Sunday, March 15, 2015

On The Shelf: Of ducks, shadows, and female spiders, oh my!

One of the big problems in comics these days is that we have a generation of writers who can only tell one kind of story. The editors at DC & Marvel want them to write stories that build to their endless, mind-numbing, annual "events", which seem to be the only way they can keep the cash registers ringing. Please. Give me a break.

For example, one of Marvel's "events" at the end of 2014 was something called "Spider-Verse", in which they gathered together the Spider-Man we know and love, plus the Ultimate Universe's current version, a African-American/Hispanic youth named Miles Morales, and a host of other variants against a common threat. At the same time, the editorial staff decided that Peter Parker wasn't the only one bitten by a radioactive spider after all.

Bollocks, I say. Why tamper with a simple origin story that's worked for more than 50 years?

Because the editorial hierarchy at Marvel, consisting of Chief Creative Officer (HA!) Joe Quesada, Editor-in-chief Axel (Grease) Alonso, publisher Dan Buckley, and "executive producer" Alan Fine, who has that same gig in the TV department, and is more believable there, felt the need for a little, ah, gender equality. Hence, the debut of Silk. Predictably, the fanboys are eating it up, as the 1st issue sold out rather quickly, and all I could find this weekend, with issue 2 due this coming week, was a variant cover edition that one local shop had marked up to $8. Hey, supply & demand, y'know? I'll wait for the inevitable trade paperback to get acquainted with Silk.

One other spider-variation was even hotter.

We all know the tragic story in the core Marvel Universe, played out in last year's "Amazing Spider-Man 2". Gwen Stacy was Peter Parker's 1st true love, until she was killed off by the Green Goblin. Oh, sure, the Marbleheads mucked the waters in recent years, but if there was one thing the movie's producers got right, this was it.

Nearly 40 years earlier, in What If? (1st series) 7, Marvel postulated some alternate universes that had someone other than Peter getting that famous bite. Back then, they didn't think of using Gwen or even Mary Jane Watson, but rather Daily Bugle secretary Betty Brant to be the female analogue. Oh, it was fun. So, the writers of Spider-Verse decided to correct what they felt was an oversight and make Gwen into a Spider-Woman on an alternate earth. They hyped this to the moon, but didn't feel the need to go to the mainstream press with it (Thank God!). Spider-Gwen debuted last month, with issue 2 arriving this past week. The hometown shop sold out of both issues rather quickly, largely due to subscribers ordering extra copies in the faint hope of recouping a profit. News flash. In 2015, speculating doesn't do ya any good, effendi.

Anyway, Gwen, attired in a black & white costume, instead of the traditional red & blue, or even red & yellow, like the more established Spider-Woman (Jessica Drew), confided in her father, police detective George Stacy, during Spider-Verse. On her world, Gwen must deal with not only the usual rogues gallery (Vulture is the first one on the menu), but you get Frank Castle as a cop, instead of as The Punisher. Matt Murdock isn't Daredevil, but he's in the pocket of Wilson Fisk (Kingpin). It's kind of like looking into a mirror, to an extent. On this world, Peter Parker is dead, and Gwen, as Spider-Woman, is being blamed by---who else?---J. Jonah Jameson. Some things will never change.

The artwork looks a little less busy than, say, Guardians 3000, but they're trying to copy the look of Batgirl over at DC these days. Meh. Whatever.

Rating for Spider-Gwen: B+.

The Shadow returns in a new prestige format 1-shot from Dynamite. The subject is racism. Can't tell if this is set in the 40's, or closer to modern times. The focus is on Jericho Druke, a lesser known agent, who goes undercover to try to save his brother, an ex-con who went to work for a bigot who just happens to be an old enemy of the Shadow. It's decent, a little better than the recent Justice Inc. miniseries, and worth the $8 cover.

Rating: A.

Marvel spins off a new Howard the Duck monthly from a post-credit cameo in last summer's "Guardians of the Galaxy" film. Here, Howard is trying to make a go of it as a private eye, and has Jennifer Walters, aka She-Hulk, on retainer as his lawyer. Gee, there's a shock. The creative team is trying to recapture the manic, satirical spirit of Steve Gerber's original series from the 70's, nearly 40 years old itself. Howard looks the same as he did in the movie on purpose, a little thinner than I remember, still snarky and sarcastic, distrustful of "hairless apes" (humans). Too bad the one human who loved him, Beverly Switzer, isn't around. Yet. The fun will really start in issue 2 when Howard teams with Rocket Raccoon. Oh, don't tell me he'll end up joining the Guardians. They don't need any more comedy relief.

Rating: B-.

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