Wednesday, January 30, 2008

SM:MIA - ASM Swing Shift DC

Spider-Man: Missing In Action

This week's reading list: Amazing Spider-Man: Swing Shift (Director's Cut)

Well, I actually had to buy this at the shop this week, hence the on-time post. I'm a little irked that I spent $4 on something I got for free last May, but it has some minor updated dialogue, so that's worth it, right?

The story itself is basically the same as last year, and it was dissected and vivisected ad nauseum last year. My basic review went something like this:
  • Spidey is cracking-wise and using both web-shooters and Spider-tracers. That's good.
  • Spidey doesn't seem to have a problem wrecking a cop car, ramming another car (on a bridge), or helping to cause some serious car accidents. That's bad.
  • Overdrive is a new villain. Mr. Negative is a new villain. Neither one of them makes me want to vomit yet. That's good.
  • If Jackpot isn't Mary Jane, then it's the biggest (and most annoying) red-herring in a long time. (BTW, to answer the poll from the SMB last May: Yes, I would hit the Jackpot.)
  • Phil Jimenez, who is one of my favorite artists, cannot draw Spider-Man. The eyes are wrong, the anatomy looks twisted and gross, and half the time Spidey has a vertical webline going down over his mouth. That's all bad.
So the real reason why I bought this comic is actually for the "DVD-style extras" - the Tom Brevoort "Spidey-manifesto" and the "Spider-Man 2008 Bible." Let's take a look at these, briefly.

Much of what Brevoort says here is a repeat of my own introduction to the Spider-Man: For Better or For Worse series. "Spider-Man is about Peter Parker. Spider-Man is supposed to be funny. Spider-Man makes mistakes. Spider-Man needs a good supporting cast. We've been killing or ruining the supporting cast for YEARS. Mystery villains are fun." Some of what he says is just plain wrong, IMO: "Spider-Man 2 gets it right." Um, no. Spider-Man 2 should have been sub-titled: The World Shits On Peter Parker. There were many things to like in Spider-Man 2, but there were many things to disagree with, as well. What kills me about Brevoort's whole thing is that the vast majority of what he says needs to be changed with Spidey has nothing to do with the marriage. AAAAH!

(However, I do find his take on Betty Brant--that she and Peter should be very good friends and she should be setting him up with chicks--interesting. That seems to largely come out of nowhere. I know Betty has been around in some capacity or another for many years, but I don't remember her and Peter EVER being particularly close.)

The Spidey-Bible is the same way. Other than Mary Jane being gone, what about this new SQ couldn't have happened with the marriage intact? With Norman back from the dead, we certainly didn't need Mephisto to get Harry back. The good things about the new SQ don't require the marriage, and the bat-guano-crazy parts that suck are because of the "cosmic reset."

On the bright side, the new villain Menace appears to be a Goblin of some kind, so there's that. I'd still rather see Roderick Kingsley show up, but at least he's in Amazing Spider-Girl.

So, ultimately, what does this prove? That Marvel has been sitting on top of this crappy set-up for a long, long time and was still unable to come up with something better. That they were aware of many of the real problems with Spidey, but felt that somehow they needed to do a big long event to change them instead of just changing them. Figure it out, Marvel: You don't need a mini-series, a devil, or a world-wide-mindwipe to introduce more supporting characters or to bring back the web-shooters! When something like that sucks, you just change it!

I'm glad they could identify some of the problems, but it fills me with dread that their solution sucks as much as it does. It's pretty clear that, this week, at least, the real Spider-Man, the one who isn't frozen in time as an immature "young 25-year-old", is still Missing In Action.


Quesada vs. The Fans (From the SMB)

Here's a short excerpt from a very funny post from CrazySugarFreakBoy! over at the ever-popular Spider-Man Message Board:

Fans: How can you say that divorcing Spider-Man is wrong, when you had him make a deal with the Devil?

Quesada: Because divorce means that you're a quitter, and that makes you a bad person. Besides, if they just gave up on their marriage, then it would show that there's no hope for their relationship ... even though, in dealing with the Devil, they did give up on their marriage, and by my own editorial fiat, there is no hope for their relationship. Besides, the Devil tricked Spider-Man, and how could Spider-Man expect that? And this isn't the only bad thing Peter has done, so if you don't like him for doing this, then you obviously don't like anything Spider-Man has done!

Fans: How can you say that almost everything happened the same, when retconning the marriage means that lots of stuff obviously didn't happen, like Mary Jane getting pregnant?

Quesada: Well, when I say "almost" everything happened the same, that means that lots of things didn't happen the same. And since I Marvel never really liked Mary Jane having been pregnant in the first place, that no longer happened. But again, we're not the first ones to pull a stupid retcon! Look at Norman Osborn! I'm not even going to try and pretend that bringing him back was anything but a mistake, but because he's been back long enough, he's become something that fans and creators alike simply have to put up with, which is what I'm hoping this retcon will become.

For more hilarity, check out this post at the SMB!

Yet another thing I wish I'd written. Sigh.


Sunday, January 27, 2008

SM:FBFW ASM 114-120

Spider-Man: For Better or For Worse?

This Week's Reading List: Amazing Spider-Man 114-120

Hello, and welcome to our special “hodge-podge of mediocrity” week here at the Spidey-blog. Hammerhead and Doc Ock fight it out in a gang war. The original Spectacular Spider-Man Magazine #1 gets massacred in its transformation into a three-part Amazing storyline, and then Peter Parker fights the Hulk because he can. Sigh.

First, “Gang War.” On one hand, I like seeing Gwen defend Peter as she does here when Flash starts bad-mouthing him. I, as a reader, identify strongly with Peter, and I've always shared his feelings for Gwen. On the other hand, haven't we sat through this scene about three times already? I can see why the writers, who clearly lacked the imagination or the gumption to do something different with Gwen, felt the need to... oh, but we'll get to that next week.

As for the Gang War itself, it's basically a guy with a metal skull thinking that he can take on Doctor Octopus. Meanwhile, Doc Ock's chief supporter and, apparently, cleaning woman is Aunt May, who believes him to be so good that she's willing to try to shoot Spider-Man with a pistol. If you actually need me to comment on any of that to understand how idiotic it is, then... Oh, forget it.

Then we've got a three-part story featuring the same basic plot (and a vast amount of recycled art) of Spectacular Spider-Man Magazine #1, except that the suit-wearing Richard Raleigh, who was the mastermind villain behind it all last time, has been sort-of replaced by “The Disruptor” in many shots. The Disruptor is Raleigh in a dorky-looking costume. Why anyone needs a secret identity when one doesn't present himself to the world as a criminal I'll never know. Anyway, Peter and Gwen make up and seem to finally clear the air about her merely being good friends with Flash. Honestly, this story worked much, much better as a “novel-length thriller” and without the idiotic “Disruptor” identity. The changes here make no sense.

And then... Sigh. There's a telegram for Aunt May. It's a mystery. Peter needs to go to Montreal to see the guy who sent it. (Why he can't use a phone like a normal person is a mystery to me.) And... the Hulk is in Montreal, so JJJ agrees to send Peter to get some shots for the Bugle. And... Spider-Man and the Hulk fight, and it's basically Spider-Man dodging for two issues. And when he finally finds Mssr. Rimbaud, who sent the telegram... Rimbaud is shot by a mystery man.

I'm not sure what kind of comment is necessary here. It's a completely ridiculous story designed to give the writer an excuse to match up Spidey and the Hulk without tearing up NYC. Personally, I don't see the fight as anything particularly entertaining or imaginative. Ugh.

Anyway, let's check my Spidey-Standards against this week's reading list:

1) Spider-Man stories were better then than they are now. Nope. Worse. These have too many elements that make zero sense. I'd honestly rather read Brand New Day than these issues again.

2) Spider-Man's supporting cast is essential to good Spidey stories. They might be, but you'd never know it from these issues.

3) Peter Parker is not just a secret identity. Oh, for crying out loud. Aunt May is Doc Ock's housekeeper. I hate Peter just for being related to her.

All right, that's it for this week. Up next week will be Amazing Spider-Man 121-122! Until Spider-Man actually believes he could beat the Hulk, Make Mine Marvel!


Wednesday, January 23, 2008

SM:MIA - ASM 548

My copy came Monday. Not cool, Marvel. Not cool at all.

BTW, in case you haven't figured this one out: SPOILERS

Spider-Man: Missing In Action

This Week's Reading List: Amazing Spider-Man 548

Amazing Spider-Man 548 is much the same as 547: Virtually nothing in it is related to the marriage in any way. The main story is serviceable, but not inspired. Mr. Negative has created a DNA-based "blood bomb" that only affects those related by blood to the original source. He's using it to target the Maggia. He plants one at a circus, planning to kill a bunch of mob kids. Spidey saves them. Meanwhile, the Spider-Mugger is killed, and Spidey gets some of his stuff back. Of course, the cops think Spidey killed him.

There are some Brand New Day plots sprinkled in here. First, Harry is none too happy to see Spidey swinging around. Second, one of the new girls is apparently a CSI, and she wants to investigate the blood thing. Third, Aunt May's boss at the shelter is Mr. Negative.

Now, come on, Marvel, honestly: what part of this issue required One More Day in order to work? Mary Jane prevented you from introducing new female supporting characters? Or is your whole company so unimaginative that you couldn't think of a way to introduce a new female supporting character without making her a love-interest for Peter?

