Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The Decompression Project: Part 3

Ultimate Spider-Man Vol. 5: Public Scrutiny
Bendis and Bagely

Yes, this is part three but volume 5. I read the first two hardcover books which cover volumes one through four of the trade paperbacks. As far as I can tell anyway.

This collection of stories did two things that I can think of just off the top of my head. The first is that it followed up the big action of the last arc (the return of the Green Goblin) with a lull in the action and made it a bit more personal in the lead up to the Venom storyline and it also marked the first time I saw panels copied directly to intersperse dialogue (you know those pacing reaction shots that people all over the internet make fun of).

The first issue covered is probably one of my favourites so far. It has Peter Parker at high-school trying to navigate the maze of his personal life to get into costume and stop The Rhino’s rampage downtown. On a side note I really like the Ultimate Rhino costume. I still prefer the classic version but this one actually makes a bit of sense to have it as a big suit of armour. Anyway, he finally shows up to see Iron Man has the threat contained. This issue just captures the essence of Spider-man perfectly. Personal problems affect his superheroing and that’s the entire basis of the issue. He’s not Mr. Perfect, he’s just a high-school kid trying to do right and isn’t ready for all the responsibility he’s taking on – but he’s heroic for taking it on and he mostly succeeds. This isn’t just a silly joke issue, although it is structured around a silly joke, but it gives us as a reader a break from Spider-man always fighting impossible odds and winning. We need to be reminded that he’s not perfect so when he does win the victory is all that more heroic.

The rest of the issues are about someone dressed up as Spider-Man robbing banks to retell the Captain Stacey arc. I found this arc a bit more personal than the last, even though the Green Goblin stories are always about striking at Peter where his heart and home are. This story allowed him to realize the fine line he walks. Whenever Spider-Man beats up the Green-Goblin he can pretty much go for broke, especially in the Ultimate books where this is an extremely powerful bad guy who has no problems killing anything in his path. Spidey’s back is essentially against the wall and if he doesn’t win he probably dies.

In this story Peter tracks down a killer masquerading as Spider-man, who not only robbed a lot of banks but kills Gwen Stacey’s father. So, he’s pissed when he finally catches up with him and lays the smack down. Only this time when the guy takes his mask off we see Peter has beaten up a regular person – a violent criminal sure, but not an overpowerful super-villain. Peter comes face to face with his own power and an otherwise run of the mill double identity story is suddenly much much better because it’s got emotional resonance.

On the personal side Peter doesn’t recognize how much MJ has been suffering since her traumatic run in with the Green Goblin. He did try to throw her off a couple of rather high structures which would affect anyone. Peter makes the mistake of all young people when dealing with those first relationships. He assumes that because he’s okay so is the other person. But MJ is far from okay, and on top of dealing with this trauma Gwen Stacey is now living with Peter because of some pretty ham-fisted plot developments. Personally I think the whole Gwen Stacey storyline could have been saved for a few years, but that’s just me rewriting something I never wrote in the first place. It serves the plot but it still feels forced to me in retrospect.

Anyway, the emotional bleacher break up scenes stood out for me because I noticed the duplicate panels stuck in to “pace” the scene. It felt a bit unnecessary to me. I don’t think these reaction shots added anything to the scene especially when it’s the exact same panel repeated. I’m happy they’re trying a few new things in the personal and emotional scenes, don’t get me wrong, it just doesn’t work for me is all. It doesn’t ruin the story and I don’t think it deserves the amount of online grief these scenes get but I can see how if overused this repetition will overstay its welcome.

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Okay, here’s how I’d have handled the Gwen Stacey plot line, but bear in mind I haven’t read the rest of this series yet so I don’t really know what happens. Personally, I’d have her show up whenever Peter gets to University. I’d still have the relationship problems with MJ but when Peter goes to NYU or whatever, I’d have MJ go somewhere else and they’d pretend to be together but eventually realize they were fooling themselves into thinking they’d last in a long distance relationship. They’re young and need to make that type of mistake because anyone who has been to college or university knows people who have tried this or tried it themselves. Anyway, enter Gwen Stacey and then do the Stacey plotlines and the MJ conflict. After the Gwen plot reaches its inevitable conclusion that’s when you bring back MJ.

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Oh, Vol. 6 is in repair at the library so it may take even longer before I get it an review it. Who knew Venom was so popular?


plok said...

Glad you didn't forget about this feature, Jon, I want to read your reactions to Ultimate Venom, and I'm curious where USM'll start to fall apart for you. I actually can't quite remember where it started to fall apart for me...in my memory it just seems to go straight from Greatest Thing Ever to Oh God Not More Of This Again...

No, wait, I'm wrong. I do remember when it all fell apart for me. Huh. ...So like I say, I'll be curious to see if you have that same break-point. Ultimate Venom really made me a believer, actually! But then later...I mean I suppose it's possible you won't have a break-point at all, but I'll be a little surprised if you don't.

joncormier said...

The duplicated panels here irked me on a level I don't understand and probably more than they should have.

I'll give the whole series a shot - it is free after all. The major factor in delaying these reviews is simply the availability of the books via the Ottawa Library system. Someone out there is reading these, not just me, which I find comforting.