, but it can get predictable and monotonous after a while.

Then, every once in a while, you get a book like “Spider-Man #1” by J. J. Abrams, Henry Abrams, and artist Sara Pichelli that dares to shake things up with the standard Spider-Man formula. It’s not in the same continuity as the mainline Amazing Spider-Man books, but that’s exactly what helps it stand out. It has a chance to do something different with Spider-Man’s story and it takes full advantage of it.

Using the same approach as “Into The Spider-Verse,” this book tells a new kind of story that puts Spider-Man into a whole new situation. For once, it’s unpredictable. There’s no status quo to revert to. It has to build an entirely new world for Spider-Man. Both Abrams and Pichelli prove they’re up for the challenge.

This new world is not for the faint of heart, especially if you’re a fan of Spider-Man never being allowed to mature past 30. It’s a world where Spider-Man’s responsibilities finally caught up with him. He was able to save the day. He was able to defeat a villain named Cadaverous, a name that isn’t quite as ridiculous as it sounds, but he paid a high price.

That’s because this version of Spider-Man wasn’t just late for work, late for a date, or missing his rent payment again. This Spider-Man had a lot more to lose. He had a family. He and Mary Jane are married and not just trying to schedule dates. They have a son named Ben. Peter Parker has every reason to come home safe, intact, and triumphant.

I won’t spoil too many details, but I’ll just say that doesn’t happen. In this case, saving the day doesn’t necessarily mean keeping Galactus from eating it. Yes, Spider-Man does save lives. However, the life he can’t save ends up changing his life, his responsibilities, and his ability to shake hands. That last one wasn’t a joke, by the way.

In other versions, including many alternate realities, some being more ridiculous than others, this sort of loss would’ve broken Spider-Man. It would’ve broken his family too. It’s one of Spider-Man’s most famous foils. When he loses too much, he quits being Spider-Man. While it rarely lasts, this is a world with different dynamics. He actually has a reason to not be Spider-Man anymore.

His son, Ben, gives him even more reason and not just because of the losses they’ve endured. Unlike some of Spider-Man’s other alternate reality kids, Ben is not nearly as endearing or likable. He’s young, he’s impulsive, and he’s angry at the world. Essentially, he’s not the kind of kid you’d want to continue Spider-Man’s legacy.

At the same time, Ben shows that he still has some of the traits that make Spider-Man the iconic hero he is. He’s not a lost cause. He’s not some brooding loser who looks for excuses to be miserable. He even comes off as genuinely relateable, more so than Peter Parker in some respects. You may not entirely sympathize with him, but you can still understand him.

This kid is every bit as haunted as his father. Unlike his father, though, he’s a kid who doesn’t have years of being a battle-hardened superhero under his belt. Even if he inherited his father’s super-powers, he didn’t inherit his ability to cope with loss. He didn’t have his proverbial Uncle Ben moment because so much of his situation was beyond his control.

Overall, “Spider-Man #1” is a different kind of Spider-Man story, but not just because it takes place in an alternate continuity. It doesn’t directly mirror old, time-tested Spider-Man tropes. It also doesn’t paint Peter Parker as someone who simply crumbles when he loses too much. He, Ben, and the supporting cast around him simply do their best to move forward with their lives.

For a superhero comic that tends to regress to the status quo more than most, it’s both refreshing and engaging. For once, we have a Spider-Man story we can’t expect to end with him sleeping on his Aunt May’s couch because he missed his rent again. We have a different Peter Parker with an emotionally unstable son trying to make the most of a tough situation.

On top of that, the villain responsible for that situation is still out there. We don’t know much about it or whether he’s related to any of Spider-Man’s long list of enemies, but that only adds to the intrigue. Abrams and Pichelli are taking Spider-Man’s story in a new direction and there’s no telling what might happen. As someone who has read more Spider-Man comics than most, I find that genuinely refreshing.

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“Spider-Man: Far From Home” Review: An Amazing Movie With One Spectacular Flaw

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In this golden age of superhero movies, Spider-Man occupies a special place. Aside from being one of Stan Lee’s most famous creations, this franchise has undergone many triumphs, failures, scandals, upheavals, and everything in between. No matter where it stands among other franchises, Marvel just isn’t Marvel without Spider-Man.

The first “Spider-Man” movie helped revolutionize the superhero genre alongside “X-Men.” It’s not unreasonable to say that the Marvel Cinematic Universe wouldn’t exist without that first movie. That’s why when Spider-Man entered the MCU with “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” it carried a lot of weight.

With “Spider-Man: Far From Home,” both the standards and the stakes are higher. This movie is coming off the historic success of “Avengers Endgame” and is poised to close out Phase 3 of the MCU. It’s tasked with building on the foundation of its predecessor and dealing with the dramatic aftermath of the battle against Thanos. That’s a tall order for any franchise.

Look at this face and tell me I’m wrong. I dare you.

At the same time, it feels like Spider-Man has to be the franchise to pull this off. Between its special place in the genre and its cast of emerging stars, including the inherently lovable Tom Holland, “Spider-Man: Far From Home” feels like the only movie worthy of such a task. It has everything going for it. The question remains. Does it succeed?

In my humble opinion, I say it does, but not without some major flaws.

In terms of the big picture, “Spider-Man: Far From Home” is a quality Spider-Man movie that checks a lot of boxes, both for the franchise and for the MCU. It seamlessly weaves itself into the evolving narrative of the MCU in wake of “Avengers Endgame.” The first five minutes of the movie touch on the lingering aftermath of that climactic battle. It even injects some of that trademark MCU humor into some heavy moments.

On a more personal level, Peter Parker’s story builds upon the drama of Tony Stark’s death in “Avengers Endgame.” Throughout the movie, Iron Man’s presence looms large. Spider-Man is essentially stuck in the shadow of another hero who really affected his journey as a character in “Spider-Man: Homecoming.” It makes for plenty of dramatic moments that guide Peter throughout the story.

In terms of it genre, “Spider-Man: Far From Home” even succeeds in maintaining the increasingly high bar that Marvel Studios has set for its villains. While Jake Gyllenhaal’s Mysterio won’t rank as highly as Josh Brolin’s Thanos, he proves himself a daunting foe who doesn’t just test Spider-Man. He comes very close to breaking him.

