Monday, November 17, 2014

Spider-Verse - Cheap Heat

Editor's Note: Today, I'm happy to present a new post from MattComix! For long time readers, you may remember when Matt used to write columns on a regular basis here. Newcomers will recognize his name from the comments sections as he is regular commenter. Today he presents his thoughts on the Spider-Verse event:

In professional wrestling there is a term known as "cheap heat". Basically when a wrestler does or says something just to get a cheer, a boo, a chant, or other "pop" from the crowd that has nothing to do with their skills as wrestler or an entertainer, but they know the crowd will react regardless. Probably the most prime example of this is saying the name of the town they're in during an interview. It's a very easy way to make a crowd of wrestling fans pop.

There is an annoying fanfic writing impulse, one which seem to dominate modern superhero comics which is to take something from the readers have familiarized with some degree of positivity or innocence and doing something horrible with it that would never be done in that property's canon due to standards and practices, target audience, or common sense.

Cheap heat.
The latest in a never ending number of convoluted and of course blood-soaked events coming out of the big two, the current Spider-Verse arc involves a vampire-esque family that crosses dimensional barriers to feed off and kill in horrible and usually on-camera ways various versions of Spider-Man and other "Spider Totems". 

These dimensions include everything from comics, cartoons, live-action, to even Spider-Ham and the Spidey from the old Hostess ads. I figure Japanese Spider-Man is safe as long as he can get to his big robot in time but Nicolas Hammond Spidey is probably doomed. Maybe Electric Company Spidey can prevent Morlun's son from having access to vowel sounds and contractions. That would at least trip up his usual threats.

The latest victim in all of this is Mayday Parker aka Spider-Girl. While Spider-Girl and the whole MC2 experiment was by no means perfect, Spider-Girl really feels like where much of everything I ever liked about Spider-Man apparently went to after being fired by Marvel.

For myself, I didn't really get on board when it was first coming out but after finally reading the book I decided that Peter Parker's future in Spider-Girl felt far, far more genuine and enjoyable as any kind of actual extension of what Lee, Ditko, Romita started. Much moreso than any version of his present being shown in the mainline  titles. This is even before One More Day and the so-called "Superior" Spider-Man.

Yeah, it kinda sucks that Peter had to lose a leg and that the Clone Saga basically counts as irremovable backstory (also have mixed feelings about that goatee) but he was happy with his family and helping his daughter who was doing his old mantle very proud standing out as an a great character and hero in her own right.

I felt that just the existence of this continuity at least gave me some sense of closure for the whole Spider-Man thing. Such that if an enjoyable Spider-Man series in any media never actually happened again before I leave this mortal coil I could at least be reasonably satisfied with the idea that Spider-Girl is how the story one of my favorite heroes ended while also leaving another hero I'd enjoyed open for more adventures. I could be content with this being the image I left both Peter and Mayday Parker behind on:

Ron Frenz commented on the story in a recent interview with Swerve magazine:

“Pete learned through the death of Uncle Ben that if he doesn't act, people die; Mayday learned in her first couple of issues that when she does act, people live. That subtle, but significant difference put her in a much more positive and proactive headspace, which was pretty much the whole vibe of the MC2 Universe. MC2 was unabashedly a universe wherein heroes existed and helped make the world a better place, so that a second generation of people who get powers are inspired to do the same thing."

But of course I should have known that the relentless event cycles and the anti-joy stance of modern comicbook writing would not let such a thing pass in to history with its dignity intact. So of course in Spider-Verse no. 8 Peter Parker and Mary Jane are killed and Mayday not only swears vengeance but is also sure to emphasize that she will do so at the total expense of her fathers ideals. Because there is such a huge gaping void of superheroes with dead parents and revenge driven berserkers in comics that Mayday Parker just had to be the one to fill it.

