Rave : 2017 : Pre-Legacy Review Part 4

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Date: Nov 5, 2017
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Prev: Pre-Legacy Review Part 3

In my quest to recap every Spider-Man book of the past few years, I have finally reached the last few books. I looked at the worst in Pre-Legacy Review Part 1, the mediocre in Pre-Legacy Review Part 2, and the decent in Pre-Legacy Review Part 3. This leaves the cream of the crop. Hopefully, these books can show what has been working lately and what Marvel should do in the future with Legacy.

5.) Spider-Man/Deadpool (Spider-Man/Deadpool #1 - 18)

Nobody really asked for a team-up title between Spider-Man and Deadpool, but Joe Kelly and Ed McGuinness thankfully deliver a touching, fleshed-out story between the two anyways. Like any Deadpool book, there is plenty of juvenile humor, and this style of comedy isn’t for everyone. I usually find Deadpool obnoxious on his own, but Kelly inserts Spider-Man as a straight man to provide balance. The jokes are plenty and often deserve a smirk, if not a laugh. I particularly enjoyed Deadpool’s attempt to set Spider-Man up on a date. Ed McGuinness is excellent at complementing the script’s humor with visual gags.

Besides the consistent jokes, Kelly constructs compelling character arcs for both Peter and Deadpool. Their relationship is touching; Spider-Man reluctantly decides to help Wade become a better person and bonds with the lovable mercenary. Deadpool genuinely becomes a hero, giving up killing for good with Peter as his moral compass. However, halfway through the series, Kelly turns this dynamic on its side. Spider-Man slowly becomes amoral and Deadpool transforms into the hero trying to save his former mentor from his own darkness. This shift feels organic and leads to a clever, touching conclusion. I never expected a story involving Deadpool to be so moving and well-constructed.

Beyond the character development, Kelly’s overarching plot can be interpreted as a commentary on post-One More Day Spider-Man. The big twist in the middle of the story is a brilliant sequence in which Mephisto reminds Peter that he will always be missing something. This sends the hero on a dark path that culminates in his attempted murder of Itsy Bitsy, a raunchy monster constructed from his and Wade’s DNA. In general terms, I interpret this as Kelly discussing how One More Day and the destruction of Peter’s marriage has contaminated Peter’s character. As a result, the character’s modern stories have been darker, particularly in Superior and Grim Hunt. This story could be seen as an extended apology from Kelly for his involvement in Brand New Day and Grim Hunt. I may be reading into this too much, but the signs are too obvious for me to ignore, even as someone who isn’t still up in arms about the marriage ending.

Nevertheless, Kelly and McGuinness’s Spider-Man/Deadpool is easily one of the best team-ups involving the web-slinger, a bold statement considering his rich history of fighting with other heroes. The only element that detracts from the series is the mediocre-to-bad fill-in issues that interrupted the regular creative team’s flow. Still, the story is interesting and well-constructed.

4.) Spider-Man 2099 (Spider-Man 2099 (Vol. 3) #1 - 25)

Peter David and Will Sliney’s Spider-Man 2099 is a postmodern comic book run. Having been in the industry for about three decades, David has written hundreds of comics, so he knows the formula for superhero comics like the back of his hand. There must be obligatory fights, and everything has to be exaggerated and dramatic. Or does it?

In Spider-Man 2099, Peter David defies conventional superhero storytelling, offering a satirical, at times hyper-realistic, take on the genre. Many scenes incorporate twists that defy usual action plots and throw readers off guard. For example, David opens the third volume with a review of everything going well in Miguel O’Hara’s life until the last few pages, during which his pregnant girlfriend is suddenly killed by a random terrorist attack. The main character then becomes a Rambo-like vigilante, hunting down the very real modern threat of terrorism. David touches upon religion, biochemical attacks, and android technology with odd superhero twists. The craziest elements of this run are often those modern Americans deal with on a day-to-day basis.

The writer also subverts expectations in his depiction of superhero drama. Muscular warriors and conniving villains are more likely to greet each other with an informal “hi” than a long-winded monologue or a one-liner. Miguel pays off goons to not fight him, and villains pause intense interrogations to order pizza. The Civil War 2099 story is the highlight of David’s satire; he mocks the concept of the biyearly blockbuster event by having a horde of vaguely-defined heroes fight half-heartedly in a contrived battle. The low energy tone often sucks the typical drama and thrill from the series, making especially the second half of Spider-Man 2099 unsatisfying as a pure superhero title. Fans shouldn’t be reading this book as much for comic book action as they are for Peter David’s satire on the genre.

Will Sliney is one of the most consistent modern comic book artists, not taking a single issue off during this run. His art always has a unique blocky, futuristic look, and he plays around with layouts to keep the visual element as unpredictable as David’s scripts. Further, Sliney is in-tune with the writer’s satirical sense of humor, always complementing the constant twists with clever layouts. When the script calls for it, he is surprisingly adept depicting the subtleties of facial expressions and body language. David and Sliney work together fantastically, and their run is a truly hilarious mockery of clichés in superhero plots.

3.) Carnage (Carnage (Vol. 2) #1 - 16)

Upon returning to the grind of monthly comics, comic book legend Gerry Conway took over writing duties for a series involving Carnage, an over-the-top, violent character created after he left Spider-Man comics. He didn't seem like a natural fit for the title, as he specializes in traditional superhero tales, and I feared that his writing style would be dated. Luckily, Conway's storytelling abilities have withstood the test of time, unlike many of his peers. In this Carnage series, the way he sets up scenes is masterful. While reading, I often paused to admire how well-constructed his plot points and character development could be, especially in the opening arc.

While Carnage has always been a frightening, psychotic killer, few have wrote him as a full-on monster in the horror genre. The opening arc retains a dark, moody tone as Carnage hides in the dark of an abandoned mine and strikes at unsuspecting victims. Conway paces horror scenes well despite the timing limitations of the sequential storytelling format. Artist Mike Perkins does the majority of the work in setting tone, his murky pencils giving the title a creepy tone. Well-placed lights and shadows foster suspense and focus the readers' eyes. (Andy Troy’s washed out colors also complement the scripts and pencils.)

What makes Carnage a phenomenal book is Conway’s choice to center the narrative around the characters hunting down the titular villain. He has an acute sense of characterization, and his explorations of Eddie Brock, John Jameson, and newly-created Claire Dixon are all compelling in different ways. While still focusing his scripts on solid characterization, Conway successfully moves his narrative from horrific to supernatural. In the latter phase of this series, he uses the optimistic, young Jubulile Van Scotter, to develop his plot into an epic battle between pure evil and good.

Carnage is often unpredictable while remaining tonally consistent and character-centric. I highly recommend this series to any symbiote followers or fans of horror/supernatural comics in general.

2.) Champions (Champions (Vol. 2) #1 - 12)

Splitting Mark Waid’s ANAD Avengers into two teams following Civil War II was a brilliant idea. Not only has the main Avengers title improved (as I explained earlier) but the younger heroes have joined into a truly fun, relevant team.

The core team consists of Spider-Man, Ms. Marvel, and Nova, and Mark Waid’s excellent grasp on characterization and snappy dialogue is obvious on this book. The teenagers’ interactions feel genuine, and the team dynamic is actually fun to read. While I generally find teen books to be pandering, this book’s teen angst and drama is not noxious or annoying for older readers. The characters experience realistic challenges often centering around their unique powers or circumstances. Viv Vision explores her emotions (or lack thereof) as an android, young Cyclops deals with the knowledge that his future self is a horrible person, and Ms. Marvel copes with the stress of leading the team of headstrong adolescents. With these interesting arcs, Waid make readers truly care about the characters.

