Mar. 24th, 2014

seriousfic: (Secret of the Kells)
Okay, this is gonna focus mainly on the Peter Parker/Miles Morales transition, but having read a lot of the Ultimate Spider-Man books and actually having gotten into comic books as a result of the first Ult TPBs, I wanna touch on the series as a whole from Hippie!Uncle Ben to The Death of Spider-Man.

1.      My reaction to Bendis is sort of like Abed trying to comprehend Nic Cage in Community. He’s done some really good work, and he’s also done a lot of stuff that is objectively shitty and dumb (*cough* Ultimate Doomsday *cough cough* THREE separate miniseries that could’ve been told in six issues, tops *cough cough* Ultimate Reed Richards turning evil without any explanation in any of the TWELVE issues specifically about Reed Richards turning evil *cough cough cough*). And maybe it’s just that he became Marvel’s version of Geoff Johns and possibly got spread too thin, working on stuff he’s not necessarily passionate or well-suited for. I don’t think he’s such a singular talent that we need to see Brian Michael Bendis’s Moon Knight!!! just to see Bendis’s Moon Knight, absent a compelling story. But I think one of my pet peeves is that Bendis quite obviously writes for the trades, so every twenty-four pages he’s just obliged to pull out a cliffhanger that can be completely arbitrary aside from saying “this issue is done! Buy the next issue!” I’m thinking of a crossover with the X-Men where they fight Deadpool, pull off his mask to reveal it’s (shocker!) Charles Xavier, then the next issue they just say it was Deadpool using a disguise to mess with them. What’s the point?

2.      Alright, you might say that’s not so bad, but the hundredth issue brings back Peter’s father Richard, assumed dead, and he takes twenty pages to explain how he cheated death, what he’s been doing, and so on. Then it turns out that that was all lies and he’s just a clone. On a double-sized milestone issue, Bendis spent half the book on what might as well have been a dream sequence. That just offends me as a writer. I mean, fuck, maybe I write about three Doctor Who characters fisting each other, but it still counts. I don’t wrap it up by saying “nah, they were just implanted memories of fisting. Back to the status quo!” Sorry. Pisses me off.

3.      And yet on the other hand, I feel it’s a laudable goal to do a Spider-Man book that is basically a teen soap opera for teens, much as the first Spider-Man comics were. It isn’t a direction they had to go—the Amazing Spider-Man movies took a similar set-up and made it all about Peter’s epic struggle against evil, his destiny as the Chosen One, blah blah—Ult is far more concerned with Peter’s struggles at school and circle of friends, which is something the 616 universe simply can’t do now that Peter Parker is a fucking Avenger. So even as a glorified AU, I feel Ult is justified. It’s basically a long-form version of the same storytelling you get with the first few Harry Potter books: who’s dating who, what classes are what, and oh, we have to solve this mystery or fight this guy.

4.      In fact, I’d say the Ultimate universe as a whole is better if seen just through the prism of Ultimate Spider-Man. If you literally ignored all the other Ultimate books (as much fun as Ellis’s FF or Vaughn’s X-men were) and said to yourself that the Ultimates and Wolverine only existed as recurring characters in Spider-Man’s book, you’d think the Ultimate Universe was pretty damn great. My go-to example here is a storyline where it comes out that Liz Allen’s father was Blob of the Brotherhood of Mutants. Magneto, owing a debt to her father, comes to recruit her into the Brotherhood. The whole thing ends with a sweet scene where Magneto, in the past, discusses Blob’s child with him and says he’ll take care of her if anything happens to Blob.

5.      If you only know the characters from Spider-Man, it’s a very human, touching moment. But if you’ve read the Ultimates or X-Men, you know Blob will eventually kill Wasp by eating her and then be killed in the same way by Ant-Man, that Magneto is literally a genocidal maniac, etc. Likewise, Nick Fury and the Ultimates would seem to be reasonable if uninformed authority figures to Peter’s eyes, while in other titles they’re all a bunch of maniacs. I don’t think this discrepancy was intentional; Millar and Bendis are both writing these characters as heroic or villainous, Bendis is just able to pull it off without having anyone eat babies while having sex with more babies because it’s shocking.

6.      Another example: In Ultimate Spider-Man, the ‘Ultimatum Wave’ devastates New York, killing Daredevil and Dr. Strange as well as several civilians. If you just read Spider-Man, you can assume that this was all part of some vast, epic story that Spider-Man just wasn’t involved in. That’s realistic. But if you actually read it, you see that Spider-Man’s world is one in which the fate of mankind is partially determined by Quicksilver fucking his sister. It’s like if Veronica Mars were set in Michael Bay’s Transformers movies. You’d assume that these grandiose machines and vast collateral damage were part of some incredible story the author was just hinting at, perhaps solely for symbolic reasons. You’d see Veronica Mars investigating a murder at an Autobot battle site and wonder at what amazing events transpired there. Then you’d watch the movie and find out that it was a robot pterodactyl killing Ken Jeong for calling himself Deep Wang.

That I suppose should bring us to The Death of Spider-Man, which it won’t surprise you to find I don’t like. Some writing has turned me around on a death, like the Question’s in 52, but I always feel there’s some unpleasant subtext to all these stories where a minority character only gets the nod to become a legacy hero after their predecessor is brutally, ignominiously murdered. It seems designed to cast a pall on the new guy and invite unflattering comparisons, as Jaime Reyes et al only got the job through an old favorite being slaughtered. “Oh, you like this new minority character? Well, you have to like the fact that we took the old guy behind the barn and put him down like a lame horse too.” Wouldn’t it be less callous to give the old-timer a happy ending, wrap his story up on a positive note, and then start in on the shiny new hero?

