Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Marvel Adventures Spider-Man #2 - Awesome for All Ages

It's been quite a while since I've followed a Spider-Man comic. Despite being one of my favorite comic series after X-men, I've found little awesome to celebrate in the pages of Marvel's latest releases. I'm among those disgruntled fans who saw One More Day and was so disgusted that I can't even look at a 616 Spider-Man comic without going into convulsions. Maybe I'm weird, but when the writers and editors completely undo 20 years of continuity because they ran out of ideas for a married Spider-Man I get a little pissed. It seemed the only viable Spider-Man comic after that was Ultimate, but then another One More Day caliber shit storm hit the fan called Ultimatum and that fucked everything up just as bad. It's not that Ultimate Spider-Man makes me sick to my stomach. It's the fact that the art is so fucked up it's like a manga comic fucked a stick figure and shit out a bunch of deformed images. Compared to the iconic imagery of Mark Bagley, it's a hell of a downgrade and it's also hard to take a comic book seriously when you can't look at the art without rolling your eyes at how lame it is.

But all is not lost for a comic book Spider-Man. Recently, the Marvel Adventures line launched an ongoing series of Spider-Man and the Avengers (but the comic is titled Super Heroes) that take place in a fresh continuity that caters to all ages. Under the pen of Paul Tobin it's basically like Ultimate, just not on a bigger scale. While that may seem like a turn-off for some, it doesn't stop the books from being awesome and Marvel Adventures Spider-Man #2 demonstrates that in a way that an 8-year-old and an 80-year-old can relate to and not in an Ancient Greek kind of way.

The issue starts off innocently enough. Teenage Peter Parker is carrying some groceries when he get the attention of a dog that looks strikingly similar to Lockjaw, the adorable pet of the Inhumans. The dogs name Attila an even greater clue, but that doesn't come into play. What does come into play is that the dog is snatched by some thugs riding on a motor scooter. It sounds pretty lame and it is. I mean seriously, who steals a fucking dog? Where's the money and street cred in that? It's contrived, no doubt about it. But it serves a purpose. It gets Spider-Man in costume and into hero mode.

Naturally, Peter helps the pretty lady owner of the dog (who looks like Crystal of the Inhumans by the way) and beats the thugs to a pulp. It's hardly surprising and anything but an epic battle, but then again this is an all ages comic. You can't exactly have the guys gang up on the woman and try to rape her. That's more in line with the MAX series. But the conflict isn't without danger. During the fight, a little girl gets caught in the crossfire and Spidy has to be the hero and save her. This being a kid comic, he does just that and the girl is nice and cute about it. If this were Ultimate she would probably be a scantily dressed teenage skank and while I have nothing against those kind of women, this actually does work better.

At least they maintain the theme of Spider-Man being on the shit list of the police. They still treat him like a criminal so that's one theme they maintain despite the age appeal. That's one less reason for the older readers to roll their eyes and bitch. At least the little girl is grateful, showing once again that kids can have far better manners than adults in uniform. Thanks to the kid Spider-Man is free to return the dog to it's owner, but wouldn't you know it? The owner is gone? Either she is part of the Inhumans or she's just a very shitty owner.

So to find her, Peter enlists the help of his current girlfriend, Sofia. For those of you wondering "Wait...who the fuck is Sofia?" That's one of the unique twists to this series. Gwen Stacy is alive in this, but there are other characters like Sofia who is a friend of a teenage Emma Frost that revealed to her Peter's identity. In the comics that led up to this, she grew close to Peter and they became boyfriend and girlfriend. It helps that Sofia is a mutant that can talk to animals so she understands Peter in a way other lovers haven't. She's not the most interesting character thus far, but she has some depth and she's got good chemistry with Peter to make this kiddy universe that much more unique.

So Sofia (who also goes by the codename Chat), tries to help Peter by talking to the dog and locating the owner. It's not successful. Apparently dogs don't have very good communication skills. They think in terms of which scents smell good and which trees are fun to pee on. They're practically on the same level as stoned college students. So they're basically stuck and have to go to school with this animal, hoping the owner will turn up.

While this plot is unfolding, another story develops involving the Torino crime family. Like Sophia, the Torinos are a unique manifestation in this all ages continuity. They're a crime family that Spider-Man has been harassing to no end and like most mobs, they don't like that. So they're putting out increasingly bigger bounties on the guy and one of them is a familiar looking guy with a bald head who boasts he never misses. If you think that sounds like Bullseye, give yourself a gold star and a hit of ecstasy. There's no subtlety here. Tobin has to make this comic have broad appeal and that means no complex character plots. It kind of kills any sense of mystery, but it's pulling some rehashed old plot out of old comics and trying to make it seem new. As the old saying goes, you can't make shit shine.

