Posts Tagged ‘alex ross’

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I won’t mice words — I fucking hate the games Marvel is playing with all the numbering on their titles these days. Issue numbers like “27.Now” are stupid enough, but when we’re getting books marked with big red “#1″‘s in the upper right-hand corner that then say they’re actually number 23 in the lower right-hand corner, well — things are getting pretty out of hand. Add in the constant relaunches of long-standing titles, the re-launches of less-long-running-titles that still make no sense (Wolverine ran 13 issues before starting over at #1 —with the same writer continuing the same storyline, while Daredevil ended its last run after 34 issues before starting all over again with the same writer and artist both), and one could make an argument that the situation isn’t just dire, it’s well and truly out of control.

Marvel’s argument is that the constant re-numbering is essential for providing new “jumping-on points” for the new readers they’re trying (and still largely failing) to attract, but I call bullshit on that. If you were walking into a comic shop for the first time, what would you be more likely to pick up? An issue clearly marked as being #46, or one that was marked as #46 and #1 on the same cover? The former, at least, you can understand — the latter will just confuse the hell out of you. Marvel provides a full-page recap of the ongoing story on the first page of all their books anyway, so this whole “let’s make  a new number one every year so new readers won’t feel lost” line of “reasoning” is patent nonsense, anyway.

Still, allow me to offer a humble suggestion for a solution to this whole dilemma — rather than try to make it easy for new readers to “get into comics” by pumping the market full of endless phony “first” issues, bring in new readers by making sure each issue of every comic you make is good so that people actually want to buy it. What’s more likely to make a long-term reader out of somebody — a 53rd issue that’s got great story and art and hooks them for the long haul, or a horseshit issue #1 with a lame story and generic art that people feel ripped off for ever having bought? It doesn’t matter what the number on the front cover says to either a new reader or an already-existing one — if a book sucks, people will drop it, and if it’s good, they’ll be back for more.

Marvel’s outrageous $3.99 cover prices and the shoddiness of their physical product aren’t helping matters any, either — their books don’t even have glossy covers anymore and are printed on the same flimsy, barely-better-than-newsprint paper as the interior pages. I’d rather pay, say, $1.99 for a book with a glossy cover and newsprint on the inside than shell out four bucks for what amounts to a lower-quality, cheaper product. Seriously, these comics they’re cranking out now are more disposable-looking,  and crummier, than old-school 50-cent newsprint books ever were.

But here, perhaps, I may have digressed a bit — let’s get back to this ongoing numbering fiasco. Hot on the heels of the newly-relaunched Amazing Spider-Man #1, a book which replaces the just-over-a-year-old Superior Spider-Man on the stands (and which wrapped at issue #31, for those keeping score at home) comes a five-issue min-series-within-a-series called “Learning To Crawl,” which takes Peter Parker (who’s just made his less-than-triumphant return in the “main” Spidey book after being kicked out of his own body by Doctor Octopus for the past year) back to his humble beginnings and purportedly gives us “new insight” into his formative years. The numbering for this series is guaranteed to perplex these largely-non-existent “new readers” Marvel is trying to attract, though, since it’s not numbered as The Amazing Spider-Man #2, or even as Spider-Man : Learning To Crawl #1, but is going out, for reasons I can’t even begin to fathom, as The Amazing Spider-Man #1.1, with subsequent issues being #1.2, #1.3, etc. Meanwhile, right next to it on the stands, The Amazing Spider-Man will continue to proceed with its standard increasing numbering, with issue #2 slated to arrive in stores next week, followed two weeks after that by #3, and two weeks after that by — well, you get the idea.

Just remember — all this is supposed to make getting into comics “easier” for new readers than it would be if they just had a book with numbering that actually made sense.

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All that aside, I guess the main thing folks want to know about The Amazing Spider-Man #1.1  is whether or not it’s actually any good and whether there’s really anything to be gained by going back and revisiting Spidey’s origins one more time. After all, Steve Ditko (and, I guess to some extent — though not nearly as great an extent as he’s always claimed — Stan Lee) did a pretty good job of things back in issue #15 of Amazing Fantasy, and this is definitely a story that doesn’t, in any way, need to be told again, does it? But comics going “back to their roots” has been positively de riguer  ever since Frank Miller and David Mazzuchelli’s Batman : Year One nearly thirty years ago, and while that still remains the “gold standard,” in my book, for revisionist origin stories, the fact is that, much as I hate to admit it, some fairly decent yarns have been spun by other creators who see  value in taking yet another look at a super-hero’s formative years. Usually, strangely enough, these tend to be Batman stories — think of Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s seminal Batman : The Long Halloween and Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s currently-ongoing (and really pretty damn good) Batman : Zero Year — but hey, there’s no reason why it won’t work for other characters if the right folks are driving the bus, right?

