The Spider #1 (Dynamite Entertainment): The publisher rushed out a second printing of this book after it “sold out” (which is a bit of verbal trickery publishers use to push meaningless hyperbolic press releases indicating that their deliberately low print run of 5,000 initial copies were all gobbled up by the Diamond Monopoly™ to fill orders placed by retailers – the real customers in the direct market – so now be astounded at the popularity of their wares that they must print again (huzzah!) to fill more of those same LCS orders they couldn't accurately compute the first time around, completely regardless of what the end consumer is or isn’t actually purchasing). You see, in this model, the supply has precious little to do with demand. It’s a fantastic bit of smoke and mirrors created by the final order cut-off and (non-)return policies permissible in this dog-choker of a supply chain. I think this totally upends classical supply and demand Keynesian Economics, but you probably didn’t come here for an undergraduate crash course in Econ 101. Dynamite has published exactly one (1) book that I enjoyed before; I stuck with Brett Matthews (screenwriter turned comic book writer, Joss Whedon disciple from the Firefly era) and Sergio Cariello for all 20-some issues of The Lone Ranger. It was dope. It had voice. It looked slick. The Spider was getting ALL KINDS of buzz online, to the point that I felt like I was missing out on something. I wanted to sit at the cool kids table too. And it sure is hard to resist those clean John Cassaday covers; he’s one of my favorite artists working today, though I do wish he’d just jump on an ongoing title instead of turning in that lucrative cover work. How dare he take the higher-paying flashier job and make my enjoyment of interiors suffer! See how commerce and art are two competing paradigms continually at odds? If you’re sensing a “but” in all this, then your Spider-Sense, your Spydar, your Comic Fu, is indeed strong. There’s a pretty egregious typo about a third of the way into the book that yanked me right out. This is about the time I started noticing the totally illogical panel layouts and contradictory lines. For example, the panel where some douche cop is looking at the protagonist through the hole of his handcuffs was one of the most awkward layouts I’ve seen in a while. It was an attempt to do something stylish and different, but it just failed. It didn’t make sense, didn’t flow, and makes you overtly aware of the derailing craft. Ars Est Celare Artem. That’s a Latin phrase The Old Masters used which means “The Art is To Hide The Art.” If your audience becomes overtly aware of craft, then you’ve effectively broken the fourth wall and interrupted the all consuming experience that “good art” is supposed to temporarily induce. This is what you get for paying attention to a blogger who works in a museum, and I try to reconcile Fine Art principles with a blatant Batman knock-off. The creative team does all sorts of things to distract you from that, but at the end of the day, that’s essentially all it is. The guy is the son of wealthy philanthropic industrialists, he’s a vigilante with gadgets, has a relationship with cops and network of covert supporters despite the public at large considering him a menace in a crime-ridden Gothamesque city, and goes around shooting people with web guns. Batman, meet Spider-Man. And before anyone tries to Nerd Court me, yeah, I know the book is based on the 1930’s pulp character of the same name, so you could probably argue Batman stole from this character, but it’s not like modern audiences are going to appreciate that sequence. You need to deviate harder for this to be a true reimaging for a modern audience (see the aforementioned The Lone Ranger from Dynamite, which was true to the spirit of the original, but not a rote by the numbers recreation that played this dated). Sure, it’s in an alternate reality NYC where dirigibles fill the sky. Cool. Sure, they try to go against type and make the “Commissioner Gordon” character fully aware of The Spider’s true identity. Sure, they insert a love interest who also knows his identity. Sure, they try to create a sympathetic minority character; but when you name the Sikh guy “Singh” that’s about one step away from naming the Chinese guy “Hop-Sing,” the Italian guy “Guido,” or giving the Korean guy the last name of (there’s only two choices, right?) “Lee” or “Kim.” On second thought, (Mental Note) using "Kato" as a comparison probably would have sold that last sentence more effectively. That contradictory dialogue I mentioned involves a scene where former flame invites protagonist up to meet her new husband (assumably for the first time, “he’d love to meet you,” etc.) amid a flirtatious “we both want to fuck, but know we