Monday, June 9, 2008

Amazing Spider-Man #559-561

Amazing Spider-Man #559-561
by Dan Slott and Marcos Martin
Marvel Comics, 2008

Garrett Martin: So in the '80's, in a completely acceptable and potentially interesting development, Marvel married Spider-Man off to his super-model girlfriend. They then almost immediately started trying to break them up. Marvel wouldn't just let them divorce, though, so they've resorted to clones and soap operatic fake-death plane crashes and, finally, a deal with the dadgum devil. It's even more retarded than your typical retarded comic-book bullshit. But, really, in the end, who cares, as Amazing Spider-Man hadn't been readable since a couple of years after they were married, anyway? And the devil-dealing put an end to the truly horrible J. Michael Straczynski run, and led directly to Dan Slott co-handling the reins, so overall the dumbassery should've resulted in a net gain.

The new "Spidey braintrust" is definitely a step-up from Straczynski, but until this latest three-issue arc the comic has remained mostly underwhelming. Slott's issues have been the best, by far, with the most consistently funny Spider-Man dialogue, but even these stories struggle from trying too hard to resemble the Spider-Man comics of the '70's. And with a hit-or-miss roster of "all-star" artists cycling out after every storyline, the book's quality has varied wildly since the relaunch.

Slott returns for this latest arc, comprising Amazing Spider-Man #559-561, and thankfully brings Marcos Martin with him. I'd never even heard of Martin before that Dr. Strange: The Oath mini he did with Brian K. Vaughn last year, but the dude pretty immediately became one of my favorite artists. His Dr. Strange was excellent, a fantastic homage to Ditko's distinctive style without being a slavish imitation. I expected the same from his Spider-Man, and yeah, it resembles Ditko here and there, but somehow his work is even more reminiscent of John Romita, especially on the characters more associated with Romita, like Harry Osborn and Mary Jane Watson.

But shit, I'm already rambling - what did you think? Have you read much Spider-Man before, outside of the original Lee/Ditko stuff?

Hillary Brown: I mostly enjoyed the heck out of it, despite being aware that I wasn't quite getting everything that was going on (e.g., who's this new fella in charge of the Bugle? why's Spidey living with Aunt May again?), so I went and looked up ASM on Wikipedia and found out about this attempt to rewrite the storyline. Did this deep-seated need for continuity originally lead to multiple books on the same character (a la Uncanny v Astonishing X-Men)? And is there a way around it? I can't say I mind the solution they came up with, or at least I don't mind the results, although I understand why people think it's idiotic that Marvel couldn't handle the transition back to singlehood for Spidey in a more mature way. But this three-episode arc is pretty zippy and fun, and while occasionally it's bothersome that people's ankles are the size of toothpicks while Mary Jane's tetas are about the size of her head, I really like the art too. It has a similar light touch to the writing, which I think is why they work together so well.

As far as Spider-Man goes, I've only read the Lee/Ditko stuff--maybe three volumes of the collected Amazing--and while, of course, I recognize the achievements and historic importance of those issues, and the art is mostly beautiful, they're not exactly fast-paced. Mary Jane hasn't even really showed up by about 30 issues in (something that was really confusing to me, as a novice, in the same way that Wolverine not being in the early X-Men issues was). So, what can I say? I'm a lover of the contemporary speed of life in many ways. I multi-task like an MFer. I want things to happen quickly. So in some ways, I find this a really pleasing updating of the book, having skipped forty years or so of development.

There are, unfortunately, a few things that seem a bit dated here, like Harry Osborne's unbelievable hair and the outrage over paparazzi and the inclusion of parkour. I know they think they're doing something really cutting edge by talking about celebrity privacy and manipulation of images and so on, but, again, the world moves fast these days, and the story comes off as a bit behind the curve. The wise-cracking, however, is great: breezy, funny, but not too witty. Overall, I could see myself getting tired of it if it ended up being villain of the week in slightly longer arcs (balancing lightness and character development is pretty difficult), but I was happier with this than with many of the superhero books we've talked about.

GM: I felt the same way about the parkour reference, and his friends' overzealous reaction to Peter being a paparazzi. This comic is incredibly dorky in a lot of ways, those being two of them. That doesn't bug me too much, though, 'cuz Spider-Man, and, shit, superhero comics in general, are supposed to be dorky. I mean, they're superhero comics, they kinda can't help being fundamentally uncool in a wider sense. In the best tradition of Stan Lee, this comic was written by an affable, middle-aged white guy who doesn't quite realize how out of touch with popular youth culture he actually is, but totally skirts past that by writing a breezy, funny, generally affable story. And although I did cringe a bit during the showdown with Screwball, everything about that character, and the way she was introduced and used as a brief diversion / bridge to the story's actual villain, recalls the Spider-Man comics of the '60's and '70's.

