The Art of Intrinsic Failure:

Epic, The Cubs, and Some Reviews

Salutations, and welcome to another New Comics Day.

Well, okay, not really. New Comics Day plus a few days. Sadly, New Comics Day last week was spent in mourning after watching the Cubs blow it yet again. Black armbands, more beer, no work, that was New Comics Day. Not that it was any real surprise. They’re the Cubs — they’re destined to fail.

Bitter Demise

And speaking of failure and predestination, Epic slipped into a coma last week. The official word is that all Epic is suspended. The wording of the announcement at Newsarama suggested that it might actually come back, but then again, Newsarama recently compared decompressed storytelling to Stanley Kubrick films, perhaps the most inane and inappropriate comparison I can think of aside from the fact that 2001 bores me almost as much as the last two issues of The Ultimates. (Dave floats around in space doing nothing, Janet flies around the compound doing nothing. Hey, decompressed storytelling IS like a Kubrick film — interesting but overlong, painfully boring in stretches and irritating that I paid for it.) The writing on the wall is clear enough. (No, not that whole Watchmen thing.) Epic is as good as dead. Paging Doctor Kevorkian.

Epic’s demise is pretty clearly a by-product of Jemas’ dethroning over at Marvel. I don’t much care to badmouth Jemas in true fanboy style or defend him like more than a few columnists have done over the past week. His demotion is only germane here insofar as it pretty much proves that Epic’s abrupt ending had little or nothing to do with a business failure. How could it have failed when it hadn’t yet even started? Sure, Trouble tanked, but everybody knows Trouble was an Epic book like Governor Grab-Ass of California was a valid candidate. Most of the real books haven’t even yet been solicited.

Epic could still, in theory, succeed in business terms. Phantom Jack could sell 100,000 copies. (Stop laughing.) It’s awfully unlikely that the line would have ever worked out, though, due to the nature of Epic itself.

See, the chaff and the wheat are all mixed together.

Like it or not, Marvel, along with DC, is the big show. That doesn’t make it the best show, but the fact remains. In most any medium, occupation, sport, pretty much anything other than punk rock and homemade porn, there are filters in place. Wheat goes here, chaff goes there. If you want to make a movie that gets into 2,000 theaters, you don’t get to walk in off the street and shoot a movie with Robert DeNiro. If you want to play Wimbledon, you should probably practice your serve first.

The premise behind Epic was that amateurs would suddenly vault to the top of the big leagues. That’s an awfully romantic notion, and it makes the Mighty Ducks fan in all of us atwitter, but it’s bullshit. The next great comic writer probably isn’t jerking off in the break room of Best Buy before he goes home to watch bootlegged Malaysian copies of Indiana Jones DVDs all night. He or she is probably reading or writing something just this second, or thinking about what they’re going to be writing while they do some shitty job, or laying in bed and trying to sleep but thinking about what they’re going to be writing tomorrow.

Wheat, over here. Chaff, you’re over there.

Remember in junior high school when your PE teacher lined everyone up for dodgeball and he picked the three or four guys out, the ones who hit puberty when they were eight and had seventh grade moustaches like fucking Mario, and then he let them pick teams from the rest of the hairless, skinny-legged rabble? Well, turns out the world doesn’t change much. That’s life. You want the qualified people running the show, not the pube-less rabble.

The deal isn’t much better from a creator perspective. Getting a book published by Marvel. Wow, it’s a dream come true! Except that maybe having your first published work shoved into the hands of any more people than your girlfriend and your mother is probably a bad idea. There’s a process. There’s a proving ground. You’re not supposed to start at the top. Instead you write the best story you can for some silly-ass fifth string company or get a short published in a decent anthology here or there. (Or, God forbid, you try something different and write independent and self-published comics just for the sake and the love of it.)

Remember when everyone (and by “everyone” I mean “assholes”) was excited about American Idol, right up until the point they actually picked the winner and everyone realized that she was somehow more boring and shitty than the other pop stars? That’s because solid performances come from diligence and practice and more than a little desperation. Whatever charm may exist in Britney Spears or Christina Agulera is inexorably tied into the fact that you know they’ve wanted this for so long, ever since they strapped on mouse ears or played county fairs, and now they will by god blow anyone and everyone they have to in order to stay on top for just one more second.

