Monday, May 19, 2008

Sing It, Honey!

Recent forays into the history books have shown me that people usually can't escape their time period: Romans saw into the future, Medieval Europeans let dung pile up and we of whatever century this is... well- we can't shut our traps.

Without further preamble, I'm a comics reader of twenty years, obsessed with continuity and here to knitpick the holy hell out of every week's batch.
So here I go.

Something is going on in Amazing Spider-Man these days, something HUGE. The question is, how old do you have to be to appreciate it? Peter Parker was always meant to be the patron saint of nerds, or maybe even a golem that nerds cooked up in the basement that could brave the great unknowns: soda with the "gang", a hectic newsroom job involving "human contact". But aside from the radiation and the spandex (givens), Parker had the nerve to grow up and marry a model/actress. Who threw THAT in the pie?

Being fictional and all, poor Pete was (is) at the end of the marketplace choke-chain. He hadn't the luxury of gliding through the late 80s and 90s without picking up a gun, accepting cybernetic enhancements and being PISSED. His trials included, but were never limited to, his wife smoking, his aunt stroking, grudge-bearing clones, his wife cheating, his aunt dying, fake cybernetic parents, and many more dignity-proof tales (it could have been worse- Mark Bagley and John Romita Jr. at least drew most of it). Recently though, we zeroed in on and erased the hate (her name was Mary Jane), allowing us to bask in a "Brand New Day" for Mr. Parker.

And that means what, exactly?

It means, dude(crushing beer can to head), that it's 1974 again! Spider-Man has his own meta-fiefdom, where world-shattering Marvel events actually have negative sway. He's horny, he's broke, and when Iron Man's Inititive goons finally show up with a gun that can obliterate his powers, he'll say, "Can I get fries with that?"

It is of course readers who experienced 70s Spidey the first time calling bullshit. And I will grant them that this ship hasn't been sailing evenly. The Marc Guggenheim issues, especially, suffer from "wacky uncle" syndrome, where a bunch of birthday cards may well have gone into the shredder before being dumped across the art. He is one of four writers in the braintrust, along with Zeb Wells, Bob Gale and Dan Slott. The stable of artists is twice the number.

To the naysayers, I chant: structure. Spidey's stories haven't been this nimble in years. Multiple plots duck and weave. The supporting cast, like a spoiled brat's (that's us) action figure collection, continues to expand. The toggling between Peter and Spidey is balanced and briskly done. The cynic in me says that Marvel only wants to cash in on the weekly format pioneered by DC's 52 series, which also had a multiple writers and artists share the work to critical and financial success.

The cynic in me will also be waiting at this computer in 2016, bones aglow by moonlight, waiting for Frank Quitetly to upload All-Star Superman #12 into his mind from beyond the fucking Oort Cloud. In other words, the weekly format rocks. It's changing comics for the better, acknowledging that people have hundreds of things to do, and if they're going to set aside time to read, Spider-Man better be just as busy.

Also returning to vogue is the very thing that made Stan Lee great: something new every issue. The one above features the debuts of Screwball (cover) and Paper Doll, two not-quite femme fatales both meant, by godsend Dan Slott (the Justin Timberlake of the writing team), to play off of Peter's new task as paparazzi. The sugar-rush stylings of Marcos Martin (Batgirl) and colorist Javier Rodriguez are a wonder to behold.

I've given ASM this much space because I plan to dissect it giddily each week. It'll also be fun to contrast it with DC's next weekly comic Trinity, which begins soon.

Now for the scrubs.

There must have been an overlap between Warren Ellis finishing his Thunderbolts run, and being assigned Astonishing X-Men. Norman Osborn, director of the villains turned Initiative WMDs, has a five page rant that, while entertaining, assures me that Marvel's check for this story was spent on love beads long ago. Admittedly, the Green Goblin is meant to be crazy/evil, and having him fondly reference contration camps and Hitler is one HELLUVA shortcut. But later in the issue a hired gun does the same thing, proving that this script was read over maybe once by anyone (not Ellis) before seeing print. In the previous issue this irritating lapse is even more glaring:

IMPRISONED TELEPATH- "Not sure what to do with Penance. Physically, he's actually pretty weak-"

SONGBIRD- "Wow. That's... that's actually a pretty disgusting way to-"

MOONSTONE- "It's actually pretty funny."

SONGBIRD- "Okay, now I'm actually really scared."

These are all from different pages and, normally, between tokes, I wouldn't remember where I saw what. I might even have seen Ellis himself depicted as the entire cast (fuck knows he couldn't have intended otherwise). But I happened to have read this thing on the train, where the dialogue's rhythm was about as engaging as bouncing, shrieking metal. Months late as these issues were, thanking Mike Deodato's insistence that characters look like Tommy Lee Jones, Edward Norton and Ali Larter, someone (me, for free) COULD have deloused this script. Oh, and the Green Goblin's mask has teeth. I'm sure it made sense in the oxygen tent. Next!

Mercifully, Gail Simone's Wonder Woman has gotten the very dependable Aaron Lopresti for art. In his first issue he does some George Perez-style flair bordering the first page, but doesn't kid himself that it's essential to the whole issue. Simone, lacking the Birds of Prey so well suited to her, has saddled Diana with a compromise between Oracle and, uh... Gail Simone. The feisty redhead, Etta Candy, isn't hogtied by the fact that Diana's a goddess when chatting her up about men and food. The sort of cutesy banter gone for here went well in Birds of Prey because the characters were already grounded in Gotham. But, as in this issue where getting to the action means Diana having an out-of-toned-body experience, thereby ditching Etta, the dialogue seems wasted. Etta was even more intrusive and less believable in the prior story, where the pair battles a green lantern off-planet. Having a well-rounded cast is great and all, but I can see this getting worse. And it's all in service to Diana's supposed need for understanding our culture, which was done amazingly with the book tour Greg Rucka sent her on during the last volume. Still, I trust Simone to be here awhile and make it her own, giving us fifty average issues instead of ten hideous.

Well, thanks for the laughs, my zit-addled peers. Try not to roll over onto that pizza propped next to you in bed.


steve said...

well that was ... that was a symphony. I hadn't realized AT ALL how badly I was missing your prose, until I was able to wade into the warm mud-bath of it here! Great job!

Of course I'm one of those relics bitching about the whole idea of what's going on in the current Spider-Man books. Structure or no structure, it's the basest, weakest flail at alleged storytelling to just PUNT like Marvel's done.

Didn't the writers and editors at Marvel TALK about ANY of this, before they launched all their titles down this road? Spider-Man, one of the company's main cash-cows, can't possibly be one of Tony Stark's ID-checking, goose-stepping government goons, but the whole forward movement of the dumbass story leads us to that (if we don't think it out ahead of time) ... so what does Marvel do? PUNT. Magically (literally magic! OMG!) reset everything about the character. Lazy, dumb, stupid, and inevitably to be overturned.

I read Spider-Man in the '70s and loved it, but what am I supposed to do with the RETURN of the '70s? What comic writer working today (much less on Spider-Man) can legitimately stand comparison with Gerry Conway? What artist doesn't look like a timid little hack next to Ross Andru? The whole thing is ridiculous. It's a tacit admission on Marvel's part that their whole Civil War storyline was an enormous pile of crap. Otherwise the results of their big company-wide crossover event would APPLY, everywhere, like at DC.

But still, I don't have to agree with you to BASK in the way you write! Welcome to the blogosphere, fleshbag!

elmo said...

Such a suck-up! But thanks!

brian said...

Sweet post Elmo. What's with having to verify the word below before posting a comment. I suck at these things.

I haven't read a comic in a long time (Conan was the last) and everything I know comes from the movies like Dolph Lundgren's The Punnisher.

elmo said...

The word verifyer is gone- seems to have been thrust on me from o high.

Beepy said...

Sweet, sassy post there, Word Boy. I didn't understand anything about the comics (Spider Man - eight legs? Sleeps in a hammock? Eats bugs? You got me - but I was loving every moment anyway.

I'll be back for more.

elmo said...

Writer Roy Thomas was allowed to do either the eight legs story, or the spider-hammock. Not both.

Kevin said...

Great post - keep 'em coming!

For someone 'obsessed with continuity', you seem to be taking the hatchet-job done to Spidey's in stride. I tend to think that Spidey going weekly with a smorgasbord of talent at the helm is a clever plan to throw as much post-Mephisto Spidey at you as possible, so you can get past the craptastic nonsense that got you here quicker.

I still have plenty of beef with this whole direction. While I never liked Mary Jane as a supermodel, I did think the marriage made sense to the core of Spider-man's character - that with great power comes great responsibility, not a swinging single lifestyle. Even if Peter got a divorce, that would fit nicely with his 'no luck but bad luck' karma.

Not to mention the half-assed way out of the moronic plot twists of Spidey in Civil War, as Steve states.

We should call 'Brand New Day' what it is: 'Ultimate Spider-man 2', and morn the gut punch continuity and serial narrative just took. Though I'm a Legion fan (specifically the V4 Legion, aka 'That Which Is Never Coming Back, Sorry') - so I'm used to it.

Sam said...

ah, the V4 Legion! sniff ...

elmo said...

I should say instead that I'm obsessed with runs of forty issues or more that prove by their reading that the creators cared more about the characters than themselves.

We can all name writers who'll never, not even at gunpoint, gladly add a single thread to the tapestries begun decades ago.

But as a child of the nineties, I too have boot marks in and around the sack that attest to my loyalty to the industry. I'm guessing that if anyone can positively spin the Mephisto thing later, it'll be Dan Slott.