Straight Shooter

So let’s get this one thing straight, Marvel. Your story about the kid bit by a radioactive spider is ridiculous, and you aren’t fooling anybody, no matter how many times you’ve updated it in the past 45 years. Whether the nuked spider bites Peter after falling through some sort of gamma-ray particle beam or after climbing out of a microwaved burrito doesn’t matter, and whether Peter’s wearing an out-of-style sweater or an iPod when he gets his powers, nobody’s fooled into thinking it could happen for real.

So what’s the point, then, of something like Mythos, if not a cynical cash grab from would-be fans too young to appreciate the unbearable continuity burden of something like the Civil War megamaxiseries or even Ultimate Spider-Man? Odd as it is, I’m not entirely sure that’s what’s going on here. The book’s writing has a modern sensibility to it, but there’s no generational ass-kissing — no MySpace pages or Lindsay Lohan references. Besides, any sort of Aughties mentality is completed obliterated by the book’s incongruously Norman Rockwellized art. The cutesy Saturday Evening Post look also undermines the title’s possible intention to make a case for Peter Parker as modern-day mythology.

Sure I could justify this with a bunch of pompous crap about super-heroes as the American myth, and the art, which recalls an idealized cherub-cheeked America that never was, as the perfect medium to convey this story, but then I’d just end up punching myself in the face. The real reasons for this book to exist are probably: 1) a half-ass attempt at picking up a few new readers while all the A titles are bogged down in a seemingly endless cape-opera, and 2) to showcase Paolo Rivera’s artwork which, while tinged with Rockwell also has an eye-catching peculiarity akin to Alex Ross. But if the artwork’s the star here, Marvel should’ve printed the book without Paul Jenkins: All those speech bubbles just ugly up the panels, and everybody knows the story anyway.

Bitch if you want about the X-Men franchise, but Marvel persists in feeding it talented people, and we keep buying. The extent to which we will pay for a well-written mutant tale is heavily tested in Marvel’s latest, though. What’s referred to as a “one-shot” right on its cover is in fact a delicious candy house built to lure you into the Civil War quagmire. Carey’s story of the extinction of the mutant species — not remotely concluded by this book’s end — is full of the kind of intelligent, character-driven writing you’d normally find in your hipper friend’s black-and-white comic collection. It’s the perfect justification for adults to pull books from the Spandex section.

In fact, the combination of literary references and human-mutant pathos on display here is better than just about anything more mainstream than Punisher in the Marvelverse these days. But here’s the catch: this “one-shot” has 17 chapters to go, and right now the only way they’re collected is eight pages at a time in the backs of the very books you probably bought this “self-contained” story to avoid. Yep, the issue’s twist ending is a checklist of the 17 other books you’ll have to buy to get the full story.

Sure, Endangered Species covers the same ground as most other “important” X-Men arcs, and the art has that generic pin-up feel so prevalent in modern computer-colored major releases, but Carey’s putting in way more effort than necessary for this kind of book, raising questions about existence and God and capturing complex emotions that have no place in a story featuring a giant blue monster and a guy whose skeleton is bound in an indestructible alloy. Best of all, you can enjoy this storyline even if you haven’t read a single Civil War book. But while I recommend you grab this series no matter how familiar you are with the current X-Men books, I’d recommend all but the most-devoted fans wait for the inevitable trade-paperback collection. •

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