Just a warning if you have not seen SPIDER-MAN 2 yet (though that simply boggles the imagination at this point), and you don't want the plot spoiled, read only the next full paragraph, then come back up and click hereto be taken immediately to this week's listings. Just want to keep you happy, that's all.
Before we get to the main event, I wanted to give you a heads-up on an upcoming series from DC called TOE TAGS, which will début in October. As the title implies, this will be a horror series, featuring story arcs written by some of the greatest horror writers and directors out there and naturally, the first writer up to bat is none other than George A. Romero! (Do I really need to list his contributions to horror? I figured not, but here's a hint for those who have lived under a rock for the last 40 years: the title of his first major movie in the genre starts with the word "Dawn" and ends with the word "Dead." Yeah, that guy.) Romero's six-issue story arc "The Death of Death" is about zombies (go figure), and the first issue featuring art by Tommy Castillo and Rodney Ramos and cover art by Bernie Wrightson will be out October 20th. COMICSCAPE may (I repeat, may) be running an interview with the man himself sometime in the next two months, so keep your eyes peeled! (Y'know, when you use a phrase like "keep your eyes peeled" immediately after discussing zombies, all sorts of nasty images spring to mind...) Romero will also be continuing his zombie epic with the movie LAND OF THE DEAD, details of which will be covered elsewhere on the CINESCAPE site. [Like right here -- Ed.]
Speaking of movies...I went to SPIDER-MAN 2 on the Saturday of its opening week, and this is the first chance I've had to sit down and write about it. It's also taken me about this long to work out how I actually feel about the movie, and I must admit, my reactions aren't as gushingly glowing as some of the press and fan reviews I've read out there. There have been a few slightly less laudatory reviews here and there, and one contributor to the GLA mailing list I belong to, "Kev," had very little good to say about the movie. As he put it, "My overall impression is that this movie is bad for the comic industry. 'Why?' you may ask. Well, since it is such a big hit with mass America and everyone is claiming that this is the ultimate comic book movie, this tells me that America thinks comic books are like this movie....goofy, overacted, cheesy melodrama. That was comics years ago, but America doesn't seem to want them to have changed. Meanwhile, the comic industry is so happy to have a hit movie that they don't care if the movie is any good." Ouch! His specific reasons (some of which dovetail with my list below) include bad actors ("Tobey is a piece of wood. His lifeless portrayal of the ultimate fun superhero is a major crime. He always looks like someone just woke him up to do his scene. Kirsten is miscast - she doesn't come off as sexy, fun or anyone that people would chase after"); an "inappropriate director"; out of context locations (that train is not in NYC, I hope everyone realizes); obvious CGI; and camp acting. He also cites more specific things that, at the time, bothered me as well ("And can anyone ever believe that Kirsten Dunst would be cast in a period play? And how good can she be that she gets thrown off every time she sees someone or doesn't see someone in the audience?" As someone who's trotted the boards a few times myself, that part got me a little annoyed, too.)
While I don't agree with "Kev" on all of these points, I did feel overall that the movie was a bit uneven and it's usually unevenness in a movie that leads to the "love it or hate it" attitude that some movies get rather than anything truly awful. HULK had similar problems, though that one seems to fall much more into the "hate" category, sadly. There are a few elements of the movie I have no reaction to either way the CGI that bothers "Kev" so much, for example, makes no impression on me one way or the other but there are several elements that I believe work well and others that don't work well (or don't work at all).
1. The Plot:
The plot in SPIDER-MAN 2 is every bit as complex as the first movie's but without the strange sprawling quality that has led several of my friends to conclude that the first movie was "boring." Having rewatched it recently for this article, I can somewhat see their point unless you're already invested in the comic, there are parts of that movie that go past at a snail's pace. SPIDEY 2, on the other hand, juggles even more plot elements than the first movie (Harry's obsession over his father, the love story, Peter's rejection and subsequent reacceptance by Aunt May, Peter's money and school woes leading to his temporary retirement, Octavius' career as a supervillain) and keeps them moving at just the right pace to keep you interested but not so fast you can't keep up. The fact that Roberto Aguirre Sacasa's official comic adaptation has to condense so much of it and the fact that the story still works beautifully after such condensation shows just how narratively thick this movie is. When people call this "the best comic book movie ever," it may be this narrative thickness they're referring to more than anything else. Other movies have attempted it (HULK) and some have gotten it just about right (SUPERMAN II), but SPIDEY 2 works well on the page most of the time. (See below for the list of when it doesn't.)
