Tagged: Aunt May

Mindy Newell: Not An Imaginary Story

It used to be that the death of a superhero was an “Imaginary Story” or a What If…? tale.  Then, with the death of Superman in 1992, it became all about the publicity, the sales boost, the net dollars.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the accountants. The impermanence, the easy reversibility of death trampled on the audience’s feelings; we felt disrespected and we fought back in the only way we could – with our wallets. And the companies answered with more stunts and more exploitative stories in which heroes like Captain America and Spider-Man died and were brought back, or supporting characters like Aunt May and Jason Todd died and were brought back, and when that stopped working, they revived long-dead characters like Bucky Barnes.

Sometimes it works out. The morphing of Bucky into the Winter Soldier was and continues to be a brilliant piece of storytelling.

And sometimes people who are dead stay dead. Gwen Stacy. Uncle Ben. Karen Page. Thomas and Martha Wayne. Jor-El and Lara. Their deaths are constant echoes in the lives of Spider-Man and Daredevil and Batman and Superman. Their lives continue to reverberate in the hearts of those who loved them.

My father died a week ago today. His death will be a constant echo in my life. His life will always reverberate in my heart.

“Papa, how I love you…

“Papa, how I need you…

“Papa, how I miss you…

“Kissing me good night.”

  • Barbra Streisand, Yentl (1983)

Box Office Democracy: “The Amazing Spider-Man 2”

Movies based on comic books have had to fight a practically never-ending battle for respectability but, for now at least, it seems that they’ve won.  Superheroes are hot commodities at the box office and studios have embraced the idea that making them more like their source material is preferable to making movies that anger the core fanbase for an attempt to appeal to the mainstream.  The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is what happens when that faithfulness goes too far and instead of making a simple movie filmmakers try and cram in all of the ancillary subplots of an ongoing series with none of the capacity to pay any of those threads off.

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The Law Is A Ass # 313: Superior Spider-Man’s Abu Ghraib for Power

The Superior Spider-Man is not a good book.

No, it has nothing to do with the whole Doctor Octopus is in Peter Parker’s body while Peter is apparently dead, even though some remnant of Peter’s morality is making Ock try to prove he can be a Spider-Man. A superior Spider-Man, even. No, that doesn’t bother me. I mean I never thought that status would remain quo for long.

Ever since the days of Stan Lee, Marvel Comics has operated on the principle of “the appearance of change,” but that’s not even the real reason. The real reason I expected Peter Parker back in control just about now is because in a few short weeks the movie The Amazing Spider-Man 2 comes out. Anybody who thought the Disney suits would want a comic book where Doctor Octopus is Spider-Man out at the same time as the movie where Peter Parker is Spider-Man could use a lesson in marketing. And I don’t mean a refresher course at your local Kwik-E-Mart.

So why is The Superior Spider-Man not a good comic for me? Well, let’s look at the latest example of what bothers Bob about The Superior Spider-Man and then we’ll discuss.

The Superior Spider-Man Annual # 1 featured Blackout. No, not the one in the skin-tight black costume with the “ridiculous lightning bolt on his head,” but the half-demon hired killer with razor-sharp claws and teeth who likes to rip throats out – sometimes in double-page pop-up spreads.

Blackout wants to reestablish his rep as a hired killer and how he chose to do it is the subject of this week’s SPOILER ALERT. You know those really big spoilers on cars that resemble the blades of a ventilation fan? They look silly. Don’t use them. And don’t continue reading this column, unless you want the beginning, middle and end of The Superior Spider-Man Annual # 1 spoiled. (more…)

Martha Thomases: Iron Man & Iron Mothers

Guy-Pearce-Aldrich-Killian-Iron-Man-3-PosterLike everyone else in the United States, I saw Iron Man 3  last weekend with my illustrious colleague, Mike Gold. I went for the explosions. I went to see my future husband, Robert Downey Jr. I went because I love Kiss Kiss Bang Bang by Shane Black beyond all reason.

