There’s a song by Scottish band Del Amitri in which the chorus is “Nothing Ever happens, nothing happens at all. The needle returns to the start of the song and we all sing along like before”. It’s not the greatest rhyme in the world ever, but it does make it’s point, and sometimes being a fan of comic books can feel a little bit like this. Though stuff does happen, gets reset….and the needle returns to the start of the song and we all sing along like before.
C’mon, at this stage you can scarcely get excited or moved by an “event” in comics. You just know that what ever happens, it’s either going to be undone, retconned or rebooted. Death especially has become redundant in the world of comic books (I mean death as a concept, as the end of a character’s life, not the character from Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman”).
One death though that might actually mean something and have serious ramifications is the death of Peter Parker in “Ultimate Spiderman”. The story line itself hasn’t exactly been what you might call a secret, and considering that Marvel actually called the story “Death of Spiderman”, it was a pretty safe bet how it was going to end, but the history of the book and the way the story line ended give me hope that this is going to be a worthy story.
I have to admit that I’ve been fooled by Marvel before with some of their Spider-antics. During Civil War, when Peter Parker unmasked before the world, I thought it was for keeps, I thought it mattered. When “Back In Black” was announced and Joe Quesada swore blind that Peter donning the black outfit had nothing at all to do with the release of the third Spiderman movie where Venom and the black costume were the main selling point of the movie. The change to the black costume, we were told, was all to do with the story that had been building and would continue for years to come. But of course, that didn’t happen. “One More Day” happened and any growth that Peter Parker had made was simply wiped away. After that, I was seriously waiting for Tony Stark to put a whiskey dispenser into the next upgrade of the Iron Man armour.
The Ultimate line of books has always been a little bit hit and miss for me, but apart from some crossovers that I wasn’t crazy about, it’s definitely been more hit than miss. Ultimate Spiderman has been the best part about the Ultimate universe, which has been rocking pretty steadily since the beginning of the last decade. One of the reasons that I’m so fond of this book and that the death of this Peter Parker hit me so hard is that it’s been one of the most consistent books on the stand for the past eleven years. In the space of 160 issues, Brian Michael Bendis has always been there, writing the words that Peter says and crafting the life that Peter lives. The art duties have changed occasionally, but the voice of the book has always remained the same.
I’ve gone on record as saying that I think the DC Comics launch/relaunch/reboot is going to be good for sales and will generate interest and generate sales. The thing is, one year from now, I’d bet money that at least half of the 52 books that DC will be releasing for the launch of the New DCU will have different creative teams. There’s something about that kind of impermanence that draws away from the worthiness of a book. I’ll be first in line for the first issue of the new Justice League book, written by Geoff Johns and illustrated by Jim Lee. For me, this is a match made in atheist-heaven, moreso due to the fact that they are writing what could very well be the biggest book of the New 52. But when I start to read it, I won’t be able to help but lament the fact that this book, which is destined to be great, will not be able to maintain that greatness when the obvious talent-roster-change happens after an arc or two. If Mark Waid takes over the writing duties then I’ll be happy, other than that, I’m going to be a very wary man.
I am a DC fanboy. I always have been and I always will be. The first comic book that I ever read was was Issue 1 of John Byrne’s “Man Of Steel” mini-series. It was given to me during a stay in hospital by a kid with a hole in his leg. Possibly due to the kindness shown to me or the fact that it was the first issue of a modern introduction to the character of Superman, I just fell in love with it and was from that moment on a DC Fanboy. The reason for this little trip down amnesia lane is to illustrate that Superman and DC Comics have a lot to do with the fact that I’m still reading comics to this very day. I’ve stuck with them through Blackest Nights, Final Nights, Infinite Crises and Supermen of many colours. But over the last three months, I’ve been struck with a very uncharacteristic attitude of “why bother?”. Whatever I read from DC Comics before the end of July seems like an exercise in futility.
I’ve talked a lot to friends about this New DCU and have argued time and again that the fact that there’s a new status quo on the way doesn’t in any way, shape or form detract from what has gone before. All the stories that we’ve loved are still there, and will never go away. Stories can’t die, though FOX News do try to kill them from time to time. But I do feel that the “current” stories being written by DC are all being written with one eye on a stopwatch, and there’s immense pressure to wrap everything up in a neat little bow by the end of August. And I get it, unresolved stories and resolved cliffhangers are an absolute nightmare. Watch the last episode of Stargate: Universe and you will feel my pain.
Many moons ago, when DC decided to kill Superman, it made huge headlines and sales, obviously enough, went up. But I don’t think that there was anyone anywhere who didn’t know straight away that it was a huge stunt and that Superman would return. I wasn’t actively reading comics at that time, but it was a big enough news item that it even got the attention of the Irish media. When I did eventually get around to reading the Death and Return storyline, as much as I did enjoy it, it felt very uneven because there was so many hands at the tiller. True, Mike Carlin was Captain of that particular ship but from book to book, the story felt disjointed as if you could tell that each of the four new Supermen were being written by entirely different people.
Which brings me all the back to Bendis and what he’s managed to do with the Ultimate Spiderman book over the last decade. Bendis has brought Peter Parker full circle and given him a meaningful death that mirrors his origin. Spiderman came to be because Peter failed to save his Uncle Ben and know Spiderman has redeemed himself by saving his beloved Aunt May. Ten years of story went in to that moment and the story doesn’t end here. A new Ultimate Spiderman will be upon us soon, a Spiderman that we know nothing about yet except that that he has been saved by Peter Parker and feels the same call of responsibly that his predecessor did.
Hopefully Bendis will be writing these tales for many more years and stays with the Ultimate Universe and the “sideline” Spiderman. The 616 Spiderman can remain at the mercy of the movies and get dragged around to suit the whims of the studios, but Ultimate Peter Parker matters to me. Even if he’s dead.