I would even go so far as to say that Gyllenhaal’s take on Mysterio is worth the inflated ticket price. He makes “Spider-Man: Far From Home” work on multiple levels. I would argue that he’s the primary reason why the movie succeeds, despite its critical flaws.

Now, this is where I’m probably going to diverge from the those who have given this movie such glowing reviews. I may even upset some of my fellow Marvel fans who recoil at the idea of an MCU movie faltering. However, I believe the flaws are there and are being overshadowed by factors beyond the scope of the movie.

To me, the biggest failure of this movie isn’t in how it tells Spider-Man’s story. It’s in how it develops Peter Parker’s story. The battle between Spider-Man and Mysterio is beautifully developed. It’s what happens when Peter is out of his mask where the story stagnates and it has everything to do with Zendaya’s character, “MJ.”

I put “MJ” in quotes because she is definitively not Mary Jane Watson, Spider-Man’s most famous love interest in the comics and the character that Kirsten Dunst portrayed in the first three Spider-Man movies. That’s not the issue, though. “Spider-Man: Homecoming” established her and Peter’s friends as something very different from the comics. It wouldn’t be the first time the MCU made such changes.

The problem with MJ, Peter, and their shared role in “Spider-Man: Far From Home” is how poorly their romantic sub-plot plays out. It’s not a trivial sub-plot, either. A good chunk of the plot involves Peter following this elaborate plan to tell MJ how he feels about her. On paper, it’s pretty romantic. In practice, it’s a catalyst for too many cringe-worthy moments.

There’s no polite way to say it. The romance between Peter and MJ in this movie is awful. I won’t say it’s as awful as the nonsensical babble we saw between Peter and Gwen in “Amazing Spider-Man,” but it’s pretty close and for the high standards of the MCU, it’s just unacceptable.

While “Spider-Man: Homecoming” did an admirable job of establishing the dynamics between Peter and MJ, it falls incredibly flat in “Spider-Man: Far From Home.” In fact, if you didn’t see “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” Peter’s efforts to get with MJ seem more obsessive than romantic. At one point, he becomes downright vindictive when someone else tries to get with her. It does not reflect well on Peter.

MJ isn’t much better. Zendaya is a great actress, but she comes off as flat and unemotional throughout this movie. Say what you will about Kirsten Dunst’s portrayal of Mary Jane, but she still displayed a wide range of emotions throughout three movies. Zendaya’s tone and facial expressions barely change throughout this movie.

In essence, there’s no real chemistry between Peter and MJ. Given how critical this relationship is for the plot of the movie, that’s not a trivial oversight. It frames their actions and their decisions as something petty and selfish. There’s never a sense that Peter and MJ make each other better. If anything, they’re liabilities to one another.

In both the comics and the previous movies, this is not how the romantic sub-plots play out. While Spider-Man’s relationships have always complicated his efforts to be a better superhero, they ultimately make him stronger. They make his decision more heroic and his triumphs more satisfying. In “Spider-Man: Far From Home,” the romance was more a handicap than a challenge.

Compared to how other romantic sub-plots in the MCU, Peter and MJ’s is by far one of the weakest. It’s established that they’re attracted to one another. That’s the critical first step in any romantic sub-plot. However, “Spider-Man: Far From Home” skips the part where they actually start caring for one another before they develop deeper feelings.

Again, that’s not a trivial oversight. Compare that to other relationships like Starlord and Gamora, Pepper Potts and Iron Man, or even Thor and Jane Foster. It starts with attraction. The characters flirt and tease one another. Then, at some point, that flirting turns into genuine care. They show concern and emotion when they see one another in danger. From there, deeper feelings emerge.

None of that happens with Peter and MJ. Their interactions lack drama, which limits the personal stakes for Spider-Man’s battle against Mysterio. It helps that there are other personal stakes besides MJ that guide this struggle. If anything, those stakes would be a lot more powerful if the sub-plot with MJ were completely removed.

As bad as this romantic sub-plot is, “Spider-Man: Far From Home” still works because so many other elements of the movie are well done. Mysterio is a great villain who really capitalizes on the post-Thanos landscape of the MCU. Peter’s supporting cast, from his teachers to his Aunt May to his best friend Ned, all get a chance to shine. They help give this movie the right impact.

Compared to other Spider-Man movies, “Spider-Man: Far From Home” definitely exceeds the quality of the two “Amazing Spider-Man” movies that came before it. I would also say it’s slightly better than “Spider-Man 3,” albeit barely. If I had to score this movie, I would give it a 6 out of 10. It’s great, but not amazing.

For the MCU, especially after “Avengers Endgame,” the standards for a great superhero movie have never been higher. This movie met many of those standards, but a major flaw in a key sub-plot kept it from exceeding those standards. While I doubt this will hinder the franchise, I believe it’s a flaw that will only get worse if it’s not addressed in the sequels.

If you see the mid-credits scene, then you know what I’m talking about.

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“Dark Phoenix” Review: An Astonishing End To An Uncanny Era

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It’s never easy, trying to capture the essence of an iconic story. It’s even harder when you’ve tried once before and failed miserably. To say that “Dark Phoenix” faced more challenges than most movies would be like saying tobacco companies have an image problem. Many of those challenges go beyond the story, the franchise, the studios, and even the movie industry, as a whole.

Despite so many confounding circumstances, the most important challenge of “Dark Phoenix” was always the same. After this iconic X-Men story was horribly botched in “X-Men The Last Stand,” this movie’s primary goal was to do that story justice. The director and long-time X-Men producer, Simon Kinberg, has gone on record as saying he failed in his first attempt. This movie gives him a chance to rectify that.

Before I get into the fiery details, which may include light spoilers, I’d like to offer my personal sentiment after having seen the movie. I understand that not everyone will agree with me, but as a long-time lover of X-Men, this movie means a lot more to me than most in the superhero genre so I like to think that sentiment is strong.

Yes, “Dark Phoenix” does justice to the X-Men’s most iconic story.

Yes, “Dark Phoenix” succeeds where “X-Men The Last Stand” failed.

Yes, “Dark Phoenix” is a satisfying conclusion to this era of X-Men that has spanned nearly two decades.

