Welcome to a special edition blog here at Ghosts of the Stratosphere! I’m regular podcast panelist, blog contributor, and multiple time second place winner in a beauty contest, Robert Stewart. We’re trying a new format for you today where fellow panelist Chad Smith and I simul-blog a comic review for you. It’s our attempt at combining the written word, in-depth thoughts of blog reviewing with the banter and multiple opinions of our podcast. I’m calling it… blogcastiing! That’s… that’s the best I can think of because naming things is my Kryptonite, but unless Chad can top it, we’re sticking with that. Yeah! Blogcasting! That’s a thing now.
I feel good about that. I’m excited.
For our first edition, we’re tackling the Mark Millar, Terry Dodson, and Frank Cho effort:
Marvel Knights: Spider-Man.
I’m going to start off here before I hand off to Chad by talking about something I don’t usually start with, and that’s the art. This series is lovely, and I have always been a fan of both Terry Dodson and Frank Cho. They are not only great individually, but are a brilliant duo to pair for a series because their styles are not dissimilar at all. Both are quite the renowned cheesecake artists when it comes to the female form, yes, but their art is highly kinetic, and the action absolutely leaps off the page. Dodson and Cho both excel at storytelling through art, allowing the writer to not have to spell out everything that is happening on the page. There is a lot of use of bold lines and bright colors, and with these two, everything just pops for me. Dodson in particular is an artist I can never get enough of, dating back to The Evil That Men Do where I first took notice. Sometimes Dodson’s eyes seem a little off to me for whatever reason, and the more heavily-populated panels can feel unpolished, but all in all, the sheer vibrant nature of his art will always leave me wanting more.
But I’ll pop back in momentarily. I’m sure Chad is getting an anxious to get a word in here, so let me hand this experiment off to him…
Perfect! I was just getting ready to butt in! I’m 3 pages into re-reading this epic—-the Dodsons’ and Cho’s art is a thing of beauty. Their style is so crisp, clear, and vibrant, it’s no wonder Marvel would constantly tap them on the shoulder for important licensing opportunities. On an instantly critical note after 3 pages: I hate to say that the colors on this book do the art a disservice, but man oh man, I would love to see their art colored in the old school dot-matrix style of coloring. Ironically, the shiny modern-style of coloring robs the crisp line work of some of its shine. Even if they just did some Dodson pages in their grown up coloring books…
So another thing that I have that’s nit-picky: why does Spider-Man need a Marvel Knights book? I’ve always associated the Knights line as Marvel’s more adult takes on characters—which I get for Punisher, Wolverine, Ghost Rider, etc. But Spidey? He needs a good all-ages book, not a more grown up take. Just my humble opinion—and then I got to this part: they needed the grown up banner to give Spidey a pill addiction and to make MJ his enabler? Greeeat. That’s what I’ve always wanted in my Spidey comics.
Haha, that actually leads into where I was going next: Mark Millar. I’m not typically a fan of Millar’s; I don’t really dislike the guy, but he’s written precious little that I’ve greatly cared for. To me, he will always be the shock-value-for-shock-value’s-sake guy behind Old Man Logan and The Ultimates (where, jeez, he just went bananas with stuff that was supposed to be edgy and make you gasp, whether it was the Wanda/Pietro relationship, the horny Hulk, or the whole “Do you think this A on my head stands for France?” spiel). He’s never been the model of restraint. The whole painkillers thing aside, I actually found his writing to be refreshingly constrained here. More to the point, there’s almost an innocent quality to it, especially in the dynamic between Peter and Felicia Hardy. I would expect Millar to hyper-sexualize their dealings here, but he doesn’t at all. He even has some cute narration from Peter at the end of the series where he realizes that the Black Cat is still “smitten as a kitten” with him. It’s an adept handling of Cat that I really enjoyed as a fan of hers.
There are some moments that rubbed me the wrong way, though. Spidey watches Venom kill two innocent men in the span of one fight, and there’s no remorse or even grieving. I don’t kow if that was a Marvel Knights imprint thing–“we ain’t got time for grief” or some such—but the Spider-Man I’ve read would be aghast at those murders. In a story I otherwise enjoyed, that lack of characterization stuck with me.
