A DAY BRAND NEW, NEEDS SOME GETTING USED TO
It's the first huge comic release of the new year. YOUNGBLOOD #1 returns from --
Oh, wait, that's later in the column.
You all want to read about AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #546, I'm sure. It's the first part of the "Brand New Day" game-changer. Or publishing stunt. Or exciting new era. Or misguided effort. Or reboot. Something.
Let's put aside any thoughts about "One More Day" in considering this issue. What's done is done. Yes, JMS' take might have made more sense, but let's be honest: it would have been reviled, also. Marvel has taken a step here in a direction that it feels is necessary. For those of us who wildly disagree with that notion -- and I count myself as one -- we have to either buckle the seat belts and hope to enjoy some part of the ride, or get up, walk away, and not touch the stuff.
This week, I'm playing "optimist." While I've been reading a married Peter Parker set in the main Marvel Universe all my comics-reading life, I've greatly enjoyed Brian Bendis' ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN, resetting Parker to high school in a more contemporary setting. So I know I'm capable of enjoying the tales of a single Peter Parker trying to take care of his aunt, having no luck with the girls, and blessed with a stable of potentially explosive friends with demons of their own. My mind is open.
With that all said, what do I think of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #546?
I think it's nice to see Steve McNiven drawing a comic book again.
(If I were a snarky blogger, I'd end this review right there and enjoy the laughs.)
It's been a while since CIVIL WAR now, hasn't it? Stripped of the bombast of CIVIL WAR, McNiven's art settles easily into the more street-level soap opera-paced world of Spider-Man. He draws Peter Parker grabbing breakfast just as well as Peter Parker bounding through buildings chasing down a robber. He even dresses the job-hunting Parker up to look like CHUCK from the NBC TV series. Or is that DILBERT? Is there a difference?
I'm a big fan of Dan Slott's writing. I'm loving AVENGERS: THE INITIATIVE right now which, judging by sales estimates, might be one of Marvel's best-written underperformers. I enjoyed THE THING and SHE-HULK. We know he can write the funny. We know he knows the Marvel Universe in deep detail. And we know he can do superheroics. In short, he's the perfect writer for a Spider-Man book.
Unfortunately, there's a lot of baggage he has to carry for this issue. While there were some quick introductions to the new supporting cast at the end of AMAZING #545, Slott now has to make those characters whole, set up their relationships with Peter, and give the readers some sense of drama to tie them all in together. I think he does that, notably in the way all the civilian characters interrelate. Unfortunately, there's this looming cloud of continuity hanging over all their heads that needs to be either revealed or left a mystery to carry the reader through the story. That see-saw can be annoying. The reader is distracted looking for clues to everything that's going on, instead of enjoying the soap opera.
And it raises a bigger question: Where's the line between Bad Luck Peter and Pitiful Pathetic I-Don't-Want-To-Read-About-This-Loser Peter Parker? I suppose it's more in keeping with the tone of the classic Spider-Man stories for Peter to have all these troubles, but it's horribly frustrating to me. It reminds me a bit of all those sit-coms and teenaged melodramas where two characters hate each other for the sake of plot contrivance. If Peter is destined to always lose no matter how hard he fights, I don't want to read it. I can go pound my head into the wall, instead.
But here's the thing: It's too soon to lodge that complaint. This is the first part of a three (?) part weekly story. It's the beginning of a whole new continuity. Slott has a lot of bricks to lay here, and complaining about them right now might be a little too early. From a sheer crafting point of view, there's nothing wrong with this issue.
There are a lot of great character moments in here. J. Jonah Jameson has a great one that, well, leads to potentially the most interesting plot point of the story. (There are no spoilers in this review, so please just take my word for it.) Peter and his Aunt May have a couple of moments that perfectly define their relationship (albeit from circa 1970). Betty Brant is there. Harry Osborn figures prominently. There's a new villain who is wonderfully introduced and has a memorable visual to him. There's a potential love interest who is, pardon my male hormones, a complete hottie and potentially an intellectual equal.
What I'm saying with all this rambling is that there are parts to this story that might play out in interesting ways. I have enough faith in Dan Slott that I believe it'll work within the structure it must stand in. My main problem still comes with that structure. I said I needed to consider this review as being separate from the plot mechanism which brought us here, but I'm not sure that's possible. I just don't buy it yet. It feels forced and it feels like a stunt to me. I'm just waiting for Joe Quesada's "Cup of Joe" two summers from now to bring it all back to "normal."
I'm going to give it a couple more issues and report back to you after that. We'll see if the initial jolt of this new universe has dissipated by then.
