Monday, July 30, 2007

Spider-Man / Red Sonja #1

Spider-Man participates in his latest crossover book this week, randomly crossing paths with the chain mail-adorned, sword-wielding lady warrior Red Sonja. The two have actually met once before, way back in Marvel Team-Up #79, a notorious 1979 tale by Chris Claremont and John Byrne. Now, nearly thirty years later, Michael Avon Oeming and Mel Rubi do their best to honor the work of that highly regarded duo in a five-issue mini-series featuring the same characters.

Michael Avon Oeming’s story takes many of its cues from that Team-Up original – the villain, the diabolical means of his arrival, the uneasy air between the title characters – and the basic plot holds up surprisingly well. Oeming’s little twists on that existing story, however, leave me wanting a bit more. For the first in a five-issue series, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of substance here, and I’m not sure how he’ll stretch the concept through the entire run. None of the major threads introduced here are substantial enough to require another four issues to wrap up, which makes me think that the following issues will be overflowing with filler – just like a lot of this one was.

I’ve read some of his writing before and enjoyed it, but Oeming seems to be out of his element here. He never adequately addresses the vast cultural differences between the middle ages and the modern age, so there’s a major hiccup when the two begin to intertwine. He shrinks the size of the city enormously: how were all of these major faces in the same block of Manhattan at the same time on the same night? He struggles with the identities of some of Spider-Man’s most well defined characters, instead reducing them to a minor supporting cast and eliminating their most interesting quirks and flaws. Somehow, I can’t imagine J. Jonah Jameson saying something like “Your sorcery is indeed strong.”

Hiding behind a beautiful Michael Turner cover, you might be surprised to discover that Mel Rubi’s interior artwork is fairly mundane. His style fits into the Marvel archetype but is inoffensive to a fault, lacking in personality and rarely taking any risks. It’s also unflattering to the subject – there’s a panel early in the book of Spidey standing upright in an alleyway that’s just begging for a touch of creative liberty, but is instead rudimentary, painfully dull and surprisingly squat and pudgy. As the issue progresses, he loosens up a bit in this regard, but never seems entirely comfortable with the characters.

Rubi rarely takes an opportunity to allow the shadows to play a part in his rendering, and it really serves to flatten his style and erase a lot of the life from these panels. On the rare occasion that he’s all but forced to stray from his habit of straightforward line work and introduce some dark blocks of shadow, he struggles. The last page is an especially bizarre example, as the two heroes meet on a rooftop and stand mere inches from one another. Spidey is utterly awash in strangely placed shadows while Sonja stands completely lit, not a dark spot on her body. It almost looks like the illustration is only partially finished.

He also opts to sketch Spider-Man with a variety of different expressions on the eyes of his mask from panel to panel, which is a major pet peeve of mine. The mask doesn’t work that way. If you can’t think of a way to establish that Peter is confused or angry through body language, maybe you should stay clear of masked characters in general.

This is a crossover for crossover’s sake, really. There wasn’t any need to bring these two characters together again, save to reignite interest in their original one-shot, and it doesn’t look like they have any plans to reprint that issue in the near future. If you’ve read the Claremont / Byrne take on this clash, you can skip this without missing a thing, as it’s basically a modernized version of the same story. If you’re new to the experience… eh, skip it anyway and try to get your hands on the original. It’s selling for three bucks on eBay at the moment, and you won’t have to wade through four additional issues to get a resolution.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 2

No comments: