Hot Ink Reviews – Siege: Spider-Man One Shot, Ultimate Spider-Man #9, The Guild #2, The Brave and the Bold #33
ComicsAlliance reviews the biggest, best, and most interesting comics that hit the shelves this week. SPOILERS FOLLOW.
PETER PARKER, FASHION VICTIM - Siege: Spider-Man One-Shot / Ultimate Spider-Man 9
On the whole it cannot be said that Peter Parker has had an easy life. He's had family members killed, watched loved ones die before his own eyes, been betrayed by friends, and then there's the little matter of a deal with the devil that undid his marriage to the love of his life. But let us not forget that even the little things are difficult for Peter, something we see highlighted in two books this week: the "Siege: Spider-Man" one-shot and issue 9 of "Ultimate Spider-Man."
"Siege: Spider-Man," written by Brian Reed with art by Marco Santucci, reminds us yet again that Spider-Man is one of the few super-heroes in comics who has a grudge-holding former costume bent on murdering him. The Spider-Man/Venom conflict has come to symbolize, among other things, man's inhumanity to his own former fashion sense. I mean, we've all worn black clothing a lot at some point in our past. I know I did. I lived in the '90s. Most of you probably did, too, and if you didn't you have no idea how old you're making me feel right now.
The point is, though, that black clothes all the time isn't going to work on everyone. (We can't all be lucky enough to be Neil Gaiman.) The difference being that if I donate my old black shirt to Goodwill, it isn't going to end up being worn by one of my many archenemies and come looking to eat me alive. Again, Peter Parker's life is much harder than yours or mine.That being said, it's remarkably entertaining to watch happen. The interaction between Spider-Man, Venom and Ms. Marvel is all handled quite well by Reed, who writes some of the funniest Spider-Man banter I've recently read and continues to produce some of the best books across the "Siege" event. It's also a nice reminder that, as much as we've all been looking forward to Spider-Man settling the score with Norman Osborn, he's got a pretty good reason to hate Venom for impersonating a more popular, more squirrel-devouring version of himself to the general public over the course of "Dark Reign."
The Peter Parker of "Ultimate Spider-Man" lives a somewhat less difficult life, mostly due to the fact that he's had fewer decades for creators to pour misery down onto him. But this week he has to deal with a horror unlike anything he's dealt with before, as current girlfriend Gwen Stacy, along with ex-girlfriends Kitty Pryde and Mary-Jane Watson, join forces to kidnap Peter and force him to endure a haircut against his will. I'm pretty sure that's an act expressly condemned by the Geneva Convention.
On the other hand, Pete may have reason to thank them. As he returns home to find that his friend and housemate Johnny "Human Torch" Storm is pleased to report just made out with Spider-Woman. Who, in the Ultimate Universe, is a female clone of Peter. So if Johnny ends up regular making out with his girl clone, maybe it's in Peter's best interest to keep his hair short just to avoid any unfortunate mistaken identity scenarios. If I can be what might be generously termed serious for a moment, though, I do want to say that Brian Michael Bendis and artist David LaFuente have been doing a good job on this book, which is the current highlight of the Ultimate titles and is heading towards a major showdown in the next issue, as anti-mutant sentiment is poised to expel Kitty from the school and the rest of her friends are left to decide what they're going to do about it.
FRIENDS WITH (THE ABILITY TO GRANT) BENEFITS (TO YOUR MAIN ATTRIBUTE SCORES) - The Guild 2
The internet has an odd way of taking ordinary things and twisting them into something decidedly weird. Cats. Punctuation marks. Any cartoon you have fond childhood memories of. But the second issue of Dark Horse's comic spin-off of the web series "The Guild" looks at a basic phenomenon of human interaction that the internet has forever changed into something even more bizarre and confounding than it's ever been before: friendship.
While issue 1 focused mainly on Cyd Sherman's increasing feelings of isolation and her desire for an escape, issue 2 spends more time watching Cyd get to know the people who will go on to become her faithful online companions. And friendship in a virtual, anonymous realm, as the book is quick to point out, differs in some ways from how things go in the real world. Cyd's new friends include someone who pretty much obsessively stalks her from the moment he discovers that against all odds, she is a player with a female avatar who also happens to actually be a female. And another player whose understanding of friendship is limited to a spreadsheet of favors done and obligations owed to one another. And, this being a massively multiplayer online game, things wouldn't be complete without a couple middle schoolers along for the ride.
The thing is, though, as weird as all those friendships are, Cyd's online life as Codex is actually filled with people who want to spend time with her, even if it only happens to be because she can heal them after they get stabbed by a sword-wielding skeleton. Her real life seems devoid of such meaningful friendships by comparison. Her boyfriend Trevor continues to ignore her. Her friends in the orchestra would just as soon avoid her. And her interactions with her therapist can best be described as mutual polite hostility. So, yes, her online friends are weird and sometimes confusing. But, as Cyd herself points out, the world of The Game has definite rules everyone can understand. And it's that simplicity that she finds appealing, in stark contrast to the real world where everyone seems to operate by their own constantly changing rules.
Only two issues in, "The Guild" has quickly become a remarkable companion piece to the web series. The freedom of telling the story in a comic has allowed writer Felicia Day to put the game world on display, side by side with reality, in a way that we simply didn't see in the original version. And one reason it works so well is the art by Jim Rugg with colors by Dan Jackson. The visual contrast between the drab, clear lines of reality and the painted fantasy world of The Game is shown off more here than the last issue and is vital to portraying how Cyd's life is pulling her in two directions at once. One page showing the real Cyd, exhausted and frowning, opposite her avatar Codex, beaming a big bright smile, on either side of a panel showing a clock reading 3:14 AM will instantly hit home with anyone who's ever let a late night gaming session go on just a bit longer than it probably should. "The Guild" continues to be a fun and yet surprisingly thought-provoking read, one I highly recommend.
