Saturday, May 12, 2007

Double Articulation Digest #3: 52, Countdown, Kirby, and Spider-Man 3

Whew! What a term. I hadn’t expected to be away from the blog for so long, but somehow, life just kept interposing itself between my fingers and the keyboard. It feels good to be back though…finally!

And what have I come back to, exactly? What the heck, let’s review.

A lot has happened over the past several months—much of it highly enjoyable. 52 wrapped up in style thanks to the Oolong island shenanigans, the Morrisonian metamorphosis of Mr. Mind, and the return of the multiverse (hooray!). Hard to say yet whether or not Countdown will be a worthy follow-up given its luke-warm first issue, but the commercial and creative success of 52’s weekly universe-spanning adventure bodes well for those of us who revel in this sort of thing.

Regardless of how Countdown fares (and I’m optimistic about its chances), I’m pleased that DC will be reprinting the Kirby Fourth World material in omnibus format. Though it is perhaps sacrilegious to say so, Kirby’s DC work has always felt like a poor relation to his truly “senses-staggering” work for Marvel—but that may only be because I’ve read so little of the former. Now I’ll have no excuse. Also, the reprinting of the Kirby material does something quite ingenious: it simultaneously showcases another part of DC’s rich history, while at the same time covertly “Marvelizing” that history (in a good, 1960s Marvel way) for readers like me who (ignorantly) associate Kirby primarily with Marvel—all at the very moment that Marvel itself seems to be deemphasizing its own mythic past (eg. Lee/Kirby FF) in favor of a more pedantically “realist” approach to superhero storytelling.

In any event, even though DC’s everything-old-is-new-again approach isn’t for everyone, I at least find the current regime’s dedication to linking newer material more fully to the mythic sensibility of the company’s roots very gratifying. In fact, the very concept of the multiverse—with all the creative chaos that such a model implies—sits perfectly with that mythic sensibility. (Classical myth, after all, presented its interpreters with perhaps the original set of fanboy problems: multiple versions of characters with similar but not identical histories, continuity glitches, etc.). Bring on the contradictions!

Meanwhile, JLA has finally emerged from its six-issue coma (the Geo-Force/Tara Markov teases have me a-tingle), and Geoff Johns and Dale Eaglesham’s dazzling Justice Society of America continues to set the bar for mainstream superhero storytelling.

Of course, these books are also currently hosting the long hoped-for return of the classic (and best) Levitz-Giffen Legion (newsarama’s recent feature on The Great Darkness Saga had me getting all misty the other day). Now that we’ve got ourselves some multiple earths, surely it can’t be too long before we see the classic Legion back in monthly action…I hope!

And what of DC’s trinity? Not a rosy picture, despite several strong starts. Of Detective, Batman, Superman, Action, and Wonder Woman, the only title I’m still buying is Batman—though Morrison’s all-prose issue was almost enough to make it a clean sweep. I’m not a huge fan of the stand-alone stories, so Dini’s Detective was always one of the last books I read on the week it came out; it was good, I suppose, but I don’t particularly miss it. Needless to say, the bungled scheduling of the Super-titles has been frustrating. The main story arcs in both of those books felt like potential classics, but I finally reached the end of my patience with fill-ins and will be waiting for the trades on the Johns/Donner/Kubert saga and Busiek/Pacheco’s Camelot. At least there’s hope for Wonder Woman. Gail Simone, as everyone knows, is not just exceptionally talented. She’s a professional. She’s also a genuine fan with an unusual level of commitment to the books she writes. There is simply no better writer for this series; it’s a shame that it took Didio so long to realize this and that the relaunch had to stumble so badly in the meantime.

Meanwhile, my post-Civil War disenchantment with Marvel continues. One book deserves a mention, however, and that’s Ellis and Deodato’s Thunderbolts. I had my reservations about this one, but I’m completely won over: this book is riveting…and gorgeously drawn. My favorite Marvel title by a fair stretch; the fact that it is a satire of mainstream Marvel doesn’t hurt either.

