Friday, May 26, 2006

Looking To The Stars - X3, The Search For More Money

There’s a lot of different ways to look at a comic book movie.

There are some purists in fandom that will compare it, panel by panel, to the comics from whom they were inspired. These are the people who threw a hissy fit when they found out that Spider-Man had organic web-shooters and Wolverine was taller than Storm.

Then there are those who don’t mind a little bit of reworking of the legend, so long as the basic core ideas behind the characters are kept true. These are the people who didn’t mind the organic web-shooters, being thankful that Peter Parker was kept as a shy, quiet geek rather than the outspoken jock Freddie Prinze Jr. wanted to play when he was up for the role.

(Slight pause while we all say silent prayers to various deities that Sam Raimi said “No.” to that and to Freddy Prinze coming anywhere near the set.)

Then there are those who don’t care how bad the characters and acting are, as long as there’s a good story behind the thrust of the action. And others still are content with some flashy special effects. And yet others are mostly concerned with the bottom line of all the elements and “is it any good?”

Well, rather than bore everyone with a reasoned, balanced mix of all these elements in a single narrative, I’m going to cover all of them in separate paragraphs. So you can just skip right to the points you care about, read my description of those elements and decided for yourself if the movie is worth seeing.

For what my opinion is worth, I’d say ignore all the critics and see it just to see it. But that’s just me. If you’d really like a second opinion before deciding to commit your nine bucks American, I’ll be all too happy to offer you mine.

But first, a definition of our terms and categories.

PLOT: The SPOILERS BEWARE part. A basic summation of the story.

INFLUENCES: What are the comics that this movie was inspired by and/or ripped off of?

CHARACTERS: Are the characters written well and true to form?

ACTING: Separate from Characters, this is a measure of how skilled the acting is regardless of how “true” it is to the comic book personality of the character.

ARTFULNESS: Nice touches and beautiful artistic shots in the cinematography.

FX: The flashy whiz-bang material and how it looks.

COMIC BOOK GUY QUOTIENT: Another SPOILERS BEWARE section. Nit-picking over anything relating to “how it SHOULD have been done” and general Monday Morning Quarterbacking.

OVERALL: The broad summary of how I felt about the movie in general.

PLOT: Worthington Enterprises, using a young mutant with the power to block other mutant powers, develops a cure for the X-Gene. The mutant community is split, with some wanting to be normal and others fearing a mass-extermination of mutantkind. The later camp, led by Magneto, begin a war of terrorism against the makers and distributors of “The Cure”. The X-Men must deal with this threat as well as their own dwindling numbers following the defection of team members who want to be normal, the death of some friends and the return of some others.

The plot is a 5. Strictly the usual X-Men “let’s stop Magneto” story with a few other subplots grafted on.

INFLUENCES: The major influence is obviously Joss Whedon’s “Gifted” story arc from the first six issues of Astonishing X-Men, which dealt with the idea of a chemical cure for mutation. There are some elements of losing Mutant powers that are borrowed from House of M (particularly the ending) and a little bit of Claremont’s writing of Rogue. There’s also quite a bit borrowed from the portrayals of certain characters in Ultimate X-Men, but I’ll leave it to you to pick out the scenes. And of course, the biggest X-Men story of all time is borrowed for one key moment… and if you have to ask, you don’t need to know until you see it.

If you’re going to steal, steal big. Let’s give them a 7 for picking quality material on which to base the script.

CHARACTERS: Shall we just assume that Magneto and Xavier are pretty much spot on? Yes? Good. All I shall say is that we do get two surprise moments where it is revealed that Xavier is not nearly as good as we like to think and that Magneto, for all his extremism, still is not ready to cross some lines where his friends are concerned.

Wolverine? He’s there for the most part. But there is one bit where I had to ask “when did you become such a whinny little bitch?”

Storm? She gets to lead the team and becomes the dominant leader of the pack, which is very fitting.

Quite honestly, everyone else is so limited in their screen time there’s not much else to say about the characters. Let’s give it an 8 for the characterization in the script. Most of the flaws with how this stacks up to the books lies in the acting, not the writing.

ACTING: Character by character, focusing first on those who were in the first movie.

Magneto – perfect. McKellen once again achieves the balance between the zealot and the hurt man who is trying to save the world by hurting everyone else before he, and his people, are hurt again.

Xavier- Again, perfect. Stewart is underused, again, but he shines for what time he is on the screen.

Wolverine- Jackman could have easily phoned this in, but didn’t. He gives the character a lot more heart and soul than most of his more prominent writers ever managed.

Storm – Many fans were worried that Berry was coming back for this role, given Berry’s comments about considering a superhero movie beneath her during the filming of X-Men 1 and speculation that it was her prima donna attitude that drove Singer off of X3. Still, her fans insisted that any flaw in her performance was due to her not being given enough room to shine as a performer in the first two movies. Well, the Berry fans can kindly shut their mouths now as a bigger role has done nothing to improve Berry’s monotone delivery as Storm. She is quite content to let the effects do the acting for her and uses the same tone of voice for anger, concern and every emotion she is asked to show.

Rogue – Paquin gets even less to do this time than in X2. There’s a bit of a conspiracy theory going around that the actors who were pondering jumping ship to join Singer in the production of Superman were short-changed when it came to screen time on this film. I don’t know if Paquin was among this group, but it would explain why Rogue seems to be limited to sitting on her bed being mopey about not being able to touch her boyfriend and considering taking The Cure for this reason.

Cyclops – the major case to site for the “people who ask Singer for a job on Superman will be screwed” conspiracy theory. He quite literally has only three scenes in the movie, and one of them got shown in the previews.

Jean Grey – a major player and McGuffin in the plot, and yet Janssen doesn’t seem to do much but stand around looking stoned for most of the film.

Mystique – Another blink and you’ll miss it performance, Romijn shines for her brief time on screen proving that there are some models whom have the ability to act.

Beast – They put Frasier in a furry fetish suit and painted him blue. Oddly, Grammar seems to be stuck in the place Berry as in the first X-Men movie. There are some scenes where he seems to be making an effort to change his usual voice so it doesn’t sound like the character he played for 20 years. And other times, there’s no effort and the illusion that he is not in fact, Sideshow Bob in a furry fetish suit, is completely destroyed. I think they would have been better off getting a lesser known actor for the part or going totally CGI with the appearance but for the most part, Grammar is a serviceable Hank McCoy.

Iceman & Shadowcat – except for one scene, the two don’t get much development at all. And the one scene is directly tied into Rogue’s subplot so…

Colossus, Pyro, Angel and Juggernaut – quite literally not worth discussing given how little time and character they are all given.

Call this one a 5 overall.

ARTFULNESS: The former subtlety of Singer’s script and direction is gone. Whereas before the parallels between mutants and the minority of your choice was kept unstated, this movie all but hits us over the head with comparisons between the Mutant Cure and those who claim to be able to “cure” homosexuality.

There’s a few artful shots here and there, but for the most part the camerawork is clumsy and filmed too closely in the personal scenes and the fights.

And honestly, did all the “evil” mutants need to be punks with tattoos?

Give this a 2.

FX: I’d have to watch them all again to be sure, but I suspect we got more special effects in this movie than in the first two X-Men movies combined. While this does work well in some respects – like how we finally get a measure of just how powerful Storm is – the special effects are, for the most part, more obtrusive than in the previous installments. I don’t know if it was Singer’s direction of a lack of time to edit in post-production but the effects in X3 are for the most part, clearly CGI effects. There are far too many moments where the actor’s appear to be reacting to empty air rather than something that is actually there with them. Still, there are some moments that work well… such as the mutant with retractable porcupine quills and Magneto’s solution to creating a bridge to Alcatraz…

On a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being the Roger Corman Fantastic Four movie and 10 being the first Superman movie, I’ll give this an 6. Some of the best effects ever to touch a Marvel movie, but not generally very well blended into the reality or physics of the world.

COMIC BOOK GUY QUOTIENT: My first big complaint is this; why bother having the Dark Phoenix storyline if you’re going to half-ass it?

I realize that there’s no way to work in the Shi’ar, the Omicron crystal, the Blue Zone of the moon, The Watcher and all the other bits and pieces of the full original story. And that’s fine. But there’s still enough material in the basic plot for it to be its own full story. Such a story is too huge to be a mere subplot and its’ execution here leaves a lot to be desired. Particularly since Famkee Janssen literally spends most of the movie standing around and not doing anything.

