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Wampeters, Foma and Superheroes: Graeme on 4/11, Vonnegut.

Graeme McMillan

Firstly, Kurt Vonnegut, RIP. I was a massive fan of the man; my favorite book of his was Timequake, which just struck me as exactly the book that he’d wanted to write all along, all anecdotes and ponderings under the attempt of science-fiction, mixing Slaughterhouse Five with Palm Sunday. I went through a period, when I was still in art school and my mind was still trying to suck everything in to figure out who and how to be, when I read his stuff voraciously, book after book after book, entirely out of order. I remember clearly getting to Breakfast of Champions and being surprised and depressed by the misanthropy of the book, of the way Vonnegut seemed to feel when writing it; I kept reading even though it felt as if he wanted to kill himself and punish all of his characters for being in his head, and can remember clearly feeling relieved when he saw the light of… what, I’m still not sure. Optimism? Humanism? Not-killing-yourselfism? in the middle of the book. It’s one of those things that you’re sure that Clarence the Angel would point to, if he found you trying to throw yourself off a bridge on Christmas Eve, even if he couldn’t tell you why it was so important, either. I saw Vonnegut on the Daily Show, last year, and was struck by how frail he looked. Sure, he was 84 at the time, and I hope I’m still around and healthy enough to make talk show appearances at that age (Not that I’d want to make talk show appearances, but you know what I mean), but… man. I wanted him to be as vibrant and healthy as his writing, you know? Sly and funny and so, so human.

Ah, well. So it goes, as he said. Onto happier things:

SPIDER-MAN AND THE FANTASTIC FOUR #1: Jeff Parker proves, once again, that he’s the go-to man at Marvel for stories that don’t suck or ask you to buy into totalitarian police states where superheroes can literally get away with murder, with this new, entirely unnecessary-yet-fun miniseries that just coincidentally stars the House of Ideas’ two summer movie franchises of the year – What’s surprising about that isn’t so much that it’s a movie tie-in, but that it’s a movie tie-in that’s not going to be released in trade in time for said movies; either Marvel have screwed up their schedules, or they’re beginning to look at the direct market and single issues as a viable source of money in light of Civil War sales… Or maybe both. Who knows?

Anyway, this is pretty much what you’d expect from a non-continuity story by Parker and Mike Weiringo; it’s light and throwaway purposefully, focusing less on the angst and more on the derring-do and imaginative adventure of the whole thing. You can tell that Parker’s worked on the all-ages Adventures books, because this has a similar feel, and there are a number of scenes that set up the characters and their relationships pretty clearly for new readers (Ben plays a trick on Johnny to show off their rivalry, Spider-Man is insulted by people who later praise the FF to show their particular public standings, and so on) without being too obvious about it. There’s something wonderfully old-fashioned about it, in the best way – It’s written as if it’s someone’s first comic, but in such a way as to not alienate old readers who’ll instead appreciate the character bits.

Likewise, Weiringo’s art is a joy; clear and easy to follow, attractively cartoony while being dynamic enough for readers who’ve been at this for awhile. He’s one of Marvel’s secret weapons even if they haven’t really realized that for awhile, and a pitch-perfect match for Parker’s writing. Both of them seem uninterested in post-modern takes on superhero icons, preferring instead to offer up stories that aren’t tied to any particular movement or zeitgeist and have no agenda other than to entertain. Depressingly enough, that probably guarantees that this will be seen as old-fashioned and unnecessary by the majority of fandom, but feh. Their loss; this is Good and in many ways closer to the movie versions of the characters than the regular books. Here’s hoping the potential new audience finds this and gobbles it up, instead of Civil War Chronicles or whatever.

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