Along Came a Spider

Our next scheduled stop on the Treasury and Tabloid route is Superman vs. the Amazing Spider-Man. Before we arrive there, however, I want  to discuss a couple of more contemporary Spider-Man collections which I read over the Xmas holidays (  already receding into memory!)

Lewis Marvel Encyclopediia

My friend Jason’s wee boy Lewis is devoted to the Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon. He’s six and he likes White Tiger and  Iron Fist (“His name is Danny”, he reminded me). So do I. Isn’t it incredible that after fifty years, Peter Parker still has an appeal for kids?  Superman just doesn’t seem to resonate in the same way. Why Marvel doesn’t produce a mainstream comic-perhaps New Avengers?- with this line-up astounds me. Above, you can see us reading the Marvel Encyclopedia. Lewis, tellingly, also likes most 90s characters, such as Onslaught, Exodus and Venom. ( One of my S2 kids loves Venom. And Carnage).

Spider-Man also lends himself to reinterpretation, like Batman.  2005’s Spider-Man: India was produced by Gotham Studios Asia for Marvel and is a re-imagining of the Lee/Ditko masterpiece, in the style of DC’s Elseworlds.

Mumbai teenager Pavitr Prabkhar is given his powers by a Brahmin-like figure ( a lot like the wizard Shazam). He loses his Uncle Bhim to a criminal act and goes on to fulfil his karma facing Nalin Oberoi, a megalomaniac industrialist who has been transformed into a raksha or demon. The Indian version of Doctor Octopus is a many-armed  demon also and so the series has echoes of recent interpretations of Captain Marvel ( cf. Trials of Shazam).

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Pavitr’s rural background makes him an outsider but his imagination is coloured by the Bollywood industry. His Spidey-outfit with its dhoti and pointy sandals makes an organic design element but aside from a slight Manga influence, the look of the book is very dark and Nineties. But then so is ninety per cent of the New 52.

India is set to overtake China as the most populous place on Earth and its young people are greedy for American brands. How exciting would it have been for Pavitr Prabkhar to be an original creation (perhaps Dharma or Deva?) tapping into the fecundity of India? Particularly for Britain, where we  consume Indian cuisine, cinema, literature and the Bhangra sound. Also, how daring would it be to pit a young super hero against the corrupt  globalisation of trade and sweat shop labour?

I feel much the same way about a second re-imagining of the web-slinger. Ultimate Comics, like the New 52, was a “soft reboot” of  Marvel’s stable of Lee/Kirby/Ditko characters. Over a decade ago, it was decided to jettison nearly forty years of continuity and begin afresh with a modern sensibility and an eye on marketing the characters to the film and tv industries.

And it worked: Avengers Assemble is informed far more by Mark Millar’s Ultimates rather than Thomas, Englehart, Shooter or Stern. But the Ultimate Universe was always a dark and nihilistic setting and its most high-profile casualty was its longest-running and most successful character Peter Parker. I’ve blogged about Brian Bendis and his Avengers tenure on Place ( short version: actually, mostly necessary and entertaining). The introduction of a successor for Peter  is certainly one of Bendis’s most controversial achievements.

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Ultimate Comics Spider-Man: Who is Miles Morales tells the story of  a black-Latino adolescent who acquires spider-powers and how his guilt over the death of Spider-Man causes him to take the mantle. It’s a charming story, inspired by the multi-racial make-up of the writer’s own family. Miles is only thirteen and through a lottery, has been accepted into a progressive school ( not Xavier’s!). When visiting his uncle, the criminal Prowler, he is bitten by one of OzCorp’s mutated spiders and gains a venom blast and camouflage powers. An encounter with Spider-Woman and the Ultimates sets Miles on the path of super-hero-dom.

Much as I liked Andrew Garfield’s lanky ( and randy!) nerd Parker, I rather wish Miles’s version had reached the Big Screen. However, I would also rather that the biracial wall-crawler had been an absolutely original creation. There are plenty of moribund names at Marvel: how about Yellowjacket or better still, The Buzz? The milieu  of the hero is refreshingly different from the exclusively all-white world of mainstream Marvel and DC and I think this story would speak to a global audience.  While I think it would be better invent new heroes, however, I recognise that we live in a world of revived Merlins and Sherlocks : one where even Doctor Who, like Spider-Man,  is fifty.

Coming soon ( honestly) Superman Vs. Spider-Man

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The Bad and the Beautiful

We interrupt the scheduled post on the ‘optikon to briefly review some comics from the end of 2013. I’m a bit behind over on Some Fantastic Place but when I’ve caught up, we’ll return to the Tabloids and Treasuries here. I may also be revisiting Fireside Books “Origins of Marvel Comics”  series later in 2013.

Followers of Place will be aware it’s my custom (of nearly thirty years standing!)  to save up December’s comics for a marathon read on Christmas morning. Here then are my thoughts on that haul:

Smallville Season 11: my film-making former protege Thomas Simpson, who blogs at Moviescramble, recommended this title. Unfortunately, I really disliked it. I think DC should definitely have a Smallville/ Lois and Clark title:  the series kept Superman in the public eye for a decade after all. However the teeny-tiny panels by Kevin West and Axel Gimenez were  thoroughly unappealing and I was squeamish about Luthor’s lewd reference to the “business end of Oliver Queen”.  I quite liked the Prankster, the Captain Carrot toys and even the Barbara Gordon incarnation of Nightwing although: why? Why not Batgirl/Woman? But it was a clumsily-told story, with poor pacing and art. Sorry, Simmy.

