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The Amazing Birthday Girl

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Peter Parker, known to most as your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, and his wife Mary Jane, had a daughter. Mary Jane was pregnant, Peter retired to become a father, and the child was delivered.

Unfortunately, there were complications with the delivery. Mary Jane was poisoned by an operative of Green Goblin right before she was about to give birth.  The child was apparently stillborn, and the operative took the newborn daughter’s corpse away. The child of Peter and Mary Jane is presumed to be dead and was never mentioned again in Marvel continuity.

Or rather, the baby was never mentioned again in mainstream Marvel continuity. A classic Marvel title called What If? gave the Parker offspring another chance at life.

What If? was a title where Marvel gave fans glimpses of what might have happened. One inciting incident in a classic storyline would be changed, creating an alternate reality where events were different than what we knew.

Tom DeFalco, the man who introduced Peter and Mary Jane’s baby into the mainstream Marvel Universe, did not intend the story to end the way it did. He intended to bring the child back into regular continuity at some future point. But the pregnancy storyline had the unfortunate dilemma of being involved with the notorious Clone Saga, the most derided storyline in Spider-Man history. Marvel thought it was best to go in a new direction on the title, one far away from that event. The Clone Saga, and pretty much everything to do with it, was to be forgotten and never referred to again in continuity.

But since What if? featured tales which diverged from the mainstream continuity, DeFalco could finally show fans what he wanted to do. In the safety of an alternate reality future, he showed that the baby, named May after Peter’s aunt, survived.   She grew up to become a teenager and with puberty came powers much like her father had. Being her father’s daughter, she felt that she had the responsibility to use these powers to fight crime. And thusly, Spider-Girl was born.

Spider-Girl first appeared in “What If?” #105, cover dated February 1998, which means it hit stands in December of 1997. This makes tomorrow’s Amazing Spider-Girl #15 the ten year anniversary of the character. And May Parker barely made it to age 10. I have spoken about series cancellation scares—six in all—in July 2006 and October 2006. And it appears that Spider-Girl is still not out of danger.

Spider-Girl exists in a strange pocket of Marvel’s publishing empire. It is set in an alternate future, which means it does not tie-in to what regular Marvel is doing. While Marvel’s mainstream books have evolved and changed, getting darker in the process, Spider-Girl exists as a snapshot of the Marvel style of the late 1990s and before. While the current Marvel characters have to worry about being killed off or whether or not to make a deal with the devil, Spider-Girl worries about losing a boyfriend or whether her friends will find out about her secret identity.

This quality of the book is both its biggest asset and biggest detriment. The throwback feel of the book resonates with a lot of readers, as witnessed by the title’s legion of devoted and outspoken fans. But the fact that it is the thematic opposite of the rest of Marvel’s output makes mainstream Marvel fans reticent to take a chance on it.

This means that while the series did receive a boost in sales and is currently selling more than it did before they restarted the series at number one, it did not get a big enough boost to keep it safe from cancellation.   Issue #12 sold 18,671 copies, less than issues #38, 50 & 61 of the previous series did. Those were the issues where that series faced cancellation. That figure is also less than the recently cancelled New Excalibur was selling and was only good enough to rank it at #116 on the Diamond Top 300.

So far, there have been no rumblings that the series was in danger of cancellation, and I, for one, hope it stays that way. I suppose that trade paperback sales on the title are still strong, which was the main reason it survived so long. But I wish there was some way to get more people to try the individual issues. Hopefully this column will help in a small way.

The creators of Spider-Girl should celebrate her lasting 10 years. In a perfect world, she will last another ten and beyond.  

Also out this week:

Ultimate Iron-Man II #1:

I guess you can say that Marvel scored a coup when they got Orson Scott Card to write the origin of their Ultimate Iron Man character in 2005. He is one of the biggest names in science-fiction and has won many awards for his writing. Of the two major sci-fi awards, he has won the Hugo four times and the Nebula two times.

An even bigger coup is the fact that the busy novelist is back to continue the origin with this series. This time, Young Guns Reloaded star Pascal Ferry replaces the now-DC exclusive Andy Kubert on art chores. Fans of the character or of Orson Scott Card should be sure to pick this one up.

Orson Scott Card (W), Pascal Ferry (A), Marvel Comics, $2.99. Four-Issue Miniseries.

Bat Lash #1:

When you think of Sergio Aragonés, you think mostly of his work in humor. It’s only natural, he has worked for Mad Magazine for decades and is the co-creator of Groo. But he has done work in other genres, including westerns. This week, he returns to a character he helped to create—the unusual cowboy named Bat Lash.

