When I was growing up, I read tons and tons of Marvel comics; but when I stopped reading them, I never got back into the mainstream Marvel stuff. A few years back, Marvel experimented with putting up free digital versions of some of their comics, and I ended up getting sucked into the non-mainstream-continuity Ultimate universe — but even after I started buying almost every Ultimate title, I stayed away from the mainstream stuff.
Well, just recently Marvel relaunched their online comics, and had a couple of non-Ultimate Spider-Man titles there. I read them, and wanted more, which led to the purchase of J. Michael Straczynski’s The Amazing Spider-Man, vols. 1-10 (again, individual volume titles are on the archive page). While lying sick in bed, I picked up the first volume, and essentially kept reading until I closed the cover on the last, whereupon I went to the computer to order every other Spider-Man related comic I could find.
Which is to say that Straczynski hooked me, but good. To be fair, I’m an easy hookee on this one: As a regular reader will have gathered, I’ve got a soft spot for comics, and especially superhero comics, and especially Spider-Man comics. In the hyper-obsessive world of comics, I surely don’t count as a fanboy of any sort (I don’t even buy the monthly issues!), but I really do love Spider-Man comics unreasonably.
But if I’m an easy mark, I’m still a discriminating one. I can enjoy thoroughly mediocre comics, but I know they’re mediocre. Straczynski’s run is definitely not mediocre. The high concept is interesting: He retcons Spider-Man into a semi-mystical figure with all sorts of mythic resonance (explicit allusion is made to Anansi) in much the same way that Moore did for Swamp Thing. This kind of turn could fail hard if done poorly — it could end up pretentious and grating and silly — but Straczynski makes it work by offsetting the wifty mysticism with Spider-Man’s down-to-earth humor and “regular guy” civilian life.
And speaking of humor, there’s a good amount of it here, which Straczynski writes very well. I was actually shocked by how good the dialogue was, considering that Straczynski is the same guy who wrote the amazingly wooden Babylon 5 and the perfectly dreadful Dr. Strange origin story. Go figure.
Now that I’ve raved on about Spider-Man, it’s time for me to admit that I lied a few paragraphs back: I didn’t really read all of these in immediate succession. The reason for that is that the tenth volume is subtitled “New Avengers”, and takes place after the events of Brian Michael Bendis’ The New Avengers, vol. 1: Breakout , so I read Bendis’ book in the middle there.
Attentive readers will recall that I despised Bendis’ Avengers: Disassembled, the book that set the stage for the New Avengers. In my review of that book, I said that it felt like “an obligatory exercise that Bendis just wanted to get done with as fast as possible” so that he could start writing the Avengers stories he actually wanted to write. On the evidence of the New Avengers, I think I was right, because this is a much, much better book than Disassembled.
I’ve never really been a fan of the Avengers; they were always a bit hoity-toity and remote. They lived in a fancy mansion with a butler, they had all sorts of contacts in the highest levels of government and at the U.N., and they were just generally a bunch of goddamn Boy Scouts. Bendis’ new group is rather different. Oh, they still live in fancy digs and have government connections, but they’re not as flush as they used to be and the government trusts them a lot less. More importantly, though, the people in the group are a less upright bunch — the streetwise Luke Cage, the tricksy Spider-Man, and the bad boy Wolverine join Captain America and Iron Man this time ‘round (along with the unknown-to-me Spider-Woman and possibly more to come).
People have criticized Bendis for loading up the team with fan favorites — Spider-Man and Wolverine? — and Jim Henley offers a misguided criticism of the team composition (sure, Captain America, Spider-Man, and Wolverine fill much the same niche in terms of powers — but they have deliciously contrasting personalities), but I like the results so far.
Which is good, because that tenth volume of The Amazing Spider-Man turned out to be very thoroughly tied-in to the Avengers stuff. Seeing Spider-Man, the prototypical loner, working and living in a team environment (especially when that team is the Avengers) is fascinating stuff, even more so for the interaction between the characters who inhabit Spider-Man’s world and those that inhabit the Avengers’ world.
The net effect of reading all these comics in quick succession was to immerse me fully into the Marvel universe, and make me want to read more about these people. So, yeah, I’m totally hooked.