Welcome To My Nightmare

First order of business: where are my candidates? I have a couple for Marvel and they’re both mutants! Where’s the common folk? The cosmically endowed? And where’s the love for DC? Send in some candidates for the comic White House(s) and play along! See my previous column for more. I promise not to ask for long-winded contributions. I know we all have jobs and/or homework. Now that we have that out of the way…

I wasn’t planning on coming back to this again, certainly not anytime soon, but one of my loyal readers brought something to my attention that made him angry and extremely disappointed: Tom Brevoort’s “Spider-Man Manifesto.” As I understand it, the Spider-Man Manifesto was a document that made the rounds internally at Marvel, and was added as supplemental material to a “Director’s Cut” Edition of “Swing Shift,” a story originally released for Free Comic Book Day. Now Tom Brevoort and I have more or less agreed to disagree on certain things, but through our correspondence I’ve come to appreciate that he has a different point of view from us consumer-side folk who merely buy, read, and/or discuss after the fact and have little to no input in the concept and production of a comic. The fact that the Manifesto was dated from 2006 demonstrates just how much advance planning a monthly ongoing title takes. And with all the other things Mr. Brevoort has on his plate, I’m amazed that he’s able to do what he does at all.

Of course, that won’t stop me from being a little nitpicky. That what ComicsNexus DOESN’T pay me for, you know. I already said my peace (piece?) about the “One More Day” story a few weeks ago, so I don’t really want to repeat myself. I’ll try my best to hit the key points of the Manifesto and offer my two cents from my point of view. And I’ll tell you straight from the top, I agree with it, in my own fork-tongued sort of way. I’m not going to fill up the column with scans of the Manifesto (because frankly this column does weird things with my pictures and you probably wouldn’t be able to read them), but if you haven’t already seen the Director’s Cut, somebody scanned the Spider-Man Manifesto here, page two of the thread, about half way down.

Tom says, “Peter Parker is Spider-Man, Spider-Man is not Peter Parker.” I agree. Spidey is the anti-Batman. He is absolutely a guy in a mask who does things no one else can do because he was raised with a strong value system. And yes, so was Clark Kent, but Superman was and always will be different. He cannot not be Superman. Even in his everyday routine, he has to shave by burning off his stubble with a shot of heat vision bounced off of a mirror. That is only normal for him. Pete probably uses a Gillette Fusion like me. Peter doesn’t make decisions based on what Spider-man needs to do, he bases his decision on what Peter knows is right. Bruce Wayne, it has rightfully been said, is the mask Batman wears, not the other way around. So I agree, a Spider-Man book should be built around Peter Parker and the trouble — and rewards — his costumed career brings him.

Tom says, “Spider-Man is the hard luck hero.” I agree. I have yet to meet anyone who has watched Joss Whedon’s “Firefly” series and not absolutely loved it. And was it because Adam Baldwin was hilarious as Jayne? No. Was it because Morena “Inara” Baccarin is insanely gorgeous? Yeah, OK, maybe a little. But it was mostly because Nathan Fillion’s character Malcolm Reynolds was a complex, well-meaning sort who always seemed to get himself and the crew in all manner of trouble no matter how hard he tried to avoid it. And he almost always tried to do the right thing, even though that was almost never the easy thing. Sound like anyone we know? I bet Pete and MJ liked Wash and Zoe the best. Not that they’d recall watching it together. Sigh.

