Monday, May 31, 2004

Looking To The Stars: Just Say NO To Clones and Symbiotes!

SPOILER ALERT: The following column contains references and links to upcoming Spider-Man storylines. Read no further if you like surprises!

It is no big secret that my favorite superhero as a kid was Spider-Man. Go figure me, a shy yet sharp-tongued drama geek being able to relate to an introverted smartass who only got to be himself when he was being someone else. To this day, Spidey is still one of my favorites. I browse, if not actually buy, any title that promises a hint of a Spidey cameo. All his regular books (except the waste of paper that is Marvel Knights: Spider-Man) are on my pull-list. No use denying it; I am a Spider-Fan.

So it was with a good deal of excitement that I read the news from Wizard World Philadelphia regarding plans for the Spidey Franchise. Excitement, that very quickly turned to dread.

Why? The Spider-Sense is tingling, folks… and I’m getting that same sinking feeling I got when I first heard that they were letting Rob Liefield back in the door at Marvel to do covers on a Cable/Deadpool series. Now X-Force #1 is due out by the end of the summer. Chris Claremont is writing most of the core X-Men books again and Marvel appears to be putting most of their publishing efforts into an endless succession of X-Men solo series rather than trying some new book ideas.

The entire Marvel line appears to slow devolving back to the way things were back in 1993. For those of you who don’t remember that far back, this was the dark age where artistic style became more important than substantial story. Where alternate covers and special edition comics were commonplace and speculators nearly destroyed the industry with their cravings for Hologram, Foil-Logoed Goodness. And now Marvel is going to be publishing more books with alternate covers.

The barbarians aren’t just at the gates, folks. They’re sitting in your living room and complaining about your lousy taste as they raid the liquor cabinet.

Sadly, it appears that the Spidey Line is not immune from this effect…and here’s five big reasons why we should be VERY afraid.

1. Venom and Carnage

Bad enough that we still have the confusing and poorly illustrated Tsunami “Venom” title around. Now we have to bring back the villain who practically personified “90’s Kewlness”? Carnage’s only purpose was to create a greater threat that could actually get Spider-Man to work with Venom back when Marvel editorial was trying to push Venom into becoming an anti-hero. Numerous attempts at a failed monthly series tell the tale of how successful their attempts were.

Venom is a villain. Period. Trying to give him heroic qualities, however well intentioned, has never worked. This does not mean that he cannot be sympathetic. Paul Jenkins showed that in “The Hunger”. But there is a big difference between seeing yourself in the bad guy’s shoes and wanting to emulate the bad guy. Too many modern comic writers don’t get this point. And as for Carnage, the best thing Howard Mackie ever did in his run was kill Carnage off by having Venom eat his disobedient offspring. Let’s hope that the new book finally ends this fight once and for all.

2. Attack Of The Clones

From the look of an upcoming cover, either the most tasteless resurrection in Marvel history is about to take place… or the mess that started The Clone Saga is about to start all over again. And I don’t think I need to explain to ANYONE why that’s a bad thing.

3. Spin-Offs.

There’s too many of them coming out! Actually, I’d go far enough to say that there are too many already. It’s hard enough for some comic newbies to grasp that “Ultimate” and “Amazing” are in different universes. Now that we have “Marvel Age: Spider-Man”, added to that along with the “Spider-Girl” series, that’s four separate universes a Spider-Fan has to keep up with now.

Throw in the reality of the new “Mary Jane” manga and add another Spider-Girl into the mix with “Amazing Fantasy” along with the new Spider-Man Unlimited title… and it’s going to get pretty crowded on the Spider-Shelf. And that’s ignoring the rumors of the return of Spider-Man 2099…

4. Tie-Ins

Going hand-in-hand with the spin-offs, there are a large number of tie-ins, planned between Spider-Man and a lot of other titles. The Pulse, in particular, is going to crossover into Marvel Knight’s Spiderman, The Avengers and Secret War. Spectacular Spider-Man, too, is going to tie into Avengers. While few miss the utilization of the shared Marvel Universe more than me, I would prefer that the concept were coming back as an enhancement of the stories I read instead of a gimmick to get me to buy another title by forcing an odd-couple crossover. (Anyone remember the Thor/Spider-Man crossover in Spider-Man #2?)

5. Ultimate Carnage

‘Nuff Said!

But it is not all dark, True Believers! There are also five signs why as bad as this may look, the Spider-Titles are not about to sink into the same sinkhole as their brothers and sisters in the X-Zone.

1. Great Writers

All the same writers who inspired Spidey to greatness after the doldrums of the 90’s are sticking around a while longer. Paul Jenkins, J. Michael Straczynski and Brian Michael Bendis are in for the long haul on their respective titles. Even if the latest wave of Spidey tie-in series bombs, the fundamentals should remain strong. And while Spidey may be the most heavily crossed-over character this year, he should be in good hands with BMB handling the crossing.

2. Flash Closure

We now have promised developments in the story of Flash Thompson, in both Ultimate and Spectacular Spider-Man. Small points to be sure. Still, it’s nice to see something finally being done with these two stories. Flash has all but disappeared from Spectacular in the last three story arcs and the “what does Flash have to say to Peter” subplot has been ignored nearly as long as they “Gwen hates Spider-Man’ story in “Ultimate”. And anything that keeps Spider-Man from going the “here’s a subplot that we’ll keep hanging until I get sick of fans asking me about at conventions” title ala Claremont’s X-Men is a good thing in my book.

3. Variety, If Nothing Else

True, there are a LOT of Spider-Man related titles coming out this summer. And while it stinks for the people who HAVE to have everything Spidey, this does stink. But most of the new titles are aimed at totally different audiences. Marvel Age is aimed mostly at the younger readers who have been too-long ignored by Marvel. Mary Jane and Amazing Fantasy are aimed at the preteen/teenage girl market. With any luck, this diversity in the line will provide something for everyone at the comic shop when Spider-Man 2 and Free Comic Book Day sweep the uninitiated out of the theaters and into the stores.

4. Good Things Come Back Too

Okay. So you don’t like Carnage coming back, seeing Eddie Brock on a more regular basis or anything that smacks of the Clone Saga. Sometimes, a return to classic times is a good thing. Black Cat is supposed to play a prominent role in the Spider-Man books, both the current and Ultimate universes. And Ultimate Venom, who is ten times more interesting than the regular universe counterpart, is also due for a return.

5. Ultimate Hobgoblin is on the way!

Again, ‘Nuff said!

Tune in next week. Same Matt time. Same Matt website.

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