Ugh. Honestly, the tone of the issue is right, but that doesn't change the fact that the set-up sucks.


Monday, January 21, 2008

SM:FBFW ASM 108-113

Spider-Man: For Better or For Worse?

This Week's Reading List: Amazing Spider-Man 108-113

Greetings, true-believers! Well, we're back to read about those good old days of Spider-Fandom where there weren't alternate continuities, memories, and deals with the devil. The stories might not always be good, but at least they're honest attempts at having fun. This week we visit some some good-intentioned but horribly cliched Vietnamese stereotypes before moving on to the Gibbon, Kraven, and Doc Ock.

First comes the story that introduces Sha Shan, an (eventual) supporting cast member that I remember from my early years of reading Spidey. It's funny for me to think that I'm actually closer (in publishing time) to when I started reading Spidey at this point in my FBFW reading than we all are in 2008. Anyway, this story is a difficult one for me to read. On one hand, Stan takes time to show Vietnamese who are not dirty Commies. On the other hand, these supposedly “peaceful” folks go crazy when their temple is destroyed and track Flash to the USA. They don't listen to Sha Shan, who is the daughter of the leader they think is dead... Ah, you know what? It's not worth describing. Suffice it to say that the story stirs the same conflicts in me as the Hobie Brown story from a while back.

At the same time, there's a lot to like here. The mere fact that it's Flash they're after makes the story interesting to invested readers. Flash himself is an interesting read at this point, because he's clearly had his world-view altered by his time in 'Nam. No longer should he be written as the simplistic bully. Gwen and Peter go through a bit of an interesting spot, as well, as she finally calls him on the whole “Peter's a coward who always runs away” thing. This, as a complete surprise to me, actually leads to a confrontation between Gwen and May. Gwen basically calls May on her pointless and annoying worrying. As with every change in Spider-Man, however, it doesn't stick... so what's the point?

After this story comes the debut of “the newest Marvel super-star!” In case you don't remember a super-star from ASM 110, they mean the Gibbon. Now, I'm not much of a Gibbon fan, but I have to say that I completely understand where both Spidey and the Gibbon are coming from here, as I have been on both sides of the “laughing at someone” bit. Honestly, can you blame Spidey for laughing when this dude shows up? To Spidey, the super-hero biz is old hat, but it seems like a big deal to Martin Blank. Being a teacher, I've been on one side, and having talked to comics pros (and having the cliched aspirations to the biz that seemingly every comic fan has), I've been on the other.

Then Kraven shows up, and the whole story turns into jungle mind control. With drugs. Yippee.

The next storyline starts with what is, to me, a fascinating concept: Spider-Man wrestling with the simple fact that he cannot save everyone and that being Spider-Man screws up his life in a fundamental way. Now, the story itself is a cop-out in that Spidey's decision to prioritize his search for Aunt May (who has disappeared suspiciously) is eventually folded back into the rash of kidnappings he'd decided to ignore... Eh. Anyway, it would be interesting to see Spidey really struggle with the essential truth that he cannot win. I'm not sure how they'd do it, but Peter Parker has always struck me as a prime candidate for depression--and I'm not talking about a “special issue”--I'm talking an extended period.

And then... Doc Ock shows up and... fight. Instead of the flu this time, Spidey has an ulcer and nervous exhaustion. And... he beats Doc Ock, who seems hideously overused at this point. I mean, even if you're going with the whole “new audience every two years” theory of comics readership, packing Doc Ock after only eighteen months seems like overkill. We'll see if the “Gang War” storyline does anything when I report back next week.

Anyway, let's check my Spidey-Standards against this week's reading list:

1) Spider-Man stories were better then than they are now. I'd say average. BTW, I'm not comparing this to Brand New Day until I have a better idea of what's going to happen with that storyline. In any case, this week's stories hold up just fine, especially by the standards of the time. The Kraven issue is pathetic, but... hey.

2) Spider-Man's supporting cast is essential to good Spidey stories. Flash makes the first two issues, and Gwen and May get some interesting moments. Yep.

3) Peter Parker is not just a secret identity. In many ways, he's Spider-Man without the mask. (I mean, he always is, but there are few Peter Parker flairs in these issues--it's mostly Spider-Man punching and flipping.)

All right, that's it for this week. Up next week will be Amazing Spider-Man 114-120! Until Spidey IS a coward, Make Mine Marvel!


Wednesday, January 16, 2008

SM:MIA - ASM 547

Spider-Man: Missing In Action

This Week's Reading List: Amazing Spider-Man

Sigh. Damn it, Marvel. Quit making Brand New Day actually good. Now, let's get something straight right from the get-go: ASM 547 is not a groundbreaking comic. It is not fantastic art. What it is, unfortunately for those of us who HATE the set-up of BND, is entertaining and fun. I still maintain that getting rid of the marriage was unnecessary to tell this kind of a story, but this story is, in and of itself, good.

