Amazing Spider-man #656 “No One Dies pt.2: Resolve”
Dan Slott/Marcos Martin
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This was okay, while the previous issue was exemplary for letting Marcos Martin go to town on the kind of Spidey story that stopped being fun to even pretend to enjoy reading back when Mark Bagley was on the book the first time (and he was still just as boring an artist back during the Clone Saga days), this one was just okay. Dan Slott is the kind of writer that modern superhero comics thrives on – he doesn’t do anything outside of the established rules of whatever character he’s working on. He understands and plays on continuity, but doesn’t ever drive it into overkill territory, which even the greats have been known to get mired in (almost all of them have recently). His dialog is coherent. His action scenes too. I’ve heard that he enjoys working “Marvel-style” with the artists he collaborates with, allowing them to do more interesting work than they usually would on a job like Spider-man. He’s probably a really nice guy. The problem is that his work is boring at best, at worst insultingly obvious, and always ridden with cliches. His comics are serviceable, but they’re also not particularly good in any way than as a delivery service for great art. The larger problem is, in mainstream comics, he’s exemplary just because of the way he works, there’s a surprising amount of great work coming from Marcos Martin under his banner. Of course Marcos Martin isn’t just talented, he’s maybe THE talent at Marvel right now, the same way that Frazer Irving is at DC. So Slott getting great work out of him, it’s to be commended but I’m sure Martin could shine working with anyone. He’s a guy who’s been around for a few years but is now doing unmissable material in the mainstream without it being any kind of a big deal. It’s not the weirdness that’s festering at the fringes of the big two right now – a place where Sheldon Vella and Dan McDaid are popping up in anthologies and showing up big names, where Kyle Baker and Brendan McCarthy are allowed to do whatever the fuck they want as long as they’re okay with being cancelled before a year on the shelves. It’s not David Aja and Chris Bachelo drawing crap because the editors literally can’t find a place for them but want to keep paying them. It’s just that Marcos Martin is probably going to explode pretty soon, and until then he’s going to be drawing Dan Slott’s idea of a Spiderman story, which could have easily appeared in the Jim Shooter era if it weren’t for the current status quo points and the in-story use of an iPad. Maybe he’ll follow JH Williams’ career arc (his layouts and expressiveness definitely share some common ground), maybe he’ll become the next Mazzuchelli, maybe he’ll have a completely different career. The guy is not just good, he’s great and improving with every new issue, sometimes (such as #655) he improves from page to page. Now’s the time to pay attention, even if that means you have to read about Spiderman getting a new costume. Again.
So the story – and we have to separate it from the previous issue, the first half of this story. Which we can sum up as such – the first half is the funeral scene from the first issue of Casanova stretched out to 12 pages, and the second is a very cloying idea given enormous weight by Marcos Martin pulling off dream-logic as a believable concept through his layouts. Both parts – the flashy post-JH Williams stuff, and the hard to do silent funeral stuff, which is all expression and gesture and shot choice – are why Martin is worth paying attention to. The follow-up, the issue I’m interested in talking about, is a far more conventional Spidey comic. “No One Dies part 2″ follows the premise that after letting J. Jonah Jameson’s wife die by accident, Spider-man has an epiphany and vows that he will never let anyone die under his watch again. Which… is stupid enough that Slott has J. Jonah Jameson point out how stupid it is. It’s a superhero comic, I don’t care how much you would like to go back to the pre-Gwen Stacy days of innocence, it’s 2011. Superhero comics have kept pace with all other forms of media in being just as full of rape, mutilation, and a casual simplified approach of both. Blame it on Miller and Moore or blame it on CSI and SVU, buy any superhero comic at random and people are getting chopped up like Jason Takes Manhattan. If you’re an emotionally dead person like I am, you’re okay with it. But I get why people would want to have a superhero comic where nobody gets torn in half or raped or cut parts of their arm off to feed to a team member (okay I’ve gotta admit that one was pretty cool). The “comics aren’t for kids anymore” argument doesn’t quite ring true anymore, mostly because I was buying Green Arrow books that showed penetration when I was 7 years old – shit its been almost 30 years since this stuff became part and parcel of guys in tights punching each other.
