Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Decompression Project - Teenage Wasteland

Okay I guess I got a little bit confused between collections I was reading in yesterday's post.  It seems that the scene with Spider-man and the police officer was in the Hobgoblin collection and not the Superstars collection.  My comments still stand, that I think it is a solid bit of development and it's a refreshing change to see Peter being reluctant to accept a mentor, and more so that there is what appears to be a decent mentor figure being developed for him.  They're not quite colleagues but they certainly are aiming for the same goals and with somewhat similar attitudes although she is able to better express herself.


Now, I know the Harry Osborn story and most people had exposure to a version of it in Spiderman 3.  This Ultimate version is done exceptionally well.  Whenever Peter fought Norman it was completely one sided, in that one figure was superior in all regards but was constantly defeated because of his pride in his science.  Peter's strength isn't from his person or even from his belief in himself but his ability to consider others no matter the cost.  That is what helps him win the day, along with a few well timed kicks and webbings.


With Harry, things are different because Peter is being forced into a situation that isn't just personal but also one of equals.  Both Peter and Harry are victims of circumstance and end up clashing because of outside influences.  Neither of them want to do it, which makes the situation entirely tragic.  They are characters without the freedom to avoid this clash.  It is tragic because it is simply unavoidable no matter how hard both try to avoid the situation.


And there is major heartbreak here too as Peter starts to actually react to the death and violence that has occurred simply because he exists.  Yes, his actions ultimately led to Uncle Ben's death but it was his existence that led to Gwens, and really, in both cases he was never directly responsible.  Here we see a teenager begin to grieve by simply not being able to process his role or accept that he was entirely helpless.  He's terrified for his loved ones and the art and dialogue capture that sentiment note perfectly here.


Now the Harry Osborn story is also captured quite well in that it is never quite clear what is real and what isn't.  Yes there were hypnotherapy sessions, but what is S.H.I.E.L.D.'s role in all of this?  Did Harry bring it on himself or was he programmed by his father?  Was he exposed accidentally to be latently activated or did he experiment upon himself?  There are no answers here and while it helps enforce how scary dealing with mental illness can be it also makes Harry a sympathetic character as well.  He is dealing with demons just like Peter is, but this is the result of having (letting or being programmed to) the demons win.  It moves him to embody rage and destruction of anything connected to him, which is what Peter is feeling but he manages to embody the sadness and grief that is required to process these situations.


This collection ends with a MJ centric issue that manages to hit all the notes that the Aunt May issue flubbed.  She is given believable situations to react to, rather than talking to a therapist about seemingly random fears that have no bearing on her day to day existence.  It's about MJ and why she loves Peter and in the end it is a solid issue offering a fly on the wall point-of-view for a day in the life of a superhero's girlfriend.  Suddenly, I feel like MJ has a bit more depth, which is what I needed from the series quite a while ago so it was nice to see it here.
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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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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Bloody Cold Nights

30 Days of Night
by Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith
When the movie came out I remembered that I had been meaning to read 30 Days of Night for a while now.  I finally got around to it after not going to watch the movie.


In many ways I feel this is a dark coffee table art book with some words attached.  I really like Templesmith's artwork and it really does fit the genre.  It's always dark, it's unclear at points but it's frightening on a core level.  The somewhat unfinished, unpolished look helps it terrify the reader.  I'm using unpolished here to mean that there isn't a lot of tight linework with colouring precisely defined by those lines.  Nope, here colours, textures and art materials are used to bleed into one another making things beautifully muddled.  The bones are loose but the colour is tight.  I really love what he manages with such a limited palette of colour.


Sadly, I found that it was the art to be partly problematic to the actual plot.  While the art is so bloody cool the plotting and characterization needs to be next to perfect.  With the art being kinetic and emotional I found that jumps in story and characterization to be slightly confusing.  In fact I got lost a few times.  It starts out strong but by the time the plot is halfway through there seems to be one too many massive jumps in plot that were kind of frustrating to read while remaining artistically strong.


It starts strong, the idea is sound, the art suits it perfectly, the pacing and narrative sort of falls off.  I guess that's the sum up.
I hate criticizing works that I actually enjoy, for the most part.  I think I'm getting slightly more curmudgeonly as the snow continues to pile up here in Ottawa and I'm suffering from sleep deprivation because of the stupid hour change being moved.  Reading about a bunch of vicious beasts on a murderous winter rampage is a little too close to home as people are starting to crack because their sidewalks aren't cleared and pedestrians are forced to fight traffic in the streets.  Winter madness is setting in with the approach of Spring and 30 Days of Night captures the feeling of it a bit too precisely in that respect.
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Monday, March 03, 2008

Comics Just Aren't HD

No comics reading since I picked up a new TV and my friend left his X-Box 360 at my place.  Too much time has been spent trying to kill the Locust in Gears of War, Nazis in Call of Duty 3 and awesome drum fills in Rock Band - all in glorious High Definition.
Now if I could only figure out how to CBC HD from Rogers Digital Cable I'd be set.  Man, if you want a lesson in a website design that shows your customers how much you loathe and despise them then head over to theirs.  That thing is full of something that has the appearance of information but is next to incomprehensible and is generally useless.  I have no idea how to find out if I already have one channel included in my current package, and if not which package is it actually included in.  Thankfully it is in my wife's name so she gets to call them about this today.  The last time I called, they tried to blame me for a pay-per-view hockey game losing its feed.  Seriously.  It was batshit insane, not simply bad customer service.