If a legendary cartoonist returning to provide an origin to one of his most unique creations isn’t a big enough draw for you, take a look at who he’s brought with him. He is joined on writing by noted Western novelist Peter Brandvold and the art is handled by comics legend (and yet another Mad alumni) John Severin. All of this wrapped in a cover provided by Walter Simonson. Who could ask for anything more?

Sergio Aragonés & Peter Brandvold (W), John Severin (A), DC Comics, $2.99. Six-Issue Miniseries.

Battlestar Galactica: Origins #1:

Few things have had as interesting a lifespan as the Battlestar Galactica franchise. From the campy 1977 TV series that tried to tie into the popularity of Star Wars, to the abortive attempts at a comeback in the 80s and 90s, the unsuccessful tries to adapt it to the silver screen, and, finally to the cult favorite, critically acclaimed series currently airing, the concept has had a lot of twists and turns over its existence.

One constant has been its comic connections. The titles adapting the franchise have been appearing since the first Battlestar series hit the air. The latest acts as a prequel to the current Sci-Fi Network offering, and tells us more about one of the series most complex characters, Gaius Baltar, and the events leading up to the second Cylon War.

Kevin Fahey (W), Jonathan Lau (A), Dynamite Entertainment, $3.50. Ongoing Series.  

Darkness #1:

Jackie Estacado, the mob hitman turned supernatural power broker, returns in a series spun off from Top Cow’s First Born series. Jackie has been greatly affected by the events of that series, and has entered a life of relative seclusion. But he has been sought out by a potential new ally, Professor Kirchner. What secrets does the Professor hold and why is the Darkness so important to his plans?

The Darkness is one of Top Cow’s biggest success stories, crossing over into the world of video games and being optioned for a movie by Dimension Films. New writer Phil Hester adds his name to the list of such past notables as Garth Ennis and Paul Jenkins in guiding the character’s future.    

Phil Hester (W), Michael Broussard (A), Top Cow Productions, $2.99. Ongoing Series.

Elephantmen: War Toys #1:

It all started because DC and Marvel were stingy with their copyrights. Richard Starkings was looking to use a character from the big two to advertise his company, Comicraft.  They refused so he had to create his own character, the half-man/half-hippopotamus Hip Flask.

The anthropomorphic spokesperson spun off into a successful comic franchise. The latest installment comes to us tomorrow, and gives us a tale from the early days of Elephantmen mythos. Africa and China are at war with Europe as the battleground. Enter MAPPO’s genetically altered soldiers, the Elephantmen. The involvement of these human/animal hybrids will insure that this will be the war to end all wars.

Richard Starkings (W), Moritat (A), Image Comics, $2.99. Three-Issue Miniseries.

Highlander: Way of the Sword #1:

Dynamite Entertainment brings us another comic based on a cult franchise. Which franchise? There Can Be Only One.

It has been 21 years since the first Highlander film graced movie screens, and in the two decades since, the story of sword-wielding immortals has gained an immortality of its own. It has spawned five films, two TV series, numerous novels, a handful of video games and, of course, several comic books.

This latest miniseries spans the ages as Connor MacLeod searches for the long-lost sword of his friend and mentor, Juan Ramirez. That might look simple on paper, but nothing is ever easy in the world of the Highlander.

J.T. Krul (W), Carlos Rafael (A), Dynamite Entertainment, $3.50. Four-Issue Miniseries.  

Green Lantern #25:

The Sinestro Corps War is coming to an end in the only way it could—with Hal Jordan versus Sinestro. The two shared a long history of animosity and their confrontation should be the most vicious battle of the entire conflict. But has Sinestro already won? And what does this all mean to Earth?

I am surprised by how this storyline has caught the reader’s fancy. It has become DC’s event of the summer. But even if you haven’t been following the event, you might still want to pick up this issue. This double-sized issue is a must have for all Green Lantern fans, as long-asked questions will finally be answered and the road to Final Crisis will begin. 

Geoff Johns (W), Ivan Reis (A), DC Comics, $4.99. Ongoing Series.

###

William Gatevackes is a professional writer living in Mamaroneck, NY with his wife Jennifer. He also writes periodic comic reviews for PopMatters, is a weekly contributor to Film Buff Online and writes title descriptions for Human Computing’s Comicbase collection management software. Links to his writing can be found at his website, www.williamgatevackes.com.

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