Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Ultimate Spider-man

I suppose you've all heard by now that Spider-man is dead.

No? Do you remember now? No...? Well, alright then.

Ok, so this isn't really news, mostly because Spider-man is a fictional character, so... you know... he was never really alive in the first place, but also because, technically, it's not even true, since the character that everyone would consider as the "real" Spider-man (meaning the one created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko in August of '62) is still alive and kicking, catching thieves just like flies and appearing in at least half a dozen different titles each month. It's also not true, because the Spider-man the not-really-news news item is actually referring to is from the Ultimate Universe, which is an off-shoot, or separate, universe from the regular/"real" universe. It's kind of like an alternate history of the regular universe, familiar faces, but updated and slightly different. So, the real headline should have read: "Alternate version of Spider-man is no longer going to be used, Real Spider-man appears in at least seven different titles a month." But then, that's not very punchy and still not really a news story. It's also not a story because, as any comic fan can tell you, characters die in comic books all the time. I mean, all the time.

Really. It's no big deal.

It's pretty much common place and it's often used for cheap drama, especially in alternate universe stories (or in the common parlance, Elseworld or What if... stories) where things are generally dark and wacky and anything goes and characters usually have eye patches and/or goatees. It's a thing, a by-product of the never-ending serial, of the revolving door of creators. Things change, the center does not hold. These days, the only folks who actually get upset about a character's death are just the really stupid long time fans, the cliches, the ones that... well... there's some personal issues going on there, and I know they can't really help themselves, but honestly, they're a good portion of the reason why the Internet sucks in the first place, but whatever... these days, when a character dies, most comic fans think:

Give it a year.

You see, there's no budget in comics. In comics, you can do anything. More importantly, in a place filled with alien races, all powerful sorcerers, ancient gods, cross-dimensional bleeds, time-traveling dictators, the ability to move faster than light, and people who wear nothing but spandex twenty-four/seven, you can undo anything. Even death.

Especially death. Death is small potatoes. For example, I'm sure you can all probably remember where you were the day Superman died... No? No one asked you. Shut up.

Anyway, DC introduced a character called Doomsday, (a cheaper, less interesting pastiche of the Hulk...) and he and Superman basically beat the ever-living tar outta each other for six or seven issues. It was a pretty big deal at the time. The end of an era. Superman was dead. Good night, sweet prince, we hardly knew ye, blah-blah, blibbety-blah-blah-quack-quack. Six pages later, he was split into four different versions of himself. A mean vigilante version, a boy version, a cyborg version, and a black guy in a suit of hi-tech armor. Turns out.... these guys were not really Superman. Also... spoiler.... Superman was not actually dead, he had simply depleted his solar energy... to death! Eventually he recovered and started fighting crime again and the only sign that he died and had probably gone to Hell (or at least Branson, Missouri) was the fact that he now had a mullet. It was terrible, terrible thing, but hey, it was the early 90s, what can I say, we didn't know any better. Those were the dark days. The people loved Achey-Breaky Heart. The people loved it. The point is: He ain't dead no more.

Remember when Captain America died?

I know you must, because pretty much every single one of you out there e-mailed me a link to the story as if, between the two of us, I was the one who wasn't aware of what was happening. Anyway, he's not dead anymore, either. You see, instead of brainwashing Cap's girlfriend Sharon Carter into shooting him with a .38 revolver, the Red Skull brainwashed her into shooting him with... I can barely type it... a time-displacement gun or something and it shoved his soul, I think, loose into the time stream and he relived some moments from his past and meanwhile, the Red Skull was busy trying to download his digitized self into Cap's empty body, I guess. I don't know. It got kind of... weird, but whatever, so anyway, Cap ended up... you know what? Forget it. Doesn't matter. He is also no longer one of the dead.

Batman died a year or so ago, you heard about that, right?

True story. Or actually, not a true story. You see, he had been hit by one of Darkseid's Omega beams which only looked like they had killed him, but they didn't. No. Even though they have always killed every one else they have hit... This time they didn't. Instead, they... uh... knocked him loose in time (It happened about the same time as Cap, too... must have been something in the water) and the corpse you see above was... um... not him... I guess... ah... I don't know. Anyway, for awhile he was a caveman with a dead bat tied around his neck and then he was a pirate for awhile. And... uh... while he was jumping back through time, he was setting up some kind of Bat cult that was supposed to trap the Joker in the future or something, but... uh... Moving on, he's not dead anymore.