Death of Spider-Man is no exception. I get the feeling a conversation like this took place.

Quesada: Hey, Bendis, my man! Heard about this new petition for Donald Glover to play Spider-Man?

Bendis: Yeah, it’s pretty interesting.

Quesada: What if we took advantage of that and made Spider-Man black? Really got people talking! Maybe even an article on Buzzfeed!

Bendis: That would actually work great. We hate writing Peter Parker as being an adult and married, so let’s just let him and Mary Jane ride off into the sunset and introduce a new, teenage, single Spider-Man who happens to be black?

Quesada: What? Shut the fuck up, Bendis, I’m not making the real Spider-Man black! Make Ultimate Spider-Man black. We don’t give a shit about the Ultimate universe. For God’s sake, we let Loeb write it.

Bendis: I care! I just started this plot about Spider-Man being trained by the Ultimates, and I have these long-standing plots about Ultimate Mysterio and Latveria and the Beetle…

Quesada: Fuck it. Just kill him off, say that a black kid got bitten by some other spider, there ya go.

Bendis: But I haven’t built up to it at all!

Quesada: We’ll just put “Prelude to the Death of Spider-Man” on the covers. That counts. And hey, have the Green Goblin do it. He’s Spider-Man’s arch-nemesis.

Bendis: But he’s dead. He died on-panel. There was a body and everything. I called the story “Death of a Goblin.” Wouldn’t it make more sense for Dr. Octopus to be the big villain, given that he’s been screwing with Peter’s life for the last fifty issues?

Quesada: Nah, Norman survived. And SHIELD put him in a holding facility.

Bendis: Like the one he broke out of last time? Why wouldn’t they just kill him?

Quesada: Because they wouldn’t! They need the obvious psychopath’s help with, you know, science stuff. There aren’t any scientists who aren’t also sociopathic monsters. This is the Ultimate universe.

Bendis: And then he breaks out? How?

Quesada: I don’t care! He just does, okay?

Bendis: Okay, but that makes SHIELD look like a bunch of idiots, having this one guy escape from them multiple times. Why would they even imprison him in the same city as a bunch of innocent civilians he’s sworn to kill?

Quesada: Because they do!

The story itself is adequately written, but it feels like what any high school fanfic writer would come up with if you asked them to kill off Spider-Man. The Sinister Six are after Spider-Man. Some of them get taken out by Spider-Man and some by Spider-Man’s supporting cast, because if you’re in a comic book for more than twenty issues you’re able to use a pistol against a supervillain more effectively than a gazillion SHIELD agents or cops, even though you’re literally a hundred-year-old woman and not a SHIELD agent or cop (requiem eternum, Electro). Then Spider-Man dies to accomplish nothing more than stopping a band of villains who—only wanted to kill him. And everyone feels bad and talks about how great he was in a six-issue miniseries, interspersed with ads for other great Ultimate Universe comics **thumbs up**

You could’ve plunked that plot down anywhere in Ultimate Spider-Man’s run and it would’ve worked just as well. And Peter Parker dying to take down Norman Osborn just does not work for me. That’s assuming he is dead and not just living life in a secret holding cell somewhere like he was last time. Norman isn’t the master villain of the 616 universe. Here, he’s just a loon who transforms into a big monster and roars about hating Spider-Man while Spider-Man tells him how crazy he is. This guy is a threat so huge he demands a heroic sacrifice to stop him? He’s the supervillain equivalent of a guy who goes into a mall with an AK-47 and opens up. Destructive and evil, sure, but killing him didn’t save the world, didn’t save the city—all it saved was Peter’s aunt and girlfriend. Noble, sure, but not the stuff of legends. And after all the talk of Peter’s grand journey and heroic destiny, it coming down to him stopping six cheap thugs with nasty powers seems like a cruel joke.

I’m not saying that Peter Parker should’ve been Spider-Man forever. And I get how hard it would be to end his story when he’s committed to being Spider-Man for the rest of his life. But if you have a reputation as one of the comic book industry’s top writers and you’ve been doing this passion project since the turn of the millennium, don’t you owe your readers an ending more creative and more satisfying than “he died with his boots on. NOW CHECK OUT THE BRAND-NEW SPIDER-MAN! HE’S BLACK!”?

I say this not because I don’t like Miles Morales as a character, but because the circumstances of Peter’s death should make his heroism COMPLETELY UNTENABLE.

Nick Fury: Peter’s death was my fault. All of SHIELD and the Ultimates are to blame. We didn’t give him the help, the support, or the training that he needed. And we will just have to carry that staggering guilt with us for the rest of our damned lives.

Miles Morales: Hey, I have spider-powers too—turning invisible and giving people electric shocks, much like a spider would—and I’m gonna be the new Spider-Man!

Nick Fury: Coo’, here’s a costume and some webshooters, k bai.

Captain America: We gonna do anything about him not, ya know, dying in agony?

Nick Fury: Eh, he can handle it. What’s the worst that could happen?

Captain America: Dying. In agony. Like the last Spider-Man.

Nick Fury: …I look like Samuel L. Jackson with an eyepatch.

You see how that strikes me as being complete bullshit? 


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