Swap Thing, or, Dan Slott and the Very Idea of Spider-Man

SPIDER ATTACK

SPIDER ATTACK

Spoilers ahead for the ending of Amazing Spider-Man #700, as well as the general idea of Superior Spider-Man

I’d wager a guess that Peter Parker is one of the most famous, recognizable alter-egos in comic books, right up there with the likes of Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne. Parker’s youth and wit define the Wall Crawler, who’s just as likely to swing from webs as he is to be a wise ass in the face of impending death. It’s safe to say that there couldn’t really be a Spider-Man without Peter Parker behind the mask.

Or could there be?

It’s a question writer Dan Slott has been pondering for over a year in the pages of The Superior Spider-Man, something of an interlude between the end of Amazing Spider-Man with issue #700 and the rebooting of Amazing Spider-Man with next week’s issue #1.

Comic books, am I right?

The Superior Spider-Man sees a dying Doc Ock, in a stroke of villainous genius, switch bodies with Spider-Man, leaving Peter Parker to die in the body of a gross old man while the consciousness of that same gross old man gallivants about in Peter Parker’s nubile young body, assuming both his personal and super-heroic identities and dedicating himself to becoming The Superior Spider-Man.

Hey, that’s the name of the book.

I won’t lie, when I first learned of the aforementioned setup to Superior Spider-Man I immediately wrote it off, because I’m open-minded. Freaky Friday Spider-Man sounded like all of the wrong kinds of silly and ridiculous, the makings of many a retrospective eye-roll.

But I wanted something new to read over the holidays and damned if I didn’t really miss Spider-Man. I gave the first volume of Superior a shot and immediately after I burned a hole in my pocket collecting back issues.

A body swap story could have been the most derivative drivel this side of Top 40 radio, but in Superior Spider-Man Dan Slott took a tired trope and used it as an existential springboard to ask not only what defines both what defines an individual and what defines an iconic superhero whose status in popular culture has far surpassed his comic book origins?

DA END

The end..?

Is Peter Parker a warm body? Is he a mind? Is he a soul? Or is he perhaps a collection of memories and experiences somewhere between all three?

And if the definition of Peter Parker is up in the air, what of Spider-Man? Is the hero defined by his alter-ego? Or perhaps his superpowers? Or is Spider-Man an elemental avatar for personal responsibility?

Classic superheroes go through something of a swap every month.

In any given week Batman could be the concoction of Scott Snyder, or Pete Tomasi, or Grant Morrison. Multiply that by 75 years and hundreds of creators and you have a wealth of different iterations of Batman. And yet whether you’re reading The Dark Knight Returns or The Court of Owls there’s never a question as to whether Batman is Batman because the character is built upon fundamental truths and represents a specific facet of the human experience.

The same can be said for Spider-Man or any other classic superhero worth their legions of fans. Slott’s Superior Spider-Man, much like Grant Morrison’s Batman and Robin, is a definitive examination of both the fluidity and resilience of superheroes not as characters, but as ideas.

In the midst of reboot madness, Marvel could have simply ended Amazing Spider-Man #700 one month and turned out Amazing Spider-Man #1 the next. Instead, Dan Slott took Spider-Man on a winding existential journey that tasked readers with defining not only what Spider-Man fundamentally is, but what Spider-Man fundamentally isn’t. And after the events of Superior Spider-Man I’d say the brand has earned a fresh start and a new #1.

...or the beginning, AMIRIGHT?

…or the beginning, AMIRIGHT?

One day The Superior Spider-Man is going to be released in its entirety in some monster hardcover collection of all 31 issues for like $60. It will be totally worth it.

 

 

For weekly comic book coverage check out the Pony Tricks Comic Cast, available on Pony Tricks, SoundCloud and iTunes.

Boy Deadpool Sure is Dumb 2, or, Why I Stopped Reading Deadpool

There’s an episode of the television show Boston Legal wherein two new, attractive lawyers join the cast. They show up at the firm for work and a befuddled Denny Crane, played by the incomparable William Shatner, insists that they can’t be new at the firm or they would have been introduced in the season premiere.

It’s called breaking the fourth wall and it’s awesome: an action on the part of a character that implies or outright insists said character is aware that they are a character within a work of fiction.

