Saturday, March 5, 2011

...And Then I Had These Revelations

This week I'll be looking at the second volume of the J. Michael Straczynski run of Amazing Spider-man which includes issues 36-39 of Amazing Spider-man, and issues 5 and 6 of Spider-man's Tangled Web (odd inclusion). You get John Romita Jr on pencils and Scott Hanna on inks for the Amazing issues, and Peter Milligan plot with Duncan Fegredo pencils for the Tangled Web issues. As with Volume 1, Amazon have it for between a couple dollars and about $60 US. Page count: 96.

Last time I merely pointed out that you could get the same content in the Ultimate Collection Volume 1 but didn't do much more than that. However I think this time there's a reason to list off a few details in the interest of full disclosure. Volume 3 of the older TPBs goes for about $5 to $22 US. Add that to Volume 1 and Volume 2 and you get somewhere between $10 and $110 US. Compare that to the Ultimate Collection going for about $25 US (all prices are on Amazon) and you get some idea of the difference. Keep in mind that the Tangled Web issues aren't in the Ultimate Collection, and that Volume 1 of Tangled Web will cost you about $5 US. Wait, what? Why is there a Tangled Web TPB from the earlier in the same year that has the same issues of Tangled Web that were printed in a volume which is clearly an Amazing Spider-man TPB? Cross promotion maybe? At the end of the day, it bothers me slightly but I won't complain because the story is a good one (if a blatant swipe).

In brief, we get the 9/11 issue, Peter (potentially) saving a student from a life of squalor, The Conversation between May and Peter about the fact he's Spider-man, the 'Nuff Said issue, and Flowers for Rhino in which Rhino becomes a genius and then even stupider.

What to make of this volume is not entirely clear: it has some key issues from the time, and if you wanted to read them you save a pretty penny (eBay has the 9/11 issue for upwards of $40 US, the 'Nuff Said issue goes for a few bucks as does The Conversation, and Flowers for Rhino shouldn't set you back more than a couple dollars), but over all it feels lacking and meaningless.

Anyone else remember this?
The 9/11 issue gets its fair share of flack across the board, and I don't disagree. The vast majority of text (read upwards of 90%) is in narrative boxes, and clearly not the usual style for Peter Parker/Spider-man. I'll accept that it's not a standard Peter/Spidey thing to deal with, but that being the case, why is it Pete at all? I know Spider-man was picked because JMS wanted to do it, and Spidey's viewed by some as the quintessential New York City character (odd thing to say when so many Marvel characters live there), but it doesn't fit. I guess it's a hard fit, because the other strong contender is Captain America, where the words would fit, but where it might not seem quite so personal.

Or this?
Another problem is that the tragedy of 9/11 would (unfortunately) seem trivial in a world where half of NYC is demolished every couple of weeks (taking the compressed continuity of Marvel into account), and that Spidey's been involved in numerous hostage/terrorist plots involving the World Trade Center, one of which succeeded in doing fair damage. I get that if this happened it would be somewhat different from the usual villain destroys NYC, but at the same time the lack of super-hero preventative action is more inexplicable than that in Maximum Carnage (oh we'll get to that eventually, and I'll hate it). Then there's the smaller details such as the bad art, and Dr Doom crying. I could understand Kingpin crying, and at a stretch Magneto crying. The only reason Doom cries over that (or is even there at all) is that he didn't get to do it in some attempt to destroy the Fantastic Four or The Avengers. I'm also aware that people found some of the ideas offensive, in particular the idea that the USA had it coming. I'd ask them to re-read that issue and read the next couple of captions where that line of thought is rebuked. I generally skip this issue when re-reading the arc. I think that much of it.

Following the 9/11 issue we get another "Peter helps students in real life" story, which became stale and vaguely ridiculous as JMS' run wen on. This case is not so bad, but not so great. The girl's brother is a drug fiend, and the live on the streets. Peter gets involved to save the brother and the girl, but doesn't really help them beyond that. I'm not sure what to take from this issue, other than that the title ("Interlude") was probably the best thing about the issue. Oh, and May sits on a bench for a while before calling Peter to say that they need to have The Conversation.