So when people are talking about this stuff, it’s because it makes them uncomfortable that their one easy callback to their childhood is now just as riddled with horrific shit as the tv shows and movies they’re trying to escape. And I get that. I mean, I don’t feel the same way, but I totally get that. Dan Slott probably isn’t interested in writing the Spider-Man comic he grew up with suddenly having to deal with the idea of collateral damage or anything like that. Superheroes maybe shouldn’t be mired in death the way they are, but shit… that’s the way things are now. The strange thing is, instead of write the hybrid of Shooter-era and Silver Age Spidey that the guy clearly would prefer doing and ignoring the current state of shit – which, let’s be clear wouldn’t necessarily be a better comic, but would be something Slott would probably be better at writing – this two-part storyline is explicitly about how much death there is in superhero books these days. Which…. well, it’s an odd choice. Spidey standing on a rooftop last issue shouting “NO ONE DIES” is about as hamfisted an approach to this idea as you could ask for, and it’s hard to say that the results in the next issue are any better. Spidey wants to make sure no one dies, which is a Spidey thing to do, the whole character thrives on guilt and failure. Even his greatest achievements are tinged with failure and guilt. That’s the character’s core. But he’s also supposed to be smart, and a realist. Someone who remembers Gwen Stacy dying, who didn’t save Jean DeWolff, they wouldn’t say “No one dies” after failing to save people so close to him. I guess it’s a great setup for Spidey to get brought low again, but how much more obvious can you get the dramatic arc of the story like this? Are you telling me that no one is going to die in Amazing Spider-Man for a while? Great, but I’m pretty damn sure that this story is leading to a big deal not too far of in the future. And if Slott would really like if no one actually died in Spidey anymore, why make it the text of the story like this? Why is the issue full of declarations which could never possibly be met, from Peter Parker, J Jonah Jameson, Peter’s roommates, the bad guy so one-note that Spidey actually says he’s one-note (which is “hanging a lantern” on your flaw, in screenwriting terms, I guess? This isn’t Shane Black making jokes about noir titles, though. It’s more like the annoying kid in Buffy talking about slasher conventions before they happen later in the episode). This isn’t about subtlety, which is actually a great choice for superhero comics, but it’s all bad notes. I just kind of wish that this wasn’t the idea they went with. You want to do the story where Spider-Man saves everyone, makes sure that no one dies, gets some new armor with some cool magnetic webbing, outsmarts the bad guy and rubs it in J Jonah Jameson’s face? Do it without talking about it. Calling all this attention to death, it makes the entire endeavor feel awkward, it consistently points out that this is a problem with reading a superhero comic with real world consequences. If you want to do something old school and tell classic Spidey stories, WHY NOT JUST DO IT? This is caught in the middle and satisfies neither side.
But we don’t buy these books for the story, right? I don’t really know anyone who does, not unless they’re hardcore fans of the writer in question. This is the Marcos Martin show, and anyone who says different is reading comics for a different reason than I am. While #656 isn’t as full of layout pyrotechnics and surrealistic variations on characters and locations, it’s just as masterful an approach to the material he’s working on. Martin, and his colorist Muntsa Vincente (who needs to be mentioned because this isn’t the rote terrible mainstream coloring, it’s a sophisticated version of limited palette instead of nasty monochrome gradations everywhere), are a perfect fit for Amazing Spider-Man. Spidey himself is a kinetic figure in the panels, even though Martin has eschewed speed lines or weird trick perspective shifts. His characters seem to move fluidly, and Spidey being Spidey, he does even moreso. Which is a hard thing to pull off in static panels, intentionally making the non-Spidey characters stiffer in certain frames, or choosing to go very tight in certain shots in order to use the big motions more expansively. His figures carry weight too – Spidey slamming into a cop car hurts. Same for Paladin being choke slammed into a wall, and the panel I used up top of Spidey in freefall – that stuff isn’t the kind of movement you see very often in superhero books – never if you discount Paul Pope and Frank Quitely. His choice of shot – knowing when to use an establishing shot, when to move in tight on a face, when to go wide. What is actually on the page is something less than the effect of reading a sequence, it’s in the little moments that you can see that Martin isn’t just a guy who does cool layouts. Half a face or smoke wafting off of an explosion – there’s so much more going on there than there is in a big splash of Spidey coming through a window. I don’t really have much to say about how great Martin’s work is, other than just that, it’s really great. He’s probably going to get better, and he’s probably going to keep knocking out these Amazing Spider-Man issues for a little while longer before moving onto either a larger selling book or something better suited for him. In the meantime, this is a great artist in training mode. It’s pretty cool to see what he can do, and I enjoy seeing him do it. This isn’t mindblowing, cutting edge material. This isn’t a great story being told well. It’s also probably the best thing Marvel will put out this month, maybe this year. I can’t tell if that’s just the way things are now, or a good sign of my expectations changing.
- Sean Witzke, April 2011