Video of the NYCC panel I participated in, “Screen Future: Gaming, Comics and TV Around the World and Five Years from Now” may be found here
. The panel was moderated by Intel Corporation Futurist Brian David Johnson and included savvy SyFy Channel exec Craig Engler and renowned SF author/visionary Cory Doctorow.
All-New Spider-Man #1
The “standard” cover features Spider-Man swinging through the city, a standard riff. Spider-Man’s pose isn’t distinctive. Make the web into a rope and it could be Robin just as easily. It is also nonsensical, in the sense that the figure doesn’t really seem to be swinging on the web-line. It’s as if he was floating past and reached out to grab it.
Pretty much every shot of the Spider-Man Steve Ditko co-created and drew had him in a pose that was distinctively Spider-Man and nobody else. Ditko also pretty much always made it appear that the web-line was actually supporting him as he swooped along in a series of graceful arcs. Ditko understood the dynamics of a body swinging on a line and the laws of pendular motion.
(ASIDE: I never liked John Romita’s approach to Spider-Man. I love John. He’s a Hall-of-Famer. All-time great. Grandmaster. And a great human being. But his theories of how to draw Spider-Man appalled me. I hated the fact that he simplified the costume. I’d hear him explaining to some young artist that one of the lines on the mask represented the bottom of Spider-Man’s nose and one his mouth. What?! Worse, he’d tell people not to worry about the physics of web-swinging. Just have the web-line go off panel, he’d tell them. It’s just a trumped-up device to justify “flying,” said he, think of it as pulling Spider-Man along
As Editor in Chief, I could have insisted that re-Ditko-izing Spider-Man was policy, and that John should represent it. But, I inherited John and his long-established philosophies when I became boss. They were grandfathered in, sort of. Seemed like it would be a difficult conversation: “John, I know you’ve drawn Spider-Man for a long time, and to a great extent your version has become the accepted benchmark, but you’re doing it all wrong.” I just don’t think that conversation would have gone very well.
Stan agreed with my take on the character and proper presentation of Spider-Man for the most part, but, if I understood Stan at all, he had the same reservations as I did about criticizing or correcting John. He actually did try to gently nudge John toward a more Ditko-y approach in some respects—so did I—but when you have an Exalted Elder, a Superstar like John who does so many things brilliantly, sometimes it makes sense to benignly neglect a thing or two.
So when John drew the web-line going off panel and apparently pulling Spider-Man along into the air, I gritted my teeth, imagined that the web-line was attached to a passing helicopter and comforted myself with a handful of jellybeans.
P.S. Aside from the occasional artist passing by who asked John’s opinion, or the “Romita’s Raiders” art assistants supervised by John, who did the minor art correx, John wasn’t involved in directing the artists who actually drew the comic books, so to some degree his philosophies were academic. The various editors and I generally favored and preached a somewhat more Ditko-esque approach.)
The costume the character is wearing on the cover in question is different from Ditko’s or even Romita’s simplification of Ditko’s, but I suppose even a new reader or civilian would figure it was Spider-Man. Like Batman or Superman, Spider-Man has achieved a very high-level Q-Score. Some people might take the character to be a spin-off Spider-Boy, but most won’t be too puzzled.
I like the Ditko costume better. That’s just me. It’s not a legit criticism for the purposes here, where I’m trying to stick to the basic principles of comics creation and publishing rather than personal tastes.
While I’m at it, though, I do not like the McFarlane webs. Whether they come from mechanical web-shooters or from spinnerets inexplicably located in his forearms (yuck) the sheer mass of that thick, tangly rope of stuff is absurd. And that is a legit point. It’s a logical clinker that will give some people pause. Maybe only a few of us, but…it doesn’t have to be that way.
The logo is reasonably readable. Red pops against light or dark backgrounds, for the most part. If stuck with this cover art, I would have made the red pure, not muddied/grayed down. I might have tried a white drop shadow instead of black, to see how it would look. Might be worse, might be better. Hard to guess without seeing it mocked up.
The drawing is okay. The arbitrary white and sometimes blue outline around the figure is…arbitrary—an abstraction inconsistent with the illustrative background. It’s there to make the character pop, but it’s unnecessary. The character is strongly backlit. Slightly bolder edge-lighting would have accomplished the same thing.
So, it’s a flawed, okay-ish pin-up.
For part of the time I worked (secretly, at their insistence) for the unlearned children who ran Valiant Entertainment, Inc., Bill Jemas, former Marvel publishing V.P., served as a consultant to VEI. I would often try to gently explain various publishing or comics 101 things to the children. Bill would flat out tell them they were idiots. He soon figured out that I knew what I was doing. More than once, he told the children “Just do what he says.”