One scene I was expecting but didn’t see. Magneto is ready to kill the mutant responsible for handing humanity an anti-mutation serum. Said mutant is a scared, shaven headed, pale pre-teen boy who looks suspiciously like an Auschwitz prisoner. I would have loved to have seen a moment where Magneto sees who he has been trying to kill and then realizes that he’s become everything he hates.

There’s a lot of problems with how quickly people are able to move around and the flow of time. We never DO find out exactly where Magneto and his followers are hiding out, but it is presumably somewhere close enough for his whole army to walk to San Francisco. And yet Wolverine seems to have no trouble going there and then getting back to the school in New York. Suddenly, I’m having flashbacks to the Flash cartoon where Wolverine apparently runs to join a fight at the mansion from being in a fight with “Team C, over in Europe or somewhere!”

Not to mention that night falls AWFULLY quickly as Magneto and his followers are crossing the new bridge to Alcatraz…

The ending is way too pat. Did the events on Alcatraz solve the problem of a mutation cure? No. Even with Leech now apparently in the custody of the good guys, will it stop them from using the “Cure guns” they already have in the wake of the massive mutant army that rose up once already? No.

And I know I’ll get yelled at for not mentioning this, even though I’m pretty sure that they were using the Ultimate version who IS a mutant but…

JUGGERNAUT IS NOT A MUTANT! So Leech wouldn’t affect him.

Give this one a 4 as far as Pleasing the Fanboys goes.

OVERALL: It doesn’t suck and is worth seeing, but it is definitely the weakest of the three X-Men movies and is worth seeing only once. This movie looks like what it is – a hodgepodge of what ideas and actors were leftover when Bryan Singer left to make Superman. The FX are improved but even the skillful acting of a few major players can’t make up for the fact that nobody else gets to do much and that the new characters are pretty much cannon fodder.

Give it a 5 out of 10 and a strict C grade. It’s okay for what it is, but a definite step-down from X2.

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

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Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Looking To The Stars - High Praise for High Fantasy!

It’s a good time to be a fan of fantasy.

I regret not mentioning this book before now, but I thought for sure one of the full time reviewers would have leapt on a title of this pedigree. But since nobody has… well, that’s just fine. That allows me to tell you all about the joy and wonder that is Magician: Apprentice

I was waiting for this book the minute I heard about its’ release. I was introduced to Raymond Feist half a lifetime ago; a tender lad of 14. Oddly, despite being a ferocious reader of fantasy literature, I was introduced to the world of Midkemia through the Award Wining (and now free for download) game Betrayal at Krondor.

That game still stands as perhaps the best adaptation of a book series into an RPG over a decade later, due perhaps to Feist’s involvement in planning the story. Suffice it to say that I was impressed by the story as well and was soon tearing through Feist’s novels in record time.

Most of Feist’s books follow a standard fantasy formula – a young man or two grow to manhood while finding themselves learning the mysteries of the universe (such as girls) and fighting to save their world from certain destruction as they are manipulated by forces beyond their control. It worked just fine for King Arthur and Tolkien’s Hobbits but Feist has a gift for characters that breaks the mold of typical heroic fantasy.

That characterization is highly evident in this comic book adaptation of Feist’s first novel. It is said that Feist got to sign off on ever single page of the book and it shows. The characters look, if not like I always imagined then at least fitting of the description in Feist’s text. And while Michael Omeing has added some touches in the script (Of the first five pages of the comic only the fourth and fifth actually occur in the text of the book outside of a flashback), they are true to the spirit of Feist’s novels and only serve to further expand the characters and establish the world.

The comic is off to a slow start with the first issue covering just the first chapter of Magician: Apprentice but the book does not feel the least bit slow-paced. The art is also a perfect fit to the setting and I suspect the slightly Manga feel will be appropriate in future issues. (You Feist fans know what I am talking about and the rest… well, you’ll just have to read.)

I note that there is no set limit on the number of issues so with any luck we’ll have this book around to enjoy for a good long while. But don’t take my word for it! If, for some reason, your comic shop didn’t get any you can preview the first five pages at The Dabel Brothers' Website. and buy it from the company store if you like what you see.