In fact, it's better than last week because most of my complaints from last week are simply not a factor for this issue. The marriage (or lack thereof) is a non-issue, Harry Osborn acts like a rich guy (but not a rich schmoozer), there's a supporting cast, there's a villain, a fast-paced plot, there's sub-plots... Aargh. And then, of course, there's McNiven art, which I've liked since his CrossGen days.

Is the issue generic? YEP. This issue would fit in very nicely with the stuff I'm reading for the For Better or For Worse column. The Coffee Bean is here, Harry's here, and someone has stolen Peter's stuff, including this weird "watch" that happens to shoot webs. Meanwhile, there's a mysterious villain chasing after a tablet. Spidey jokes, he's concerned about money, about pictures, he only has one web-shooter... I mean, this is classic Spider-Man, plain and simple. If I had not been reading comics for twenty years, walked into a shop, and picked this issue off the stands, I'd be on-board for the next issue for sure.

None of this changes the fact that this series is going to have to fall back on the changes introduced last issue (slacker Peter, media-whore Harry, do-gooder May, and the lack of marriage), and that's going to be problematic for me. However, I have to give BND a fair shot, and this issue hits in all the right ways.

Damn it.


Sunday, January 13, 2008

SM:FBFW ASM 103-107

Spider-Man: For Better or For Worse?

This Week's Reading List: Amazing Spider-Man 103-107

We start off in the Savage Land with Gwen of the Jungle, then we move on to a new and “improved” Spider-Slayer for three issues.

Okay, so the first storyline here is a two-parter where Gwen, Peter, and JJJ are three out of four members of a team headed to the Savage Land to track down a giant lizard-ape named Gog. No, I'm not making this up. This is a stupid set-up, but the story is actually minorly interesting. It's fast-paced and, once they're in the Savage Land, they meet up with Ka-Zar. At least that's slightly logical. Kraven is there, too, and he has raised Gog from infancy. You see, it's Gog that's the problem with this story.

Gog is an alien rocketed to Earth as the last survivor of his doomed world. He is apparently superior to humans in many ways—he learns to talk his own language without help from Daddy Kraven. And... Spider-Man kills him. I kid you not. Spider-Man leads him to a pool of quicksand and allows him to drown. Spidey feels a little bad about this, but not that bad. What a crock. (BTW, two seconds of internet searching reveals that Gog was rescued by the Plunderer after this story and he will show up again many years down the road. That doesn't change what Spidey did or how it was supposed to look in this story.)

My favorite part of this story is Gwen Stacy channeling the spirit of Harley Quinn twenty years early when she says, “A-OK, Mr. J!” Actually, I think this statement is very, very revealing about our young Ms. Stacy, who changes personalities almost at the drop of a hat--she's a psycho! She probably wasn't actually hit by the Goblin at all--she threw herself off that bridge just to screw with Spidey's head, and never mind sleeping with his best friend's dad...

Following this is a straightforward three-parter where Spidey fights Spencer Smythe's newest and greatest Spider-Slayers. The superhero part of the story is very, very typical late-Silver Age action-adventure. It's a dramatic improvement over the Savage Land arc, but nothing to talk about. The soap-opera is more interesting than it has been since Harry's drug adventures, but considering that there has been little soap-opera to speak of, that doesn't say much. I have to say I'm glad to see Flash Thompson back in the mix--and war has really changed him. (Of course, a writer's sneeze causes Flash to become a completely different person, so that doesn't end up saying much. I think it did at the beginning, though.)

About the only note-worthy thing for me in these last three issues is that Smythe's plan hinged heavily on the police “spy-cameras” he helped them install. People take to the streets protesting them. Compare that to today's surveillance society, and it makes me wonder if we haven't given up something essential in allowing all the cameras we do.

Anyway, let's check my Spidey-Standards against this week's reading list:

1) Spider-Man stories were better then than they are now. The Spider-Slayer arc is good-average, but the hideousness of Gog and the Savage Land trumps it. *raspberry*

2) Spider-Man's supporting cast is essential to good Spidey stories. They make the stories better here.

3) Peter Parker is not just a secret identity. Actually, he kind of is. But not in a bad way--it's just that the Peter ID is kept largely separate from the Spider-Man one in the Smythe arc. Oh, well.

All right, that's it for this week. Up next week will be Amazing Spider-Man 108-113, and hopefully they'll be better! Until Spidey is an (attempted-)murderer of aliens, Make Mine Marvel!


