Sunday, November 11, 2007

SM:FBFW Scorekeeping 1

Spider-Man: For Better or For Worse?

This Week's Reading List: None.

First things first: I'm going to try to put a bit of a scoreboard up in this post. If anyone has trouble reading anything, please post a comment to let me know ASAP. I'm no web-guru and I don't know how much I can get away with.

Okey-dokey, here we go, folks. A scorekeeping week. This week we're taking a look back at the past twenty Spider-Man: For Better or For Worse posts, both at the actual Marvel Spidey-content and at the blog itself. It's a little hard for me to believe that it's been twenty “official” posts since I started this little experiment, and it's gratifying that people are reading and commenting. Thanks to everyone for your time and interest. That's right, all five of you.

Here's a clip from the spreadsheet I use to track my personal ratings data from each week. I rate each post Better, Same, or Worse than current Spidey comics, with “current” being a flexible term that sometimes means the last few months, the last few years, 616, Ultimate, whatever. Anyway...

I think the results speak for themselves. Despite the differences in writing and art styles, time periods, creative teams, storytelling trends, etc., Spider-Man stories from the sixties were just plain better. (The Busiek stories from the nineties, unsurprisingly, were also better than the stuff we've got today, but they were awesome in so many ways that have already been explained in these columns...)

Let's look back at the introduction to this blog and see what statements might prove relevant to this week of reflection.

Spider-Man comics are not as good as they used to be. Nope, they aren't. Look at the scores above. In the 60's, at least, they were weirder, but they were also more fun, more engaging, and more accessible to the new reader.

What is wrong with comics, and Spider-Man comics in particular, that so many long time fans have dropped it? Why are more fans not joining the hobby? I'll gripe about this next week.

For many people, the comics that are “the best” are the comics they grew up with, and once they grew up, the comics weren't as good. I haven't gotten to the 80's yet, but I still tend to agree with this idea.

I also wanted to keep myself from “glossing over” periods in Spider-Man history that were worse than the modern day, because part of my motivation was exploring that concept, that “Spider-Man books are not as good as they used to be.” I'd be thrilled to be proven wrong, and I wouldn't be surprised to hear my opinions change as I go through this little diary/blog/podcast experiment. You know, I thought my opinions might change, and they have. I actually believe that Spider-Man comics suck MORE now than I did when I started this. Stan's Spidey stuff, whether grittier with Ditko or more action-packed with Romita, are just plain fun. Yes, there are dry periods, but this old stuff, where I know who dies and who doesn't, where I know much of the basic story already, keeps me turning the pages and moving on to the next issue. Today's stuff... not so much.

Is it possible that fans like me pretty much just remember the good stuff or the great stuff and forget all of the idiocy in between? Yes, it is. However, the gaps between good stretches of story were smaller then than they are now.

Spider-Man is not about guilt, he is about responsibility. Peter Parker is allowed to be happy (sometimes), and he is allowed to try to have a life. Jeez, is this true. Stan's Peter is a player extraordinaire! Every girl wants him. You know what? It's awesome. Sure, he has problems, and they help keep his stories interesting, but the comics used to be fun, too. They used to be about escapism and thrill-seeking. How many Spider-Man stories in the last ten years would you classify as “thrilling”?

My major complaint about Spider-Man through the 90's and the 2000's is the complete lack of a sense of hope. Another major complaint I've developed is best explained by John Seavey, who runs a blog about various story-engines: The Spider-Man story-engine is gone. I liked that story-engine. I liked the product it produced. If Marvel would stick with it, they'd have more consistent stories. (Not necessarily better, but certainly more consistent, and, to my mind, more marketable stories.)

BTW, the Hobgoblin is the best Spidey villain since Norman Osborn, and his stories were better written. Sorry, Stan, but Roger Stern did you one better with the Hobgoblin issues. And to all of you fans who disagree with me, tough. I still like the Hobgoblin.

All right, that's it for this week. Up next week will be... an angry rant about current Spidey comics! Until we get the movie's emo-Peter in the comics, Make Mine Marvel!

Eric


6 comments:

Anonymous said...

So, the theory is proven! After seeing for myself what the fuss is about with Steve Ditko, I tend to agree as well, and readily tip my hat to the man's skills and contributions to the spider-mythos, although I still prefer Romita's art style.

I'll address your points one by one...

1) I agree about the spider-comics going downhill. Even before the Clone Saga, I don't find myself liking the later Michilinie years as much as I do the DeFalco/Stern/David era, mostly because of what I call 'Symbiote Saturation Syndrome', and also because I utterly fail to see what the big deal is about Todd McFarlane's art style.

To me, if you've seen one Venom appearance, you've seen them all. Venom's continuous appearances, as well as the endless Gang War arc, really grate on me.

2) For me, it's the radical changes that the likes of Terry Kavanagh and JMS have foisted on the spider-verse. Blah-looking forward to next week's rant.