Cheap heat. 
Apparently killing off the Parkers in Spider-Girl is something Marvel editorial has been salivating to do for a long while and something the creators fought against during their run. Again from the Frenz interview at Swerve:

“There was more than one editor in our run of 'Spider-Girl' who thought it would be great to kill Pete because then it gives her the whole tragic origin just like his. The very first annual, Tom DeFalco and Pat Olliffe did that cover with Mary Jane and Pete laying dead, and Spider-Girl's kneeling there mourning them, and they did it deliberately to 1) give the editor's what they wanted in the shocking cover, and 2) stick it to them because it didn't happen in the story. It was a story with Misery and she's showing May her worst fears."

“Our problem with it is, if you take away the family, then you have taken away the core of what Spider-Girl stories are about. The same way Spider-Man stories are about 'With great power, there must also come great responsibility,' Spider-Girl stories are about family and the positive aspects of being a superhero."

Now it's possible all this is will be retconned before the Spider-Verse event is even finished. I'm willing to acknowledge that Spider-Verse is a story that is still in progress even as predictably grimdark and eyerolling as this whole thing is. But I think there's a difference between building drama and having to wade through relentless misery for the big payoff.

A payoff that will likely just lead into yet another event anyway given the track record of these things. A lot of these stunts seem to be made under the pretense that there's nothing that can be done to these characters that can break or ruin them and so often it feels like Marvel is constantly playing chicken with Spider-Man to test that theory.

With few exceptions, character death is cheap heat and like in professional wrestling it will always give you that initial pop to fire up the crowd but it's not sustainable as the entirety of the show. What isn't cheap are monthly comics and I've now been given just one more reason not to go back to buying them on a regular basis.

- MattComix


JP Cote said...

Totally agree. These days, Thank God for the Marvel movie universe. They seem so much truer to the spirit of what comics were. Colourful, fun, simple good guy vs bad guy. No pointless gore, story filler, or lowest common denominator stuff.

MattComix said...

@JP Cote. Thanks for commenting! I to have often felt incarnations in other media provide an alternative to the stuff going on in the pages of the comics. But with New 52 stuff being an animated and talk of the Civil War story line in MCU I have to wonder how much longer that will last.

But then again maybe the MCU can present a take on that idea that makes a lot more sense.

Unknown said...

Well, Winter Soldier was better done in the movie than in the comics... and frankly, I don't see how Civil War can be done as a movie since the movie U. doesn't really have the bench depth of superheroes to pull off something like that. Not much of a war with only about 6 superheroes.

Sounds like Slott is pretty much the Marvel version of Geoff Johns. Both started off being a bit of fresh air at the companies, writing more old style comics with a nod to history and humor (Stars & S.T.R.I.P.E. for Johns, The Thing, She-Hulk, and the GLA mini for Slott) with only minor hiccups. But those didn't succeed and they seemed to drink the kool-aid and start churning out extreme humorless versions of their work with mediocre writing, retcons, killings and "creating" scores of copycat alternate characters and thus de-uniquing the concepts.

MattComix said...

@Edward Love. It's a good point that you don't have nearly the amount of heroes in MCU. The Civil War thing was the main buzz last I checked movie news but maybe the rumor machine has shifted by now.

It's something meant to be built from of the fallout from Winter Soldier and Avengers 2 if I'm not mistaken. Maybe the focus will be Tony vs. Steve with the remaining heroes and public falling in behind either but I'd rather they didn't.

I'm so burned out on hero vs. hero in comics I really don't have much of a stomach for it on the big screen.

You may be right on the Johns/Slott comparison. I've spoken before in my articles about having a feeling that there are two Geoff Johns. One who is a very sincere DC fan and another who is like a hyperactive 14 year old that wants everything in every genre to be like a horror movie. I think that's the only way you get to Superboy Prime punching Pantha's head off and such like.

Then again maybe both Johns and Slott are the products of a crass editorial department (perhaps even of crass pockets of fandom) breathing down their necks. Or they played nice at the beginning only to go into full on fanfic mode once they were big names given the keys to big characters.

I also agree that "de-uniquing" is a problem.

Anonymous said...

I really felt the same about Spider-Girl. It was the Spider-comic I wanted to read and the one I left all the Spider-Man titles behind for. Sad to see her universe go this way its a total waste for effect.


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