Back to the art, though. Never look for realistic anatomy in superhero comics. Sure, the dimensions of Martin's Mary Jane are as unrealistic as any woman drawn by Michael Turner, but Martin's stylized and idealized female is more charming and fundamentally sound than anything by Turner or other old Image-type artists. Martin's women might be physically impossible at times, but it's a stylized voluptuousness, like Darwyn Cooke or old Warner Brothers cartoons, and not the ridiculously oversized breasts on otherwise anorexically thin, broken-back skeletons that so often appear in comics. Beyond his character work, Martin is a pro at action and storytelling, with nary a confusing or awkward scene anywhere. He's mastered the fundamentals and developed his own unique, visually pleasing style, and there are very few active superhero artists you can say that about.

Jumping around a bit... it was sales, not contuinity, that led to multiple books for the same characters. They've pretty much added one new monthly on-going Spider-Man comic per decade, to the point where now, between the nigh-weekly Amazing Spider-Man and out-of-continuity books like Ultimate and Marvel Adventures Spider-Man, the character's name is emblazoned on like six books a month. And that's not even counting New Avengers and his various other guest appearances. It's this popularity that led, in part, to a continuity more screwed up than any other Marvel character (save perhaps the X-Men / Wolverine), and thus various DC-esque attempts to streamline the baggage and make the character more accessible to new / returning readers. That pretty much never works, of course. This Brand New Day reset has been fairly smooth, though, if, like any right-minded individual, you hadn't been reading the book in years, and don't worry too much about how it impacts some random guest appearance Spider-Man made in Wonder-Man back in 1992.

Oh, and yeah, the movies play fast and loose with various aspects of Spider-Man's and the X-Men's history, but mostly nailed the spirit of both. Still, I'm sure it's confusing for folks who transfer to the original from the films. The Peter / MJ relationship rewrite mostly worked great for the Spider-Man films, but it did prevent them from using one of the most dramatically significant moments from the comics, when Spider-Man maybe kinda accidentally breaks his girlfriend Gwen Stacey's neck while trying to save her from the Green Goblin. But, um, yeah.

HB: Oh, right. I didn't really mean to complain about Mary Jane having tremendous boobs. It's not unexpected. And I think that Martin's tiny ankles actually lead to some really graceful images. Spider-man's flexibility is emphasized rather than his muscles, and his brains over his brawn. Martin also kind of lets you breathe as a visual reader. There's action, but the fighting isn't done in confined spaces or in the dark, so there's little confusion about what's going on from panel to panel. And all the art museum stuff in #560 is especially great. It's like Martin just gets to play around with artists he loves, and the heavy inclusion of Liechtenstein (including on the cover of 560) is just gorgeous and funny all over.

GM: Yeah! It's a lot like an issue of Batman from a couple of years ago, early in Grant Morrison's tenure, where all the sound effects for a fight in a museum came from the pop art on the walls. I think Karate Media mentioned that in a comment here, once.

Anyway, this is the best of the Brand New Day storylines, thus far. Does this impact your interest in Amazing Spider-Man in general, or just in works by Slott or Martin or both?

HB: Surprisingly, at least to me, it does make me want to read Amazing Spider-Man, but your comments have made me less likely to. If Slott's going to stay involved, I'd definitely be more interested, and if they both were, you can about double that. I still don't know if I'd buy it on a regular basis. It doesn't seem to have storylines compelling enough for that. But I really need to be sold to buy every issue individually, and it's still not McKeever (actual young guy v. old guy writing for the young folks).

GM: It's a shame McKeever never got to write a normal mainstream Spider-Man comic before jumping to DC.

Theoretically the four guys who initially made up the "braintrust" were equal, but Slott's always been credited first, he wrote the first post-relaunch story, he's written more than any of the other three, and two of those other three guys have already left the book. They've announced a couple other writers who will be coming on, including Mark Waid (who's really good), but there's some confusion as to whether the new guys will be sticking around or just handling one storyline. And all this is basically me saying that there's no indication Slott's going anywhere, and I'd be shocked if they fired him. He seems pretty secure. And if you like his Spider-Man, you should go track down his Spider-Man / Human Torch mini-series, I'm With Stupid; it's out in a Runaways-style digest, and is still the best Spider-Man comic I've read since I was a kid. Yes, better than Spider-Man
Loves Mary Jane


Smoggo said...

this dude wrote definitive spidey story for me.

garrett said...

I almost linked to that a couple of weeks ago.