I realize that many might disagree with my assessment. That’s perfectly fine. Every movie impacts people in different ways. For me, though, “Dark Phoenix” struck all the necessary chords and then some. It focused on the core components of what makes the Phoenix Saga so endearing and runs with it.

That means that there aren’t multiple plots being juggled constantly. From the very first scene, the focus is on Jean Grey and her journey towards becoming Dark Phoenix. It’s a journey that has a foundation in tragedy, lies, love, betrayal, and loss. What happens to her is never just a matter of circumstance. There are tough, meaningful decisions made before, during, and after the darkness consumes Jean.

At every turn, there is plenty of drama. Jean Grey isn’t just some obscure side-character. She’s surrounded by people who love her. Charles Xavier loves her like a surrogate daughter. Mystique loves her like a sister. To Cyclops, she’s the woman he loves and for once, there’s no terrible love triangle that detracts from that love.

That love gives the drama incredible weight, which is critical for any story derived from the Phoenix Saga. It also ensures the losses leave a major impact and, as one of the trailers revealed, those losses are pretty devastating. They’re not just glossed over or forgotten, which was a huge issue with “X-Men The Last Stand.” They resonate throughout the story and inform the decisions of multiple characters.

That’s not to say every aspect is caught up in personal dramas. “Dark Phoenix” still utilizes a villain to maintain some basic superhero dynamics. That villain, played by Jessica Chastain, isn’t as iconic as Magneto or Apocalypse. She and her villainous henchmen are aliens known as the D’Brai, who actually play a critical role in the original story from the comics.

While Chastain is no Thanos, she and her fellow D’Brai have clear, understandable motivations. They’re not just there to cause more suffering and upheaval. They sense the power in Jean and they want to use it to serve their agenda. That’s perfectly consistent with what Jean and the X-men faced in those same comics.

It also firmly establishes that the Phoenix Force in “Dark Phoenix” is not at all like the one on display in “X-Men The Last Stand.” The Phoenix isn’t some split personality within Jean. This movie actually embraces the more cosmic aspects of that story. While it only does so to a point, it helps raise the stakes in a way that goes beyond trying to save or kill Jean Grey.

Even with these cosmic elements, however, “Dark Phoenix” never loses its focus on Jean, her struggles, and the X-Men’s efforts to save her. The pace of the movie rarely slows down. Things happen quickly and concisely. There are still plenty of intimate character moments along the way, but they never drag. The plot keeps unfolding until the very end.

I won’t spoil too many of the details, but I will say that the ending is far less dire and depressing than what unfolded in “X-Men The Last Stand.” Jean isn’t a coward this time around. She doesn’t constantly whine or beg others to kill her before it’s too late. She is the one who ultimately decides her fate. More importantly, she is the one who makes those difficult choices.

Making all this drama and action work wouldn’t be possible without Sophie Turner turning in a truly uncanny performance as Jean Grey. She goes through many emotions over the course of the story. There are scenes in which she goes through more in five minutes than Famke Janssen did in the first three X-Men movies combined. She carries herself wonderfully through the movie’s most intense moments.

The collective efforts of James McAvoy as Charles Xavier, Michael Fassbender as Magneto, Tye Sherridan as Cyclops, and Nicholas Hoult as Beast perfectly complement Turner every step of the way. They capture those essential elements of family and team that’s so critical for every X-Men movie. This being their last ride with these characters, they make the most of the opportunity.

Unfortunately, some characters don’t get as many chances. Alexandra Shipp’s Storm and Evan Peters’ Quicksilver have fairly limited roles, although Shipp turns in a powerful performance in the final battle. Chastain’s alien character, and the D’brai in general, only gets so much refinement. However, that doesn’t make “Dark Phoenix” any less effective because it is, at its core, a story about Jean Grey.

There are other flaws in the movie. To some extent, the constant focus on Jean and the rapid pace of the action prevent other characters or side-plots from getting much emphasis. The long-running romantic sub-plot between Beast and Mystique had some moments, but not nearly enough to maximize the impact of the story.

There are also times when the visuals of “Dark Phoenix” aren’t as colorful as they could’ve been. To some extent, that’s more a reflection on the overall style of the X-Men movies, going back to the first one in 2000. These movies have never focused too much on the flashy costumes that are so prominent in the comics. Considering the iconic styles teased at the end of “X-men Apocalypse,” it’s somewhat disappointing.

This movie might have been able to get away with that 10 years ago, but the rise of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and its embracement of iconic superhero attire make the overall style of the movie seem uninspiring. For most of the movie, nobody even wears a uniform or costume. While a movie like “Logan” can pull that off, it doesn’t work nearly as well in “Dark Phoenix.”

There are some moments where the visual effects really shine, but not in the ones that would’ve really complemented Jean Grey’s journey. While that fiery halo does show up at one point, it feels like it doesn’t show up enough and wasn’t quite as radiant as its brief appearance in “X-men Apocalypse.”

The finer details of the story aren’t flawless either. While they remain concise until the end, there’s a bit of ambiguity in terms of how the events in this movie tie to the epilogue in “X-Men: Days of Future Past.” There’s certainly enough to imply that this movie does not completely undermine that ending, but a lack of specifics leaves a lot of gaps for the audience to fill in.

Even with these shortcomings, the most important components of “Dark Phoenix” still work. It seeks to tell a focused Phoenix story for Jean Grey and it never loses sight of that goal. The acting, the drama, and a brilliant musical score by Hans Zimmer simply add more gravitas to the mix.

Over two years ago, I wrote an article that laid out how the “Dark Phoenix” could succeed in this golden age of superhero movies. Pretty much everything on that list came to pass. This movie embraced the passion surrounding this iconic story. It made use of the Cyclops/Jean romance, kept the Phoenix as the primary plot, and ensured every dramatic moment felt genuine. It didn’t check every box, but it came pretty damn close.

Does that mean that “Dark Phoenix” is among the greatest superhero movies ever made? No, I wouldn’t make that case, especially when it came out the same year as “Avengers Endgame.” The bar for superhero movies is higher than it has ever been before and it’s a difficult standard to apply to a movie like “Dark Phoenix.”

Does that mean that “Dark Phoenix” is the greatest X-Men movie ever made? No, I wouldn’t make that case, either. There are other X-Men movies that rank above this one in terms, but it still captures the most important elements that makes these movies so endearing.

