Sunday, February 26, 2006

SPOILERS ABOUND: an occasional digest of reviews, notes, and rants

Vol. 2, No. 4
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In this issue:
a review of Amazing Spider-Man #529 / notes on a We3 companion video by Vitalic that will delight you, Marvel's creative rebound, Quizilla: Marriage Edition / rants about artistic anticlimax

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Amazing Spider-Man #529 (Marvel)
J. Michael Straczynski (Writer) / Ron Garney (Penciller) / Bill Reinhold (Inker) / Matt Milla (Colorist) / VC's Cory Petit (Letterer)

Okay, okay, we’ve all enjoyed a good giggle about the Lovecraftian Spider Penis, and even a good groan at the No-Prize inspired, fourth-wall busting, eyeball-rolling smirk on page 4. But at the end of the day, this issue of Amazing Spider-Man was a very pleasant surprise.

Y’see, I’m one of those. You know the ones. Those guys who are suckers for cheap marketing gimmicks like costume changes, provided the new duds are attractive. There’s just something about old wine in new bottles that I’m powerless to resist—a shocking confession on a nostalgia-drenched site like this one, I’m sure.

Of course, if the wine has fermented, not even a snazzy new bottle is going to make me drink more than a sip. In the case of Amazing Spider-Man #529 and the (apparently much reviled) “Iron Spidey” suit, though, I quite happily finished the bottle and find myself feeling a little drunk. So drunk, in fact, that I’m thinking seriously about investing in a whole case. Maybe even buying into the winery again.

The thing is, I haven’t read Spiderman regularly for years—literally not since Todd McFarlane was drawing Amazing back in the late 1980s. And this absence is despite the fact that Spider-Man is, conceptually, one of my favorite Marvel characters. Despite the fact, too, that I remember many stories from that era with great fondness: the delightfully interminable Hobgoblin mystery by Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz, the “Gang War” story by Tom, Jim Owsley, and Alan Kupperberg, the “Missing in Action” crossover within the Spidey-titles, and of course the tour de force by J. M. DeMatteis, Mike Zeck, and Bob McLeod, “Kraven’s Last Hunt.” What ever happened to that Spidey? Every now and then, I pick up an issue of Amazing, just to see what’s new, and I’ve flirted with returning in a serious way several times before, usually whenever it looks like the new bottle is shiny enough and that it really does contain a hint of that old grape, some stash that was blessedly preserved in a connoisseur’s secret wine cellar when someone let the Spider Clones loose to trash the liquor store.

One issue isn’t enough to convince me, but Amazing Spider-Man #529 has a lot going for it, not the least of which is Ron Garney and Bill Reinhold’s fantastic visuals. Garney is, to me, the perfect Spidey-artist: his pencils are loose and dynamic, reminiscent of all the best Spidey artists since the 80s: Sal Buscema, Ron Frenz, and John Romita Jr. And I have to say it: I really dig the way he draws the new Spidey costume in this issue.

There are, of course, lots and lots of things that seem “wrong” with the new costume, perhaps most of all its implicit heaviness. Spider-Man is supposed to be light on his feet, not weighed down by body armor. And he’s supposed to be vulnerable too—that’s precisely what makes him the quintessential Marvel character. That scene in which Peter (facetiously?) asks Tony for heat vision and rocket-boot enhancements is a tongue-in-cheek acknowledgement that the new suit makes Spidey absurdly powerful. Indeed, the new suit seems to rob Spidey of everything that makes him, well…Spidey! (And I must say, at least give him four golden Spidey-legs so that he has eight appendages in all—or are we actually supposed to count "eight" already, and Quesada really is having a Spider-penis joke on us after all??)

But here’s the thing that redeems the new Spidey costume for me. It isn’t just that it looks slick, but that it, and the new powers that accompany it, finally defamiliarize Spider-Man for us again, so that we can feel the danger that Peter feels when he leaps off that roof and must trust in the new suit’s ability to allow him to glide safely down to the street. The scene where Peter steps into space to the immortal words of “…here goes nothinnnnnngggggg!” is an obvious quotation of a similar scene in Sam Raimi’s first Spiderman film, where Peter first has to trust that his webbing will allow him to swing safely through the city. And it works: despite the seemingly invulnerable suit, we still get a little taste of vulnerability in that moment.

