The Death of Ultimate Spider-Man… By the Amazing Spider-Man’s Hand

After work today, I met my good friend @GentlemanMonstr¬†for some Five Guys and a stop at Midtown Comics. As the undisputed overlord of the comic world (in my opinion), the Gentleman had something obscure in mind. For me, it was the exact opposite: Ultimate Spider-Man #160.¬†In all honesty, it was something I wasn’t looking forward to, but it was, of course, something I needed to read, not only because I’m¬†the¬†Spider-Man fan among my friends, but because I loved the whole Ultimate Spider-Man series, from it’s rocky start to… well…

We naturally spend more time than necessary at Midtown. Then it was a casual walk to Penn Station where we parted ways. I got to my train platform and thought that I should wait until I got home to read how it all ends, but I realized that after the countless hours on the train that I’d burned reading and rereading Ultimate Spider-Man, there was no better time.

Now, I’m not going to explain what happens because this is a no spoiler zone. But I will say that something odd happened; something I didn’t expect:

I wasn’t bothered. I wasn’t upset; when it happened, I got a little teary eyed (yeah, I’ll admit it), but I didn’t shed a tear, which is weird because I honestly expected to at least shed one damn tear–I’m the¬†Spider-Man guy, after all!

Now, is this because the writing was off? Was Peter’s death too sudden? Was it lacking real drama and emotion? Did I not feel it? Well, while I’m not saying those possibilities are absolutely out of line, I think I know the primary reason for my ambivalence:

I had Amazing Spider-Man #663 in my bag.

And you’re thinking, “So you’re fine because Amazing Spider-Man is still alive?” And, I mean, overtly, sure, but it’s more complicated than that. The “Big Time” plot line brought serious changes to Peter Parker’s life. For the first time, we saw Peter get a job that pays his bills, new costumes, new side characters (thank God), and even a new love interest. As the arc’s name suggests, things in Peter’s life finally start looking up for the first time in… well, ever. Finally, finally things actually change for Peter Parker. Significantly.

So, what does this have to do with Ultimate Spider-Man? It’s simple: after all of the changes in Amazing, going back to Ultimate ¬†felt like looking backwards. For many of us, there was a time when Ultimate Spider-Man¬†was fresh and young and awesome, and it was probably because at the same time, Amazing¬†was tired and boring. For many of us, Ultimate Spider-Man¬†gave us what we’d always wanted as Spider-Man fans: change. Variety. But then Big Time finally came and we–well, I–realized that… Ultimate Peter Parker is still just a kid. He’s still in high school. He’s still worrying about Mary Jane. Suddenly,¬†Ultimate¬†was the past. A past we’ve all read and watched countless times. A past that some writers burned to the ground by over-using the same tired characters. A past that it’s sadly easy to let go of.

Believe what you want, but somehow, I don’t think the time could have ever been more appropriate for the unfortunate passing of our young, beloved Mr. Parker. Not because I wanted it, but because right now–before a new writer comes along and retcons all of Big Time and FF–right now is the only time I could possibly bare it. In all honesty, while I can’t say I started reading comics because of Ultimate Spider-Man, I can promise you that I never would have become so deeply invested in them if not for the incredible sense of adventure and awe that the Ultimate run instilled in me. For that, I will always be grateful for young Peter Parker and the incredible places Brian Michael Bendis took us with him.

But that doesn’t mean I want to ever go back to how things were. Not after so much has changed. The Peter Parker who was always so worried about Aunt May and MJ and work and J. Jonah Jameson and Venom–that young man is dead. And although I loved him, I’m content to let him rest in peace.

Apocalypse 2011: The Chillest Apocalypse Ever?

I woke up this Apocalypse at 10:04 AM. I was not in my own bed, but not in an apocalyptic kind of way; I crashed at the “ghetto fabulous” flat of Ronin (the camera-wielding video smith of HotMop Films) and woke up on the sofa bed. The sun was shining through the window and, looking out into it, I found the day the world would undoubtedly change–forever: a sunny Saturday with a blue sky that forbode, with the CERTAINTY OF A THOUSAND HAROLD CAMPINGS,¬† an extremely pleasant afternoon. I turned on my 360, played Streets of Rage 2 until Ronin woke up and joined me, and then we got burgers, completely forgetting all the while to work on our movie idea. I also got a black and white shake. And then bought Amazing Spider-Man #660¬†from Silver Age Comics in Queens and read it all the way back to the Bronx.