And I had a good time. But, as time goes on and I have time to consider what I saw, there is one thing that bugs me. If spoilers are going to bother you, depending on your standards for what constitutes a spoiler, you may want to stop reading now.

And that brings us to this week’s word:

Mothers.

There is a kid in the movie who helps Tony Stark. The kid lives in Tennessee with his mom, his dad having abandoned them long ago. The kid is, of course, a boy, because, for the most part, boys are more interesting to Hollywood than girls are.

If I were still a kid, this would have been my absolute favorite part of the movie, because I would identify with the boy (identifying with boys is something girls are expected to do all the time, although the converse is rarely true) and feel what it’s like to hang out with a super-hero. As an adult, I thought this part went on a bit too long.

So long, in fact, that I started to worry about the kid. His mother had to work, so she wasn’t at home. At night. Leaving her kid by himself, to run around town with Iron Man, even when there were explosions. We don’t know if she ever finds out what he was doing.

Mothers are hardly ever the leading characters in action-adventure stories. In comics, there is Sue Storm in Fantastic Four, Mark Andreyko’s Manhunter, and I can’t think of any others (please correct me in the comments). There are a lot of mom’s (and mom surrogates) who are supporting characters – Martha Kent, Martha Wayne, Aunt May, Maggie Sawyer, Hippolyte – but very few headliners have to find child care.

I think this has to do in large part because of who makes comics, and who they think the audience is. Men, for the most part, don’t identify with mothers. Boys (of all ages) prefer to think of their moms as people devoted to being parents, not lean, mean, world-saving machines.

As for sex, that other inspiration for plots, none of these guys want to think about their moms – or anyone’s mom – having sex. Ever. Unless that woman is maybe the mother of Blue Ivy Carter.

In real life, of course, mothers are heroes every hour of every day. No matter how one defines the term, mothers are brave and self-sacrificing and just plain bad-ass.

And that’s after they have pushed a live human being out of their bodies.

You could take your mom to see Iron Man 3 this weekend, and she’ll probably like it, because, in addition to its other attributes, it has Guy Pearce. Just be sure to tell her that you know she’s tough enough as she is, and doesn’t need any armor to prove it.

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman

SUNDAY: John Ostrander

 

Dennis O’Neil: Superman, Spider-Man, and the God Particle

First, the good news. Scientists are prepared to say that, definitely, god exists.

Now the bad. (He) (she) (it)…oh dang, there are really no appropriate pronouns for a concept that transcends the very idea of gender. Let’s settle for “they” and start again: They – the god thingies – are called “Higgs bosuns,” nicknamed “god particles,” and they permeate the universe. And without them, nothing could exist, could ever have existed. (Unless, that is, there’s a kind of reality we can’t comprehend, and we’re not exactly willing to rule that out, but we’ll never know and anyhow, who cares?) Although physicists have been seeking the Higgs for a half-century because the accepted model of the universe indicated that the things had to be there, it wasn’t until July 4 that they were prepared to say, yep found it. I understand that there was some celebrating in the Land of Labs.

Me, I got my science fix when I went to see The Amazing Spider-Man at the local monsterplex and, later, caught a few minutes of Superman on the tube: the first big-budget Superman, released in 1978 and hyped with the line, “You’ll believe a man can fly.” (For the record, I didn’t.) That flick has flaws, but it’s pretty good, especially for something made when Hollywood was just beginning to learn how to make these kinds of entertainments. The only part I really dislike is the ending: the graphics, though they tell the story, are pretty crude compared to what’s preceded them. And the science…oh woe – the science. (If you want to consider this a spoiler alert, suit yourself.) Lois Lane dies in an earthquake and Superman flies counterclockwise around the Earth and thus – ready for this? – reverses time and goes back to before Lois died and happy endings all around.

Reverses time, does he? By flying counterclockwise. Uh huh.