The moral of the story: if you’re not willing to be nobody, get kicked around and get shit on, quit now and go back to wanking in the break room, where it’s safe.

More dick jokes next week when I’m less depressed about living in Chicago. Until then, onto the reviews.

Ultimate Spider-Man #48

Is it just me, or does this book come out three times a week? That’s not a bad thing, except that Bendis is apparently snorting massive amounts of meth and poor Mark Bagley must be chained up in a basement somewhere in New Jersey frantically drawing while Ralph Macchio threatens to put cigarettes out on his back if he doesn’t work harder.

Peter, wearing a white shirt that looks to be splattered with tomato sauce (it’s amazing when a character’s street clothes looks dumber than their costume) gets booted from the Bugle, then kicked out of school for a few days after he smarts off to a teacher. He decides to take his anger out on the Kingpin in a pretty amusing scene while, across town, Ben Urich interviews Sam Bullit, the anti-Spider-Man mayoral candidate.

The issue nicely mixes chattiness and a little Spider-Man action. It still feels like the second half of the first issue of an arc stretched into two parts. Thanks again, decompressed storytelling. While the setup in the first issue was pretty standard, the political struggles involved with Bullit and the inclusion of ace reporter Urich are turned up another notch here to nice effect. Spider-Man’s physical heroics are set in contrast with Urich’s journalistic crusade, a move that further elaborates on Spider-Man’s role as a normal person. There’s little difference between Parker and Urich. Both are using every tool in their respective kits to make the world better and safer, but it just so happens that Urich is craftier and Peter has that whole irradiated Spider-venom thing going for him.

That’s what makes Ultimate Spider-Man such a worthwhile read. Bendis truly understands the character. The gag in Spider-Man is that there is no Spider-Man, really, just Peter Parker running around in a suit. Superman and Batman are both superheroes who happen, by necessity, to have alter egos, but both characters are defined by their superheroic traits. Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne are their disguises and the spandex is their true skin. Parker, on the other hand, is always Peter Parker, he just happens to wear long underwear on occasion. So long as the writer never forgets that the inherent drama in Spider-Man is that a real person is fighting for a better world and that there really IS no superhero in the superhero book, it works. When, on the other hand, the identities are separated such as in JMS’s Amazing Spider-Man and we get an either / or situation, either Peter fights Morlun (or, haha, Dormamu) OR Peter works on his marriage, the character and subsequently the book lose any bit of interest they may have had.

Bendis, irritating as his take-your-sweet-fucking-time storytelling style may occasionally be, understands this perfectly, and that’s why Ultimate Spider-Man is simultaneously emotionally accessible and pure escapist glee.

New X-Men #148

I’m a little biased against Grant Morrison’s latest issue of X-Men, not through any fault of Morrison’s or artist Phil Jimenez’s, but because it’s a Wolverine story. There’s nothing wrong with a Wolverine story per se, but Wolverine stories are so damn commonplace right now that it’s hard to enjoy one without thinking of the six or seven lousy ones going on at the same time. This, after all, is New X-Men, and yet we see precious little X-Men action. Meanwhile, there were basically no X-Men in the entire last arc of Ultimate X-Men. So, really, if you’re an X-Men fan, you haven’t read much of your favorite book in awhile. (Except for the other two core books, but who reads those? Oh, wait, a hundred thousand people with largely poor taste.)

One can’t blame Morrison so much for this. I’m sure the “Planet X” storyline needed this Wolverine and Jean-centric issue. But, wow, am I ever tired of that hairy little bastard.

And speaking of being tired of things, can well all agree on this: enough with the Phoenix already. Morrison has done a few interesting new things with the book, but his reliance on the stupid Phoenix is just tiring. I guess what every writer on X-Men for the last two decades has been saying is, Jean Grey is interesting only insofar as a sex object, so this one thing is the best we can do for giving her anything in the way of personality or character.

See, like I said, bias.

Disclaimer excepted, I’m still confident that the “Planet X” arc is going somewhere interesting. Jimenez’s visuals continue to impress, particularly the last few pages of this book, which are absolutely beautiful. Magneto on super-meth is just plain fun, and the promise of a significant death is tantalizing even as I realize that it’s sure to be undone soon enough. It’s a weak issue but a strong arc, one that makes me a little sad that Morrison is on his way out.

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