Sunday, December 12, 2004

Looking To The Stars: An Open Letter, Regarding Marvel Knights: Spider-Man

To Mark Millar and any other concerned parties,

I've had some words in the past about how you shamelessly self-promote yourself to a degree that would make Stan Lee blush. Despite this, I've tried being nice in the past about Marvel Knights: Spider-Man, because as much as I have not enjoyed the series I've read enough good work from you in the past to forgive one bad story. I've tried to shrug MK:SM off as a short story that wouldn't really affect anything.

After this week, I can no longer do that.

The final straw came as I was reading the latest letters column over at Spider-Fan, where one fan had this to say.

Rarely has there been a time in history, where the comicbooks writers actually care about the fanbase, and making stories in their context. Case in Point being, MK Spiderman. It was really nice of Mark Millar, to actually ask you for help on the stories and the like. Now, if only JMS and Paul Jenkins could take a hint...

Yes. JMS basing an entire six-part story around one long-forgotten panel in an old Stan Lee story and finally coming up with a reasonable explanation for why Norman Osborn spent time traveling Europe after his "death". Paul Jenkins drawing upon the original Venom stories, coming up with a reason for Venom's differing personalities from story to story and creating a good explanation for how the symbiote feeds off it's host and why it stuck with an idiot like Eddie Brock for so long. These men know NOTHING about using continuity and using it well.

Thankfully, the letters people were quick to correct this person and note that while they were thrilled to death to have a writer asking them for help, that it is pretty demanding for a writer to have read EVERYTHING and know every detail. Especially when a lot of the little details contradict each other: re, The Clone Saga.

But Mark... though that had nothing to do with you, I am going to have to rake you over the coals on this point. proofed all your scripts to make sure they gelled history-wise. They even came up with "a list of characters that might populate the audience in this unique auction scene for the Venom symbiote."

Now hearing this a few months back, I got worried. I appreciated the effort, but hearing that you had someone else giving you these details, well... it made your attitude toward the whole book seem kind of mercenary. Like this is just a job. There's no love going into the character, if you get what I mean. And that your only reason for going to the fanboys was to cover your own butt when the die-hards like me began complaining.

Thing is, I know that's not the case. Read any interview and it's obvious that you DO care about these characters enough not to half-ass job the job. Well, Mark. I'm sorry... but you did half-ass this book for one simple reason. You may love these characters, but you can't write them at all. The sense of thought behind the characters just isn't there.

I'll grant you slack on the continuity. As the guys at Spider-Fan said, "if something doesn't sound right in MK:Spidey, don't get mad at Mark - blame us!" But the sad thing is that none of the characters sound themselves and their actions don't make sense. Here now is a list of my complaints with the series on both counts. I would make separate lists in the interest of fairness, but I typed it out both ways and it reads better as one list.

1. Sympathy For The Goblin (MK:SM #1)

It's been quite a few years since Norman or any Goblin made an appearance in the New York sky. Still, I do not believe that even with the number of people who read the Bugle and especially in light of Norman apparently having been outed as The Green Goblin before this story began (The Pulse has only muddied this point), that in the middle of a fight between Spider-Man and The Green Goblin, the crowd is going to assume Spidey is the bad-guy and berate him for excessive force.

2. Who Was That Unmasked Man? (MK:SM #1)

While I can appreciate the need to convey how serious Peter is upon realizing his Aunt May is in danger, this is not the first time something like this has happened. And I cannot remember Peter EVER FAILING to at least throw on his mask if not his full costume before going web-swinging out in the open.

3. Who Ya Gonna Call? (MK:SM #2)

Okay. Your aunt has been kidnapped and you have no leads. Who do you go to first to ask for back-up?

Your lawyer friend with the super-hearing so sensitive, he once found a kidnapping victim by listening for a particular cough across the most populated city in the world? No.

Your magician friend who no doubt has all sorts of scrying pools and other things that could be used to find missing people? No.

One of the dozen or so psionics you are on reasonably good terms with, to see if they can find her telepathically? Well, not for a few months.

The semi-reformed cat-burglar and sometime detective? No...

... unless she's a hot babe and the artist drawing the book is someone who specializes in drawing hot babes with cleavage you could ski down. Then the answer is YES!

In fairness, the Daredevil and Dr. Strange issues WERE explained away in a balloon in the next issue, but c'mon! Black Cat being the FIRST one he calls?

4. The Mighty (Dumb) Avengers? (MK:SM #2)

Granting that Spidey is a loner and is barely tolerated (though probably not trusted) by the mainstream superheroes, he was a Reserve Avenger in the past. She-Hulk #4 made use of this fact. Avengers #502 referenced this fact.

