Monday, March 17, 2008

The Decompression Project Cuts Loose and Has a Bit of Fun

This volume is all about the guest stars.  There is Wolverine, The Human Torch, Dr. Strange and The Ultimates.  And, you know what?  It's a solid volume nonetheless.  I think it's because the stories managed to change their pace a bit and while some were relatively forgettable you actually get to read a fun little caper involving Marvel's two guest stars – Spidey and Wolverine.


Yes, it is very easy to be cynical about these two characters.  They're completely over used and exploited to the point of ridiculousness but Bendis manages to create a story that is very much in the spirit of yesteryear Marvel hijinx.  You get a story that Bendis introduces as himself with a rather wry sense of humor, and he goes on to poke fun at his own creations during the intro to the second part that even he couldn't force three issues out of this story.  And, well, the story is that Wolverine and Spider-man swap minds.  That's pretty much it.  There is no explanation, they just wake up and deal with each other's reality.  It's hackneyed, it's been done to death, but it hasn't been done since probably the early seventies with any sense of humour about the whole thing and it's just a fun little break from the bleak seriousness.


The Human Torch story is slightly forgettable but it's a decent riff on the friendship between the two characters of relatively the same age that has been in comics for quite some time.  And the Ultimate Dr. Strange was a decent enough, trapped in your own nightmare scenario that seems kind of like Peter is just going through the physical psychokinetic nightmare version of a recap of his comic up to now.  It's kind of like a visually interesting take on what he discusses anyway, so decent but somewhat unnecessary except for the intro of the good doctor and another interesting step towards a budding relationship with a police officer.  Not romantic but I do like how it is developing as it's a nice change of pace from his normal interactions.  Kind of a mentor relationship is being put forth, which I have to say is something I can't really remember from Spider-man 616 but I'm no authority on the matter.  I know he had Dr. Curt Connors and some people at the Bugle that were decent colleagues but nobody he really had as any sort of mentor role, and I guess I'll see how it all goes down.  With my luck it all happens in the Ultimate Team-Up book or something.


And that would be my only complaint about this collection.  That while I could certainly read the stories on their own and follow the action there was enough of a sense of being lost because I don't read all the Ultimate titles to be distracting from what is here in these stories.  I could sort of get a feel for what is happening in the FF book but I had no idea how many times Peter met Logan other than that one time he went to Westchester in his own book, and whether Wolverine was even there.  Still it was a very slight story and very upfront about it, which is very welcome in my book.  Yes, it's a cheat in the end but it wouldn't have been as good if it wasn't.


Now, in the end, I think where the story is going with the internal struggle Peter is facing is a very good setup for some good melodrama.  Spider-man is a character tuned into the proper "life gone awry and I don't know how to handle it" vibe.  The character is just as well suited for that as the silver-aged flavoured silliness here.  I think the continued fall out from Gwen, uncle Ben and the rest of it is spot on.  Peter is a character full of pathos and he reacts like a freaked out teenager would act in the final story here.  If there is one thing I consistently enjoy in these books, it's that Peter is constantly fighting with the control of himself and his emotions.  He wants to lose control but he won't let himself, and it's handled in these books extremely well.  He has highs and lows and they all bring him back to the character he is – responsible and surrounded by tragedy.  He is heroic because of his actual deeds but more so because of his inability to stop despite what happens that is out of his control.  It is taking it's toll on the kid and it was nice to have some stories that let Peter just be the goofy version of Spider-man because I see the return of Harry Osborn is coming in the next collection, so that should be a full on matching of psychological misery matched with physical violence.
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