Spider-Men # 1, by Bendis, Pichelli, Ponsor
If there's a how-to-write textbook which insists that a story ought to be started as far before its inciting incident as possible, I've not yet come across it. Ever the wilful iconoclast, Brian Michael Bendis drags out the moment until the Spider-Man of the Marvel Universe is transported to the alt-Earth where Miles Morales lives for a mind-numbingly long and story-stymieing time. Indeed, it's not until the comic is two-thirds over that Peter Parker crosses to a New York with a Triskellion off its shore, and it then takes the rest of the book until the two Spider-Men make the briefest acquaintance of one another. The result is a comicbook which is insultingly torpid. Events which are not only entirely irrelevant to the tale, but actively antithetical to its sense, drag by while the reader waits for the story, rather than the plot, to kick in.
Perhaps Bendis intended all these extraneous scenes to serve as an introduction to Peter Parker for the reader who knows nothing about him. Yet why then emphasise Parker's membership of two esteemed super-teams at the same time as presenting a police-force who are made to appear particularly anxious to point guns at him? What could be more likely to confuse a neophyte than that? Is this Spider-Man a pillar of the super-establishment or a reprobate whose presence is likely to encourage the NYPD to aim their firearms in his direction? Is this showing us how unlucky Parker is, or how careless he can be not to have his Avengers and FF ID with him? (It's certainly not explaining how his Spider sense works, because that gives him not a hint of a warning of the gun that's soon to be be pointed at him.) Are we even being told that the NYPD has no protocols for dealing with potential member of the Avengers, an organisation which is, after all, based in their fair city and one of the formal cornerstones of the National Security State? ("T-take off the mask and get down on the ground" indeed. Try saying something similar to Iron Man or Red Hulk.) In a story of just 20 pages, is this moment worth our attention or is it just twiddling away the frames in an attempt to seem cool until something more exciting if not actually important happens? After all, the reader is entitled to presume that what's on the page actually counts for something. If Spider-Man's simply being challenged by the police because it's fun to show that and nothing much else, then what's the scene doing there?
|Yes, that's an up-to-date quote of Word Up from 1986 there. Parker's a square, daddy-o, but that square? Perhaps he's quoting a sample of the track as used in one of today's trend-making platters. Daddy-O.|
But Bendis is up to his old tricks of producing a tale which appears to be structured according to a progression of plot-points, of wouldn't it be-awesome moments, which haven't yet been weighed according to necessity and worth. To Bendis, it seems, first thought really is best thought, which makes him something of the Beat poet of what can feel like the last years of the superhero book. Only a Kerouac-level faith in his own judgement would allow an entirely irrelevant three page opening sequence featuring street level gangsters to escape the self-editing process. But then, this is a writer so confident of his own abilities that he's able to use up four largely incidentless pages on Spider-Man's search through Mysterio's darkened hideout before introducing any significant jeopardy at all. Clearly, whatever the rules of storytelling are that Bendis adheres to, they're way beyond the understanding of ordinary mortals who might prefer that he just opt for the lesser ambitions of simply not being tedious and obtuse.
With no effective scaffolding in place to turn his conceits into a compelling story, Spider-Men #1 wheezes and stumbles in the direction of a cliffhanger so obvious and thereby unenticing that it seems to be expressing disdain for the reader. It truly is as if Bendis had thought of what his readers would most want to see, and then set out to make sure that they got nothing but a teaser of it on the very last page of Spider-Men #1. An effective cliffhanger, you might imagine, but only if the journey towards it has seemed rewarding rather than exploitative. Instead of satisfaction, however, the reader finds themselves owning one fifth of a mini-series which will end up costing $19.96 in which the story has barely begun by page 20. All the beautifully clear and admirably energetic artwork by Pichelli, Ponsor and Petit can't hide the fact that their impressive achievements here are simply gilding a fundamentally complacent and contemptuous script.
Harsh, you say? You didn't read Spider-Men #1, did you, or at least, I'd guess, you didn't actually pay for it.
Reader's Roulette Rating: A beautifully gold-decorated nugget of piffle is still piffle.