READ BEFORE READING - The Brave and the Bold 33
If you have not yet read "The Brave and the Bold" #33, stop reading this review right now and go read it from cover to cover. I'm serious here. I know that there's a spoiler warning at the top of this column, but you might have skipped by that and wandered your way down here anyway. And usually, I wouldn't really care. But chances are that you're either going to love or hate this issue, and I can't really start to talk about it without unintentionally lessening the impact it's going to have on you, one way or the other. So shoo! Get thee to a comic book store! Come back here when you've read it, then we can talk.
I'll be here, twiddlin' my thumbs, whistlin' something in the public domain.
You back? All right, here goes. When J. Michael Straczynski worked in television, he coined a term known as the "wham episode." For about 55 minutes out of an hour show, you'd watch the characters work their way through what seemed to be some non-essential filler story, meant to be good for a couple laughs and some chances for the characters to show off their lighter sides. Then, all of a sudden, in the last five minutes something deadly serious would happen, possibly changing the status quo of the series forever.
Most of the story, you see, was simply there to lull you, the unsuspecting audience, into a false sense of security so you'd never see the creator sneaking up behind you with the plot equivalent of a two-by-four. And when that sudden impact hit you, in theory, it'd be all the more powerful for it. And while Joss Whedon and J.J. Abrams have both demonstrated a great love of this tactic, it seems that no one gets a bigger smile as they creep up behind a pacified viewer than J. Michael Straczynski. You might think that in a one-shot series like "The Brave and the Bold" this approach would be closed off to him. You'd be wrong.
This issue of "The Brave and the Bold" starts off as a story about Zatanna inviting Wonder Woman and Batgirl Barbara Gordon out on a ladies' night. I'll admit, when the future Wonder Woman writer has his new character's first line to Zatanna be, in reference to a bad guy she just stripped a bomb off of, "I've never had much trouble getting someone's clothes off," I cringed a little and got a bit worried about both this issue and that upcoming run. Then there were a few sort of cute moments, like Zatanna making a backwards Star Wars reference as she sneaks into a night club, an undercover Diana crushing a guy's phone when he insinuates Wonder Woman isn't cool, and a panel of the trio performing a karaoke rendition of "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on it)" that seems destined to be one of those images that shows up over and over again in conversation.
Then the night starts to wind down in the traditional manner (pancakes, waffles, and fries at a diner). And something starts to feel off. And as Barbara leaves, WHAM. It's revealed that Zatanna was given a vision that, at some indeterminate point in the future, Barbara's going to be crippled. Zatanna and Diana staged the entire evening because they wanted to give Barbara one last, special night out dancing, and the entire issue takes on a profoundly different effect as we see flashbacks to Zatanna and Diana fighting to hold it together for Barbara's sake while Barbara herself engages in polite conversation with her father, who she's having over for dinner, only to be interrupted by a fateful visitor at the door.
Now, I'm not exactly sure what the reaction's going to be for this one. There's certainly going to be a lot of people arguing over prophecy, over how stupid or down right cruel it might seem for Zatanna and Diana to know but to not try to do anything to save Barbara. Which seems to me like it's dwelling too much on practicalities and missing the real point of the story, but we're comic book readers and that is one of our major past times. And admittedly, the choice of plot device and the explanation given to justify their actions can come off a bit awkward at times.
But I'm willing to overlook that, because the impact is powerful. My stomach was tightening as I hit those last few pages. And rereading the issue a second time, which I recommend you do, is an astonishingly different experience from the first read. The first time through I was mostly unimpressed until the reveal, which does make me believe that this could have been a better issue than it was. But the entirety of the book revolves around that WHAM. There are going to be arguments over whether this clumsily treaded over sacred ground in DC continuity. "Come on!" they'll say, "How can you have people using iPhones and singing Beyonce pre- 'Killing Joke'? That doesn't make any sense!" Or, you know, they'll have more valid points over whether revisiting the hallowed ground of one of DC's most iconic stories written by one of the most heralded creators in comics is not a great idea.
In either case, this may be continuing evidence on top of things like "One More Day" or the Gwen Stacy/Norman Osborn affair that J. Michael Straczynski is to die-hard comics continuity fans what that painter who smeared fecal matter on pictures of Jesus is to devout Catholics. Me? I liked this issue, and although I'm not going to excitedly jump up and down and proclaim it to be great I am impressed with both Straczynski's writing and Cliff Chiang's artwork. And that sucker punch via plot? I don't think I'll be forgetting that experience any time soon.
EARLY SHOUT OUTS-
Normally I'd wait until the end of the column to add other recommendations, but as my last review of this week is particularly spoiler heavy I wanted to throw in quick praise for "Joe the Barbarian" #4 and "Hercules: Fall of an Avenger" #2. Both titles continue to impress this week. Sean Murphy and Grant Morrison continue to excel on one of the best new series of this year in "Joe." And both the main story in Herc by Fred Van Lente and Greg Pak with art by Ariel Olivetti and the back-up by Paul Tobin and Reilly Brown are excellent reads that have me looking forward to "Prince of Power" kicking off next month.