It's funny cause it's meta.

It’s funny cause it’s meta.

It’s also something of a superpower for Wade Wilson, the mutant mercenary known as Deadpool, in the Marvel Comics Universe. His extreme self-awareness, coupled with a Wolverine-esque healing factor, make Deadpool a character full of potential for a fun, thoughtful comic book. That potential has only grown alongside Deadpool’s saturating popularity over the years.

Naturally, a hugely popular comic book character that’s fully aware of their status as a hugely popular comic book character put into the hands of a stand-up comedian would seem like a successful equation. I know I assumed as much.

I’m retreading some old ground with this piece. The last time I wrote about the current Deadpool title I commented that it was either the dumbest comic book on shelves or the smartest. Well I’ve made up my mind.

The cover of Deadpool #1 saw the Merc with a Mouth going at a grossly anatomically inaccurate dinosaur (or a highly anatomically inaccurate non-dinosaur lizard monster) with guns blazing. Awesome.

The synopsis promised bouts between Deadpool and zombified Presidents of the United States of America (not the band). Awesome.

The comic was co-written by a hilarious comic – Brian Posehn. Awesome.

Were you paying attention? That was three awesome things. Three. Only none of them turned out to be actually awesome. They just turned out to be three things.

First and most egregiously, the dinosaur/non-dinosaur only lasted like two pages. And it didn’t even lay eggs in Madison Squad Garden or nothing.

Goodbye dinosaur buddy.

Goodbye dinosaur buddy.

The zombie presidents? Well they were summoned by a kooky sorcerer in a kilt who believes the great men of America’s past are the only thing that can keep it from a terrible future – which is actually a compelling enough jumping off point for a comic book, only the narrative does less jumping and more tripping.

Every new cover promised awesome new possibilities in the form of awesome new presidential zombies, be it a shotgun-toting Teddy Roosevelt amongst throngs of game animals or Abraham Lincoln in a Vegas boxing match or Richard Nixon. Every month brought with it so much potential and every month came up short.

Which leads to cowriters Brian Posehn and Gerard Duggan.

Deadpool is a funny guy, largely because he’s an unbearable smartass. But in the wrong hands an unbearable smartass is just an unbearable smartass – and unbearably so.

Duggan and Posehn’s Deadpool lives up to his title of the Merc with a Mouth, only nothing that comes out of it is particularly worth reading. For a character that has the ability to directly communicate with the reader and all the possibilities that come with that ability most of the dialogue Deadpool spews reads like the results of a caption contest. There are a lot of jokes in these books, but few if any are memorable.

I had nearly quit reading Deadpool when the dead president arc wrapped up. But then I saw that the next issue was a throwback tie-in to the decades old classic Iron Man story Demon in a Bottle and I couldn’t resist. It was actually pretty awesome. The art was old school and the gimmick was well worth the price of a single issue. It kept me going through the next issue.

Unfortunately the next issue didn’t do it for me.

But then I saw the issue after that had a giant godamn shark on the cover. So I got it. And low and behold there were indeed sharks inside. My interest was restored. And with the next issue uniting Deadpool with the new Superior Spiderman I was ready to rock.

POTENTIAL

POTENTIAL

But Deadpool wasn’t and his team up with Superior Spiderman was damn near all the smartassery I could handle.

Then I forgot to cancel my subscription.

The last issue of Deadpool I read saw Wade Wilson (sort of) run across Luke Cage, Black Widow and Daredevil. And only two of them were the product of a shape-shifter. It was a preposterous amount of shoe-horning for a single issue and yet the quality didn’t suffer in the slightest, because the bar was pretty much on the floor already.

Deadpool knows he’s in a comic book. At any moment he could literally stop everything, sit down, and have a one-sided conversation with the reader about the season finale of Game of Thrones. He could examine the very medium he occupies from the inside out. He could call into question the very seams of fiction and reality.

In Deadpool #11, the last issue I read, Deadpool is cooking for the family of the sassy black lady whose soul is residing in his body and tells them “I can make a pretty good salad, but that’s it. You can call me Wolfgang Suck.”

I don’t read Deadpool anymore.

