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Spiders and such

Brian Hibbs

Hey, the holidays are over, more free time becomes available, back to reviewing, I think. Yay?

The “big news” of the month is all about Spider-Man, and I’d like to discuss ASM #700 and SSM #1, but will be doing so in several spoiler-ific ways.  If you don’t want spoilers, don’t travel below the “more” line (or, if you’re on RSS, look away now)

I don’t really know what it is with the general public, but they’re pretty easily suckered, it seems like. A little media story of “Spider-Man is dead!” and they all come rushing in, waving stacks of money trying to cash in. That’s not to say that they’re ALWAYS fooled like that — I mean when it was “Ultimate” Spider-Man, we didn’t get that rush of people (even with Miles Morales being, on balance, a much better follow-through idea); but yeah, lots of suckers coming through this time. What I found interesting was how not so many of the regular comics readers seemed to bite at the apple on this — deaths like Johnny Storm, or Superman or whatever usually have a large component of regular readers who are curious. Maybe it’s the $8 price tag?

But we’ve STILL, two weeks later, got civvies breathlessly asking if we have ASM #700, and when they find out we do, trying to buy every single copy on hand (really? But…. if I did that, then there wouldn’t BE  a copy to sell to YOU!) Ah, what can you do, other than smile and sell them the comic, knowing that they’d be better off leaving their $8 on a street corner for all of the chance they’ll “make money from it!”

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #700: Here’s the thing: even though the set-up is as old as the hills (Oh, Jodie Foster, I had such a crush on you back in the 70s), and even though there’s exactly zero chance that this storyline can possibly stick, or even have any real lasting consequences, I very much admire how Dan Slott approached it. The story has been seeded for a long time, built upon established lore, and has been executed with a sufficient sense of dread and skill. I want this up front: I like this plot, and I had a genuine “Oh, what happens next?!” moment or three.

But, in the context of the final issue of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, or even as “just” an anniversary issue, I kind of didn’t like this for the simple reason that Peter lost… and went down like a punk. I’m not dumb, I know that the story doesn’t “end” here, but there’s no triumph whatsoever in a space where there really should be a significant amount of it. Had this store been in, say,  #699? Well, that would have been a perfect kind of cliffhanger for an issue like that, but just not something that fits as the “final issue” of a serial which has been running, unencumbered and unchanged since 1963.

Worse still, as a reader, there’s nothing on the page to lead me back to “SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN #1″, per se. I mean, as someone in the industry, clearly it’s obvious to me that SSM will run a certain amount of time, and sooner or later the plot and thus the character and the title and the numbering will eventually return to ASM (#750?). Obviously, Peter Parker’s story doesn’t end here, and I know that because I’ve read a loooooooot of comic books in my life. But, if I DIDN’T know that? If I’m, say, one of the civvies coming in from the news story, who hasn’t read a spidey comic in 20 years or more? Man, what a depressing story: our hero goes out as a deformed freak bleeding out in a gutter as his greatest enemy wins and literally takes over his life. Yeah, that’s a hook to get me coming back for more.

Or hell, even for the low-information regulars. Man, I know the comics internet is huge and all-(time)-consuming, but I’d estimate that at least a third of my regulars don’t “keep up on the news” — their exposure to comics really is whatever they see in front of them on the stand on Wednesday. Our subber sign up on SSM has been lower to date, and I’ve already had more than one person tell me angrily that that isn’t what they want to read.

Anyway, one other thing that has to be mentioned about ASM #700 is the price — jinkies, $8! Almost $9 here because of sales tax. That’s brutal by any standard, and even though it had two other, decent, Spidey shorts, that creates a lot of expectation from entertainment, I think. Better still, it’s $16 for the three comics that tell this story, and they’re actually going to ask $25 for the collected hardcover. Like I said: jinkies.

When you add it all up, even though I generally liked the general verve and the specific audacity of the plot, I’m utterly unnerved by pricing and marketing decisions that surround it, and it makes me throw my hands in the air, and average it out to an EH.