Wednesday, January 9, 2008

SM:MIA - ASM 546

Spider-Man: Missing In Action

This Week's Reading List: Amazing Spider-Man 546

All right, friends and neighbors. It's a Brand New Day, and the real Spider-Man is NOWHERE to be found. That's right: Amazing Spider-Man 546 is out on the stands as of today, and I'm here to blog about it.

Let's get one thing very straight from the outset: This is NOT the Spider-Man that we have read for the last... twenty years AT LEAST. For the most part, this is NOT the Spider-Man supporting cast that we've come to know and love. The real Spider-Man, the one whose comics we've shelled out hard-earned money for, is NOT in these issues. How do I know? Well, an actual person is the sum total of his choices, and a character in serial fiction has a history behind him that has been published. That history is distinct from other characters' histories. Same with personalities.

In other words, "616" Spider-Man (the REAL one) is different from Ultimate Spider-Man is different from Marvel Adventures Spider-Man is different from Movie Spider-Man is different from BND (Brand New Day... duh) Spider-Man. Just as Post-Crisis Superman was not the same character as Pre-Crisis Earth 1 Superman, BND Spider-Man is NOT the "real" Spider-Man.

Under other circumstances, this would be 100% acceptable. I've thought for years now that Ultimate Spider-Man is, in many ways, a superior character to the classic Spider-Man. It was my personal tradition for a long time to read Amazing, Sensational, etc. Spider-Man first whenever they came out. Ultimate replaced those in my "reading list" pretty much immediately. Part of the reason I don't really remember JMS' arc very well is because I was no longer really concerned with 616/classic Spidey. Ultimate had superseded it in terms of importance and quality. I was perfectly happy to go with the "new" Post-Crisis histories at DC back in the 80's. The Superman and Wonder Woman reboots absolutely captivated me for years. I've thought for a long time that the Marvel Universe is due for a serious reboot--although personally I'd have it hew to the classic style (over the Ultimate one). So, I'm not intrinsically opposed to dumping a character's (or a universe's) history. If it's done right.

BND is not done right. It takes the worst strategies from the original Crisis and adopts them. Swiss-cheese, down-to-the-individual-writer's-interpretation history? Check. Random resets to previous status quos without explanation or, apparently, forethought? Check. Semi-logical, universal explanation for the switch? Oh, wait. Semi-logical and universal are both GOOD ideas, and BND has neither.

So, that means that the "real" Spider-Man is no longer being published. He's MIA. What will it take to find him? Absolute apathy on the fans' part. Sigh. That, I cannot do.

You see, I bought Amazing Spider-Man 546. And... I kind of liked it. This BND Spider-Man has some potential. Unfortunately, he's living someone else's life... kind of. He's surrounded by his old friends... kind of. Ultimately, this half-hearted, piecemeal reboot does NOTHING right with the character that COULDN'T have been done with the original, and it does several things WRONG with its new formula.

Things that are right:

1) Snappy banter. Slott's tone for the book is spot-on. The book has a somewhat light-hearted tone that works for Spider-Man. Obviously some moments are more serious than others, but...

2) Excellent art. Come on. They're spending top dollar for this reboot, and we get to look at it.

3) Spider-Tracers/Mechanical Web-Shooters. YES.

4) PACING. Oh, God, the wonderful, wonderful pacing. MULTIPLE storylines (some in the back-ups, but still) that are not 100% Peter-centric. Scenes of Peter interacting with other people. Scenes without Peter in them. This book moved faster than any JMS Spider-book ever has.

5) A supporting cast. Please note this: Every Single Storyline Supporting Character In This Issue Is As Separate From Its Previous Incarnation As BND Spidey Is From His. We'll get to this in a moment. However, this book actually takes time to set up a supporting cast, and Spider-Man needs this. One of the weakest elements in bad Spidey stories is the total focus on Spider-Man. He's a social creature and works best in groups (even if he's not a team player). Each and every supporting character comes with a unique environment that guarantees at least three or four story possibilities right off the top of one's head and has the potential to generate many more. So, so important.

Now, please examine the list above. What stories there could NOT have been told with a married Spidey? NONE. Will there be love-interest stories for BND Spidey in the future? Maybe. But they're canceled out by all the MJ-centric, marriage-centric, BABY MAY-centric stories that could have been told otherwise.