Nothing in the Spidey flick is quite so nettlesome, but in this reinvention, the film folk chose to explain Spidey’s ability to shoot webs huge distances and make them, apparently, as strong as the occasion warrants the same way Stan Lee and Steve Ditko explained it in the first Spider-Man comic book story, way back in 1962: A teenage Spidey, who gets really good grades in science class, having acquiring amazing powers after being bitten by a radioactive spider, goes home and, you know, tinkers around and comes up with a gadget that a) does the web shooting stuff and b) is compact enough to be worn like an oversize wrist watch.

So: if he commanded such technology, why didn’t he use it for much greater good than he could achieve as a costumed vigilante and, incidentally, plunk his saintly Aunt May down in some swell digs?

For the same reason that Superman didn’t use his godlike time reversal stunt to undo every single bad thing on the whole planet? (I mean saving Lois was nice and all, but…war! Famine! Disease!)

Of course, this kind of story is basically fantasy and, I guess, we all have a private setting for our willing suspension of disbelief. I complain about plot devices that violate the story’s own “reality” and haul us out of the fiction while we try figure out how we’re supposed to accept what we’ve just seen.

Since, in superhero writing, there is a long tradition of writers using whatever’s in the zeitgeist at the moment, I expect we’ll be seeing some costumed dogooder involved with Higgs bosuns pretty soon. I hope I don’t have to mangle my willing suspension of disbelief to enjoy the story, god particle or no god particle.

FRIDAY: Martha Thomases

 

Mike Gold: Marvel Now and Again

When I first heard that Marvel was launching a new title each week for five months, I thought “What do you mean five months? They’ve been doing that for years!”

My second thought was… “define new.

As I’ve stated before, Marvel doesn’t reboot as much as it evolves: they’ll launch the 74th Captain Marvel while still using the first. Sure, they ignore stuff. Nothing wrong with that. It’s a lot easier than explaining why, in a logical continuity, Aunt May didn’t die long before most of the readers were born. So any comparisons between Marvel Now and DC’s New 52 are strained to say the least. Apples and oranges, as they say in the produce trade.

In looking over the lists of new Marvel Now launches, I see a bunch that seem interesting from a casting standpoint – both in terms of matching creative talent to characters and matching characters to teams. But Marvel’s been up to that for decades. What’s new about it now?

Marvel, and DC and everybody else, has been killing titles and relaunching them with new creative teams and big number ones on the cover ever since the direct sales racket started, so, again, what’s new about it now?

New costumes? This must be Wednesday! Spider-Man hasn’t had a new costume since every fourth page of any recent issue of The Avengers. The Red Skull is back? Damn! It is Wednesday! So, new? (That’s an awesome pun if you know Yiddish.)

No, really. I’m asking. What’s new about Marvel Now, now? What am I missing here? It’s just another huge marketing stunt, but – thankfully – one that doesn’t necessarily involve buying a million different tie-ins, crossovers and sidebar mini-series in order to get a complete road map. I’m sure Marvel’s likely to increase its sales lead over DC a bit. Big deal. Marvel is part of Disney, and increasing its lead over DC in the teensy tiny direct sales market wouldn’t provide sufficient motivation for Disney Chairman Bob Iger to lift his head out of his morning cereal bowl.

Look. I’m fine with all of this. It’s just nothing new. In fact, it’s a big part of why I’ve found the Marvel Universe fun ever since Fantastic Four #26.

No, what bothers me is Newtonian physics. Specifically, the bit about “with every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” Except that in the 21st Century, I’d rewrite this to read “with every action there is a massive and opposite over-reaction.”

Yes, friends. Beware the New 104!

THURSDAY: Dennis O’Neil Talks Up San Diego and Sequels

 

The Amazing Spider-Man: The ComicMix Mixed Review

Glenn and Mike were at the movies – separately – just so they could have a heart-to-heart conversation about The Amazing Spider-Man. This time, each has a fairly different opinion.

Of course, there are spoilers ahead.

Glenn: So, this is going to be an interesting exercise. I believe I could hear your teeth grinding from Norwalk…

Mike: You liked it?

Glenn: Most of it, yes.

Mike: Jeez. I found only the last third the least bit tolerable. What did you like about it?

Glenn: The casting, for starters.

