Mr. Spider-Man Goes To Town.

I thought about calling this post "Spider-Man Hits The Big Time, or "It's a Big Time For Webheads, or, even, "Big Time = Big Fun". None of those really rang true, and here's why:

Spider-Man has been big time since Amazing Fantasy #15 hit in 1962. Saying that this is Spidey's big time, that he's hit it big, that now's his moment- well, hasn't it been his moment for almost fifty years? Hasn't Peter Parker been slinging webs and helping offbeat kids get by since JFK was President? Hasn't he been to space? Hasn't he been in the Avengers? Hasn't he worked with the Fantastic Four and fought Galactus and been Marvel's flagship character since then?

Let's just say that I think calling it the "Big Time" era might be a little disingenuous. Still- although the branding might be misguided, the change in status quo must come as welcome to certain corners of Spidey fandom. The Brand New Day era, despite producing some great stories (including a Fred Van Lente written issue featuring the Spot that was one of my favorite comics of 2009), wasn't very well received, mostly because of the poorly conceived story which preceded it also wasn't very received. Getting rid of the brand, then, was probably a huge boon for Marvel marketing and taking solo writing reigns was certainly a boon for writer Dan Slott.

Slott, who had been one of the rotating team of "webheads" responsible for delivering the book on time thrice monthly during Brand New Day, has been given sole writing duties on the book (now bimonthly but at 40 or so pages an issue) for the forseeable future. Given all this, and because I have found Slott to be a singularly entertaining writer of comics, I figured I'd give this new status quo a shot, buy myself the first few issues, see how it stacked up.

Near as I can tell, it stacked up alright. I'm new to the Spidey game (much newer to it then Gorga, at any rate), so I wasn't particularly attached to either the pre- or post-Brand New Day status quos, but my understanding is that poor Peter Parker has really been having a tough time of late, so it's good to see one of the good guys, well, making good. Still, the first part of #648 didn't quite ring true. The character's voices didn't seem quite right- a little stilted, a little overplayed- and this was particularly true of Spidey, who Slott writes, albeit briefly, as just too sloppy and sentimental for my taste. Once we get past the seemingly obligatory team-up (which features a clever, if overwritten, climax), things get a little bit better. Peter's voice is a little stronger, his personality a little more assertive and the pieces just sort of fit together better. It feels like the start of a Spider-Man story rather than a half rate Avengers yarn. There's even a fantastic bit at the end where author and artist Humberto Ramos work together perfectly, and the result is clever use of the comics medium to display precisely what Peter is thinking. Still, Slott goes out of his way to prove Peter's a schmuck (he can't pay his rent! He's been run out of the photojournalism biz!) and then way the other way to remind he's not (Doc Ock, Aunt May and the Human Torch all use the word 'genius' to describe our dear hero).

By the time we hit the second issue, #649, though, Slott's hitting his stride a little bit more. The rise of a new goblin, Pete's first day at his new job, the team-up with Black Cat- it all works. And it all works well. Slott's Spidey may not quite be what we expect, may be a little different from the Peter Parker we've seen around these parts recently, but that's just what we need right now, at the beginning of a new era. Although the characterization is at times ham handed, the author does deftly and subtly make some interesting moves, particularly in suggesting that Peter is a reactive rather than proactive thinker, that he's a situational genius and not one that can work in a vacuum. It's a brilliant thought- let's see where he takes it.

Ramos works great for this story, too, which helps turn the pages even when Slott doesn't hit his mark. His work is both kinetic and blocky, a synthesis of two styles that I love which are rarely integrated very well. The thick black lines are complemtented by brilliantly cartoony and just-this-side-of garish colors that really bring out parts of the storytelling, parts that might go unnoticed otherwise.

So, how is the new status quo so far? Pretty good, by my reckoning, but not quite good enough. I've got faith in its creative team and it is quite a lot of fun, so I'll hang on for a few more issues to see how it goes, but unless they step it up (and, to be honest, I'm expecting they will) we may need to wait a little longer for Spidey to really hit it Big.


A Whole Lot O' Nothing

Over at CBR today there's a brand new Cup o' Joe interview with Marvel EiC Joe Quesada.

It's the most boring interview I've ever read. Quesada doesn't actually say anything. He doesn't really answer any of the questions and, for the most part, he seems alright with that. This is alright, I guess; he can't comment, he doesn't want to give anything away, whatever.

I wonder why we still even care what this schmuck has to say. I don't say that because I don't like Quesada- I think he's a fine artist, and that he's made some mistakes, but so has everybody else. My problem is that, not as a creator but in his capacity as EiC, he never actually says anything interesting, anything of value. That's his job, and I get that, but when do we bite back? When do we say enough is enough? But treating any of these guys like they're actually going to tell us something, we're just selling ourselves short. They know they've got us, because we hang on their every word even when they aren't actually saying anything.

