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Pipeline, Issue #557

by  in CBR Exclusives Comment
Pipeline, Issue #557

SPIDER-MAN: ONE MONTH LATER

I couldn’t stay away from Spider-Man for long, could I?

Josh Herndon asks:

I have been struggling a lot with AMAZING SPIDER-MAN. I hate with a passion what has been done in “One More Day” and my first instinct was to drop the title. But being the person I am, I decided to give it a shot for a couple of months. It’s ok so far, but it just isn’t MY Spider-Man. MY Spider-Man was married and that was important to me. So, the question is this. How long do you think I should give the new direction a shot?

I guess my instinct is to collect it in hopes of a big payoff (eventually) where the repercussions of the deal with Mephisto will come around or Spider-Man is really in a Matrix-like state being held captive by the Skrulls. And darn it, I am a completionist, too, and it is hard for me to actually give something up and ruin my “run”, although this wouldn’t be the first time I gave up on Spider-Man.

This is not an easy question, nor does it have a simple answer.

The problem with THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN so far is that it’s been so good. Dan Slott’s opening three-parter was lots of old school Spider-Man fun. While the first issue set things up to be, perhaps, too negative and unlucky for Peter Parker, I thought the second and third issues narrowed the focus enough to make it interesting and challenging, not overwhelming. Slott’s one-liners fit in well with the Spider-Man character. Slott places Spider-Man in bad situations, with resolutions that are smart, charming, and wonderfully Spidery. Steve McNiven’s art was nice throughout the three-parter, and I really liked what Cory Petit did with the lettering to give the book its own feel. The oversized Peter Parker caption boxes are jarring at first, but eventually claim their own bit of space in the Spider-Man headspace.

Marc Guggenheim and Salvador Larocca’s first issue changed up the pace, but carried through nicely on the Daily Bugle plot threads while delving into the Jackpot mystery in an interesting way. (Specifically, Spider-Man doesn’t miss the obvious Mary Jane question.) I have some qualms with Larocca’s art, and I can’t help but feel this Daily Bugle story is a retread of a Daily Planet story from 15 years ago, but at least it’s been updated to recognize the internet and placed specifically in the Marvel Universe with all of those implications.

This whole thing creates a problem for me, very similar to Josh’s. This isn’t my Spider-Man. How do I reconcile the two? There are a few ways to do this.

1. Consider this a new version of Spider-Man, not unlike the Ultimate version. The problem with this is that he’s still tied directly into the main Marvel Universe and this version is thus all over the place.

2. It’s all temporary. Just keep telling yourself that. I still hold out hope that this will be completely overturned and things will go back to something happier and normal, but that’s as much a defense mechanism as it is industry analysis on my part.

3. Accept it. Don’t question it. Take it all in. Go with the flow.

That last one is what Marvel really wants you to do. It’s probably the healthiest thing for you to do if you want to continue reading Spider-Man. But there’s something unsettling about the whole thing. You don’t know what you’re reading yet. The “magic” used to create this new status quo has no rules, as has been previously discussed ad infinitum. Everything is up for grabs. Anything could change. Anything you take for granted may or may not be true now. We don’t know how far down the line that will hold out for. Thus, reading the comic is uncomfortable, and who wants to put themselves through that?

Or, you can take the old guideline about allowing one foreign element into the story so long as everything else follows “the real world.” Take the deal with Mephisto as that outside element, put it into a corner over there, and enjoy everything that follows.

While the initial noise has died down, the utter disdain for the Mephisto storyline will never go away, nor will it be forgotten. I wonder sometimes if I’d be feeling this way as a die-hard Superman or DC reader in the mid-80s. Would John Byrne’s revamp cause me this much pain? Would FINAL CRISIS and the destruction of all the multiple earths be this upsetting? (I mean “upsetting” not in the emotional sense, but in that jarring feeling you get from something new. It’s just comics. I’m not losing sleep or hair over this.)

The problem is, this whole set-up stems from one person’s dislike of the Spider Marriage. I think we’d all be much more forgiving if the problem was caused by a lawsuit which meant Marvel had to remove a key character from continuity and reshape the universe to fit that. Imagine John Romita suing for the rights to Mary Jane and winning. How would Marvel deal with the loss of such an important character? REBOOT! Or, you know, wave your hands around in the air and change anything and everything that needs changing.

