15 July 2006

COMICS

Only two comics this week, amazingly enough: Superman and ‘The Sensational’ Spider-Man. Each company’s long-standing icon, and each icon at a turning point.

Sensational Spider-Man #28 – “My Science Teacher is Spider-Man!!” – follows a little of the fallout in Peter Parker’s life in the wake of his nationally televised coming-out as Spider-Man (it features a GREAT cover by the wonderul new-to-me artist Clayton Crain, whose names sounds like a Stan Lee secret identity name). In this case, what would happen to a really bright kid in one of Peter’s classes, once it was revealed that his science teacher is a super-hero. The issue was really good though predictable, and my favorite moment wasn’t the one very good writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa planned it to be, the rousing final page where we learn that the kid is going to be fine … no, my favorite moment was when the writer remembered that this isn’t the first time Doctor Octopus has seen Peter Parker dressed as Spider-Man (although the previous time he wasn’t dressed in the new stupid gay-ass bright red hotsuit like he should be called Afterburn and be working four nights a week at the Bun Factory… geez) – when I saw that Aguirre-Sacasa had even gone to the trouble of mimicking Stan Lee’s original hyperventilating multiple-exclamation points …. well, I smiled.

Not much to smile about with Superman #654, “On Our Special Day,” and that shouldn’t have been true – the thing is written by Kurt Busiek, one of the best Superman-writers of all time, and it’s drawn by Carlos Pacheco, one of the most gifted comic book artists in comics history. I was extremely gratified to learn that DC was bringing its A-team to its flagship character, but hoo-boy, this first issue left me waiting for that to happen.

Let’s start with the cover – great iconic Superman pose, but what about the REST of it? The bad guys seem not only beaten but … well, BEATEN, like they’re begging us to pull the big guy OFFA them before he KILLS them – hardly the tone you want in a Superman comic (and what’s with that bizarre WWII-era insulting Oriental crouching beneath the Western Imperialist dog? Me so solly, but that sort of stuff just doesn’t fly anymore).

Then there’s everything on the inside.

Page 1: Who the Hell gets up at 7 if they’ve got a staff meeting at 8:10? What were Lois and Clark going to DO with that honey-nut toast and fresh-squeezed juice and eggs florentine? Power-eat them? And where do they live? Actually IN the Daily Planet building?

Page 2 -3: OK, I like the fist-marks all over Neutron’s containment armor … but mommy, why does Superman have a mouth full of ragged fangs? Is he the devil?

Page 4: First reminder of the issue: Superman is not Cyclops. You can tell by the flying, and the big red cape. His heat vision makes things HOTTER – it doesnt shatter them.

Page 5: OK, I LOVE the ‘science police’ bit, but, looking at panel 1, I’m moved to ask: who the Hell is that in the Superman costume? Why doesn’t he look anything like the ten or twelve other faces Pacheco tries in the rest of the issue?

Page 6: Um, people who ‘establish’ themselves as “erratic, prone to irregular absences” get their asses fired.

Page 7: Yeesh. That line “Lana? I’d been wondering what she’d do with her life, but this is a surprise” couldn’t be a bigger writer-copout if it read “Lana? I’d been wondering what the writers would do with her life, but this is sure a totally out-of-character mindfuck.” Lana Lang as CEO of Lexcorp! Or, as it’s known in the DC bullpen: Busiek drunk off his ass!

Page 8: Hard-nosed is one thing, but Perry White is coming off here as a J. Jonah Jameson-style a-hole with no redeeming qualities at all.

Page 9: I miss Clark Kent’s blue suits. And I could do without Lois Lane’s frickin belly button flashing in the newsroom.

Page 10: Um, just wondering here, but why would you NEED your crack camouflage squad with their specially-designed light-refracting invisibility suits if you’re planting frigging glowing spheres in frigging broad daylight?

Page 11: OK, panel one is a great, compacted action-scene, but … reminder number two: Superman is not Cyclops. You can tell by the flying, and the big red cape. His heat vision MELTS things, it doesn’t knock people unconscious (or anything else that isn’t melting). And also: so you’ve got this glowing energy-sphere and you have NO IDEA what it does, but what do you do? You hand it over to a Metropolis cop – but hey, you make sure to give him a helpful warning: “be careful … it’s almost pure, compacted energy”… love that ‘almost’ … (also love the fact that Superman is clearly still holding the energy sphere in his hand as he flies off … what, don’t Busiek and Pacheco even get drunk TOGETHER?)