Is it a great movie in general? Yes, I certainly would say it is. If I had to score this movie, I would give it an 8 out of 10. It sets out to do a fitting adaptation of the Phoenix Saga and it succeeds, utilizing all the necessary drama and action along the way. It also caps off 19 years of X-Men movies.

Now, as the X-Men stand poised to enter the MCU, this part of their journey can end and “Dark Phoenix” ended it on a truly uncanny note.

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Jack Fisher’s Weekly Quick Pick Comic: Spider-Man Life Story #1

Every week, the world gets a brief reprieve from being a chaotic mess when a fresh crop of comics enters the world. Most call it Wednesday. Others, like myself, call it New Comic Day. It’s like a weekly holiday, minus the decorations, gift giving, and crowded airports. On this unique day, I pick one particular comic to single out as worthy of making this day feel extra festive.

This week brings us a special gem from everyone’s third favorite friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, after Spider-Ham and Spider-Gwen. It comes courtesy of one of Marvel’s top scribes in Chip Zdarsky and one of their top artists in Mark Bagley. While there has always been an abundance of Spider-Man comics, “Spider-Man: Life Story #1” stands out in a uniquely charming way.

For much of Spider-Man’s contemporary history, there has been an ongoing challenge, of sorts, when it comes to keeping him relevant. Writers, artists, and movie producers keep having to update Spider-Man’s story, somewhat, so that he feels modern. That’s not easy for a character who first debuted in 1962, courtesy of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko.

Over the years, Peter Parker has found himself reinvented into many eras, from disco to social media. Marvel has always been somewhat coy about how characters like Spider-Man can show up in these eras and not seem to age, but that’s exactly what makes “Spider-Man: Life Story #1” so unique.

It doesn’t try to put Peter Parker in a more modern context. It doesn’t try to radically change who he is so that he fits into a more familiar world. Instead, Zdarsky and Bagley do the complete opposite and just let his story unfold within the era that first created him.

There’s no sliding timescale here. The year is 1966. Peter has had his Spider-Man powers for four years. He’s in college, the Vietnam War is ongoing, hippies are starting to grow in population, and cigarette’s are still advertised for their health benefits. This is the world in which Spider-Man was initially birthed and this is the world in which his story unfolds.

It’s a familiar story, one that frequently relies on Peter trying to balance his life as a college student with his superhero life as Spider-Man. However, that familiarity is exactly what helps “Spider-Man: Life Story #1” work so well as a concept and a setting. While it isn’t bound by the same 50-plus years of comic book continuity, it is bound by the circumstances of the mid-1960s.

This is a very different time for superheroes and non-superheroes alike. It’s not just that soda costs a quarter and the idea of alternative facts can be attributed to bad acid trips. This is a time of major social upheaval, especially in places like New York. Issues surrounding the Vietnam War aren’t just affecting Peter. They’re affecting his friends and other heroes, like Captain America.

It’s a world in which Peter struggles with choices that don’t just involve being on time for class. He’s seeing friends/bullies like Flash Thompson get drafted into a war that is just starting to go poorly. He’s watching other superheroes who don’t have to deal with J. Jonah Jameson make difficult choices about whether to get involved. What does an aspiring superhero do in that kind of world?

It makes for an interesting and dramatic backdrop for “Spider-Man: Life Story #1.” Peter still deals with typical Spider-Man issues, like getting to class on time and pursuing a blossoming relationship with Gwen Stacy. There are also a few battles with familiar enemies, namely the Green Goblin, who’s an asshole in any era. However, neither Peter Parker nor Spider-Man are bigger than the issues of the world around them.

In many respects, it brings out a more balanced Spider-Man. His struggles in dealing with the times and circumstances around him makes Peter Parker feel more real. It has always been part of his appeal, going back to the era of Lee and Ditko. He’s not some billionaire playboy or legendary soldier. He’s just a nerdy kid who got super-powers by accident.

This is a Peter Parker who isn’t bound by the old Comic Code Authority or aversions to political undertones. Zdarsky and Bagley let him live and react to the world of 1966 in a way that’s both believable and engaging. Essentially, they let him be the character that Lee and Ditko created within the times of his creation.

Those turbulent times set up even more drama as issues like the Vietnam War and the growing mistrust between people and authority start to grow. Peter’s youth puts him in the front row of the emerging chaos while the adults around him, including other superheroes, find themselves affected in ways that would’ve abhorred 1960s censors.

In a sense, the times and the larger world of “Spider-Man: Life Story #1” is the biggest appeal of the story. It allows complexity and drama that isn’t typical of a modern Spider-Man comic, but somehow brings out the best in Peter Parker and those around him, even if J. Jonah Jameson is still an annoying blowhard.

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Five Reasons Why Spider-Gwen Deserves Her Own Movie

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It’s a great time to be fan of superhero comics, but it’s especially great if you’re a Spider-Man fan. Even if you’re not a big fan of the superhero genre, it’s hard to deny the prominence of this famous Marvel franchise. Between a successful spin-off movie in “Venom,” the remarkable acclaim for “Into The Spider-Verse,” and the recent trailer for “Spider-Man: Far From Home,” it’s an amazing time for wall-crawler enthusiasts.

At this point, hoping for more is just being greedy. With a sequel to “Venomin the works and other spin-off projects in the pipeline, it almost feels wrong to hope for something specific. Marvel, Sony, and Disney are already giving us so much. What more can they possibly offer?

Well, I’d like to make the case that there is one particular branch of the evolving Spider-Man universe that warrants greater attention. It’s something that was already hinted at within “Into The Spider-Verse” and I feel she could have a greater than any other Spidy-centric media. The timing is right. The market is ripe for her ascension. It’s just a matter of building on foundation that is already rich with potential.

I’m referring to Spider-Woman, also known as Gwen Stacy, but best known as Spider-Gwen. In the mythos of Spider-Man, she’s a fairly recent development. However, her rise to prominence has been nothing short of spectacular and I believe she has done plenty to warrant her own place in the franchise.

Most Spider-Man fans know the name, Gwen Stacy. She has had a prominent place in the Spider-Man comics for decades. However, like Miles Morales, Spider-Gwen emerged in an alternate universe where known characters are different and events unfold differently. Her sequence in “Into The Spider-Verse” offered a brief overview of who she was, but her story is far richer than that.

