Monday, July 12, 2004

The Funk Has Hit The Fan

So I finally saw Spider-Man 2. Sure enough, it was an enjoyable film, save for a handful of plot qualms. Which I won’t go into, because that’s not really something I want to talk about. Other people have already made great hay out of the inconsistencies therein.

But something did bother me that I haven’t noticed anyone else talking about. The fact is, I am really distressed at how they took the most happy-go-lucky superhero in the world and turned him into a very grim fellow. I mean, Peter Parker was always having a bad day, but being Spider-Man is supposed to be fun. He’s supposed to be flinging a never-ending stream of wisecracks at his foes. But the movie Spider-Man is just kind of boring in that respect. Now, of course there are some issues about being able to film it so that you can hear the wisecracks above the tumult of whatever action is happening, but hey, this is a movie where nuclear fission generator supply stores take cash from men in grimy trenchcoats. I’m sure they could figure it out somehow.

Anyway, after we got out of the movie we dropped into the local Dollar Store to buy something or another, and I made a momentous discovery. Staring back at me out of a huge wall of cheap knock off toys was something that I could only describe as pure genius: Chinese Bizarro Spider-Man.

His package was sparse, with pictures of Zorro, Superman, Batman and company filched from various comic book and movie stills. The only legend on the blister card was "Hero", in addition to the small words "Made in China". I paid the dollar and liberated my webby friend from his plastic prison.

There are no words to describe the joys of Chinese Bizarro Spider-Man. The plastic he’s made of feels about as heavy as tissue-thin balsa wood. The mold he was made from had big thick lace-up boots and gloves. He’s supposed to have a light-up chest cavity but it doesn’t work. The seams on the plastic could cut a small child. He’s got a slightly misshapen head with what looks like a brain tumor embedded on the right side of his face. It is simply the best damn Spider-Man toy I have ever seen, and it fills me with an indescribable joy.

So here’s what we’re going to do. Everyone’s talking about creating new "memes" on the blogosphere or whatever. Most of these memes are stupid, the blogging equivalent of those surveys that get passed around the back of history class in tenth grade. "Do you like Jimmy Newsome? Who’s your favorite cheerleader?" But this time we’re going to do something that’s actually fun. Chinese Bizarro Spider-Man is going to go on a long trip. Where’s he going? Well, that’s up to you.

The first blogger who e-mails me their name and address gets Chinese Bizarro Spider-Man in the mail. Then they get to have whatever adventures they want with our slightly retarded red plastic friend. Hopefully they’ll post pictures and tell us all about it. Then, when they’re done, they mail him off to someone new, and they do the same. Hopefully, CBSM will be able to tour the world and meet all sorts of new friends. Then, when there are no more bloggers to see, he will return to me and assume a place of honor on my shelf.

It’s as simple as that. So, who’s first?

Amazingly, Friday’s post about Quasar seems to have hit a nerve with a few people. I am sure glad to be able to share my enthusiasm for the series, and I got a couple letters to prove it:


"Liked your thoughts on Quasar... I ignored this series as it originally came out (the 90s were when my interest in Marvel and DC were at an all time low), but a few years ago I came across a whole stack of them in the bargain bins and bought them because... well, they were there. Just as buyer's remorse was about to set in, I actually read them and was completely charmed by them.

"Re: your comments on the "White Room" and the heroic purgatory; I don't know if you haven't seen the story or if you just didn't want to stray off topic, but have you read Gruenwald's sequel to his earlier "What If the Avengers Had Become Pawns of Korvac?" It was backup story in What If (duh)... I believe the issue had a Bill Sienkiewicz cover of Conan with a gun... anyway, it explicitly jibes with your observation. The Universe, after being Ultimate Nullifed by Korvac, is an empty void. Dr. Strange, the Silver Surfer and Phoenix (previously exiled by Korvac) return to it... The Surfer and Phoenix immediately take off for a living universe to call home (no doubt causing X-fans to get all excited at the possibility of a returned Phoenix), while Dr. Strange, reasoning that he as Sorcerer Supreme (a position not unlike Protector of the Universe, I suppose) has the responsibility to remain at his post, and he does so, for eternity. Creeped me out as a kid, too... I either didn't catch or forgot about the similarity between the two stories until you mentioned it...