2. Alfred Molina
3. Rosemary Harris
God bless and keep Rosemary Harris safe from harm and grant her a long, long life. She may not be the frail and slightly dotty Aunt May from the 60s and 70s, but even Aunt May hasn't been that character for a long while now. Harris plays an amalgamation of that previous May and the new and improved "old lady who takes no prisoners" May given us by Bendis and Straczynski, and thus she's become every bit as inseparable from the character as Molina is from Ock. I loved her in the first movie too, but here she's given far more to do. From her rescue scene with Spidey ("What do you mean, we?"), to her absolutely silent and tearful temporary rejection of her nephew after his other secret comes out, to her reacceptance of him even while seeming to know his main secret, Harris has given May every bit as much psychological depth and scope as her print counterpart and then some. And while we're on the subject of that seeming knowledge of her nephew's other life...
Some people aren't liking the fact that MJ, Harry, and possibly even Aunt May all know about
5. Nods to the future
Did you know that Gwen Stacy appears in SPIDEY 2? Apparently she does, according to the credits, and she's not that sweet cake-serving girl from across the hallway. Admittedly, I could care less whether Gwen appears in the movies or not, but she could provide some new angst in the Peter-MJ relationship that it might not have otherwise. And while Harry's descent into darkness is almost a given, we're just as likely to see future movies featuring the Lizard (Dylan Baker is perfect as Dr. Curt Connors) or the Man-Wolf (I'm sure I wasn't the only one in the theater more interested in looking at John Jameson's neck to see if that pendant was there than in his kiss with MJ). As good as this movie is, there's some even better stuff coming down the pike if only they can't fix...
What Doesn't Work:
1. The Peter/MJ dynamic
Luckily, this element of the movie finally calms down towards the end, and by the time we get the kiss at the very end, it all feels as right as it did in the first movie. Those two main conversations in which Peter and MJ discuss their on-again, off-again mutual thang, though, struck me as some of the most stilted stuff I'd seen in a while. Alvin Sargeant (ORDINARY PEOPLE) can normally be counted on for excellent dialogue, but there were a few points in which I found it hard to believe that ordinary people actually talked like this. Go back and watch those bits again you'll see what I mean. There's also the fact that Peter and MJ, as much as they've settled in as movie characters for us, are not the Peter and MJ of the comics. In print, Peter and MJ are a bit more explosive with each other, both in love and in anger, and both have sharp wits that come out at both the best and worst of times. None of that comes across in the movie couple's relationship, and this time out, if it hadn't been for the fact that they'd been next-door neighbors and had the events of the first film behind them, you'd really have to wonder why they were so crazy about each other to begin with. Of course, a lot of that may have just as much to do with...
2. The Tobey/Kirstin dynamic
When I say "the Tobey/Kirstin dynamic," I don't mean the way these two perform together, I mean the way each one performs their characters. True, the fact
Others have commented on how unsuited Dunst is for MJ, but I had not really noticed it until this time around. Like Maguire, she lacks the basic fire that the print character has in spades. The official comics adaptation (which both improves on MJ's banter in general and Peter's banter with Ock in particular) gives her the famous line "You just hit the jackpot, Tiger" when she enters Peter's apartment at the end of the story rather than the slightly less effective "Go get 'em, Tiger" that Dunst gets. We can imagine the print MJ saying this, not to mention berating Ock for kidnapping her in the first place we can't imagine the movie version of MJ having that sort of...well, chutzpah I guess would be one word for it, or moxie (moxy?). Dunst doesn't really have that quality, so we'll have to accept that MJ won't have it in the movies, even as we're still reading a print version of the character who's never lost it.
3. The train scene
Yes, that scene and I'm not talking about the fact that it quite obviously takes place in Chicago rather than in New York. I live in New Orleans, so I'm all too aware of how much real-world geography gets totally screwed over in movies in favor of cinematic drama. On that score, at least, the train scene works well. For that matter, the scene works well on an emotional level, too there's something strangely moving about the sight of the people Peter has just saved carefully passing his unconscious form back to safety and being willing to put their lives on the line (literally, come to think of it) to keep him safe from Octavius. (Even thinking about the moment in which one of them says wonderingly "He's just a kid" makes me want to grab a box of tissues.) What does not work is the idea that in that large a group of New Yorkers, everyone's going to keep Peter's identity a secret. Sure, they don't know his name, and of course they're grateful to him for saving their lives. But as soon as it gets out that someone has seen him unmasked (as it's bound to, possibly through one of those passengers telling someone they think is a trusted friend how Spidey saved them and how they know what he looks like), and as soon as someone like JJJ (or Oprah, if they were really in Chicago) offered a disgusting sum of money for someone on that train to come forward and describe him for a sketch artist, Peter's secret would be blown. Hell, let's not even say "New Yorkers," since that implies that only New Yorkers would be so money- and fame-hungry that they'd betray a man who saved their life for cash and attention let's say that not everyone in that large a group of human beings would be able to keep it secret. As much as I hope some future movie makes reference back to this scene say, in a scene in which a stranger nods at Peter as he and MJ are walking down the street, leading Peter to quietly explain that that was "one of the train people" - it'll strain credulity even further if one of the future movies doesn't involve a subplot in which JJJ (or Harry, in order to discredit Peter publicly?) manages to find one of these "train people" and gets him or her to talk. Hmm, now that has possibilities...