That story still contains many of the iconic themes associated with Spider-Man. Issues like power, responsibility, and dealing with J. Jonah Jameson are a huge part of Spider-Gwen’s story. However, there are a few distinct variations that help set her apart and it’s because of those traits that I believe she can carry her own movie.

What follows are just a few reasons for why I feel that way. There are probably plenty more that other Spider-Gwen fans will resent me for skipping. I understand and accept that responsibility. Since these are such great times for Spider-Man fans, I like to think we don’t need that many reasons to give someone like Spider-Gwen her own movie.


Reason #1: She Sets Herself Apart From Peter Parker (Aside From Being A Woman)

If the success of “Into The Spider-Verse” taught us anything, other than the inherent appeal of cartoon pigs, it’s that you don’t have to be Peter Parker in order to embody the themes of Spider-Man. Miles Morales did a lot to set himself apart in terms of personality, circumstances, and abilities. Spider-Gwen does plenty of that too, but she takes it even further.

In the world of Spider-Gwen, the story of Gwen Stacy unfolds very differently. She’s not a nerd like Peter. She’s not a biracial teen trying to fit in at a new school. She’s the same sweet girl that Spider-Man fans know from classic stories. That all changes when she gets bit by that radioactive spider instead of Peter.

The Gwen Stacy that emerged after is still Gwen, but she goes about utilizing her powers very differently compared to Peter. They change the way she carries herself. She doesn’t approach them the same way as Peter or other Spider-Man characters. She follows her own path, complete with her own sense of power and responsibility.

Her approach is not radically different from that of Peter Parker, but it still feels distinct. How Gwen becomes Spider-Woman and how this affects her, as a character, is not a story that can be told with Peter Parker, Miles Morales, or any other character, for that matter. The fact she’s a woman at a time when female superheroes have been subject to greater scrutiny is just a nice bonus.

Moreover, the story of Peter Parker has been told and retold many times, already. There have been three distinct timelines with three different actors taking on the role. There’s only so much more that can be done at this point. Gwen Stacy is a different story, but one that’s familiar enough to fit into the greater Spider-Man mythos.


Reason #2: Her Story Brings A Unique Set Of Challenges (Aside From Being A Woman)

Being a masked vigilante is hard. Five decades of Spider-Man comics and three movie franchises have done plenty to establish that. However, Peter Parker never had to deal with being a vigilante while having a cop for a parent. He also never had to be the prime suspect in the death of a friend that he tried desperately to protect.

Those are just some of the challenges Gwen faces throughout her story in the comics. Unlike Peter, she’s not just another high school student trying to balance her personal life with her superhero life. She faces far greater challenges than not having a date to the prom or showing up late to class.

One of her biggest challenges, throughout her story, revolves around being a vigilante while her father, George Stacy, is a cop with the NYPD. On top of that, he’s initially tasked with arresting Spider-Woman because she’s implicated in the death of Peter Parker. Learning that his daughter is Spider-Woman only compounds that challenge.

There’s a lot of drama in that dynamic. If you want to see how it plays out, I strongly recommend checking out the comic series written by Jason Latour. These challenges are things that you won’t find in a Spider-Man story with Peter Parker. Like her counterparts, Gwen bears many burdens and responsibilities, but having a cop for a father only makes it harder.

At a time when the conduct of the police is under more scrutiny than ever, I think a Spider-Gwen movie could explore those conflicts better than most. Beyond giving Gwen different obstacles, it offers a different perspective on what it means to be a hero and how difficult it is to manage when family affairs get involved.


Reason #3: The (Fitting) Tragedy Of Peter Parker In Her World

It’s impossible to tell the story of Spider-Gwen without telling the story of Peter Parker in her world. Her version of Peter is very different in that not getting bit by that radioactive spider sent him down a darker path. His story is one of tragedy, but it’s the kind of tragedy that complements Gwen’s story and fits perfectly with the themes of Spider-Man.

In many respects, Peter fills the role of Uncle Ben in the world of Spider-Gwen, but not in the same way. It’s not a classic case of failing to stop him from getting hurt by a random accident. Gwen actually went out of her way to protect Peter. Getting superpowers actually made that easier for her. She sees him as her friend and wants to help him.

However, in doing so, Peter makes some fateful decisions that result in his death. It’s not just tragic. It’s gut-wrenching for Gwen. She has to watch this boy she cares about die because he wanted to be more like her. She’s very much responsible for what happened to him. On top of that, Spider-Woman is blamed for his death, thanks to shoddy reporting by J. Jonah Jameson.

This version of Peter is powerful in how it twists the classic Spider-Man narrative without warping it entirely. By helping Peter like she did, Gwen ultimately failed him. That’s a different, but effective way to learn the importance of power and responsibility.


Reason #4: She’s Likable In Many Ways (More So Than Peter)

Even in stories where she doesn’t have powers, Gwen Stacy is a genuinely likable character. She’s sweet, fun-loving, and genuine. She’s the kind of girl you can be friends with and/or fall in love with. She’s honest and blunt in how she deals with people. She’s also compassionate and understanding. Getting superpowers only enhances these traits.

What we saw in “Into The Spider-Verse” was just a small sample of a much richer persona. Her attitude, as well as her ability to connect with others in awkward situations, is plenty endearing. In the comics, we see this manifest in many other ways. From the way she deals with her father to how she interacts with her band-mates in their all-female band, the Mary Janes, is likable on so many levels.

I would go so far as to argue that she’s a lot more likable than Peter Parker, if only because she’s less prone to brooding and whining. Throughout the comics, she ends up in some pretty rough situations, which include being actively hunted by the NYPD and unable to go home to her father after he learns of her identity. It’s rough, but at no point does she just whine about it.

As sweet as Gwen is, she also has grit. She knows how to endure a lousy situation and when the going gets tough, she finds a way to get stronger. She still messes up along the way. In fact, she messes up a lot in the comics, but she learns from her mistakes and she grows along the way.

I’m not saying Peter Parker hasn’t grown over the years, but even after five decades of comics, cartoons, and movies, his growth tends to regularly stagnate. Every time he seems to move forward with his life, he takes a step back, whether it’s undoing a marriage or losing his billion-dollar company.

