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Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Spider-Girl (MC2 universe)

 "No one dies on my watch"
Writer: Tom DeFalco
Pencils: Pat Oliffe
Inks: Various
Colours: Various
Letters: Various
Publisher: Marvel Comics

What's it about?
Spider-Girl is May Parker, the daughter of Peter Parker (Spider-Man) and Mary-Jane Watson.  This series is set in the Marvel Comics 2 (MC2) universe, a sort of What If? parallel reality where creators can explore alternative ideas.  In the main continuity May Parker was snatched from her parents shortly after birth, and is presumed dead.  In this MC2 universe she was snatched but then given back, and is now about 15 years old.  She's a regular schoolgirl - reasonable student, loves basketball and plays for the school team.  As the series starts she is just starting to exhibit her inherited spider powers, more or less the same as her Dad's.
Image on the right is from issue 56.

This series is about her life - how she dons the Spider-Girl mantle, how she deals with new villains and old heroes, how she manages school life and superheroics, and how her parents support her in her new activities.  It's a basic premise, delivered with a sense of fun and love.

What's good about it?
This series is good fun.  It seems to be written as a labour of love, from fans of the character to fans of the character.  As such, there's little editorial meddling and the plots flow smoothly.  At times it's dramatic, and at times it's humorous.  May is developed into a very different character and Spider-person from her father.  Where Peter constantly quipped and made jokes, May is more likely to ask questions and just get on with it.

It's a perfect series to give young kids - probably most suitable for those aged 8 or above.  Also good for teenagers.

When I first tried to read this series several years ago I couldn't bear it.  I got part way through the first issue and found it unbearably infantile and chummy.  Perhaps even smug.  When trying it again recently, I found it was nothing like this.  I'm not quite sure what prompted me to those feelings in the first place, but if you find yourself with a similar reaction, please don't give up on it.  Read on a little bit further.
The above image is from issue 3

From a political viewpoint, this comic has a nice diversity of characters in the cast.  May's best female friend is African-American and her best male friend is Asian-American. May is friends with different 'types' of high school kids - there's the jocks, the science fans, the sporty types, and the quiet oft-ignored kids.  None of these are empty stereotypes - although at first glance they appear to fit a particular mould, the writers and artists make them three-dimensional and allow them to grow as people.  There's a definite respect for intelligence, moral responsibility, and hard work within the series.

This is from issue 45

Lastly, I would like to mention Normie Osborn's personal journey.  He's the grandson of the first Green Goblin and starts the series as a deluded villain.  Later he is redeemed and starts supporting May, staying in the good area of the moral compass.  He then avoids a lot of the pitfalls that other comics succumb to.  For example, he doesn't go back to villainy at the drop of a hat. He becomes a real person.

What's bad about it?
There's a lot of legacy heroes in this (see image on the right from issue 34) who we are suppose to admire, but are not shown why we should admire them.  It's set 20 years (ish) after main continuity so, for example, a lot of the original Fantastic 4 and Avengers members have retired.  They have been replaced by their sons and daughters, all with the requisite power set.  This might mean a lot to readers who are already fans of the original set but if you're not, they just seem rather rubbish.  They do the superhero thing well enough, but there is not the sense of awe that there should be.  They seem like second rate knock offs.  This may be because of the names and costumes, which are not at all inspirational, but it's also because the writers don't really show us why they deserve this legacy.  It's just expected that we should be impressed.
However it must be said that these legacy heroes are mostly on the periphery of the story.  For other legacy heroes and villains that are closer to May Parker we do really get to know them.

My other criticism is the discord between May's voiced morals and her actions.  In later issues she talks about her distaste for violence, about how she would rather solve problems with words, not her fists.  The problem is, this is often voiced whilst she's in the middle of a fight.  So, like the problem with the legacy heroes mentioned above, the dialogue is telling us one thing, but when taken in conjunction with the artwork, it isn't showing us this.  There are supervillain fights in almost every issue, but the dialogue and May's words seem to be arguing for different events occurring.

What's the art like?
You get the same penciller team throughout the series, so there is a consistent feel and style.  The inker, colourist, and letterer change but always gel with the incumbent creators.  The writer and penciller work well together to show us the story and move the plot along.
The above page is from one of the later trades, but I'm sorry I can't recall which one as I didn't make a note at the time.  Look at the way the penciller has captured May's mood, from rushing around in the top two panels, to shock and sheer humiliation and shame in the final 3.

