Letter From The Editor - Issue 58 - August 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
Miracle Pictographs
    Graphic Novel Reviews by Spencer Ellsworth
April 2012

Spider-Sense is Squishing

The Amazing Spider-Girl: Whatever Happened To The Daughter of Spider-Man? (Marvel 2007) 100 Bullets: First Shot, Last Call (DC, 2000)

(Readers who don't want to read another straggling One More Day rant can skip to the next parenthetical.)

Back during the cluster-you-know-what that was One More Day, Joe Quesada offered the following tidbit to fans upset by the destruction of the Spider-Marriage: "We've already got a comic about a married Spider-Man, called Amazing Spider-Girl!"

As per usual for OMD, Joey Q was spinning the story. Fans of Spidey wanted to see a young Peter and MJ working out their unusual marriage, but Amazing Spider-Girl features a 40something Peter and MJ raising their spunky teenager May Parker, aka Mayday, aka Spider-Girl.

In Spider-Girl, Peter and MJ are just part of the supporting cast and have settled into a status quo. Now, this comic does scratch one special itch for me. I grew up with Pete, to some degree, and was always a bit disappointed to see him frozen as a perpetual hard-luck mid-20s slacker. I'm older than Spider-Man now, have kids, and have a much more real job than the guy who was my idol at eleven.

Still, though -- I haven't seen the years in between!

(Rant over. For now)

That should not stand in the way of the fact that Amazing Spider-Girl is a really great comic. It reads like the best of Peter's high school and college adventures, following his daughter, May, aka Mayday, through power, responsibility, zits and boyfriends.

In this comic, Pete is a forensic detective, fighting crime with a prosthetic leg as best he can. This comic follows a previous series that established the status quo, but it's easy to follow. May has quit superheroing on her parents' request, once they discovered her identity. She has thrown herself into her new life with a boyfriend, the son of Flash Thompson, and a run for student body president.

Her dad Peter is quick to point out that it never worked for him, until he lost his leg in a big battle. Nonetheless, her parents have faith, and she isn't sure whether it's right to disappoint them or follow them.

She faces the very conflict her father avoided by never telling Aunt May his secret identity. Kind of an improvement on the old man, Mayday.

As the story starts, May has filled her life with a run for student body president, aforementioned boyfriend, etc, all in order to forget her identity.

Events, as they tend to do, draw her back into crimefighting, but it's not quite a run-of-the-mill story. Her mother hands her the costume, telling May that lives are at stake, and just this once, she is needed.

Of course, "just this once" isn't enough for a Parker. She's got great power, and there's great responsibility out there! Also, there are goblins and crimelords.

The art is mostly a blast, with Sal Buscema's angular style of inks over Ron Frenz's solid, classic-Marvel-style dynamism. The action scenes positively crackle, although the facial expressions are . . . weird. Mary Jane spends most of the comic with a stretched grin on her face that almost approaches the demonic.

Tom DeFalco is a rather wordy writer, but he has a nice sense of his own tendency for cheese. When May leaps into battle and yells "Let's dance!" she inner-monologues "Did I really say that? If I'm going to use corny dialogue like that, I should stay retired."

DeFalco's major weakness is in characterizing Mary Jane. She serves as a generic foil for May, reminding her to always do the right thing. Even though she's proactive and involved, she's one-dimensional. According to the backstory, this MJ is a successful executive in the fashion industry. She should have plenty of demons, though! DeFalco is the very writer who came up with MJ's backstory as an abused child in a broken home. Where's the depth? Where's the worry over losing her daughter the way she worried about losing her husband? There should be a lot more heft to the moment where she hands the costume back to May. That's a small flaw for now, though.

Do you want a comic for a teenage girl in your life? This comic follows a successful, active, strong-willed female hero in high school. She's every bit as awesome as her dad, and as her dad's spiritual descendant Buffy. She may wear a skintight suit that shows her curves, but she has none of the typical cleavage, exposed skin and porny poses that plague other female superheroes. Her mother and father are important influences in her life, and she must grapple with personal identity and adulthood.

Marvel recently canceled Amazing Spider-Girl for what looks like the last time. Sigh . . . Okay, so it's yet another splinter universe, it mostly appeals to old-time fans, blah blah BUT . . .

I can't imagine a better superheroine role model for my daughter than Amazing Spider-Girl. Get your act together, Marvel. Even if it means taking DeFalco and Frenz off this title, keep Spider-Girl going!

Switching gears to a comic my daughter won't read for many years, at least not if I have anything to do with it . . .

I've praised Brian Azzarello for 100 Bullets in the past, and figured it was time to just go ahead and review the thing.

First Shot, Last Call is gripping, stylized, dark and vivid. In this way it's a descendant of Sin City, but it improves greatly on Frank Miller's knee-jerk violence.

The concept is simple. People on the outs of life, victims of tragedy, unfairness, evil, are approached by one Mister Graves, who details the unfairness of their situation, points out the perpetrator of the crime and gives said people a gun and a case with one hundred bullets.

Our first heroine, Dizzy, left a husband and child behind when she was imprisoned for murder. While she was in the joint, two crooked cops gunned down her husband. When she leaves prison, she returns to a world where these cops collude with her brother to keep her neighborhood awash in drugs.

Mister Graves offers her the gun and Dizzy makes her way through a web of familial loyalty, drugs and corruption.

Dizzy's story is actually a bit slow, saved mostly by Eduardo Risso's highly stylized, liquid art. She takes too long to decide who is guilty and must die when it's obvious where the corruption comes from.

The follow-up story, Lee's story, is a better potboiler. Lee was a successful chef who was robbed of his family, his career and his life when someone anonymously loaded his computer with child pornography. He now works in a dive and his social life consists of conversations with his favorite stripper.

Mister Graves offers the name of the woman, a highly-placed software executive, who sent the pictures. Lee's hubris sets in with his plan, as he confronts his son with the classic "I'm going to make good!"

Lee's story makes for a good tragedy and exemplifies the tight storytelling of the episodic 100 Bullets. Both stories allude to the fact that there is a great mystery surrounding Graves. He's got enemies and he's got allies of a sort; both encounter Lee and Dizzy.

In later issues, the overarching story starts to distract from the episodes with the bullets. I can't say whether the later parts of the series live up to the promise of First Shot, Last Call, but it's definitely worth a read.

Next issue: GREAAAAARGH! EXPLOSION! Nextwave, by Warren Ellis, wants to be your awesome friend.

Read more by Spencer Ellsworth


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