The action sequences of this issue of Amazing are also designed, it seems, to quell our anxiety that the new suit fundamentally violates the most basic aspects of Spidey’s character. The cute quips as he lands on the roof of a speeding car and peels it open to confront the sleaze bags and the wonderful bit of business where he steers the car with his webs, while riding it like a surf board over the 59th Street Bridge while singing Simon and Garfunkel’s 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy) (loved this!!). This song is at the core of the issue’s management of the potential problems created by the new costume—it’s a metaphor for all the lightness and “gooviness” that the more militaristic “Iron Spidey” costume risks undermining. The song is the perfect encapsulation of the joyfulness and the freedom from care that one associates with Spidey’s swings through the city. Here are the lyrics, and here is a brief audio clip (click the link on the right hand side of the screen) for anyone too young to not know this sublime ode to everyday happiness by heart. So yeah, when Spidey turns into Superman, deflecting a thug’s bullet off his back at the end of this issue, it still “feels” like Spider-Man, at least to me. For once, it feels like something’s gone right for old Spidey—he’s got cause for “feelin’ groovy,” and so do we.

The other great thing about this issue—the thing that makes this feel like a real Spider-Man comic—is the way it combines a sense of fun with an equal sense of impending doom. I could be totally off-base here, but after much mental resistance and even a bit of trash-talking, I’m actually getting kind of interested in this whole Civil War business. I don’t really have much of an opinion about whether or not the new Peter Parker/Tony Stark relationship makes sense—I’ve never read an issue of Iron Man in my life, but I am so far enjoying the new situation, and Straczynski’s comment that Peter is a guy who might have a weakness for father-figures rings true. The exciting thing about the “blood oath” that is given at the end of this issue is that it promises to embroil Spider-Man in a conflict with some real stakes. I’m hopeful that it will generate the kind of turmoil and anguish in the Spider-books that give meaning to those precious moments when Spidey and the reader genuinely are feelin’ groovy.


We3: The Companion Video by Vitalic

Attention: fans of the Morrison/Quitely animal story masterpiece. Have you seen this? Just…wow. It takes a minute to load, but it’s worth it. Courtesy of the unbelievably awesome Cliptip.

A Marvel Renaissance?

Building on last week’s gushing about Quesada's Alpha Flight and Moon Knight news, my excitement about some of Marvel’s upcoming events continues to grow:

These tidbits from the Marvel Mondo panel at the New York Comic Con sound very interesting:

Brian K. Vaughan is writing a new Doctor Strange limited series with art by Marcos Martin, featuring a slightly tweaked version of the costume. (Despite what I said about Spidey’s new duds, I could do without the costume tweak on Strange—his costume is already magnificent. Still, Marcos Martin is a huge talent and Vaughn on Strange sounds like a great pairing.)

And this sounds absolutely incredible: Two Gun Kid by Dan Slott and Eduardo Barretto. The main story will run 22 pages, and will feature a six page backup by Keith Giffen and Mike Allred starring Hugo, the midget cowboy who appeared in an early issue of Two Gun Kid. (Slott, Giffen, and Allred will no doubt do bang-up jobs, but the real excitement for me is seeing Eduardo Barretto’s work again. I had a hard time adjusting to the transition from Perez to Barretto back when the latter took over art chores on The New Teen Titans, but grew to love his work. A western is a perfect fit—should be classic.) In a similar vein, this also sounds promising: Strange Western Starring Black Rider by Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers, with an 8-page backup by Joe Lansdale art by Spanish artist Rafa Garres. Cool!

And check out this insanity:

Quesada went on to announce John Romita Jr. will be the artist of Neil Gaiman’s upcoming Eternals limited series, launching in June ’06.
Romita said when drawing Eternals, he plasters his office with Jack Kirby art, and lets loose. Quesada said the Gaiman project will work to tie the Eternals into the fabric of the Marvel Universe. “By the time we’re done, Jack’s creation will be a fertile part of the Marvel Universe. The Eternals will be that ‘other race’ that we need, alongside humans and mutants.” Gaiman will also be setting things up for more Eternals stories afterwards.

I loved Kirby’s Eternals and John Romita Jr. is an outstanding choice for artist. I cannot wait for this, especially having seen some of Romita Jr.’s preliminary sketches. Drool.

Oh, and speaking of cosmic, I seem to be working myself into a bit of a froth about Annihilation by Keith Giffen, Scott Kollins, and Ariel Olivetti. (Thanks to Filipe for reminding me about Giffen’s involvement in this in the comments section to SA 2.3.) This recent Q&A at CBR with Keith Giffen and editor Andy Schmidt should be enough to whet any cosmic Marvel fan’s appetite. Here’s a preview of Kolins’s pretty pictures too.

Finally (and I know this image is old news), there's something kind of thrilling about this intensely nostalgic cover:

I've had a hard time caring about the X-Men since Morrison left (even Whedon's Astonishing has left me kind of lukewarm); maybe Brubaker and Tan will be the ones to change that. And if not, at least I can drool over Simone Bianchi's lastest masterworks:

Is it just me, or do these feel like syntheses of Bill Sienkiewicz and Barry Windsor-Smith circa 1984? More please!

Which Superhero Are You? Marriage Edition

Neurotic? Anxious? Married to an amazing woman who is too good for me? Really, could there have been any other result?

Your results: You are Spider-Man

You are intelligent, witty, a bit geeky and have great power and responsibility.

Click here to take the Superhero Personality Test

My wife is never one to resist a quiz (or my transparent attempts at flattery), so when she saw this, she too wanted to play.

Her results: You are Superman

You are mild-mannered, good, strong and you love to help others.

Click here to take the "Which Superhero am I?" quiz...

I'll never look at an image like this quite the same way again!


Not With a Bang But a Whimper

Have I mentioned how much I hate it when really strong multi-part storylines end up having their climactic chapters illustrated by guest-pencillers? This seems particularly to happen during the final issues of long-running series that are either being cancelled or that are about to be rebooted with much fanfare.

There are too many examples to count, of course, but the most egregious of these for me was the shameful wrap-up of the second Outsiders series back in the early 90s when Erik Larsen was brought in to complete the awful, awful Millennium crossover that brought that book to its excruciating conclusion by revealing Dr. Jace as a traitor, “killing” Metamorpho, and disbanding the team. It was a crummy way to end things, made even worse by the incredibly jarring shift in artistic styles from Aparo to Larsen. (This is a rather idiosyncratic example, I know. I’m sure you can think of better ones.)

I’ve been particularly irritated about this with regard to the (semi-)wrap up of the Jason Todd storyline in Batman. This story represents some of Winick’s best DC work; it is an important story in its own right; and it seems to be significant, too, with regard to setting up the OYL DCU. It should have been Doug Mahnke all the way. And if it couldn’t be (he’s doing such nice work over on Morrison’s Frankenstein that I can hardly complain too bitterly about losing him on this title), then DC should, at the very least, have found someone who drew in a similar style to complete the storyline in Batman—particularly given that it will all be collected as a trade. I have nothing against Eric Battle and Rodney Ramos, but come on! The story may end with an explosion, but I’m feeling a little…I dunno. Pfft.

Please feel free to vent your own “not with a bang but a whimper” gripes below.


Anonymous said...

The Billy Tan X-Cover echoes (at least, for me) Jim Lee's gatefold cover to Uncanny 275--an issue that I remember with great fondness. Save for Whedon's Astonishing, I, too, haven't had anything to do with the X-men since Morrison left. But nostalgia is a powerful thing: with images of Uncanny 275 clicking into place in my mind (it's one of those issues that I can recall almost panel by panel), I am tempted--tempted--to pick up Brubaker's first issue...

Sean Kleefeld said...

As always, Jim, great points -- just too many of them to comment on! :)

I will say that I really enjoy Barreto's work as well. He did a Western graphic novel last year by the name of "The Long Haul." Very well done -- reminded me a bit of John Severin back when he was doing Westerns. Worth checking out!

I tend to agree with you on the Spider-Man revamp; however, I have a little more concern over the Iron Man/Spider-Man relationship. It works well enough throughout the majority of the issue, but I had a few problems with the tone of the last pages. It struck me that we're setting Peter Parker up as Iron Man's boy sidekick... which he's not. He's very much a hero in his own right, and relegating him to a sidekick role seems rather belittling. Of course, we're only in the prologue of the story and I'm just running on my INTERPRETATION of the tone.

Oh, and as for which superhero I am... Green Lantern: Hot-headed, strong will power and a good imagination.

gorjus said...

I agree that this is a great defense of the Spidey outfit--but I still hate it. I adored the wonderful, sleek, and mysterious 80's costume; in fact, I think it is downright beautiful.

This one is not. Too, I feel like I'm being played for a sucker--I KNOW it's not going to last that long, I KNOW Peter is going to scrap it in 1 to 3 years, and I KNOW that the scrapping-of will be an event, too . . . argh. Cynicism is never pretty.

JRjr is a fantastic artist and--Gaiman on the Eternals?? Odd, and hopefully wonderful. 1602 left me ice-cold, as did the terrible art from whatever Kubert spawn hacked on it. Romita, Jr. is a fantastic artist in his own right, who only seems to get better with age.

Jim Roeg said...

Hi filipe - thanks for those comments. Is it possible that we're both right about which cross-over ended the Outsiders? I was talking about this comic, but there was another Ousiders series INBETWEEN this one and the current one by Winick--it featured the Eradicator and Looker and Faust, among others, and wasn't very good, if I recall correctly. Could it have had a Zero-Hour tie-in? If so, too funny. A real double-whammy.

joe - you're making me feel my age, man! The Uncanny X-comics I remember fondly are issues #175 and following, not #275! (The Tan cover was taking me back to the Starslammers stuff during the awesome Carol Davnvers/Binary/Brood saga. I guess we can conclude from this that the Starslammers just are nostalgic in any context!)

