Thursday, December 13, 2012

Dash Shaw’s Amazing Spider-Man!

Strange Tales is one of the most exciting comics I’ve read in a long time. It presents so many different and truly original takes on traditional Marvel characters that it’s just breathtaking and truly inspiring! 

Strange Tales II #1 December, 2010.
 One of my favorite contributors is Dash Shaw who did a Dr. Strange story in the first series that was not only one of my favorite stories in the series but one of my favorite Strange stories ever! But in Strange Tales II Dash comes back with some of the most truly original and exciting comic booking I’ve seen in some time. It’s called “The Marvel of Mysterio” featuring Spider-Man.

It starts off with a very unconventional super hero comic page. There is a title presented in a hazy hard to read manor with it’s Spider-man logo and scattered throughout the page are some recognizable images of Spider-Man in different poses but the color is what really sets this page apart from any other run of the mill Spidy story. Swashes of dirty pink and light blue and gray swirl about the upper page while a strip of dirty yellow runs from the upper left corner all the way through 4 panels to the lower right hand panel. Why he unifies these panels with this strip of color is unclear though it appears to have no connection to the narrative.

From the text we surmise that Mystrerio has captured Spidy on a film set. Mysterio says “I’ve found my way to Hollywood fame: Your life reflected on film! Your self captured & manufactured over and over! Maximum clonage!” To which Spidy replies, “Never!” The dialog is choppy and strange and presents more questions than answers. Why does he desire to capture Spidy’s life on film? He specifies, “your self captured and manufactured over and over” like any form of mass entertainment, even comics. He mentions “Maximum clonage” to which Spider-man screams in horror, “Never”. Why does clonage scare him? Is he referencing the embarrassingly bad “Clone Saga” of the 90’s Spidy books?

The second page is equally bewildering with it’s panels of Spidy’s black outline painted over swirls of pink and grey brush strokes. He says strange things like, “I’m lost in the cloud, groping for anything that’s real!”, “But it’s all nothingness...Illusion!” and, “I...I could stay here forever! Drifting! Lost! I love the Illusion!”
What does he mean by the phrase, “I love the illusion”?  And where exactly is the threat? If it’s so wonderful why not just give in to it?

On the next page we see Spidy has escaped the film stage and has landed in a dumpster filled with what look like pages of comic books with their distinguishable six panel grid. This has an equally strange color scheme as the previous two pages.
Spidy says, “Garbage! Just what I needed to break my fall! Trash! That’s where the spiders live, in the dumpsters! That’s where the spiders thrive!” Why do spiders like dumpsters? 

 Then on the last page things really fall apart. The page is painted in six light blue squares or what could be panels over which triangles of black lined images are placed. The fragments look like Spidy and a girl kissing. Underneath each “panel” is a dialog box with what appears to be quotes of Toby Maguire commenting on the making of the famous scene in the hit movie Spider-Man where he hangs up side down and kisses Mary Jane.

“It was a challenging scene. I was hanging upside down. It was five in the morning. Rain was going up my nose, so I couldn’t breathe through my nose... and she was kissing my mouth, so I couldn’t breathe through my mouth... And there’s no other places to breathe from, so I would have to suck air through the corner of our mouths.”

What happened to the other story? Why give us such banal information as Toby Muguire comments on the making of his movie? How could it possibly relate to the last three pages?

Then a strange thing happens as I confusingly look over the page for any clues that may help answer these questions. Rather than being mesmerized by content as per usual when reading comics I find myself looking at the quality of the paint that make up the panels and the boarder grabbing my attention. 

There is still a followable narrative but so factual and trite there’s no urgency to read it. Rather than get sucked in to this story like all other comics I find myself actually thinking about the elements that make up comics. Panels; boarders; gutters. Rather than seeing content I see the form in which it is usually delivered. The form itself has become the subject in the best abstract artistic sense.

Then I start to look at the quality of the paint that makes up the panels and boarders. The actual strokes start to take on more meaning than the representational content on the page like the images and the captions. It’s more like a expressionistic modern art painting than a page from a comic book and yet it works on both levels.

Then I turn back to the previous garishly painted pages and I look for a connection. Phrases jump out at me like, “Your self captured & manufactured over and over!” Comics are printed over and over again. And “groping for anything that’s real!”, “But it’s all nothingness...Illusion!”, “I love the Illusion!” Comics are an illusion that we love to get lost in.

Mysterio mentions “Maximum clonage” as if it’s something desirable, to which Spider-man screams in horror, “Never”. Is the “maximum clonage” to which Mysterio is referring to having your fine art bastardized by cheap reproductions or maybe being an indy comic creator selling out your comic “art” to work for the big two?

Then we see Spidy thrown in a dumpster of comics. Is it symbolically representing a person immersing themselves in the world of comics? Spidy says, “Trash! That’s where the spiders live.” Is a dumpster where Dash Shaw or society think most comics should be? Or is he making a comment on the way comics have for years been thought of as trash culture; cheaply produced and reproduced portraying the cheesiest stories only a stupid kid could find entertaining; a disposable art form. This is where Spider-man belongs and thrives, in trashy, disposable popular culture.

Are we seeing Dash himself struggling with having his work published in a Marvel comic? Maybe it’s the struggle between his desires to create fine art and receiving this assignment to make disposable pop culture for the masses? Is this his inner dialog as he tries to find a happy medium between his desires for his art and the expectations that a superhero reading audience might have for it?
Though this work is highly unconventional it works for me, and it makes the comic, and the series that presents it, that much more intriguing and exciting.
Anyway, the only thing I can say about this story is…


  1. Dash Shaw is insane. He studied under Mazzucchelli, but he has none of his hang ups. He's willing to try the most abstract comics around, just because that's what he likes. Have you ever read his interview with Mazzucchelli?

  2. Wow, another Dash Shaw fan! I'll have to post his Dr. Strange story from the first Strange Tales as well!
    No I didn't the interview. I only just learned about it from reading a review of Asterios Polyp though I've loved Mazzucchelli since his DD days. Is it worth finding?

  3. Please post the Dr. Strange story!

    Here's the article: http://classic.tcj.com/tcj-300/tcj-300-conversations-david-mazzucchelli-dash-shaw/

    Save it for a rainy day. I just like the contrast between them. Shaw is willing to experiment more and he's less concerned about the reader, while Mazzucchelli is very restrained and focuses on the reader a lot.

  4. i think he is simply commenting on how awful the spiderman toby movie was. and how the movies have taken precious comic heroes and warped them for mass movie consumption (toby was pathetic i agree)