Saturday, November 5, 2005

Comics Review: November 5

Ultimate Spider-Man: Warriors (#79-85)

This series has become a curious beast. Even in arcs, it's one of the lightest reads on my list... and not a very satisfactory one at that.

Of course, this wasn't always the case. In earlier times, "Ultimate Spider-Man" was an effective demonstration of the positive aspects of decompression, and even when revisiting older concepts, there was usually some new and interesting facet to explore. For example, the Spider-Man/Black Cat relationship got a new twist because of the age difference - she was introduced in her mid-20s, same as the comics, but Peter's only sixteen. So there's all the sexual tension there was in the original story, except she doesn't know he's just a kid.

USM is another series where Bendis has been in decline, and this is particularly evident in the "Warriors" storyline, which amounts to a mindless orgy of fight scenes, dialogue that has crossed the line from mildly annoying to downright irritating, no particular resolution to speak of, and the introduction of a bunch of two-dimensional Ultimate revamps.

That last one in particular is a bit of an unpleasant surprise, because as I noted before, Ultimate revisions tend to turn out well for the most part. But in this storyline it's almost as if Bendis doesn't bother filling in the blanks at all, so sure is he that his readers will do it for him. For example: Ultimate Moon Knight turns up, fights Spider-Man, has split personalities and goes into a coma. Ultimate Iron Fist was in jail for using his powers, visits his friend Shang Chi and beats people up. That's it. No characterization. Nothing particularly in-depth. You'd almost think it's a Millar script. Bendis clearly expects fans of the respective characters to just assume they're otherwise identical to their original versions... but that does tend to spoil the whole point of the Ultimate line, doesn't it? Not everyone knows about/cares about Shang Chi, for God's sake. And "Warriors" certainly doesn't give us any reason to.

What's going on here? What possible justification could there be for six and a half issues of nothing? Yes, every now and then a nice twist comes along (ie: what we learn about Jean DeWolfe in the last part of the story). But it's starting to reach the point where I'm seriously wondering why I'm bothering. For every issue or interesting scene that comes along (I'm thinking of the USM annual with Kitty Pryde), there's a whole arc that just goes to waste.

The dialogue problem isn't new to readers familiar with Bendis' work; his style works when it's just one person talking, but having seven or eight completely different characters all stuttering and repeating themselves and using Yiddish phrases... it's too much. It becomes a chore to read.

It's unfortunate that "Ultimate Spider-Man" has lost so much of its energy to creative ennui. It's quickly becoming one of those series where I have to wonder whether I'm following it because I still like it or out of inertia (a pretty easy trap to fall into on a book with no changes in the creative team). If this keeps up, the next arc will be my last.


Spider-Girl #92

Continuing with the theme of "Do I still like it/Inertia?"... this month's issue of Spider-Girl is yet another done-in-one story that has a nice idea at its core but utterly collapses in execution.

The Avengers, still recuperating from a battle against the Hulk, call in Spider-Girl and a bunch of new recruits to deal with a major threat: Magneto's back. Or is he? Surveillance tapes show someone with magnetic powers and the old red-and-purple costume robbing banks (hardly an act worthy of the Master of Magnetism). Meanwhile, in her civilian life, May bumps into former supporting cast member Nancy Lu, now a neophyte X-Man. When Magneto strikes nearby, the girls team up.

It's another mystery that suffers from the same problems as last month's story. Specifically, any ambiguity about whether this Magneto is genuine gets tossed out the moment he appears - so "Is Magneto back?" isn't really the question at all, but rather who's masquerading as him. That's already a less-interesting question, because as the introductory exposition points out, nobody knows whether the real Magneto is even alive or dead in MC-2. Granted that he's not particularly relevant to Spider-Girl's world, but if you're going to bring it up you might as well address it.

Once again, May throws out an intuitive guess, with no particular clues in hand, and turns out to be absolutely right. After one encounter, she knows exactly what's going on. It's getting pretty silly because there's no cognitive process here; Spider-Girl doesn't even need to think about something, she just knows. All the Silver Age goodwill in the world doesn't make this any less contrived - especially when the real perpetrator turns out to be a bit character from fifty issues ago. I've been reading this series since issue 0 and I honestly had no idea who May was talking about. That's the major detriment to having a such a massive cast of characters - if they don't appear periodically, who's going to remember some minor "villain of the day"?

The issue concludes with May finally confronting Normie about his suspicious activities. It's pretty anticlimactic - she tells him she knows something's going on, but she's not particularly resolved to do anything other than "hate him for the rest of her life". Considering her uncle Phil just disappeared into thin air, you'd think she'd be a little more proactive.

Another series I'm pretty close to dropping. This has been a pretty uninspiring week. :(