So why doesn't the Avengers Mansion have some means of identifying visitors other than a surly butler who sends the armed security guards after anyone who comes to the door in a Spider-Man suit claiming to be Spider-Man? You'd think the House That Stark Built would have a retinal scanner at the very least (like the one used in She-Hulk #4) and more than likely some high-tech bio-scanning doodad to protect against shape-shifters, masters of disguise and traveling salesmen.

You could have done this exact same scene while referencing this fact and accomplished the same ends; have Spidey forget to carry his Avengers ID with him and reference the fact that he has no pockets in his suit. Play up Peter's dorkish habit of forgetting things and the running gag about how he can't really carry anything in his costume. It's a two for one special on running gags and WELL within continuity.

And on a side note... why does The Avengers Mansion have armed guards anyway? You'd think if ANYONE could be secure in their home, it would be them.

5. Nick Fury: Pan-Dimensional Traveler? (MK:SM #2)

So Peter wants to get a hold of Nick Fury and figures Captain America can get a hold of him. Sadly, it seems that Nick is in a parallel reality...

Since WHEN has Nick been in the habit of traipsing through the Fifth Dimension? He isn't Reed bloody Richards!

6. A Matter Of Trust (MK:SM #2)

Obviously, Peter is going to make every effort to protect his secret identity. But why CAN'T he just tell The Avengers the name of the woman he needs help finding after making such a big fuss about getting in to talk to them?

Why couldn't he just say "I promised a friend that I'd do all I could to help him with this and I'm out of ideas?" No harm. No foul. The Avengers aren't going to give him a hard time about that. Some of them might, but Captain American would snap them back into line right quick and say "This is serious, Hawkeye! An old woman's life is in danger," or some such.

Even if someone asks "May Parker? Isn't she the aunt of that guy who takes all the pictures of you?", it has been well-established since the Stan Lee days that Peter claims to know Spider-Man and has "worked with him" to get pictures in the past.

Heck, even if they DID start asking questions about why Spidey is so interested in this Parker woman and push came to shove, Peter would probably agree to talk to Captain America alone and explain things. They've had a relatively good relationship and it has been suggested in the past (Amazing Spider-Man #50, most recently) that Cap already knows Spidey's secret identity but that he humors Peter's need for secrecy. And Cap's word would be good enough for everyone.

7. The Birds The Word (MK:SM #2)

Okay. So you're protective of your secret identity to the point you won't even tell the largest collection of superheroes in the world the name of the woman you're looking for, out of fear they'll connect her to you and figure out who you really are under your stylish mask...

... and yet, you'll gladly hand that information over to a known criminal... somebody who you have fought in the past... someone who has a vested interest in knowing who you really are and, being in the information selling business is likely to sell that information to anybody who wants to know why Spider-Man was talking to him.

Even when desperate, Peter is NOT THAT STUPID.

8. Grounded For Life (MK:SM #3)

So you have the name of the guys who kidnapped your aunt. You've fought them both before. One of them controls electricity and could fry you alive if given the chance. You've nearly gotten killed in the past when he caught you off guard. So, as you have done many times in the past when you were anticipating dealing with him, you bring protection. On the odd chance that you can't talk a friendly ConEd worker into loaning you a pair of rubber work boots, you can probably improvise something yourself, you science whiz, you.

Point is, you don't just go charging after the twit without taking precautions. Again, you're NOT THAT STUPID.

9. Very Open Hospital (MK:SM #3)

Thankfully, even if you DO get massively injured in a fight, you can take comfort that you will be taken care of. The New York City Hospital system is well-used to taking care of the city's vigilantes. They will not only treat your wounds without worry of who will be paying the bill; they will also keep away those pesky reporters who might try to get a picture of you without your mask.

Since BLOODY when?

Even ignoring my own cynicism about the modern hospital system treating an injured superhero without proof of insurance, there are too many examples of this type of system having never existed until this story. Even ignoring other Marvel titles, Peter has been shot, cut and generally beaten bloody enough times that he would surely have taken advantage of this by now rather than trying to treat his own wounds.

I'm not saying that it is impossible for Matt Murdock, Jennifer Walters or some other lawyer with a superhero identity to have brokered a deal with the city where they will foot the bill for superheroic injuries. Matt did manage a deal to insure the city from damages caused by superhero battles (Daredevil Vol. 2, #1) so why not give any hero in the city who wanted it full medical and dental? A point of reference on how long this policy has been active would be nice.

