ULTIMATE SPIDER-MANBrian Bendis continues his amazing winning streak with ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN #1. It's entertaining, it's respectful of history without being insulting in its rewriting, and it's a great set-up story. Peter Parker gets bitten by a spider, gets kicked around by his classmates, and finally realizes he has powers.
Really, the first issue doesn't have much super-powered action. It doesn't need to. This is the introduction to the core cast of characters that Peter Parker will need to define himself early on: Flash Thompson, Harry and Norman Osborn, Aunt May, Uncle Ben, Mary Jane Parker. There's more, but these are the important ones. And, most importantly, all of the events in this issue happen at a human level. There is no super-powered villain or menace. Doctor Octopus is not here. Nor is Venom or Electro or Sandman. Bendis keeps this book written at the level of a teenager coming to grips with teenaged angst and the addition of one bit of the fantastic that's added to his life. The villains are the school bullies and the one corporate bully.
Norman Osborn is the great conspirator behind Peter Parker's untimely gaining of power. Yes, everything today has to be a conspiracy of some sort. It's bad storytelling for something to happen by chance, and while this still does, the cover-up that follows is the conspiracy. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, by the way. Today's comics are written for a more sophisticated population. Kids grow up faster today than ever. I don't know if many kids that this comic is intended for would buy the random event of chance that changed Peter into Spider-Man. I definitely think the glowing radioactive part might fall into disfavor, particularly with today's science knowledge. As a rethinking of the Spider-Man mythos goes, this one works for me.
On the other hand, sigh, it's just another example of a greedy big business magnate in literature and entertainment. Thank goodness Bruce Wayne is still in comics, or I'd be inclined to think that every big business owner known to man is a scum-sucking, greedy, self-absorbed leach. Class envy is funny that way, though. But I'm digressing now…
Actually, it does fit in. Peter will soon need to learn that with great power comes great responsibility to use it wisely, right? Osborn here is a man with great power, but who isn't necessarily responsible with it. He abuses his powers, mistreats his employees, and is even rude to his son. Maybe Uncle Ben can survive and Peter can learn his lesson through Osborn's negative example.
I'm actually surprised by how much I like Uncle Ben. In the Spider-Man mythos, he's always been the underdeveloped martyr in Peter Parker's life. He's the kindly uncle Peter loved dearly who serves the purpose of cannon fodder to teach Peter his catch phrase for life - with great power comes great responsibility. Here, though, Bendis has turned Ben into a lovable hippie, complete with ponytail. Uncle Ben tries to push Peter Parker to Mary Jane, he defends Peter to Aunt May, and generally provides a good amount of light-hearted fun in a kindly way. If Bendis is planning on killing him off to maintain the history and the Spider-Man mythos, I think I'm already saddened by the death. But we'll wait and see on that.
The heck with the campaign that's currently on going to prevent organic web-shooters in the Spidey movie - let's start a Save-Uncle-Ben.com web site!
Bendis' ear for dialogue shows through here again. Initial stories of Bendis showing up at neighborhood playgrounds to listen in on kids for their speech patterns provoked a certain amount of derisive laughter. I have to think, though, that whatever research he did into this was well spent. The kids have the same annoying phrases and speech patterns that all the younger people I've heard lately use. Well, almost everything. He hasn't used upspeak, yet - that horrible way in which everything someone says turns into a question at the end. That one drives me nuts.
Mark Bagley does a remarkable job on the art, not only letting the teenagers look and dress like teenagers, but in keeping the storytelling straightforward enough that anyone can follow it. He follows a grid method here, and that keeps things simple enough for a comic newbie - which is who this book is aimed at, theoretically - to follow the story.
At the heart of it, too, is that Bagley's art has never looked better. I'm not sure I can explain this properly, but this is the most organic his art has ever looked. It's one step closer to realistic and one step further away from iconic. In many ways, that's the same route that his inker here, Art Thibert, has been taking through the years. It's less overtly stylistic.
