Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Spider Too?

Dynamite released the news that they are also doing a comic featuring the pulp hero the Spider! What this means for Moonstone who publishes various illustrated Spider stories, one can only guess. Dynamite made news when they announced they were doing the Phantom which was still being published by Moonstone at the time. It took about a year, but eventually the Phantom did end up at Moonstone. However, DC doing comics with the Street & Smith characters didn't impact Moonstone's prose projects with the characters and Moonstone did a Green Hornet prose book at the same time Dynamite was doing the comic. As most of their work with the Spider could hardly be considered actual comics, it's possible that we'll see one publisher reprinting the original pulps, one doing new prose short-stories and another doing a comic.

Dynamite released a bit more news concerning the Spider comic which might give an inkling as to their approach with the Shadow. Starting with, the Spider is being redesigned by Alex Ross! It's not much of a redesign as it's basically tweaking his serial costume and it's not bad. And, it appears the Spider will be in the present day.

Neither of these is necessarily bad, but it does show yesterday's optimism to be a little misplaced.

I had hoped that maybe the company and creators might have learned something with Kirby Genesis where interviews are given to re-assure readers and fans that Kirby's designs would be left intact and effort would be made to keep to the spirit and characterization that he set forth with the characters. It seems strange to me that in today's market, that creators need to actually stress that when talking about a project, but it's the reality of the world we live in today. Where DC and other companies are trying so hard to get characters wrong and crowing about it as if that's a good thing, it's actually needs to be said that a book might be coming out with the characters looking and acting like they were envisioned by their creator.

Out of that content, these changes are not necessarily a bad thing though. In the comicbook mini-series Mystery Men written by David Liss, something that comes home is how much of today's world is like the world that the pulp heroes acted out of. I think much of what made the pulp crime-fighters like the Shadow and the Spider appealing, we have the same conditions today: racism and class inequality, the wealthy getting wealthier while the poor are getting poorer, wars and instability overseas, wealthy criminals getting off with slaps on the wrist. Handled correctly, I can easily see the likes of the Spider and the Shadow operating in the world of today. Doc Savage is the one that's harder to handle as so much of his world centered on super-science and unexplored places. Translated to today, a Doc Savage ongoing should be something akin to the television show Fringe coupled with Eureka and Warehouse 13 with clones, parallel worlds, insane experiments. But, the night avengers I can see as being just as relevant today as then (one of the things I liked about Nolan's Batman movies is that they would also be great Spider movies with hardly an adjustment, maybe even better).

The look as noted comes from the Spider's movie serials which is hardly how he looked in the pulps. The thing is, his look wasn't always consistent in the pulps either, sometimes he was just Wentworth for most of the story, with a few attempts at disguise as a crook or a simple mask. Sometimes he had a fright wig, fake fanged teeth and a hump! Sometimes he had the wig and teeth but no mention of a hump. The pulp covers were more consistent though a little more generic, but that's the way I often envisioned him, regardless of how he was described inside: black suit, cape, hat and mask and a gun in hand. However, this is a striking look that at least has precedent with the character and could serve the character well as a comicbook hero.

David Liss of Mystery Men (the Marvel comic, not the movie) has been slated as the writer. He is a good writer and captures the pulp era well in his few comic credits at Marvel. The Spider is even trickier to capture correctly by modern writers than the Shadow though. Both seem to have the problem that modern writers cannot get past the violence and the Spider is even moreso than the Shadow. But, Norvell Page wrote the character of Wentworth and the Spider as one of intense passion in everything he did. It was his passion of empathy for his fellow man, for the endangered innocents and the hatred of the crooks that cops could not touch through their cleverness, audacity or just ability at working the system that drove him to meet steel with steel at great personal risk. He operates in a world where the common gangsters are along the lines of Hitler and Stalin and can be opposed by one man if he's daring enough. There seems to be an inability of many to really grasp that, only seeing the extreme violence and portray the character as being one of questionable sanity. Once you start questioning his sanity, you really lose what the character is supposed to be about. The Spider takes great gambles with life on the line, but he's always a sane man in an insane situation. He's no more nuts than John McClane in the movie Die Hard.

I have to admit, I'm not enamored of the interior artwork presented. The computerized coloring is very evident and makes everything look a bit too pristine and artificial looking without communicating any sense of mood or atmosphere. I had forgotten to list that yesterday of among the things I tend to not like of Dynamite's books. The coloring often obliterates the line work. Which is fine if your colorist is actually a painter and painting the books, but the coloring is often obviously done on a computer by a colorist that doesn't seem to understand using coloring to communicate mood, story or even how to facilitate "reading" the illustrations and stories that are being printed over reading the comic via computer monitor. Colors are often too dark or too saturated, everything is lit as if it is being lit in a studio with harsh lights producing bright highlights and shadows on every object. Every surface has an obvious gradient to it. Backgrounds and moving objects all are blurred, every light produces lens flares. The end result is not making the art look more realistic than the old coloring methods but just unrealistic in different ways. If anything, the use of filters and gradients in efforts to make the artwork look more photo-realistic often has the opposite effect by highlighting the unrealistic nature of the artwork. It's like watching David Boreanaz acting opposite cartoon Stewie Griffin.

Meanwhile, there's no sense of movement in the panels presented. The characters all look like they are posing for photo stills from a movie set traced over in photoshop judging by the cold unvarying line widths. A comic doesn't have actual movement, a single panel often needs to communicate three bits of time simultaneously: suggest the movement a second before, the present, as well as the result of a second after. There's zero movement, mood or passion in the pages presented. It looks "realistic" but in a very staid, antiseptic way. The exact opposite of the effect you want to go for with characters like these. Again, look to Marvel's Mystery Men to see it being done right.

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