Mike: The casting was fine. But it was in service of a director who put everything he learned in community college up on the screen.

Glenn: Andrew Garfield won me over very quickly, with a naturalness that Tobey Maguire never quite seemed to have. Emma Stone could have carried the film even if she didn’t look just like a John Romita drawing.

Mike: The direction was amateurish and the script was worse. They’re lucky this wasn’t an adaptation of an Alan Moore story.

Glenn: I’m curious – what marked this as amateurish to you? The action scenes played fine, the character scenes worked to the actor’s credits – although I think the film may have trod a bit too much to the sort of aspirational stuff out of a Aaron Sorkin script… of course, that might have been a subconscious reaction to Uncle Ben Bartlett.

Mike: Gwen is the nexus of all coincidences. Her dad just happens to be a police chief in charge of the Spider-Man beat. She just happens to have an after-school job that gives her seemingly complete access to all areas and secrets of one of America’s largest high-science development companies – at 17 years-old – where she just happens to work for the arch-villain, who just happens to be the lab partner of the hero’s dead father.

Glenn: Yes, there’s a bunch of coincidences jammed there. But she was a science geek in the comics, just at the college level, and her dad was a police captain.

And yes, Connors and Richard Parker also happen to work for the upcoming big bad villain, too.

Mike: And all that was spread out over several years’ worth of comics. Here, this was all crammed into two hours – although, to be fair, it seemed like much longer. There’s coincidence, and there’s really bad storytelling. This is really bad storytelling. I really wanted to like this movie. Unfortunately, we knew two best actors weren’t going to make it out of the movie alive. There most certainly is such a thing as a great remake. The classic versions of Maltese Falcon and Wizard of Oz were both remakes. The Amazing Spider-Man is in absolutely no danger of joining this crowd. A remake has to answer the question “Why bother?” This movie, like the Superman remake, didn’t.

Glenn: Two best actors? I mean, we knew that Uncle Ben had to die. I can see a few reasons for retelling the story. For one thing, the effects work has improved a lot in places – the web-swinging in particular. Although the Lizard… well, you don’t always get it perfect.

Mike: Yeah, and we knew the Titanic was going to sink. But the latest movie was about a lot more than the sinking of a boat; ASM wasn’t about anything we hadn’t seen before. Why didn’t they show us Spidey actually using his powers? The webbing thing was fairly cool, but outside of that we rarely saw him in action. He’d be on the ground and there’d be a quick cut to him stuck to the ceiling. Web-slinging through the Manhattan cityscape? Nope; it was mostly long-shots or Peter’s point of view. You don’t have to get the villain perfect, just menacing. Certainly the Goblin looked less-than-stellar in the original.

Glenn: Just out of curiosity, did you see it in 3-D?

Mike: No, 2-D. Which doesn’t address a single one of my storytelling and direction complaints. You rarely saw Spider-Man being Spider-Man. Not even if he pops out of the screen and eats the popcorn out of your lap, 3-D has nothing to do with storytelling. Certainly not in this movie. It doesn’t come close to the Sixth Avenue shots in the first movie. Talk about your John Romita influence…

Glenn: The action sequences, web-slinging, etc. worked for me in 3-D. The Lizard – well, it’s a giant lizard. Hoping for emotion in a lizard’s face is going to be an uphill battle, no matter what insurance company mascots teach us.

Mike: You don’t have to get the villain perfect. Certainly the Green Goblin looked less-than-stellar in the original. But the Lizard looked like the Hulk had pooped out a baddie.

Glenn: Of course, there’s a point. How many times can Spider-Man lose his mask in this film?

Mike: About as often as they want the 12 year-old girls to go all Beatles over Garfield. Who, by the way, looks about 30. Did they cast Garfield and Stone because Dwayne Hickman and Tuesday Weld looked too young?

Glenn: Yeah, college age would have been easy to believe. High school?

Mike: And Peter, Gwen, and obviously ol’ Lizzieface certainly weren’t New Yorkers in the least. Flash might have been, Ben and May and Stacy certainly were, but the three leads seem like they never even visited New York. Conners had been there longer than Peter has been alive.