And now, here I am, casually knocking out this article and thinking to myself, Maybe beer, pizza, and finishing ODST with my brother tonight?

And that’s when I realize it. Not that I kind of love the idea of a fanatic going ape shit and promising doom to everyone on a specific date, because I realized I loved that when I dished out my first (of many) Apocalypse 2011 jokes. No, I lean back in my seat and breath in the warm, summer breeze from my window, I feel the post Beer-and-Video-Games-Night-with-a-Buddy glow I’m still enjoying and think, Yeah… This has got to be the best Apocalypse ever.

I think about it and realize: yes, I cared about Y2K because there was science involved and I was young and impressionable enough to think, Hey. Maybe. <shrug> I didn’t pay attention to the 2008 Apocalypse (to the point that I’m not even sure I heard my friends right when they mentioned it [Maybe it was 1998? Maybe they were talking about a Genesis concert they went to?]). If there were any besides, I’ve missed them… So, yes, this totally is the best Apocalypse so far.

And, really, it makes me want to thank… uh… what’s-his-face. <checks his tabs> Harold Camping! Right! It makes me want to thank that guy, because the Apocalypse is now, officially, a holiday. A magical, moving holiday that sometimes comes after a year, other times after eight or more, but is always the best holiday ever, because you can lean back and think that somewhere out there, a pompous asshole who tried to spread mass hysteria feels like a complete moron–right now. And, in fact, he will (and you can smile as you think that) all day.

Does this mean I’m an atheist? No–I believe, although I do it in a complex way so that pretty much no one agrees with me (whether atheists or Churchies). But I definitely don’t believe in spending a ton of money to tell the world, “Well, too bad you didn’t repent, you stupid heathens! And now, enjoy five months of torment for not being as perfect as me!”

And hey, maybe you disagree, and really that’s fine and completely your¬†prerogative. But all I can say is, we just survived the Apocalypse together, brother. Relax. Have a beer. Read a Bible. Start planning Apocalypse 2014.

Me? I’m going to call my brother about that pizza.

Why the Hell Haven’t You Seen “Thor” Yet?

Okay, look–I know the answer to that question. You haven’t seen Thor¬†because you know there are two kinds of Marvel superhero movies:

1) The Iron Man¬†Type – Funny, fun, and with a good smattering of action, these movies are clearly done by people who wanted to make an awesome movie about their favorite superhero for all of his/her fans. The second (and first, despite some… aesthetic issues) Spider-Man movie, Iron Man, Iron Man 2, and (although maybe it didn’t hold up?) the first¬†Blade are this type of Marvel movie. I suppose you could argue that the second X-Men movie also fits the bill, but I’d ignore you.

2) The Daredevil¬†Type – For the love of God, why are there so many of these? I don’t even need to explain because you know exactly what I’m talking about: Daredevil, Elektra, Ghost Rider, X-Men, probably¬†X-Men II, X-Men III: Last Stand, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Fantastic Four, Fantastic Four II: This Should’ve Just Been About the Silver Surfer¬†(or whatever it was called), Punisher: War Zone, Hulk or The¬†Incredible Hulk¬†(failure, finally working to your preference),¬†the rest of the Blade trilogy.¬†Spider-Man 3. All terrible, terrible mistakes. Attempts at more money with plots written to include the most¬†salable¬†characters because the molds for their action figures were already finished.

With such a complete imbalance between the good times and the bad we’ve gotten from Marvel Studios, why would you, why would any of us, actually decide to give a movie about Marvel’s take on the Norse god of thunder the time of day?