 

SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN #1: To a certain extent, the question is whether or not you’re interested in spending $4 every two weeks for a SpOck comic — I mean, if I didn’t get to read them for free, I don’t know that I’d be willing to do that.

The protagonist is arrogant, is selfish, is cowardly, is leering — nothing that I want in a protagonist, in short.

I also have a certain amount of problem with “having cake and eating it-ism” — rather than being ASM #701 (maybe blurbed “1ST ISSUE in a all-now direction!” or something), this is being made out to be a different series. From a story POV, this marks a very not-Peter era of Spidey, but Parker’s “spirit” shows up on the last page(s) to show that it is still very much his story. I’m not opposed to that, per se, but I think it undercuts almost all of the inherent drama of the situation now that we’re explicitly told he’s coming back. Don’t trigger that suspension-of-disbelief-sense — to a large degree, I don’t think that the beat was EARNED yet… SpOck attempting to kill someone would, I think, be a much better culmination of a storyline, than randomly happening in issue #1. With Parker already back on the plate (and, sure, maybe it will take quite some time to play out), I think the story dramatically undercuts itself.

Then, I think, the story becomes about Parker’s return, rather than SpOck’s struggle with heroism, and I think, “well, people are interested in death and struggle, but return stories are usually bombs” — just look at the difference in market reaction between SUPERMAN #75 and ADV OF SUPERMAN #500, right?

We’re selling SSM #1 better so far than ASM #699, BUT *most* of those sales are “Wow, you still have it in stock, my local store is out” indicating that those aren’t sales that are going to especially “stick” for me over any reasonable time horizon.

So, yeah, I’d feel different about this if it was ASM #701, than I do as SSM #1, but because the protagonist really is so loathsome, I’m going with, I guess, a mild OK.

 

That’s what I think, anyway, what do YOU think?

-B

12 Responses to “ Spiders and such ”

  1. “To a certain extent, the question is whether or not you’re interested in spending $4 every two weeks for a SpOck comic”

    My thoughts exactly. I think this would make for a great single arc, and maybe even a longer, monthly, $2.99 book, but as the concept for an “ongoing” series at that price and frequency I suspect it’ll be dragged out a little too long. (I’m fine with not reading Superior Spidey, but I wish it didn’t mean this version of the character also turning up in books I do read…)

    Anyway, I’m kind of hoping the next series is just Spider-Man #1, with no return to the old numbering. I actually don’t mind starting off with new #1′s now and then, it’s just the pinging back and forth between new and legacy numbering and the shuffling of adjectives and subtitles that feels a bit silly after a while.

  2. “a serial which has been running, unencumbered and unchanged since 1963.”

    Heheh, joking, yes?

  3. “I think it undercuts almost all of the inherent drama of the situation now that we’re explicitly told he’s coming back.”

    Exactly. I have no problem with doing a body-swap story, and in fact I mostly liked the last arc of Slott’s Amazing and have no problems with it being relaunched under a new name (it’s a gimmick, but whatever, it’s pretty standard at this point). But to drop ghost-Parker in at the last minute to show us that he’s inevitably coming back, one issue after he “died” – that undercuts the story Slott’s telling, and shows a lack of faith in both the story and the audience.

    I was looking forward to seeing Doc Ock as Spidey, trying to genuinely be a “hero,” but in his own violent, arrogant, assholish way, while those around him slowly figure out what’s going on. Why not let an arc or two play out before we find out that Ghost-Parker is still alive?

  4. In Marvel’s defense, though, when you have people declaring left and right that they will never be buying a Spider-Man comic again until the REAL Spider-Man is back, because they have no interest in the Spid-Ock, the temptation to make that backdoor visible as soon as possible is pretty big.

    On the other hand, what that means is what we’ve got in Superior Spider-Man 1 is a plot that could be worked into a full arc mashed into a single fight scene, and that doesn’t work either.