Unfortunately, it’s Dan Slott at the wheel of this “Spidey Year One,” and you pretty much know what you’re going to get from him — mediocrity, angst, and clumsy dialogue. All of which is in evidence here in the first chapter of “Learning To Crawl,” which largely focuses on Peter Parker’s efforts to make it in the world of show business in order to financially provide for his ailing Aunt May now that her husband is out of the picture thanks to our guy Pete’s cowardly and egotistical inaction. How can he juggle school, freelance work for the Daily Bugle, being a super-hero, and being the man of the house, all while feeling sorry for himself for letting the guy that would go on to murder his uncle escape?

Dear God — who cares? We’ve seen seen this done before, we’ve seen this done better, and we’ve seen this done in 15 pages. What’s there to be gained by shoe-horning into continuity some “story that’s never been told” over the course of five issues (or five .issues as the case may be)? So far, nothing that I can see. Our opening chapter ends on a cliffhanger that shows some confused rich kid who’s been “inspired” by his new idol, Spider-Man, into donning a mask and costume himself in order to join the “war on crime,” but it’s not enough to keep the average reader on pins and needles waiting for the next installment. I guess it’s a “new wrinkle” and all, but it comes after 20 pages of Uncle Ben’s funeral, Peter blowing off a party at Liz Allan’s because he’s got to perform as Spider-Man on TV, Aunt May making breakfast, Peter getting in trouble for missing classes — the usual shit. All played out against a backdrop of “I’m the most lonely, confused, misunderstood teenager in the fucking world, and no girl is ever gonna like me.” We’ve been hearing that one for, what? 50-plus years now?

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Still, things are at least better on the art front here. Penciller/inker Ramon Perez absolutely knocks it out of the park as he presents this story in a heavily revisionist, Ditko-esque style that pays homage to what’s gone before while adding a pleasing, but hardly overbearing, modern twist. This book looks like it would be just as at home in 1964 as it is in 2014, and Perez has, not to sound too grandiose, produced some genuinely timeless imagery. I may not ever want to read this comic again, but it sure is fun to look at over and over. Wrap it all up in a cover by supposed “living legend” Alex Ross that I actually like (I can’t say that about a lot of Ross’ work. although I know that puts me in a tiny minority), and you’ve got a visual feast on your hands here, people. It’s just too bad it amounts to little more than putting lipstick on a pig.

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All in all, it’s fair to say that events in the “Spider-verse” in general are leaving me cold lately. While I actually enjoyed The Amazing Spider-Man 2 more than a lot of folks seem to have, and frankly more than I was expecting to, the printed-page exploits of everyone’s favorite wall-crawler are definitely headed in the wrong direction. We’ve got Peter Parker back just as things in Superior were threatening to make the character interesting again, a totally unnecessary (if lavishly well-illustrated) “previously untold” origin story with stupid issue numbering, another relaunch of the main title that probably won’t last two years before they do it all over again, and Dan Slott still in place as the franchise’s chief “caretaker.” Honestly, it’s  hard to imagine a more depressing scenario.

And that, I think, is my cue to wrap this review up. I’m whining so damn much that I’m starting to sound eerily like Peter Parker.

There is a tool of hitherto-unimaginable and historically unprecedented evil in your home. It’s something that we quite often don’t even actively pay attention to — not that it needs us to at this point — and I spend most of my time here on this blog (until recently, at any rate) talking about things that I used it to see. That’s right, no mystery here folks, I’m talking about television. We all know that it’s stupid, time-wasting, energy-sucking, life-draining, and just plain bad for us all the way across the board, yet we seldom go so much as a full 24-hour cycle without it. Television has won, plain and simple, and we all know it, even if most of us never even really consider what its admittedly hollow “victory” actually really means to all of us.