If you’re anything like me, you’d say it was your duty; maybe not professionally, but to comics in general, which is admirable even though it’s the same reason why I went to see Jonah Hex.¬†<shudder> In the end, that desire (maybe I should just call it “the Hex”) to support comics led me to the¬†Ziegfeld two Saturdays ago where I was was completely surprised.

Whoever watches this movie, if he be worthy, shall soon possess the Blu-ray of Thor.

It’s Surprisingly Believable

I told my friends that I felt Thor¬†was the movie that would either make or break The Avengers. They were surprised by the idea, but I explained quickly that it wasn’t a matter of Thor needing to look powerful enough or be cool enough; Thor needed to be believable enough or every time he walked on the screen the audience would want to laugh. As viewers, and even as comic readers, we can jump on-board for a hero’s or villain’s origin and totally believe it because of science. Even if it’s completely ridiculous and we know it, we still barely need to be pushed to believe that, say, Tony Stark would survive not only with but because of a huge, super battery lodged into his chest. Or that a bite from a genetically altered spider would grant a school kid from Queens spider powers. A writer slips in a word like “genetics” or “tachyon” and we shrug, think, “Sure! Whaaatever!” and keep reading. But somehow–probably because of religious beliefs–the line often gets very seriously drawn at mystics and god characters. In an Iron Man comic, someone says, “Let’s call Dr. Strange, master of the mystic arts!” and 8 out of 10 readers smack their foreheads in dismay. That is, honestly, exactly what I thought I would do the very first time Thor said “thee”.

But that’s just it–Thor never says “thee”. Or “thou”. Not even (and thank God) a “verily”. Marvel was very, very careful to not make Thor sound like a complete idiot. In fact, they somehow turned it around so that he wasn’t even a bumbling moron when he gets to earth; he’s more an intelligent tourist who makes tourist mistakes that are extremely funny. Tourist mistakes that are also completely understandable after a full hour or so spent watching Thor in Asgard.

But what makes all of it even more believable is the marriage of science and magic, proposed in the trailer and fully executed when we see Asgard. The whole look of the place is (aside from honestly being one of the best executions of a fantasy concept on film) a weird hybrid of sorcery and science. Perhaps that’s being a bit generous though because no one ever jumps on screen and shouts, “And now, MAGIC!” Instead, we see a bit of technology meshed with scenery that very cleverly fails to lean too far in one direction; sure, magical things happen, but they’re often the cause of a huge machine. Or magic that is completely not dressed up with the typical tropes (wizard staff; some grand, completely terrible, rhyming incantation). Even everyone’s armor looks surpringly… modern. Possibly even technological. All in all, the result is a very different fantasy experience that manages to be oddly genuine.

There’s Nothing “Low Key” About Tom Hiddleston’s Performance

Okay. Hands down… Seriously, hands down… I don’t think you can find a better performance for a Marvel villain than Tom Hiddleston’s Loki. I really don’t. And do you know why? Because everyone I’ve spoken to who saw it said, “I’m not sure Loki was devious enough,” to which I replied, “Exactly.”

Not going into too much detail, he’s Loki, the God of Mischief. And not only does Tom Hiddleston look like Loki, he speaks like Loki. He sounds like Loki. He moves like Loki. He acts like Loki. The fact that so many people thought he wasn’t devious enough says one thing and one thing only:

Mischief.

You Will Not Find More Appropriately Hot Comic Book Female Roles in Any Other Comic Book Movie

Oh my God. Natalie Portman as Jane Foster! Wow! She’s actually… attractive. Like, as attractive as comic artists have made Jane Foster. Are we sure this is for real? Are we sure they didn’t actually cast Sarah Jessica Parker, or someone else that the media seems to think is actually attractive but isn’t?

Seriously, I’m sorry, but casting for female roles in comic movies has only met with failure before. Kirsten Dunst is not a super model / actress–not the way comic book Mary Jane Watson was anyway. Gwyneth Paltrow did a great job as Pepper Potts, but outside of having red hair, she didn’t do comic book Petter Potts justice in terms of looks.¬†And seriously, let’s not even get started on Katie Holmes.

