Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #1 Review Station

September 14th, 2011 Posted by david brothers

A quickie, since today looks to be dumb busy at work:

I reviewed Ultimate Spider-Man for ComicsAlliance. Creative team’s Brian Michael Bendis/Sara Pichelli/Justin Ponsor. Here’s a few random excerpts:

In a development that will surprise absolutely no one, Sara Pichelli (art) and Justin Ponsor (color art) absolutely knock their half of the book out of the park. Since this is a quiet issue, Pichelli doesn’t get a chance to really chew into any action sequences with her usual flair. Due to the absence of action sequences, we’re left looking at Pichelli’s other skills: fashion, body language, facial acting, and everything else that comes into play when drawing people.

Ponsor’s color art is pretty good, too, and a great complement to Pichelli’s art. There’s a page around the middle of the book that features five characters of a few different races. There are five different skin tones present in the scene. That’s something that is painfully rare in cape comics, even when talented colorists are doing otherwise virtuoso work on the page. I don’t know that this is worthy of praising Ponsor to the high heavens–“He got it right when everyone else didn’t, even though they should have!” only goes so far–but I definitely appreciated seeing this sort of attention paid to race in a Marvel comic.

A lot was made of Marvel’s new black Spider-Man by everyone who heard about the character, whether they were for or against the idea. I was pretty pleased to see that the issue of Miles’s race got just the amount of attention it needed in this issue: none. Setting aside the difficulty in explaining the complicated racial and ethnic overlap and intersection between blacks and Latinos — a subject that is probably too complicated for cape comics — Miles and his family are presented as just like any other family in comics. He doesn’t fight roving bands of racists, the Klan, or talk about how he’s from the hood. He’s got a family, his parents want his life to be better than theirs, and they love him very much. He’s normal, and that’s just as it should be.

Despite my qualms about the length and price point, this first issue hooked me. Miles Morales isn’t Peter Parker, his status quo isn’t Peter Parker’s, and his powers have just enough of a twist (hinted at early in the story) that they aren’t exactly Peter’s either. I wanted Bendis to impress me with this issue, and he did. My complaints really boil down to how much space he was given to impress me, rather than anything he did wrong, exactly. This is good comics, and the start of something cool.

And I seriously want to shake Bendis and Pichelli’s hands for introducing an Ultimate version of one of my all-time favorite members of Spidey’s supporting cast.

The new Ultimate character is Prowler, but not Hobie Brown.

I’m mad I left the scare quotes off the one time I said “black Spider-Man.” Turns out being passive-aggressive and snarky late at night is tougher than I expected.

Four bucks for twenty pages is 2011% garbage, but I liked it. If I’d paid for it, I might feel otherwise, I dunno. Anybody read this yet? Spoil away in the comments.

Marvel can seriously blow me over that price, though. Disgusting.

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The problem with “black Spider-Man” is…

August 15th, 2011 Posted by david brothers

…that it is essentially covert, or maybe just casual, white supremacy.

How great does this kid look, by the way? Sharp haircut. Sara Pichelli is great.

Here’s the short version:

The long version keeps drifting on me and not coming out correctly, so let me try and boil it down:

The words you choose to use simultaneously reflect and create the world around you. If you make an effort to be effusively positive about things, you’re going to attract people who either share in or enjoy your positivity. The odds are good that they will be positive, too, setting up a situation where you both feed off each other. If you want to keep up a too cool for school distant air, and so your version of effusive praise is “Oh, yeah, that was cool,” then you’re going to attract like-minded people who understand you. Make sense? Everything feeds on everything else.

“Black Spider-Man” otherizes Miles Morales. (It also ignores that he’s half-Puerto Rican, but that’s another conversation entirely.) He’s not Spider-Man. He’s black Spider-Man. He isn’t the new Spider-Man first, or Ultimate Spider-Man first. He’s black Spider-Man. Which is funny, because Barry Allen and Wally West were just the new Flashes. Hal Jordan is a Green Lantern, but John Stewart is the black Green Lantern.

It foregrounds Miles’s race in a conversation where his race should be irrelevant. His race is probably going to end up being just as big a part of his character as it was for Peter Parker–which I do think was a fairly significant part of that character–but in terms of who the character is and how we refer to him, “black Spider-Man” is garbage.

It sets up the adjective-less Spider-Man as the default, and therefore superior, version. Black Spider-Man will always be second-best because he wasn’t first. Comics fans in particular like to prize the original flavor, or whichever flavor was dominant whenever they began reading, so you can’t tell me that isn’t true. Every time I read “black Spider-Man” I taste battery acid. It feels mean, like the most important part of Miles’s character is that he’s (whisper this with me) not white!

Every single person who has dropped the “Batman of Africa” phrase into their news report, writing, solicits, interviews, commentary, criticism, or emails is lazy. Plain and simple. Every single one. If they aren’t mocking the phrase, they are lazy. Whenever I see it, I want to (and usually do) stop reading whatever page I’m on. There is no Batman of Africa, just like there’s no Batman of South America or Batman of Europe. There are Batmen of France, Argentina, and cities, but there are no Batmen of continents. David Zavimbi, Batwing, is the Batman of the Democratic Republic of Congo, or maybe the Batman of Fake-Kinshasha.