Page 12: So let me get this straight: the villain on the water-sled is yelling to his unarmed scuba-buddies “Kill him! Kill him!”? And that’s what kind of writing, again? Where is there ANYBODY, and I mean frigging ANYBODY, who yells “Kill him! Kill him!” to his buddies when they’re fighting Superman? It’s so nonsensical it’s annoying.

Page 13: So Jimmy’s spent the whole friggin morning obsessing on what anniversary Lois and Clark are celebrating? But Clark’s the one fighting for his job? And shouldn’t somebody tell Lois she’s got an oilslick on her head?

Page 14: OK, aside from that ‘focus my hearing forward’ bit of nonsense, this page kicks ass, especially the last two panels. But even in the midst of enjoying them, I’m bombarded with the concentrated bullshit of “The building’s shielded with an energy field that gives off the spectrographic signature of lead paint.” Just think about that for a minute. Just wait … it’ll come to you. Trust me, you haven’t read a sentence that dumb all day.

Page 15: Awesome page – a real good twist.

Page 16: Um, I counted 12 scientists monitoring Mannheim on page 15 – wouldn’t Superman be, um, interested in, you know, saving them or something? I mean when the friggin building collapses on top of them? Just a thought.

Page 17: Oh great …. so in addition to not saving the aforementioned scientists trapped under the building’s rubble, Superman is now ENTOMBING them by slagging the rubble to hamper Mannheim’s feet. What’s next? Repeatedly X-raying little orphans’ scrotums until they get testicular cancer? Welcome back, big guy!

Page 18: Curses! Superman could have used his telescopic vision to SEE who was behind Mannheim’s transformation if he’d only … LOOKED UP! Oh well, Mannheim foiled him this time, but next time, he might just MOVE HIS FRIGGIN HEAD.

Page 19: So let me get this straight – when it comes to energy-spheres made of almost pure compacted energy of unknown design or function, Superman can’t stick around, but when it comes to booby-traps (which he could, um, LOOK for) or ‘damaged weaponry’ (whatever the hell THAT means), he’s got to hang around and miss his deadlines and his anniversary?

Page 20: Just a little note on journalistic ethics for all you little turnips out there who might be thinking of becoming news-people: Superman saving millions of lives is not the same thing as Lois using a forged edit-code to lie to her publisher. They’re not even in the same ballpark.

Page 21: So let me get this straight: Lois is a little worried that if Clark holds the apartment door open too long, ‘old Mrs. Schwartz’ will peep in, but she’s not concerned about FLYING over friggin Metropolis in the arms of Clark Kent, the famous newspaper reporter? And Clark’s not worried either? Isn’t there a chance that, oh, I don’t know – somebody might be LOOKING OUT THEIR FRIGGIN WINDOW right at that moment? Or that the weirdly-obsessive Jimmy Olson might have their place staked out?

See, the fact that I only unabashedly LIKED one single page from this issue points out the problem with this bi-annual Superman relaunches: they always stink. And they always stink because they’re so obviously not thought-through for any length of time ahead of time, by any of the people involved. If I had to guess, I’d say the inspiration for this issue – filtered through lots and lost of beer – was the first issue of Busiek’s Astro City, in which a decent but harried Samaritan is seen as the busiest guy in the world, only instead of his peaceful dream of flying, our Superman gets the real, secret-identity-endangering thing.

But that’s half the problem right there: this is Superman, the guy of whom Samaritan is a pale copy, not vice versa. AND this is Superman just coming back from a massive, life-altering event: a PERFECT time to re-invigorate the character. This issue shouldn’t feel like a tired re-tread of Busiek’s earlier work … and if it did when it was presented to the DC powers that be, it should bloody well have been rejected, regardless of whose names are attached. My super-genius young friend Elmo could have come up with four different, totally involving ways to relaunch this title, AND still had time for some bird-watching in the afternoon.

So here’s hoping the next issue will be better. Sap that I am, you know I’ll be there.