Upon Further Reflection, Amazing Spider-Man 2 Breaks My Heart

Here be Spoilers. And foul language. Fair Warning.

I know this is about a month out of date. I had to reflect on this for a while. By now, everyone who wanted to see ASM2 has seen it. These are my thoughts. I welcome yours.

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I hate this franchise. I fucking hate it.

But before I really get into this review, let me be clear about the exact nature of my hatred. Sony’s The Amazing Spider-Man movie franchise inspires in me the kind of hatred that can only be inspired by something you love.

Have you ever been cheated on? The pain and the anger generated by that betrayal is only possible because you’ve been wounded by the very person you love the most. The very person you put your faith and trust in, is the one who stabs you in the back. So, if you’re with me, I am Elin Nordegren and Webb’s Amazing Spider-Man is my Tiger Woods. I want to chase it down the street with a fucking 9-iron. I want to smash its stupid, smirking face in.

This movie gets lots of things right, and then gets so many others so very, very wrong. And the things it gets wrong are stupid, stupid things.

Let’s start with the planes. Late in the film, Electro drains all the power out of New York City (which, right there, is stupid – just juvenile, uncreative, stupid action). The loss of power means that the airport loses contact with two passenger planes and they end up on a collision course with each other. Spider-Man then turns the power back on and the planes are saved. It occurred to me about halfway through the airplane episode that this was useless action filler. Stupid. Stupid. Fuck, stupid, fuck.

There were no recognizable characters on the planes. They were random collateral damage – a trumped up, unimaginative action movie catastrophe to which there is no emotional connection, no spectacular pay-off, no sigh of relief when the planes are saved, because, who the fuck cares about these stupid planes?! Spider-Man and Electro are fighting a climactic battle at a power plant (cliché and stupid, but whatever) and we keep cutting away to see these pointless planes.

Compare that scene to the ferryboat scene at the end of The Dark Knight. The Joker orchestrates a prisoner’s dilemma that has everything to do with the plot of the movie and its commentary on the darkness and resiliency of the human spirit. It’s an unforgettable piece of film. Amazing Spider-Man 2 answers that with two planes that maybe are going to crash, but don’t because Woosh! Woah! Cool!

There are so many interconnected webs of rage-inducing awfulness in this film that I just need to break it down by character.

Electro. Jamie Fox is fine, good even. Except that his Electro is the worst written super villain since Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze. He’s all special effects and no soul. The motivation for this character is all over the place – totally incomprehensible. He’s got a stalker crush on Spider-Man. He wants to be “seen” by people. That gets twisted, (Instantly!) into a desire to kill Spider-Man because Electro decides the wall-crawler is “selfish”. Also Oscorp stole his schematics for a power plant, so he wants revenge… I guess? And to make everyone “Live in a world without a Spider-Man.” Basically, Electro’s origin story is “Yadda, Yadda, Yadda… Hey look the Sinister Six!” Oh, and also Electro is Dr. Manhattan now.

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One other thing: if a soulless, cutthroat, exploitative company like Oscorp discovered one of its employees was smart enough to design a high-tech power plant that solved the world’s energy problems, probably they would exploit that person further, as opposed to completely ignoring him and treating him like a glorified maintenance man. Probably. Probably they would, you know, see if he had any other ideas that could make the company more money. They probably wouldn’t just let B. J. Novak treat him like a bitch. Fuck.

Okay, now Gwen. Emma Stone is a really great Gwen Stacy. She and Andrew Garfield have obvious chemistry on screen. For a good chunk of this movie I thought Webb was doing a good job setting up Gwen’s inevitable death.

Then the final 30 minutes of the movie happened. Maybe I was living in a cave, but I didn’t realize that this was going to be Gwen’s swan song. I thought she was sticking around for another film. I kept thinking that all the way through this film. Mostly because I thought there was no way that the Green Goblin – who looks ridiculous by the way – is going to kill Gwen Stacy five minutes after he first acquires his powers. But… yep that’s what happens, in a fucking clock tower! A clock tower! Symbolism!

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And how does Gwen end up in harm’s way? She follows Spider-Man to the super high-tech power plant. And why does she follow him? Because she’s SEEN THE SCHEMATICS and knows how to fix the damage Electro has done. SINGLE-HANDEDLY! She’s in high school! But y’know, she’s the valedictorian so she can pretty much fix a power plant by herself.