The casting director for Thor seemed to realize this and completely turn the problem around. By casting Natalie Portman as Jane Foster. And Jaimie Alexander as Siff! And… Oh my God…

Kat Dennings as... does it even matter?

Uh… Louis?

Loui–

Bah! I’m sorry! I kind of… lost track there. What was I saying?… Oh yeah. The women casted for Thor¬†are extremely attractive. And on the flip side, ladies, seriously, you owe it to yourselves to see Chris Hemsworth’s performance as Topless Thor. Perhaps you’ve said to yourself before, “I just don’t think superheroes are hot,” and that’s fine if you did. But Chris Hemsworth will change your minds so hard that after the end credits, you’ll be IMDBing the release date for The Avengers. On your smart phones. In your seat. In the theater.

All jokes aside, Thor¬†is a surprisingly fun, entertaining comic book movie. I’m not sure if it’s going to be the best one this year because, really, it has it’s flaws. Artist Blair Kamage admitted to having a problem with the pacing of Thor’s romance with Jane Foster; “It just happened too fast! It was just lust!” Writer Daniel Ho wanted Thor to dish out more old English. I, honestly, was bothered by the fact that Thor never shouted “For Asgard!” and my brother (and about 80% of the internet) was annoyed that Thor didn’t wear his helmet for more than 5 minutes. Still, Thor¬†will entertain you way more than you’re expecting it to, and, even if Captain America¬†bombs, you’ll still be excited for The Avengers¬†in 2012. At least, I know I totally am!

The Andrew Garfield Spider-Suit: There’s No Pleasing You, Is There?

On January 13th, everyone got their first look at Andrew Garfield in his Spidey getup. In case you missed it, here it is:

I remember seeing this and thinking, Wow. My brother was right. He looks so weird. I didn’t know what else to think about it, aside from It’s red and blue. That’s a start. In the end, I just put the picture out of mind (which I usually do for anything I’m anticipating) and decided to wait for another shot to sneak up on me. It didn’t take long at all.

This shot from the set of the reboot is one of many that popped up later in January and earlier this month. They give a much better view of the tights and everyone’s pretty¬†unanimous in the decision that he looks stupid, weird, and skinny and that the costume sucks. There’s criticism for every inch of it; people think the color’s off, that he’s too blue, that the texture’s weird, that his spider sneakers look ridiculous, that it’s weird how his crotch is black, that his eyes are too small. The people have spoken and they are just not pleased and all I can think when I hear their complaints is…

There’s no pleasing you, is there?

The costume isn’t perfect. This much I definitely agree with. But, oh my God, they’re trying to give everyone what they go bananas over. Realism. Batman Begins and The Dark Knight were chocks full of realism; tons of choices for those movies were based on what Batman would be like in real life. His suit would have to be an adapted combat suit made by Wayne Industries. His car would have to be a combat vehicle designed by Wayne Industries. His grappling hook would have to be magnetic. His love interest would have to be amazingly boring. Why isn’t that approach okay for Spider-Man?

Probably because too few people know/remember enough about Spider-Man to realize that this is what they’re doing. Seriously, maybe you just forgot or maybe you just never knew, but…

He’s Wearing Wrestling Tights

This film is supposed to be based on the Ultimate Spider-Man series of comics. In Ultimate Spider-Man, Peter Parker is given his suit by the head of the wrestling organization he moonlights with.

Just in case you need to see to believe, here are panels from pages 17 and 18 of Ultimate Spider-Man #3.

Now, as you can see, in Ultimate Spider-Man, the only things the outfit was missing when it was handed off were its webs and spider symbol, which, if we’re being really honest with ourselves, we realize is ridiculously convenient. Sure, it’s specially made, but do you even know of a specialty costume designer that can make those perfect, sock-slipper red booties? Okay, maybe you do, but, do you know of any wrestling organization that’s going to order boots like those instead of the traditional laces-to-the-knees wrestling boots? Seriously. Spider-Man’s boots don’t exist in the real world–the only idea more¬†ludicrous¬†than the thought that his stingy, freelance employer shelled out a ton of money to have an extremely creative outfit custom-made for Peter Parker is the idea that Tobey Maguire made his movie duds all by his lonesome. I mean… sure, why wouldn’t a dude with spider powers be good at knitting/sewing/weaving/whatever, but the idea that Peter Parker was given a wrestling outfit that actually looks like a wrestling outfit just makes sense.

