Friday, September 22, 2006

The Ultimate Adventure in Decompression

So I’ve decided that since the library has the collections to Ultimate Spider-man and Ultimate X-men I will be taking on both titles as a challenge to myself. What I wasn’t planning on was that these books would be so dang popular. I have to say, someone is reading these books, and it can’t all be older guys like me, can it?

So I got the first volume of Ultimate Spider-man, and my first thought was “please dear god let this tattered copy not fall to dust in my hands.” Man, that was the rattiest comic I ever laid my hands on, so I’m assuming a lot of younger readers had it before me. The kind I’d call the police on if they had a party next door to my house on a Friday.

I have to say a few things here. I didn’t ever read these books when they came out the first time. I simply wasn’t buying comics then. I did, however, read most of this collection on when they had digicomics or something like that up there on their website. That was a while ago before they actually launched their digital comics (again). Yeah I don’t understand that either, but it’s Marvel, I just roll with it. So these were a bit familiar but I never actually sat down and read them page by page.

I remember there being a bit of a fuss about how Peter Parker never puts on the web-head costume for the entirety of the first issue. Now it doesn’t seem all that unfamiliar or unique. I suppose that since the issue originally came out this type of storytelling in modern comics has become a new sort of standard. There are longer drawn out character moments and we’re introduced to characters through their dialogue and interaction as opposed to the disembodied narration of Stan Lee. This forces the pacing of the story to slow down. We need to see Peter in the basement passing out and working on his web formula in order for them to be introduced later in the story. Without the “voice of Stan” we can’t go from panel one of Peter being bitten to panel two of Spidey swinging around with a caption explaining that when Peter awoke from a fevered sleep he inherently knew how to create spider webbing. That lead to moments of impressionable violence too quickly and too often...(that was sarcasm, which I find easy to say but hard to write).

When reading these comics in a collection they work a lot better than individual issues. The decompressed stories don’t spend time recapping what happened a couple of pages ago. There is no time period of a month between issues when reading the story collected (unless you can’t fit it into your schedule). You have the time to get to understand these characters by how they interact and speak to one another. Simply put, the author has the time and space to have the characters interact, he isn’t limited to a complete story in minimal space. This isn’t a value judgment on new or old stories just an exploration of their differences. I think old school single issues work better as floppy comics. I find it hard to sit down and read Showcase collections in one sitting but Ultimate Spider-man was quite enjoyable, if not more so, in collected form.

I do have to say I enjoyed this story about the same amount I enjoyed the first movie. Yes, I know the story but I also enjoy different people’s interpretation of it. This was a really good update for a new audience. It makes Peter a young kid again who is awkward and going through the general malaise of a fifteen year old boy whose high-school is located on the sixth ring of hell. He’s still into the whacky science experiments like in the old-school cartoon, but it also makes the melodrama usually found in Spider-man comics not seem too far out of synch with the general reality of kids that age. Everything is the end of the world when you’re fifteen/sixteen and it is bloody brilliant that they set the new version of Spidey in that time of the hero’s life.

I like the more intimate portrayal of the character and the world he finds himself in. He’s awkward and feels out of place as much as he’s accepted and made part of the “in” crowd on a whim. It’s a fickle world, the fifteen year old world, but it is expertly captured in this series. It also makes the heroic action that Peter Parker takes feel that much more heroic. He is acting in a manner beyond his young years. While the people he is surrounded by are flitting away at teenage hijinx Peter is dealing with massive changes and is forced to mature really quickly. This is reflected in Harry Osborne and the way they both grow because of similar situations is a fun one to watch. Both will make mistakes but it is Peter who is living up to the what his parent’s saw in him unlike Harry who refuses to accept responsibility for his own actions. At the end of this collection we see Peter ready to grow into his new role where he begins to take responsibility for his own actions while Harry is placing all responsibility for the tragedy in his life on everything external to him.

It is a great parallel, and while the action is big it is tempered and paced out, but the drama is simply captivating. This series is a great read to get into later on than the vast majority of comic readers because it shows a fresh take on well known action and stories. This isn’t the deconstruction of the Spiderman mythos but a retelling of the stories with a focus on the character interactions. Sort of refocusing on the strength that was developed and became apparent as the “Marvel Way” of storytelling in the past.


The Fortress Keeper said...

Interestingly enough, I just reserved a bunch of Brian K. Vaughn's Ultimate X-run at my local library.

Still not sure what I think of Ultimate Spidey.

Like a lot of Bendis, I like how the characters interact. But, his Spidey isn't all that funny and sort of lets things happen ... because for whatever reasons heroes have to be passive and somewhat ineffective in his world view.

joncormier said...

I haven't seen that yet. I really get a sense that he's just a fifteen year old kid who is overwhelmed by his surroundings. It really reminds me of the whole point of being fifteen which is pretty much just being obnoxious and not wanting to do anything because you're pissed at the world. That came across in this volume.