John's Blog The ramblings of an unpublished author


How to Kill a Comic Book

WARNING! If you read Spider-Man comics, including Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man and haven't kept up, this contains major spoilers!

So there is a lot of hubub in the press about the fact that in Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man they killed Peter Parker and replaced him with Miles Morales--a 13-year old half-black / half-latino kid. The press, of course, love this fact as it shows the progressive thinking of Marvel comics to put someone ethnic in the costume. The amusing thing was when they said it was the first time someone other than Peter Parker would be Spider-Man. Uh, remember that awful clone saga back in the nineties when it was Ben Reilly? Okay, so that was a clone of Peter Parker. I'll give you that. But what about Spider-Man 2099 when it was Miguel O'Hara? Guess that never happened.

My issue isn't that they're replacing Peter with someone ethnic. Couldn't care less. O'Hara was a half Irish, half Latino Spider-Man and I thought that series was awesome. No, the problem is that after destroying my fandom of the character in their main storyline, now they do the same in the Ultimate line.

In the main storyline, Peter Parker grew up. Since it started in 1963, it was bound to happen sooner or later, you know?  He did what everyone does when they grow up: he got a job and eventually, in 1987, got married to Mary Jane Watson. Since time moves differently in comics than it does in real life, that would be Amazing Spider-Man issues 290-291 and Annual 21. The two had their ups and downs, going through a mess of a pregnancy / birth that is so convoluted I won't even try and explain it all here (Norman Osborn stole the baby, but since this happened during the clone saga debacle, it's generally forgotten about, and for good reason). They even separated for a time after the series rebooted in 1999. Peter, being Marvel's "everyman" hero, was living the same things alot of us might have to deal with, only he had super powers. Then they killed it all.

Joe Quesada, editor at Marvel Comics, decided he wanted Peter Parker to be young and carefree again. How did they accomplish this? Not by divorcing the characters and dealing with another life-changing event as they had in the past. They had Aunt May get shot by a bullet meant for Mary Jane, then to save her had Peter Parker go 1000% against character and make a deal with Mephisto to save her. That deal undid Peter and Mary Jane's marriage and put Peter's secret identity back in the bottle (he revealed who he was during the Civil War storyline).

That was the end of my desire to read normal continuity Spider-Man stories. I gave it a chance, I really did. But once I saw Venom become Anti-Venom, I realized the stories I liked were dead and buried. That was okay though. Since I like the Peter / MJ dynamic, I could always read about them in Ultimate Spider-Man. Sure they were younger, but with Brian Michael Bendis writing, that comic made me feel nostalgic for my own time in school and for the Spidey stories of old.

Then he decided to change things up and kill Peter. OK, deaths in comics are a bit of a joke. Characters die and come back all the time, so this isn't much of an issue. Bendis said Peter would die, not come back, and someone else would end up in the costume. I still don't like that much, but can deal with it. Then BOOM! They reveal the new Spider-Man is not a character that has been seen in the series AT ALL to this point. Huh? You had an Ultimate Ben Reilly you could have used. You had a chance to bring in Ultimate Miguel O'Hara and given long-time Spidey fans a bone, but no, you went with someone no reader had ever heard of before.

For the record, this brilliant idea also had input from Joe Quesada. See the problem?

Spider-Man 2099 worked with someone else in the suit because it was so far in the future. The clone saga with Ben Reilly in the suit failed miserably. Bendis is a talented enough writer that he could pull this off where others failed, but there's another issue to overcome.

The only times a super-hero in costume can swap characters in said costume is when there is some logic to it built up over time. Fans accept Dick Grayson as Batman because he is the natural successor to Bruce Wayne. Fans accept Bucky Barnes as Captain America because he was the natural successor to Steve Rogers. Also, both already made a name for themselves in the hero game and showed they had the chops for it. Dick Grayson started as Robin and was Nightwing before taking on the Batman. Bucky was Cap's sidekick then Winter Soldier before picking up the shield. Miles Morales has no connection to Spider-Man that anyone has been allowed to see thus far.

