Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Decompression Project - Hmm, do you think we could place MORE products in that shot?

Ultimate Spider-Man: Hollywood

I swear I am reading comics other than Ultimate Spider-man (okay, not really), but I’ve been managing to get these all in a row so the project continues. This is the collection that shamelessly plugs the Spider-man movie. A lot. It feels a bit too much like Avi Arad’s Spider-man Unlimited compared to the Spider-man cartoon that preceded it. And guess who is one of the guest stars? I can just imagine what fandom was like when this was just hitting the shelves. Heck, it annoyed me a bit, I can only imagine the mouth frothing that occurred during the actual release of the comic.

I guess in some ways this is the Ultimatization of Marvel’s tradition of shameless hucksterism. Only rather than Stan Lee show up or an editor’s note telling you about something related to another series, it’s a plug for their Spider-man movie. It’s all a bit distracting when the real world crosses over into the fictional one in ways that don’t particularly contribute to the story. This is the dark side of Grant Morrison talking to Animal Man, in that it doesn’t really do anything but plug the movie. Sure there is a connection to the plot but it’s a real MacGuffin in that regard. The movie could be anything to get Dr. Octopus and Spider-man to showdown and get Gwen involved in Peter’s secret life.

I do have to say though, for shameless plugs it is slightly charming. I like this version of Peter Parker quite a lot and having him generally annoy the filming but be taken in by big bad Hollywood is perfect for this universe. Then there is the new Dr. Octopus. I do quite like his connection to the arms and having them act as two separate characters. It moves him out of any possible sympathy or goofy villain of the week syndromes he suffered from previously. Yes, he’s still the chubby goofball that gets beaten up but when he’s in full moustache twirling mode I like the Ultimate Dr. Octopus quite a bit.

He’s more of the brilliant doctor that is unable to deal with everyday things like combing hair or using manners, but he’s also a much scarier and formidable threat with his consciousness split between his human and robotic side. He’s part symbiotic, part Two-Face, part mad scientist and just perfect for slightly undercooked plans of destruction. All in all, he’s just inhuman enough here to really remain someone you don’t feel sympathy for in any regard. He’s creepy, he’s violent, and while he’s really a sad case you really want Spidey to hit him a few more times for good measure because he’s the underhanded small man.

And, while all this is a decent little bust up between Spider-man and Dr. Octopus the real crux of the story was getting Gwen to put the pieces together to move her from outsider to insider in Peter’s secret life. I do like Gwen in this series because to me this character is much better set up than Mary Jane to be the girl with problems but is working them out partly because of the naivety of youth and partly because she is simply put into a tough spot and has the strength to simply continue. Whereas the conflicts in Mary Jane’s backstory seem somewhat tacked on to give her some more depth, Gwen’s were created to serve a story. This, to me, is what helps her fit into the Ultimate Spider-man milieu better than MJ. Yes, MJ is now integral to Spider-man (although the current run of reportedly good stories after the impish annulment would point to this not being completely true), so she had to be involved but Gwen feels more like a creation than an addition if that makes any sense.

Her confidence feels slightly more real, her independence is more understandable and her blame laying is also something that works within the universe as it has been created as opposed to Aunt May suddenly expounding about how she’s freaked out yet obsessed with Spider-man. Gwen’s life was directly affected by Spider-man and it was inevitable that she would piece it all together. I think her personality is a good counterpoint to Peter’s and their relationship together is one that feels better than the Peter and MJ duality that feels more reflective than anything else. And at the same time I find it completely ridiculous that Gwen is living with the Parkers. It’s like they needed her to be in Peter’s life somehow so voila, she’s been taken it. Then again, that’s probably why I like it so much – because it is simply the most comic-booky of all relationships.

So this is a lot of reflection upon a decent villain vs. Spider-man story that leads to Gwen’s somewhat rushed entry into Peter’s private life that is distracted by the fact Marvel was making a Spider-man movie in the real world (and they really wanted you to know that Avi Arand was important). In the end I’m glad they’ve gotten Gwen involved but because it felt rushed I feel myself being slightly suspicious of her behavior. I do think the revelation works and fits both characters but I can’t help but feel this would have worked better if it was the first time Peter’s identity was revealed to anyone (whether it was MJ or Gwen). I can’t help but think that a bigger build up would have helped set up the Ultimate world a bit more. Then again, the way things have been up to know I think that going against expectations for that type of thing has worked out quite well.