Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Amazing Spider-man Family #3

Amazing Spider-man Family #3
by a bunch of people, including J.M Dematteis, Tom DeFalco, Stuart Moore, Abby Denson, and Val Semeiks
Marvel 2008

Garrett Martin: Seems like Marvel's always publishing one of these all-purpose Spidey compendium books, full of random Spider-man shorts with no clear ties to any continuity. Every few years they'll cancel one and then immediately launch another. It's a fine concept, in theory, letting various creators dabble with such an undeniably great character whose own main titles usually aren't worth reading. Somehow though they seem to rarely ever be any good. We picked this issue because of the short from Abby Denson and Colleen Coover (who, y'know, we kinda like), with hopes that old pros like DeMatteis and DeFalco could still dig deep and pull out a worthwhile Spidey tale when they had to. Maybe they can, but they definitely didn't do so here. So do the eight pages of Coover make up for the other 92 or so?

Hillary Brown: Um, no. Unfortunately. The thing is, it might be okay if the other contributors had risen to the level of mediocrity, but I'm pretty sure they failed even by that extremely low standard. This book is a steaming pile of bad, bad art, with a brief respite due to Coover. The writing isn't terrible, but my god. The art hurts my eyes. It made me wince, numerous times, while reading. Am I overstating things? I don't think I am. I try not to be hyperbolic about suckiness, mostly because it's not necessary, but I can't help feeling a little pissed off about Marvel putting this thing out.

Check out page 5 in the preview on Marvel's site, for example, from a serviceable story by J.M. DeMatteis called "The Punch." The art wavers between acceptable but not great and pages like this, mostly from the "villain's" story. I mean, check out his mom in the upper left. She looks like the Cryptkeeper. And while she's supposed to be an unattractive character, with her outside mirroring her morally problematic interior, I really think this is over the top. I even googled "Val Semeiks sucks" with no luck. Basically what I'm saying is that I might actively avoid any book drawn by that guy.

The story about Peter and MJ encountering the Rhino at the hospital, where they've taken their baby and he's taken his mom [?], and they have a conversation about healthcare and agree to disagree temporarily is fine but far too uneventful, especially for a book like this. And the reprint, which covers the breakdown of Harry Osborn, paints all comics from the early 1990s in a bad light, with a creepily overboobed MJ, staggering hair, awful costume design, and so on and so forth. Holy god. The only reason to buy this issue is for the Coover/Denson piece, which is cute but hardly a) their best work or b) really worth the money. It seems like it would fit a lot better in a more kid-oriented (or younger-kid-oriented?) book, like the Franklin Richards stuff. Okay. I'm going to stop venting for a little bit because it makes me feel too particular and like I've spent the morning listening to talk radio or something. Convince me to like more of it.

GM: I can't! I will say that Val Semeiks has done good stuff in the past, and his work on The Demon with Alan Grant back in the early '90's was pretty great. His demons always looked better than his people, though, so maybe he should avoid scripts with humans in 'em. His stuff here is pretty damn ugly, and DeMatteis's story a little too pat. The young thug feels like a generic background punk from a later Death Wish, whichever one Alex Winter was in, and his relationship with his mom is histrionic in a way that probably wouldn't pass editorial muster in a contemporary book.

Similarly, I've liked what I've seen by Todd Nauck in the past. His art is generally fun and slightly cartoonish and sort of reminds me of Mike Wieringo a bit. It's well-suited to the sort of acrobatic action you expect from a Spider-Man story, so it makes perfect sense to get him to draw a story whose only action is Peter Parker and the Rhino walking to a vending machine. It doesn't play to his strengths at all. DeFalco's story is expectedly cheesy, but I have a soft spot not just for him but also for the Rhino and stories in which Spider-Man shows concern for his enemies. Still, it's no more than mediocre, and maybe only exists as a bone tossed to those who've lost faith in love since the dissolution of the Spider-marriage.

And then, yes, finally, we get to The Amazing Spider-Ma'am, Denson and Coover's cute short story about Aunt May using Peter's work tools to foil some crooks. If only real-life home invaders were Home Alone-level bunglers. I agree this is more straight-forwardly directed at kids than some of Coover's other all-ages Marvel work. Unlike her Marvel work with Paul Tobin or Jeff Parker, it isn't quirky or humorous enough to work equally well for kids and adults. It's still adorable, though, and if they put out an entire book of just Denson/Coover Spider-Ma'am stories I'd probably pay full-price for it.

HB: God, I totally would. Reading/looking at Coover's stuff is like eating a delicious orange push-up popsicle. It's cute and refreshing and easy and just, like, completely fun and great. Will somebody just give her a book of her own already? At very least, you'd like Semeiks et al. could take up a collection so she'd stop making them all look bad in these compilations. I don't know how she draws people who are so cartoony yet so believable in their poses. They're flexible and slouchy in all the right ways, and the coloring is nice and flat and simple. So for me to say this book isn't worth buying just for her contribution really says a lot about how displeasurable the rest of it is.

But talk to me about the last story, the reprint. Is it as bad as I think it is? You had mentioned to me about having an original copy stashed somewhere. And is this why Grant Morrison and Alan Moore were greeted as such complete saviors? I'm assuming yes.

GM: About Morrison and Moore: yeah, pretty much. There were some prominent mainstream superhero writers of the '80's whose work still holds up well, of course, but even then most of it is clearly dated stylistically, far more so than DC's pre-Vertigo stuff.

But I don't think the reprint (Spectacular Spider-Man #200, the death of Harry Osborn, by DeMatteis and Sal Buscema) is that awful. Sure, it's kind of embarrassing, in a number of ways, but it's not nearly as guilty of any of the charges you hold against it as a typical Image comic from the same time period. And I can't hold the horrible fashion too much against Sal Buscema, 'cuz the guy was like sixty at the time.

Okay, actually, yeah, it's pretty bad, full of what made comics suck in the '90's. But the story itself is a fitting endgame for Harry Osborn, and a fine escape route from the almost incomprehensible mess his character had become. Plus it was a genuinely affecting death when I was 15, and one that surprisingly held up for another 15 years. Still, it's probably best not to revisit most comics from that era.

HB: I can see your points about the function of the story, and there are aspects that have been incorporated into, for example, the most recent Spider-man movie, but there's a lot of stuff in it that really pushes some gross buttons, like the way the Green Goblin picks up MJ off the street. It's all very... rapey. And while I think there are writers/artists who could incorporate the kind of violence against women that's implied in a creative and thoughtful way, it's hard for me to see the sexual menace against MJ in this book as all that intentional. Plus, her relationship with Peter isn't that much healthier, full of overheated fights and then making up for no reason and making out to follow that up. I've looked back at Sal Buscema's earlier work, and it all looks pretty good, so why this ickiness, with the monster boobs going in all directions. It's like he had a stroke in the mimetic part of his brain.

GM: He was trying hard to draw like what was popular at the time. Trust me, comic book breasts got far more monstrous in the '90's.

Anyway, yes, kind of a bad comic, overall, despite some tasty refreshment from Coover. You really need to check out her X-Men First Class stuff with Jeff Parker - it's all great.

HB: We better watch it or this could just turn into a Colleen Coover fan site. Maybe it already is. At any rate, we'd be remiss not to link her blog, which has been frequently updated lately and contains this great depiction of her first experience at Fantagraphics, an experience that I feel like I have almost every time I've gone in search of one of her comics. Colleen! We love you!

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