Remember when Hawkeye died?

Who, you say. Well, if you've watched the Avengers trailer I posted a few days ago, you probably saw Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye, the guy with the bow. Well, Hawkeye died a few years ago, too. Blew up. Jet Pack malfunction, surprise, surprise. Anyway, when the Scarlet Witch lost her mind and used her reality warping powers to reshape the universe into a twisted mirror image of mutant domination, Hawkeye was very suddenly no longer dead, because the moment that killed him had been wiped from the timeline, I guess. Anyway, so, when the Heroes undid the damage the Scarlet Witch wrought and everything went back to normal... Hawkeye was alive again... for some reason. Anyway, now he's alive.

Did you hear about the big storyline where one of the Fantastic Four was going to die?

Long story short? It was the Human Torch. Spoilers. But guess what? He's not really dead. You know how I know? 1. Like I said before, he's a fictional character, pay attention. 2. We never actually saw him die, we only saw him get overwhelmed by Annihilus's forces in the Negative Zone and later, we weren't ever shown a body, only his ravaged uniform. So, even though everyone believes him dead, he's probably just chained to some kind of power generator or something. Also, just today, I saw an ad for a new comic that featured all four of the original members of the Fantastic Four, so... yeah, not dead.

You know the X-men, right? Well, they died too. Right after the Fall of the Mutants storyline back in the late eighties and guess what... they weren't actually dead either, they just moved to Australia...

Never mind...

Ok, so those are just a few examples, I didn't even mention the time Daredevil faked his own death and became a three card monte dealer, or the time the Flash supposedly died, but in actuality he was just running really, really, really fast for like, thirty years... I mean the list goes on and on and on and very quickly dives head-first into Soap Opera Crazy Town. Like I said: In comic books, dying is commonplace.

But guess what isn't common place.

Staying dead.

For a long time the old adage was: Nobody stays dead but Bucky, Jason Todd, and Uncle Ben. But then Bucky came back as the brainwashed soviet super assassin The Winter Soldier and eventually took over the mantle of Captain America when Cap was "dead"... of course now Bucky's dead again, but that's a whole other thing and I digress... Jason Todd came back, too, after fans voted him dead, and now he's running around, all angry and bullet-ballet as The Red Hood. So that leaves Uncle Ben. He's special, ya' see. In all the many multitudes of multi-universes, only Uncle Ben still languishes in his cold, four-color grave. Besides him, no one else ever stays dead.


Ultimate Spider-man. Ultimate Peter Parker. He's still dead. And by all appearances, it looks like he's going to stay dead. Why? He's been replaced.

Enter Miles Morales.

Spider-man is dead, long live Spider-man.

The news broke the Internet. Mostly because the Internet, and comic fans in general, are made up of stupid morons, and being as such... they went wild.

They flipped out, as the kids say.

Why did they flip out? Well, as far as I can tell, they seemed to flip out because Peter's story had a beginning, a middle, and an end, instead of continuing on and on, forever and ever ad nauseum without any consequence or change until we all die. They flipped out because a new character was wearing an old mask, despite a long history of characters passing their masks down to the new generation. They claimed they were the "real" fans. They said that Peter spoke to them. They said they understood him. They said they identified with him. They said they "loved" Peter.

They were Peter-lovers... so they claimed.

But it quickly became apparent that they mostly flipped out because Miles Morales was half African American and half Puerto Rican.

In the common parlance, they didn't like an uppity minority being Spider-man. It was ugly and sad and gross. The asswipes tried to claim that it was a terrible idea and only existed for political correctness, like they always do. The non-stupid people tried to explain to the asswipes that they were incorrect. They talked about the Donald Glover as Spider-man campaign and how the writer, Brian Micheal Bendis has adopted children from Africa and blah, blah, blah and finally asked them, why do you even care? Even if it was for political correctness only, what was wrong with that? What was wrong with having an alternate version of a big name hero be a person of color? Especially when the "real" version is still out there. Why is that bad? The asswipes then switched course, as they always do, and tried to claim that the book was pandering and that the story was forced and that it didn't work, so the non-stupid people had to remind them that the comic hadn't even come out yet, that no one had even read any of it, and that the only thing anyone really knew about the character was his race, which said a lot about the social worth of the character's critics at that time.