Look, I recognize that Webb wants to disrupt the whole damsel in distress narrative. He wants to make Gwen capable and heroic in her own right. Great. I’m down with that, but make her heroism plausible. No one can fix an exploded power plant by herself. Stupid. Have her invent some doo-hickey that short-circuits Electro’s powers or something. In comic books as in superhero movies, the willing suspension of disbelief only operates in particular zones. Can people come back from the dead? Yep. Do people get superpowers when struck by lightning? Totally believable. Can a really smart high school kid pilot a submarine because her grandfather was in the navy and told her all kinds of underwater seafaring stories? No.

Lastly, let me talk about the whole secret origin sub-plot. Webb has spent a lot of time on this. It’s an interesting question, whatever happened to Peter Parker’s parents? But the revelation that Peter’s dad was an Oscorp scientist adds absolutely nothing to the plot or the mythology of Spider-Man. It’s pointless.

Look, part of the reason this movie makes me so angry is because there are other moments where Webb absolutely nails it. Like, near the end of the film, after Spider-Man has gone into semi-retirement and that kid puts on his Spidey jammies and stands up to the Rhino… I nearly cried. That is everything Spider-Man is supposed to be. That’s what he was to me as a kid. Spider-Man never has it easy; he always does the hard thing because it’s the right thing.

There are little pockets of greatness here, but it just seems like the fingerprints of studio execs are all over this film.

If you want to turn your brain off for two hours, Amazing Spider-Man 2 will let you do that. But turn your brain off, because if you think about any of this stuff it will make you crazy.

Bring on the X-Men.

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Amazing Spider-Man #4, First Appearance of Silk

I seem to be writing a lot about Spider-Man lately. I guess that’s what happens when Dan Slott writes a mythology-changing story arc that defies all expectations and receives widespread critical acclaim.

Anyway, I said a short time ago that Amazing Spider-Man #1 is probably not a collectible book. At least, it’s not a book that’s going to significantly increase in value any time soon… or ever.

However, if you read ASM #1, you know there was a teaser in there for a new character. The concept is that for years we’ve all assumed that the radioactive spider that bit Peter Parker died immediately afterwards. Apparently, we thought wrong. Slott shows us the spider bite a young woman right after it bit Peter.

Apparently, this is the introduction of a new character named Silk who will make her first full appearance in Amazing Spider-Man #4.

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Now, who knows if Silk is going to be an interesting character, but the origin story alone is intriguing. If Silk turns out to be cool, then Amazing Spider-Man #4 might be the comic book worth money.

On Comic Books and Race

So, I picked up The Flash Annual #3 last week and was introduced to the New 52 version of Wally West. This Wally is a kid, kind of a punk, and a person of color.

Wally’s race change has stirred up a bit of controversy on the web, and it’s prompted me to think a bit about how the big two are approaching the whole diversity problem.

By “problem” I mean, comic books are too white, probably too male too, but definitely too white. A disproportionate number of Marvel and DC’s major heroes are white. Let’s be honest, 100% of the main heroes in the big two are white.

Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Flash, Aquaman. All white.

Spider-Man, Captain America, Iron Man, Hulk, Wolverine, Thor. All white.

That’s a problem for both companies, especially since, through film and television both Marvel and DC are trying to reach bigger and broader audiences. Reaching those audiences depends on viewers and readers being able to identify with the people they see on the screen and on the page.

Both companies have tried different strategies for diversifying their lineups. Marvel changed Nick Fury from a white man to a black man. With the start of the New 52, DC promoted Cyborg from the Teen Titans to the Justice League. And now they’ve transformed Wally West into a biracial man.

I’ve gotta say, I appreciate what Marvel and DC are doing. I agree comics should be more diverse, but there’s something unsettling about these tactics to me.

Cyborg’s promotion to the Justice League is transparently about race. I find he sticks out not because of his colour, but because he’s the only member of the team who isn’t one of the World’s Greatest Superheroes. There’s also something a little disturbing to me about just “painting” a character a different color and altering their racial identity.

The main thing that bothers me though is that Marvel and DC seem to making these changes where the stakes are the lowest. We’re not going to see a black Tony Stark, or a black Clark Kent, but we’ll get a black Nick Fury. We’ll make Flash biracial, so long as we’re talking about Wally West and not the “real” Flash.