3) Not exactly. I find myself enjoying the '70s/'80s comics more than the early 1990s ones that I read growing up, mostly because I view McFarlane's art as ridiculously overrated, and, again...too much Venom is poisonous, and can cause all sorts of Carnage with your system, which is even worse.

4) It's FUN! Sure, you can insert social commentary and deeper ruminations, but people still read comics to see guys in costumes beat the living crap out of each other. I include some political bits here and there in SLEEPWALKER, but I'd like to think I've done it subtly, and never in a way that beats the reader over the head. Stan seems to have handled this very effectively...Bendis and Millar, not so much. That was also a major complaint from Daredevil fans about Ann Nocenti's run.

5) Looking back on it now, I just wish Spidey would stay in his own continuity and not get mixed up with other heroes all the time, except other New York-based heroes. Teaming up with Daredevil, Moon Knight, Sleepwalker or Darkhawk for a few issues, or having some other heroes guest star to even the odds when Spidey's facing overwhelming opposition (like in 'Revenge of the Sinister Six', when Sleepwalker, Hulk, Ghost Rider, Solo and Deathlok all show up at various points to help everybody's favorite web-slinger out), but don't have crossovers like Inferno and the Infinity Gauntlet go spilling over into his books. Blah.

And, on the other hand, whereas as a kid I wouldn't have cared about the plights of Joe Robertson or Flash Thompson, now I do. I'm still looking for the exact issue in which Spidey helps Flash clear his name.

6) Steve spread some of the misery around, not dumping it all on Peter, as he made Jameson suffer a few migranes, such as in the first appearance of the Sinister Six. Stern (I think) had Peter broke and about to be evicted by Mrs. Muggins, until one of the Bugle's bean counters mentions the money he's got in the company savings plan, which gives him the money he needs to pay his back rent. Despite later being booted out of his condo, and having his savings tied up in legal battles with Jonathan Caesar, Michelinie and Conway give Peter some fame as a photojournalist, and in the end they manage to find a place to stay with Harry and Liz.

If anything, this makes Spidey even more relatable-almost everyone has ups and downs in their life, and if Spidey can overcome his problems, why can't we?

7) Spider-Man loses his child and nearly his wife.

Peter nearly ends up believing his life was a lie, all masterminded by Osborn to make him think he was-ugh-a clone.

Morlun nearly kills Spidey, even though by all logic, Iron Man, Wolverine, and the other heroes at the hospital should have been able to stop him from attacking Peter to finish the job.

Gwen's memory is defiled by having her roll in the hay with Norman.

When Peter stupidly unmasks himself, Aunt May is wounded, and he ends up threatening to kill the Kingpin, something that would probably make Uncle Ben spin around in his grave...not that he wasn't already doing that after Peter unmasked.

P.S.: You mention buying all the issues as a full pack. How much would that cost? That sounds too expensive for my tastes-I'd probably be better off buying the first 50 issues in digest, and then getting individual issues. Since it's a more recent series, they'll probably be easier to find.

And, of course, many thanks for your help. I'll check out Lone Star, and maybe that Mile High Comics thing too. I've already checked out most of the local comic shops, and I bought all the SLEEPWALKER issues I needed from them. I'm only four issues short from having the complete set.

Looking forward to next week's rant!

Jared.

Eric Teall said...

So, the theory is proven! After seeing for myself what the fuss is about with Steve Ditko, I tend to agree as well, and readily tip my hat to the man's skills and contributions to the spider-mythos, although I still prefer Romita's art style.

And I can see why. I was raised with Ditko, so there's definitely a nostalgia element there for me. However, his fluid storytelling does give the stories a very different feel to Romita's. Both have their good points, though.

I'll address your points one by one...

Good idea. I'll do the same.

1) I agree about the spider-comics going downhill. Even before the Clone Saga, I don't find myself liking the later Michilinie years as much as I do the DeFalco/Stern/David era, mostly because of what I call 'Symbiote Saturation Syndrome', and also because I utterly fail to see what the big deal is about Todd McFarlane's art style.

At this point, I feel the same about McFarlane, but I remember thinking that he was literally the coolest thing to happen to comics... ever. I also remember when I gradually stopped liking it. It was like falling out of love with a girlfriend.

To me, if you've seen one Venom appearance, you've seen them all. Venom's continuous appearances, as well as the endless Gang War arc, really grate on me.

So true about Venom. Still, he was a fun villain while Michiline was writing him. It was the "Lethal Protector" tag that killed the character.

I don't remember "Gang War" being endless.

2) For me, it's the radical changes that the likes of Terry Kavanagh and JMS have foisted on the spider-verse. Blah-looking forward to next week's rant.

I think there's more to it than that. To my mind, there's a deeper problem than the radical changes: the idea that the radical changes are needed in the first place.

