Monday, September 13, 2010


Remember me? You should CARE what I have to say about comics I read because I'm too tired to concentrate on Hegel.

Amazing Spider-Man #641

I do not believe that it is necessarily wrong for people to have something in their lives over which they can temporarily suspend their sense of proportion. It is important that, at the end of the day, you can put your feelings about Spider-Man neatly back in the box labeled "Feelings About Spider-Man" and go about your business. But it's nice to be able to spend an afternoon's holiday in a land where Spider-Man is the most important thing.

Some will say that this specific story - this deck-clearing exercise dedicated to cleaning up some cobwebs left over from the end of the Spider-Marriage - is simply a boring mistake. It is either a waste of time that will hold no interest for anyone who is interested in Spider-Man's post-Brand New Day status quo, or it is a futile gesture that will only further incense those fans still smarting over the summary dismissal of the pre-Brand New Day status quo. I am speaking from the perspective of someone who retains fond memories of the married Spider-Man and misses those stories, even though I clearly understand the mercenary necessity of clearing the decks in order to revert the core iteration one of the most popular intellectual properties in the entire world to its most familiar "classic" configuration. Given this, One More Day was the quickest way to get from Point A to Point B, even if the story itself is monumentally stupid. (It was probably a mistake to give a character like Spider-Man the "has no problem making deals with the devil" personality trait.)

So what is this comic, besides a belated attempt at actually explaining the precise mechanics of the aforementioned awful plothammer? Surprisingly, a shamefacedly sentimental and very affecting envoy to the Spider-Marriage era, an apology of sorts penned directly by Joe Quesada to all the fans hurt by his decision to erase their childhood memories from existence for the sake of future childhood memories. (It goes without saying that "future childhood memories" translate into cold hard cash on the Intellectual Property futures market, but you're a better man than I if you can begrudge your hypothetical seven-year-old child the right to fall in love with Spider-Man just because he's now owned by Walt Disney.)

If One More Day was a proverbial wet fart, One Moment In Time was the wrap-up that - well, I was going to say the wrap-up that 20-odd years of Spider-Fans deserved, but I want to speak as precisely as possible. These IP farms masquerading as friendly publishing houses don't "owe" us anything in the strictest sense, but it is nevertheless nice on those rare occasions when they acknowledge that - regardless of whatever their bottom line may dictate - they do "owe" their entire continued existence to the often disproportionate emotional connection we fans bestow on these fictional avatars.

Writing continuity bandages can be harsh and artless exercises, but this one took the problems inherent in this type of story and turned it into a singular virtue. Spider-Man's great defining trait is that, when the chips are down, he somehow always manages to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. He is always torn between doing what is right and what is easiest, or doing what is strictly necessary and what is most desirable. Doing the right thing is always the right thing regardless of whatever negative repercussions it might entail: this is Ditko's greatest thematic contribution, and not even decades of anodyne soap opera and toothless sci-fi shenanigans have been able to efface that cold, hard truth.

At the end of this comic Spider-Men - even though he's finally succeeded in doing the impossible, putting the "Genie back in the bottle" regarding his secret identity and the harm it causes his loved ones - does something so monumentally selfish, a choice predicated on love but in reality so incalculably hurtful, that you can't help gasping in shock. It is, against all odds, a classic Spider-Man moment. Spider-Man, even as he succeeds in accomplishing the impossible, makes a selfish split-second decision that alienates the one person he loves most in all the world. That right there? That's a punch in the gut, in the last place in the world I was expecting to find such a well-executed coup. They could have just erased the continuity and called it a day, but they were smart to realize that, for Spider-Man, there's always a price to be paid, and the price for undoing all the damage done by his own stupid mistakes is almost inconceivably high.

Some will still say this was a story not worth telling, or that didn't need to be told - but good stories justify themselves simply by being good stories. This right here? Regardless of its origins or the ostensibly self-serving motivations of the creative team involved, this is a good story. Credit where it's due.

Franken-Castle #20

Paul O'Brien has said, in as many words, that this crossover - the Frankenstein's Monster Punisher in a rematch against Daken - is of only tangential significance to Daken's story, and represents a significant detour for a book that was already victim of multiple significant detours. I must respectfully disagree, and this is the issue that very explicitly illustrates the crossover's significance to Daken's "story."

The main action of the story isn't really the fight between Daken and the Punisher, or between the Punisher and Wolverine, but the conversation that Wolverine and the Punisher have as they deciding what to do about Daken. Wolverine says he has to protect his boy even if he's gone rotten. The Punisher replies, in essence, you're stupid: Daken is completely rotten, he's an opportunistic and invincible murderer without so much as a shred of conscience, and if anyone in the entire world needs to be put down, it's him. Wolverine has no reply to that, and ultimately tacitly agrees with Frank. That right there was worth the whole price of admission: Daken is and has always been less than half a complete character, more a series of "kewl" Poochy-esque traits strung together with the unifying theme of hating his father. He is, frankly, an absurd attempt at franchise building, a regrettable memento from a regrettable era of Wolverine stories (an era which, it should be noted, is already being swept under the rug as quickly as humanly possible).

Many of the people who have written Daken since his initial appearances have either tacitly or overtly recognized his basic absurdity and uselessness, and the few "good" Daken appearances have capitalized on the fact that he's a purposeful cipher whose only traits are his unremitting unlikeability. This crossover crystallizes and punctuates those traits and essentially draws a big neon sign in the direction of all future Daken stories, since they've obviously got high expectations regarding the future economic viability of "Wolverine's son:" the only way forward for Daken as a character is up. He either becomes a complete villain - which he basically already is except for the fact that his name is on top of the marquee - or he begins some sort of arduous and long-winded road to redemption (or, at least, a state of being slightly less annoying). As with One Moment In Time, this crossover was essentially a bog-standard narrative necessity which actually found a useful guise: basically, they needed some sort of pay-off for the whole "Daken is a monstrous douche" arc before they could begin to tell different types of stories with the character. Having the Punisher - a character with whom the audience's sympathies are more likely to rest - beat the little pissant silly was a satisfying resolution for many readers (such as myself) who honestly can't stand the little prick. Now that he's been pulled up short and brought face to face with at least a small smattering of the consequences of his actions, hopefully they have a new direction in mind. Because if they don't, then people will start caring even less than they already do.

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