What's WRONG:

1) FEW of these characters are who they used to be.
  • Aunt May runs a soup kitchen, or at least works in one? No offense, but when has this woman EVER demonstrated such a charitable side? I kind of like BND Aunt May, and I think she's probably an improvement over 616 Aunt May, but she's NOT her old self.
  • Harry Osborn: International Jet-Setter and Womanizer. Uh, what? Again, there's a lot of potential in this character. This could really go places. He's obviously a weak man who will provide endless stories. You know who he's not? Harry Osborn.
  • J Jonah Jameson is a newspaper man incapable of selling papers without Spider-Man, and he runs a tabloid paper. Well... Okay, this has links to previous continuity. However, the status of Jameson and the Bugle is so checkered over the years, so varied, that one can hardly pin down one personality or status. This is relatively interesting.
  • Robbie, Betty... They seem to be the same so far... BUT they don't have their own Storyline separate from the others, so I'm going to count them out until they do. We'll see. I'd be interested to know if Betty was ever in a cult or if Robbie ever went to prison.

2) PETER is no longer who he used to be. BND Peter and movie Peter are almost indistinguishable. Peter taking wads of cash from Harry? Sharing an apartment, okay... but wads of cash? (Sure he says it's a loan, but...) Peter, 26 and living with Aunt May because he's done NOTHING for a MONTH?? Peter Parker, unable-to-get-out-of-bed-man? Again, I don't like this side of the character. Peter made it through the end of high school and the beginning of college without flunking out. Why is he in this place now?

(Actually, there's several possible answers to that, many of them lack-of-marriage-related. The PROBLEM is that this is NOT the Peter Parker I've been reading about for twenty-five years. I wish they wouldn't pretend it is.)

3) Continuity, continuity, continuity. They'd better start explaining, and fast. Actually... No. No, they shouldn't. Because they don't care and I don't care. None of their explanations go any farther than "We're too creatively bankrupt to come up with interesting stories for 616 Spidey, so we made ourselves a new one. If you don't like our toys, go home!"

4) Illogic, illogic, illogic. Why do we need magic to bring Harry back? Why could he not have come back... like this... using the old "Goblin Formula Regeneration" trick? I know his formula was modified, but come on... it's comic book science! A bit of technobabble is all that's needed, and there he is! And he abandons Liz and Normie--or they don't want him back--and he decides to be as needy as he was in college. POOF! Problem solved. Same with BND Aunt May--exchange her for Anna Watson instead, and have Peter and Mary Jane with Anna while Anna tries to save the world! Ultimately, the worst parts of this story were NOT NEEDED to achieve the best parts.

Sigh... Mr. Negative has potential. Car driver-boy from Swing Shift has potential. Jackpot, whoever she is, has potential. There's a lot to like here, folks. But it's NOT 616 Spidey. It's NOT. That character is GONE, and I'm honestly having trouble dealing with it.

I hope he'll return. I hope the burst of quality on these titles will be transferred to him when he does. Until then, Spider-Man is Missing In Action, and I want him back.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

SM:FBFW ASM 99-102

Spider-Man: For Better or For Worse?

This Week's Reading List: Amazing Spider-Man 99-102

You know, I'm a pretty forgiving guy when it comes to old comics. I remember reading many of them when I was eight or nine, and I can put myself back in that mindset in order to enjoy older stuff. With this week's so-called storyline, however, I'd have to actually bash my own brains out to enjoy my comics. This four-issue run is easily the worst we've seen so far (not including the Marvel Super Heroes story from a couple of weeks ago--that wasn't a “run”.) So, join me for an extremely brief review of when Spider-Man had six-arms.

First and foremost, my Gil Kane love has waned since last time. I'm not sure what happened to him and Frank Giacoia in-between 98 and 99, but all of a sudden the art--and the inking, especially--has just gone insane. Every detail is revealed. If you have a copy of Amazing Spider-Man 99 handy, look at page two, panel seven, as Peter Parker, freaky marionette from Hell, looks at Gwen and talks about popping the question. Then check out Captain Lipstick on page three, panel four, and Smylex-Victim Peter in panel eight. Seriously--AAAH!

Okay, 99's story isn't half-bad. Peter starts getting serious about Gwen and starts making some changes. He gets himself a staff job at the Bugle, talks tough to JJJ, and breaks up a hostage situation (using info from the Bugle to find out about the crime and then take pictures of it). IF this were actually going to go anywhere, it'd be a good story. However, since Marvel, even in the early 70's, was dead-set against Peter growing and changing in any meaningful way, this doesn't go anywhere, so it's only average.

Then come the drugs. Spidey decides that he can't be Spidey and be married to Gwen, so he makes up a potion that he's “been working on... for years--ever since [he] first got [his] spider powers” (ASM 100; 6, 5). Yeah, right. He finishes it in about two seconds using his magic potion-making machine that has never really appeared before, and then he drinks the potion. We're treated to a pity-party acid trip for Peter Parker that was billed in the last issue as “The Summing Up!” Boo-frickin'-hoo, Peter. And then... he wakes up... and has two extra pair of arms.