But as glad as I am to see this book come, I am just as sad to see another one go. Well, not go really… the book will still be there. But this week also saw the last issue of Kurt Busiek’s run on Conan. And what an issue it was!

It’s no surprise to those in the know that this year is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Robert Howard – the creator of Conan. Indeed, the cover of this month’s issue makes it hard to forget as we see Howard’s less famous but no less distinguished visage underneath that of his most famous creation.

Not only is this issue a fitting one for Busiek to go out on but it is a fitting tribute to Howard as well and in more ways than you might think. The plot of this issue, centers not upon Conan but around a peasant named Rovann.

Rovann longs for adventure but due to an injured father he cannot leave his home being an only child and the only source of protection his parents have. He contents himself with the stories of others in the bar, buying drinks for those passing through and then telling stories of his own for the other peasants who cheer his stories even as they mock his foolishness for creating such things.

Now those of us who know something of the life of Robert Howard will recognize a lot of the man who created Conan in Rovann. The art also draws a striking resemblance between the two (no pun intended).

Naturally Conan shows up with several other regulars of Busiek’s Conan run. And at a time when greater men panic, Rovann steps up to the challenge before him and proves himself a hero at heart, if not in deed. And then he is given a chance to match his deeds to the heroes who come to his very doorstep and… well, that would be telling.

Suffice it to say, that if you are a fan of high fantasy in any form, you would be well advised to pick up both of these books as soon as possible.

Finally, to shift gears a bit and address some less pleasant things, I’d like to address some comments that came up on our message board this past week regarding last week’s column regarding a Green Arrow #62 preview as well as some thoughts upon the full issue, now that it has been released.

To quote tgc

In regards to Matt’s Looking To The Stars column today, some of if not most of your problems with the six pages you reviewed make sense to me. However you never said anything regarding why you find the art to be so bad. Coming from a fan of Scott McDaniel’s work, I don’t get it. I’d like more of an explanation, with references, as to why you said that.

I did skimp a bit on sticking it to Scott McDaniel, didn’t I? Well, Ask and ye shall receive.

Personally, I liked McDaniel’s work on Nightwing but I think he’s the wrong artist for Green Arrow. Nightwing is a very acrobatic character and McDaniel’s style worked well with that (the flashes of Dick’s motion as he moves on a rooftop, for instance, are classic) during the Dixon/McDaniel run of Nightwing.

Green Arrow, by contrast, is a much more subdued title in terms of the ratio of action to talking heads. Nightwing, under Chuck Dixon’s writing, was a very high action comic which played to McDaniel’s strengths as an artist. Winick, as a writer, favors long conversations with very few action scenes, relatively speaking.

That being said, McDaniel draws, at times, some darn goofy facial expressions. And while this can usually be written off in a fight (person being caught midway through being kicked in the stomach or screaming a warcry), it just looks weird in a talking head’s moment.

But my biggest problem is that somewhere down the line, McDaniel has become sloppier and sloppier. The detail he put into Nightwing just isn’t there and what is worse, his sense of proportion and continuity is just plain off.

To give some examples…

Look at Ollie’s arm in the middle top panel in relation to his chest. It looks a little out of proportion, even given the odd angle.

And the “Richard Dragon” pose on the bottom page? That looks REAL unnatural given that he was clutching his chest a moment ago, even allowing for thrashing around in pain.

The picture of Ollie here looks like it was taken from a coloring book. Seriously. The bow looks particularly badly transposed.

Again, I must emphasize that I like McDaniel’s as a rule but that his work on Green Arrow has seem somewhat half-hearted and not up to his usual standard.

Is there an explanation for this? Well, board regular soak1313 had this to add.

From talking to McDaniel at the Pittsburgh con he made it kind of clear that he was thrown into this book with no real warning. I asked him if he got scripts from Winick and he basically said “Kind of, but I had to just go with it”.

He didn’t look all that happy when asking him about the guiding on what things should look like(from the story point of things) from Winick, and actually didn’t seem too happy with this title being basically forced on him

…He hinted at the scripts not giving much direction as to what certain panels should look like and so on. …

Again this was me interpreting tones of voice, facial, and body language from him while talking. Take that as you will….

You heard it here first, folks.

