Wednesday, September 14, 2011


Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Penciler: Sara Pichelli

Today Marvel has relaunched it's Ultimate Spider-Man which is a big deal for a few reasons. I'd be remiss if I didn't give a slight history lesson here. The Ultimate Marvel line relaunched years ago (2000) and it's purpose was to reintroduce new readers to the origins of it's many great characters set in present day. Creators were allowed to tinker with origins and story arcs for these established heroes. The results were a huge success. Even jaded, long time fans like myself really dug the new modern day twist on all the new Marvel heroes from Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, The X-Men, and most of all Ultimate Spider-Man. The Ultimate books actually became preferable to the normal Marvel canon.

An argument could be made that creatively, Ultimate Spider-Man written by Brian Michael Bendis and drawn by Mark Bagley is the single greatest run in an ongoing title ever and as far as modern comics go; one of the most successful.

Comics kill their heroes all the time. This isn't something new or even unexpected to the initiated. But when Bendis killed Peter Parker by the hands of the Green Goblin saving Aunt May, Gwen Stacey (yep she's still alive in this Spidey), and of course Mary Jane. Everyone understandably had their doubts. To date Bendis says "Peter Parker is dead" and "dead is dead", "no coming back". This remains to be seen but I have a tendency to believe him.

So Peter Parker is dead and we have a relaunch of the Ultimate Spider-Man series. Which brings us a new Spider-Man, new characters, a new creative dynamic and couldn't possibly ascend to the heights of one of the best ongoing series of all-time. Can it?

I can only answer with a resounding yes! This is one of the best new issues of a complete overhaul of an ongoing series I've ever seen. We are introduced to our new Spider-Man, Miles Morales. A biracial (Latino and African American) teen from Brooklyn. We are also introduced to his mother and father, we understand very quickly they have a very normal family. They accompany Miles to a lottery for entry into a charter school. They try their best to hide how important it is he gain entry, all the while assuring him that it's okay if he doesn't get picked. (If any of you have seen 'Waiting for Superman' you have a sense of the importance of charter schools for inner city kids). I won't spoil this plot point but I will say the number 42 takes on great significance in the opening issue. Here's to hoping Bendis keeps 42 popping up for all of us nerds whom were so affected by 'Lost'.

Creatively Bendis and Pichelli are firing on all cylinders. We quickly care for all of our new characters due to Bendis' strong writing and Pichellis' pencils bring out tons of emotions in the character's expressive faces and body language. It is just a single issue and you don't have years of collaboration to judge but this comic has a beautiful symbiotic relationship between writer and artist. Don't crucify me but I'll also say that I prefer Pichelli's more realistic art to Bagley's classic comic.

This is Spider-Man. This is a Spider-Man comic. If you love Peter Parker, Miles is also just a kid trying to get through the day and some days are better than others. This is the Ultimate Spider-Man Marvel should of created 11 years ago. It is a post-racial, post 9/11 revamp of a CLASSIC character. We truly don't know what to expect from this 'Spider-Man' book. The feeling is really astounding! I'm already excited for the next issue and can't wait to see what Amazingly, Spectaculer things Spider-Man does.

Friday, September 09, 2011


Director: Steven Soderbergh

Starring: Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law

One should approach 'Contagion' as a horror film. Not unlike countless other horror films 'Contagion' plays on our fear of the unseen.
Think of seeing a shadowy figure in the background or doors opening, seemingly of their own accord. Soderbergh masterfully toys with this innate fear. We become tense at the sight of someone coughing, exchanging money, or shaking hands. To simply call this a genre exercise completely undermines the quality of the film and depth of research that went into making this minor classic. I won't get into the level of authenticity in this love letter but a good article can be found here

We quickly learn and understand that a global pandemic is substantially more terrifying than any monster, ghost, or demon.
'Contagion' is affecting. Not in a way that keeps you up at night and scared of what's in the shadows. It affects you in your daily life as you shake someones hand or worry about how many times you put your hands to your face without washing them. In essence, you become a caricature of Woody Allen.

Soderbergh invests massive amounts of time in the handling of such a pandemic by the CDC and global health organizations. We take time to learn about the effects of such a virus on families and how life shattering an unexpected death can be. We spend time getting to know a blogger whose amassed legions of fans due to his wild conspiracy theories and how people can put stock in someone they would generally dismiss when they aren't given enough information. These decisions ground us in reality and give us emotional anchors in which to cling or possibly even HOPE. All the while people start to get sick and die. In as little as 2 to 3 weeks we are panicked and all of our worst characteristics start to show. We slowly start to lose our sense of community, loot, steal, kill, and look for someone to blame for our misfortune. Most of the time we blame the people trying the hardest to help.

Soderbergh isn't one to just dip his toe into a genre. He explores what is interesting and unique about them while not being a slave to the conventions.
'Contagion' isn't just a great "horror" film, it's a great film. It belongs in the same discussion with films such as 'Don't Look Now' (Ebert's review) and 'Rosemary's Baby'. Films that rise above their cinematic brethren and elevate the discussion of an entire "genre".

"Bloggers are graffiti artist with punctuation". -Elliot Gould (Contagion)

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