Green Lantern: this was the Zero Month issue which introduced Simon Baz, the Muslim Lantern. This attempt to bring more ethnicity and diversity to comics is a spectacular misfire. Your high-profile Arab hero is a car thief and terrorism suspect, with a glowing tattoo? I  thought that was a sin under Islam, unless it’s henna, but please inform me if I’m wrong here. Anyway, the comic read like a bad, bad movie script. Moving on…

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Captain Marvel: while waiting for the Strathaven bus over a week ago, I killed some time in East Kilbride library leafing through Essential Ms. Marvel. Having become more of a household name through the Avengers: EMH cartoon, Ms. M has been revived in her own comic for the third time, finally taking on the mantle of Mar-Vell. I was pleased to see 70s supporting cast member Tracy Burke again. I was less taken with the Kree-style helmet and I thought the painted art by Soy was murky and horrid. This upbeat and confident take on the much-abused Marvel would have benefited from the colourful artistry on the cover.

Legion of Super-Heroes: I hope I’m not too disappointed when Keith Giffen returns; ever since the launch of the new 52, this has been a boring read. In this episode, enigmatic sorceress Glorith ( formerly the name of a major villainess in the 5YL LSH- so is this going anywhere, Paul?) is about to be burned as a witch in futuristic Barcleona. The explosion of Gaudi architecture  and the spotlight on the newest members) were the most interesting things about this issue. I hate Levitz’s  approach- drip-feeding the action every month. He did this around 1986-88 with Greg Larocque and I have no patience to sit through it again. I’m dismayed to say it but I wish Jason Aaron were writing LSH instead.

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Justice League: after the Arab-American Lantern debacle, Geoff Johns injects some Legion of Doom/Super Friends references into the League.  The Cheetah ( who is pretty much the mystical Perez version from the 80s) is in contact with Black Manta, while the Scarecrow’s goons are kidnapping witnesses.  Meanwhile, we’re still getting the artificial and irritating Wonder Woman-Superman romance.

I do however, enjoy, the retelling of Captain Marvel’s origin. It appears from the cover of issue  15 that Johns and Frank’s Shazam will be inducted shortly during this Aquaman crossover ( Aquaman is cool! Just ponder that one! And where is the Sub-Mariner- a superior creation and more interesting monarch- exactly?).

Batman Inc: I like the positioning of Talia as the head of the Leviathan terror cult but Morrison’s ability to create horribly realistic death-traps always unsettles me. I hope Knight and Squire survive this storyline;  I would have liked another Paul Cornell series for the arch pair but since he’s the new Wolverine writer, I think it highly unlikely. The only complaint I have is with Chris Burnham’s small panels: I find identifying the four different Robins quite a chore. In fact, is it only four?

Action Comics: Morrison’s run on Action has delivered a really interesting series of Superman tales. I’m not keen at all on the Jim Lee costume; the fireman identity wasn’t that successful and I miss the Lois/Superman relationship.

However, the 5th dimensional aspects of the story have been fascinating.”Superman’s Mission to Mars” is a sci-fi horror story about zombie angels: the Multitude, alluded to in previous issues. This issue also sees the return of the Metaleks: Bob the Builder characters crossed with the Daleks and first mentioned in the Black Death/Superbia/Grodd  storyline in JLA Classified about seven years ago, I think.

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“Superman at the End of Days” features the evil sprite Vyndktvx  and his Anti-Superman Army- all the villains from the previous issues : Drekken, the evolving monster; psionic Susie; Nimrod the Hunter; Metalek and the mummy-like Xa-Du. The villains appear to have struck at Ma and Pa Kent in a typically timey-wimey Morrison story.  There’s even an allusion to silly Zardoz-parody, Vartox and Super-Turtle, a  Silver Age cartoon strip. The Chris Sprouse back ups are very pretty ( I also dislike Lee’s Wonder Woman costume too, for the record). Sprouse is especially creative, depicting a  Disney-fied storybook 5th Dimension.

However, the best new comic of the bunch was Hawkeye but I’ll be discussing that  one on our sister site…

Coming soon on Place: Avengers – the Bendis Years. Coming soon on the ‘optikon: who is Miles Morales?

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The Good Old Year is with the Past

We’ll be back at the weekend with more Treasuries and  Tabloids  but for now, let’s usher in 2013 with seasonal images from DC and Marvel calendars of bygone years:

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Is that Abra Kadabra or Tannarak in the white evening dress?

1977-1DCWWJanA

1977-4DCPMApr

1977-7DCHawksJul

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1977-08DCJSAAug

1977-10DCDeadmanOct

1977-12DCShazamDec

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Marvel Calendar 1980 Doctor Strange - 07A

Avengers Marvel calendar Perez

Conan 1976

So, there we have it: some of my Silver and Bronze Age favourites – heroes and villains.  Have a happy and prosperous New Year!

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