Anchor Panel Archive: Action Comics vs Ultimate Spider-Man
To cheer ourselves up in the doldrums of winter, we here at the Anchor Panel have decided to discuss the launches of two marquee comic franchises. First though, some introductions. I am joined this month by one of the key artistic contributors at 22 Pages, Khaiam Dar. Say hello Khaiam.
Yeah, thanks, guy. Despite my partner's desire to play it coy, we are going to dive into the new Action Comics and Ultimate Spider-Man titles, which both present bold new moves for their respective publishers DC and Marvel.
No coy? Well then, I gotta say, as enjoyable as both are, I am definitely liking Ultimate Spiderman (USM) more. Don't get me wrong, Action Comics (AC) is a homerun, but I think Spiderman has the elements that make a great comic woven together better. As far as the first story arc goes, writing, art, and accessibility are in my opinion USM's corner.
It's alive! Well now we know where you stand. I also liked the Spider-Man re-launch but was more intrigued by the potential pyrotechnics of Grant Morrison's Superman reimagining. Let's give some context first, perhaps?
For those of you who didn't read the 22 Pages end of the year countdown "Top 11 of '11," I wrote a blurb describing USM as one of the more important events of the past year.
Editor's Note: You can find the whole countdown here. It is probably worth checking out.
To summarize: the Peter Parker of Marvel's Ultimate (modernized) universe is killed, and through some clever writing, a similar spider to the one that bit him has now bit Miles Morales and given him comparable powers. The first arc gives us an introduction to the new environment of middle school alienation and the power of a superhuman in the hands of a teenager.
Right on. As for Superman, DC is doing something a bit different. They've promised that this #1 is an actual #1. As in, forget the last 80 years and all the infinity crises, just focus on the idea of a humanoid alien being launched to earth from a dying planet. What would the result be? What are the implications?
The result? Still Superman. Basically what we've been seeing for the last 80 years. Morrison's writing is definitely going to be working on a cosmic scale so I'm skeptical as to how easy it will be for new readers to join in and appreciate the layers he's putting into the work.
No faith! I like the idea Morrison has for using the existing iconography and characters to tell a brand new (as in, from the absolute beginning) story. The first couple of issues really attempt to reframe the entire mythos of Superman and spin everything on a slightly different axis.
OK, I will admit that Morrison is trying hard to create an honest, fully realized reboot, not just something that will connect to old stories all over again.
Ah-ha, exactly and I feel like this is an important distinction. DC is attempting to reboot the entire Superman idea in a modern setting (much like the Ultimate line for Marvel originally had set out to do with the Avengers, Spider-Man, etc.) but they are completely flushing out their old continuity. The Spider-Man story is a bit of a different animal; it is building off of what went before which is both intriguing and mildly intimidating.
Yeah, I'll definitely agree they're different creatures. Action Comics really is giving readers a chance to join in from the absolute start. USM is reorganizing the wagon for new band members to jump on (band wagon jumpers?). Ok, no more sports analogies. Spiderman is easier to follow than my last sentence. I love Grant Morrison, but are new fans going to be able to really appreciate all the Easter eggs and foreshadowing? Doubt it.
Easter eggs and foreshadowing? Come on, Action Comics quickly throws the reader into the situation. Superman is now a man in a t-shirt and jeans with a small cape. Lex is part of some government research outfit. And the ship that brought Clark is powered by a Brainiac computer system. This is cool stuff!
Grant Morrison knows that when you read 'Lex Luthor,' you know that's the bad guy in a Superman story. He knows when we think of Lois Lane we think 'Superman's girlfriend'. And it's almost counterintuitive to read something that doesn't follow those guidelines.
But this is its strength! You don't have to understand where any of these characters come from. They are by design, created as if for the first time or repurposed for some brand new story.
I suppose what some people will have a hard time letting those notions go, and some people will welcome it with open arms. And speaking of letting things go, I love Peter Parker, but I was definitely one of those people who welcomed the idea of a new kid taking up the mantle of Spider-Man.
Ok, yes the USM storyline is cool, too. You've put me in a weird spot because I do really like the idea of a new Spider-Man. And setting the story in our contemporary society (with social media, charter schools and an increased prominence of racial diversity), is one that offers a host of new storytelling opportunities. But still, all of that history is out there!
Sure, a lot of Parker's story informed who Spiderman was, now we get to see a new legend built on a new nerd in over his head. Miles has his own set of issues to deal with aside from being a geek, first and foremost being that he exists in the same world as the previous Spider-Man.
That and one other tidbit! We haven't even touched on the most headline grabbing aspect of the USM re-launch. While DC grabbed its share of attention because of its company wide reboot, Marvel definitely enjoyed some spotlight when they revealed the new Spider-Man to be a young black kid.
Heh, first, he's 'Afro-Latino,' and second, I think maybe Marvel wanted to make this a non-issue. I mean isn't that the point? That it shouldn't matter what Spiderman's skin colour is.
Preach it, man.
Anyways, it's the Ultimate Universe, and Nick 'Sam Jackson' Fury is black, so it almost becomes a moot point. There were some people I remember complaining about it, but they had to be careful cause while nerd rage is adorable, race rage is not. Nerd no like change.
In the end, yeah, it has not quite the same impact as if they had done it in, say, 1970, but still, it definitely went a long way towards making the character feeling fresh even if the series is still strongly referential in certain ways.
Well, it still really helps to know the events of various Marvel mega events. It helps to know what was going on in USM before the introduction of Miles. It helps to know that Norman Osborne is still alive (again).
Yeah, and already in the first arc we're introduced to Spider-Woman, who may be Peter Parker's fem-clone (do they really think I'm going to go back and read up on that?).
Editor's Note: Do not go back and read up on that.
I will concede to my annoyance with death being such a weak force, especially around the Marvel Mega Events, and how to know every detail about every part of this story you'd have to read several dozen comics, but that doesn't mean that USM isn't an 'Amazing' read. (You see what I did there? Like, 'Amazing Spiderman'?)
Sigh. We almost made it to the end, Khaiam. Moving on, Bendis has shown that he can work within this new framework well and does create a nice little setup for the story (even if he has to cram his trademark wordy style in there to do it).
A-huh. Well I think it's just snappy dialogue.
You just let loose with that terrible joke and now you are talking about 'snappy dialogue'?
Nevertheless! This is a visual medium, so if we're going to take any cracks, how about the art in Action Comics? Far be it for me to question the work of Rags Morales, he's obviously more skilled than I, but his work seemed a bit blotchy as if people's faces were smudged while he was inking.
Yeah, I wasn't crazy about the art but Andy Kubert does provide a steady hand for AC in the latter issues.
Fine. As for the art in USM, I'm really dazzled by the style, simplicity and slick story telling. But its art, so everyone is going to enjoy different elements of it. It is funny you mention those last couple of issues of AC though...
Can we talk about whatever the Anti-Superman League and the time travelling Future Supermen were supposed to be?
Still think the first story arc of Action Comics was better than Ultimate Spider-Man?
And that's all the time we have this month. Thanks Khaiam for stopping by. Be sure to check out the column next week as Alex Correa and I investigate the comic titles secretly ready for a translation to TV or film.