Thursday, November 6, 2008

Spider-Sense No Longer Tingling.

(Note: I already don't like Blogger because I can't properly indent my paragraphs. Does anyone know how?)

For this essay, I originally was gonna tackle the by-now infamous re-tooling of The Amazing Spider-Man earlier this year. But in the course of knocking this paper out, I realized my problem was less with the actual changes and more with the somewhat flip attitude taken by Marvel in regards to these changes. This is a pretty weighty charge, I realize, to basically say that Marvel doesn’t give two shits what its readership thinks about the direction it takes with its flagship character. But I think few would argue that comics are not an art form taken altogether seriously by most; even its most strict adherents will often dismiss criticism by saying, in effect, who cares, it’s just comics.

Even though neither really comes out and says it, Amazing Spider-Man writer Dan Slott and editor Steve Wacker reflect this attitude in a (quasi-)recent interview on Ain’t It Cool News . Actually, thinking about it, I don’t think either actually thinks it, but they still give off that vibe (to me, anyways). Before I start chewing their asses, however, I’d like to point out that if there were more interviewers out there willing to really press creators for answers with some depth, instead of accepting the smarmy wisecracks that so many creators will often resort to (whether they do this out of frustration or simple cynicism [both of which I can assure you follow any kind of artist around like some kinda neuroses entourage], either is understandable to me, but that still doesn’t tend to satisfy any questions I may have), then there would be less room for me to speculate about these creators’ intentions and come up with my own cynical wisecracks regarding. Let it also be known that my familiarity with comics journalism fizzled out at Wizard circa 1994. So for all I know, there are plenty of funny-book Woodwards and Bernsteins out there (while I’m thinking about it, check out the The Comics Journal Library, Volume 6: The Writers to read some interviews of the caliber I mean here)(or just check it out ‘cause the Harlan Ellison interview is hilarious)(y’know, either way).

Okay, that all out of the way, let me get down to mildly(?) defaming the character of a writer I actually really like. I’ve enjoyed Slott’s work for a couple of years now, particularly taking notice with his woefully short-lived Thing series. And although his is not the kind of writing I instantly gravitate towards, Slott’s goofy yet just-shy-of-being cutesy style is really pretty enjoyable (which is saying quite a bit from such a dried-up sourpuss as myself). But this style doesn’t really transfer well into interviews, if you ask me.

Slott explains that “Brand New Day” “isn’t a ‘Crisis’ or a reboot,” but a “mind-wipe.” Yes, good, that clears things right up. He then points to similar devices used in the past with Iron Man and Dr. Strange. Fair enough. But just because it’s been done before, it should be done again? Slott’s Iron Man example took place ten years ago, for chrissakes, a time when I had quit reading comics altogether, they sucked so bad (although apparently, Kurt Busiek co-plotted the issue in question, so I might hunt that bad boy down). So if we’re gonna start doing comics like they were done in the ‘90s (I mean, shit, they already brought back Rob Liefeld and fuckin’ Onslaught, didn’t they?), I guess I’m gonna have to start spending my lunch money on records instead, like I did in the ‘90s (the mid to late ‘90s, anyways).

Where Slott really loses me, though, is with this quote:
There ARE solutions to ANY continuity problem you can come up with. Honest. WE know how they all work. But who wants to go on and on explaining it all? I mean, just look at how long THIS response is. See? Getting sleepy yet? Me? I'd rather use that time telling stories!

Yeah, man, I’ve been collecting comics for more than half of my miserable life. I know how they all work. And that’s just it, isn’t it? That’s why, for example, in “The Other,” Straczynski, David, and Hudlin brought a whole bunch of new shit into Spider-Man’s continuity, shit I didn’t see coming even after almost twenty years of following the adventures of the long underwear set, shit that actually seemed kinda obvious in retrospect because it worked so well. All of this shit in “The Other”? Those were some solutions, son. See, to me, it’s not that there’s new problems with continuity; it’s that there’s no new continuity.

For some time, I’ve felt this current generation (turn of the century on) of superhero books is the best yet, and part of that is because the story-telling has matured greatly, especially in Marvel, where that Crisis reboot crap indeed doesn’t have much of a place (except all this Spidey nonsense, obviously), where storylines are taken to their logical ends and torpedoes be damned. Daredevil, for example. I realize the specifics between the unmaskings of Matt Murdock and Peter Parker are pretty widely divergent, but there are obvious parallels. For instance, Murdock’s wife is now in the booby hatch because Matty made it absolutely clear to the underworld as to who owned Hell’s Kitchen. You don’t unmask in the middle of Josie’s Bar after handing Wilson Fisk his own large ass without inviting trouble onto you and your loved ones. Is a wife in the nuthouse the same as a dying mother-figure? Maybe not, but it was still no walk in the park for the man without fear, and he still didn’t go running to Mephisto when his horns were up against the wall (I’m still undecided if the irony of that, if it were to happen, would be kinda clever or just kinda lame).

But it takes time to tell a story like this. Or, to put it another way, to go on and on explaining it all, explaining to the reader what is continually happening to the protagonist—his, to use a word, continuity. Or, to put it yet another way, to tell a story like this. Brian Michael Bendis spent a good four years fucking up (in a good way)(for us, the readers, anyways) Murdock’s life, and Ed Brubaker’s been carrying on that tradition since. And I haven’t fallen asleep once. Again, if anything is sleep-inducing, it’s resorting to “the classic Peter Parker set-up,” as Wacker calls it. I already own the Amazing Spider-Man omnibus; I can read the classic set-up anytime I want.

All right, well, now that I’ve gotten off track somewhat, I might as well go all the way. So finally, if Marvel just wanted to return Peter Parker’s secret identity, that I could understand. I felt at the time (and still do, for the most part) that Pete’s unmasking was the ballsiest move I’d ever seen in mainstream comics. And though I’d hoped and prayed Marvel would stick to it, I guess I wasn’t all that surprised when they didn’t. But I had good reason to think that they might, pointing again to Daredevil. Back in #25 of this current series, after Murdock had been outed by Sammy Silke, Daredevil/Murdock was being sued for property damage, when who should take the stand but Daredevil himself. What the—?! We come to find out it’s none other than ol’ Parker in Matt’s spare duds. But now people are starting to wonder. And I hesitate to throw this example in since it’s not a Marvel book (Note: since I was writing this for The Marvel Zombie Society, I did my level best to only talk about Marvel comics), but I will because it is contemporary superhero stuff as well as mainstream-ish: Astro City. In the Local Heroes mini-series, Busiek (hey, him again) also plays up this angle beautifully by having a supposedly open and shut case get thrown out since, in a world of time-travelers and shape-shifters, what can any jury know beyond the shadow of a doubt? And finally, more recently and relevantly, we have Avengers: The Initiative #7, written by none other than Dan Slott(!!)(and might I add: !), wherein the seeds of public doubt are sown when there appears to be three Peter Parkers, all with the same spider powers, in Midtown beating on the Vulturions. The public really starts to scratch their heads at that one: How can there be three of these guys? Which one is Parker? Is Parker even one of them? Well, dude, we just don’t know. But shall we take our time to find out? I mean, it would take years to re-establish Parker’s secret identity this way, right?

Well, yeah.

What, you got something better to do?

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