They almost never did.
The one place Bill and I parted company biz philosophy-wise, however, was on the subject of covers. Bill thought they should all be pin-ups. Character glamour shots. Period. Generate iconic branding images and use them everywhere. Period. Who gives a damn what’s in the book?
Well, I do like the occasional pin-up, especially on a first issue. But there’s no reason a cover illustration can’t be a powerful, iconic image and relate to the content. Offer a “hook.”
I designed a slew of covers related to the stories I was working on to demonstrate the children and Bill what I meant. I’d show you some of those scribble sketches, but the children have already sued me once for absurd things like alleged violations of a contract that was never presented to me, much less signed, leaking their “trade secrets,” and leaving them to take a better job, which they claimed somehow foiled their plans to acquire a license that had already been acquired years earlier by Dark Horse.
Anyone can sue anyone for anything in these United States. Doesn’t matter how inane or insane the lawsuit is, it still costs money to fend it off. What a country.
That spurious suit, as it turned out, seemed to amount to a clumsy attempt to manipulate Mike Richardson into some deal they wished he would make with them. Mike is not easily manipulated. The ploy failed and the suit was eventually withdrawn.
So, no examples. But they’ll still probably sue me for calling them children.
Back to the cover. Jemas’s philosophy apparently still holds sway at Marvel. Pin-up. Generic. Okay, but if so, for a first issue, it ought to be better, stronger. Or offer a hook.
The first variant is a bad drawing. The anatomy looks wonky. What is going on with Spider-Man’s left leg? How the Hell can that foot be connected to the stump of a thigh we see? This is a badly broken body.
John Romita would in his charming and gentle way clue the artist in about how to approach such a shot. How to un-bunch the figure just enough so that at a glance, the limbs looked like they belonged where they were and there were no anatomical impossibilities or visual conundrums.
John used to laugh when he’d see some artist’s drawing of a character—usually, it was Superman, occasionally Thor—flying right toward the camera so that what you saw was head, shoulders, chest, arms…and half of each foot apparently sticking out of his chest. Legs completely hidden by his body. It looks so weird and wrong. So simple to change the view ever so slightly so that a hint of body below the chest, and a hint of legs—just a sliver—can be seen, avoiding pec-ped syndrome.
The second variant features Spider-Man unmasked. He’s leaping, I guess, though the pose is close to a sticking-to-the-wall pose. It takes me a tenth of a second to realize that, nah, that wall behind him is some distance away. He must be in the air.
If Ditko in his prime had drawn this—or Kirby, or anyone with solid fundamentals—there would be not a fraction of a second of doubt. If John Romita, either of them, had seen it, they probably would have mentioned to the artist in their family-trait gentlemanly manner that it could be a smidge better if clearer in that regard, and told them how to make it so. And the artist would have thanked them sincerely and rushed away to touch up the cover, eager to benefit from their wisdom.
If I had told them the same thing, as politely as a monster can manage, they might have grudgingly improved the pin-up, but probably would have condemned me in the fan press as a megalomaniac. “You know how he is.” : )
I guess the hook they were going for here is that the person in the suit is not who we might expect. That’s a little thin, but whatever.
No issues with the logo in either of the variants.
Standard cover by Kaare Andrews, variants by Sara Pichelli and Justin Ponsor.
It’s pretty good. The storytelling is pretty clear. The draftsmanship is pretty good. The coloring is pretty good. It reads well. It’s visually interesting. The acting and expressions are good.
Generally a good job by Sara Pichelli, artist, and Justin Ponsor, colorist.
The first six pages introduce Doctor Markus, Norman Osborn and Spider #42. Markus is apparently a capable, sought-after scientist of great accomplishment with “four doctorates” who doesn’t know what the word “spinstress” means.
Osborn, we can assume he’s the principal of “Osborn Industries.” He hired Markus.
We also see Spider #42, presumably a research specimen.
Osborn wants Markus to “be Athena,” who transformed a person into a spider.
Osborn reveals that he, Osborn, “created Spider-Man.” One of his genetically altered spiders (like #42, one assumes) bit a young man who gained spider-like powers as a result.
Otto Octavius is mentioned as an authority on such transformations. Osborn makes it clear that he has issues with O.O. Oh-oh….
Osborn also threatens Markus’s life if he should leak any information. Trade secrets? At least the VEI villains only sue you….
Osborn is played pretty broadly, almost Snidely Whiplash villainous.
Markus is apparently sufficiently unnerved that he lets Spider #42 escape. #42 is on the loose.