Maybe this would make more sense if Sony bought Marvel tomorrow and turned the Marvel U into a pure R&D arm for the movie studios, thus necessitating the change of all books into Year One style storylines.

It would make more sense to me, at least. I’d be a lot more forgiving of any changes. I know that nothing will ever make all the fanboys happy. But I think a slightly larger percentage of the population would be happier had the need for this storyline been something other than an unpopular one man crusade.

Now, let’s get back to Josh’s question. You shouldn’t read any comic that makes you feel bad for reading it or uncomfortable in reading it. My own opposition to the very concept of “guilty pleasure” would make me add any book that you’re embarrassed to have people know you’re reading. You shouldn’t read the book if you think the money you spent on it is going to a bad cause.

I wouldn’t read the book out of any completionist mindset, but that’s just me. I understand the feeling. I’ve been there before. I’m just not there anymore. I’ll read the book because I enjoy it, and that’s it.

I wouldn’t read the book expecting the reset button to be hit again. While I still think it’s a viable option that will happen at some point down the road, I wouldn’t bet on it happening this year. And I wouldn’t put myself through the torture of reading a bad comic book for that long just in hopes that the Reset button/Skrull button gets pushed.

But that gets me to thinking, which is always a dangerous thing:

A “Spider-Man Is A Skrull” story makes sense now. If you want to raise the stakes on the Skrull Invasion storyline, what better way than to say your company’s biggest character is a Skrull? And that this non-married Spider-Man “debate” was all a multiple year hoax dreamed up to pay off the Skrull storyline. Can someone compare timelines for me? When did Quesada start speaking negatively about the marriage? And when did Bendis present his Skrull Invasion storyline to Marvel? It has to be at least three years ago on the latter point. It does present a problem of Clone proportions in that you’re saying years’ worth of storylines did not happen to the character you favor, but I think Spider-Marriage fans might be more willing to bite on that than to read stories without the marriage. Anything that doesn’t work out easily can just be Mephistoed back, anyway. Magic has no rules. Didn’t we learn that once already?

OK, let me take this tin foil hat off now. In a world in which Yahoo wants to buy AOL to keep from being bought off my Microsoft, is any conjecture too crazy? Talk amongst yourselves.

The best I can offer for Josh is the same thing I’m going to do: Think of MY Spider-Man as being a thing of the past. I have plenty of those comics to go back to. Yes, the marriage has now been officially misunderstood and wasted at the highest levels. But I still like the character and the universe he’s set in, so I’m going to keep reading AMAZING SPIDER-MAN so long as the stories maintain the same high level of quality that Dan Slott’s opening gambit had. This is comics. Nothing changes, yet nothing is ever permanent, either. If you can’t roll with these things, you’ll never read another comic again. (Did you drop CAPTAIN AMERICA when he died?)

That all having been said, the back half of THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN: SWING SHIFT ought to be burned for including the dreaded Comic Sans font. This new Director’s Cut printing includes a series bible from last summer to explain the new status quo in 18 pages with lots of panels and all Comic Sans type. I couldn’t read it. My eyes burned at the sight.

If you have the Free Comic Book Day version of this story, it might be worth buying again. Dan Slott went back in and updated the text in the issue to reflect the current status quo. It was always meant to take place in the “Brand New Day” world, but they had to cover that up a little last spring when the book was released. While Phil Jimenez does a good job aping Todd McFarlane in places, the Spider-Eyes are just too ginormous and flatten out the face of Spider-Man. It’s awkward. I hope he got a better handle on that before the issues he drew come out in the next few weeks.

OK, enough of Spider-Man again. Let’s give it another two week rest.

QUICK HITS

  • Lemmings: The Comic. Yes, the video game spawned a comic of some sort. I don’t know if this was a pack-in with the video game or put out as a separate book, but you can see some sample pages at the link. Video game history fans will enjoy all the concept art, production screen shots, and more related to the classic game.
  • Trend I’m sick of seeing: Coloring in every man’s jaw and chin as if he has a five o’clock shadow. I think Morry Hollowell pioneered this over Steve McNiven’s art in CIVIL WAR. It’s showing up more often now, and it’s starting to annoy me.