I’m betting this doesn’t sell you regardless. He still looks weird and different is what you’re thinking. Well, as a Spider-Man fan, I’m pretty damn grateful that he does. Ya know why?…

Spider-Man Has Looked Exactly the Same Since the 60’s

Let’s take a picture break:

Wow. Haven’t they changed? Eh? I don’t even have to explain how! Isn’t that awesome?

Now…
Let’s take a moment here. This collage features Spider-Man as he’s appeared in several forms of media. What’s different? His eyes are kind of different, yeah. The blue is different shades here and there. The webbing on his suit is straight sometimes. He’s small in some pics, beefy in others. All of these things can be attributed to different artists’ whims and periodic make-overs though. Putting these things aside, can you tell me what else is different? That’s right! You got it!

Nothing.

Yes, Spider-Man has had different costumes. The Black Suit, the Iron Spider costume, a few others. But do you know what those costumes have in common? They go away. Quickly. Only the Black Suit has found any long-lasting success, but given what it represents these days, it’s just become an unintentional tease; Spider-Man dons it to go AWOL for five panels before someone reminds him, “Hey, Spider-Man, you’re being really hardcore and you look a lot cooler. No one likes that, some shit about responsibility, here’s the ol’ red and blue.”

To boot, these costumes aren’t subtle changes. Only Spidey’s House of M suit, which, of course, only existed in an alternate reality, gave the red and blue a twist. A small twist, but apparently not small enough.

 

It was really just the same suit with different gloves, but I'm sure purists still vomited all over themselves when they saw it.

My point here is, let the man evolve a little. Let them try something new with the costume–something new that makes a lot of sense. Because if they don’t, we’re just going to get the same look we’ve been stuck with for the last 50 years.

Do you want this? Again?
Or can you just calm down and accept that this only looks different, not bad?

Lizardmen: They’re Out There, Losing, Right Now

“Ladies and gentlemen, we’re experiencing slight delays because a Lizardman is on the tracks directly in front of us. The MTA would like to apologize for the delay. As soon as the Lizardman is shooed along, we will proceed.”

“Will the owner of the red Volvo please report to Lot A; a Lizardman appears to be sleeping on your vehicle. Again, will the owner of the red Volvo please report to Lot A? Thank you.”

“Sir, we’re sorry to inform you that your parcel was lost. It appears it was handled at one point by a Lizardman who failed to deliver the package to the processing center.”

Ladies and gentlemen, I’d like to talk to you about Lizardmen.

Let’s begin with a story.

A friend of a friend once started a D&D campaign. The setting was a city in famine. Very dog-eat-dog or cat-eat… Well, you’ll see.

One of the players decided he’d play a lizardman. When he entered the city, he saw a cat in an alley. Roleplaying the stupid lizardman, and perhaps drunk on his ability to eat furry things like cats, the player decided to chase the cat. In the alley a battle was initiated, which, in D&D, breaks time into 6 second intervals where you act based on chance (embodied by dice rolls for different actions). The lizardman rolled for initiative, but the cat won because it was small and quick. So it struck first, and because it had a large target and it was tiny, it easily succeeded in scratching the lizardman for a laughable 1 HP (Health Point). But no sweat off the lizardman’s back; he only needed to hit the cat once to take all its HP. Only, it was tiny. And fast. And, as a lizardman, he’d forgotten his one fundamental weakness–that he was a lizardman. He attempted an attack but missed. And then, more likely than not, he failed the dice roll that would’ve allowed him to see the group of 20 cats that came out of the rubbish piles around him. 20 feral, hungry cats.

A starting character in D&D has a max HP of 12 at best, with no exception for lizardmen that I remember. So do the math. On the second turn, 20 tiny, fast cats all get an opportunity to hit the lizardman, and all of them will definitely hit. All for a laughable 1 HP each.