"Since you have me thinking about Gruenwald, and mentioned the tension between the quality of his ideas and that of his prose, I'm halfway tempted to draw a tortured, belabored comparison between Gruenwald and Philip K Dick, another writer often accused of the same flaws and, I believe (per an old "Question of the Month"), Gruenwald's favorite. There really isn't that much similarity between the two; Gruenwald's writing certainly isn't as fevered as Dick's, although some moments in Quasar -- such as the Deathurge or the Unbeing sequences -- have a similar sort of melancholy that made me wonder where his writing would have gone if he had pursued that. And I don't know if the passion of Gruenwald's contemplation of comic book reality is quite on the level of Dick's spiritual questing... but this unnerving "white room" motif does certainly give me pause.

"Well, thanks to you and Dave Fiore, now I have to go hunt down and replace all those Captain America issues I got rid of when I purged my collection several years ago... convention bargain boxes, here I come...

"Thanks for yer time...
--Chris Keels."

You know, I had forgotten about that issue of What If? as well, which is odd considering that that is one of my all-time favorite series. But yes, that is a damn creepy story, and perfectly in line with some of Gruenwald’s later ideas as explored in Quasar. The responsible hero is rewarded for his steadfast sacrifice with . . . oblivion? Purgatory? That’s kind of grim, whichever way you slice it.

"Just wanted to let you know, you're not alone in your appreciation of QUASAR. I still have enormously fond memories and a complete run of that series and still flip through it now and again when I want a bit of a grin.

"Possibly my favorite story line was the visit to the New Universe. That was Geuenwald (sp?) just showing us all how it could be done when you had someone who cared.

"Anyway, thanks for the great review and memories.


"Rick Jones, really"

Yeah, I love the New U visit as well. Ironically, everyone knew Gruenwald was absolutely adamant about not just folding up the remnants of the New U into the Marvel Universe. He wanted the New U to be unique, even in death. But, I guess he was just too fond of the characters and concepts to let them go, because it was pretty obvious by the time 1991 rolled around that there wasn’t ever going to be a New U revival if he didn’t do it himself.

I have a great fondness for the New U myself and I think it’s ironic that many of the unique aspects that were once considered to be radical and weird about the New U were eventually incorporated into stories all across the mainstream. Why, just take a look at any issue of Shooter’s Star Brand and tell me you don’t see a precursor for any number of Nu-Marvel books, from Ultimate Spider-Man to Supreme Power. This is another conversation for another day, however.

Oh, and Rick? Good job on the whole Hulk thing. We’re all grateful for the giant green weapon of mass destruction. Really.

But in all seriousness, as much as I enjoyed that trip down memory lane, I must confess to being slightly embarrassed by the whole thing. Somehow I ended up talking about superhero comics for five whole days last week – someone really needs to be watching me to make sure I don’t get into this kind of trouble in the future.

I think it’s interesting to look at these things from the economics side: how do things like tone and continuity impact the way the books are perceived and sold? How do fan perceptions affect the bottom line? These are some very meaty questions that I think offer many rewarding lines of thought.

But really, just riffing about how much I love old superhero books is hardly the most difficult thing in the world to do. I could do it in my sleep. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I want to devote this blog. At least part of the time, to discussing meatier comics, things that I actually think are worth the time it takes to discuss them. Nostalgia is fun, but really, as much as I love Quasar its hardly Gravity’s Rainbow. The problem is, books like the D&Q Showcase take a lot of time and effort to write about, because they offer so much more of interest for the critic to discuss, so many interesting avenues to explore. But again, I want to make the effort because I think it’s something worth doing.

So, hopefully soon we’ll get that discussion about Love & Rockets Volume 2 started. I’ve also been thinking about Louis Riel a lot as well, and why I believe it to be one of the very best comics every produced. Travels with Larry will still continue for the foreseeable future as well, or at least until I run out of AiT/Planet Lar books to discuss. If Larry Young has his way, that day will never come. (He likes to be the center of attention, in case you haven’t noticed.)

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