Spider-Man, Spider-Man, Oh, what have you done with my Spider-Man?

23 01 2009

Wow, there’s lots to get to this week. I’ve got some gripes with Marvel’s current treatment of Spider-Man, very mixed feelings about Robert Kirkman, plus a bit of a game review. Let’s get started.

Well, for many years now Marvel has been floundering about what to do with their flagship character: Spider-Man. I’d say things first started going downhill with the advent of Carnage, all the way back in the early nineties, then the infamous Clone Saga, and really, things have been a mess ever since. There’s been periodic upswings (pun intended) in the storytelling, as with J. Michael Straczynski and John Romita Jr.’s run from a couple years back. Marvel’s been well aware of the public’s discontent with the character and has been trying everything to revitalize him, but they’ve just been batting zero after zero.

Anyway, Spidey’s been my favorite character for as long as I can remember, and it’s been a particular thorn in my backside to have gotten no real enjoyment from his comics in well over a decade. I occasionally pick up a book now an then, just to see how things are going, but am usually disappointed. So just recently, Marvel had this whole Civil War thing lead into the Brand New Day thing, which, from all accounts, was more of the same nonsense. I find it very frustrating that the big two, (Marvel and DC,) have made it their stock in trade of late to traffic in large, year-long, company-spanning crossovers. Readers like me, who haven’t read many mainstream superhero books in a long while, aren’t likely to begin reading them again when it means I have to read a good 10 or 20 books a month just to follow a storyline. And to do so for an entire year! This is frustrating as all get out and I really hope the practice dies a quick death in the near future. Anyhow, back to Spider-Man. He’s been wrapped up in Marvel’s large Civil War story for most of the last year or so. Some major events happened in his life within that story, including absurdly revealing his secret identity, but it was just too large a story for me to invest in. I just want a solid monthly comic about an interesting character that I can care about. Make it exciting, keep the art top-notch, and let the story arcs keep me invested from month to month as well as over the years. Do all this, and I’ll be happy. Daredevil‘s been doing it for years now. So’s Ultimate Spider-Man. Why are so few other books capable of this? Plus, of course Spider-Man’s secret identity became a secret again. Marvel keeps making these earth-shattering changes to Spider-Man, claiming that the events will have permanent effect on the character, so you must read it because it’s so important! Which is just silly. Haven’t they learned that people LIKE the status quo on Spider-Man? We want Peter Parker to have a secret identity because it’s a major part of who he is as a character. We want him to have the same powers and web-shooters he’s always had because it’s a major part of who he is. And we want to be able to follow his life and adventures every month for just a couple dollars and to feel like we’ve experienced the thrill over the years. We want him to be the same character we’ve grown to know and love. Maybe they’ll get it right, someday. They certainly have been getting it wrong enough.

The most recent travesty didn’t take them long to execute at all. Just a couple months ago I started hearing that Spider-Man was “getting back to basics,” and that the book was actually pretty good lately. So I dug up a few recent back issues and whatever was currently on the stands, and took them home to read. First thing’s first: Marvel’s changed their publishing scheme for their Spidey books. In place of 3 different monthly Spider-Man books, they’ve consolidated everything down to ONE title: Amazing Spider-Man, and are having it be released 3 times a month. I guess their theory has to do with streamlining, but I only see it as a poor decision. Firstly, as a reader, I now feel more compelled than ever to have to purchase all the Spider-Man books published every month. After all, they’re all the same title and numbered sequentially week to week: 579, 580, 581, 582… But that’s an awful of scratch to put up every month to read only one comic series. And what if I don’t have the funds to read that many comics a month? What if I only want/can afford to read one Spider-Man book a month? I’m out of luck, that’s what. Nevertheless, I decide to give it a shot and shell out almost $10/month just to read one Spider-Man comic. So I’m expecting every issue to be darn good to make it worth my while, and… well…. That’s just it. They’re not. In fact, they’re a mess; they’re all over the place! Some are actually great, but others are shoddy as all get out.

I started with #575 & #576, two issues dealing with the resurgence of Hammerhead. Joe Kelly wrote these two issues and while they were energetic, I found them a bit crass for a Spider-Man comic. The first issue opens with a long scene of Spidey saving an apparently mentally challenged homeless person named Greta from some flying clowns with guns. Whatever, typical comic book silliness. I hope that stuff was explained in the previous issues, because it sure wasn’t explained here. But the problem is not with the clowns but with the fact that Spider-Man’s usually enjoyable witty banter was directed not at the clowns, but at Greta. Joe Kelly’s Spider-Man spends the entire scene making jokes about how bad she smells and how disgusting her breath is and how badly he wishes he were instead rescuing supermodels. This Spider-Man is not so much a hero as an asshole. He’s just a jerk who makes fun of her weight: “two hundred pounds of bacon fat,” and her breath: “urinal puck omelette,” at every opportunity. Eesh. I was instantly turned off and found Kelly’s take on the character to continue to be rather insensitive, making Peter Parker into more of a self-centered jerk than I’m comfortable with. Oh, and the comic led with a synopsis page, informing me that one of the major subplots in recent issues was the Spider-Tracer killer, a serial killer leaving Spider-Tracers on his victims, leading the police to be seeking out Spider-Man for arrest. Too bad this rather major-seeming storyline was not once mentioned in these first two issues. Hmm…