See, all of this happened while Peter was still alive, during the death of Spider-man story. It was a long arc about sacrifice and heroism and big fights and explosions, lots of good stuff. There is a point where a very badly injured Peter sees his worst enemies go by and he knows they know where he lives, and that they're going there looking for him and that his Aunt and his friends are there, but he also knows he's gut shot and bleeding and that he should go to the hospital or he will die.

He goes after the villains.

He couldn't have done anything else, really. You see, Peter's story started when he let a crook get away, "Not my problem" and then that same man ended up killing his Uncle Ben. With great power, comes great responsibility. Peter never forgot that lesson, it drove him to do what he did, to become Spider-man and so, his life ended on his front lawn, defending his friends and family, putting their lives above his. It was so very heroic. And after his death, the world learned his story.

And that story inspired Miles Morales to become a hero.

But all this was unknown at the time that the Internet was snipping at each other. Would the book be any good? Could it stand on its own? These were the questions. After ten years, will the book survive changing it's main character, it's entire cast?

by Jonathan Hansen (finally...)

Ultimate Spider-man is by writer Brian Micheal Bendis and drawn by new artist Sara Pichelli. It's the story of Miles Morales, a 13 year old boy from Brooklyn. I had planned on giving you the "our story up till now" bit first, but instead, I think I'll just hit the important parts.

1. The writing is great. This is Bendis's character, he knows it and it shows.

2. Sara Pichelli's art is perfect for the book, fast and expressive, but detailed oriented. I love it.

3. Miles, the new Ultimate Universe's Spider-man, is free. Without years of continuity binding him down, who knows where he will go? But at the same time, he's also part of a legacy, connected to a rich past Bendis can draw upon, if he wants. Miles' origin and the way he gains his powers is tangled with and dependant upon Peter's origin and yet, it makes complete organic sense. It's certainly not like how Wally West got his powers, which is a relief.

4. His parents are alive and married and normal. Which is a breath of fresh air, as most super hero parents are dead or evil or both. And if the character is a person of color, a big, broad stereotype is usually part and parcel. Like say, an African-American hero's parents would be a pimp and a hooker or an Asian hero's parents would be uber-demanding taskmasters and math whizzes. You get the idea. So good on Bendis for making Miles' parents just people.

5. Finally (for now), there's a point where Miles is freaked out, having just learned about his powers, where things between his Dad and him have boiled over because Miles doesn't understand why his Dad doesn't want him to hang around with his Uncle (it's because the Uncle is a super-thief... it is a comic book, after all), and so the two of them sit in the park and talk. His Dad tries to explain about his life, who he used to be and why he changed and how important Miles and his future is. It's a conversation that builds to a point where Miles is about to tell his dad everything. And right at that moment, right when Miles is about to start talking about his sudden powers, about the big spider with the number 42 on it's back, about how it crawled out of a package in his Uncle's apartment and how it bit him and how he can now stick to walls and turn invisible and sting people...

The Human Torch and Iceman go rocketing by and Mile's father reveals just how much he dislikes all the mutants and weird-os and monsters running around NYC and... well, Miles says nothing. How can he? The fear of disapproval, of not being good enough, of his father suddenly not loving him? He doesn't say a thing. I love that addition to the classic superhero motivations.

Now, some folks have complained that the story is moving too slow, that they haven't seen Miles in costume yet, or really doing any super hero stuff. To that I say, those people are morons. There's only been three issues! Bendis is laying a story foundation, laying a story foundation is like laying the foundation of a house. It takes knowledge and skill and time and planning and lots of bricks and you have to lay those bricks carefully if you want to build a strong house. Bendis knows how to build strong houses, unlike say, the writers of the Walking Dead TV show or the early seasons of Lost, where they just tossed their bricks into a big pile and hoped they might be able to stand on them at some later point. This book is going somewhere. Where, I don't know, but if the last ten years of the previous volume has shown me anything, it's that it's worth my time to stick around and find out.

I have radioactive blood,

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