The best Spider-Man art gives us iconic poses and striking backdrops.  I feel that Spider-folk should give us insectile imagery and cool panels of web swinging around the city.  In that, Spider-Girl delivers admirably.
This image is from issue 34.

We could do quite well without some of the oddly contorted poses May is pulling.  As an example take the following two pages, both from issue 96:

They both feature great, iconic images of the spider sense kicking, of web shooting and swinging, but also some quite unusual positions for her arse and legs.  This sort of thing doesn't happen often, but it is jarring when it does.  Then there's this from the 1999 annual:
She kind of looks like she's flying here, that's not right.

On the other hand - when it's good, it's good.  You can see that real thought has gone into the colouring scheme, so that the finished artwork reflects the mood and emotion of the story.  The shading and colours on the following panel, from issue 56, illustrate this nicely, as the background purples echo the Green Goblin's costume.
The images throughout this review have been plucked randomly from all issues in the series.  As you can see, the art does evolve over time but retains the same feeling and overall style.  By issue 100 it's pretty perfect:

Other information
This series has been collected into 17 trades, and there are various other books May appears in.  For a full list visit this page on Trade Reading Order.  She was (is) a very popular character, hence the large amount of books available.

For Spider-Girl's own trades here is each one, in reading order, with a link to the Amazon listing.  You should be able to get each one for between 6 and 10 pounds.
N.B. Unless indicated otherwise, these are all digest sized.
Spider-Girl volume 1: Legacy (How it all started.)
Spider-Girl volume 2: Like Father, Like Daughter (I think this is the one where her parents find out about her  heroing - they ain't best pleased!)
Spider-Girl volume 3: Avenging Allies (This features the legacy heroes talked about above.  In my opinion, not the best collection.)
Spider-Girl volume 4: Turning Point (I believe this may be the one showing Normie Osborn's move from villainy to heroism.)
Spider-Girl volume 5: Endgame (May loses her powers but is unwilling to give up heroics.)
Spider-Girl volume 6: Too Many Spiders (May is still dealing with her lost powers and then a new Spider-Man turns up.)
Spider-Girl volume 7: Betrayed (May makes some not very good decisions and alliances.)
Spider-Girl volume 8: Duty Calls (May gets a sidekick and an old Spider-Man ally is revealed as bisexual.  I say revealed - we see her embracing her partner in her own home. It's not sexual, it's friendly and romantic.  It's a good step forward to comics.  If you want spoilers see a post I did on my other blog here.)
Spider-Girl volume 9: Secret Lives (The new Spider-Man is still around, causing trouble.  And what is wrong with Mary-Jane?)
Spider-Girl volume 10: Season of the Serpent (May battles the Soldiers of the Serpent and her personal life gets a bit complicated.)
Spider-Girl volume 11: Marked for Death (There's a gang war in New York city and May is caught in the middle.  It's that darned sense of responsibility cropping up again.  Also, the Black Tarantula is after her.)
Spider-Girl volume 12: The Games Villains Play (This would have been the end of the series so things sort of get wrapped up, in an action packed style.)

At this point the series was cancelled, then relaunched as The Amazing Spider-Girl, and another 5 trades worth of comics were published.  You can start with these 5 if you would prefer.   Expect to pay about £10 for each book.
N.B. These aren't digest sized.
The Amazing Spider-Girl volume 1: Whatever Happened to the daughter of Spider-Man? (It starts, again.)
The Amazing Spider-Girl volume 2: Comes the Carnage (Follows up on events and characters first introduced in the Spider-Girl series, listed above.)
The Amazing Spider-Girl volume 3: Mind Games (There's a new crimelord in town.)
The Amazing Spider-Girl volume 4: Brand New May (Another Spider-Girl, and a friend turns against her?) 
The Amazing Spider-Girl volume 5: Maybreak (The end of it all, sob.)

Then, that series was cancelled but later on we got The Spectacular Spider-Girl.  I haven't read these, but have heard good things, so I plan to get them.  However I see they are selling for silly amounts of money on ebay (over £20), so it may take a while for me to get them.
The Spectacular Spider-Girl volume 1: Who Killed Gwen Reilly?
The Spectacular Spider-Girl volume 2: The Last Stand

You can also get a free digital issue featuring May here.  That one has never been reprinted, so may be a good place to start to check out the character.

This cover art is quite different to the art inside, but I couldn't resist showing it off because it's just so pretty!

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