Funnybook Babylon

January 28, 2011

Top Ten Pamphlets Bought in 2010 Not Named Daytripper of the Year: Part Two

Filed under: Blurbs — Jamaal Thomas @ 9:57 am

We celebrate New Year’s all month long at Funnybook Babylon. Here’s more of the top ten pamphlets of 2010 not named Daytripper.

6) Amazing Spider-Man #630-633: “Shed” (Zeb Wells, Chris Bachalo, Emma Rios: Marvel Comics)

“Shed” was the highlight of a great year for the Amazing Spider Man title, as the long-running Gauntlet plotline (in which Spider Man is not only tested in battle with his greatest enemies by the Kraven family, but by crippling personal and professional setbacks) and the “Brand New Day” era drew to a close. Shed is an understated story about restraint, simultaneously one of the subtlest and most terrifying mainstream comic book stories of the year.

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Zeb Wells begins to subvert the classic Marvel/DC monstrous doppleganger narrative from the first issue. The first story starts in a conventional manner. Spider Man and the Black Cat bust a robbery. Dr. Connors — the nefarious Lizard — continues his struggle against the reptile within under difficult circumstances (estranged from his family, sexually frustrated, disrespected by his boss). Peter has boring family problems. Chris Bachalo plays with black and white backgrounds in a vaguely intriguing way. At this point, I figured that this would be another story in the Gauntlet saga that finds an inventive way to reintroduce a classic Spider Man villain. Maybe the Lizard would be more powerful, or more intelligent. By the middle of the issue, Wells gave readers a hint that something would be different, by giving a character a premonition of how the story would end that perfectly matched reader expectations. We all know how a Lizard story ends. Connors goes wild as Lizard until he’s confronted by a family member or loved one. Even when a writer pushes against the limits of this narrative, we know that they will stop short of the edge. The vision of a happy ending is a warning to the reader. This will not be a classic Lizard tale.

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Over the following three issues, Wells and Bachalo tell a taut horror tale that comes remarkably close to inverting the traditional Spider Man story. I’ve read a lot of stories in which Spider-Man’s struggled or even failed against an antagonist, but this feels different. Almost all of his assumptions about the Lizard are incorrect: even at the end, he still thinks that he’s fighting a mutated Curt Connors. All of his time-tested strategies for defeating a super villain prove completely ineffective. It feels like he’s always five minutes too late. There is no banter. In the end, Spider-Man doesn’t achieve his goals via a prolonged action set piece, he wins by outthinking his opponent and in one key moment, refusing to act: surrendering to a vicious mob in a dark nod to a famous scene from the second Spider-Man film.

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It’s a refreshing departure, particularly when I realized that Shed featured relatively few trademark Spider Man feats of acrobatic violence.

I also appreciated Wells’s willingness to engage with his premise by the end of the story. On one hand, “Shed” is a story about the triumph of human decency, from the Christ-like faux sacrifice of Spider Man to the subplot featuring Aunt May, over the reptilian darkness within. Mammalian propaganda if you will. On the other, the end of the story reminds us that shame and guilt don’t necessarily deter someone from engaging in wrongdoing. I’ll admit, on the first read, I thought that Shed presented a moral universe in which commonly held values about shame, nudity and murder were treated as essential to the human experience. Even though I suspect that we’re meant to assume that the Lizard is either dishonest or delusional when he talks about “killing” Connors, I thought the scenes where the Lizard realizes that he is unclothed and needs to be dressed and where he feels shame for Billy’s death, which seems to come from the fact that murder is wrong, not that killing ones’ offspring is wrong, didn’t resonate. Upon further reflection, I think that Wells was aiming for something a little more complex: the Lizard was disoriented when the mammalian part of his brain began to reemerge, but the end of the book suggests that he had successfully integrated his two selves, with potentially unpredictable long-term results.

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I wish that I could buy a Bachalo-pencilled title every month. He combines kinetic (and coherent) action scenes with uniquely expressive characters to tell a compelling story, no matter the quality of the actual writing. Bachalo is in absolute control of every page, using all available space to move the story forward, set the mood or focus the reader’s attention. Everything is layered with meaning.

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The first time Spider Man confronts the Lizard in “Shed”, Bachalo gives the reader a stylized version of a classic scene: the two foes confronting each other in a pile of rubble. The Lizard is big, almost alligator like, but has the familiar slacks and lab coat. His mouth is closed. Even though he poses a threat, there’s almost something docile about his appearance, as if he’s just a strangely mutated man.

As David Brothers observed in his great piece on Bachalo , the image below doesn’t just focus the reader’s attention to the two figures in the panel, but underlines the severity of the threat faced by Spider-Man. Bachalo shows us a Spider-Man overshadowed by the redesigned Lizard, who has transformed into a giant humanoid reptile. This Lizard is utterly inhuman. He/it doesn’t just want to defeat Spider Man. He may want to devour him.

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I could’ve easily picked a number of Amazing Spider Man arcs for this slot — “Grim Hunt” itself and “Origin of the Species” come to mind — but there’s something else that puts Shed over the top.

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This is the moment when Shed became more than a flawlessly executed superhero book. The Lizard finally sees the world from a ‘mammalian’ perspective and realizes that even in his evolved state, he had been viewing the world through a blinkered perspective. It’s a tragic moment that calls back to classic monster movies. In a perverse way, it’s almost moving.

5) Batman & Robin (Grant Morrison, Frazer Irving, Cameron Stewart, Andy Clarke, Dustin Nguyen: DC Comics)

Batman & Robin is the perfect blend of clever ideas that inspire annotations and almost flawless storytelling. Morrison puts on a clinic with fully realized characters, pitch perfect dialogue and thoughtfully constructed action scenes, particularly the ones depicted by Cameron Stewart, Andy Clarke, and Frazer Irving, who turned in some of the best work of their respective careers this year. Yeah, Morrison’s grand Batman narrative is great fun, but that sense of relief you felt when Bruce returned in issue 15?

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It only matters because Grant’s writing makes the reader feel invested in the characters and care about the stakes in the world he created.

Coming Soon : The third part of the Best Pamphlets of 2010 Not Named Daytripper! More cool pop-culture things in 2010!

3 Comments »

  1. On “Shed”, this stuff has not been bold or innovative in at least 25 years. Geoff Johns tells two stories like this a month. I am personally both bored and disgusted by it.

    Comment by Dean — January 28, 2011 @ 2:03 pm

  2. Shed is a superior example of this sort of thing. If we weren’t drowning in this sort of thing, it would have meant more. BUt despite my love for Wells, the quality of the arc, etc, I keep coming back to this:

    An innocent child got eaten alive and Spider-Man failed to stop it.

    And in the next arc, ANOTHER innocent child got eaten alive and Spider-man LET HER MURDERERS ESCAPE.

    Comment by Dan Coyle — February 12, 2011 @ 1:14 am

  3. really good post, i definitely enjoy this web site, maintain on it

    Comment by wallpaper for wall — September 8, 2011 @ 5:54 am

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