Oct 10, 2018

There's a Spider-Man for Everyone

Has it really been over a year since I wrote a full column about Spider-Man? That's weird, huh? Spider-Man was one of the topics I built this website on, with articles that still get hits to this very day for some reason (no, really, a bunch of you are damn passionate, and that's great for Spider-Man, because that means there's always going to be an audience). It's eight years later, and now I find that I haven't written about Spider-Man, my favorite character, in a year.

But man, have I got feelings about Spidey, though. So much has happened for our friendly neighborhood wall-crawler in 2018, and a whole year has passed, and I gotta talk about it!

Spider-Man Musings in 2018
by Duy

One of the main reasons I haven't written about Spider-Man in a while is because I dropped the comics. One of the first articles I wrote on The Comics Cube is about how ending Spider-Man's marriage to Mary Jane Watson revitalized the character for me and brought him back to a state where I could believe he could have personal drama, as well as to not have it be so overwrought that it felt like I was reading Strangers in Paradise (No offense to SiP fans; I just don't read Spider-Man for the same thing).

Close to ten years later, I'm looking back and realizing that my preference of that particular status quo is only a part of it; a lot of it actually had to do with creative team and tone. While I think John Romita Jr. is a great artist, I've never particularly liked him on Spider-Man unless he was working on crime genre stories. and the main writer for most of Spider-Man's run in the first decade of the millennium, JMS, has never been written comics that I like. I acknowledge that he's got a solid fanbase, but whenever said fanbase tries to show me examples of his "great writing," I get turned off and it solidifies my stance. Put the same exact creative team on the status quo of the past 10 years, and I'm still pretty sure I wouldn't have read the book.

Even when they broke them up, I didn't read the book right away, as Amazing Spider-Man had rotating creative teams under the Brand New Day line. What got me back on it sporadically was a very specific creative team: Dan Slott and Marcos Martin. Now here's the weird thing about it: at that point in time, 2008, I hadn't read the original Stan Lee/Steve Ditko run on Amazing Spider-Man in full. I did so soon after, and writing this now, I realize why I loved Slott and Martin's take on it so much. So much of it was evocative of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, not exactly the same beats, but some of the same riffs. Martin, especially, felt to me like Steve Ditko brought into the modern day. Quirky figures, imaginative layouts, and a range of motion. This was an artist I'd follow anywhere, and I thought Slott brought out the best in him.

So it was that Dan Slott's full-time run on the book, starting with Big Time in 2011, got me back fully. With artists like Martin, Humberto Ramos, Stefano Casselli, and Ryan Stegman, it was a pleasure to read. Unfortunately (for me), the one who'd eventually become Slott's main artist was Giussepe Camuncoli, a guy whose art I'm not crazy about. I think his figurework is too stiff for Spider-Man and his facial expressions are kind of robotic, but he was Slott's guy, and you can't fault someone for choosing someone he wants to work with, to work with.

If that were it, I'd probably have kept reading the book, but it coincided with a few things as well:
  • The line had been flagging for me since the end of Spider-Verse, a storyline that was completely in my wheelhouse and yet managed to disappoint me in the end. (I actually wonder how much of this had to do with editor Steve Wacker leaving. We're never really sure how much editors do and don't shape a book, but Wacker is one of the most visibly felt editors in modern comics. He's not on the same level of Stan Lee, Harvey Kurtzman, Jim Shooter, or Karen Berger, but he's up there in terms of logistical planning and talent selection.) 
  • Slott introduced a new status quo, in which Peter Parker was the global CEO of Parker Industries, basically giving him a Tony Stark setup. This is a drastic departure from his classic setup, obviously, but also a logical one given that he's a master inventor. Read the Lee/Ditko run — he's basically inventing things all the time. But it wasn't a change that I wanted to last and it would have had to eventually bring Peter back down. I might have kept reading the book to see this happen, except I used the status quo opportunity to switch completely to trades. Seriously, I have bought three single issues in the last two years, and two of them were only because Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez had interior art in them and I wanted them. And when this status quo was still in place for three or four trades, I decided to spend my money on other comics, like Carl Barks and Don Rosa collections.
  • Camuncoli eventually left the book to be replaced by Stuart Immonen, an artist right in my wheelhouse, for Slott's big finale involving Norman Osborn and the Carnage symbiote. It all sounds intriguing, but by that time, I'd been gone from the book too long. I'll get to all the ones I missed at some point. Eventually. 
I did come back to the book one final time though: Amazing Spider-Man #801, which came out this past May, as Slott closed off his run with the most fitting artist to close it off with. You guessed it: Marcos Martin. Slott and Martin were the team on "No One Dies," in Amazing Spider-Man #655 and on "Spidey Sundays," both comics I want Marvel to print out in an oversized hardcover. I could not pass it up. I had to buy it. 

Of the three things I just mentioned, 801 ranks third in the Slott/Martin stories in terms of how much I loved it. But that is high praise, because that's how highly I regard those stories. 801 was about someone Spider-Man saved early on in his career, who was always thankful to him because it meant he had a chance to say goodbye to his dad. And we get this spread, this wonderful spread, about how Spider-Man saves a world every day, because every person out there means the world to somebody.

Shoutout also to the sheer inclusiveness of this page, another thing
I love about Slott's run and a lot of Marvel over the past few years.