The only thing that threw me about the issue is the plotting. It doesn't flow as well as it could have. There seems to be a lot of short scenes. It's not such a big deal with a regular-sized comic, but when that goes on for close to 50 pages you start to yearn for a scene to last more than two or three pages, and to be more than "Look! Peter Parker is a nerd who gets picked on a lot."
Like I said earlier, though, this issue functions pretty well as a set-up to the series. It introduces us to everyone, while keeping every scene focused on Peter Parker, whether directly or indirectly.
For $3, it's definitely worth giving a shot, even if you're not a Spider-Man fan already. It's glossy paper stock, without being glaring. The cover is light cardboard. There is not a single ad between the two covers. It's a great value for your money.
GEN-ACTIVEThere's one fundamental flaw with GEN-ACTIVE, WildStorm's quarterly anthology series.
It's a book that comes out every three months, yet still has stories that are continued in future issues. A quarterly series should never ask its readers to remember storylines and situations and characters across that span of time.
That being said, I think the third issue has some of the strongest material yet for the series.
It opens up with "Devil May Care," written by Eric DeSantis and drawn by Brian Stelfreeze. Yes, Stelfreeze is still alive and drawing more than just covers. This story looks beautiful, and the storytelling is well done. The lead character's power is the ability to see alternate futures. She can make her next move based on looking at all possible futures that would happen depending on her next action. Stelfreeze handles this rather nicely, with a tip of the hat to the WildStorm coloring crew who muted the colors just perfectly for those sequences.
The story ends with a simple caption: "Continued…" The good news is that this means more Stelfreeze art in the next issue. The bad part is that you'll have to wait three months to see the next part. I really hope it's not continued past that.
The second story is "Occupied Territory," which isn't all that important a story, nor is it earth-shaking. It is, however, an entertaining little character piece starring Deathblow and a wayward reporter with a good excuse to show some hellish war sequences.
On the other hand, it also ends with "Continued…"
Jay Faerber writes it, and Jason Johnson pencils what Armando Durruthy and Mike Miller ink.
The final story doesn't say "Continued" at the end. It says "Fin," but it leads into the lead story of the next issue. But I'll overlook that. Why? As great as the Stelfreeze portion of the issue may have been, this one holds up even better. Ben Raab does a better job with the character of - er, I forget his name. And we're never given it in the story. It's the shape-shifter guy from DV8. Everyone in the issue just calls him "Fido" or "Dogboy."
In this story, "Fido" is made to pay for the crimes he committed three months ago in GENACTIVE #2. And he's sent to Purgatory Max, a top-security facility for the detention of super-powered criminals. It's like Marvel's Vault, but set in the WildStorm Universe, and much more corrupt. The guards make the prisoners fight for their food for the sake of the guards' entertainment. The criminals are hardened and have nothing to lose.
Generally speaking, it's not a nice place to be, and "Fido" discovers that first hand. The last page actually sent a shudder through me. So Raab did a good job in laying this one out.
Eric Canete is the artist, and he does a terrific job here, too. He's not afraid to draw every little detail, or to pull the camera back and show a larger crowd scene than he may even need to. It's a very stylistic piece. If you liked the recent LADYTRON one shot, you know what kind of art to expect here.
At the heart of it, GEN-ACTIVE could be used as a showcase for top-line artists who may not want to battle the monthly deadline pressures. It could be a showcase for big name talent to come in and work with lesser-known characters from the WildStorm Universe. If this is their goal, then this issue succeeded. Heck, the two covers you have to choose from are by Jim Lee and Lee Bermejo -- not a bad start to any comic.
I just wish WildStorm would mandate that all stories in each issue be finished in that particular issue.
UPDATES AND CORRECTIONS AND EXPLANATIONS AND MOREThanks to Michael Wigg who wrote in to point out that the full solicitation copy for the EARTH X trade paperback does, indeed, describe it as being in full color. Assuming this isn't some weird typo or Diamond error, that's pretty impressive. 464 pages, full color, $25. Considering that Marvel has published $10 trade paperbacks with only 80-some-odd pages, I'd call it a minor miracle.