Tom says, “Spider-Man 2 get’s it right…by and large Spidey is distrusted by the authorities and the common man on the street.” I agree, sort of, and I admit that I am taking two bits from separate points and using them slightly out of context here. Spider-Man 2 is still one of the best comic-related films ever (and I don’t have much of a problem with 1 or 3 either). But didn’t Spider-Man 2 show the people of New York standing up to Doc Ock on the train to protect the fallen (and unmasked) hero? I don’t remember the common man being at all distrustful of Spidey there. And the cops, well they didn’t put a whole lot of effort into stopping Spider-Man at any point. I’ve read cases where the NYPD have emptied their clips, reloaded and fired some more at suspects doing much less than fighting semi-sentient robot arms in the street. But I do see what Tom was trying to say, he thought Spider-Man 2 was the best example of setting: Pete’s a young guy still, his love life is a mess, his professional career is a shambles, etc. I don’t necessarily think it’s a great idea to pattern comics after movies though. The movies often have to take certain liberties because of the constraints of the medium. That also happens to be why I advocate more animation projects. I’ve seen some brilliant Japanese anime that looks ridiculously cheesy when they do a live-action version. Marvel could so wonders with some theatrical animated features, as long as they get a strong art style from the start (i.e.: nothing kiddied-up like X-Men Evolution or Teen Titans Go!). One of these days I’ll get around to watching the Dr. Strange and Iron Man animated features on DVD — I’ve heard good things about them. The medium of sequential narrative allows so much freedom, it would seem a shame to constrain that freedom to follow a limited medium’s example.

Tom says, “The worst thing that can happen is for the aftermath of the ‘unmarrying’ to feel like it’s 1968 again.” I agree. But I would suspect that notion is exactly why so many people I’ve spoken with at the shop I buy from and those whom have emailed me on the topic are so put off by it. The very natural act of maturity, both personally and professionally (as both Peter and Spidey) was rewound in a very unnatural way. Several have said to me, “Wasn’t that the point of the Ultimates?” I can’t answer that because I’ve never been interested in reading the Ultimate line. But as I understand the rationale for that line of titles, the reasoning seems sound. Those same people thought maybe they should just drag the Ultimate continuity into the regular titles. Amazing Spider-Man would still be called Amazing, but the story would be following the events from the Ultimate Spider-Man title. Again, since I’m not a regular Spider-reader anyway, I don’t think I’d care much one way or the other. But I do think some of what Tom feared is exactly the reaction OMD got.

Tom says, “And there really hasn’t been a new Spidey villain created in the last ten years who’s really stuck beyond his originator’s tenure on the series.” I wholeheartedly agree. Personally, I’m many more times fascinated by a villain than a hero. I think Iron Fist is one of the few heroes I will read and be happy with even if he’s not fighting anything more than generic ninja or street thugs. But give me some Rhino or Taskmaster and I’m a kid at Christmas. I always wondered why certain characters just sort of fade away. What about some Larsen-era cats like Cardiac and Solo? I know, they’re both more vigilante than true villains, but Cardiac could go either way since he’s barely been used and remains underdeveloped. Solo would be an interesting patsy for a terrorist organization. And where was he when 9-11 happened in the Marvel Universe? “While I live, terror dies,” that was his catchphrase, wasn’t it? Sadly, Kaine is the only newer villain I can think of, and I mostly try not to think of him at all. Or Kraven’s jackass son. Yeesh. There’s plenty of new life to be breathed into the established villains too. Wouldn’t the Chameleon be a compelling replacement for the Kingpin? And with the Skrull Invasion…oooh, could he have been one all along? Sadly, his only play in recent times was the lighthearted Modok miniseries. Not bad, but it doesn’t place him in the driver’s seat as Spidey-villains go. If I’ve said it 1000 times, then here’s 1001: a superhero is only as good as their rogue’s gallery. That’s why Superman is boring as Hell. And that why Spider-man’s been a little lacking at times over the last few years. Of course, this is soooo easy to fix: Spidey needs more Rhino like the Blue Oyster Cult needed more cowbell. Baby. And Electro ain’t bad either. Or the Chameleon. And what happened to Chance, the goofy but endearing guy who bet his contracts against the job? He sort of reminded me of Deadshot in a way. I gotta ask Jim Trebold about that.