Spider-Gwen may not have had as much time to grow and regress, but her story has been allowed to evolve in many ways since her debut. That development is full of opportunities. Even though she has only been web-swinging since 2014, she has plenty of material for a great movie.


Reason #5: Her Story Is Not Bogged Down By Continuity

This is more a logistical issue than anything else. Peter Parker has been around since the Kennedy Administration. His story has years upon years of continuity that effectively shackle him from radical change. I’ve mentioned before how all superheroes are subject to these constraints. I’ve even argued that Spider-Man is more inept than most at dealing with them.

With Spider-Gwen, however, there are far fewer constraints and many potential avenues for growth. Her story, and that of her distinct alternate universe, is in its infancy, relative to other superheroes. She hasn’t been around long enough for complications and retcons to accumulate. She can follow many different paths, both in the comics and in the movies.

One of the common complaints that comic fans will levy against a movie is how closely it follows the source material. Since Peter Parker is such an icon, there’s not a lot of wiggle room. With Spider-Gwen, there isn’t much source material from which to deviate. “Into The Spider-Verse” already captured the basics. A full-fledged Spider-Gwen movie will have plenty of flexibility.

There are plenty of other reasons I could list to justify Spider-Gwen getting her own movie. She’s a great character who embodies unique aspects of the greater Spider-Man mythos. Given the current state of the superhero genre, especially with respect to box office returns, I don’t think Sony, Marvel, and Disney need many to make Spider-Gwen their next success story.

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Five Comic Books I Would Recommend To Bill Maher

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I love comic books.

I love superhero movies.

I love geek culture and actively participate in it.

I also understand that there are people who don’t share those passions. Some may even see them as childish and foolish. That’s perfectly fine. It doesn’t make them a bad person, by default. It doesn’t even mean I can’t get along with them or agree with them on other issues.

The fact I have to make that disclaimer only makes the current state of affairs more frustrating. I feel it’s more necessary now because I’m about to address a topic has evoked all the wrong emotions for all the wrong reasons. Normally, my first instinct is to avoid such controversy, but since it involves superhero comics, I feel inclined to respond.

It started late last year with a blog post by Bill Maher, a late night talk show host for the long-running HBO series, “Real Time With Bill Maher.” That blog post came shortly after the death of Stan Lee and, without going too heavily into details, attacked the culture behind comic books and superhero media.

Many took that post as an insult to the legacy of Stan Lee. Having read that post multiple times, I really didn’t get that sense. I won’t deny that I took some offense to it, but I’ve read far more offensive things in the comments section of YouTube videos. The fact that it got such a visceral reaction only skewed the conversation even more.

Then, this past week on his show, Mr. Maher finally addressed the issue again in the closing commentary on his show. If you haven’t seen it, here it is.

The long and short of it is his commentary had less to do with Stan Lee and more to do with people who think comic books warrant serious cultural weight. He goes onto bemoan how people cling to the things they loved as kids as a way of avoiding the adult world. It’s less an indictment on people who like comics and more a criticism of people who whine about adulting, in general.

To some extent, I understand his criticism. There are people in this world who try to avoid adult responsibilities at every turn. They don’t want to deal with the harshness of the real world and cling to fantasies about having superpowers that render those problems moot. Even as someone who loves superhero comics and movies, I think that’s an issue for some people.

For most people though, it’s just fun. Mr. Maher seems to completely overlook that. I don’t care how old you get. Having fun is fun. Comics are a lot of fun to read, follow, and enjoy. The more “serious” pieces of literature that he recommends in his commentary probably have plenty of merit, but they’re not nearly as fun.

The idea that he finds superhero media as childish is understandable. Bill Maher is over 60 years old. For most of his life, comic books and superheroes have been for children. It’s only within the last 30 years that they’ve matured to a point where they appeal to all ages, so much so that they’ve raked in over $20 billion at the box office. You don’t make that much money on childish things.

In addition to box office billions, some comics have gained serious acclaim. A select few have even been recognized as some of the greatest literary works in the past 100 years. I doubt Mr. Maher is aware of this because most of these amazing works happened after he became an adult. I imagine that if you were to ask most people his age, they would agree that comics shouldn’t be considered serious literature.

I respectfully disagree with that notion and I know many others disagree as well. That said, I doubt anyone will ever convince Mr. Maher that he’s wrong. He has made his politics very clear on many occasions and I don’t doubt he’ll say other offensive things in the future.

At the very least, I can offer Mr. Maher some perspective. I believe that, if he were to give comics a chance, he would see their literary value. He may still think they’re childish, but I think he would have a greater appreciation for the medium, if only because he sees how it has evolved since he was a kid.

What follows are five comics that I would personally recommend to Mr. Maher. I feel these books would help show just how salient comics can be in terms of society, politics, and art. While I doubt he’ll give them a chance, I hope others who share his sentiments take a moment to see why comic books and superhero media have become such an integral part of our culture.


Watchmen

This is an easy choice and not just because Watchmen routinely ranks near the top as on of the greatest comic books of all time. This seminal work by Alan Moore and David Gibbons actually speaks to the same criticisms that Mr. Maher levied against superheroes. Watchmen is, at its heart, the ultimate deconstruction of the entire concept of superheroes.

This story isn’t just about heroes fighting villains or heroes fighting other heroes. Watchmen is a story with deep, philosophical overtones about what it means to wield power and make peace in a chaotic world. It casts a harsh light on the dangers of relying on superheroes or super-powered beings to solve big problems on the global stage. It’s a sentiment that Mr. Maher himself has made on more than one occasion.

Being a political person, I believe Mr. Maher would find a lot to enjoy about the world of Watchmen. Beyond the art and the complexities of the story, it has a message that goes beyond good guys fighting bad guys.

In many respects, Watchmen was the comic that broke all the rules and ushered the medium into a new era. It proved that a comic could make serious contributions to the world of literature. Between its unique place in the history of comics and the awards it received, I think Watchmen can prove to Mr. Maher that comics can be great works of art that tell relevant messages for the real world.