When I was a kid, I remember a couple of Image comics challenging racial norms in more authentic ways. Spawn’s alter-ego was Al Simmons. Al was a dead man who made a deal with the devil because he wanted to be reunited with is wife, Wanda. But when Al “returned” to earth he found his wife was remarried to another man named Terry and they had a daughter named Cyan. All of those characters were black, and in the mid-90s Spawn was among the best selling comics going.

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Erik Larsen’s The Savage Dragon also had minority characters in prominent roles. Two of Dragon’s romantic leads were Rapture and Alex Wilde, both women of colour.

I think diversity in comics is good, and maybe retroactive diversity is necessary if DC and Marvel want to keep supporting characters like Nick Fury around while they work on a more realistic portrayal of the human species, but I think some of those early Image comics point to another path.

Where are the original characters? Why not create compelling new minority characters to lead their own series? Turning Wally West into a biracial man is well-intentioned but it’s also kind of gutless. If you’re really going to ret-con race, you have to do better than that. Make Barry Allen black; make Bruce Banner Asian, or give Jubilee her own series.

Credit where credit is due: Marvel does seem to be making some moves in the right direction. Miles Morales has recently taken over for Peter Parker in the Ultimate universe. So we’ve got a black Spider-Man.

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This year the House of Ideas also introduced the world to a Muslim Ms. Marvel. The book has sold well so far and has received some critical acclaim.

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These to me are more authentic and more meaningful ways of diversifying comic book universes; However, again there’s still something safe about these moves. Miles Morales is to Peter Parker what Wally West is to Barry Allen. Ms. Marvel is a recognizable character, but she’s not Iron Man or Captain America.

It seems unlikely that we’ll ever see a Latino Bruce Wayne; to my mind the best bet for really diversifying the pantheon is to create compelling new minority heroes and villains.

Los Angeles Back Issue Porn

So I spent last week at a conference in L.A., and while I was there I did a little digging through the back issue bins.

I’ve never been to California before, so I had no frame of reference for California comic stores. If you ever find yourself in a similar situation, I found Yelp.com to be really useful. Not only can you read lots of customer reviews, but you can also see pictures of the shops, which is super helpful for getting a sense of a store’s back issue stock. That is, you can get a sense of the size of their stock. You obviously can’t tell if they’ve got a Bronze Age stuff, or Superman comics or whatever.

Now, I had my wife and my one-year-old with me, plus I was in L.A. for work, so I didn’t have hours upon hours to dedicate to comic stores. However, the time I did have to spend on comics, I owe to my saintly wife,  who selflessly sat with my sleeping son in a parked car while I got my hands dirty flipping through the stacks.

Anyway, I was able to fit in two comic shops on my trip: Comic Bug in Manhattan Beach, CA and Hi De Ho Comics in Santa Monica, CA. I had great experiences at both shops. If you’re in the L.A. area I can recommend both highly. Really good stock in both places, very friendly and helpful staff.

Comic Bug is a clean and well-organized shop with lots of new stock on the wall and a respectable number of back issues. As I said, I didn’t have time for an exhaustive look through the stacks, but I was able to snag some old Spider-Man and X-Men comics. I’ve got a decent run of ASM in my collection, almost every issue from 200-300 and a smattering of others here and there.

The three I picked up at Comic Bug, I picked up basically because I couldn’t resist the covers.

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I snagged a copy of ASM 52 for $5.00 – pretty low grade, there’s a significant tear on the bottom right of the cover. Still, I wanted that classic cover in my collection.

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That second cover is fantastic, isn’t it? The ghost of Hammerhead?! I mean, c’mon!

I decided last summer that I wanted to increase my X-Men holdings. I really like the X-Men, but I had virtually nothing. To start I’m targeting issues of Uncanny between about 143 and 300. Eventually I’d like to collect Claremont’s run, but that’ll be pricey. I’ll have to pick my moment. Right now those bronze age Uncanny X-Men issues are relatively affordable. I plugged a few holes at Comic Bug and also picked up quite a few issues at Hi De Ho.

Hi De Ho was really the store with the better stock, thousands of issues packed into wooden short boxes. Lots of Bronze and Copper Age stuff. The stock isn’t well organized though – issues out of order, all bagged, but not all boarded. Books are sorted alphabetically, but there are two separate collections, so that all Flash comics, for example, are in two separate locations.

Still, there’s lots of great stuff here. For example…

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#150, a milestone issue…

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#157, great Dark Phoenix cover,

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#171, in which Rogue joins the team. I also picked up this bad boy:

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Regular readers know why.