Can you read this cover? No?
Then forget everything that
happened inside it.
And one issue later that's what we get. No super-heroing at all in this issue, just Peter and May cutting to the chase. I know this is the umpteenth time May should have worked out Pete was Spider-man, and hell she'd actually done as much before and said so in issue 400 (only to have it retconned away, thank you very much 1990's Marvel). We get a brief recap of the events surrounding Uncle Ben's death (including a retcon) and end with the two deciding they'll try and forgive each other. It's a solid issue, but not stellar, and the fact that the best panel is something that really only shines because of events in the last year or so makes my point for me. PS this issue? might as well not exist after Brand New Day.

Honey, when will you get plastic surgery
so your face looks like pressed ham?
And then, then we get the 'Nuff Said issue. The concept of 'Nuff Said was that it was a challenge from Joe Quesada and the rest of the editorial staff at the time to their writers and artists to go one month without a word balloon, thought balloon, caption, etc while still producing a story that could be followed by fans, and not trying to get away with some alternate universe story. As Bill Jemas put it back then " of our goals with the silent month was to give the reading public a peek at what people like Joe (Quesada) and I see every month, which is sort of a beautiful colored comic book page without balloons." Which is a fair enough goal. Pity it takes about 5 minutes to read through while getting the story and intend emotion. Pity that JRJr was doing the art for such a concept, and turned in some of the most awful pictures of Mary Jane Watson-Parker (one-time super model) ever seen. Pity that the plot thread with May is explained via text on a computer screen somewhat copping out of the point. So what do we get from the issue? Peter misses his estranged wife MJ, MJ maybe misses her estranged husband Peter, May wants the media to stop being mean to Peter/Spider-man, May hasn't forgiven Peter entirely for lying all those years about being Spider-man. That's it. I'd love to see the script, because I think you could have conveyed most of it with that sentence.

Finally we get to the two part Flowers for Rhino. Personally, this is the best part of the TPB. The plot is great, the pencils are great. The colouring leaves a bit to be desired (it seems like the pencils called for noir, and the colours didn't quite match). In any case this story is set (seemingly) entirely out of continuity, and is based upon the material presented in the SciFi short story (and then novel) Flowers for Algernon, with Rhino playing the part of Charlie, and some random monkey paying the part of the mouse Algernon. In essence Rhino gets a job rescuing a mob boss' daughter, Stella, which ends up with him in jail and ruing his terminal idiocy. After trying to have his suit removed, he opts instead for a surgical procedure to make him smarter. The second issue deals with the repercussions, and I think any fan who feels that the "evil genius" stereotype is flimsy will be happy with the outcome. This story is charming and personal, and includes details necessitated by the content of the story to stave of the finicky comments of fans without sacrificing the pacing of the story. In just two issues. Someone put this in front of Brian Michael Bendis. Now.

So where does that leave me in the wash-up of this issue? I mean, I panned two issues, gave solid a solid "meh" to two issues, and loved the loving gizzards out of the last two issues. I guess it depends on how you get hold of it. It's not value for money if you're paying more than $10 US. It's not collectable like the single issue versions are (though only the 9/11 issue seems to be worth money these days). It's not the most efficient means to fill your JMS run out if you don't have Volume 1 or Volume 3 of the same printed run. It's got Flowers for Rhino which breaks the JMS run up. Overall I'd give you this advice for buying it: get it if the cost of the book and shipping is under $12 US, and you have Volume 1 or Volume 3 in this run and aren't think of swapping to the Ultimate Collection editions. As far as reading it again goes, sure flip through it quickly if you're reading JMS' run through, otherwise skip to Flowers, and leave the rest in the mental bin it belongs in.

Well after thinking that I was on to a good thing last week, I'm really not sure what to go for next week. For a change of pace I'll go with something I've been meaning to get around to re-reading.
I mean, the cover claims it's "Vikings finally done right", how could that go wrong?

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1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed "The Conversation". It had the right level of emotion and I'm not sure any other writer could have added much more. Good stuff Westy.