    Who am I kidding? Glossy pages in comics annoyed me, too, but they quickly became the norm. Maybe Marvel can get Norelco to sponsor their comics after the LOST deal winds up. We’ll all get used to this.

  • Your video selection of the week: iFanboy looks at Alan Davis’ career. It reminds me, once again, that I have too much unread Davis art sitting in the house at the moment.

ORIGINAL ART AND WHAT IT TEACHES US

I’m a process junkie. I’m also an original art collector. I’m also a columnist who thinks he needs to add more visuals to his weekly writings. That’s why I’m planning on rifling through my original art collection this year as an on-going series to show off some of the work, and what it can teach us about the art of comics, the process of making comics, and just why I have purchased some of the oddities I have.

We begin this series with some Greg Land art. These panels are from BIRDS OF PREY #3, fourth page. The first interesting thing to notice is the stamp in the upper left hand corner: “BLACK CANARY/ORACLE” was the title before BIRDS OF PREY, I suppose. That would make sense, given that a previous one-shot had that title.

You can’t make it out in this scan, but the mug on the right side there used to have Pinky on it, from Pinky and the Brain, with “NARF!” lettered next to it. A blue pencil line circled around it indicated it had to go. Even though Warner Bros. owns DC, it seemed that showing a Warner Bros. cartoon character (who was seen in a DC comic at one point, if not concurrently) was a no-no. The offending image was covered over with a white sticker.

“Zesti Cola” was OK, as it was a made up name.

The second panel comes at the bottom of the page. Again, it’s tough to see, though I tried to enhance the blue lines in this case. The original “YOU HAVE MAIL” lettering was done in an italicized font in a caption box. The blue-line note in the right margin indicated “Type-set in Times Roman, all caps.” So it was changed.

I really like this head shot of Barbara Gordon. Note the fluid brush line in the inking stage for that hair that drops so perfectly down the left side of her face, under the glasses. Just beautiful.

Next week, we’ll be appreciating some Kevin Maguire goodness and his work process.

PANEL OF THE WEEK

This week, I picked up THE SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN, Volume 1 trade paperback from Dark Horse. It’s a lovely book, with over 500 pages of black and white art by the likes of Barry Windsor-Smith, Gene Colan, Pablo Marcos, Alfredo Alcala, Walter Simonson, and many more. Even if you don’t care for Conan comics, every page of art in this book is a winner. I find myself flipping through the book to admire pages. Someday, I’ll have to try some of the stories.

It was page 128 that jumped out at me when I first flipped through it. It reminded me of the famous Jim Steranko SHIELD page where he couldn’t draw the love scene explicitly, so he drew a gun in a holster. Visual metaphors are potent stuff.

How do Jim Starlin and Al Milgrom show Conan getting similar treatment? Close-up on the chest of a women. Close-up on her “Come Hither” face. And, yes, she has to stroke his sword, as he holds it between his legs.

I only wish I were making that up. Take a look.

Wow.

I promised reviews this week, didn’t I? Crap. I liked CLANDESTINE #1, and I’ll explain why next week. I don’t think we’ll see anything more past this five part mini-series, but Alan Davis does some interesting things with the 22 pages in the first issue that are worth talking about.

The Various and Sundry blog is doing American Idol coverage, talking DVDs and LOST, answering your questions of me, dumping links like crazy, asking whatever happened to the stars of MTV documentaries, and more. It’s been a very productive last couple of weeks.

If you’re really interested in what daily news bits grab my attention in the worlds of tech and comics and more, the best way to track is it at the Google Reader Shared Items. Several items are added to that page every day. I’m an RSS feed junkie.

The only social network I regularly appear on is Twitter. It’s a very fun place with low overhead and the least number of annoyances of any Web 2.0 site, aside from an unstable infrastructure.

Everything else: The Pipeline Podcast, ComicSpace, and a Tumblr Blog.

You can e-mail me your comments on this column, or post them for all the world to see and respond to over on the Pipeline Message Board.

More than 800 columns — ten and a half years’ worth — are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They’re sorted chronologically.

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