Like everything else in this business, it's a great scam if you can get it going. But I, for one, can't take it anymore. Don't want to go to panels where everyone cheers for comics they aren't reading and read interviews with editors who hem and haw about the cancellation of books or the death of a character. I get it, it's a business. The companies have to make money. But we treat them like they owe us something, and then we go back for more anyway when they give us nothing.

I have no idea what we do about this except cease caring. And I don't want to do that. And I know none of you want to do that. Because we love comics. But I think maybe it's time we reevaluate our relationship with the companies- maybe it's time we vote not with our voices but with our dollars. Don't like the new price points? Walk away. Don't think Quesada says anything in an interview? Don't click on the next one.

But I don't know how we are ever going to get them to treat us like real customers until we stop treating them like fanboys and start treating them like a business. They don't owe me anything, and I don't owe them anything.

And that's how it should be.

A quick aside: this is why Rich Johnston is really the only comics reporter worth a damn. There are plenty of fantastic comics analysts, interviewers and reviewers, but if you want the straight dope on a rumor or a rumble, Bleeding Cool is where you'll get it. Sometimes I wonder why I even bother to go to CBR or Newsarama anymore.

Talking Over Balloons: artist Reilly Brown

In the strange, painful, but wonderful career of comic-book penciling perhaps the most strange, painful, but wonderful job you can get is to draw a small 'tie-in' part of a larger ongoing crossover 'event' story. With dozens of comic-books arriving on different weeks, all expected to create one multi-angle story, scripts change, continuity flows, schedules are tight and the number of corrections any one artist must make to keep that ongoing continuity mostly accurate in any one comic could be staggering. And undoubtedly makes for a challenging assignment.

So The Long and Shortbox Of It has secured an interview with Reilly Brown, Marvel artist who was himself recently put into this challenging position. Reilly's (@Reilly_Brown) work can be seen in this year's Hercules "Heroic Age: Prince of Power" mini-series, the wonderful back-up story that appeared in "Chaos War" #1 and the upcoming "Chaos War: Alpha Flight" one-shot written by Jim McCann (@JimMcCann) hitting comic-book stores everywhere tomorrow!

Jon Gorga: Let's get right into the delightful muck of continuity right away, you drew the back-up feature in "Chaos War" #1 that explained where one of the central characters, Hercules, has been cosmically stuck since the events of "Assault on New Olympus" and you also drew the "Alpha Flight" one-shot coming out this week that ties-into the larger "Chaos War" 'event'. Now, as I understand it, despite the fact that you've had an involvement with the past and the present of this story as well as the character himself you would still probably find that if you draw Hercules into a page of "Chaos War: Alpha Flight" you would find some surprising notes about how he looks NOW: wounds, hair, bags under his eyes, damage to his costume and any number of crazy other things that can happen to a demi-god in the Marvel Universe. Without giving away anything you can't, is that an accurate assessment of the game?

Reilly Brown: The majority of the coordination of these events takes place with the editors and writers, so if you really want the nitty gritty on planning a crossover event, you should ask them.

For my part I'm mostly at the mercy of what's in the script, which do contain certain notes about characters to keep me up to date. For instance in the Chaos War event, Mikaboshi the Chaos King is constantly growing throughout the story, and that's something that the script for Alpha Flight mentioned, but I really didn't feel that was any different than any other note I might get in a story set in a shared universe like Marvel's. For instance, scripts frequently have reference photos attached to them, usually containing images of character's most recent appearances, so as long as I use that as a guide, I should be in the clear.

The most specific note I've seen went to another artist based on something I drew. The short Hercules story that appeared in Chaos War #1 was originally planned to appear in an earlier comic, so I actually drew it a while ago, while the last Incredible Hercules story, "Assault on New Olympus" was going on which was drawn by Rodney Buchemi. In the final issue, there's a scene where Typhon is breaking Hercules' bones, and the script was written to specifically match how I was drawing my story, with his left arm and right leg being the ones that were broken.

JG: That's an impressive display of continuity editing right there: two stories showing the same moment drawn in a different order than they were published, but specifically coordinated to match. Reilly, explain to us, for the hell of it and for anyone who isn't a huge follower of mainstream superhero comics, what is a crossover 'event'? Or perhaps, if you prefer, what are these things that Marvel and DC Comics produce that involve lots of different ongoing comic-books and mini-series woven together? I'm curious about the artist's point-of-view in this narrative machine.

RB: Ha! Does anyone not know? You can't even avoid them these days!

The simplest way to describe a comics "event" is to say that it's a story that takes place in more than one comic book series, and lately the main way to do that is to launch several new series that are specifically based on that event, such as my comic that's spinning off of Chaos War, Chaos War: Alpha Flight.