Are one of the moments you talking about that moment where Electro finds the shape changing madam as an excuse for Terry Dodson to draw random attractive ladies from the Marvel Universe? That part was adulty-enough. I assume Andy liked it at least.
If that is true, then all those Jim Lee comics I read in my youth are the height of adult. Although there is an implication in that scene that Max Dillon is bisexual, so maybe that was the adult aspect of it? I guess that was still a risque notion in 2004.
We haven’t gotten into the major aspect of canon that this book affected, as it is where Mac Gargan becomes the new Venom. There is a brief layover as a crime boss buys the symbiote from a repentant Eddie Brock for his coward of a son, but the symbiote kills the kid in fairly short order before seeking out Gargan. From there, he becomes something of a threat, but is still ultimately dismissed as a B-lister and vanquished. He follows this up be joining the Dark Avengers. What did you think of that, and Mac’s subsequent tenure as Venom?
It was the beginning of Venom, not as Eddie Brock, a character with a kick- butt visual style and understandable origin, but Venom, the franchise filled with randos the suit bonds with for no gosh darn reason whatsoever. Without looking it up, can you name the guy who gets the symbiote before Gargan? I couldn’t. PREPARE FOR UNRELATED RANT: I just finished reading the most recent Venom, inc crossover where the symbiote bonds with Brock, Flash Thompson, some killer guy whose costume is a Venom jacket and a partial face mask who spits symbiotes at people… it’s dumb. These ideas used to be relegated to symbiote knock off characters like Shriek, Toxin, and Carnage while Venom was allowed to be Venom. Marvel wasn’t content with watering down the character with dollar store spin-offs; they decided to directly screw up the good thing.
With that said, this set the stage for jobber/henchman Venom Mac Gargan forgetting all of his previous characterization and becoming Norman Osborne’s Dark Avengers Spidey. I liked Dark Avengers though, so I guess I’ll allow it.
The more I get into this series, the weirder it gets. There’s the adult tone, the body count, the pill addiction, the constantly torn up costumes, the Spidey getting the stuffing kicked out of himself every issue—and then there are all of the costume redesigns. The closer to Ditko you get, the less you ever need to redesign the costume, in my opinion. Why would you mess with Elektro’s look? I realize many of these redesigns came from elsewhere—the Ramos Doc Ock and Goblin updates in spring to mind particular—but this seemed like change for the sake of change.
While this was meant to be Marvel’s response to things like Jeff Loeb and Jim Lee’s Hush run on Batman where they run the hero through a gauntlet of his biggest and baddest, Hush still played by traditional rules whereas this story does not. I’m shocked they let this book be considered canon.
That’s harsh, given that for me, this is one of the few Mark Millar works I genuinely enjoyed. As we noted between the pill-popping and the disaffection over Venom’s kills, I think the characterization from Spidey was off at points, but in other places it was spot on (his naivete in thinking Norman Osborn might keep his word; his willingness to go down swinging against the Sinister Twelve if he could have any chance to save Aunt May and Mary Jane). I personally think it’s a better Norman Osborn plot/story than many others (I’m thinking the ones where he fathers Gwen’s twins or where he tries to brainwash Peter into being his son by making him afraid of light). I’m also a fan of Black Cat as a character, and I’m glad she got a featured role here. I think this is a fun if unspectacular and harmless book. I’d give this a respectable 7/10.
Wrap this up for us, C!
I honestly want to like this more than I do. I can agree it’s a much better Norman story than most from when they brought him back from “Europe” to the point when this was released. Black Cat was fun here, and it was fun seeing all of the Spidey baddies badding about together. The Dodsons excel during the super hero scenes. This definitely had that “big summer movie” feel of a Mark Millar story, which–when he plays with characters I’m not as connected with personally like Old Man Logan, Ultimates, and Wolverine in Enemy of the State—it’s fun. Here, it’s Spider-Man. He’s messing with Peter Parker and Mary Jane and Aunt May. I see the appeal for some, but this isn’t for me. Yay Dodsons and Cho; Mark Millar, oh no!!!