3) Not exactly. I find myself enjoying the '70s/'80s comics more than the early 1990s ones that I read growing up, mostly because I view McFarlane's art as ridiculously overrated, and, again...too much Venom is poisonous, and can cause all sorts of Carnage with your system, which is even worse.

Well, certainly this isn't true for everyone.

Puns are a great power, my friend: Use them responsibly.

5) Looking back on it now, I just wish Spidey would stay in his own continuity and not get mixed up with other heroes all the time, except other New York-based heroes. Teaming up with Daredevil, Moon Knight, Sleepwalker or Darkhawk for a few issues, or having some other heroes guest star to even the odds when Spidey's facing overwhelming opposition (like in 'Revenge of the Sinister Six', when Sleepwalker, Hulk, Ghost Rider, Solo and Deathlok all show up at various points to help everybody's favorite web-slinger out), but don't have crossovers like Inferno and the Infinity Gauntlet go spilling over into his books. Blah.

Those sorts of pointless crossovers never helped anybody.

And, on the other hand, whereas as a kid I wouldn't have cared about the plights of Joe Robertson or Flash Thompson, now I do. I'm still looking for the exact issue in which Spidey helps Flash clear his name.

Of what? Flash has been unjustly accused multiple times, if memory serves.

If anything, this makes Spidey even more relatable-almost everyone has ups and downs in their life, and if Spidey can overcome his problems, why can't we?

I would have said this backwards, but it amounts to the same thing.

P.S.: You mention buying all the issues as a full pack. How much would that cost? That sounds too expensive for my tastes-I'd probably be better off buying the first 50 issues in digest, and then getting individual issues. Since it's a more recent series, they'll probably be easier to find.

A full pack goes for anywhere from $75 - $200, depending. Considering that the digests all together would cost $75, that's not a bad deal. However, if you're trying out the book, the first digest (at least) might be a good idea.

Let me also add here that the first hundred+ issues are in second-person narration. ("You are Mayday Parker. Your father is a one-legged wall-crawler. You feel your Spider-Sense tingle." etc.) That bothered me so much that for years I could not read the book. Amazing Spider-Girl is in first-person, and I like it much better. The stories in the first hundred issues are still worth reading, though.

In the end, though, I think ASG is a better book.

Looking forward to next week's rant!

We'll see how people feel about it. I'm honestly a little nervous, because it gets so negative.

Eric

Anonymous said...

And now for a reply...

1) I never even liked McFarlane back in the day. I thought his webbing was ugly-I remember reading and wondering what the hell happened to it. I never liked the way he always had Spidey do the...I don't know what to call it, but the 'devil horns' thing that metalheads do when they're jamming to their music, with his hands. I always found it annoying, for some reason.

I guess Gang War never clicked with me, for some reason, mostly because I didn't find the Lobos to be very inspired villains. When I came across it again in the comic shop, and saw 'Part 5 of 14', on one issue, the first thing that came to mind was-ugh-Maximum Carnage.

2) This makes a prime subject for next week's rant. I'd love to hear your thoughts on it...

3) Oh, I didn't mean to bash anyone who likes Venom and Carnage. Just trying to express my own-personal-opinions in a witty (?) way.

Ah well. A lot of my "humor" attempts fall flatter than the Trapster's super-villain career.

4) I admit, part of my enjoying Revenge of the Sinister Six had to do with the fact that Sleepwalker made a guest appearance, but by the same token it makes sense from a storytelling point of view that some other heroes might show up to lend everybody's favorite web-slinger a hand. After all, the focus always remained on Spidey, and he and MJ had some nasty spats about her nude movie roles, and the other heroes only appeared so Spidey didn't have to fight the Six all by his lonesome. When he has a rough time with just one of those guys, all six would almost certainly kill him...and nearly did on a couple of occasions. Besides, there are times when readers criticize Spidey for not getting any backup, but at least this time he got some.

When it comes to seeing Flash bailed out, I mean the time he was accused of being the Hobgoblin, and hiding from the police. Spidey was looking for him, and had decided to give up the webs once he found Flash and helped him sort the whole mess out.

I don't mind second-person narration at all-if anything, it makes for an interesting change of pace. I want to start at the beginning, since I've read enough reviews at Spider-Fan to know what I'm getting into, and so far I've really liked what I've seen. I'll get to ASG eventually, but I like getting in on the ground floor.

Oh, and don't worry about the negativity in whatever rant you have planned. Chances are, a lot of people will agree with you. And in any case, the emotional stakes aren't necessarily that high with something like this-I mean, lives don't ride on the outcome of whether we like a given story, nor are there any critical outcomes riding on it.