And that, I think, is rather the point — television has created world where nothing that actually happens means anything anymore, and where the two- (and now three-) dimensional representation of life has actually supplanted life itself in terms of its importance to us. Is it any wonder we’re so easily controlled and manipulated? What the shadowy “powers that be” are actually doing to us no longer matters in any real sense, as long as they show us a version of reality that we can all sit much more comfortably with. I think it’s entirely fair to say that in the entire history of domination, there has been no device utilized by our spiritual, emotional, intellectual, and yes, increasingly even physical captors as effectively, or as ubiquitously, as television (although in a few decades, as the power grip of the largely self-appointed “elite” tightens around the internet even further, that may well give the “boob tube” a run for its money). There was a war fought for our very consciousness itself, and television won by lulling us in — and without firing a single shot. In any sane and rational world, this would be the issue of our time, it seems to me, and the fact that television’s dominance was achieved so thoroughly and hidden in such plain sight really speaks volumes about how little rationality and sensibility have to do with the nature of human existence itself. If we mad sense, this situation wouldn’t make sense. And yet we don’t, and so it does.

Not every single mind on the planet has been dulled to sleep, though, and if there’s a list of people out there who could be counted on to wage a proper critique upon the occult (in the truest sense of the word)  nature the bloodless-yet-no-less-deadly-for-that-fact televisual “revolution,” Alan Moore’s name would probably be at the top of it. And whaddaya know, in 1994 he penned a short prose piece, in the more poetic and lyrical style of his “magickal working” and performance-related pieces, called Light Of ThCountenance that is as savage and thoroughgoing an expose on the nefarious nature of the cathode ray tube as has ever seen print. Starting with the story of an aging soap starlet who is having a hard time differentiating between the character she’s spent years portraying and her real, actual self (and frankly having a more and more difficult time understanding what that even means anymore), this hauntingly flowing work then examines the history of TV itself — both in terms of the development and refinement of its inner technological workings and its increasingly vice-like, yet silent, grip on our lives. Moore understands that in the wrong hands — as television has been from the beginning, and was frankly probably even designed by — this video “box of delights” represents the most ingenious extension of some men’s desperate desire, perhaps even need, to subjugate their fellow man that those of a conquering mindset could ever hope for. At the end of the day, it’s not just TV, but the forces, far darker and more ancient, behind it that Moore is illuminating in this largely plotless, but eminently engrossing, work. It takes a certain sort of malignant will to power, if you will, to even dream up the very idea of television in the first place, and that same type of dark mentality would know exactly what it wants to do with its new toy.

I’d certainly say, without hesitation, that’s it’s all worked out very well for our hidden-only-because-we-allow-them-to-be masters, wouldn’t you?

If all of this sound like some pretty “heavy” reading, rest assured that it is, but it’s also vital  and necessary reading, and aiding in the process of getting this (and I absolutely don’t use this term lightly) monumentally important work to a (hopefully) wider audience are Moore’s frequent co-conspirators in recent years, Avatar Press, who in 2009 issued a comic version of Light Of Thy Countenance in both hardcover and paperback formats ,the respective covers for which are shown above in the images above. The original script was “sequentially adapted” (which in this case, as near as I can tell, means spreading out the words over a series of panel descriptions which the artist then renders, since I’ve compared the original text and the comic and they’re pretty much a word-for-word match) by Antony Johnston, who’s an old pro at this point at translating  Moore’s prose pieces into workable comics form  for Avatar, and lavishly painted by Felipe Massafera, whose style fits the rhythmic, lyrical nature of the work perfectly — and incidentally, if your idea of a comics “dream team” is a pairing of Alan Moore and Alex Ross, then this is definitely a book you’ll want to pick up because Massafera’s style is highly reminiscent of Ross’ work, it just so happens that in this case it’s employed not for the purposes of re-mythologizing the superhero archetype, but for landing the exquisitely-delivered the hammer blows of Moore’s revelatory prose with a soft, velvet glove.

I understand that a lot of folks out there are of the opinion that the Moore pieces that Avatar publishes are somehow “secondary” works in his artistic “canon,” if you will, especially those that are of the “adapted from their original format” variety, and that $7.95 in paperback or $17.99 in hardcover is a hell of a steep price to pay for a 48-page book (although either can be found for much less from various online retailers), and yes, I get that this doesn’t need to be read in comics format in the first place since it wasn’t even conceived of or written with that in mind, but the accompanying  visuals by Massafera here are so striking, and the pacing of the “story” is so well-understood by Johnston, that I really do think that it becomes a much richer and more involving experience to absorb the piece in this format, and even if I paid full price (which I didn’t), I wouldn’t feel cheated in the least. And as for this being at all a “secondary” Alan Moore work, piss on that. Light Of Thy Countenance is one of the most relevant, incisive, harrowing, and flat-out haunting things he’s ever written. If it’s not in your library at home, I urge you to get your hands on a copy as soon as possible — and if you do happen to already have it, turn off the goddamn television and read it right now, whether it’s for the first time or the one hundredth. I guarantee it’s better than whatever’s on.