Sandman

This is another series that routinely gets mentioned in discussions surrounding the greatest comics of all time. Like Watchmen, Sandman pushed the limits on what a comic book could be. It’s not a standard superhero comic. It’s not about heroes searching for some ominous glowing object, which is something Mr. Maher pointed out in his criticism. Sandman is deeper than that.

The writer of Sandman, Neil Gaiman, dared to craft a more mature fantasy. This is a world where mythological figures like Morpheus, Lucifer, and even characters from the bible interact with one another in a complex narrative that provides insight into spirituality, religion, and philosophy.

I believe that insight would appeal to Mr. Maher more than most and not just because he’s a self-admitted stoner. Say what you will about him, but he’s a very intelligent man who went to an Ivy League school. He also majored in English, which I think would make Sandman that much more appealing to him.

The story in Sandman is not something most children will understand or appreciate. Even most adults may struggle to make sense of the various themes that Gaiman explores throughout the book. It’s a powerful story, but one that works best in the medium of comics. I think if Mr. Maher gave Sandman a chance, he would see that.


X-men: God Loves, Man Kills

Even though Mr. Maher singled out superheroes as the most childish element of comics, I believe there are still a select few that would still appeal to him, if only because of his political leanings. Mr. Maher has always identified as a liberal and routinely espouses the value of liberal principles. He grew up watching the civil rights movement unfold and it has clearly had an impact on him.

That’s exactly why a comic like X-men: God Loves, Man Kills would resonate with him. Even though it follows many common superhero themes, this classic X-men story by legendary X-men writer, Chris Claremont, goes much further in linking the struggle of the X-men with that of civil rights.

This story is less about the X-men fighting killer robots and more about confronting the depths of human bigotry. In addition to providing the inspiration for “X2,” it explores a kind of bigotry that feels like it was ripped from the real world. It even throws religion into the mix with the introduction of Reverend William Stryker, a man who has drawn more than a few comparisons with Vice President Mike Pence.

Mr. Maher will probably notice those parallels more than most. He has made no secret of his disdain for organized religion and the people who use it to justify their bigotry. X-men: God Loves, Man Kills tells a story of just how dangerous that kind of religiously-motivated bigotry can get. Even though it’s still a superhero story, it doesn’t hide from the real-world parallels.

Good literature, whether it’s a comic book or a novel, often reflects the controversies of its time. The X-men were created right at the onset of the Civil Rights Movement. Stan Lee has gone on record as saying that elements of the X-men were inspired by real life heroes of the Civil Rights Movement. As both a proud liberal and a critic of religion, Mr. Maher will find plenty to like about this classic X-men story.


All-Star Superman

This story might be the toughest sell for Mr. Maher. However, I think if any comic can demonstrate the value of superheroes, it’s All-Star Superman. This love letter to Superman and all the fanciful themes surrounding him is a celebration of the ultimate hero. Even if Mr. Maher thinks idolizing heroes is dangerous, I think even he’ll appreciate why Superman is such an icon after 80 years.

What makes All-Star Superman special isn’t in how it depicts the Man of Steel at his best. It’s not just about him saving the day, defeating Lex Luthor, and winning the love of Lois Lane. More than anything else, the story that Grant Morrison and Frank Quietly tell demonstrates just how much Superman inspires those around him.

Throughout the series, there are many great moments that are full of heart, hope, and compassion. Some of it is cartoonishly over-the-top, but it never feels corny. There’s never a point where Superman takes a moment to tell a bunch of kids to eat their vegetables and stay in school. It doesn’t try to make Superman someone he’s not. He’s the ultimate paragon of virtue and this series just runs with that.

To further raise the stakes, this version of Superman is living on borrowed time. As powerful as he is, he has saved the day one time too many. He basically has to do what he can with what little time he has left to make the world a better place. It’s an endeavor that even Mr. Maher can appreciate.

More than once, Mr. Maher has tried to inspire others to be better. Even if his efforts are politically motivated, the will to inspire is something he’s always shown, going back to his days on “Politically Incorrect.” Even if he thinks Superman comics are for kids, he can still appreciate Superman’s efforts to inspire the good in others.


Y: The Last Man

This is another acclaimed comic series that doesn’t rely on superheroes, fancy costumes, or superpowers. At a time when gender politics are such a hot topic, a series like Y: The Last Man is more relevant than ever. This beloved comic by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra takes issues surrounding gender to an apocalyptic extreme.

As someone who has routinely criticized how the debate surrounding feminism and gender has evolved, I believe Mr. Maher will find a lot to like about Y: The Last Man. This is a story that puts men and women in the ultimate bind. One day, without warning, every creature on Earth with a Y chromosome just keels over and dies. Only one man, Yorick Brown, and his pet monkey, Ampersand, survive.

The story the follows is both a fight for survival and a critical insight into what happens when gender dynamics operate in extremes. The world that Vaughan and Guerra show just how much men and women rely on one another without realizing it. When one is completely removed from the equation, it pushes people beyond the brink.

At the same time, it shows just how resilient people can be in terrible situations. The will to survive knows no gender. It can bring out the best and the worst in someone, but the best is what usually keeps driving us. Mr. Maher has often spoken urgently about issues like climate change. The apocalyptic setting of Y: The Last Man shows why that urgency is necessary.


Again, I don’t expect Mr. Maher to change his mind on much. He has made it abundantly clear in the past that he is very set in his ways. However, if he is genuinely open to seeing the merits of comic books, these titles should help. Comic books may have been for kids when he was a kid. They have since become so much more and their legacy, like that of Stan Lee’s, will continue for generations to come.

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How “Into The Spider-Verse” Embodies The Best Aspects Of Superhero Movies (And Sets Up A Promising Future)

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In the modern era of superhero movies, Spider-Man is one of the bedrock franchises that has guided the genre through its journey from niche market to global box office dominance. Alongside the first “X-men” movie, Sam Raimi’s original “Spider-Man” is credited with ushering in this golden age of superhero cinema.

It has been a bumpy road at times. We had high points with “Spider-Man 2” and not-so-high points with “Amazing Spider-Man 2.” Regardless of how these movies fared, the story of Peter Parker shouldering the power and responsibilities of Spider-Man has become ingrained in pop culture. We still could’ve done without that awful dance scene, though.