I love it so much. For all that I thought Slott's run eventually went off the rails, this single issue summarized everything I loved about it in the first place. Motion. Emotion. The idea that what you do has an effect on everything. And I wrapped it up and said, that's it, I'm okay with Spidey now. See, when I love a long run on a character, and that run ends, I can stop indefinitely until I get the itch again. The first comic I ever collected was The Silver Surfer by Ron Marz and Ron Lim. When Lim left the book, my interest waned and I trailed off. I have never bought a new Silver Surfer comic again. When Mark Waid and Brian Augustyn left The Flash, so did I, and that's when I realized I wasn't a Flash fan or a Wally West fan; I was a Waid and Augustyn Wally West fan. Characters like Superman and Captain America, I found, I have multiple short runs of, not years-long runs. (The one exception to all this? Thor. I have four long runs of the Mighty Thor — Stan Lee/Jack Kirby, Walt Simonson, Dan Jurgens/John Romita Jr., and Jason Aaron/Esad Ribic/Russell Dauterman. That's more than I have of any hero. Shit, maybe Thor is my actual favorite character.) And with that, I figure, that's it. I can say bye to Spidey for the foreseeable future.

Except for the fact that the succeeding writer, Nick Spencer, put this in his second issue of Amazing Spider-Man.

Antonio Nelson Ruiz is a friend of mine, and while he won't tell me exactly what his contribution was (is he under an NDA? Only Antonio can know for sure), I find it incredibly funny that it happened in the storyline that finally reunites Peter Parker with Mary Jane Watson. Antonio and I differ on where we stand on the Peter/MJ thing; for me, it's a preference that they're not married  (not necessarily that they're not together, though I still would like to see them make an actual, full attempt to create a third "real" girlfriend for Spider-Man); for him it's a selection. And this was a storyline in which Spider-Man split off into a different personality from Peter Parker, so it seemed like it was going to eventually end with their breakup again, which even I thought would be too mean for fans who waited really long to see their favorite couple back together.

But then that storyline ended, the next story started, Antonio still got his credit, and Boomerang moved into Peter's apartment as his new roommate, and now I'm starting to think this was Antonio's idea.

It's definitely an interesting take on Spider-Man, and I'm gonna let people enjoy it, even if it isn't really clicking for me. Spider-Man is for everyone, and is open to many interpretations.

2018 was also the year of Infinity War and the entire Comics Cube Family was on board for that particular roundtable. What took me by surprise was that almost unanimously, the most powerfully emotional moment was Spider-Man dying.

Strangely, it didn't really hit me in the gut, probably because I'm too deep into the material to really appreciate Infinity War (or any comic book movie, really) as a story. But it was incredible to me to see how much that moment resonated for people, and how important it was for them. And this is a different version of Spider-Man than any we've seen before, as well. This is a young Spider-Man with heroes to look up to, being mentored by an established hero, with friends in school and who's more of an actual nerd than an outsider. Really, he's closer to Miles Morales than any comic version of Spider-Man.

By far my favorite Spider-Man product of 2018 has to be the PS4 game, and once again, it's a completely different version of Spider-Man. A graduate student who's recently broken up with Mary Jane, Peter is reminiscent mostly of Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield put together, in the sense that he's got Garfield's scientific acumen from his movies and kinda sorta even looks like him, but he acts more like Tobey Maguire, if Tobey Maguire were more mature and less annoying in those movies.

The game works with an open environment, which is no stranger to Spider-Man video games, as the Spider-Man 2 game on the PS2 had it. It has Spider-Man's unique set of powers, which has always made him the perfect video game superhero to me. You can replicate Batman's skill set onto a generic video game character. You can replicate Superman's. You can replicate Wolverine's. But you can't replicate Spider-Man's without it feeling exactly like Spider-Man's.

And it's got a story that is tight and well thought out, cinematic and emotionally engaging. It ties Dr. Octopus with Norman Osborn, the Green Goblin, and involves villains such as the Kingpin and the Shocker. It's the most immersive version of Spider-Man yet. And again, it's a different version. I love it.

Spider-Man is for everyone. If one version of Spider-Man isn't for you, another is. There's an animated movie coming out at the end of the year called Into the Spider-Verse, which deals with a Spider-Man multiverse, focused on Miles Morales. I can't wait to see it. At this point in time, Spider-Man is a palimpsest, a piece of fiction that has been written and revised so many times and has fragmented into so many audiences. There is a Spider-Man for everyone. In a weird way, the only "canon" that truly exists is the original Stan Lee and Steve Ditko run; every single version of Spider-Man comes from that.

Which brings us to 2019. Starting January 2nd, Back Issue Ben and I will go back to the beginning and take every Wednesday to discuss an issue of Spider-Man, from his first appearance in Amazing Fantasy #15 all the way to, we hope, Amazing Spider-Man #200. We'll look at things like what aged the best, what didn't, our favorite panels, bits of trivia, and other things. We're going to track how Spider-Man evolved in small but significant ways, and we'll do it every week, as regular content.

If you're a Spider-Man fan, join us. Leave some comments. We'll have a good time.

In the meantime, enjoy Spider-Man. Somewhere, out in the ever-expanding marketplace, in your local comic shop, on Amazon, on Netflix, wherever... there is a Spider-Man story for you.


Cicada 5 said...

I was introduced to Spider-Man via re-runs of the 90s Spider-Man cartoon in my country. I enjoyed them, even though the animation hasn't aged well. My first Spider-Man comic was when he first fought Venom and I had an annual that contained Spider-Man's history all the way up to 2004.

Duy Tano said...

That's kind of incredible that your first comic is one that was published in early 1990, your introduction was a cartoon that came in the mid-1990s, and the annual was in 2004! That's a pretty wide spread.

Cicada 5 said...

Thank you. I'm also a fan of the Spectacular Spider-Man animated show.

Oh and there was this Spider-Man magazine I bought in the U.K where Jameson paid the Shocker to kill Spider-Man. I believe it was a non-canon thing though.

Duy Tano said...

I love Spectacular Spider-Man!

And hey, canon is what you value. If you liked the story and it makes sense in your mind, it's canon.

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