But Bullseye is just half the story. The other half involves a teenage boy named Carter Torino. As the name implies, he's an heir to the Torino family. Despite that name, he's remarkably well-adjusted. Anybody whose watched the Sopranos knows that kids in mob families tend to get fucked up pretty extensively. This guy looks painfully normal and not in a good way. It does make for a potentially interesting plot though because when he joins Peter's school, Peter is the lucky guy who has to show him the ropes. Seriously, they couldn't draw this up any better if they had pain mixed with flakes of gold and silver.

To make matters even more awkward for Peter, Carter hits it off with Gwen Stacy. Mob kids just can't seem to resist pretty blonds and Gwen just can't resist attracting psychopaths and having their demon babies. Carter puts on the charm and Gwen seems to fall for it as you would expect any ditzy blond. It's a far cry from the sweet girl of the 616 comics or the edgy girl of the Ultimate comics. It seems like something that's just thrown in there to make Peter bang his head against the wall. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but a little subtlety wouldn't make this comic X-rated. Tobin seems too cautious for his own good here.

So there's a missing dog that looks like Lockjaw and a kid from the Torino mob family going to Peter's school. It sounds like quite a plot that could lead to a very interesting conflict. Halfway through the comic you're left wondering what this is going to lead to. Well unfortunately, this is where the comic once again takes another turn that leaves those two little plots on the back burner. The story that basically overtakes the rest of the issue involves a visit from Shang-Chi, also known as Iron Fist. Apparently he does high school assemblies now and he just happens to be giving one in Peter's school when all this is going. Not that I have anything against getting the greater Marvel universe involved, but this is just another contrived plot. I know I say the world contrived a lot, but until I find something that works better this is what I'll keep on saying.

What happens next is fairly predictable, but that doesn't make the action any less enjoyable. Shang-Chi gets some unexpected visitors during his assembly. As is often the case, Ironfist is on the shit list of a lot of ninjas. Perhaps they don't like him wearing such bright colors, but whatever the reason they want to kick his ass and once again they do their best to try. Not to be outdone, Spider-Man gets in on the action and the fight that follows is classic beat-em-up.

It's not over too quickly and it doesn't drag either. For the students in the assembly, they watch on as if it's a staged event. I admit I would probably do the same. How many chances do you get to watch ninjas getting their asses kicked in a high school assembly? It sure would have made high school a lot less boring, that's for sure. Peter channels his inner Karate Kid and earns some praise from Shang-Chi in the process. It makes for a satisfying fight that kids and adults alike can appreciate it.

The problem is the comic runs out of ink at this point. There's no further development with the dog or Carter Torino or Bullseye. Spider-Man just fights the ninjas with Ironfist and that's it. Even though the fight was fun, it essentially cock-blocks the story. Whoever was interested in seeing where the first two plots set up in the beginning were going they end up being disappointed. Apparently, they weren't as interesting as ninjas. It's not entirely flawed logic. It has been scientifically proven time and again that ninjas make a comic more awesome. It's not without it's charms here either, but just doesn't fit the plot. If only the Torino crime family was a family of ninjas then Tobin would have something. Unfortunately, the issue ends on an incomplete note and basically leads readers onto follow the next issue. It's not really a cliffhanger, but it's still a semi-effective tease.

Now it bears repeating that this is a kids comic. It is drawn like a kids comic and it carries itself as such. Despite this, there is plenty of appeal here and the art is worlds above the migraine inducing work of Ultimate Spider-Man. Tobin's dialogue is also pretty crisp here as well. He has a solid feel for these characters and is able to give them a decent voice that doesn't feel bland or boring. Even so, the plot is spotty and the contrived aspects of the story keep it from being truly special. It says a lot about the other Spider-Man comics that this is probably the most well-crafted and the least painful to follow. That takes away nothing of what Tobin has done here and ensures the series has the pull it needs to keep readers interested.

For what Marvel Adventures Spider-Man #2 brings to the table, it earns a respectable 3 out of 5. It has it's flaws and it suffers from messy storytelling. But it's a solid title and demonstrates the great potential in the Marvel Adventures line. Since Ultimate has been utterly ruined, it leaves readers like me hoping that this line gets expanded to include other facets of the Marvel universe like X-men, the Defenders, the Fantastic Four, and SHIELD. There's a great deal of potential here and there's also a solid market for an alternative from 616. Ultimate once filled that void, but thanks to Ultimatum it's about as meaningful as Paris Hilton's views on foreign policy. Paul Tobin is on the verge of doing something special here and this series is definitely worth following, if for no other reason than to have a Spider-Man universe that is fun, entertaining, and not soul-crushingly lame. Nuff said.

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