Sunday, July 26, 2009

Revisiting Spider-Man's Clone Saga and Other Stupidities

To my mind, the Clone Saga was one of Marvel's ballsiest gambits ever. I definitely won't consider it one of the best stories ever, or, for that matter, even a good story...or even a very original story.

Still, the notion of replacing the Spider-Man whose adventures people had been following for twenty years was insanely gutsy, made more so by the fact that they tried to pass off the replacement as "the real Spider-Man all along." This was, I think, the first truly serious attempt to "un-marry" Spider-man.

Of course, there was no way that legions of fans were going to swallow that the only Spider-Man they had ever known was a fake, and even though I enjoyed the adventures of Ben Reilly I knew, in the back of my head, that they weren't going to last.

Thing is, when Reilly was killed and Norman Osborn brought back in exchange, I was so annoyed that I basically dropped the book for three years, coming back a little over a year before the Straczynski-led Spider-renaissance. Even though I decided after a year of putting up with Howard Mackie that I was better off not reading the title, JMS, with his radically new take on Spider-Man, pulled me right back in and I was an avid, regular reader for over two years thereafter, at least until artist John Romita Jr. left the book in early 2004.

But in that time, for me anyway, as someone who had followed Spider-Man's adventures on and off and on again since 1988, the JMS period represented a bit of a golden age as far as I was concerned; The Amazing Spider-Man was more readable than it had been in a long time. One thing I noticed, however, was that there was little to no reference, during this time, to anything that had come before it. In fact, it appeared that Spider-Man lived in a bit of a bubble. Except perhaps for some of the most rudimentary aspects of Spider-Man's history, there was nary a wink or a nod to any particular Spider-Man story that had come before.

The stories told in this period of time were, in a way, reflective of just about all Marvel's publications in the early Joe Quesada/Bill Jemas-era.

In this post-Jemas era, while crossovers, events and variant covers are all the rage again, one good thing about it is that suddenly Marvel comics writers were no longer afraid of revisiting the past again.

These days, retrospective stories like the Spider-Man and the X-Men miniseries can feature Ben Reilly in his brief tenure as Spider-Man, and an ongoing storyline can be published featuring the Clone Saga, "as it was intended to be told" by two of the original writers, Tom De Falco and Howard Mackie.

These days, Stan Lee can write a brief back-up story in The Amazing Spider-Man #600 commenting on how idiotic Spider-Man's status quo shifts over the years have been, including the changes to his marriage.

I gave up regularly collecting comic books because of the distinct feeling that the creators were constantly yanking my chain, switching the status quo just for the sake of it and not because it developed the character in any truly positive way. My favorite Spider-Man comic book remains issue #38, volume 2 in which he and Aunt May finally have it out about Peter's secret life as Spider-Man. It's an issue-long conversation in which Aunt May, having discovered without Peter's knowledge that he is, in fact, Spider-Man, takes him to task for having hidden the truth from her for so many years. It was heart-wrenching, beautiful stuff and a wonderful treatise on honesty in relationships. And now, in this "Brand New Day" where Aunt May is back to knowing nothing about Peter's double-life, it's completely meaningless, no matter what Quesada and his editors say about things "having happened, only nobody remembers them."

Maybe now that they're willing to "let the past in" and have stopped sweeping their past storylines and indiscretions under the carpet, Marvel will find a way to add that extra layer of meaning to Peter's relationship with Aunt May (among so many other things). Just maybe.

Of course, if they don't, I still get to save about P165 every month.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Subtext of Anti-Parent Cartoons

Thanks to the likes of Spongebob Squarepants, Avatar: The Last Airbender and a handful of other cartoons, I'm quite a fan of cable network Nickelodeon. Some of the shows of rival Cartoon Network are okay, too, but many of them, like Ben 10, feel more like they were designed to sell toys than tell stories. Unfortunately, it's got a couple of shows I don't care for very much, namely The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron and The Fairly Oddparents. In both cartoons, the main characters' fathers are depicted as ignorant, self-absorbed buffoons.

The Fairly Oddparents essentially tells the story of a child whose life is so miserable that he is "gifted" with two fairy godparents to help make his life more bearable. In this context it is understandable, at least from a narrative point of view, and therefore occasionally amusing that both of his parents (particularly his father) are depicted as complete jackasses. If he wasn't unhappy, he wouldn't have any need of his fairy godparents. The writing's fairly lazy that way but at least there's some logic to it.