It could still work. It happened in the Batman universe. Terry McGillis was an awesome Batman in Batman Beyond, but they were smart enough to keep Bruce as the mastermind behind him. By killing Peter, this isn't an option for Bendis without some major backpedaling or some harsh Deus Ex Machina. As a result, Bendis has an uphill battle to get fans onboard.

Will I give it a chance? Sure. Like I said, Bendis is talented and I like his writing. He also said he's keeping some of the supporting cast I already know, but I have a feeling that this will not live up to my hopes. That's going to be sad, since I have liked Spider-Man since I was a kid, but now, it's looking like the only stories I will enjoy with him will be the ones I've already read a thousand times.

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Most Faithful Joker? Not Yet

So I just did something stupid and let myself get emotionally involved with a message board argument on IMDB. I know better, I really do, but something about this just bugged me.

The question for debate was whether or not Heath Ledger gave the best Joker performance, hands down. Naturally, the argument held opinions in favor of Jack Nicholson, Cesar Romero, and Mark Hamill as well, but what got me was that several people think Nicholson's Joker (in the 1989 Tim Burton version of Batman, for those who are non-geek or just not old enough to have seen and remember it) was the most faithful to the comics.

They're not reading the same comics I am, I don't think. The Joker I know of from the comics doesn't spend most of his time with flesh-toned makeup on to hide his white skin; he revels in his difference from everyone else. But that's not my argument here. I say we have only seen pieces of a faithful Joker thus far. To prove it, I'll use two of the most cited sources for the "definitive" Joker (at least as far as IMDB went): Alan Moore's Killing Joke and Paul Dini's Mad Love. To that, I'll add Grant Morrison's Batman RIP and Jeph Loeb's Hush portrayals as well.

First, what qualities have we seen from the Joker on film? Well Romero and Nicholson played up the humor aspect, and that is key for the Joker. Admittedly, Romero used more camp than humor, but for Joker, it still fits. Hamill also gets this in the animated series and Arkham Asylum. Ledger not so much, but that went for hyper-realism over faithfulness. What Ledger did give us was the extremely high intelligence the Joker needs. Nicholson touched on it, but never really nailed it. Hamill, yeah he got it too. Most fans will argue insanity for Joker, but that's not it. Not at all. That's okay though, because no actor has shown him as truly insane. Nicholson shows him unhinged, but that's not exactly it. Ledger shows a psychopath and sociopath which is closer, and would have it nailed if he didn't throw in the anarchy complex as well. Joker's not an anarchist, at least not by nature. Hamill comes closest to balancing it, but he's still not exactly on the money for this either.

Now people are freaking out and wondering why I say Joker's not insane. Let me explain, using the sources above. Insanity is generally regarded as a deficiency that would not allow the plans Joker makes to work or even be moderately effective. In Killing Joke, he reasons that anyone would snap if they had a bad enough day. The fact that it didn't work doesn't prove his logic faulty; his assumption was just wrong. The logic was sound. He pushed as hard as he could on Gordon, it just didn't work. Mad Love shows he is capable of feeling for someone else, even if that feeling is variable. Hush shows he does care about his own life as he runs when he realized Batman may have finally decided he (Joker) would be better off dead. And Batman RIP? Well that shows it exactly. He tells Black Glove why they are going to fail in an eloquent and well thought-out speech that shows Joker is not out of his mind. His insanity is calculated to get a specific response from people. Psychopathic, sociopathic, narcissistic, and obsessed - all forms of mental illness, true, but not the assumed insanity people associate with the Joker.

And that's what we haven't seen yet: the intelligence that allows Joker to use insanity as a tool to achieve his goals.  A Joker who laughs because that's just who he is and because his sense of humor is a little more tweaked than the rest of us. Is this a Joker we're likely to ever see? Probably not. Every director or writer who uses him in a film or television series will write him the way they want him, not how he is in the books, or how he was in Movie X. And that's the point (that I didn't know I had when I started this little rant). It really doesn't matter who plays Joker. Every actor chosen for the role is going to bring something different to it and give it their best; the ones who are going to decide how faithful the character is to the source material will be the writers. All we're going to be able to do as fans is decide whether or not we like the current incarnation. And I'm okay with that. After all, it could be worse.

We could have no Jokers to choose from at all. And that would be the worst.

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