Hey Sean - thanks for that tip on the Barreto Western GN, I'll keep my eye open for it! Oh, and I also have to say that you're dead-right about the side-kick vibe. Even with the father-figure defense, that didn't feel quite right to me either--the whole "blood oath" was obviously a bit rushed too. (Clearly there are certain plot-points that are riding rough-shod over subtlties of characterization, as usually happens in mega-events. The thing is, though, that I'm actually pleasantly surprised by the fact that Marvel is trying some new things that seem at least in part character driven, so I'm prepared to wink at a certain amount of improbability in the Peter/Tony alliance!) Oh, and you: Green Lantern? That's a lot of power, use it wisely!

gorjus - haha! Yeah, yeah, I know. And as a matter of fact I DO have a big fact "SUCKER" tattooed across my forehead (Case in point: I was really excited about the Red/Blue electic Superman revamp about 10 years ago or whenever that was. The shame!!) But see, the fact that the change is only temporary is part of the pleasure--if it actually were permanent I'd more likely be annoyed. It's the cycle of changes and reversions that I love (there's no use denying it). It's the cycle, I think, that keeps the classic costume(s) feeling snappy.

Oh yeah, and about 1602: I could not agree more. It was awful. I can't remember when a big event-style comic with a writer of Gaiman's profile has been such a creative flop. My excitement about Eternals is rooted more in JR Jr., and to be REALLY honest I'd be more excited if Morrison was writing--but that kind of goes without saying around these parts. :)

Anonymous said...

Jim - I go back to issue 175 as well--my hairline can attest to that! I guess my point was that for me, Tan's cover specifically recalls Lee's gatefold for 275. (Nostalgia doesn't have to reach all the way back to one's youth, does it?)

And I take your point about any appearance by the Starjammers as being rife with elements of nostalgia. Whenever they appear, nostalgia and remembering tend to get embedded right into the plot: past storylines get referenced, characters long separated must 'catch up' with one another, Cyclops is forced to face the father that essentially abandoned him etc...

Jim Roeg said...

Hey joe - thank goodness! And you're right, of course: nostalgia need not go all the way back to youth, though for some reason it works out that way more often than not for me... (You have got me thinking, though, about which comics I am nostalgic for from that X-Men #275 era. I'll have to really give that some thought because that was a funny time for comics. I was excited about a lot of things back then that I now just think, what...huh?) I think you've given me a great project for a future essay, so thanks!

Oh, and you'd think I'd have figured out the difference between the Starslammers and the Starjammers by now! Ah well.

Anonymous said...

With all this talk of nostalgia and Gaiman’s currently mediocrity showcased in 1602, you guys should definitely check out last months issue of The Comics Journal (the Eddie Campbell issue). It had an interesting article called “The Decade’s Comics by Neil Gaiman” by Tom Crippen. It’s basically about how Crippen can’t stop reading Gaiman (despite the fact that his work is consistently weak) because he is forever spurned on by Sandman nostalgia.

Gorgus - You really think this new Spidey costume could last three years? I'll be surprised if he is still wearing it by the end of Civil War! Certainly it wont last longer than a year, as they will have to get him back into the orignal costume in time for Raimi's film next year. There is no way the marketing team at Marvel are going to let them publish Iron Spidey comics at the same time that Spider-man 3 is in theatres.

Jim Roeg said...

thomas - Thanks for that tip--I'll have to get my hands on a copy of that Comics Journal article. There are many Sandman stories that I love (esp. A game of You and The Kindly Ones) but I've never really been that impressed by Gaiman's other work. (I've had a really hard time getting into his novels, for instance, even though lots of people I know whose opinions I trust rave about them.) I just don't know.

Good point about the Spidey comics/movie synergy re: the new costume. No doubt it will be short-lived. But not too short, I hope, for them to give Spidey that missing 8th appendage! (What was Joe thinking?)

Greg said...

To offer an opposing view - The Long Haul is very nice looking, but kind of dull. Standard heist story. Barreto's art is very neat, especially in black and white and on rough paper, so he should do fine on another Western.

Leigh Walton said...

I flipped through this one in the supermarket (the only comic book the store! aside from Shonen Jump & Shojo Beat) and was rather disappointed.

Jim, if you've been absent from Spider-Man that long, I heartily recommend Straczynski's early work on Amazing (he started with #30 of the renumbered series) - trade paperbacks vol. 1-6. Vol. 7 is the much-reviled "Sins Past," which I haven't read but which is generally considered to be a bungle. Also, Romita left, and I could never get to like his replacement Mike Deodato.

As I was saying, the new issue just didn't work for me at all: giving Spidey a new costume is fine, but I found the "blood oath" scene ludicrous. Surely Peter's been through enough in his life to be wary of Greeks bearing gifts?

Jim Roeg said...

Hi Leigh--you're right of course: the blood oath scene was ludicrous. But I've been so out of touch with Spidey for such a long time and enjoyed the rest enough that I'm prepared to wink at a little goofy characterization. And thanks for those recommendations!