Monday, July 19, 2010

A few words about Spider-Man

I'm not a big fan of comic book reviews. As a subculture, we're an opinionated lot ... and our opinions are frequently tainted by our misguided sense of ownership over these properties. Think about it: how many comic reviews have you read that began with an explanation of how long the writer has been reading the adventures of a particular character? It's as though buying a comicbook is the same as buying stock in a character. Some folks think reading a book for more than a decade gives them a controlling interest in it (the same goes for Star Wars fans.)

So I won't bore you with how long I've been reading Spider-Man comics because it's kind of irrelevant.

That being said, I returned to Spider-Man not too long ago after a lengthy break. I hadn't paid much attention to the character but thought Brand New Day was a good chance to get back in touch with Web Head. Some good writers and artists were attached to the new direction so I decided to give it a shot. It also helped that the three-times-a-month publishing schedule meant I wouldn't have to wait six months to read an entire story arc, which was nice.

I didn't read One More Day, the story which "launched" Spidey's new direction. But I got the gist of the story: Spider-Man makes a deal with Mephisto blah blah blah. Who gives a shit? One More Day could have been a story about a hamster deciding he really, really liked cabbage for all it mattered. It's only reason for existing was to justify the new direction for Spider-Man. The rest was all bullshit. Ever since Crisis on Infinite Earths DC and Marvel have had an obsessive compulsive disorder when it comes to justifying every editorial decision with an "event" story arc. Batman gets a new costume? Let's do a 12-part story spread out over six different monthly titles to explain the wardrobe change! Want to replace Green Lantern? Let's cancel the title, print a mini-series "event," lead into a new series (and oh-so-important new #1) and spend the next year celebrating how "new" the new series is!

"Event" stories aren't really stories. They're business plans with fight scenes.

But I digress.

I've really enjoyed the new direction of the Amazing Spider-Man title. Even better, when there have been occasional stories I didn't like, I didn't have to wait long for them to end. With three issues a month the duds never lasted long.

Which is why I was so distressed by the recent Shed story. Spoilers ahead: the Lizard goes berzerk and murders his own son. It was so ridiculously "dark" that I thought it was a joke. It read like a parody of the "grim and gritty" stories of the 1990s and I kept waiting for some kind of reveal that cleared things up. It never came.

Next was the Grim Hunt story, and the title should have been a warning. Amazing Spider-Man has been building to this story for some time so I was a little let down to see the point was just more murder (this time of Madame Web and one of the many "Spider Woman" characters ... who is used as a human sacrifice.) The Heroic Age appears to be over before it even began.

What I've liked about the new direction of Amazing Spider-Man is that it's been a very character-driven series. Peter Parker has the best supporting cast he's had in 30 years and the book has been both challenging and lighthearted. So Shed and Grim Hunt came as a bit of an unwelcome, anticlimactic surprise. With the rise of single-issue comic prices I've been giving a lot of subscriptions the axe lately. I shouldn't have to wait too long to see if the bad old days of heavy handed melodrama have returned. If it has, me and Spidey might be parting ways again.

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