Glenn: I don’t think the Lizard was a poor choice of villain. Curt Connors was played well… except for that “must turn evil” bit, and even there, it played in character more than Doctor Octopus’s character turn in Spider-Man 2.

Mike:. It was in character for the original comics version that evolved over decades. In a two-hour movie (that played like an eight-day bicycle marathon), it was almost campy. At least Alfred Molena had the chops to pull Doc Ock off. I’d seen scarier villains on Doctor Who… in the black-and-white days!

Glenn: One thing that did work for me was the more naturalistic interactions between characters. Garfield and Stone clicked here in a way that Maguire and Dunst never quite did; for that matter, Garfield seemed more natural with everyone – Sally Field’s Aunt May, Martin Sheen’s Uncle Ben, Denis Leary’s Captain George Stacy, and even the crooks.

Mike: I agree, but those moments were brief. ASM wasn’t about the one-man Greek chorus, and that’s good. It’s about a 17 year-old, but only at times did they allow themselves to go there. Tell me. Did you like this movie as much this morning as you did last night?

Glenn: No, but I’ve had a morning that would make Pollyanna grumpy.

Mike: Did anybody applaud at the end? At my screening, absolutely nobody applauded. Not a one. Virtually everybody who wasn’t in the comics business left before the end of the credits.

Glenn: A decent amount of applause, nothing like the roar at the end of Avengers.

And I have to wonder how this plays in the rest of the country, since Spider-Man is really such a New York character.

Mike: That didn’t hurt the development and the success of Marvel Comics, which was almost entirely New York based for decades, and largely remains that way today. There was nothing particularly New Yorkish about the movie. It could have happened in Cleveland or Phoenix.

Glenn: There’s that same moment in this film that came in the first Spider-Man where New Yorkers pull together to help Spidey out.

Mike: New Yorkers like to think they live in the only city that pulls together in a crisis. It’s human nature. It’s what’s kept humans alive as a species. And wolves.

Glenn: Sadly, it didn’t work nearly as well as it did in the first one, mainly due to a big logic problem. There’s a helicopter right above him. Why doesn’t he just hitch a ride on that?

Mike: By the end of the movie I think only Flash Thompson didn’t know Peter was Spider-Man – and he was the one guy who should have figured that out, given all the scenes where Peter used his powers against him.

Glenn: Flash, despite his name, has never been that quick. And Aunt May – well, I don’t know if she knows or not.

Mike: I was never certain what Aunt May understood, except getting over her husband’s death right quick. Oh, and the costume really sucked. Seriously. Cirque du Soleil should stick to cribbing Mummenschanz.

Glenn: One of the nicer bits between Peter and Aunt May is there’s a lot of unspoken subtext there, with her obviously knowing there’s something Peter’s not telling her, but not knowing quite what – maybe that Peter’s suddenly going in for rough trade or something.

Mike: Sally Field handled each scene quite well; not once did I think “Flying Nun!” But together the movie made May Parker seem schizo.

Glenn: Was there anything you liked about this movie?

Mike: Denis Leary, both his performance and the way they handled his character.

Glenn: Agreed.

Mike: This movie will do well opening weekend because opening weekend lasts six days and has a major holiday in there. But I don’t see it conquering the world. I can understand Garfield wanting to be in Avengers 2. He wants to be in a good super-hero movie.

Glenn: I’m still thinking Sally Field is too young to play Aunt May, but that’s purely a construct that carries over from the comics that has almost no logical basis. Of course she shouldn’t be old enough to be his grandmother, but still.

Mike: You’re absolutely right – if May was Ben’s husband and Ben was Richard’s brother, then Sally was the right age. In the comics Aunt May was born sometime before Barnabas Collins. I should point out I liked this movie more than most of my companions. One, who’s about 17, said it was the worst movie he ever saw. Ric Meyers (who thought less of this than I did) and I replied in unison: “You’re still young.”

Glenn: And ironically, my companion is one of the surliest bastards in comics and prose (David A. Mack, the killer of the Borg) and he enjoyed it even more than I did. This may be the rare film where I can’t easily say in advance whether or not a particular viewer will enjoy themselves.

Mike: Yeah, well I give it a thumb’s up – where the sun don’t shine.

Glenn: I give it a thumb, index finger, and pinky up. Which makes for a very tough review. But hey, kids, go and find out for yourselves.

Mike Gold: The Secret Identity Myth, part 1

It’s beginning to appear as though we’re moving away from one of the pillars of superherodom, the secret identity. Even though this movement started back in the early 1960s with The Fantastic Four, it’s moved slowly up to the breakthrough moment in the first Iron Man movie.

Of course, that was telegraphed a few years before by my pal Mike Grell during his run on the comic book, but Marvel squeezed that back in the tubes where it sat until the movie people showed them Mike was right in the first place.

Such pettiness aside, I welcome the departure from tradition. The secret identity was almost always a stupid idea. Clark Kent became Superman to protect his friends and loved ones from harm? Okay, fine. I can appreciate that even the Man of Steel can not keep an eye on Lois Lane, Lana Lang, Lori Lemaris, Lex Luthor (well, they used to be friends…), Linda Lee, Lionel Luthor, and Leslie Luckabee simultaneously, 24/7. But let’s do a little reality testing here: all Toyman has to do is grab Agnes Applebee off of the streets and hold a gun to her head and Superman is in the exact same pickle.

There were worthy exceptions. I can see why Bruce Wayne covers up: he doesn’t want all those people inconvenienced by the Dark Knight’s activities to sue the poo outta him. Going back to the dawn of the pulp era, the incredibly wealthy nobleman Don Diego de la Vega was committing high treason every time he dressed up as Zorro: to the natives of California he was a hero, but to the Power he was a terrorist. Even then, Zorro revealed his identity at the end his first tale, The Curse of Capistrano, but author/creator Johnston McCulley overlooked this aberration in his five-dozen subsequent stories.

Arguably the first costumed hero (Spring-Heeled Jack was a villain, and was further disadvantaged by being ostensibly real) was the Scarlet Pimpernel, created 14 years before Zorro by Baroness Emmuska Orczy in 1905. He had the same excuse as Don Diego: he was committing treason, in this case against the French Revolution. He and his 19-member legion ran around rescuing their fellow aristocrats from the best of times, the worst of times. So, sure, he had a good reason for his secret identity.

But Superman? Not so much. Wonder Woman? Give me a break; army nurse turned Second Lieutenant Diana Prince was wasting her powers as anything other than Princess Diana. The X-Men? They had no lives; did they need masks because “Hey, Beast!” sounds better than “Hey, Hank!”? Doctor Strange didn’t have a secret identity; in real life, he was Doctor Strange. If the wrong people got the right idea, he’d mystically brainwash them. Spider-Man? C’mon, we’d be better off without Aunt May.

The man with one of the most famous secret identities of all time – or, perhaps, two – in fact didn’t have a secret identity at all. Were he to be unmasked, he would be nothing.

I’ll tell you about him next week.

THURSDAY: Dennis O’Neil Talks About Mike Gold’s Old Boss

 

Marc Alan Fishman: Compress the Decompression

Just for funsies, I cracked open my DC Archives: Green Lantern hardcover the other day. An hour later, I’d reminded myself why I was never the biggest fan of Hal Jordan. But that’s a discussion I’ve bemoaned about here before, so I’ll spare you. What struck me, though, was the sheer density of the material presented. Oh, how have times changes. Some argue for the better. Others say nay. Concerning the amount of plot presented today in the standard off-the-rack rag we all love so much, it’s a debate I’m willing to fill a few inches of babble about.

