Sunday, September 07, 2008


By Thomm

I miss the Spider-Man I started with 31 years ago. It wasn't the first comic I ever read, but it was the first that I bought with my own dimes. My Grandma had bought the occasional comic for me, of course. Most of it was Richie Rich and Casper and other fluff of that sort. There was, I recall, one Superman title that was really silly, but I can't remember any more than that about it now.

When I was 10, though, we moved from suburban Philly to rural PA. That fall was my first experience of the soon to be loathed magazine sales drive to raise money for the school. I've pretty much hated sales ever since, but I did start buying comics then. Actually, I've pretty much been buying them ever since. I started with a subscription to Amazing Spider-Man. The first issue to arrive was #184. The eminently forgettable villian was the White Dragon. But I liked it. Peter Parker graduated from college the next issue. Sure, Aunt May seemed to be on the verge of death for as long as the book was published, but even without having read the classics with the death of the Norman Osborne Green Goblin and Gwen Stacey, it felt like I was picking things up quickly and the story was moving Parker forward in his life.

I gave up on the book right when McFarlane was starting. I had been through the Secret Wars nonsense that brought Spider-Man his symbiote costume. I went through the Venom fight. As a kid I like the sort of Batman/Catwoman like relationship Spider-Man had with the Black Cat, though it seems rather like a rip-off now. I had been through his developing relationship with Mary Jane Watson. I think I might even have bought the wedding special, whenever that came out.

Altogether, it was a lot of fun, but by the time I gave up on it, there seemed to have been a loss of really challenging villians, or even interesting lame ones. More importantly, I suppose, I had gotten away from superhero titles in general to a large extent. McFarlane's art wasn't keeping me around, either. As I noted last time, I'm not a big art guy, and the stories just weren't there.

But Spider-Man was the first title I really got into, and I stuck with it for about 10 years. Now, all I hear about Spider-Man is that it's really gone off the rails. Really, all of its history seems to have been lost. Norman Osborne's not dead. Gwen Stacey, or a clone of her, was back at some point. Somewhere along the line someone decided Gwen Stacey had had children. Not only that, they were Norman Osborne's children and the reason he killed her. Parker himself went through some bizarre period where he was a clone, or some such nonsense. Now, I read where a Faustian bargain was made by Mary Jane for who knows what reason that led to Parker forgetting about his marriage to her, so he's a swinging single again, and everyone else has forgotten he revealed his secret identity at some point. Oh, and he had a bunch of additional powers he picked up some time after I quit reading that all went away, too. What a mess.

I guess it boils down to Jim's complaint. The characters never age. They continue to have more and more history heaped upon them, reach a point of bloat, and then are re-set. But what's the point of that? Sure, the whole superhero medium is a willing suspension of disbelief, but if you read a title long enough, you'll realize that at some point it's all going to be wiped away, so the story you're now reading really means absolutely nothing, no matter how well written. Somewhere down the line, some mandate is going to come along for a brand new day.

The only way around it is to compartmentalize. Or stop reading superhero books altogether. I suppose that's what makes a lot of the independents interesting. With no long term bloat to hang on to, write around, or re-set, there's a freedom to allow characters to age, die, or move on. And that's in superheroes like Invincible or Dynamo 5, not just Scalped, Sandman, or The Walking Dead. Why, sometimes, the stories even reach an end.

To some extent, what's happened with Spider-Man, Captain America, the X-Men and the like is worse than the mega event. At least with a mega event you can usually read the story and be done if you want. The ongoing titles are like soap operas, only without aging or plastic surgery. And it seems to be worse in Marvel than DC. I've largely given up on Marvel books at this point.

So, I finish with a recommendation. Buy this book. It won't lose you in a soap opera.

No comments:

Post a Comment