Another element working in Champions’s favor is Waid’s relevant explorations of current issues. The political messages of the title will likely turn off conservative readers, but the unapologetic discussion of modern issues makes the Champions relevant. In their opening issue, they face the brutal cruelty of human trafficking. From there, the teens go to the Middle East to fight for women’s rights, combat racism in a rural town’s justice system, and confront the ugly side of capitalism. For the latter point, Waid introduces the Freelancers as an antithesis of the Champions to challenge the team’s goal of fighting for fairness and “looking out for the little guys.” The teams’ conflict is the highlight of the teen heroes' story so far.

The cherry on top is Humberto Ramos’s cartoony, amusing artwork. Ramos deftly transitions between wild superhero action and character moments as well as Waid does in his scripts, making the duo work well. I’ve always enjoyed Ramos’s oddball artwork, and this is certainly a gorgeous, detailed book. Like the political slant, his art may not be for every reader, but his fans will certainly enjoy this title.

1.) Renew Your Vows (Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows (Vol. 2) #1 - 12)

Upon its announcement, fans were excited for Gerry Conway and Ryan Stegman’s work following an alternate Spider-Man married to Mary Jane and their young daughter, Annie. How could this creative team go wrong with such a strong direction? Luckily, this title is exactly what fans expected it to be: a light, fun story about Peter’s family and their unique difficulties.

Conway knows these characters like the back of the hand (he did set MJ and Peter up back in the 70s after all), so the dynamics and dialogue are the highlights of the run. Fans can’t help but smile as Peter and MJ try their luck as parents with plenty of heartwarming moments sprinkled throughout. The three characters play off of each other in interesting ways as Peter and MJ both pursue superhero antics and grapple with their daughter’s pining to do the same. Annie is cute in her naivety and optimism, and Conway (and later Stegman) certainly uses her to her full potential in his scripts.

Although Conway’s scripts are strong, the real star of this run is artist Ryan Stegman. He delivers his strongest work of his career here with his dynamic, highly-energetic style. The layouts are strong and interesting to look at, even during slower scenes. Characters are constantly in motion, and the figures are well-defined and solid as they pop off the page, a testament to Stegman’s improvement as an inker. Later, he takes over as writer to finish the year-long arc, and his scripts are strong enough to triumphantly carry the title over the finish line.

Renew Your Vows proves that Marvel editorial has been listening to fans’ protesting of One More Day, and they responded as sufficiently as they could. The first year of the title is a well-crafted, instant classic book that will be fondly remembered by fans. This has quickly developed to be one of my favorite alternate universes for Spider-Man. The pure entertainment of watching Peter as a father to a young daughter is worth admission alone, but the character and plots keep the book funny and highly enjoyable. If only this weren’t an alternate universe…

In essence, the Spider-Man line hasn’t been bad pre-Legacy. Some titles have been real stinkers, primarily thanks to directionless stories that editorial frankly shouldn’t have ever let happen. With a constantly-changing line of about twenty titles over a few years, I understand editors can only do so much and need to make so much money to keep the line viable. Train wrecks like Amazing Grace and Civil War II came and went to make a few quick bucks while other titles like Web Warriors, Venom: Space Knight, and Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man lacked editorial direction.

The best titles were conceptually-strong and unashamedly aimed for particular audiences. Spider-Man/Deadpool is for the comedy readers, Spider-Man 2099 is for the satirical sci-fi enthusiasts, Carnage targets horror fans, Champions is intended for liberal teens, and Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows is a direct response to those special fans still fuming over the marriage’s ending. In all of these cases, tried-and-true veteran creators took the reins and excelled in constructing character-centric stories.

The primary lesson Marvel should learn with this round of titles is to focus on seasoned creators writing inspired, niche books. The worst books of the line feel forced and editorial-dictated. Comic books thrive under interested writers, not editors, and hopefully Marvel works on motivating and enabling professionals to produce the best work possible. Hopefully, the Spider-Editors can keep the quality up across the line during Legacy instead of producing a few exceptional books mixed with mediocre to poor companions.