    (And on another note, it’s kind of disappointing to see Boomerang back on a loser team so soon after the Dark Avengers/Thunderbolts wrap-up.)

  5. Meh. Crapping on Peter Parker has always been a staple of his story, but Marvel always seems to confuse that being a story element and doing too publicly to the entire character and the brand itself. (Clone Saga, Return Of Gwen Stacy as Goblin Momma, More More Marriage)

    First this is nothing more that a retread of a 60′s DC filler issue where the villain get swapped in to the hero’s head. Brad Meltzer ans Mark Waid have revisited this concept without trying to pretend it was ground breaking or new. And now, we have Spider-Man combined as Good Cop/Bad Cop FIRESTORM.

    As entertaining and makes as much sense to the character as BATMAN…Living in Space As Gotham is No More!!, DAREDEVIL: NASCAR DRIVER, and Wolverine: Center For the Knicks.

  6. I have long found odd the dislike some readers have for reading stories about characters they wouldn’t personally want to know. I find a range of personalities to be interesting to read about in fiction. At present, I find Octavius’s “loathsomeness” to be a funny and interesting inversion of the usual series protagonist, who hasn’t done anything surprising since… well, OK, making a deal with the Devil was surprising.

  7. But we haven’t been given sufficient reason enough to care about Octavius as a character – either to root for or against him – to feel much about his assuming the role of Spider-man. Slott has been writing him shorthand as Genius Scientist Supervillain up until the mindswap.

  8. [...] Brian Hibbs, Savage Critics: “I also have a certain amount of problem with ‘having cake and eating it-ism’ — rather than being ASM #701 (maybe blurbed “1ST ISSUE in a all-now direction!” or something), this is being made out to be a different series. From a story POV, this marks a very not-Peter era of Spidey, but Parker’s ‘spirit’ shows up on the last page(s) to show that it is still very much his story. I’m not opposed to that, per se, but I think it undercuts almost all of the inherent drama of the situation now that we’re explicitly told he’s coming back. Don’t trigger that suspension-of-disbelief-sense — to a large degree, I don’t think that the beat was EARNED yet… SpOck attempting to kill someone would, I think, be a much better culmination of a storyline, than randomly happening in issue #1. With Parker already back on the plate (and, sure, maybe it will take quite some time to play out), I think the story dramatically undercuts itself.” [...]

  9. Nicely said Brian. It’s always hard for me to recommend a title to my readers if it has “money grab” stamped all over it. As for the story, I still find it hard to believe that anything Doc Ok would have experienced in Parker’s mind would have given him a moments pause over his path in life. Show me a mind swap where he’s just riding it out, trying to find an angle for his own gain. That I’d believe.

  10. I had one thought while reading this review…and anytime I read about people being upset about this book…”Steve Ditko is still making comics and they are MUCH better than this.”

    I understand why you wrote this review, Mr. Brian, and I don’t take issue with it. I also have no problem with Spider-man readers enjoying or not enjoying these comics and saying so. I guess my issue is it’s a lot more impressive Ditko is still making comics than it is a Marvel book made it to issue 700. I probably wouldn’t have even had that thought if Marvel had not put a Ditko cover on the book.

  11. At my LCS, there was a pile of regular covers, and variant covers for Superior Spider-Man. I grabbed the last of the regular covers, which is what I was after, but it was lucky I didn’t want the Scotty Young cover as a guy crouched down, picked up the entire pile and started going back and forth through them, seemingly to find the perfect five copies. He spent like a minute looking at each copy, and then comparing it to all the others looking for staple/corner damage, before deciding whether it made the cut or not.
    Oddly, other customers didn’t seem to mind, and waited patiently for him to finish before grabbing copies of their own.

    As for the book, Stegman was good on art, but not enough to make me want to sign on for more.

  12. “the ‘final issue’ of a serial which has been running, unencumbered and unchanged since 1963″

    Oh my goodness.

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