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 Ultimate had superseded it in terms of importance and quality.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.


Jared said...

I get the impression that you're rather conflicted about this, and for that, I can't blame you. It sounds like Slott is just what the spider-titles need to get back on track after the triple blows of the Clone Saga, JMS, and the Unmasking.

This sounds incredibly promising, but I'm wondering how much this will cost. Granted, I'm only buying the books of Peter and May if I start subscribing again, as well as any TPBs I can track down about May's first series.

If Slott finds a way to work in a Sleepwalker villain or two (and don't worry if he does-Bob Budiansky's creations are far better than they first appear, and just like Sleepwalker himself, don't get the respect they deserve), I'm sold.

This is different for me as my love-hate relationship with continuity comes into play; I liked the marriage, but not so much that I was unwilling to let it go for the sake of having almost everything JMS did erased from continuity. To me, a retcon is perfectly acceptable when it erases bad continuity, even when it's done in the stupidest way possible.

And who knows-maybe some of Marvel's obscure villains will get the respect they deserve, or some of the new creations will catch on.

Oh, and don't worry about further explaining yourself on the whole manga thing-I got where you were coming from. I actually like the anime style of drawing...just not in Spider-Man or Sleepwalker.

Eric Teall said...

I'm conflicted only in that I wish I weren't buying it at all... but I am. I got a special subscriber-only price (since I subscribe to Spider-Girl) for 36 issues for $50. That's how I'm justifying this to myself.

Slott IS just what the spider-titles need... but (to quote six-arm Spidey) NOT LIKE THIS!

The problem is that this retcon doesn't just erase bad continuity--it transparifies (like that word?) twenty to twenty-five YEARS of continuity. PLUS Marvel isn't playing by ANY of the established retcon rules, to which I say: Chickenshit!

A full Marvel Universe reboot would be okay for me. Really. You know what? Actually? MARY JANE AS A SKRULL FOR THE LAST TWENTY-FIVE YEARS would be better than this. That's how bad this is.

Still, Slott's a fun writer.