4. The goofy bits
In the first movie, Sam Raimi kept most of the comic book-ish elements that make his previous movies such a treat for his fans and such a chore for the rest of us in check. Apart from the ridiculous over-the-top scene in which the Goblin menaces Aunt May and makes her finish the Lord's Prayer, I can't think of any Raimi-isms in SPIDEY 1.
In SPIDEY 2, we have Ted Raimi. Again. Bleh.
If it were just Ted Raimi, I'd be annoyed enough. (Granted, Ted isn't bad when he's not in one of his brother's projects but when was the last time that happened?) But there are other goofy bits that are just as annoying and which sometimes threaten to pop you right out of the movie: The Asian violinist (badly) playing and singing the 60s SPIDER-MAN theme twice. The spinning newspaper headlines. "My back! My back!" Bruce Campbell. Even the otherwise amusing scene with Hal Sparks has the potential to hit you in just the wrong way when book-ended with bits like this. Movies of this sort do need comic relief, and the first movie inserted such elements with enough grace and finesse that they barely stood out. Here, they stand out nearly as much as making the Flatiron building into the DAILY BUGLE. (Thanks for the heads-up on that one, "Kev" I knew there was something I didn't like about that.) And finally...
5. Intelligent, evil arms
One of my problems with the current DOCTOR OCTOPUS: YEAR ONE miniseries is that it goes too far out of its way to come up with motivations as to why Doctor Octopus is so thoroughly evil. Personally, I never thought of Octavius
I'm sure you have your own views on the movie and given how unfailingly positive the reviews have been, I'm sure a few of them are likely to be laced with poison ink so send them to me via the web site contact address here or to me directly. And remember, if you should happen to make reference to a title of a comic series please use CAPS when giving the title. I do the HTML coding on this column every week, and having the titles in caps already makes my life much easier. Finally, as always, don't forget our discussion boards! Next week, I'll present the winners of the Eisner Awards which are being announced this Saturday in San Diego at some event or other that I wasn't invited to or never got airline tickets for I still don't know, really. Anyway, you can see my early predictions about the winners here. But first, here's this week's listings:
For the kids this week: the KIDS' WB! JAM PACKED ACTION! trade paperback has been "retro-listed," whatever that means. All you parents need to know about it is that it sells for $7.99. There's also POWERPUFF GIRLS #52 for the little ones. For the slightly older kids, there's BATMAN ADVENTURES #16, featuring the wedding of the Joker and Harley Quinn. Yes, you heard it here, folks! Or, if those slightly older kids have a taste for Marvel and have never read any reprints of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko's run on AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (and why would they have?), there's always MARVEL AGE: SPIDER-MAN #8, featuring Spidey's first fight with Electro! And finally, everyone's favorite bride-of-a-superhero-to-be continues her "adventures" in MARY JANE #2 (which is my pick of the kid comix this week).
A hostage situation develops at S.T.A.R. Labs in ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN #630. Maybe we'll be lucky and they'll kidnap the lot of them out of the DCU for good...
Onto the Bat-Titles, as the
So, according to the copy on the Toon Zone web site for CABLE/DEADPOOL #5, "They'll need each other to survive and it might involve exchanging bodily fluids!" Sounds more like the scenario for a new hit sitcom than a Marvel title, doesn't it? Anyone, the boys fight the Lightmaster this week, which should be fun even without the precious bodily fluids...
Yes, I'm just as startled as you are: CAPTAIN MARVEL #25 is the final issue of that series. Didn't we just have a final issue of this title about two years ago? Anyway, all your questions will be answered except why this is the last issue, apparently...
Dang, look at all the DD stuff this week! You'd think there was a movie coming out or something... Black Widow returns to Matt's life (in more ways than one) in DAREDEVIL #62; DAREDEVIL: FATHER #2 (Of 5) is a bargain for $3.50; and the DAREDEVIL VOL 9: KING OF HELL'S KITCHEN trade paperback reprints Matt's rise to the role of Kingpin of Hell's Kitchen, as shown in DAREDEVIL #56-60, for $13.99. Alas, no Elektra. Yet. Heh.
The theme-cover fun just keeps rolling on as Brian Azzarello and Martin Pasko each reinterpret the cover to the classic GREEN LANTERN #31 in DC COMICS PRESENTS: GREEN LANTERN #1.
Brand-new adventures await as the Pinis bring us a new story about everyone's favorite little people in the ELFQUEST: THE SEARCHER AND THE SWORD hardcover for $24.95.
Enjoy the new story arc beginning in EMMA FROST #13, in which Emma makes it to the Big Apple, 'cause I'm told that after these next six issue there won't be any more. Hmm. Maybe they should have stuck to the lascivious covers after all?