In all fairness, now that the issue is out, I must come out now and say that some of my complaints WERE addressed after the first six pages. From last week…

But this is just fanboy nitpicking compared to the fact that Ollie is pushing the button on some kind of trigger…. Yes, the man who had just been hit full in the chest with a dart poisoned in such a way that could render a man paralyzed, brain-damaged and blind or just disabled depending on his weight…

It gets revealed in later pages that Ollie was wearing some kind of body-armor under his costume, which was able to deflect the poisoned dart. So mea culpa there, even thought here was no indication of there being any armor until that point.

This still does not explain…

1. Why there is, once again, a Star City Action News team reporting on Green Arrow fighting cops at the Star City wall when, according to last issue, all the News Outlets pulled out of Star City during the last year. Unless, it turns out, the reporters are reporting to empty air ala that one episode of Family Guy and have a good deal more professionalism then to say “Think I’ll go get drunk and beat up some midgets!”

2. Why Ollie is suddenly out of his work pants and in full costume as we go from page 7 to 8.

3. How in the the nine hells Slade… bad ass, ever adaptable Slade… gets punked so easily. I like Ollie but… this issue was Winick moving to the other extreme of the one-sided battle and having a villain being beaten way too easily.

Thank you for indulging me in clearing that up, children. No more talking about the bad nasty books for a while. I promise.

Next week, in fact, we’ll have no discussion of books at all. Come back in 7 for my inevitable and likely questionable review of X-Men 3.

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

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Thursday, May 11, 2006

Looking To The Stars - Arrow Analysis - Green Arrow #62

We’re going to do something different this time. Usually, when I don’t like something, I write a silly little parody that points out its’ flaws or write a big long rant poking holes in the argument of whichever blowhard has me peeved off.

Well, since The Powers That Be at Comics Nexus want more graphics in our columns and since some of you have asked me for more specific answers as to why I don’t like Judd Winick’s Green Arrow and since someone kindly posted the offending pages I want to talk about someplace on-line so I didn’t have to spend my money on a comic I am boycotting, I’m going to taking you all through six-pages of poorly written, badly drawn Hell.

Yes. It’s the first six pages of Green Arrow #62, under the microscope. Forgive me if I over explain things in this analysis, but I want to make this accessible to everyone who isn’t reading the title and familiar with the extensive back story of the characters involved.

Page One: The Setup.

The guy in the orange and blue is Slade Wilson, aka Deathstroke The Terminator. He is one of if not the best assassin and mercenary in the world. He has been hired to kill Star City Mayor Oliver Queen aka the archer superhero Green Arrow aka the blonde guy with the goatee.

Deathstroke has been nursing a grudge against Green Arrow for a while now, due to injuries he was responsible for inflicting during Identity Crisis.

The bald African gentleman is Fredrick Tuckman, Mayor Queen’s chief aide.

Deathstroke has been hired by certain business interests to do away with the incorruptible (at least by rich white men wanting to turn the ghetto into a casino) Mayor Queen – a job he’d quite gladly do for free at this point given the grudge. Aside from being a master tactician and practiced with every weapon ever made, Slade’s also got superhuman strength, speed, dexterity, reflexes a brain that process information 90% faster than a regular human and a healing factor.

Page Two: Anatomy of a Professional Killer

Here, Slade shoots Tuckman with a dart tipped with “a fairly devastating nerve toxin.” He notes that Tuckman may recover “or have paralysis, blindness, brain damage. I can’t be sure without knowing his weight.”

Now, I’m not the biggest Deathstroke trivia buff in the world, but I note several mistakes here that I’m sure a seasoned assassin like Slade wouldn’t make.

1. The Approach.

Wouldn’t it be a whole lot easier to kill somebody at their home rather than their place of work, particularly a place of business as public as City Hall? Granting that Slade was good enough to sneak in unseen, there’s a lot of unknowns he couldn’t account for once he got there.

2. The Target.

Call me crazy, but given the choice of a trained fighter (even one unarmed and without his weapon of choice) and a civil servant, I’d take care of the trained fighter first... I don’t care how bad ass I am.

3. The Weighty Issue.

This guy is a master assassin of several years. You’d think he’d be able to judge a target’s weight from a distance of three feet by now.