In the world of superhero cinema, Ghost Rider was mildly entertaining—if you could get over the increasingly cadaverous Nicholas Cage and his distracting collection of hairpieces. A challenge, frankly. Nonetheless, some of the effects were nifty and the scene in the desert where the two riders are side-by-side was a beauty. Speaking of Marvel films, I’m surprisingly enthused about the new Fantastic Four movie this summer, which looks pretty wonderful, actually. Despite its many, many flaws, the goofy first installment of the FF franchise was at least fun to watch, which is more than I can say about a number of recent superhero films. Some time ago, I argued that in order to be truly great, superhero films had to take the characters and the scenarios seriously. I still believe that, but after the guffaw-inducing bathos of Spider-Man 3 (more on that below) I’m really ready for something lighter—you know, like Galactus and the end-times.

Ah, Spider-Man 3. Anthony Lane’s New Yorker review called it “a shambles,” which is generous. After the superb Spider-Man 2, I guess it was inevitable that things would go off the rails at some point, and woooo! did they ever. I don’t want to be merely dismissive of the third film, because it did contain a number of spectacular sequences (the fight scenes between Peter and Harry early in the film were standouts). As a story, though—ugh. Shockingly boring. For the last hour of the movie I must have checked my watch more often than I did for the entire duration of Singer’s bloated Superman. When Mary Jane was finally caught in that giant web all I could feel was relief. Yes! The big battle! We’re almost done! And then the film ended…several times. Apart from its terrible pacing and inconsistent tone, Spider-Man 3 suffered from the same problems (though perhaps not quite as severely) as the egregious X3. In both cases, the filmmakers attempted to cram the plots of two potentially great movies into a single script, leaving us with an underwhelming, narratively flaccid pastiche of characters and ideas. Did we really need Sandman and Harry Osborne and Venom and evil Peter Parker and Gwen Stacey? Apart from a few nice action sequences, the best scene in the film—the most authentic feeling scene—was, ironically, the totally charming, totally throwaway omelette-making bit between Harry and MJ that culminates in Harry accidentally dropping half the omelette on the floor when he tries to get too fancy with the skillet. (There’s a metafilmic metaphor in there somewhere, but why bother?) The point is that this was one of the very few scenes that actually made me for a moment believe in the reality of these characters; compare the emotion of this scene with the histrionics of the conclusion. Was there a single opening weekend theatre-audience that did not greet Peter’s waterworks with gales of laughter? I doubt it. Even I laughed...albeit mirthlessly. I really can’t do better to sum up my feelings about this one than to quote the closing lines of Lane’s review: “‘People really like me,’ our hero says at the start, adding later, ‘They love me!’ Not for long, Whiny-Man, not for long.”

Didn’t mean to leave things on such a crabby note, but there it is. I’m pinning my hopes for summer superhero fun on the Surfer.


Anonymous said...

Great observation of Harry's botched omelette as a metaphor for the film itself! I wish I'd thought of that. It really was the superfluity of the flip that spelled its doom!

Love to hear you weigh in on the discussion at mine if you have anything to add. I haven't been able to make up my mind definitively, conscious that I also disliked Spider-Man 2 after seeing it initially, though I now acknowledge it as one of the best three superhero movies of the decade (only X2 and Batman Begins are in the same league).

I'm not as harsh on X3 as you are (indeed it was the guest posts on your blog that made me reconsider it on second viewing) and I wonder if a second look at SM3 will similarly favor it, but I worry its list of faults is just too long to be overcome.

In any case I've found myself looking forward to FF2 as well.

Anonymous said...

Welcome back, Jim! We've missed you.

Yeah, as an excuse for some great action sequences, SM3 was great; as a movie, it's something of a flop. Though put me down in the "liked it" category for emo-Peter's goofy faux-evil shenanigans.

Jim Roeg said...

Hi nobody - Now that my crabbing is done, I do find myself curious about the possibility that SM3 might improve on a second viewing. But, then I think...nah! Well, maybe. But I'm not feeling all that disposed to forking out another $10 to watch something that has already irritated me. I'm actually becoming (gasp) disenchanted with superhero films these days. Great Spidey discussion you have going on at Any Eventuality, BTW. I read it with great interest, but didn't have much to add--probably because the film sort of bummed me out. Hopefully FF2 will be fun!

Thanks, professor! I'm going to try to stick around longer than ten minutes this time. (Honestly, I seem to have more reboots than the multiverse.) "Faux-evil," indeed!