Friday, August 7, 2009

My Weekly Dose--Checking Up On My Marvel Heroes

It was a slow week for me at the shop. Only one regular pull title came out, but I've got plenty to say about it and more:

Captain America Reborn #2 of 5

I've always enjoyed Captain America comics. There's just something about that ironically blond-haired, blue-eyed Aryan ideal Steve Rogers busting Ratzi skulls, the man out of time pulled from the ice to become the leader of a new generation of heroes, and with a side gig as, of all things, a comic book artist, that helped Cap stand out as more than just a shield-slinging boyscout dressed like a flag.

While I think he works best as the leader of the Avengers and star of their book, one of my favorite takes on Cap was during Mark Gruenwald's run, when he had Steve Rogers give up the red, white, and blue and go rogue from the U.S. government, while an old enemy, Super Patriot, took over the role of Cap. I didn't even mind that that storyline eventually gave us the ultimate D-list mook, D-Man. Pre-Internet, the lack of constant spoilers and teases helped keep readers guessing and drooling for more when a major shake-up like this occurred. It was the first time I recall anticipating a monthly title, nagging both the shop owners and my parents, wondering when the next chapter would be released. To this day, I don't think any of that storyline has been collected in a trade, and I'm looking forward to reading it again when it finally is.

I bring this up because we're in the midst of another huge shake-up in the life of Steve Rogers. You see, Steve is dead. At least he's as dead as anyone ever really is in comics. In fact, the guy running around the Marvel U and calling himself Captain America is Bucky Barnes, Cap's old running buddy from World War II who was thought to be killed in action, and whose death was long thought one of the only absolutes in comics, thanks to how long it had been maintained. But then Marvel, with writer Ed Burbaker leading the charge and steering the ship, came alone with a so-far brilliant long-term plan for Steve, Bucky, and the Captain America mythos that has been exciting, intriguing, and intelligent. It has also been pretty kick-ass. Reborn is just the latest chapter in that extended storyline, and despite the title and numbering, it is simply replacing Captain America on store shelves for it's duration.

I was worried a few months ago, when the Cap title seemed to be losing gas and stalling for time with a story focused on bringing the original Human Torch back into the Marvel U. It was boring compared with what came before and seemed to forget that readers were checking in every month to follow the bigger storyline involving Bucky-Cap and his strong cast of supporting B-listers like The Falcon, Black Widow, and Sharon "Agent 13" Carter as they tried to unravel the mysterious circumstances and navigate the wild aftermath of Steve Roger's death. It felt a little like the beginning of Lost's 3rd season, when the producers still didn't know if they could end the show, so instead they started throwing out filler episodes to kill time and draw it out. Sensing this, I even skipped a couple of issue in that boring Torch storyline.

But I missed the book and decided I should see Brubaker's plan to completion. It had been worth it so far, and i didn't want to miss out. And then, just like Lost announcing that it would be a finite story, ending with 6 seasons, Marvel started teasing Reborn and rumors began to swirls that Brubaker was gearing up for a big payoff to his story. And so far, the story even uses Lost plot points like becoming unstuck in time and "constants" to explain what has really happened to Steve Rogers at the hands of his lifemate in hate, the Red Skull. Of course, technically, it isn't actually clear whether Reborn is going to be the payoff of Brubaker's master plan, or simply one more chapter in an epic run that continues to blow so many other monthlies away.

The Amazing Spider-Man #601

I love Spider-Man. The character Spider-Man...all the core mythology that everyone knows from decades of stories and various adaptations as cartoons, movies, etc. Spider-Man comics, however, kind of frustrate me.

I mean, there are some great Spider-Man comics. Specific stories shine. Guest appearances in other titles are always a bright spot. But the major theme in the main Spidey books--possibly since as far back as Todd McFarlane leaving a stellar run on Spidey to create Spawn in the 1990s--has been to test how miserably dark, convoluted, and cumbersome the web-head's continuity could be. From that whole clone debacle to the out-of-left-field Norman Osbourne/Gwen Stacy secret super babies angle to the awful, disasterous, let-us-never-speak-of-it-again "Spider Totem" garbage that culminated in the flop, Spider-Man: The Other, the Spidey comics had been something of a trainwreck for a long time. But instead of seeing things through, fixing their mistakes and missteps with sense and dignity, Marvel Editorial crapped on more than just those recently bad stories. They crapped on an entire 20+ years of Marvel history. Spider-Man and his wife Mary Jane had to save Spidey's Aunt May, now about 135 years old and at death's door for like the fifteenth time, the only way that anyone would expect and appreciate from the happy-go-lucky, friendly neighborhood web-slinging goofball hero of comics. Spidey and MJ made a deal with the devil.

Everything was erased in a storyline called One More Day, and now the Spidey books--and as part of the rippling effect of a bad idea, all of the titles Spidey has ever been a part of in any way--are playing out with a revised timeline, new (unspecified) continuity, and no more Spidey/MJ marriage. It was a dumb, weird move that Marvel editorial basically forced on the writer, and has since shoved down the readers's throat with an accelerated run of weekly Spidey books. I guess the idea is that the more books they can put out as quickly as possible, the faster we can all put their bad idea behind us. And for what? Because Marvel Editorial wanted to tell more stories about Peter Parker getting laid. Really. That is the long story short.

And despite how much I hate what they did in One More Day, I've been dipping in and out to see what's going on in these weekly books, and I don't hate it. I still don't get why someone couldn't figure out a way to tell a grown-up story about Spidey and MJ breaking up instead, but we're stuck with the decision, and it looks like the creators in charge of Spidey now are making the best of it. Amazing #600, the big-deal anniversary issue released a couple of weeks back, was a really good bit of comic bookery that caught me up on a lot of Spidey's brand new supporting cast and storylines, while reintroducing one of his classic foes, Doc Ock, in a cool way. It was everything that piece of kindling Hulk #600 wasn't (even though that book guest-starred Spidey too), and it sold me on coming back for #601. And this one was another winner. I think I may be back on board with Spidey the comic, at least until they screw it up again.

The fact that MJ is officially back in the picture in a big way helped as well. I hated how they wrote her out of the book, but if they can figure out a way to make this all right, it may be the greatest trick the devil ever pulled off since Kaiser Soze!

1 comment:

Peat said...

I love Mark Gruenwald. His Squadron Supreme Limited Series was spectacular, and the long-unsung inspiration for DC's Kingdom Come, which came over a decade later. His book DP7 was a precious gemstone sitting in the sewage tank of Marvel's New Universe. And that run on Cap when the government found documentation proving that they owned the creative rights to the name, costume and shield of Captain America, forcing Steve Rogers to quit rather than serve a government committee of douchebags, that was just genius.

You weren't the only one hounding the retailers for that. Even Nomad, Cap's old partner, had a brief respite from being a total douche, though even the Gruen couldn't keep that up for long.

Legend has it that as part of his will, Mark Gruenwald's ashes were mixed with the printer's ink for the print run of the trade paperback of Squadron Supreme sitting on my shelf. A fitting resting place for a man who had an enormous influence on my youth, and never got the credit he deserved.

Oh, and yeah. The Spidey deal with the devil thing was stupid.