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Ultimate Spider-Man #123

Posted: Tuesday, July 1, 2008
By: Jon Judy

Brian Michael Bendis
Stuart Immonen & Wade von Grawbadger
Marvel Comics
Well I’ll be. Turns out Ultimate Spider-Man is like a box of chocolates: You never know what you’re going to get, and what you get this time is a bizarre Forrest Gump homage.

This entire issue is told from Eddie Brock’s P.O.V. as he gives a mini-autobiography to a series of people sitting next to him at a park bench. He tells them of his life since his assumed death, how he has been hiding out and on the lam and p.o.’d at P.P. Then he tells them of attacking Spidey at a museum, and how Silver Sable and her Wild Pack tried to nab him at said museum, but Eddie gave ‘em the slip.

True story: I was once nabbed by and gave the slip to a transsexual stripper who billed her act as “Silver Sable and Her Wild Package.”

OK, that isn’t a true story. Would be awesome if it was, wouldn’t it?

Where was I? Oh, yeah, then after all that Eddie eats a dude, and not in the Wild Package sense of the phrase.

And that’s it for USS this time. Save your dollars for the One Buck Lap Dance, which may be, just like this issue, more tease than please, but it’s also a third of the price.

There was nothing wrong with this issue, per se. Bendis is a terrific writer, no matter how much some people love to knock him. Look at the way he can squeeze dialogue into a single panel – I counted sixty words in one instance – while not crowding out the art or making the story a chore to read. One gets all the vital exposition and realistic dialogue while still maintaining the feeling of not having to, you know, actually read. Hell, it’s called ComicsBulletin, not ProseBulletin.

Bendis also knows how to tell a story. I have a friend with whom I commonly debate the merits of a splash page. I insist that they should be used only for dramatic effect, and that otherwise, when they are used arbitrarily or willy-nilly, they’re just a waste of my money. I get less reading time and less comic book for my buck. He insists that a good comic book should have a kind of “balance” of panel breakdowns, that it should have a variety of panel counts throughout -- some splash pages, some six panels, some three, some four, etc. He thinks this lends a book a sense of liveliness, I guess. I think it’s plain silly, like saying, “Gee, the best way to present this scene would be in a four panel breakdown, but, gosh, don’t I already have too many four panel ages?”

Bendis tells the story in a more practical way: by asking, “what’s the best way to communicate this information?” Ergo, this issue is without splash page, with larger panels to convey action and dramatic points in the story and smaller, cramped panels to convey Eddie’s sense of being trapped, to underscore his fear and the intensity of his situation.

Well done, Mr. Bendis.

You see, Bendis seems to know something Will Eisner use to expound upon: comic books are not movies, nor should they attempt to be movies. Eisner used to point out that reading a comic book is a collaborative experience between audience and creators, readers do not simply, passively witness a comic book, but instead they tell the story in their minds as they read it. That should be obvious, a given, and yet so many creators don’t seem to grasp it, favoring large, flashy splash pages for no apparent reason other than those pages are more “cinematic”.

OK, case in point: consider the large panel in this issue of Venom crashing through the museum window. It’s almost a half-slash -- not quite -- but most modern creators would have done it as a splash, insisting that would better convey the action and impact of the scene.

Well there are two problems with that. First, the scene has precious little impact. If by the year 2008 one has not read a comic book where someone crashes through a window, one has not read a comic book. What’s special about it? Nothing, and Bendis knows it. Now if this had been a truly surprising event -- the crashing character was one we have not seen in a long time, one we would never have expected to see now -- then, yeah, cool, that might merit a splash. But this whole story has been Eddie’s story. We know he is coming. We know it. So why waste the space?

The second problem with doing this mundane scene as a splash, as most creators would have, is that it neglects the aforementioned collaborative process between creators and readers. We the audience can picture for ourselves, create in our minds, if you will, the action-packed nature of a humongous dude dressed in black and baring giant teeth jumping through a window. We can tell that part of the story in our minds, which is what we’re supposed to be doing as readers. Is the image any more effective if it is ten inches tall instead of six? Nope. As I have always maintained, six inches is enough to get the job done in most instances.

Of course, Silver Sable and Her Wild Package might disagree…

Oh, right, critiquing this issue of USS. The point is, Bendis is a terrific writer, a great storyteller, but nothing happens in this issue. It’s just a filler, an introduction to the new story arc. He tells it well, but there isn’t much to tell.

As for the team of Immonen and von Grawbadger, they’ve been hitting a nice stride since coming aboard. I think their rendition of Peter still looks a little fey -- Stan Lee used to say Gil Kane’s heroes looked girly, but he had nothing on these guys -- but otherwise their storytelling is clear, their action sequences pop, their facial expressions are, well, expressive, and they do the whole thing with a sense of style and fun. Their work is positively, dare I say it, Ditko-esque.

But you still can’t escape that one little hiccup in this issue. Nothing. Happens. Nothing significant or impressive, anyway. A new Venom story arc? Cool. I’m there. The set-up to said arc? Why waste my time? Just jump into the story already.

If you’re looking for a good tutorial on superhero storytelling, pick this one up. If you’re looking for a good story for your $2.99, let it slide.



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