(Oh, and Michael hales from the UK and asks to have it spelled "colour." In your honour, Michael, I write this parenthetical as a favour to you. =)
While running through some old e-mail, I also found the press release announcing the publication of MONSTER FIGHTERS INC: THE BLACK BOOK #1. This is the return of J. Torres' series from Image Comics. It's due out in September at some point, so start keeping an eye out for it in your local comics shop.
About a month ago now, I asked what had happened to S. Clarke Hawbaker, who was last seen struggling to put out NOMAD (with writer Fabian Nicieza) monthly about eight or nine years ago. Cory Sinnwell writes in from Iowa to enlighten us: Hawbaker is living out there, and at one point taught a comic book art class at a community college near Cedar Rapids.
Steve Pheley pointed out a web site which showcases a cover Hawbaker did for a small independent book which came out recently called ACE OF DIAMONDS. (It looks like fairly bad T&A stuff…)
What can we learn from this? Well, Hawbaker is still alive and still marginally involved with comics. Past that, we've got nothing. The hunt continues…
There was no response to my request for Chris Wozniak's whereabouts.
I heard from WildStorm regarding my review of the WILDSTORM THUNDERBOOK, and specifically the poor scanning of the lettering used in the opening Gen13 story. Well, guess what? That story was lettered on the boards. It wasn't a computer glitch at all!
My apologies to the WildStorm productions crew. This one isn't your fault. (I'm still holding your feet to the fire for a couple of incidences surrounding TOMORROW STORIES, however.)
L. Lois Buhalis' lettering looks like it may have been a victim of materials: It's either a different ink than she's used to working with, or a different weight of art board. It looks like the ink really bled into the paper in strange ways, creating wider letters than often intended, and diminishing her usually sharp lettering line.
But I'm not hypothesizing on this any further. I don't feel like making the same mistake twice.
I got a lot of e-mail on the mention of PREACHER here last week. While I got the standard drooling fanboy reaction from a few PREACHER addicts, I did get a couple of people who pointed out something that was, indeed, odd. It was only a paragraph or two after I said that SHOCKROCKETS was a book that everyone should be reading that I decried titles that others felt I should have to read.
Yeah, that's just bad phrasing on my part, in all honesty. It would have worked better if phrased more along these lines:
"If you enjoy books with solid writing, smooth art, and a wonderful sense of fun and adventure, this is a book you should be reading. It fits right into all of those categories."
As for not reading PREACHER: I think that last week's column is a great concrete example of the Pipeline Mission Statement I drew up a couple of weeks ago. This isn't meant to be an unbiased review column. There are other places that go there. I'm not a machine. I can't read 20 books a week and review them all. More power to those who can. I'd suffocate in that format. Pipeline works more closely to a model of an on-line journal of my comics experiences, viewpoints, and beliefs. As such, it can sometimes be quite idiosyncratic. My reasons for not reading PREACHER aren't based on some strong opinion of the material contained within. It's based on, in part, my reaction to the zealotry (as I see it) of its fans. It's based on artistic differences with the book. It's based on not necessarily being a built-in fanboy of any of the creators involved. It's based on a general belief that it's not necessarily my kind of book. Haven't you all picked up a book and then put it back down just because it didn't strike any specific positive chord with you? It might have been the finest comic known to man at the time, but you just couldn't get yourself into it. That's me and PREACHER, I suppose.
Bottom line: I can't read everything. Sometimes I think it's a healthy thing to point out.
COMING UP NEXT!This Friday's column is a special one. I am not writing it. It's written by Chris Eliopoulos. What is he writing about? Why's he taking over Pipeline2 this week? Tune in on Friday to find out what he wants to get off his chest. Who knows? If you all like this kind of thing, I might be inclined to do it more often.
In the meantime, I'll be off at the Small Press Expo in Bethesda, Maryland on Saturday. I'm sure by the time that's done, the stack of unread comics that I really want to read will just grow higher. Heck, I've got a stack of comics from the past week or two I'd like to review. In other words, look for a whole load of reviews next week, as well as a brief account of my time at SPXPO.