“Batman of Africa,” like “black Spider-Man,” plays into these subtle, but still awful, racial and national stereotypes. Africa is “AFRICA” in people’s minds because lazy, racist fiction and news painted it as a monolithic dark continent full of black people. Lies cloud the mind. Africa, like any other continent, features an astonishing amount of ethnic diversity, whether native or immigrant. You don’t even have to open a book to know this. Charlize Theron is African, man. More specifically, and more respectfully, she’s South African. She’s from Johannesburg. She’s famous.

But the mental image that leaps to mind when people say “Africa” is bone nose savages, savage warlords, savage child soldiers, and AIDS savaging the countryside. Not Egypt, or the Ivory Coast, or a continent of one billion people, most of whom are just like us and go through many of the same trials and travails that we do. There’s no diversity in “AFRICA!” That fact is ugly and stupid. It’s 2011. What’s wrong with you?

David Zavimbi, presumably, is Congolese. “Batman of the Congo” has less of a ring to it, but it doesn’t make you look as unforgivably ignorant as “Batman of Africa” does.

Being black is no more remarkable than being white. Miles Morales is notable for being the first black Spider-Man, particularly in Marvel’s Ultimate Universe, but it isn’t his blackness that makes him special. It’s the fact that he’s not Peter Parker. The fact that he’s half-black, half-Puerto Rican, (and how cool would it be if his dad was a dark skinned Puerto Rican and his mom was light skinned black?!), that it looks like he’s taking part in a lottery to get into a good school in the preview images, and that he’s thirteen years old is just sauce. It’s not the meal. It’s part of the meal, sure, but you do yourself and the character (or rather, the concept, what the character represents, or something, because we do not respect characters ’round these parts) a disservice by boiling him down to “black Spider-Man.” He’s so much more than that, judging by the press run Marvel just went on, that breaking him down to being the black Spider-Man is… it’s garbage, it’s lazy, it’s stupid.

It makes you look like Stormy.

This is drifting.

Black Debbie doesn’t exist. I probably could’ve left this at the Sealab video and been good.

Please think before you speak.

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got the internet goin’ nuts: spider-man, racism, manga, & peanuts

August 2nd, 2011 Posted by david brothers

This review of Fantagraphics’ Peanuts reprint project is great. This little girl gets exactly why Charlie Brown and Snoopy are so wonderful. Hang it up, everybody else.

-My main man Tucker Stone turned five and then got back down to the business of showing you the guts of this week’s comic books.

-Rich Johnston pulled together a post meant to educate some dickface retailer about racism and speaking in public. It’s a good one, very well done. He asked me if I wanted to contribute, but I declined. I felt like that guy had gotten enough, or even too much, of my attention after I tweeted about it two times. C’est la guerre, right?

-The reason that retailer went off on the racist tip is that the new Ultimate Spider-Man (created by Brian Michael Bendis and Sara Pichelli) is a half-black, half-hispanic kid named Miles Morales (alliteration, holla). While I stand by my position that original characters are greater than legacies, who are by their very nature subordinate and inferior to the original model, I also understand that cape comics are screwed and cannot support new original characters. They have to be tied to the old in order to survive today. It sucks, but that’s the industry we’ve built, right?

-The retailer, of course, is noted sexist douchebag Larry Doherty of Larry’s Comics in Lowell, MA, whose previous claim to fame, a year or two before making jokes about “nigga lips,” was calling out ComicsAlliance editor-in-chief Laura Hudson as a one-trick pony who only talks about sexism in comics and, I assume as some sort of incredible zinger, sending her a photo of a woman with a bunch of hot dogs stuffed in her mouth. It’s cool that he’s outed himself as a racist, too. Gotta catch ’em all, right?

-Every time I see somebody on Twitter shouting that guy out like “Yo this guy knows how to sell comcis!” my eyes narrow a little bit. Watch who you associate with, because it’s all too easy for their actions to define you.

-I don’t necessarily think Marvel should be patted on the back, but this is a pretty cool move. No other major character–and the major characters these days are Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man, make no mistake–have been replaced by a non-white. In this case, the one, true Spider-Man, or Ultimate Spider-Man, or whatever, is a black guy. What’s more, this’ll pull the Ultimate universe away from pantomiming the past, which is what the last murderfest and reboot was supposed to do. You can’t do a retread of Venom with Miles Morales. They don’t have the history, and there are no expectations.

-No, there are some expectations. We’ll see the classic villains, probably for the first year or so, to ease readers in. Seeing how the new guy (and I hope he has a different personality than Parker and doesn’t use the same yiddish slang) interacts with these old characters will be more interesting than seeing Parker do the same old song and dance. Word is that he’ll be working with Aunt May and Gwen Stacy, too, which is cool.

