Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

We finally got around to watching Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018) last night. As the film rights to Spider-Man are still owned by Sony, the film isn’t available on Disney+. Fortunately, we’re GenX’ers, which means we still have cable and a TiVo, so, go us!

I actually hadn’t been very spoiled about the story. I knew it was based on a comic book story – which I hadn’t read – and starred the Miles Morales version of Spider-Man – which honestly know almost nothing about – and that the animation was supposed to be great.

It was all that and more.

It was amazing.

It’s a take on Miles Morales’ origin story, and it has a surprisingly slow burn (the film is nearly 2 hours long, which is pretty lengthy for an animated feature film), building up to Miles getting his powers over the first third of the movie. But with a twist, as there’s already a Peter Parker version of Spider-Man in his dimension, and they both run afoul of a plot by the Kingpin which rips a hole between universes, resulting in five other Spider-people ending up in Miles’ dimension. Miles ends up being trained by an older, sadder Peter Parker, but also meets the others, especially Spider-Woman, Gwen Stacy on her world, who failed to save her best friend – Peter Parker.

As a Spider-Man origin story, it hits a lot of the beats you expect such a story to have: With great power comes great responsibility, death of a loved one, the outsider trying to fit in, triumph over great odds.

But this remix has a lot of touches which make it different, too. Miles isn’t being raised by his aunt and uncle, he’s being raised by his parents, and his policeman father wants the best for him, loves him dearly, but pushes him in a direction Miles doesn’t want to go. Miles finds a different father figure in the older Peter, but their relationship has issues, too, due to Miles’ inexperience. One always senses that Peter’s wisecracking persona as Spider-Man was a front, an escape from the sorrow that undercut his life. But for Miles it’s his true self, not an escape but an ability to be free, and so to gain confidence in his abilities in both his lives. Including an appreciation for his family.

The film is smartly written, upending a number of the conventions of Spider-Man, such as: Aunt May, who’s a much stronger figure here (I think inspired by J. Michael Straczynski’s version from his run); the older Peter’s sense of humor being much sharper and acerbic; and playing a little loose with secret identities.

It’s also very fun, and very funny. While there’s a sequence in the middle where Miles and Peter are breaking into a lab which is trying too hard, otherwise almost everything works. Peter has a quip for the gizmo they need to find to hack the device to send everyone home. He also shows his experience in escaping when Miles ties him up, but his not-really-caring attitude causes problems too. He needs this adventure to find himself as much as Miles does.

And of course there’s the big moment where Miles gets knocked down as far as he can go… and bounces back to become his own Spider-Man. It’s a scene that got a lot of accolades, and they’re all deserved.

The animation is beautiful. It’s not for everyone, as it’s frenetic and flashy and jerky-jerky (by design – some of the “how the animation was done” videos are pretty neat). The art style is just about perfect – how far computer animation of human beings has come in the years since The Incredibles. The staging of some of the action sequences must have been insane to storyboard and then animate.

This was one of the most fun superhero films I can recall watching. Highly recommended if you haven’t seen it.

Spider-Man: The Death of Jean DeWolff

Spider-Man: The Death of Jean DeWolff HC, by Peter David, Rich Buckler, Sal Buscema, Brett Breeding, Vince Colletta & others, Marvel, 2011

Creators can be a little frustrated when you point to an early work of their as your favorite. Naturally, they feel that they’ve grown and developed as a creator since their early stuff, and that their newer work is generally better. But while skills can improve with experience, sometimes other factors in an early work overwhelm the arguably-weaker craft that went into a work and make it the favorite of some of their fans.

So it is with me and The Death of Jean DeWolff, which is no-question, it’s-not-even-close, my favorite of all the works I’ve ever read by writer Peter David, yet it is (to my knowledge) his first published comics work. Some years ago I had him autograph my paperback collection at a convention, and I was a little put off that he sort of mumbled something I didn’t catch when I said how much I loved the story, and signed it with a Star Trek symbol next to his name (he was deep in the Star Trek era of his career, I think). Maybe he harbors some bad memories about the time he wrote Spider-Man, but perhaps more likely he felt a little awkward having a fan gush over his earliest work when he’s done so much more since then that he probably feels is more sophisticated and just-plain-better. I don’t know – I certainly wasn’t inclined to ask him at the time.

Nonetheless, here we are: I’m delighted to see that Marvel has given The Death of Jean DeWolff, in my judgment Peter David’s best work, the deluxe hardcover treatment.

Now, when this came out in 1985 I was not following Spider-Man, and even today I’ve never read another story with Jean DeWolff in it. Apparently she was a supporting character on the police force in Spidey’s books for a few years. But she was enough of a character in his life that when she’s brutally executed at the beginning of the story Spidey is motivated to help the police find the killer. Teaming up with wry police detective Stan Carter, he learns that a masked nut named Sin-Eater killed her, and is killing other prominent figures in New York.