The 6 seconds weren’t even up when the Lizardman died.

Ladies and gentlemen…

T H E  L I Z A R D M A N

Since time immemorial, Lizardmen have been the failures of the fantasy genre. Servants, useless foot soldiers, cannon fodder. I’m aware there may be a place where Lizardmen are winning, but that place is not here, nor is it anywhere that I’ve seen.

But They Look Cool

Yeah, I’ll give you that. If there’s one thing Lizardmen do right, it’s look cool.

But that’s part of the problem, isn’t it? They’re like very shiny used cars; they look like a great idea, but they’ll probably get eaten by cats.

My D&D story aside, I’ve only ever found Lizardmen in the low threat tier of enemies in RPG’s, just above (or sometimes below) those sentient balls of jelly that find their way into EVERY RPG. My brother tells me that the Lizardmen in Demon’s Souls pose a threat, but he hasn’t been playing the game for long at all. And besides, from what I understand, everything is a threat in Demon’s Souls. Especially the jelly.

In visual media, they’ve never faired any better. Just recently I saw an episode of Conan: The Adventurer where the cruel wizard Rathamon killed a Lizardman who was standing next to his throne. Why? Because he was angry. But also, I’m betting because he knew he could. I imagine Rathamon goes through a full bushel of Lizardmen on his bad days.

Otherwise, we have Reptile’s performance in the Mortal Kombat movie, who, aside from being an absolute mess of CGI, completely dropped the ball in his battle with Liu Kang.

Social _________

Outside of appearances as enemies, Lizardmen seem to enjoy the most absent of social classes. For the Final Fantasy series, it began with Tactics¬†Advance for the Nintendo DS, where¬†Lizardfolk (?) found their way into society under the social tag “Bangaa.”

This is a Bangaa.

I believe I’ve said enough about Bangaa.

No. Wait. I should try. They… … they’re stronger than humans. And also, unlike Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, the subsequent Final Fantasy XII did not feature a Bangaa playable character. Oh, and they’re astutely never called “lizardmen”.

You may remember a similar situation in the Elder Scrolls series. If you do, then you already know of “Argonians” and the two things that they add to the Lizardman mythos.

1) Lizardpeople are latently good at hiding. And also, stealing things.

And 2) Lizardpeople don’t always look cool.

“Popular” Lizardmen

But surely, there are Lizardmen out there who do count for… something, right? And the answer is, “Of course… Kinda.” Always only kinda.

Reptile, for example, would totally count if at the height of his popularity he wasn’t just a dude called Reptile who showed his lizard face ONLY when you did one of his fatalities.

Where does that leave us then? By my count, with two. First…

… with Lizard.

A Spider-Man villain who the larger part of society doesn’t know. When scientist Curt Connors tries to grow back his arm with reptile DNA, he transforms himself into the monster known as (sigh) LIZARD!

The funny thing here is Dr. Connors appeared in all three Tobey Maguire Spider-Man movies. Why didn’t they ever use him, you ask? They knew better. At his best, Lizard was a throw away villain who’s easily forgotten if not easily beaten.

Aside from him, it’s…

… Lizardman… Damn these names are great.

Riding the tails of Soul Calibur fame is possibly our generation’s most “popular” Lizardperson (?). “Popular” because no one cares about his virtually nonexistent character; in the Soul Calibur series, it is canon that Lizardman is one of a race just like him. The simple implication is this: Lizardman has probably been killed by a character you prefer (any other one, really) and replaced hundreds of times. Combine that with the way he (she/it?) doesn’t speak and this…

… and you’ve get a lame character who’s damn lucky to be in a very popular series.

Poor Bastards

I know. Where does that leave Lizardbeings (whatever)? Are they forever damned to fall to the wooden swords of Level 1 characters and feral cats? Will there ever be a day when a race of awesome Lizardbeings appear in a video game or work of fiction? Will a writer somewhere, someday, deliver them some majesty? I, for one, hope so.

Or… maybe I don’t.