Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Review: Spider-Man: The Short Halloween

In 2009 Marvel published a one-shot comic written by extra-media celebrity dabblers Bill Hadler and Seth Myers of Saturday Night Live, drawn by the experienced and talented comics pro Kevin Maguire.

It was called The Short Halloween, a joking reference to Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s popular Batman: The Long Halloween limited series, although the only thing it shares in common with its namesake is that it takes place in part on Halloween. So it’s not really a joke so much as a reminder of another comic book which also exists.

The Short Halloween was only 34-pages long. Nevertheless, Marvel later published a hardcover “collection” of it, which would seem an impossibility, as how can you publish a collection of a single comic book...?

The answer is simple: Filler, and lots of it!

In this case, the filler that accounts for the remaining 106 pages of The Short Halloween (That’s right it’s just called The Short Halloween and not, repeat not, The Short Halloween and Other Stories), aren’t Halloween-related Spider-Man stories, or humorous Spider-Man stories, like the title one. That might make some amount of sense.

Rather, Marvel just stuck three issues of the short-lived but contemporaneous Spider-Man Family anthology series behind Short Halloween and called it a day (The three are issues #4-#6, if you’re counting).

It’s a pretty damn weird way to go about putting together a collection, and not simply because it’s so poorly labeled. I imagine anyone looking for those issues of Spider-Man Family might expect them to turn up in a trade with a title like, oh I don’t know, Spider-Man Family, maybe. And I imagine anyone picking this up are doing so for the title story, and while the nine or so shorter ones that follow it all are somehow Spider-Man related, they don’t organically fit with the title story (that is, they’re by different creators, they’re not Halloween related, they’re not exclusively humorous Spider-Man stories, etc).

Some of them do fit the comedy tone of the title story, however.

There are two installments of the silly Abby Denson-written “The Amazing Spider-Ma’m” (the first of which is drawn by Colleen Coover, who has drawn one of my all-time favorite Spider-Man panels), in which Aunt May borrows her nephews costume to fight neighborhood crime.

(Above: A panel from 2008's King Size Spider-Man Special #1, drawn by Colleen Coover, which I include here because it is awesome)

Writer Tom DeFalco finds a new way to keep Spider-Girl going with a couple of “Swiney-Girl” strips, which basically retell the basic Spider-Girl story with the heroine as the daughter of Peter Porker, Spider-Ham.

Both are presented as comedy pieces, although readers’ mileage will most certainly very. There are a couple of stories that are at least somewhat in the vein of the title story, in that they are serious and seem “canonical,” but have a great deal of humor in them, mostly generated by the hero’s own sense of humor (A Screwball story by Tony Lee, Mark Robinson and Walden Wong and a Marc Sumerak/Todd Nauck story in which Peter trails Carly while trying out as a crime scene photographer).

And then there are a couple that don’t seem to fit at all, like a long one by J.M. DeMatteis and Val Semeiks which explores the long, tragic relationship between Peter Parker and Harry Osborn (on the occasion of the latter suddenly coming back to life because of “One More Day”/editorial fiat), or the one where the dead Jackpot reflects on her life. Not a lot of laughs in those, really, nor in the old-fashioned melodramatic “Between Flights” story by Paul Tobin, Ron Frenz and Sal Buscema.

They’re all pretty good stories—well, the Swiney-Girl ones were rough going for me, actually. Let me start that sentence over: None of them are bad stories, exactly, they just seem out of place all smooshed together like this, and under the umbrella of the title of the title story.

That story, by the way, is remarkably good, especially considering the fact that its writers are new to comics. I generally think of Kevin Smith when I think of a celebrity or writer-from-another-media trying their hand at comics, probably because Smith was one of the first to do so in a high-profile way, and, Hader and Myers don’t show any of the signs of being new at or confused by this whole writing thing that showed up in Smith’s first, oh, two dozen or so comics scripts.

Maybe it has something to do with TV script-writing being somewhat similar to comics script-writing, or the fact that their story plays to their strengths by being a humorous piece divided into several related sketches, or maybe they simply worked their asses off to do it right, or maybe they just (even more simply) got lucky, but whatever the reason, their story didn’t read like the work of two completely new to comics writers.

It’s Halloween, and Spider-Man is engaged in battle with Fumes, founding member of the Furious Five (Shh! Don’t tell Grandmaster Flash or Kung Fu Panda!). A freak accident results in Spidey getting knocked out cold…in the same alley that a guy dressed up like Spider-Man for Halloween passes out drunk.

The fake Spider-Man’s friends grab the unconscious original and drag him back to the fake one’s apartment, while the fake Spider-Man ends up in the clutches of Fumes and his friends: Badger Teeth, Think, Haymaker and Gossip Girl (Shh! No one tell Cecily von Ziegesar!).

A few other complications are layered on top of the mistaken identity, including two dudes dressed as Doc Ock and the Green Goblin for Halloween who have a beef with the fake Spider-Man.

While the writing is sharp, it’s hard to imagine this particular story working quite as well as it did with any artist other than Maguire, a master of facial expressions and their subtle and not-so-subtle shifts, drawing it. He does his usual incredible job of designing distinct, real-looking people who all look different from one another, and selling gags and drama with his pencil acting.

Spider-Man: The Short Halloween—come for the title story, maybe stick around for the 100+ pages of random stories behind it…or don’t…?

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