I can’t personally put a pin at the exact moment of time when comic book writers started decompressing their material. My best guess is that it was a slow burn starting in the mid-eighties, that reached critical mass somewhere around the time Brian Michael Bendis was being knighted by Joey Quesada. Truth be told, I’m not a comic historian (like the incomparable Alan “Sizzler” Kistler) and I’m inspired by Michael Davis’ Lazy-Man, so I’m not doing the research to find out exactly when. Suffice to say, it’s no difference to me when this all happened, so much as whether it has been for the better of the medium. And that answer isn’t exactly black and white.

The thing is, when I read through those Silver Age reprints I couldn’t help but feel slighted. Huge problems for the titular hero were dispatched in a matter of a few panels. Why? Because by the turn of a page, we were already onto the next plot point / problem / story beat. In one story, Hal is called to a prehistoric world where he must save the blue skinned Neanderthals from evil yellow dino-birds. One panel? He’s punching them. Next? He’s blasting them with a big green canary. Next? He’s home. In less than a handful of pages, the entire story is wrapped up. For anyone out there that wants to defend that as being higher quality that last months’ issue of GL… come see me behind the shed. Simply put, this “gotta cram an entire story in 12 pages!” mentality may have suited people 20 years ago… But not now.

When it’s done right, modern comics have the pacing, depth, and content akin to a good movie. Take the first arc of Mark Millar’s The Ultimates. Not only do we get origins for Iron Man, Thor, the Hulk, Ant Man, the Wasp, and Captain America, but we get true moments of cinematic glory. When the Hulk rampages in the city, horny and angry, it’s a moment earned through the build up of tension across the four books it took to get there. If the same book were made in the Silver Age? Hulk would have been tearing up a building in one panel, booted out of it in the next, and laughing about the lessons learned before the page turn. In other words? Decompression gives the reader a chance to absorb characterization and depth.

When it’s done wrong, a book becomes a banal burden. How many times in the modern era have we plunked down good money to read a book that doesn’t move a story forward, for seemingly no reason? When an arc is immediately all too familiar, we can end up purchasing six or more issues of a story despite our ability to glean the entire plot beat for beat.

Case in point? Justice League International. In the very first issue, it was as clear as day: The team would assemble for the greater good, but show terrible cooperation. The big bad guy would do increasingly bad things and the team would eventually have to unite in order to win the day. And because I knew that this would be the arc they’d travel on, I simply dropped the title. The idea that all stories must “write for the trade” is a double-edged sword. When the plot comes out of the box of “been there done that,” all you’re doing is wasting ink and paper.

Let me not poo-poo the Silver Age without pulling back my anger just a bit. These older tales had something modern comics lack. Balls. Big brass ones. Do you think, even for a second, Batman of Zur-En-Arrh could have been pitched and published as an original concept in 2012? Not on your life. The older books had a mentality to throw everything at the wall and see what sticks. It allowed ol’ Hal Jordan to be on a primitive planet fighting dinosaurs on one page, and then be whisked away to the anti-matter universe for a skirmish with the Qwardians on the next.

With the way modern books are published, those two concepts alone might take up the better part of a year to explore. Modern books slow time down to a visceral crawl. Case in point? For as good as Ultimate Spider-Man is… did you know it took Bendis five-plus years of bi-monthly issues to cover a single year of Peter Parker’s life? In 60 issues in the 60s, Spider-Man had fought 47 villains, went to college, teamed up with the Avengers, became a lounge singer, and still had time to forget to bring the eggs home for Aunt May.

The key here, in this carpy columnist’s opinion, is balance. Not every book needs to “write for the trade.” Some of the best comic books I own are single-issue stories that aren’t anchored to one trade or another. When done well (for example, GrimJack: The Manx Cat), a dense story across six books can feel like a novel in and of itself. When done poorly (the middle 30s and 40s of Irredeemable), a decompressed story can feel more like a worthless stall and cash-grab.

Far be it from me to spend so long pontificating about the pacing of a story as my article gets longer and longer. I guess when it comes down to it… to summarize… or in other words, wrap things up: Pacing in modern comics has never been more important. As a fan, all we can hope for is a feeling that we’ve gotten our money’s worth by the time we place the comic in its bag and board.

SUNDAY: John Ostrander