Tom says, “Issues to resolve: Who will know Peter’s secret now? Do we want the web-shooters back? Gwen?” I believe my answers would be: By Spider-Man 2 standards, EVERYBODY knows Pete’s face. Knowing that face belongs to Peter Parker, well, that’s the whole mystery of superhero costumed adventures. For a while there it seemed like Marvel, especially in books by Brian Bendis, was determined to unmask their characters. The X-Men costumes were never terribly protective of identities, but Captain America, Spider-Man, Iron Man, etc. — these were often used as themes for stories. It appears that Tom realized this and is making the effort to make this built-in subplot inherent to cape-and-cowl comics possible again. Web-shooters? Hell yeah! I want web-shooters like Eric Cartman wants Cheesy-Poofs. Another plot device that went the way of the dinosaurs, mechanical failure make Spidey have to work harder. Against strong and dangerous villains, does he blow his whole cartridge in one shot or save them in case he doesn’t get a chance to reload or needs to yank a bystander out of danger? Here’s another example where following the movie’s lead doesn’t make the comic better. And why couldn’t they use shooters in the movie too, for that matter? As for Gwen, the deader the better. Death is a HUGE motivator, especially if the hero is directly or indirectly responsible for it. And this is from a guy who liked “Sins Past.” You can do a lot with dead characters if you let them haunt the living, psychologically or paranormally. Either way, I think that intangibility is a wonderful obstacle. It’s nigh-impossible for Peter to get true, actual forgiveness from Gwen if she’s a ghost at most (sorry, couldn’t help it). If she could show up and give him a hug and say, “Don’t let it happen again, Pete!” it’s too easy to not really mean it.

Tom says, “The problem is that [resurrecting Gwen] only really works is you understand that she’s been resurrected by Mephisto, and supernatural elements like this are an awkward fit in the Spidey milieu, at least on a consistent basis.” I agree. I remember walking along the New Release rack at the shop a year or two ago (maybe more) and seeing Spider-Man sitting on a rooftop with Loki. I have always been a fan of mythology and Marvel has by and large done a fantastic job with the Norse characters. Loki is one of my favorite villains of all time. And I think it was drawn by John Romita Jr., so how could I pass that up? Besides, it didn’t make a lick of sense — Spidey doesn’t do the magic stuff. He refers all that noise to Doctor Strange over in the Village. And yet here I am, for the second time in about a month, writing about an arc where Spider-Man is deeply affected by the supernatural. If Tom agrees that maybe Gwen shouldn’t be back at all, and I think if you read the whole context of the Manifesto you’ll see that he seems to be of two minds about it, then there really wasn’t a terribly compelling reason to go down the supernatural road at all. If breaking up Peter and Mary Jane was editorially mandated, as many reports seem to suggest, why not go about it more naturally? Do some men not behave like they’re 25 again once they get divorced? A lot of what it seems Quesada and Brevoort were trying to accomplish could have been done more organically and naturally. The happy couple gets a divorce. Pete’s a free man. There are a number of ways a creative person could come up with to give Peter back his secret identity. Use a mind-control device Peter snags off some villain. Have Doc Strange do it — at least it won’t be the Devil doing the deed. One of the X-Men could do it: Xavier, Emma…I just thought of this: wouldn’t it be funny if everyone forgot Pete’s secret except for Layla Miller? She knows stuff. God I love that character. All I’m saying is that if Tom recognized at the time he wrote his Manifesto that Spider-Man and the supernatural aren’t a good mix, I’m left to scratch my head and wonder why he stuck with that idea. From the general outcry I’ve heard against OMD, it seems Tom (or Joe?) ignored what his instincts were telling him.

The rest of the Manifesto deals with the process and structure of realigning the titles themselves after OMD. How the subsequent arcs should be constructed, how the revolving stable of writers would work, and the advanced planning to keep everyone involved on the same page is all interesting, behind-the-scenes stuff and perfect for a “Director’s Cut.” I’m always glad for a glimpse behind the curtain. And even though I disagree with the idea of editorially mandated stories (as it seems then-series writer J. M. Straczynski had little say in the matter), I agree with most of what Tom Brevoort offered as his reasoning. I think he’s right in that Spider-Man needed a little bit of a shake-up, the rogue’s gallery and supporting cast needed updating, stories should focus on what makes Peter tick because we know what makes Spider-Man tick (radioactive bug bites and cool villains), and Spidey should avoid supernatural demons who might resurrect tragically dead girlfriends. If only they had listened to themselves. And killed Aunt May.

Welcome to My Nightmare

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