As for Jimmy Neutron, well quite frankly I can't think of any good reason why his father has to be a complete and utter moron who doesn't appear to do anything useful for a living and is preoccupied most of the time with...of all things...ducks. About the only reason I can think of is that if Jimmy had parents who were even half as smart as he supposedly is (and for someone who's supposed to be smart he does a lot of profoundly stupid things almost every episode) he wouldn't be able to do all the amazing things he does because they wouldn't let him. Again, more lazy writing in my opinion, if that's the case.

But maybe there's more to it than that; maybe American parents in general and American fathers in particular have gotten so preoccupied with themselves and their own gratification that there's a whole generation of kids who have been neglected. Maybe it is this generation that has turned to cable television and video games for gratification. If this is a swipe at such parents and the overall effect of a consumerist-capitalist society, then so be it, but otherwise I cannot stand a show that would deliberately breed such contempt for parental figures.

At least Jimmy Neutron stopped airing new episodes two years ago...

Monday, July 13, 2009

Why Do Makers of Comic Book Movies Keep Recycling Actors?

What do Halle Berry, Sam Eliot, Jon Favreau, Morgan Freeman, Ben Foster, Samuel Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Ron Perlman, Natalie Portman, Ryan Reynolds, Rebecca Romijn, and Mickey Rourke all have in common? Well, each of them has appeared in more than one movie adapting a comic-book. In the cases of Eliot, Favreau, Foster, Reynolds and Romijn they've even appeared in more than one Marvel movie franchise.

Now, when they're done right or even just well (which oddly enough isn't always the same as right), I am a big fan of comic book movies, especially the Marvel ones, but I have to say this practice a lot of their producers have of recycling the same actors over and over again is kind of silly.

I'm not sure when it all started but the earliest instance I know of was Wesley Snipes who spent a long time cultivating the Black Panther franchise as a star vehicle before eventually jumping ship to play the title character in Blade instead, while Nicolas Cage was solidly in the running to star in Tim Burton's then-planned "reimagination" of the Superman franchise before the project fell apart and he left to do Ghost Rider instead. These actors, however, did not actually play two characters in two separate movies, some of them from the same "universe." I honestly don't get why comic-book movie producers seem to think there's only a limited pool of actors from whom they can draw people to play superheroes or their supporting characters. Sure, in many cases it's the actor who comes forward, as Reynolds has been actively campaigning to play the Flash and, prior to the announcement that he would be playing Hal Jordan a.k.a. Green Lantern in Martin Campbell's upcoming film, was already slated to star in a spinoff featuring the Deadpool character he played in the recent Wolverine movie. Robert Downey Jr. chased down the role of Tony Stark/Iron Man. But with the exception of Reynolds who is set to star as the lead in two comic book films, most of the recycled actors have played supporting, if pivotal roles for which, whatever their campaigning, they were ultimately chosen. So in short, either a limited number of actors went after these roles, or the studios went after a limited number of actors.

(Incidentally, and to go a little off-topic, while I did not feel Reynolds was particularly well cast as GL, I was happy to hear the news of his casting. I'm a big fan of director Campbell's work, particularly on Casino Royale, Daniel Craig's inaugural outing as James Bond, and The Mask of Zorro, and I have high hopes for this film.)

If it is a case of the studios dipping into the same well over and over again this is rather ridiculous, especially in the case of Marvel that has imminent plans of crossing over several of its franchises into the Avengers movie, with possibly more crossovers down the line should they ever start reacquiring the film rights to franchises that have been held for years by studios like Sony and Fox. It's unlikely that these actors would ever appear as two characters, but that it could even happen is extremely silly.

It's equally annoying that Marvel in particular keep going back to the same people for their scripts, particularly the likes of Zak Penn whose work in The Incredible Hulk may have been okay but whose X:Men: The Last Stand and Elektra were rather terrible.

One would think that with over two dozen successful films since the first Superman movie launched the genre 31 years ago, it would be easy for comic book-based projects to attract top talent, or at the very least fresh talent every time a new one is announced. For all we know this talent is already banging on the filmmakers' doors. I know a pre-Hulk Ed Norton campaigned to be able to play Warren Worthington/Angel before the role was given to the insufferable Ben Foster. So is this a case of producers going with the cheapest available talent even though the top talent is readily available? I certainly hope not.

One thing's for sure, there are a lot of great or potentially great comic-book based films currently in the pipeline, and it would be best for EVERYONE concerned, fans and moviemakers alike, if the producers got the best people available for the job, not just some bunch of also-rans they can easily lowball.