Deadpool is Brilliant, or, Boy Deadpool Sure is Dumb

Dinosaurs are cool, right?

Dinosaurs are cool, right?

There was a time where anything and everything put out by Marvel comics was no more than a half a degree of separation away from their top selling poster boy Wolverine. After all, what’s not to like? He’s got mutton chops.

But those days are over.

In the days of Marvel’s New 52 countermeasure, Marvel NOW, there’s nary a title out there that doesn’t boast a tongue and cheek variant cover adorned with the Merc with a Mouth, Wade Wilson, best known as Deadpool.

Deadpool’s got a lot going for him – mostly the fact that he’s entirely aware of his own fiction existence as a comic book character. He’s been known to talk to the reader or even redraw battles so that he can come out on top. It’s all kinds of fourth-wall-breaking meta goodness, though it more often amounts to a hilarious gag than a serious literary accomplishment. Go figure.  So when it was announced that the Marvel NOW iteration of Deadpool was going to be written by a standup comedian, Brian Posehn, expectations were high.

Having finally concluded this week, Posehn’s first Deadpool story arc saw Wade Wilson become an honorary inductee of S.H.I.E.L.D. in order to thwart a demonic gang of revived, mystical zombie versions of the deceased Presidents of the United States of America. Sign me up!

This says more about Deadpool than I ever could.

This says more about Deadpool than I ever could.

And sign up I did. Now that the series is six issues and one arc in, however, I can’t tell if I’ve been reading the dumbest comic on shelves, or the smartest. Okay, that was generous. I can’t tell if I’ve been reading the dumbest comic on shelves, or just a regularly dumb comic on par with other dumb comics.

I suspect the first time Deadpool directly addressed his readers it was pretty wild and unexpected, but nowadays every other panel more or less amounts to the Merc with a Mouth making a “hilarious”  pop culture reference and then turning and winking at you. It’s fun to think about interacting with your favorite heroes, but those interactions shouldn’t be limited to me yelling “stop talking to me and do your job” at a comic book while I hide from my made up wife and kids in the bathroom of my made up house.

What job would that be, you ask? Deadpool is the Marvel Universe’s walking, talking reality check. There’s nobody too important, too well-loved or too gritty to escape Deadpool’s non-stop smart-assery. And let’s face it – they have it coming! Yeah, yeah Wolverine is an ageless mutant who’s fought his way through persecution, adversity and torture time and time again – but  guess what? He’s also a comic book weirdo who runs around in a yellow costume with metal claws that come out of his knuckles. Captain America is a grown ass 100-year old man who runs around with a shield draped in an American flag. Spider Man is a d-bag!

By running his mouth constantly and refusing to be serious Deadpool teaches the comic book universe a very serious lesson – get over yourselves nerds, you’re comic books.

Which leads me to a revelation – what if Posehn’s Deadpool won’t stop bothering me while I’m trying to read his own book because he’s trying to teach me something too? What if Deadpool’s idiotic crusade against the zombified former Presidents is really a metaphorical crusade against a generation of comic book readers who lose their shit anytime a creator tries to expand  or reinvigorate a character, a generation who dogmatically adhere to continuity like doctrine and to heroes like prophetic idols?

When Deadpool talks his way through his books he isn’t just dumbing down his own comic book, he’s dumbing down our comic book, for our own good. It’s Marvel Comics, not Charles Dickens, and while comic books certainly have their place in the literary cannon, they’re still supposed to be fun, and I’m glad Deadpool could show me that.

Deadpool’s own mouth consistently holds his own book back from being anything more than a silly, stupid comic book that your parents will roll their eyes at. But maybe that’s because he’s trying to tell me that I shouldn’t spend time pouring over Batman comics and analyzing them to death because the Caped Crusader isn’t supposed to be an icon of American literature, he’s just supposed to be a goofy guy in spandex.

And that’s when I realized the Posehn’s Deadpool isn’t dumb at all – it’s an indictment of the comic book industry, from writers to artists to critics to fans, taking itself far, far too seriously. It’s a statement on the current status of an entire literary medium, and one that raises the medium as a whole.

LOL WTF JK

You guys, Deadpool is dumb.

Deadpool is so dumb.