Monday, 23 February 2015

Book Club Report: Marvel Knights: Spider-Man by Matt Kindt & Marco Rudy: Extreme Highs and Lowest Low

Excellence & Mediocrity
It's been awhile since our group met for Comic Book Book Club, November was cancelled, and December, well everyone's busy in December so that was also cancelled. So here we are, in January 2015, with our first book of the year. This is one of the rare occasions in which we've done a superhero book. We tend to stay away from those for a variety of reasons. They're repetitive, stale, and often time limited in their perspectives. We've done Batwoman: Elegy about 2 years ago as a way to discuss LGBT and style and we haven't done any superhero comics until today. We looked at the terribly uneven Marvel Knights: Spider-Man. The members of the group had very mixed opinions about the book. Some loved it and praised it's artistic boldness, while others hated it, with myself fitting in the latter category. It was an interesting discussion because the book is flawed beyond belief, but there are also some incredible moments within. Let's take a look.

I don't normally split reviews into different components of "art" and "story", but I feel I must in this case. Mostly because superhero comics have long ago compartmentalized those 2 aspects. The focus is usually first placed upon writing the story, and then a group of people will be tasked with illustrating it, often trying to respect the publisher's house style. Specifically here, the story accounts for most of the problems of the book. What is this book about? Well, the book seems to have 2 subtitles, Fight Night and 99 problems. I couldn't tell which one was the correct one, maybe they were both correct. Anyway, Spider-Man (Peter Parker, not any of those guys) is drugged and must fight his way through his entire rogue gallery for no apparent reason or purpose. The back cover says 99 villains, but I honestly couldn't tell how many there were. Not that it matters much anyway. It could have been one elongated fight sequence against 1 enemy and it would have achieved the same effect. Spider-Man is the underdog and he wins, I guess? He goes from one set piece to the next to fight villains, then collapses and wakes up in a new environment where he dukes it out with more villains. Repeat for 120 pages and you got yourself a book! It's revealed in the last couple of pages that it was a bet between the Kingpin and his nephew to see if he could survive fighting 100 people. Are they part of the 99 or are they the people who started this, so 101? That's it, that's all it is. 

The glorious art!
Unfortunately, this is the only thing you'll find in this book. There are no themes, no effort has been put into making this any more than it is. It's really as exciting as an old school video game without cut scenes. It's empty. And yet, this is the first point where our group disagreed. Some of us were thinking, is it enough for a book to simply have a confused guy fighting other guys for 120 pages? Can we expect more from a Spider-Man book than a constant rehash of his concept? Yet some of us, not necessarily superhero comics reader, thought it was just fine. As a standalone comic, it works perfectly well. If it's a standard action plot, should we be expecting more than what we got here? And can we see this book, as an artist showcase and nothing else? I will leave this to the readers to decide. None of us found the story to be particularly good, even those who adamantly defended it. What was surprising was that the writer was Matt Kindt, who most of us knew for writing Mind MGMT and his Top Shelf Spy books. All of his other work we were familiar with is incredibly superior to this. This felt like a wasted opportunity as we were all certain that it could have been much better than it was. 

Pain and memories, Spidey can't manage his mind...
What we could all agree with, though, was that this book was saved by Marco Rudy's incredible art and page design. This is truly what sets this book apart. Rudy cleverly designs his page to reflect the state of mind of our protagonist. At first, when he is stressed out by his life, the page is full and very crowded. When he is drugged, the page design becomes more fluid. It's a mix of painting and standard art. We'd have love to have a longer version of the book with some process pages at the end. 

The glorious art!
I'm not so sure we would recommend this book. In fact, we would recommend an equally gorgeous superior hero book by Frank J. Barbiere and Marco Rudy. New Avengers Annual #1 is the story of Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) as he is asked by a group of techno monks to rescue a young girl who's been possessed by a demon. The story draws parallel with the character origin. Dr. Strange was an arrogant surgeon who, after a car accident, was unable to use his hands again. He began dabbling in the mystic arts and became the Sorcerer Supreme. He had to learn to be humble and discover that there were lots of things he didn't know. Yet to win against this demon and save the girl, he must set aside his humbleness and be confident in his own ability; if he wavers, he will fail. A book about humbleness and hubris, and the art is superb as per the example below. We highly recommend it. It's cheaper too, and your comic book store retailer will be happy to unload copies of back issues. Everybody wins.

New Avengers Annual #1
New Avengers Annual #1

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