shouldn’t” undercurrent. Flip over a couple pages and it’s obvious that protagonist already knows new husband, because they work together. It doesn’t make any sense at all. If the prior scene is some type of flashback, there’s no signpost for it, and it plays totally linear and chronological. It’s just dumb. Yet another example involves protagonist voice-overing that he's divulged his vigilantism to former flame, but a mere 4 pages later he explains that Ram Singh is *the only* one who knows his secret. Huh? Hello, does Dynamite have editors that, y'know, edit? The entire project is also steeped in that annoyingly over-used voice-over noir narration about a hard man on even harder streets. Blah, blah, I have my own moral code, The Concrete Jungle, drizzly streets, The Hooker With a Heart of Gold, it’s Mickey Spillane’s classic Private Dick archetype, and it’s so, so, so tired because we’ve seen it literally 576,899 times now. Ed Brubaker has been hybridizing this noir pulp thing meets superhero riff for something like 10 years. I didn’t like it when he first introduced it, and I like it even less when we get a sea of endless copycats. The art is also very photo-referenced, to the point that it’s distracting. One guy looks like Elvis, another guy might be Taylor Lautner, and one of the cops might have even been cribbed straight from Batman’s own Detective Harvey Bullock. You can play with familiar tropes to achieve new results and provide meta-commentary (see the amazing Danger Club over at Image Comics), but there’s a fine line between reference on that end, to homage in the middle, to blatant swipe on this end of the spectrum. So, don’t believe the hype. The cool kids aren’t eating anything different than what you have at your table. The cool kids are also never as cool as your fantasy would lead you to believe. The reality hardly ever lives up to the fantasy. I don’t believe there’s anything that special here. The book totally violates the tell vs. show rule and dumps some history on us too, by the time the zombie vampires show up at the end (I’m not even making that part up), I realized that every other reviewer on teh internets seems to have fallen for a conglomeration of clichés and stock characters cobbled together to make them believe they were seeing something wholly original, or at least coming at familiar tropes with a fresh spin. But, let me repeat, Bruce Wayne has web-shooters. Oh, but there are blimps in the noir sky so I guess it’s wildly inventive? What’s next? A book called “The Bat,” starring a Peter Parker clone driving a tricked out car called the… Bat… Mobile…? Maybe if you spell it “Bat-Mobile” with a hyphen that will be different? Or maybe criminals killed his parents and it fuels his life choices? Yeah, just make him a war hero and that will be “different enough.” Usually mediocre books are the hardest to review. If you love something, you can gush at will over it and espouse its virtues. If you hate a book, you can usually trash it to the ends of the Earth and have fun in the process. Despite the 1,300 words I just wrote about The Spider, I honestly don’t hate it. I obviously don’t love it either, it’s just *there* dead in the middling water. I was going to give it a flat Grade C, but since it made me write a lot, I guess that’s worth something? Grade C+.
Grim Leaper #1 (Image Comics): This book isn’t nearly as rough as The Spider, but I have dramatically less to say about its mediocrity. You get the sense that the creators really do have a genuinely new idea to play with here that is their own intellectual property, and they actually execute it. So, it really all comes down to how much you enjoy that idea and the mannerin which they choose to deliver it. Unfortunately, it’s a bit of a one-note joke that takes an entire issue to play out. We all have one of those friends (sorry, Sean) who can’t tell a story or a joke to save their lives. They drone on and on stopping to fill you in on all sorts of tangential irrelevant detail, so that you sort of lose the throughline and tune out, and by the time the punchline finally arrives it doesn’t pay for the 10 minutes of preamble you just had to sit through. I guess that’s how I feel here? The main character keeps dying and getting reincarnated as different people, fully aware that in each new life he’s a walking magnet for random Final Destination style violence. There’s a subversive tone to the humor, the art is really inky in a way I enjoy, the violence is treated darkly in that it’s comical, etc. At the end (Spoiler Alert? Maybe? I don’t know. It says on the cover it’s “A Love Story To Die For”) he meets a girl who… wait for it… suffers from the same curse. He loves her simply for their shared worldview, then… wait for it… she dies abruptly. See the irony? The End. Grade B-.