The sequence ends with the front page of a newspaper, sort of—it’s very fake and unconvincing—that serves as a mechanism for exposition. From this we learn, courtesy of S.H.I.E.L.D, a “world peacekeeping task force,” that Norman Osborn experimented on himself using a “super-soldier formula” that “altered” him into the “Green Goblin.” He attacked a high school, an event coincidental with the debut of the “mystery man called Spider-Man.”
In comics-savvy-me mode, I know who Norman Osborn, Otto Octavius, and the Green Goblin are. I know pretty well who Spider-Man is, though the Spider-Man on all three covers and the one showing his face especially isn’t the one I’m familiar with. I know, sort of, what S.H.I.E.L.D is.
In New Reader/civilian mode, aside from a rudimentary knowledge of who Spider-Man is, and possibly who the Green Goblin is, I know only what is presented here, in this issue. None of the above was presented in such a chaotic fashion that I can’t cope and press on hoping for answers to the myriad questions that are accumulating, but we’re on page seven, now. Come on!
Unaware of what effects the incidents sketched out the newspaper story we saw have anything to do with this story (the one in this issue) we move along and see a masked, costumed cat burglar breaking into Osborn Industries’ laboratory. It wasn’t until I saw the matching shot of the lab, seen before, that I understood the location. Aha! Then I grokked that the big “OI” seen in panel one must stand for Osborn Industries. It looks a little overgrown.
I’m going to take a great leap here and figure that the newspaper article is meant to imply that Norman Osborn/the Green Goblin has been dealt with somehow, and his business is languishing. Poor Dr. Markus. Unemployed.
The burglar steals some things, including a red box, given some special play, so it must be important. Something inside emits light…. The burglar is pleased.
Spider #42 finds its way into the burglar’s swag bag.
The burglar apparently gets away.
Now we meet Miles Morales and parents. Three pages are spent getting him selected by lottery to attend a special school, the “Brooklyn Visions Academy,” apparently a high school of the same ilk as New York’s High School of Art and Design, the High School of Performing Arts or the Bronx High School of Science.
(ASIDE: A standard cheer offered up by “Science High” students in support of their football team goes: “Harrass them, harangue, them, make them relinquish the ball!” Eggheads. What’cha gonna do?)
Miles is selected because #42 is picked. A spooky coincidence. Get it?
Miles seems vaguely unsettled by this whole business. He goes to visit Uncle Aaron, clearly a sympathetic friend.
We see the swag bag established before and the mysterious red box. Uncle Aaron is the burglar!
Spider #42 finds its way out of the swag bag, onto Miles’ hand and bites him.
Miles passes out. What becomes of Spider #42 isn’t told.
Uncle Aaron calls Miles’ father who rushes to see about his son. As would I.
Miles seems okay. His dad is very suspicious of his brother, Aaron, and accusatory. He clearly knows Aaron is a ne’er-do-well.
Miles slips away as they’re arguing.
Dad goes looking for Miles and walks right past him because Miles is becoming invisible.
I pause to gather myself….
So what do we have here?
A bushel of coincidences that would make Thomas Hardy blush.
A series of unlikely events, many related to the movements of spider 42.
A pile of people and things introduced or mentioned that are irrelevant to the issue in hand.
More items devoid of meaning and questions unanswered in the episode in question than one would ever encounter in any professionally written TV show. Even the worst.
A bunch of Lego blocks—not a very big bunch—spilled out onto a table that, with the addition of many, many more blocks might someday become a cute little choo-choo or something. Not enough blocks here even for the cow catcher, though. It’s going to take a lot more blocks. This thing is the decompression gold medal winner. Three pages to get the kid accepted at a high school by random drawing? Which has precious little bearing on whatever the Hell is going on? Three? Of 21? Really?
Brian Michael Bendis is the writer, so savvy-me knows that there will be more Lego blocks, and that a choo-choo is in the offing. Eventually.
New Reader me couldn’t care less. I quit reading somewhere on page ten.
The dialogue is reasonably natural when Snidely Whiplash isn’t talking.
But all in all, this is pathetic. It’s the writer’s fault. The artists are capable enough.
So is the writer, judging from other things I’ve seen. He’s not stupid, untalented or unskilled. It seems as though he phoned this one in. Easy money. Why not, if the Marvel editorial bozos are clueless enough to pay for six pages worth of story fragments crammed into 21 pages, with reckless disregard for, to paraphrase Twain, slovenliness of form?
And people wonder why comics don’t sell.
NEXT: I Force Myself to Endure #2. Feh.