Still, I hope that if Matt Murdock DID make this deal that he made sure to find a job for Night Nurse in the new infrastructure. After her nursing him back to health at the secret hospital for superheroes she runs (Daredevil Vol. 2 #58), it is the least he can do.

10. You Bet Your Life!(MK:SM #6)

Great play was made by about how the second act of this 12-issue epic would center around Venom and how it would reference Paul Jenkins defining story, "The Hunger". And for the most part, it did quite well. It referenced Eddie's devout Catholicism, made all the stronger by his seeing The Passion of The Christ. It referenced his desire to rid himself of Venom once and for all. However, it did miss one very important fact.

Remove Eddie from the Symbiote or Vice-Versa, it will kill them both.

This is why the Symbiote was so desperate to bond with Peter during "The Hunger". It only had the strength to bond once more and this time, the bonding would be permanent. The rest of 'Venomous' totally ignores this fact.

11. A Righteous Man.(MK:SM #6-8)

So Eddie wants to be free of the Symbiote. Let's just ignore that he shouldn't be able to get rid of it, for the sake of argument. The already religious Brock has had a revelation and decided to auction off his suit to the highest bidder and donate the money to charity and go on to his death with a clean conscience.

Eddie's never been the sharpest tool in the shed, but you'd think he would have considered that handing over a dangerous alien organism/weapon to a bunch of criminals is NOT likely to get you on St. Peter's list. And even a relative heathen like me knows that in the Catholic religion, suicide (which Eddie attempts to commit in issue #8) is considered a major sin.

Go Directly To Hell. Do Not Pass Go. Do Not Collect $200 dollars.

I had been hoping that there was some bit of cunning here on Eddie's part. That he was pulling a con game, hoping to get a ton of ill-gotten money out of the hands of the crooks and then having the symbiote "reject" the new host and come back to him. But the suicide totally kills that unless he was hoping the symbiote was coming back to heal him and it double-crossed him. And so Eddie Brock leaves the Marvel Universe as he lived: a confusing mass of contradictions.

12. The Old Man Gets Around(MK:SM #5-8)

I'm going to chalk this one up to a mistake on the part of Spider-Fan, but you'd think somebody would have checked their own website's entry on The Vulture which notes that Adrian Toomes is a widower with no children.

Makes it rather difficult for him to have a sick grandson then, doesn't it?

Then again, looking at their reviews section, it seems that nobody at Spider-Fan is reading "Identity Disc". In that story, Adrian finds out that he has a daughter he never knew about, that she has been framed for a crime that she didn't commit and will go to jail if he doesn't join a criminal taskforce for a special job.

I can't blame them for the later, because NOBODY I know is reading 'Identity Disc'. But you'd think that if they were fact-checking a professional and making great play of that fact, that they would have checked this!

13. I Love My Wall-Crawling Son!(MK:SM #8)

So in spite of all the times that J. Jonah Jameson has seen his own son fighting Spider-Man, as either the Man-Wolf or during his brief tenure as a crime-fighting hero (Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 1 #42, which was referenced last month in She-Hulk #8 of all places!), Jolly Jonah is all to ready to believe that his own son is Spider-Man and that every instance before was an elaborate con.

Pull the other one, Mark. It has bells on.

Finally, and this is less a point against this series than it is against every Spider-Man writer within the last ten years.

Could We PLEASE get past the idea that every single bad thing that ever happened to Peter Parker all comes back to Norman Osborn?

It was bad enough that when it was the out to The Clone Saga that the whole thing was just a big scheme to drive Peter crazy. Howard Mackie further expanded this, by having the newly outed Norman totally devoted to driving Peter crazy and raising him as the son he always wanted. JMS at least wrote the characters true to form and made it believable when he put forth the idea that Gwen Stacy had The Green Goblin's children by accident. Paul Jenkins turned Norman into a figure to be pitied as much as a monster to be feared.

And then we get this: Marvel Knight's Spider-Man #9. Where we find out that all this time, the entire super-villain movement has been the work of a big conspiracy and that a whole bunch of rich guys have been wasting their fortunes on idiots in costumes to screw around with the heroes and keep them distracted from fighting the real problems of the world?

As the Eskimo said to the refrigerator salesman, I'm not buying it!

Tune in next week. Same Matt time. Same Matt Website, when I'll review Blade: Trinity, now that finals week is nearly over.

Oh, and one last thought. The Scorpion? C'mon! Like Norman would trust that yutz to brush his fangs unaided.

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