Given all the weight Spider-Man has for the genre, a movie like “Into The Spider-Verse” has a lot going for it and just as much working against it. The story of Peter Parker has been done, redone, and overdone so much that it feels like there’s no room left for nuance. Well, “Into The Spider-Verse” definitively proves there’s still untapped potential and it runs even deeper than anyone thought.

I don’t want to spoil much about this movie, but I will spoil this. “Into The Spider-Verse” is every bit as awesome as critics and audiences alike have said. It’s a truly groundbreaking achievement for superhero movies, animation, and the Spider-Man franchise. The fact that it managed to do this without being part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe makes that accomplishment all the more remarkable.

This movie succeeds on so many levels. It takes a concept drawn directly from the comics and expands on it, creating a whole new world in which all things Spider-Man do not revolve entirely around Peter Parker. That’s not a typo, by the way. This is a Spider-Man movie in which Peter Parker is not the main driving force of the story.

It’s this kid.

He’s still there. He still plays a major part in the story. However, this movie is a story about Miles Morales. Those who follow the comics will recognize that name. He’s not just some unknown character who gets thrust into a central role in the vein of the “Ghostbuster” reboot. Miles has a fairly comprehensive history going back to 2011 and this movie captures the heart of that history perfectly.

Miles is not like Peter in many ways. Beyond the fact that he’s half-black, half-Latino, and the nephew of a dangerous super-villain, his powers are slightly different. His personality is different, as well. He’s not the same nerdy dork that Peter Parker was, but he is very much an outsider who struggles to fit in.

Miles has more confidence, but not in the arrogant hipster Andrew Garfield sort of way. He’s someone who isn’t sure of who he wants to be or where he wants his life to go. On one hand, he’s got his parents who want him to aspire to something greater than a life in Brooklyn. On the other, he has influences like his Uncle Aaron pulling him down a darker path.

Him getting bit by a radioactive spider only compounds these conflicting forces. Part of what makes Miles work when other would-be Spider-Man replacements failed is that his struggle feels genuine. He never comes off as a rip-off or a substitute. What makes Miles a Spider-Man worth rooting for is how Peter Parker inspires him to take on that responsibility.

The comics went about that in one particular way that worked brilliantly. “Into The Spider-Verse” utilizes a different, but similar approach that’s every bit as compelling. Peter Parker has a major influence, but the movie throws in many other influences that send Miles down the path to becoming Spider-Man.

Some of those influences come in the form of other famous alternate-version Spider-Man characters, including the likes of Spider-Gwen and Spider-Ham. “Into The Spider-Verse” manages to give them their own stories that show how they fit into the greater Spider-Man mythos, but for Miles, they embody the responsibility before him.

Like Peter, and so many other Spider-Man characters, he’s initially reluctant to bear that burden. Over the course of the movie, he endures plenty of agonizing decisions and crippling self-doubt. He struggles in ways that we’re not used to seeing Spider-Man struggle, but that’s exactly why “Into The Spider-Verse” works so well in the current landscape of superhero movies.

Going back to the first “Iron Man” movie, we’ve come to expect struggles and setbacks from our heroes. Miles has a lot more than most and not just because of his youth or inexperience. He has huge shoes to fill and the history of characters filling the shoes of iconic heroes is mixed at best.

By the end of the movie, though, Miles effectively proves that he’s worthy of being Spider-Man. He deserves a spot in the greater Spider-Man mythos. It doesn’t have to revolve entirely around Peter Parker. For some Spider-Man fans, that may seem outrageous. “Into The Spider-Verse” shows that there’s plenty of room for characters like Miles.

How it goes about this has greater implications for the future of superhero movies than it does for the present. I would even go so far as to say that “Into The Spider-Verse” might end up being a major turning point for the superhero genre because of how it tells Miles’ story alongside that of Peter Parker.

Aside from just raising Miles’ profile, “Into The Spider-Verse” does something that is overdue for Peter Parker’s story. Specifically, it ages him. The Peter Parker in this story is not some wide-eyed kid with Tom Holland’s baby face. He’s an older, more jaded version of Peter who has made mistakes and lost confidence in himself, as often happens to those who survive to middle age.

The look of a man who has fought one too many muggers.

It’s part of the paradox of heroism that I’ve mentioned before in that many popular superheroes aren’t allowed to age beyond a certain point. In fact, that was cited as the primary reason for breaking up Spider-Man’s marriage to Mary Jane Watson in the comics. Aging a hero beyond the mold Frank Miller’s version of Batman just seems like a dead end.

Into The Spider-Verse” makes the case that this doesn’t have to be the case. Peter Parker can grow up and even endure a mid-life crisis. For a character who has been around since the early 1960s, it almost feels overdue. His struggle doesn’t have to be the end of his story. If anything, it helps further Miles’ ascension to becoming the new Spider-Man.

It’s a theme that has played out in the comics more recently. Older heroes are inspiring a new crop of younger heroes. Miles Morales was among the first. Others like Kamala Khan and Riri Williams have followed. It feels like a natural progression of the superhero archetype, inspiring others to take up the responsibility and aspire to something greater.

Miles Morales isn’t a replacement for Peter Parker. He’s a supplement to the greater Spider-Man mythos and “Into The Spider-Verse” establishes how well this can work. His story is every bit as endearing as Peter’s, but without supplanting him. As such, it provides a new template for superhero movies in the future.

Not every story has to rely on rehashing and revamping iconic characters from the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby/Steve Ditko era. It’s possible for new characters to emerge without replacing older ones. The world of superheroes can grow and evolve with subsequent generations. It’ll have to and not just because of actors’ contracts expiring.

If I had to score “Into The Spider-Verse,” I would give it an 8 out of 10. It’s a great movie, but it does have some shortcomings. They’re very minor. The pacing of the movie is erratic at times and the designs for certain characters, namely Kingpin and Scorpion, have room for improvement. It never feels chaotic or disconnected, though. The movie has a unique artistic style that fits perfectly with the story.

Every now and then, someone will claim that superhero movies will one day go the way of the western. That may still happen at some point, but “Into The Spider-Verse” shows that there are whole new paths to explore and they have to exist in the MCU. This movie is an incredible achievement beyond just being a great superhero movie and one I hope inspires others for years to come.

Also, the tribute to Stan Lee at the end will bring a tear to your eyes. Be certain of that.

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