Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Decompression Project - Oh the Carnage!

I should seriously consider just changing the name of this blog to Jon's Once a Week Thoughts on the Ultimate Spider-man Trade Collections.  But I'm not totally into the whole, overly descriptive thing.  If you've read any of my posts, you'll most likely agree.  Anyway, I do have some Corto Maltese comics at home but reading in French takes a lot more effort than I'm able to give these days (new job, started yesterday) and I've been slowly enjoying the first Essential Avengers collection – more marvelous marvel machinations soon!  Ugh, too much Stan Lee in my brain.


So, on with The Decompression Project.  You know, I have to say that for the most part I've been enjoying my time spent with Ultimate Spider-man.  I think this is a great interpretation on both Spider-man and Peter Parker.  It works well with him as a high-school student although it would be nice to have him a bit more science geeky and just once I'd like him to remain confident and non-emo for one entire story arc.  Okay that's probably not ever going to happen, since that is the core of the character.  Bad things happen, he feels bad and perseveres simply because it is the right thing to do no matter how much he tries to dress it up with recurring inspirational quotes.  He almost can't help himself and that point is brought home in this story where we have the Ultimate version of Spider-man No More for about a half issue or so.


I do find this a weird series though because while on the one hand it is very slow on the other hand it is guilty of skimming the surface of the conflict.  Yes, I like the character moments but there needs to be further examination into the conflict as well as the personal.  The formula appears to be spend a lot of time with Peter and MJ (as well as the rest of Peter's personal life cast) then the same amount of pages only with big splash fight panels for the villain of the week.  I have no problems whatsoever with the villain of the week approach, in fact I quite like it.  No, I just find that each issue feels like wasted opportunity to really delve into the differences, themes and metaphors presented by each conflict as Spider-man.


This book is obviously about Carnage.  Now, I'm lucky in that I managed to never read a Carnage comic.  I mean, Venom I can handle but giving the suit to a maniac, okay more maniacal maniac, was just a bit too much.  It always felt like, hey kids, Carnage, the new Spidey villain is like Venom only more extreme, to the max!  And in that regard I do like what they did with the Ultimate Carnage.  Simply removing any humanity from the character helps make it actually somewhat terrifying and moves it into Dr. Frankenstein territory for Dr. Connors.  That is not such a terrible move.


Having Curt Connors as a sympathetic character was a decent break from the Ultimate villains as actual scary threats.  It allows Spider-man to not only have a scary brainless thug to beat on, in the doctor's monstrous creation, but a victim of circumstance for Peter to interact with.  It's never a bad thing to add a bit of humanity to your villains when you are exploring potential for conflict.  The good doctor is trying his hardest but is fated to fail because he cannot see beyond himself and his own beliefs in what he is doing, in his own reasons for acting.


And then we have the death of Gwen, which cheapens the whole thing for me.  Okay, I don't need total rehash of the original story, but why the heck was Carnage the villain to do the deed?  I guess it should work because it is a creation of Peter in a certain sense.  That Peter's life has a direct effect on those around him is probably what the driving idea was but it just felt like the book was required to set Carnage up as a major threat and since everyone knew Gwen was fated to die anyway….. So it goes.


It's too bad because I think it should have all been handled a bit better, and could have been within the story.  There were some great aspects that simply weren't connected as well as they should have been – Peter giving birth to a perverted image of himself and his father, Dr. Connors in the role of Dr. Frankenstein, and well just evil genetic stuff.  There was some very strong stuff to work with but in the end it rang hollow to me.  I won't presume to be able to do a better job or anything but while the connections are there under the surface of the story, I may just be seeing things that were never intended and that's where my criticism comes in.


plok said...