Good Lord. I have to say that I'll never hear Switch's last words in The Matrix the same way again after seeing Spider-Freak on the last page of this comic wailing, “Not like this! Not Like THIS!

Peter then freaks out (understandably), calls Gwen, and tells her he's going to be “out of town” for a while. He calls Doc Connors, gets instructions to go to his beach house, and takes off. Meanwhile, one of my personal least favorite characters of all time, Morbius, is introduced. Then Morbius fights the Lizard, since Connors showed up to help Spidey. Morbius escapes, recalls his origin, and Spidey and a half-Lizard realize that Morbius' bite reduces mutations. Fight, fight, fight, Spidey gets the bite-enzyme, and is cured.

The above paragraph covers three full issues of material. Three full crappy issues. The plot is asinine, the art is still terrible and inconsistent, and the dialogue is that special brand of shrill that comes from a writer trying desperately to make his characters matter. I feel dirty just writing about these issues.

Anyway, let's check my Spidey-Standards against this week's reading list:

1) Spider-Man stories were better then than they are now. Ecch.

2) Spider-Man's supporting cast is essential to good Spidey stories. “I love Gwen! We want to get married!” becomes “Gwen, I'm going to be out of town. I secretly hate you.” “Sob! Choke!”

3) Peter Parker is not just a secret identity. I wish these issues were still a secret to me. Yecch.

All right, that's it for this week. Up next week will be Amazing Spider-Man 103-107, and hopefully they'll be better! Until Spidey is a zombie who eats his family, Make Mine Marvel!


Friday, January 4, 2008

Suddenly "Mr. J." doesn't sound so original...

So I saw Sweeney Todd today. Really enjoyed it, Depp is awesome, Bonham-Carter is good at acting insane, etc.

Here's what I noticed: She keeps calling Sweeney "Mr. T.", and it occurred to me that Harley Quinn is very, very much the Joker's Mrs. Lovett. Can anyone offer any actual evidence that Lovett was the inspiration for Harley Quinn?

Because if she's NOT, then it's a hell of a coincidence. (I'm certainly open to that possibility, but the similar speech patterns and relationship is makes it a slim one in my opinion.)


Wednesday, January 2, 2008

It's all been said... (OMD Stuff)

Sigh. So the third part of the OMD-Quesada interview is up at CBR, and he spends the entire time essentially sticking his fingers in his ears and screaming "fans want this! Nyah-Nyah!" while simultaneously flipping the bird at anyone who disagrees with him. The whole time I'm reading his bullshit, I'm thinking, "Oh, I have to write about this. I'm going to show him why all his arguments are wrong! Just you wait, Quesada..." And I get done, and I head over to the ever-awesome (although currently very cranky) SMB...

And everything I'd say has been said. Everything I'd argue has been argued. And there are people arguing against it (people like ElCoyote, people who are spouting the same tripe Quesada is). And... I just don't care. So I'm not going to post over there about this because I'd just be a raindrop adding to the flood.

That said, let's get some things straight:

A) Continuity matters. John Seavey very eloquently explained in a post that Marvel/Quesada contradicts itself when it says that continuity doesn't matter. A poor paraphrase: "Events" like Civil War only "matter" because they will have results in subsequent stories. Therefore, Marvel sells copies of Civil War based on an implied (by Marvel) promise and and understood (by readers) value of "continuity." To then chuck the continuity (as OMD unquestionably does, despite Quesada's insistence to the contrary) is to break that promise. Sorry, you can't do that, Joe.

B) The marriage does not hamper good storytelling. Quesada's supposedly foolproof argument is below:

Here is the question that I have posed over and over again and no one has given me a logical answer to: outside of having kids (which I never would have done with Peter and MJ in the first place) or divorce/annulment (which is another thing I never would have done) is there a story that I can tell with a married Peter and MJ that I can’t tell with a Peter Parker who is just dating and deeply in love with MJ? There isn’t a single one. Every story you can tell works just as well if they’re married of just dating and in love.

Now, let me ask the reverse: Are there any stories that I can tell with a single Peter Parker that I can’t tell with a married one? You betcha! And therein lies the problem and the irrefutable logic. While the marriage is absolutely the logical progression for a character like Peter Parker, so is having kids, having grandkids, growing old and dying.

Quesada reveals his prejudices and his own limitations as a storyteller here, and it is here that the root illogic of "One More Day" is born. He eliminates personal growth as a story option for Spider-Man. He doesn't just shy away from it (as virtually all Spider-Man teams have done over the years--even the great Stan Lee had to give Peter six arms to postpone his engagement to Gwen, and Gerry Conway and John Romita had to kill her!)--he outlaws it. He prohibits it. Well, Joe, as soon as you eliminate the logical progression of a character's growth, then the rest of your argument just kind of falls into place.

