Wednesday, August 27, 2008

King-Size Spider-Man Summer Special #1

King-Size Spider-Man Summer Special #1
Various authors/artists
Marvel 2008

Garrett Martin: I want more comics like this. Or at least like the first of the three stories in this weird anthology. No slight to Keith Giffen or Chris Giarrusso (one of my favorite comic-making dudes and a creator of fine kids comics, respectively), but Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover's lead story in King Size Spider-Man Summer Special is exactly the sort of all-ages-appropriate comic the big superhero companies should be putting more focus on. I'm not saying they need to scrap their entire mainstream line and only put out Marvel Adventures books (and shit, the direct market has already proven that sweet and innocent comics don't sell well to all seriously growed up hardcore audience), but the Marvel U would be a nicer and more fun world if this story's tone wasn't such an outlier.

But damn, I got carried away, and didn't provide any specifics. Tobin (who writes) and Coover (who draws and also writes) are a married couple, legally wed, whose names you should probably recognize from (both solo and cooperative) books like Banana Sunday, Small Favors, and issues of various Marvel Adventures comics. Coover's probably best known to Marvel fans as the artist of those generally amazing back-up strips in Jeff Parker's X-Men First Class. Her style's something like Harvey Comics by way of mid-century New Yorker, and is undeniably cute without ever being mawkish or cutesy. Her stuff is really quite ridiculously awesome, for real, and a perfect fit for the story she and her husband done cooked up for this book, a story documenting a team-up between model friends Mary Jane Watson, Millie the Model, Patsy "Hellcat" Walker, and a dean's list of the top Marvel superheroines (no Wasp though - she gets no respect). It's got the same reverent yet lightly ironic tone found in the X-Men First Class back-ups, where you can tell Coover is having fun playing around with the goofiness of '60's Marvel, and it completely makes this guy happy in pretty much every possible way (for I am nothing if not a fan of reverently semi-ironic takes on '60's Marvel goofiness).

Ah shit, I'm rambling. Little help?

Hillary Brown: See, I mostly know Colleen Coover from coveting but not yet buying Small Favors, which, it should be pointed out, is a book of dirty dirty lady pictures that also happen to be extremely cute. And look at her! She seems so very mild mannered. I figured there probably wouldn't be anything filthy going on in this book, despite the potentially double-entendred title, and there's not, really, although all those gal superheroes are a little bit flirty with each other. There's some potential, in other words, especially when they're all showering (!), although it's also quite right not to have it fulfilled.

The most amusing thing, to me, about their story is that Spider-man appears for all of a page before being shunted off to the side so the girls can goof off and gossip and shampoo their hair. And I love the art. It's so perky and flatly colored, and it makes me tremendously happy. Basically, yay, Colleen Coover. I hope she does more work like this. I hope she does more work in general. It's girly without being stupid and it's also girly without being too much "yay! Girls are better than boys! Woo, girl power!" It's like it's not concerned at all with showing how smart it is, which is refreshing.

GM: Wait, don't girls just shower in front of each other all the time? In-between those grueling all-night pillow-fights?

It's weird, I don't even think about issues of gender or anything when I read comics like this or Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane. I just see comics that look cool and make me chuckle and remind me why I'm reading these things in the first place. Obviously you can't fail to see this story's inherent girliness, but it isn't something I thought twice about while reading. I wonder if the lack of interest your average superhero comic reader has in books like this is due to that girliness or the sweet-natured whimsy and playfulness. Or maybe the two unite in a perfect storm of "awesome shit Comic Book Guys refuse to read". Marvel Adventures books aren't "girly", but are fun and don't sell very well. But I don't buy those books that often, either, so I'm a part of the problem. Fuck!

What did you think of the other two stories?

HB: Hmm, well, I really wasn't nuts about the middle one, the Giffen-written, Burchett/Quintana-drawn Falcon-Spider-man team-up. It's possible that it's because I'm not familiar with the Falcon, or because it's between two much better and more cartoony stories, but I think it's really due to the mish-mash that is the writing and the excessive posiness of the art. That is, the story hops around from here to there, and while Spidey gets some zingy lines, what exactly is going on is a little hard to figure out. Also, while I do enjoy dudes punching other dudes, I get bored with it after a while, and after both the Falcon and Spidey are in costume, there seem to be rather a lot of panels dedicated to improbable contortions and also, even when they're just talking, to posing in interesting ways. I know this is what you get to do with Spider-man, but once you notice it, it makes the whole story unintentionally silly.

The Chris Giarusso "Mini-Marvels" story, however, is intentionally silly and, therefore, very entertaining, at least to me. I think I know just enough about the history of the characters to find it amusing when they're shrunk into goofy, cartoony kids and then made to squabble over a paper route. And we haven't even discussed Toibin and Coover's two-page MODOK story!

GM: Oh geez, how did I forget MODOK? Or Tobin/Coover's awesome one-panel Spidey origin that somehow beats the first page of All-Star Superman as the greatest origin recap ever? Granted I read this thing a few weeks ago, and didn't have time to flip through it again last night, but still, no excuse for overlooking such amazement.

Giffen's story isn't bad, and more enjoyable than a majority of Marvel's current output. It's also pretty unexceptional, and its greatest strength is maybe anti-artistic. Well, if you believe that nostalgia is an enemy to art (what the hell am I talking about?) It's a straight-up nostalgia-thon, written for folks who want to relive early '70's Marvel. Oddly enough I've been reading Essential Captain America Volume 4 the last few weeks, which should be called Essential Captain America and The Falcon, since that was the actual name of the comic during the time period collected, and so I'm a bit gorged on the Falcon. And yeah, like Luke Cage's book, it's a bit long on the bad blaxpoitation urban slang, but the Falcon, as written by Steve Engelhart, is a pretty underrated character, so it's good to see a story focus on him. It's got a few good lines (Giffen's a funny guy, y'know), acceptable art, is well-paced, etc., but there's nothing all that great about it. Perfectly acceptable comic-bookery, but I've already forgotten almost everything about it.

And I don't want you to think I was dismissing the Mini-Marvels story, either, by pumping up the lead story so much. Giarrusso's recurring shorts are reliably good, and this story, the longest I've seen by him, is no exception. Yeah, it's cute and silly, and thus slightly similar to Tobin/Coover's tale, but it's intentionally less smart and long on knee-slappers and all around more single-faceted. Great for kids, though, and I have been considering buying the recent digest collection Marvel's put out. Did you know Mini-Marvels is kind of a regular thing?

HB: Yeah, I guess I've at least heard of Mini-Marvels before, and this sort of makes me want to read more of them. Still: Tobin/Coover with the gold, solidly; Giarrusso with the silver; and Giffen with the bronze, even though his story is the only one that really includes Spider-man. What does that say?

GM: That Marvel will slap Spider-Man's name on anything, just to make a buck?

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