WHOSOEVER HOLDS THIS HAMMER: Wow! Spider-Man Doesn’t Suck Anymore

Last updated on December 21st, 2012 at 10:47 am

Whosoever Holds This Hammer appears every Tuesday (more or less) exclusively on Comic Book Daily.

Any of my regular readers know that I am, have been, and always will be a huge Spider-Man fan. Over the years I have owned, and read, pretty much every main title and a great majority of the crossovers. This misspent youth has given me the ability to compare current Spider-Man stories to the almost 40 year history as a whole. Bottom line is, I know what I am talking about here.

In 2001 J. Michael Straczynski took over Marvel’s flagship title of Amazing Spider-Man (you X-fans and Avenger-lovers can suck it, ASM is the flagship title). At the time everyone raved about how great it was (mostly due to Wizard Magazine). But it wasn’t great. It was barely passable. JMS’s main contribution to spider-lore was the notion that Spider-Man is a spider-totem and the spider that gave him his powers was always going to do so but just happened to die from radiation. Oh, and he also introduced Morlun, a pretty sub-par villain that hunts spider-totems and eats them (he apparently sucks at it because it took him 30 years to find Spidey). This run of ASM was lame and was only made enjoyable by the tight pencils of John Romita Jr.

Here at the Comic Book Daily offices we often talk about a writer ‘understanding’ a character. There are lots of great writers out there who sometimes don’t get the characters they are writing about; a good recent example is Warren Ellis’ Astonishing X-Men run. Great writer, characters were written wrong.

That is what the whole JMS run felt like to me. I don’t think he understands Spider-Man. I think he felt that it was necessary to fix something that isn’t broken (on that note: double middles to you John Byrne). The end of the JMS run was dictated by big stories like Civil War and just felt like an adjunct of the event books. And then came the deal with the devil. In a stupefyingly hackneyed editorial choice, Spider-Man makes a deal with Mephisto to save Aunt May’s life at the cost of his marriage. So they re-write about 20 years of Spider-Man history. Harry Osborn is back, MJ and Peter didn’t get married, and Aunt May (who has already escaped actual death once before, see ASM 400 and whatever stupid issue she comes back in) is alive. The devil magically changed comic book continuity. You idiots.

Now at this point the editorial staff at Marvel had really lost all credibility with me. They have a sub-standard product, but instead of trying to create a tight great book they opt to publish 3 times per month. I have already written about this disaster, both in financial and creative terms, but some key points bear repeating. Having rotating creative teams does nothing to help a book. It makes it worse as there is no continuity for the reader. Marvel realized this and gave the book to a single writer, Dan Slott.

While it is still published twice per month (which is once more than necessary), a funny thing happened when Slott was given control: he made Amazing Spider-Man great again. Slott understands the character and respects the character’s history. The Slott run is called Big Time and starts off with a great new Hobgoblin story. And by great I mean the best Hobgoblin story since the classic Hobgoblin/Rose stuff in the 200s. Slott keeps all the great stuff about Spider-Man that we love: great use of classic villains, funny quips, JJJ animosity, and adds new updates that make sense but don’t detract from the character: use of the Avengers and a great new job. Spidey’s new job is one of my favourite things Slott has done. Peter is a world-class scientist but his job is taking blurry pictures of Spider-Man? That works when the character is 15 years old, but he needs to move on. Now he works for a brainy science think-tank (which we can assume will end up being evil, but it is comic books after all). This means he has a job where he can work on web-fluid in private, gets paid a reasonable wage (not being able to pay the rent grows old), and has a great new set of supporting cast members.

Now Boo-Urns to Slott for coming up with some really crummy new costumes, but hey everyone is allowed a couple of missteps. I also dislike that even though the writer is the same on every issue, Marvel can’t seem to keep a regular artist for more than 4 issues at a time. This is a horrendous epidemic in comic books. A main title needs creative continuity. There can be a fill-in artist here or there, but there should be at least a 12 issue run of the same penciller. These are pretty minor quibbles of mine though, for the bottom line is that this is a great comic book now and one of Marvel’s two must reads every month (the other one is Secret Avengers, if you aren’t reading that: for shame).

So if you have been looking at Amazing Spider-Man in disgust for the last 12 years or so, fear not! Spidey is back on top where he should be. Head into your local comic book shop and check it out: you will not be disappointed.

Anthony Falcone Written by:

Anthony Falcone is a freelance writer living in Toronto and he is the Ayatollah of Rocknrolla. You should definitely follow him on Twitter.

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11 Comments

  1. Walter
    February 8, 2011

    “… Marvel can’t seem to keep a regular artist for more than 4 issues at a time. This is a horrendous epidemic in comic books. A MAIN TITLE NEEDS CREATIVE CONTINUITY…

    So true Anthony, you’d have figured the publishers would have figured this out a long time ago.

  2. February 8, 2011

    Usually I’d complain about the quick artist turnover but look at who they have as the regular rotating pencils: Humberto Ramos, Marcos Martin* and Stephano Caselli These guys are no slouch in the art department.