And that's where the magic finally went out of it all, for me, with "Ultimate Death Of Gwen Stacy" -- I looked at that, and I just couldn't see the point of it. Why waste Ultimate Gwen? And I think it was a waste...I mean, I don't need her not to die...we all knew she was going to die...but this seemed so desultory to me that it ruined my faith in the Ultimate project. Surely the point here was always to defamiliarize the old Spidey plot points and characters, so that when the big inevatibilities went down they would, against all odds, elicit a little added emotion/compassion from the reader? Ultimate Venom impressed me because Bendis and Bagley found a way to do it better, and in the same motion tie it into the pervading Ultimate themes of hidden pasts, conspiracies, and obliquely foreshadowed dooms...but not without an ingredient of hope. Even Aunt May's issue-long trip to the shrink had an element of this in it, which I'd hoped would pay off later down the road in some kind of dramatic inversion of the classic Spidey bits. Of course while I was still waiting for this: Ultimate Carnage. Now, Bendis had said he had no intention of doing Ultimate Venom, he'd given the strong impression that he hated Venom and thought Venom was stupid, so he intended to keep him out of this newer, cooler Spider-Man...but then he started to hint at having found a meaningful way to use Venom after all, and then he hinted some more, and then when it came out it made a kind of proof (to me, anyway) that the Ultimate project was sensitive and responsible in the way it revisited Marvel history. That it was in some small way rehabilitative. But then, Carnage? Really, Bendis? At this point all my doubts got a hell of a lot doubtier...and then Ultimate Gwen gets, let's call a spade a spade, offed, and I thought...

Well, what is there left for me to wait for? Ultimate Silver Sable, or something?

In a way, USM was like a big riff on "will they/won't they" TV shows...we know everything that's coming, we just don't know how it's coming. But as with the WT/WT TV plotlines, what draws people in can as easily turn them off, if it's not handled just so. You can kill it with coyness -- and at a certain point, decompression becomes Moonlighting, doesn't it? -- but you can also kill it with quickness. Or rather, with volatility...USM was so coy about what Gwen's ultimate (sorry) place in its scheme was to be that when she was abruptly liquidated by one of the lamer (and more laboured) Spider-Man villains ever to come along, I felt like, okay, I guess ya got me...that was an inversion, all right, and it did in fact up-end my expectations...

But to what purpose?

I was going to write a post called "Peter Parker: Pretty Poignant" at one, uhh, point...just to say, the Sixties Peter Parker had it a bit tough, the Seventies version took it on the chin quite a lot, the Eighties version just could not win...but the Ultimate Peter Parker, man, I pity that poor bastard. From day one his life has been crap. It's been absolutely brutal. Forget the old Parker Luck, this is like being cursed by Apollo, and then being cursed by Zeus on top of it! And here's another mishandling of the "will they/won't they" tension, too...because we know perfectly well that in mainstream Marvel continuity, things pretty much just careen downhill for our hero from this point. Downhill! What, there's some downhill left? Well, I guess Aunt May could find out the big secret and then actually have a heart attack and die from shock...

Sorry, ranting...but what I mean is this: forget winning, nobody even ever gets away with a tie in this book. Spider-powers...the little kid in me says "phfft! Keep 'em, it wouldn't be worth it."

And that kind of blows it for me right there.

joncormier said...

Yeah it really does feel like they're just going out of their way to be mean to the character at this point doesn't it. I'm going to persevere, but I think you've managed to better articulate some of my concerns.

Yes it is inevitable that this was going to happen, but, man, talk about mishandling. Not that on paper any of the elements seem totally bad to me it's just this particular mix that wasn't a total hit.

I feel my approach to these books is now - don't mind reading them but find it hard to really say anything coherent because while I like the parts I'm not in love with the whole, although I usually enjoy it at the time. It's not quite bad enough for me to walk away from but I really think the format I'm reading in has a lot to do with it. I'm not actually buying these books, I'm renting them from the library, I'm getting complete storylines at once rather than monthly installments. I wouldn't actually pay for these books but getting them for more or less free (my taxes do pay for their upkeep) they're totally worth the read.