THIS WEEK IN SPIDER-VILLE
This week's releases features AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #38, the much anticipated issue where Aunt May and Peter Parker have a little chat about Peter's double life.
Comparisons between ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN #13 and AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #38 are inevitable. Both feature Peter Parker divulging his secret to someone close to him. Both are extended conversations between two people. And both are high points in their respective series' runs. There are differences, though. I'll get to those in a moment.
After a couple of teasing months, we finally get the revelation out in the open. Aunt May and Peter Parker sit down and have a conversation about Peter's extra-curricular activities. For spoiler reasons, I won't get into exactly what they say, but there's still much to say about how JMS wrote it.
There's a large difference in writing styles between Brian Bendis and J. Michael Straczynski. Where Bendis likes to get down and dirty with his writing, JMS often goes more towards poetic prose and grand speeches. One's not necessarily any better or worse than the other. One of the things I loved about BABYLON 5 so much was the eloquence of its characters. Any one of them was capable of launching into a moving and impassioned monologue at any time. It's not necessarily a style everyone likes. Of course, neither are Bendis' stuttering and often repetitious patterns of dialogue. I like them both, but your boat may float more in one direction than the other.
The conversation starts off more like a Bendis dialogue than a Straczynski dialogue, though. May and Peter dance around each other for a few pages before having the inevitable tense and emotional dialogue. It's wonderful stuff. For forty years now, things that have been pondered by fans and daydreamed about in What If?-type stories are now real. It's a bigger question than you'd think: What happens after Peter tells his loving and fragile Aunt May about his dual identity? After the initial shock of your adopted nephew wearing tights and jaunting around the city wears off, what do you say? What do you ask? If you're Peter Parker, how on earth do you explain The Clone Saga? What about Doctor Octopus? Eddie Brock? These are all facets of Spider-Man's life that have directly impacted Aunt May, for starters, but might render a non-continuity geek senseless. JMS had a large task ahead of him and handled it beautifully. He nicely skipped over some of the more extraneous fanboy details and got right to the emotion of the matter. Those details might well be filled in over the course of time, as situations warrant.
The story doesn't flow like Bendis' ULTIMATE story did. There's not the nervous teenage energy. There's no need to show off Peter's spider powers. There's no sexual tension in the air. It's a much more mature story with two adults in a room talking like people who honestly love and respect each other. That's what the situation dictates. It's a different enough story to not feel redundant, but important enough to feel worthy of being told.
Yes, there have been an unfortunate number of stories lately centered on characters' dual identities being exposed. Superman, Spider-Man (multiple times in recent months), and even Batman have been through it. I have a funny feeling we haven't seen the end of this trend, either. So long as the stories are told with such reverence to the characters' histories and respect for the reader's intelligence -- something that's been jerked around often enough in the past on such occasions -- then I'll continue to be entertained by them. As soon as these revelations become crass marketing ploys, I'm done.
John Romita Jr. also deserves his share of the credit. Like Mark Bagley, he was stuck with a talking heads scene lasting 22 pages. Romita handled it with grace and style. The emotions on the characters' faces matched the conversation that was going on. (I'm assuming the story was written in full script by JMS.) Romita moved the proverbial camera around enough to keep from becoming monotonous, but also used it to tell the story and keep the emotions center stage.
Finally, special credit goes to Comicraft for using a font unlike ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN's in the issue. The all-caps font helps maintain the serious and mature attitude of the story. It didn't look like an Archie Comic.
MARVEL MANGAVERSE OVERVIEW
I've been debating how to review the Marvel Mangaverse titles for a couple of weeks now. Rather than get into a long series of reviews, I'm going to give you some quick thoughts on the titles.
Spider-Man: Kaare Andrews sticks with a loose and animated style for the issue and pulls it off. Dave McCaig is invaluable in pulling off the issue in high style. If you liked Rob Haynes' art in DAREDEVIL: NINJA, you'll like the style here. Speaking of that, what is Haynes doing these days? He's been too quiet lately…
X-Men: It's a bit of a disappointment, to tell you the truth, but that might be my own fault. I was looking forward to something in Jeff Matsuda's usual art style and that's not what this issue is. It's much closer to the look Andrews went with in SPIDER-MAN, but with a more sculpted coloring. C.B. Cebulski's story didn't excite me all that much. It puts the characters through their paces and tells us who is on which side. We get a glimpse of everyone's powers and then the story ends. If you're looking forward to seeing what the manga versions of your favorite mutant characters look like, this will probably please you. If you're hoping for a gripping story, it's not going to do much.
Ghost Riders: This is the surprise hit for me. Chuck Austen's story is laugh out loud funny. It's darkly humorous and slightly mature in places. Actually, it's curious that none of the Mangaverse comics had Marvel's age ratings on them. I'd be interested to see where this one would fall. PG would be the bare minimum, I'd guess. Sadly, the coloring is completely muddy and printed horribly, obscuring some of the finer parts of the computerized art, such as the architecture on the last page. With any luck, the trade paperback will correct for that.
Avengers Assemble: It's the book that takes its title seriously. I muttered, "And I'll form the sword!" under my breath in the climactic sequence. Udon does a good job in keeping the characters defined in a short number of pages while giving us a story that you'll be happy to sink your teeth into.
The Punisher: This is the one I was most looking forward to. Peter David writes it and Lea Hernandez draws it. David's humor shows through here and Hernandez perfectly captures the somewhat ludicrous nature of the plot. Again, sadly, the colors printed too darkly. I wonder if the event was originally scheduled for a glossy paper and changed to a flatter stock at the last minute? In any case, this book is well worth a read and acts perfectly as a pilot issue for a series. At the very least, further stories would be interesting to read.
Fantastic Four: Are you reading Adam Warren's GEN13? If so, you'll notice the storytelling style duplicated rather well here, right down to the blacked out lettering. I was surprised by how much I liked this, given its maniacal attention to detail and over the top characterizations. Reed Richards is an unlovable cad in this universe. That makes him more interesting than the mainstream Marvel Universe version. If your comics reading requires a feminist reading to every page, you won't like this book. If your sense of humor can handle somewhat archaic attitudes, though, you'll be able to have fun here.
Overall, it's an uneven but interesting mix of titles. As a reader of very little manga, I followed the books without much problem, although I'm sure I missed some of the cute in-jokes. I still found enough here to want to see more. There's plenty of material to be mined for the upcoming ongoing series. I hope we'll get to see some of these creators back on these characters in some form at some point.
Today is the day that GHOST WORLD sees its Region 1 DVD release. I didn't get my hands on an advance copy, so a review will have to wait. However, I did review the graphic novel the movie is based on back in August. Take a look at that in the meantime.
Tangent: I saw the GODFATHER DVD this past weekend. (Thanks for letting me borrow it, Shawn.) It's a great movie and I was ecstatic that I got to see it for my first time in letterbox, as God intended us to see all great movies. I was horribly disappointed, however, in the video transfer. It's hardly DVD quality. Granted, the source material is 30 years old, but they could have at least cleaned up the scratches in the print and attempted to sharpen the image up somehow. Ick ick ick.
Special thanks to Magic Master Dan V. at Dewey's Comic City in Madison, NJ.
Don't forget to visit the new message boards (see link below) for further Pipeline discussion and good old-fashioned comic book fun.
More than 350 columns are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They're sorted chronologically. The first 100 columns or so are still available at the Original Pipeline page, a horrifically coded piece of HTML.