And in honor of an anonymous friend, whom I spoke to while writing this column, who IS a big Deathstroke fan... rogue that Slade is, he’s always been a consummate professional even when going after people he DID have a grudge against. He has a record of following his contract to the letter; no more and no less. As such, it seems unlikely that Slade would hurt an innocent bystander like Tuckman, particularly in light of what happens on Page 4.

Page Three: The Art of Monologing!

Again, I’m not an expert on Slade Wilson’s character, but from what I’ve read Slade is more a man of action than a classic villainous monologue giver. No rants with Sue Storm tied up above a lava pit while he talks about his ingenious plan to conquer the surface world for this villain!

Surprising then, that he spends the next two pages “monologuing” in fine Incredibles tradition.

On another note, why has Ollie been standing still this whole time? You’d think he’d at least made a token dodge attempt or a break for the door to get his security guard John Smalls (I’d assume the security guard would be close) rather than getting shot dead center in the chest!

Granted, Slade has superhuman reflexes but he still talks at normal speed. Ollie could have been over the desk or out the door by now!

Page Four: The Cunning Plan!

So Slade discusses his plans and how he’s not just going to kill Ollie – he’s going to humiliate him by leaving his body in Thailand, surrounded by drugs and murdered prostitutes.

(If this sounds vaguely familiar to you Green Arrow fans, see Green Arrow Vol. 2, #2 or Chapter Two of the Quiver TP)

One small problem; you have a witness who saw Slade before getting knocked out.

If Slade is honestly unsure as to whether or not the poison he used on Tuckman will merely disable him for a while or render him permanently blind, dumb and paralyzed – then his revenge scheme doesn’t make any sense. Any attempt to defame Ollie’s name posthumously would be pointless since you have someone who could confirm that Oliver Queen was attacked and taken against his will somewhere.

And even if Tuckman is killed, won’t that just raise questions leading to someone investigating the truth? Or are we to believe that the death of the Mayor’s right-hand will just be one more thing blamed on the Mayor that won’t be investigated at all?

Of course this is presuming Slade wouldn’t have issue with killing someone outsides the bounds of his contract... which, as we said before, goes against past characterization. But this is just fanboy nitpicking compared to the fact that Ollie is pushing the button on some kind of trigger.

Yes, the man who had just been hit full in the chest with a dart poisoned in such a way that could render a man paralyzed, brain-damaged and blind or just disabled depending on his weight...

You’d think a professional like Slade would at least be prepared to have THAT measured out in advance, given that he’s fought the target a few times and would have opportunity to observe him and make sure he got the weight guessed right. But perhaps I presume too much about Slade's professionalism.

Page Five: BOOM!

Not much to say here, except that even comic book physics are stretched allowing for an explosion that can knock a full grown, muscular man backwards with enough force to get embedded in safety glass without having similar adverse effects on the people on the other side of the desk.

Page Six: The Quick Change

Okay. A lot to cover here, so I’m just going to list the obvious questions.

1. Ignoring the paralysis, how the hell did he change into costume that quickly? I realize he was probably wearing the tunic under his suit (despite that rather large leather hood having to tuck away with no bulges around the shoulders) but it takes a whole lot of time to put on archer gloves. From one who knows. And even then, it’s hard to believe he could get his shirt and jacket off without a tear-away male-stripper suit.

2. Where the heck did he get the bow and arrows from? Even if he did have a hidden cache, wouldn’t Slade have found it while casing the room as it seems he did?

3. What did Slade have to do with the death of Ted Kord? That was the fault of Checkmate, an organization unaffiliated with “The Society”, the villainous group Slade IS a part of. (Something you’d think Judd Winick would know having written parts of the DC Countdown book in which Ted Kord died…)

I hope this will explain to you doubters why Judd Winick’s writing of this title has been such a big issue for me and why I felt the need to start a petition to remove him from this book.

That said, I’m calling off the petition. It was never meant to be serious in the first place but the joke is being lost on a lot of people.

No, I’m not giving up. And I’m not quitting. Just changing tactics. Because it has become apparent to me that while there are a lot of Green Arrow fans who want a different writer on the book, there aren’t many willing to set the precedent for forcing writers off of books through written documents.

So the petition to remove Judd Winick from Green Arrow is over.

The petition to put another writer on the book is just starting.