As a bonus, there are a series of short backups at the end of the issue, written by the men tasked with carrying out these weekly Spider-adventures.
The first is a two-pager written by Bob Gale, giving some pointers to what this new paradigm is all about. Wait 'til you read the explanation for how this all fits into CIVIL WAR. I groaned, and I'm not even a continuity nut. John Romita Jr. draws the montage.
Most excitedly, Gale returns with Phil Winslade for a three page Aunt May story. Those of you who enjoyed their one-time pairing on DAREDEVIL as much as I did will be excited to see the reunion. Winslade's art is a little looser than usual, but still enjoyable.
Marc Guggenheim and Greg Land show us a new superheroine, Jackpot, that can't possibly so obviously tie into a pre-existing character. I smell red herring. As I recall, she first appeared last year in an annual or something, didn't she? Then, she dropped out of sight and everyone forgot about her.
And Zeb Wells and Mike Deodato show us more behind the scenes with Harry Osborn.
I take it that these are all teasers for future story arcs. They add a little depth to the new universe. I'm happy to see that editor Steve Wacker has once more been sure to get all his editorial cards in order before starting this run. Let's just see how it plays out, OK?
BACK TO THE BLOOD
In which what started out as a thorough review of a new comic became a reminiscence of times past, historical oddities, and personal comic history. . .
As if that whole Spider-Man brouhaha wasn't controversial enough, YOUNGBLOOD returns this week. I've also lost track of how many YOUNGBLOOD #1s we've had by now, but like I said earlier -- I'm an eternal optimist, hoping for someone to win me over. Plus, I have a big soft spot for Rob Liefeld's original creation.
Let's start at the beginning: YOUNGBLOOD's initial concept was strong. I've said it many times already, and I'll say it again. While many remember it only for its initial failings, there were underpinnings to the series that didn't make it through, but rippled throughout comics for the rest of the 1990s and the 2000s. For one example: Do you see what Brian Bendis does so often in POWERS with the media and superpowered individuals? You can see faint signs of that in YOUNGBLOOD, 10-15 years earlier.
Rob Liefeld's initial concept of a media relations-driven superhero team working for the government and all of their then-modern failings combined both the classic superhero traits of his childhood and the reality of his young life. Unfortunately, too much youthful enthusiasm showed up in place of the concepts and the whole thing fell flat for most.
Alan Moore came along to reset the universe with a metatextual twist, giving us YOUNGBLOOD: JUDGMENT DAY. Moore followed that up with two or three issues of his own YOUNGBLOOD series, in which he created a bunch of new characters and went with a "postmodern superhero" angle more than a celebrity superhero one. It was terribly popular, but short-lived due to financial circumstances with its imprint/publisher, Awesome.
Mark Millar came up with YOUNGBLOOD: BLOODSPORT to mix reality television with BATTLE ROYALE. That one never finished. I don't think the second issue ever saw print, as a matter of fact.
Now Joe Casey comes along to go back to the beginnings. This Youngblood team combines characters from Liefeld's initial creation with Moore's, and returns to the idea of government superhero team and media relations. Casey gives us the classic sleazy government recruiter with some secrets of his own, and the reluctant hero in Shaft. Yes, Shaft returns to lead a team composed of Badrock, Cougar, Die-Hard, Doc Rocket, and Johnny Panic. My preference would have been to stick with the original Youngblood characters from Liefeld's run, but I'm an old school fanboy.
Complete tangent here: I remember Liefeld crediting his inker in YOUNGBLOOD #4 with revitalizing his art. That inker? Danny Miki. Didn't Joe Quesada once say something similar to that of Miki, a decade later? Before his Wacom Cintiq tablet, Quesada used Miki a lot as his inker, that's for sure.
Where was I? Oh, yes, YOUNGBLOOD #1. Joe Casey does a great job in resetting the characters, infusing them with the personalities we'd expect them to have, remaining true to the original premise of the series, and adding some fun twists and turns. Perhaps the hammer hits the head of the nail too squarely, but the concepts of superheroes as media darlings is not missed here. Artist Derec Donovan is a great choice, with a style somewhere between Chris Sprouse and your generic Robert Kirkman superhero title artist. It all works. This issue is mostly set-up, but it's done in an entertaining way.
That's all I needed to really say in the first place, isn't it? Sorry, comic readers of my generation are often known to get whimsical and misty-eyed when recalling the Image comics of their youth.
Now, where's that hardcover reprinting of the original YOUNGBLOOD series?
Next week: Self-trading. Why wait for the trade when you can buy all the issues yourself and read them all together? That's what I did with a couple of series recently. I'll be talking about them next week.
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.