Hell, if anything it'll be along the lines of what John Seavey and J.R. Fettinger have been writing-insightful, well-thought-out explanations. Fettinger especially is always fair and balanced, and to me you have the same writing style. Besides which, your passion will come through in the writing, even if you are angry or bitter, people will see where you're coming from. Good spelling and grammar go a very, very long way in establishing you as a respectable critic, whereas someone who writes a rant that would make a high-school English teacher cry can easily be dismissed as a slobbering fanboy.

So go ahead and write it. You won't sink to the level of personal insults or attacks the way that "blackspider" guy does on the ComicBoards forums, and any criticism of a writer's actual work is fair game, and it can be balanced out.

I mean, I come down pretty hard on Stracyznski, but that's only for his spider-writing; I loved the 1980s Ghostbusters cartoon as a kid, and the only reason I haven't seen Babylon 5 is simply because I have no interest in science fiction. To me, JMS is a bad spider-writer who never really understood the character he writes, but that doesn't make all his writing crap.

Jared.

Eric Teall said...

I guess Gang War never clicked with me, for some reason, mostly because I didn't find the Lobos to be very inspired villains. When I came across it again in the comic shop, and saw 'Part 5 of 14', on one issue, the first thing that came to mind was-ugh-Maximum Carnage.

Which "Gang War" are we talking about? I was thinking of ASM 284-288, which was short and reasonable.

3) Oh, I didn't mean to bash anyone who likes Venom and Carnage. Just trying to express my own-personal-opinions in a witty (?) way.

Ah well. A lot of my "humor" attempts fall flatter than the Trapster's super-villain career.


I didn't think you were "bashing" anyone. I just thought the pun was terrible! ;-)

When it comes to seeing Flash bailed out, I mean the time he was accused of being the Hobgoblin, and hiding from the police. Spidey was looking for him, and had decided to give up the webs once he found Flash and helped him sort the whole mess out.

Your best bet here is to post this question on the SMB.

Oh, and don't worry about the negativity in whatever rant you have planned. Chances are, a lot of people will agree with you.

That would make the rant different from 98% of the things in my life.

And in any case, the emotional stakes aren't necessarily that high with something like this-I mean, lives don't ride on the outcome of whether we like a given story, nor are there any critical outcomes riding on it.

You don't read that Internet thing much, do you? ;-)

Hell, if anything it'll be along the lines of what John Seavey and J.R. Fettinger have been writing-insightful, well-thought-out explanations. Fettinger especially is always fair and balanced, and to me you have the same writing style.

I don't know Fettinger, but Seavey is a favorite of mine. Thanks for the compliment.

Besides which, your passion will come through in the writing, even if you are angry or bitter, people will see where you're coming from. Good spelling and grammar go a very, very long way in establishing you as a respectable critic, whereas someone who writes a rant that would make a high-school English teacher cry can easily be dismissed as a slobbering fanboy.

I tell that to my students all the time, but they just don't believe me.

So go ahead and write it. You won't sink to the level of personal insults or attacks the way that "blackspider" guy does on the ComicBoards forums, and any criticism of a writer's actual work is fair game, and it can be balanced out.

1) Boy, I hope no one considers me on blackspider's level. He scares me sometimes.

2) Again, criticism is fair game and can be balanced out? Do you even know what the Internet is? We don't need fairness or balance on the Internet--we just need immaturity and a lack of perspective!

BTW, have you seen the "Real Life Forum Discussion" on YouTube? Hilarious.

I mean, I come down pretty hard on Stracyznski, but that's only for his spider-writing; I loved the 1980s Ghostbusters cartoon as a kid, and the only reason I haven't seen Babylon 5 is simply because I have no interest in science fiction.

That may be, but B5 is one of the great experiments in TV EVER, and the story is awesome. It starts slow, but it REALLY pays off.

To me, JMS is a bad spider-writer who never really understood the character he writes, but that doesn't make all his writing crap.

Fair enough.

Eric

Anonymous said...

The Gang War I was thinking about was the one with Michilinie and Conway, when Kingpin ended up tangling with the Lobo Brothers. Glory Grant tried to shoot Spider-Man to save her werewolf boyfriend, and she ended up nailing the Lobo instead. Happened right after Inferno, IIRC.

Fettinger, in case you don't know, is Madgoblin.

In a way, guys like you and Fettinger are a breath of fresh air. That's what makes reading your guys' work so much fun-sure, you have strong opinions, but you're respectful, unlike the vicious personal attacks that occur over the Internet in so many other forums.

At the end of the day, whatever rant you post deserves to be read for exactly that reason.

Jared.

Eric Teall said...

Ah. I don't have much memory of that "Gang War." I might have been too busy chasing girls at the mall in my youth. I still read, but there were weeks where my attention was... otherwise engaged.

Ah, Madgoblin. I really enjoy his site. Yet another compliment from you. Thanks again.

Well, let's see what the rant deserves once it's up, shall we? Maybe I'm even more full of it than usual.

Eric