On to the next issue, by Zeb Wells and Paulo Rivera. The Punisher guest stars, he and Spidey putting the kibosh on a villainous arms dealer, but not without butting heads themselves. This issue was fantastic and exposed me to the rarely seen beautiful art of  Mr. Wells, who really needs to do more Spider-Man. He has a really interesting take on the notion of illustrating just how unnaturally Spidey can move, and it’s just great. This issue was great, but again, was led with a synopsis about the Spider-Tracer killer, a subplot which again made no appearance in the actual issue. Hmm…

The next two issues, #578 & 579 also lead-in with a Spider-Tracer killer synopsis. I’m really beginning to wonder what the big deal is about this storyline. Too bad I don’t find out in these two issues, either. Oh well, that’s just as good, because Mark Waid and Marcos Martin turn in a great story about Spidey saving a subway car full of people from a flooding tunnel deep underground. There’s some gorgeous visuals, a startling revelation about one of the train car passengers, and this Spider-Man is a true hero who makes fun of the villains, but will do anything to help those in need, even if it is the villain. If there were more issues like these and the Punisher issue, I’d be thrilled to be collecting Spider-Man comics again.

Unfortunately there seem to be more of the other. The next two issues actually begin with the actual story revealing something about the Spider-Tracer killer storyline, much to my relief, but this quickly gives way to a far too drawn out domestic story of Pete/Spidey helping his friends the Osborns deal with their extremely dysfunctional family issues. Meh, I say, meh. It’s a mediocre story by Dan Slott, that doesn’t seem that important in the grand scheme of things and with mediocre art to boot, by Mike McKone, (who does some weird stuff with computers, by the way- I am NOT a fan!) the issues seem hardly worth my while.

OK, at this point I was ready to give up the title again, unless they really pulled it together. I had just two more issues in my stack to read, #583 & #584. #583 is the much ballyhooed President Obama issue, with the face of our awesome new president on the cover. Everyone and their mother is racing to find a copy, giving comics in general and Marvel’s Spider-Man in particular some very valuable mainstream press and attention. So surely Marvel will make sure this is a well-done issue with some top-notch talent, right? Oh, if only. Well, they started out by trying: they threw Mark Waid at it, a high caliber talent if ever there was one. Too bad they gave him such a mediocre assignment. Whose idea was it for this issue to be an almost completely action-less story with Betty Brant lamenting how difficult it is to have Peter Parker for a friend? That’s it? That’s the issue? The comic you’re going to sell Five BaJillion copies of to all kinds of potential new comics readers, you make a throwaway filler issue with mediocre art!? Trust me, NO ONE who doesn’t already read comics will pick up this comic because Barack Obama’s on the cover, read it, and then decide it was so good that they want to buy some other comic books. Heck, Obama doesn’t even appear in the main story! No, he’s relegated to a six-page back-up feature. And of course, the issue starts with a completely pointless synopsis of recent events which then go on to have ABSOLUTELY NO bearing on the contents of the comic you’re reading. Yeah, way to court new readers, Marvel; by confusing them. Genius. And then, just to heap insult on injury: the colorist and editor should just be fired. Unless Harry Osborn has taken to wearing blackface. Which he has not. Yes, you read it right: In a minor scene in the comic, Peter is seen talking to a character who is identified as Harry Osborn, Peter’s friend from the entire history of the comic. For 45 years, this character has been Caucasian. But, because the colorist and editor are apparently incredibly lazy and couldn’t be bothered to actually read what they were working on, the character was colored as an African-American. Just pitiful.

One more issue to go— Ah heck. I’m done. Yeah, I read #584 by Mark Guggenheim and John Romita, Jr. And yeah, it finally got moving with the Spider-Tracer killer storyline a little bit. But it wasn’t nearly enough. I just don’t care. You want me to force me to spend $10 a month on Spidey comics, deal with the obnoxiousness of having a different creative team on every other issue, follow subplots that have nothing to do with what I’m reading, and then almost never come out with something of GOOD quality? Forget it. Once again, I’ve given my favorite comic book superhero a try and once again, I’ve given up in disgust. It’s really too bad.

Listen, I really don’t have time to finish what I intended to write about Robert Kirkman’s Invincible and Walking Dead, as well as comment on the board game Thud!, based on Terry Pratchett’s novel of the same name, so I’ll get to those next time. In the meanwhile:

What I’m loving this week:
• Walking Dead, The, #57
What I’m reading this week:
• Invincible #58
• Spider-Man: Noir #1,2
• Best American Comics 2008
What I’m dropping this week:
• Amazing Spider-Man #584
Amazing Spider-Man is published by Marvel Comics.
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2 responses

19 04 2009
Who likes awesome comics? I do! I do! « The Dog’s Ear

[…] and pointless and out-of-continuity, but much more hyped Spider-Man appearance, which I discussed here. In fact, this is Obama’s second appearance in Larsen’s book; he appeared last year […]

30 04 2009
What the %^&# is up with Marvel covers this month?! « The Dog’s Ear

[…] comics readers probably won’t have been this disappointed since they picked up the copy of Spider-Man with Barack Obama on the cover. Ugh. Boy, there’s a surefire way to hang on to new readers. Give them crap. And just to add […]

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