So it turns out that I’m not nearly as uncritically gushing a Spider-Man fanboy as the last entry makes me out to be. Straczynski’s books are, well, amazing compared to Mark Millar and Reginald Hudlin’s Marvel Knights: Spider-Man and Paul Jenkins’ The Spectacular Spider-Man .
Millar’s three volumes (collected into one hardcover in the omnibus I bought) actually isn’t bad. It’s competently written and reasonably drawn. The thing is, it’s just a superhero comic. It’s all about fightin’ the bad guys; I realize that a certain amount of bad-guy-fighting is both expected and desirable in a superhero comic, but one of the attractions of Spider-Man has always been that there’s a heavy mix of civilian life in there. The best Spider-Man books (and movies, for that matter) are always about Peter Parker more than they’re about Spider-Man. Millar is more interested in the costume than the guy inside.
Hudlin’s Marvel Knights volume is noticeably better, both in writing quality and plotting. It’s still a bit on the superhero side of the ledger, but not in a bad way. Its main problem, actually, is that a big chunk of the plot revolves around a crypto-Superman character. Yes, he wrinkles up the Superman cliches, but the Superman archetype is so old and so played-with that twists on cliches are themselves cliched by now. Still, this is decent work.
“Decent” is also the word for Tony Bedard’s Spider-Man: Breakout . It’s a follow-up to the start of The New Avengers, and (inasmuch as there are actual issues of The New Avengers following up to their own start, as well as, e.g., a volume of Straczynski’s Spider-Man work) pretty unnecessary. But as unnecessary books go, it’s entertaining enough. The framework is a minor gang war between two gangs of escaped super-villains, which ends up getting Spider-Man involved. A light, fast read if you’re the sort of person who likes this sort of thing.
That’s more than I can say for Jenkins’ work on Spectacular. Jenkins’ writing is never better than okay; that’s sub-optimal in itself, but the bigger problem is that the book he’s writing feels utterly disconnected from the “real” story going on in Straczynski’s book. The characters are different (although obviously Aunt May and Mary Jane appear, but they might as well be different characters for behaving so weirdly), Parker acts differently, and the general feel of the whole book is just off. This might be on purpose — I get the feeling that maybe this title is aimed at a younger market — but it’s irritating.
And then there’s the art. Oh, the art. It’s fucking manga style! As it happens, I think manga art is stupid, ugly, and one of the worst things Japan has ever given the U.S. But even if I were to grant that it has redeeming merits, I absolutely do not want to see Spider-Man drawn manga style. Ever. It’s just not appropriate. And yes, I’m sure that “mash-up” culture would say that it’s ultra-cool to mix differing styles of art and enjoy the outcome, but that’s why “mash-up” culture is also stupid. This sort of thing makes me like the oldest sort of old fogies, which pisses me off even more, so I really hate it.
On the more positive side, there’s Sara Barnes’ volume of Spectacular, “Sins Remembered”, which is noticeably better than the rest of the series, and even has a decent artist. It follows plot-wise from the Gwen Stacy related developments in Amazing, and does a pretty good job with things. The characters feel like “themselves”, the writing is perfectly decent, and if the main plot has a twist too many, it’s still okay. I’d recommend this volume (but none of the other Spectacular ones) to those who enjoy Straczynski’s run.
Finally, there’s Dan Slott’s Spider-Man/Human Torch: I’m With Stupid . Slott (whose She-Hulk work I’ve mentioned before) seems to be making a name for himself with lightly humorous takes on Marvel heroes, and this is a great place to use that talent. Spider-Man and the Human Torch have a long history together, and Slott draws on that history, with episodes taking place from Peter Parker’s time in high school (referred to as “ten years ago”, in deference to the weirdly a-chronological advancement of time in the Marvel Universe) through the black costume/Black Cat era through the current day. Better yet, he does it in such a way that these disconnected vignettes end up telling a single story of Spider-Man and Peter Parker’s separately developing relationships with the Human Torch. This is exceedingly well-done work that manages to tell a story in a fresh way while still feeling true to tradition. Highly recommended to anyone who’s read down this far.
And that’s the last of the Spider-Man comics, which leaves me behind my only about a dozen volumes of other comics. I tell you, this booklog seemed like a way better idea when I was reading 800-page epic fantasies most of the time.