While the mystery of the Sin-Eater’s identity is what initially drives the story, what makes it great is the conflicts the hunt imposes on Spider-Man: The Sin-Eater is all-too-willing to let loose with his shotgun in the middle of a crowd when Spidey’s after him, raising questions about whether Spider-Man’s partly responsible for anyone who gets hurt. (Similar issues come up in the real world when someone gets hurt when the police elect to engage in a high-speed chase.) Spidey’s fellow hero Daredevil, and his alter-ego of lawyer Matt Murdock, also gets involved when a friend of Matt’s is killed, demonstrating the contrast between the two heroes (at least, at the time): Spider-Man is a hero who works to do what’s right, but it basically a vigilante with something of a black-and-white outlook on justice, while Daredevil, who’s both a lawyer and is somewhat older and more worldly, has a more nuanced view, though one which sometimes conflicts with his own vigilante adventures. The two end up on opposite ends of a thorny ethical debate at the conclusion of the story which David handles deftly and satisfyingly. It’s a very emotional and human story, but one which would be difficult to tell with characters who weren’t masked vigilantes.

This story includes everything I most enjoyed about David’s writing: His humor is sharp and pointed, with few cheap shots, and his characterizations are vivid (several of Spidey’s supporting cast shine along the way). The plot is tight and there’s little wasted space or verbiage; the pacing is perfect, down to the issue-by-issue cliffhangers. The storytelling is helped considerably by Rich Buckler’s pencils; Buckler is something of a forgotten man in comics history, it seems to be, having been one of a number of Neal Adams-influenced pencillers (the best of them, really), but one who never illustrated any hugely popular stories. With terrific inks (mainly by Brett Breeding), he really shines here.

The one downside to this collection is that it left out David’s excellent foreword and afterward from the paperback collection (published in 1990). In particular, this paragraph has stayed with me:

[We] killed off a character who had a lot of potential. Readers couldn’t fathom why we did that, “Why kill off a character with whom you could have done so much?” Ah, but where is the dramatic impact in killing off someone with no potential? Someone who the readers are sick of? There’s no drama in that, no sense of “It might have been.” Death should be a tragedy, not a relief. Perhaps in a world where moviegoers laugh at innocent teens being slaughtered by masked madmen, that’s been forgotten.

That this story works so well even for me, who had no emotional connection at all to Jean DeWolff, both proves David’s point, and further illustrates how well he executed this story.

The new hardcover also has the 3-issue sequel to the original story (from 1987). I was disappointed in this story when it came out, in large part because it’s illustrated by Sal Buscema, of whose art I’ve never been fond (I always preferred his brother John’s style). But reading it today I think it works fine. Once more it’s about the consequences of power as wielded by Spider-Man, and about the demons that haunt a man who’s done terrible things, and whether he can ever truly be rid of them. As a sort of variation on a theme compared to the original, and bringing some closure to some matters left over from the first story, it’s a success.

This is one of the great superhero comics, and a high point for a character who’s seen plenty of them in the last half-century. Seize this opportunity to check it out.

This Week’s Haul

I thought I’d write some entries about comics I buy each week, since I thought a few of my readers might be curious what I’m buying. This was a light week:

Fables is one of my favorite comics currently being published. It’s about a community of fairy tale characters whose homelands have been conquered, and who have been exiled to our world and are living in New York city and state. It features Snow White, Cinderella, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Pinocchio, the Big Bad Wolf, Beauty and the Beast, and many others. It’s being collected in trade paperback, starting with this volume, and is a series that both my girlfriend and my Dad are reading. This issue introduces a well-known fable into the story and is part of the ongoing relationship between Fabletown and the Adversary.

52 is a weekly series about the year following the event comic Infinite Crisis, during which Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman have disappeared. Some of its mysteries are just interesting enough to keep me reading, and the art varies from very good to weak, depending on this week’s artist. It’s fluff, not essential reading. This issue is about Black Adam and Intergang and all that stuff, and is about par for the course.

Scarlet Traces wraps up its 4-issue mini-series this week. I reviewed the first graphic novel over at Four Color Comics a while back, and the mini-series is a fun follow-up. The series is somewhat grim, but I enjoyed it thoroughly. Especially recommended for fans of the second League of Extraordinary Gentlemen series.

Umbra also wraps up its 3-issue run this week. It was a black and white mini-series about the discovery of the skeleton of a neanderthal woman in Scandanavia, who had been killed by a gun. It was kind of interesting, but I was disappointed in the explanation for the peculiar happenings. Maybe my tolerance for X-Files type covert ops just isn’t very high anymore.

Finally, the latest hardcover collection of 1960s Amazing Spider-Man is out. The early Spider-Man stories hold up very well, even 40 years later, and I’ve been enjoying them thoroughly. I probably won’t get to this one for a bit since I still have the most recent Iron Man Masterworks to read, too.

Well, this was a little longer than intended. Assuming I keep writing these, I’ll probably get to the point where I’ll assume y’all know the premise of each title (or don’t care) and I can just do a quick review of the specific issue.

Or, I’ll run out of gas on these entirely. 🙂