What Quesada doesn't seem to understand is that the "soap opera" aspect of Spider-Man is not tied to dating. When Peter was dating, certainly much of it revolved around dating--I don't know about the rest of you, but when I was single, girls were all I thought about. In fact, when I got married, I had to train myself to NOT think about them. Here are some stories that one could tell with a married Spidey that Marvel has somehow managed to not do:

  1. Really hire Peter on at the Bugle. Give him a job, hours, responsibilities. Right away, office politics become the new focal point for the soap opera. Make him some kind of photo guru--he'd suck at it. He'd be promoted to the limits of his incompetence and then struggle with it. Newspaper work has been a good story generator for Spidey for years--use it.
  2. Get MJ hired as an anchorwoman on a news show. Think Deborah Norville and Inside Edition. Or have JJJ start a new news show. Peter's the cameraman. MJ's unqualified (soap), the show gives story possibilities, etc.
  3. Put Peter back in grad school. For real, heading for his Ph.D. Instant supporting cast. Give MJ a steady job doing something pretty to explain money. This is a boring retread, granted, but at least it doesn't take a crap on the last 20 years.
  4. Sign Peter up with a new Damage Control. He's the scientific/tech guy for their insurance arm, making sure that people's claims are on the level. It's a made-up, non-"grind"-y job that uses the science skills and provides a supporting cast.
  5. Sign Spider-Man up with Heroes For Hire. Or Silver Sable. Or a new security company run by Felicia Hardy. This is my least favorite because it doesn't rely on Peter Parker as a character, which minimizes the soap opera.

Ultimately, if Marvel did anything like that (and that's me, a non-pro, brainstorming for ten minutes) and combined it with a child--especially an already-toddling Baby May, who IS out there somewhere--it could be a new and exciting direction for the character.

There are not "more" or "fewer" stories that can be told with married/single Spidey. There are DIFFERENT stories, and there are good ones and bad ones on both sides. The issue isn't what stories will be told, Quesada; the issue is how good the stories are.

C) Fans are not being unreasonable when they complain that Marvel is treating them like crap. Anyone who believes that there isn't a relationship between a writer/company/producer and its fans is a moron. When we're treated badly, we'll complain, and we're right to do so.

D) No kids are going to start reading comics because of a story decision. You know what's gotten people into comics in the last fifteen years? Three things: NOT-SPANDEX, TRADES, and MANGA. In other words, massively different stories and formats. Rearranging the story elements in Spider-Man to what they were twenty-five years ago will not bring today's kids in off the street, and one can't change the actual story engine/genre of Spider-Man without making him not-Spidey. So the only thing that one could even conceivably change with Spidey is the format... and that's a post for another day. A Brand New Day.

E) This change is NOT permanent, no matter what Smithville Thunderbolt over at the SMB insists (and other than that, BTW, ST is a great guy). How do I know this? Because this decision really is THAT BAD and people really are going to REJECT it. Therefore, it will be changed. The story has so many "reset buttons" built into it that it's not even funny. As John Byrne and Peter David once noted about Betty Banner, the marriage could be brought back in one panel.

Think of the marriage like a comic character: There's no corpse, therefore it's not really dead.

I think it will be sooner, but it might be later. Or the book/universe/etc. could get cancelled and completely rebooted. Who knows? But this too shall pass.

What does BND mean for Spider-Man: For Better or For Worse? Nothing, really. I'm going to keep plugging away at the old issues and dealing with them as I find them. I hope you'll keep reading and commenting. I may add some other stuff to the blog over time, but I still intend to reread all the Spider-Man stuff. Considering that I now buy almost NOTHING from the Big Two, I'll have a lot of time in which to reread it.


Tuesday, January 1, 2008

My Month For Drinking The Kool-Aid

Well, I didn't get a new SM:FBFW post up this week. I'll be back next week. I have spent the last few weeks drinking some different kinds of Kool-Aid that have sucked up my time:

1) I got an iPod Touch. For those of you who don't know, it's more fun to check your email at McDonald's on a 4-inch screen. Seriously. I've already wasted entire days organizing the music on this thing--I shouldn't care about album art, but it's just... so... pretty!

2) I bought a 36-issue subscription to Amazing Spider-Man. Yeah, I know it sends the wrong message about "Brand New Day," but it was only $50 for 36 issues. Seriously, do the math on that one. Besides, now I don't have to be embarrassed to buy it at my LCS.

3) I got Rock Band for my PS3. You will see me on the leaderboards as Eric Qel-Droma. I'm actually near the top of the vocal boards. Drumming... not so much.

Anyway, I hope everyone has had entertaining holidays. Make sure to read Comic Book Resources' series of interviews with Joe Quesada about "Brand New Day." Talk about Kool-Aid...