-I tweeted some stuff about the new Spider-Man and the marketing of the character, too: “It would be nice if the Big Two could treat diversity as a fact of life, but the market & genre demand events/hype. It’s nice when they try. So, though I haven’t been a big Bendis fan for a while, I’ll try out this new Spider-Man. It’s (mostly) new and fresh. I hope it works out. Wonder Woman’s pants has been a running argument for over a year now. A new Spider-Man, and what’s more, a black one, is gonna be a big deal. It’s like that bit in Casanova. “The genre demands it!” The cape industry bends strange in a lot of nonsensical, but traditional, ways. but anyway, Sara Pichelli is ill, and I’m all about her getting a brand new #1 to call her own, and hopefully a fat sack of royalty checks”

-One request: can we not call him “Black Spider-Man?” That’s stupid.

-There’s this quote from Sara Pichelli in Marvel’s PR that I wanted to pull out: “Maybe sooner or later a black or gay – or both – hero will be considered something absolutely normal.”

-What she says works directly against Marvel’s marketing. (Spider-Man is black now!) She’s saying that this sort of thing should be par for the course, rather than an aberration. I like that she slipped that in there, whether my understanding of her statement is what she intended or not. The big deal about Nightrunner, the new Aqualad, and… who am I forgetting? Batwing? Blue Beetle? The big deal about all those guys should’ve been no big deal to us. I don’t get hype when an ill new black character shows up in One Piece (word to sleepy old Admiral Kuzan) or in a new movie. Why should I when it happens in the comics I’ve been reading since I was a child? If anything, these books should be the ones blazing trails like they used to do.

-Pichelli’s art is great. I did a Pretty Girls on her last year. Happy to see her with a huge gig.

-Thinking about this deal (and regrettably reducing it to a tired old Big Two competition, which I normally loathe but in this case is a viable angle for analysis)… Marvel’s never really had as much of a problem with race as DC has had. The ’70s were very good to them in terms of introducing cool new faces, and the 2000s (and maybe a little earlier–Priest’s Black Panther) saw a resurgence of strong titles featuring black characters. I think we’re long past the day when someone like Triathlon could gain traction, but Marvel definitely tries something new time and time again. Therefore–they didn’t have to create Miles Morales. They have characters who we love who are good.

-DC pushed Cyborg to the front lines as part of their big diversity push (at least in part) because he’s the only black guy they have that 1) has a fairly sizable fanbase (due to Wolfman/PĂ©rez Teen Titans mostly) 2) doesn’t have Black in his name (eliminating Black Lightning from the runnings) and 3) isn’t a legacy character (peace out, John Henry Irons, John Stewart, Mr Terrific, Aqualad, and a handful of others). Not to say that he doesn’t deserve to play in the Big Leagues, because he absolutely does, but there’s a… paucity of candidates, aren’t there? He also isn’t named Vixen, which is a huge bonus.

-Marvel, though, has a figurative ton of black characters they could throw into the Avengers without anyone batting an eye, other than the people who make a hobby out of batting eyes. What’s more, they put him into their biggest costume. So, yeah, maybe this new Spider-Man really is something to be applauded. I’ll have to think it over some.

-I was on a Best/Worst Manga panel at SDCC 2011. You can read Deb Aoki’s great recap here.

-I liked this NYT piece debunking a few myths about slavery, marriage, and family, too.

-This post on Eating Watermelon While Black was also a pretty fun read. It’s interesting seeing other people’s perspectives on the very real cultural/social divide between black and white.

-Geez, I guess I did have something to say about Miles Morales after all. Hopefully the new book is good. Both companies’ sudden stabs at being inclusive seem sort of like a last-ditch gasp for air before the lights go out, but at the same time… I appreciate that they’re trying. Better late than never, right?

-New costume is pretty tight. I like the black and red, and the webby fingers.

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Pretty Girls: Sara Pichelli

August 25th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

Sara Pichelli: Twitter (defunct), blog, black and white art
Books: Runaways: Homeschooling, X-Men: Pixie Strikes Back
Why? Pichelli is an Italian artist who recently blew up in America with a number of Marvel series, usually with Kathryn Immonen (another person who deserves to be a superstar). While her Marvel books tend to feature teen characters, something she’s pretty good at to be fair, but she’s also good at drawing adults. If I had to pick two things that make her great, I’d say it’s her attention to hair, something mainstream comics artists generally render as a big block of ugly, and the way she nails body language. Look at Poison Ivy’s hair in any of the drawings, particularly the Cruella de Vil buns, Emma Frost’s tangle of hair, or Zatanna’s tangles. For body language, look at Batman’s open mouth and Poison Ivy’s arched back in sp-bat-ivy.jpg, the relaxed but sad look in sp-sunday02.jpg, everything in sp-womandriving02.jpg (someone please get Pichelli to draw a crime comic), and the hands wrapped around the man’s head in sp-fuck.jpg.

Streetwear Snow White is great, too. I’d read a whole book about that.

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