    As for the new costumes, I think this is something that we’ll see explored later. Obviously it will help sales at first, but I’m sure we’ll get some sort of Armour Wars type storylines further down the pipeline.

    Also: the best thing Slott wrote during BND was the scene when Parker was trying to apply for a photographer position and the guys like: “This is some of the worst technique I’ve ever seen. It’s like you left your camera on the ledge and walked away or something.”

    *Marcos Martin is the definitive Spider-Man artist of this current generation. The man is amazing.

  3. February 8, 2011

    I don’t agree: they need to keep an artist on for the story arc but that’s it. In the old days publishers would pull out a ready to go story if the current creators couldn’t meet the monthly schedule, but fans today don’t want that. I just finished the four volume Gauntlet storyline and the mix of artists was excellent.

  4. February 8, 2011

    The art was good. but some of those stories were painful to read.

  5. February 8, 2011

    Apparently you read a different Gauntlet storyline than I did. The mix was atrocious, some stories great, but most were abysmal. I agree that a creative team only needs to be on for “a story arc”, but 4 issues does not a story arc make. One year minimum. Before Slott the best Spidey stuff was Bendis and Bagley’s 100+ issue run on Ultimate Spider-Man. Consistent Quality. If you can’t get that you should just run a series of one-shots and mini-series like Mignola does with Hellboy.

    And Pete, while I think that Martin does a great job on Spidey, I would not call him the definitive SM artist of this generation. A handful of issues and some neat covers don’t put you in the same league as Ditko, Romita (SR+JR), McFarlane (I know, but it is true), and Bagley. There isn’t a definitive artist right now because no one does more than 4 issues at a time.

  6. February 8, 2011

    First I said the mix of artists on the Guantlet story arc was excellent; I made no comment on the story. There were multiple stories told by different characters and the effect was enhanced by having different art for each.

    A “story arc” is a story that is serialized over more than one issue that effects change so any story told over two or more issues is a story arc.

    Last year you were complaining that comics should be stand alone issues that anyone can jump into and now you want one year story arcs.

  7. February 8, 2011

    Yes. You understand me so well. Comic books should be stand alone issues that are one year story arcs. You should be able to pick up any issue and understand what is going on, but each issue should form part of a larger narrative. The Spider-Man Hobgoblin/Rose storyline was like that, the GL/GA Hard-Traveling Heroes stuff was like that, and even, to a lesser extent, the Alan Moore Swamp Thing run was like that.

    It is hard to do, but if publishers adopted this tactic they could stop printing Part 3 of 6 on the cover (potentially alienating new readers). I would also suggest getting rid of issue numbers, and just having month and year on the cover, but that would be a much longer discussion.

  8. February 9, 2011

    “Spider-Man doesn’t suck anymore” — a bold statement that needs an add-on “for the moment”. Slott and Ramos are not there for the long term. However, making the formerly heroic and probably better left forgotten Phil Urich (last seen in the Marvel series The Loners) a psychotic killer Hobgobin does, as does the killing of the original Hobgoblin Roderick Kingsley in a quick and brutal scene. Kingsley’s Hobgoblin was one of the better Spider-Man villains because he was a planner more than a brawler, his return a few years ago and face-off against Norman Osborn led to his exile. I was more excited by the idea of that character’s return only to be disappointed by the lazy way that Slott decided to kill him…

    There is absolutely nothing remotely rewarding about the Gauntlet, a storyline aptly titled for making us endure an extremely loose collection of unrelated stories with probably the worst possible payoff — the undoing of Kraven’s Last Hunt and the revival of the original Kraven the Hunter from the dead.

    As usual, Marvel throws everything against the wall to see what sticks. In my opinion, the better Spider-Man artists of the last few years have been Mike McKone, Marcos Martin and Paolo Rivera.

  9. February 9, 2011

    I always had a love/hate relationship with Kingsley as the Hobgoblin. Really it is supposed to be Ned Leeds. I appreciate that the retcon with Kingsley makes way more sense (why is everyone Spider-Man knows a super-villain?), but I didn’t really shed a tear when Kingsley bought the farm. Plus, that was probably just a clone of Kingsley anyway so in a few years he’ll be back.

  10. February 9, 2011

    Well, Leeds shouldn’t have been the Hobgoblin in the first place, it never made sense that he was. I blame editorial for that one. They made a huge mess of that by killing him in the Spider-Man vs. Wolverine one-shot and then revealing after the fact that he was the Hobgoblin. Having him framed seemed to make more sense.

    I was kind of surprised about Kingsley as well, given that he was a fashion designer… but then again, maybe all fashion designers are kind of evil. As a fan of Roger Stern, probably the best Spider-Man writer after Stan Lee and Gerry Conway, I see him as the only HG expert and bow to his decisions. I really liked Hobgoblin Lives! and the follow-up he wrote a few years back where Kingsley and Norman fought.

    Since this is comics you are correct, anything can be undone and most likely will be, alienating more people along the way.

    I still have a hard time seeing better left forgotten hero Goblin Phil Urich as a badass Hobgoblin. Just doesn’t jibe.

    And when are they going to return Doctor Octopus to his Roy Orbison look? I’m quite tired of the Silent Hill Octopus.

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