Saturday, November 5, 2011

Best of Times/Worst of Times: Cinematic Storytelling Part 2!

OK, so...Cloak & Dagger: Spider-Island doesn't really have anything to do with Spider-Island.  You would not get that notion from the "Cloak & Dagger: Spider Island" banner, or the legion of guys in Spider-Man costumes littering the cover.  This is called "button-hooking" the audience, and it does not add value to the package.  In fact, it's a giant dick in a disadvantaged orifice.

Oh, some will look at the trim and claim I'm hyperbolizing.  Yes, there are spider mutates mucking about in the background of the series.  Dagger even fights some for a little bit in issue # 1 before she decides she'd rather be going to her community college course.  That's how important Spider Island is to this series - Dagger actually engages with it and then basically says "This is boring the shit out of me, I'd rather do homework."  So if you dropped your money down looking for events to flesh out what Dan Slott is doing over in Amazing Spider-Man, then Marvel willfully lied to you and stole your money.  Now that's value!

No, the story has nothing whatever to do with Spider Island.  This is about Nick Spencer re-defining Cloak & Dagger, physically and thematically.  The catalyst is one Mr. Negative, who is burdened with a prophecy that Dagger will be the death of him. 

Spoilers ahoy now - he captures her, uses some kind of mysticism to invert her powers and turn her into a darkforce wielder, and then Cloak shows up to save her, and somewhere in the process he turns into a light wielder.  So they make out, their powers flip-flop, and then Mr. Negative just leaves her alone.

Now, that may be all well and good.  Maybe.  It's a very weird anti-climax that Negative just lets her go, although that weirdness is at least acknowledged in the script.  It doesn't necessarily make the story feel more satisfying, though.  It feels like most everything in Marvel feels like these days - narrative check kiting.  "I know you didn't get what you were looking for in this story, kids, but that's because we've got the REAL big thing coming up next!"  And then the next "real big thing" comes along and fails miserably as well, but just wait until that next one, folks, when the SUPER real big stuff happens!  Pfff.  I'm not amused.

Which isn't to say that nothing happened in the series.  Parts of it were quite entertaining.  I enjoyed the new takes on both Ty and Tandy, they felt more like real people than they have in, well, ever.  Switching the powers/roles of the duo is, I suppose, a "big thing" potentially.  Mr. Negative was sort of refreshing in that he's smarter than your average bad guy bear.  I'm not saying I've never seen this before, but often the best guys are truly evil while still maintaining a strict sense of honor and use next-level thinking more than brute violence.  Peter David is the king of writing these villains.  And to be fair, I think the end of the book, where Spencer goes for the slightly more difficult emotional ending carried by tenderness?  I think that worked.  Basically.

But it was all overplayed, there wasn't enough in it, and it took me about four minutes to read.  And this is where the devil's advocates begin to rant "Ah man, it took you four minutes because you're not stopping to appreciate the art and pause to absorb everything and let it sink in!"

To which I reply:  it took me four minutes to read because there twenty pages of content, and by my count nine of those were either splash pages or double splash pages.  That's bullshit.  No story is that big.  If cracked the galaxy in half, you don't need nine splash pages to do that.  A couple of crazy New York kids switching their super-powers definitely don't need nine splash pages.

It's gets to the point where I can't even really guess the purpose any more.  Here's the first splash page of the comic, which is really nothing more than just changing scenery:

What is the point of that?  Can you even see anything in that shot?  Yeah, spiders are running around, we get it. What was so important there, that it required 5% of the entire story space?  There is such a thing as the Law of Diminishing Returns.  The splash page, near as I can reckon, is a trick in the artist's tool box to lock in on a key moment in a story or character's progression.  It says "big" by being physically larger, showing more detail, using a greater percentage of the story space to give a dynamic moment a chance to be all that it can be in relation to the rest of the text.  That's what it's supposed to be.

The above panel is....just a change of scenery.  We already know things got dark.  We already know there are giant mutated spiders running around.  Nothing is at stake, and nothing is amplified because none of the figures are large enough to exhibit any detail.  To me, this is inexcusable, even it weren't over used. 

But it is.  A large number of panels for a page in this comic is five.  The scene where Ty moves in to save Tandy from the darkness?  Big scene, sure.  But it takes up six pages, five of which are either splash or double splash pages.  Four of them amount to a pair of "making out" double splashes.  It's too much, man, and it's overdone. 

And then you've got three pages of post spit-swapping pillow talk, followed by a fourth splash page:

It's pure self indulgence.  It's writers thinking that every one of their scenes is a shining pearl in the annals of the medium, and nothing less than a full panoramic view will suffice for the legendary shit they're putting down.  It's artists who are more in love with their secondary market re-sale value than the story their telling.  The pin-ups look good.  Mostly.  But you get to the end of the comic, and most of what happened:

A) Had nothing to do with Spider-Island, in direct opposition to all promises and marketing
B) Didn't particularly make sense given the motivations of the villain as portrayed in the series
C) Seems built entirely to erase all drama within the series in order to point to the next series
D) Takes a few scant minutes to plow through

Just to reiterate, I don't think Cloak & Dagger: Spider Island is a bad story.  I think what's there is enjoyable.  But it feels light, and inefficient, and self-indulgent.  A thing can be good and still be over-priced, and that's exactly what Cloak & Dagger is.  Unfortunately, that's what a lot of comics in 2001 are.

- Ryan

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