The team goes to Heaven and meets God (I'm so not kidding) in the FANTASTIC FOUR VOL 4: HEREAFTER trade paperback for $11.99. If you missed it the first time (though where the hell were you, anyway?), pick it up now!
Ever wonder how the Mirror Master started his villainous career? Well, you're going to get the story anyway in FLASH #212.
There's one heck of a lot going on as each of the boys with a piece of the battle suit gets into trouble in FRACTION #4.
Hawkman's in police custody, and Atom's got to try to keep the cops from revealing the Winged Wonder's identity in HAWKMAN #30. How's he going to do that by molecularly bonding the mask to Carter's face or something?
Ever wonder how they do it in Europe? No, not that - I mean comic books! Then pick up HORDE, a trade paperback reprinting the famed graphic novel by Baranko originally published by Humanoids, for $17.95. And get your minds out of that gutter already! Sheesh!
If you want to check out the team before they splintered into two, then check out the JLA VOL 1: NEW WORLD ORDER trade paperback for $5.95. Or, if you want to check out said splinter group which was introduced in the 48-page advertisement that was JLA #50, then check out JUSTICE LEAGUE ELITE #1 (Of 12), and then repeat to yourself, "It's only twelve months...it's only twelve months..."
Marvel's Icon imprint launches the second of its creator-owned series this week with David Mack's KABUKI #1, available either with a cover by Mack himself or with an Alex Maleev cover. With all these variant covers, it feels a lot like 1994 again, doesn't it?
The other side of the Thor-Loki story continues with LOKI #2 (Of 4), written by Rob Rodi. We're not going to get all gooey and sympathetic towards him now, are we? (Loki, I mean, not Rob.)
Hans Rodionoff and
Take off to the Great White North and see how Logan became Wolverine in the ORIGIN trade paperback for $14.99, eh? Better than reading other Marvel fare set in Canada, don'tcha know.
Someone's going to die (and hopefully not come back six issues later? Please, Judd?) in OUTSIDERS #14.
Time goes crazy in PLASTIC MAN #8, affecting all of the DCU or at least just this little pliable corner of it, presumably. But who knows I was wrong about Wonder Woman beating up Superman last week (she was actually protecting him! Silly me!), so why wouldn't I be wrong about this?
A mutiny aboard the ark puts the salvation of humanity at risk and still no one else in the Marvel Universe but Norrin Radd seems to know about that last bit in SILVER SURFER #11. If Bobby Ewing steps out of the shower in the last issue of this story arc, I'm canceling my subscription.
It's a "He Said"...um, "He Said" story from both Clark and Lex's points of view in the comic/fanzine SMALLVILLE #9 for $3.95.
Spidey undergoes a mutation that somehow ties in the problems that the Avengers are having (and what doesn't this month?) in SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #17. Will it affect him for good? No, probably not. Meanwhile, Allan Jacobsen and Robert Kirkman each present their own take on Spidey in two stand-alone stories in SPIDER-MAN UNLIMITED #4. Depending on whether you liked INVADERS and the latest issue of CAPTAIN AMERICA, respectively, that's either good news or very, very bad news.
The first issue may have been just a tad overwritten I've rarely encountered a comic featuring reduced print just so all the exposition could go in before but STARJAMMERS #2 looks like it may just be action, action, action! With some exposition thrown in there so you don't forget what you're reading, of course.
From Vertigo this week, we get the beginning of a great new storyline in HUMAN TARGET #12; Fenris the Wolf continues devouring gods (bad puppy!) in LUCIFER #52; the latest bit of mindf**k from Grant Morrison concludes in SEAGUY #3 (Of 3) but don't worry, there's more to come; and the SEBASTIAN O trade paperback for $9.95 carries us back to the days when Vertigo was just starting and Morrison wasn't nearly as crazy as he now is. I know, it's hard to imagine either so pick this up and see for yourself!
From Wildstorm this week, we find out what caused the Great Machine to retire from superheroism and take up politics (though if you read the last page of the last issue, you might have a hint) in EX MACHINA #2; the MAXX BOOK THREE trade paperback for $17.95 brings up to a cliffhanger for the Maxx and Julie; and TOM STRONG'S TERRIFIC TALES #11 features (gasp!) a Tesla tale illustrated by Bruce Timm!
WONDER WOMAN #206 features the first part of a five-part storyline called "Stoned" and no, it's not about the Themascyrans finding some wacky weed on an unexplored part of the island (though wouldn't that be amusing?).
And finally, there may be no Joss Whedon this week, but there is NEW X-MEN #3, WEAPON X #26, WOLVERINE #17, and X-MEN #159. Kudos if you know what's going on in all of them, 'cause I just can't keep up anymore...Whew!
Eisner Award winners next week place your bets now, folks!