Monday, May 23, 2011

Death Of Spiderman: Or How Not To Write A Story, With Brian Michael Bendis

(Warning this post is going to be about 40% nerdier than usual.)

Since its release Ultimate Spiderman has been one of the few sure things in modern comics. Week in week out the quality of most comics fluxuates but Bendis’s scrappy series was the one guarentee of the month. Sure to deliver a heaping helping of Superhero Action, well written soap operatics delivered with a snappy style and real knack for storytelling verve on a scale that against all odds stayed very human. Without hyperbole I can say that the majority of Ultimate Spiderman is easily the best most entertaining ongoing Superhero comic I’ve read.

Sometime last year it became rumored that Bendis was building towards something big. The “Death” (Quotes because this is comic books after all) of Spiderman. “Wait,” people said, “Didn’t Bendis just fake kill Spiderman not even a year ago? Did this not smack of the cheap hucksterism that is killing the big two right now? Was there not every indication that it would suck?”

“No!” I said, “Shut up that is stupid.” You see I was sure that Bendis had A! Plan! It would be big! It would be epic!

It has turned out to be astonishingly bad. Some of the most astoundingly lazy storytelling I’ve ever seen in a comic (a medium renowned for some astonishingly lazy storytelling).

But let’s back up a bit. See I had every reason to think that Bendis had some sort of plan. The last arc was Bendis in his prime. It was like a story designed to be perfect execution of the Ultimate Spiderman playbook. Crafting a fun tense story, that managed to tug at the heart strings, quicken the pulse and even take a couple of silver age villains and make them deeply creepy. And to make things even more tantalizing it ended with every character that Peter Parker cared about deeply alienated from him.

It looked like the set up for The Spiderman version of Born Again. A chance to strip down the hero (both in the specific and general sense) to his barest essentials. It looked like the chance for something really special.

And than it took one of the most bizarre left turns I’ve seen. I desperately want to believe an editorial mandate is responsible but man I don’t think anyone has told Bendis what do do in a loooonng time. Issue after issue Spiderman more or less hugged it out with everyone. I can honestly say that I’ve never seen storytelling like this before, with Bendis going around and painstakingly dismantling the potent narrative engines that he himself set up. It’s as if Bendis was a mad bomber who has taken the time to dismantle his own explosives. God only knows why.  So it could serve as a tie in to a mediocre Mark Millar book that has been nothing but four issues of Superheroes grunting and punching one another?

Because it sure as shit wasn’t because he had something else to put in its place. The crisis that Bendis has manufactured here has been embarrassingly rote (and once again Modern Comics are a place known for embarrassingly rote storytelling). First with a feint involving a big ole deus ex destructive thingy, and then by bringing Norman Osbourne back from the grave.


Because bringing him back to life the first six fucking times wasn’t a big enough of a surprise.

God I can’t even bring myself to complain anymore it’s just depressing. Is Bendis on Autopilot? Is he doing these in his sleep? Or turning in drafts via automatic writing? Perhaps it would be best if Bendis did kill Spiderman (Though I don’t believe for a second that he or Marvel are actually going to end their cash cow). Because this entire arc has been the product of a man who is profoundly bored with his work. At this point it would be a mercy killing. 

(I'm not proud)


le0pard13 said...

WHAT?!? Spiderman is dead? Oh, no! You have to be joking. Next thing you'll tell me is some intergalactic monster kills Superman, some juggernaut cripples Batman, or someone shoots Captain America on the Federal Courthouse steps.

Though seriously, I've not read this arc. But, it does come off (especially with the drop in thematic written quality you note) that some unimaginative corporate wonk or editorial board pushed this (to pump sales or the like). Too bad. But more business as usual given the success of those other obvious examples. Thanks, Bryce.

Simon said...

It's comics. They kill characters so some other writer, either exponetially better or worse, can bring them back to life. I care so very little.

Talk to me when they kill off Dick Grayson. That's when shit gets real.

Excitemike said...

It's traditional to bury a body beneath the headstone, not beside it.

Bryce Wilson said...

@ leopard: Well its not the "death" that bugs me. It's everything leading up to it.

@ Simon: True, but as Bendis has been the sole author on this it's slightly different.

@ Excitemike: That's just how they roll in the Marvel Universe.

Anonymous said...

But why the heck did Bendis kill Peter? I don f****n understand!