It's a story that doesn't just affect a single character, but an event that happens in the fictional world that effects everyone, and several characters will have their own stories about how they're dealing with the event.

In the end, if the characters were to meet up later, they could ask each other "what were you doing when the Chaos King attacked?" and we'd have their answer.

JG: That is about as succinct an explanation I can imagine, so tell us how "Chaos War: Alpha Flight" fits into the larger story of the main "Chaos War" mini-series?

RB: Without giving too much away, at one point in Chaos War #3, we've seen that the Chaos King attacks all the pantheons of the world, including all those pantheon's equivalents to heaven and hell. As Alpha Flight fans know, Snowbird is the daughter of an Inuit goddess, so this attack effects her directly. Also as Alpha Flight fans regretfully know, many prominent Alphas are dead, so when heaven and hell get attacked, this effects them as well.

JG: Did you communicate with the other artists like the main series' artist Khoi Pham and the artist on the excellent one-shot "Chaos War: Chaos King", Michael William Kaluta, about how they are drawing the characters, scenarios, objects and on and on required to make the story tick? Is simple comic-to-comic continuity for the things like where a shirt is torn or what time of day it is at any given time managed purely by the writers and editors or some combination of everybody? Where do those continuity notes come from?

RB: Keeping everything straight is really a team effort, but like I said before, it's the writers and editors who figure out most of the nitty gritty. From time to time I'll read the script and ask for more information about things, and the editors are always happy to provide it.

As Chaos War got bigger, someone put together a database with all the scripts and all the art that had been turned in at that point for easy reference, and that was really useful. Also, I'm good friends with Khoi Pham, so we're in frequent communication anyway, so I was always aware of what he was up to.

JG: Have you begun to feel a special connection with the son of Zeus? You've drawn him now in the "Prince of Power" mini-series and a few other places.

RB: Yeah, I've been drawing Herc on and off for a while. First in the Hulk vs Hercules 1-shot, then the infamous "Replacement Thor" story in Incredible Hercules (which was actually reprinted recently in a Thor vs Hercules greatest hits collection, which is pretty cool), then a few fill-in pages in "Assault on New Olympus," and the Agents of Atlas backup stories in the Hercules: Funeral for an Avenger issues, and then Prince of Power and the recent Chaos War short, including designing his new costume.

So yeah, me and the Lion of Olympus are pretty tight at this point!

Fred Van Lente and Greg Pak are great to work with, and have been doing an awesome job with all their Hercules stories, and honestly, working on Herc's the most fun I've had at Marvel since working on Cable & Deadpool a few years back, and some of the stuff I'm most proud of.

JG: That's always great to hear a creator say! I'd imagine after re-designing his costume yourself, you must have a rather detailed understanding of how it would be affected by different circumstances. Tell me, I'm also curious about the other end of the spectrum. What if you suddenly have to draw a corporate Marvel character you've never drawn before? Do you have an official character sheet from a database of some kind to use as reference? Or are you just expected to Google everybody as best as you can?

RB: Ha! Google really is the best reference you could ask for! The writers and editors are pretty on top of things as far as getting reference to me, and I can always ask if there's something else I need to know, plus I typically do my own research anyway-- usually based on Google and Wikipedia. was a significant resource to both me and Jim McCann while working on the new issue.

So to any fans out there-- keep your Marvel fanpages up to date!! The creators ARE looking to you for reference!

JG: That is very funny to me, because the first two sites I ever built were Spider-Man fan pages. I was probably twelve-years-old at the time! Are there more short back-ups coming from you in the "Chaos War" 'event'? What's next on your drawing board?

RB: Alpha Flight's the last Chaos War-related thing you'll be seeing from me. Next up for me are a couple of Amazing Spider-Man backup features, a cover to an upcoming Thor issue, as well as a creator owned thing I've been slowly working on over the past year that I'm almost ready to come out with. Expect to hear more about that in the new year.

JG: That is very exciting, Reilly! The Long and Shortbox Of It wishes you luck in expanding into this new stage of your comics career! New creator-controlled characters and stories are the backbone of any narrative art. We also thank you for making the time to do this for us, of course!

RB: It was my pleasure! Thanks for the interest in the project! We'll have to do this again sometime. And don't forget--Chaos War: Alpha Flight comes out on Wednesday! Look for it at finer comic book stores near you!

And there you have it Long and Shortbox readers! The artistic side of shared universe storytelling in its glory and complexities. A whole lot of work goes into them funny-books, right? When a crossover 'event' is carefully structured, marketed, scheduled, edited, written, drawn and colored, it is one of the most alive forms of fiction out there because it moves and changes on schedule with the real world!

Check out Reilly Brown's blog at Outpost 51 here on blogspot and his work in the Alpha Flight one-shot out tomorrow!