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.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Boys Need Pegg

So with Garth Ennis's The Boys being picked up for Hollywood, how long before the internet campaign to get Simon Pegg attached starts? Oh wait, I think it just did!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Rebirth of Superman

Supreme – The Return

Having read and loved Alan Moore’s Supreme: The Story of the Year collection it was a No-Brainer Supreme for me to pick up this follow up collection. You know how I really like Grant Morrison’s All-Star Superman? Well, Alan Moore did something rather similar with Superman a few years ago, only he didn’t exactly have Superman so he called his character Supreme. Everything is the same but different in the mythos, but talk about your love of silver-age goofyness. It permeates these stories to the point where the goofy stories are actually the driving conflicts of the plots here.

Supreme and the supporting cast jump through time to old Supreme adventures that visually manifest themselves as if they were old comic books. Why try to erase the goofy past of comics rather than accept and celebrate them, seems to be the message here. Goofy stories do not preclude bad stories or take away from the kewlness of the nineties, or anything else for that matter. So rather than reinvent bits of Supreme from square one for a new generation of readers, Moore is basically showing how you can restart a character by accepting all iterations before the current one. These are comics, have fun with them for a change.

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.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Batman Beyond

I never watched this cartoon when it originally aired and it's next in line of the Bruce Timm animation collection, so I popped it in and was pleasantly surprised. I've only watched disk one of the first season but I'm thoroughly impressed so far. I guess when you don't hold onto any expectations it is much easier to be impressed or let down, but still, it's good stuff.

It works for me because they keep the core that made the animated Batman and Superman stories so good. They focus on simple capers and well told stories rather than recreate point for point the comic books. Whereas the Batman and Superman cartoons would plunder the characters' deep histories for stories to retell, that gets left behind so far in this series. It's sort of freeing in that way I suppose in that telling Batman of the future stories you don't have the mythos to rely on and the writers get to stretch their own minds for a bit. There are still some homages for the long time fans such as Bruce Wayne's dog Ace, and the Oracle face showing up in advertisements, which are fun to spot but not occuring often enough to be distracting.

The villains tend to be riffs on Batman's rogue gallery but not too sexed up as to feel hacked out. I think the aesthetics of the Bruce Timm style go a long way to help that. There's Inque who is kind of like Clayface mixed with the Shadow Thief and that Bic pen mascot, as well as some classic Bat-foes like Mr. Freeze and the Royal Flush Gang. The classic villains, even if appearing for the first time, are all managed in a way that makes sense. Plus, there is crusty old Bruce Wayne who is a great character idea and would be better used if he did more than tell the new Batman to "get out of there!"

At first I thought the music and the sort of now outdated computer animation would be distracting but they lend a certain charm to the place. Whereas the original animated series was sort of like Batman crossed with Chinatown, this is like Batman crossed with Blade Runner. The original series felt more retro-sci-fi-noir, this series is very much futureshock-sci-fi-noir. The simplification of the colours and the experimental use of shadows and colour on the characters really help move this series into something familiar but different territory. The visual cues remind you of the setting that needs to be foriegn to the viewers but with enough visual pop as to keep you engaged. I think it works, if not only for the advances in the animation itself that help give the characters more fluid and quick movement onscreen.

Like the other series, it can stumble into goofball territory, but in the end I like the freedom of the series. It shouldn't work because of the changes they made but in the end it works precisely because those changes are really just minor tweaks. There is a hook and point of familiarity for the audience but the rest is more or less all new. And really, how many dystopian sci-fi cartoons are there?

Monday, February 04, 2008

Daredevil and The Flash

You know what? I don't think I have ever read a single Daredevil comic. Ever.

I mean, I'm sure I did at some point because I know the score on the character but I can't recall any single comic that I read. Perhaps I only read guest appearances.

Also, I can't recall ever reading a Flash comic. I think I've only ever read him in team books.