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

Wednesday, May 3, 2006

Looking To The Stars - On Weddings and Webbing

Long have I said that there is little at Marvel worth reading. This week, I figured out the overlying problem.

There’s no sense of hope, anymore.

Let me be clear upon this point; I believe that the reason most of us read superhero comic books is because of the sense of hope they embody. Because no matter how gaudy the costume or fantastic the powers, the great abiding common ground between all superheroes is that they exist to inspire us. To see ourselves as we wish we were, not with super powers but as truly good people.

It may be a little corny to say so but I know plenty of people who live by the examples they were given in comics. I know soldiers who learned their love of country and bravery from Captain America. I know a cop who honed his detective skills reading Batman. Heck, I even once went to school with a girl whose library career was indirectly inspired by Batgirl.

With this premise in mind, let us consider a recent interview by Marvel Editor In-Chief Joe Quesada. In said interview, Joe talked about “the problem with Mary Jane Watson” and how it is his opinion (and, for that matter, the opinion of Marvel editorial for most of the last 20 years) that the Peter Parker/Mary Jane wedding was a mistake.

Most of the history is recanted in the above article, but in short the only reason the wedding ever took place was allegedly because Stan Lee was going to marry the two lovebirds off in the daily Spider-Man newspaper comic, which he still wrote at that time. Not wanting the comic books of the day to clash with the stories of the comic strip, Marvel editorial kicked into overdrive to get the two love-birds together in the comics. This was something of a challenge as not only were the two not dating in the comics at that time – MJ wasn’t even living in New York!

There is a general consensus among some Spider-Fans and most of the people running Marvel since about 1990 that the wedding was something of a mistake. They believe that since Spider-Man was created as a teen character and continues to be a “hook” for that audience. They argue that the marriage instantly aged Peter, making his character inaccessible to younger readers. They also argue that the soap opera dynamic, which depended on Peter trying (and failing) to win the attention of some girl or another, would be completely lost with a married hero.

Of course the people who believe this have an interesting Catch-22 now. They can’t have the marriage end in divorce. Having either character have an affair would be unthinkable. Even if it were a no-fault situation, a divorce would still make Peter seem “old” to the young readers. And Peter can’t be a widower. They tried that right before JMS took over Amazing Spider-Man and the fan outcry then proved that the majority actually like having MJ around, whether Joey Q likes it or not.

And that brings us back to my point and my response to Mr. Joe Quesada. You say that Mary Jane is an albatross. That Peter became Billy Joel; the backstreets guy who married an uptown girl. That Peter has lost his everyman edge and is no longer a relatable character.

I say bollocks to that!

For most of my childhood, Peter was my favorite character. This was back in the days when my librarian mother kept me away from comic books and other “low” literature. All I knew of Peter was from those comic strips Stan Lee wrote and the Spiderfriends cartoon. And you know what? I didn’t have any trouble relating to a married superhero in what we will charitably call my innocent years.

You see Mary Jane as an anchor dragging Peter down. I see her as a beacon of hope to Everymen everywhere.

There are a lot of us out there who relate to Peter. We are the every-day, ordinary people who don’t get the hot dates or the good jobs or the big breaks. But that doesn’t get them down. They are still good persons who try and make the world a better place in whatever small way they can because it is the right thing to do. They don’t expect any reward save whatever karma may grant them.

Mary Jane is Peter’s good karma reward.

Yes, his aunt is always sick. Yes, he has a crummy job. Yes, he is pushed around by arrogant professors. Yes, he can’t quite get his thesis finished. And yes, until recently, he was a wanted outlaw who had about as much respect in the professional superhero community as Long John Silver’s parrot did from the crew of the Hispaniola. He’s not that good looking. He’s not all that charming. About the only thing he has going for him is his brains and his sweet nature.

And yet, despite all of this... in spite of every single bad hand that life has dealt him... he wins the heart of this woman. This smart, funny and drop dead GORGEOUS woman. Not because he is popular. Not because he is a superhero. But simply because she sees the good man underneath all the flaws and she loves him for that.

I don’t mean to objectify Mary Jane or any woman with this observation. I just want to make the point that in a way, Peter’s marriage gives hope to the rest of us ordinary guys. The guys who don’t want a supermodel but are hoping for a woman who will love them for who they are, minus any flashy clothes, fat wallet or fast cars.

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

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