Friday, April 22, 2016

SPIDER-MAN / RED SONJA

Writer: Michael Avon Oeming | Artist: Mel Rubi
Colorist: Brian Buccellato | Letterer: Simon Bowland
Assistant Editors: Alejandro Arbona & Lauren Sankovitch | Editor: Bill Rosemann
Consulting Editor: Joe Rybrandt | Editor in Chief: Joe Quesada | Publisher: Dan Buckley
Special Thanks to: Tom Brevoort, Josh Johnson, Juan Collado, Nick Barrucci, Jason Ullmeyer, Arther Lieberman, and Luke Lieberman
Red Sonja is based on the Heroine Created by Robert E. Howard

In 1979, Marvel, then holder of the license which (at the time) included both Conan and Red Sonja, published a MARVEL TEAM-UP issue pairing the She-Devil with a Sword and Spider-Man in a fight against the evil wizard, Kulan Gath. in 2008, Marvel and current Red Sonja rights-holder, Dynamite Entertainment, teamed up for a sequel to that tale by the then-current RED SONJA creative team of Michael Avon Oeming and Mel Rubi.

It's worth noting that in the interim -- only a few years after the original team-up -- the scripter of that MTU issue, Chris Claremont, penned a sequel story sans Sonja in the pages of UNCANNY X-MEN, in which Kulan Gath transformed New York into a replica of his native Hyborean era and set various mind-controlled superheroes against Spider-Man for revenge. But by that story's conclusion nearly everyone involved, including Spider-Man, had all memory of the incident wiped from their minds.

For this story, Oeming borrows a cue from Claremont as Gath's sinister necklace turns up in New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, where a visiting senator is drawn to it and puts it on. This transforms him into the embodiment of Kulan Gath, who promptly turns Manhattan once more into a Hyborean world, and plants a sword for Mary Jane Watson (Parker?) to discover, even while placing a suggestion in her head that Spider-Man is her enemy. Thus MJ finds the sword, turns into Red Sonja as she did years earlier in MARVEL TEAM-UP 79, and goes out to kill the web-slinger.

Interestingly, this mini-series began publication during the final month of Marvel's "Back in Black" Spider-Man event and ran alongside the "One More Day" storyline before reaching its conclusion the very same month the first installment of the "Brand New Day" era hit stands. Peter Parker and Mary Jane appear to be married, though at one point Peter refers to himself as MJ's boyfriend rather than her husband, which leads one to wonder if the story is a "stealth preview" of the "Brand New Day" period, which ret-conned the Peter/Mary Jane marriage into a co-habitating relationship instead. Though later in the story, the artwork strongly implies the two are married, based on a single flashback image of them standing together at the alter in appropriate wedding attire.


The timeline is further complicated by the presence of Spider-Man's villains: Venom is here, and he's the original Eddie Brock version even though at this point Brock had been usurped in the role of Venom by Mac Gargan, the former Scorpion. A few additional Spider-villains appear serving Kulan Gath as well, including the Scorpion himself, Vermin, the Lizard, and the Hobgoblin. But there really wasn't a Hobgoblin at this point in continuity, so far as I can recall -- Roderick Kingsley was retired and living outside the country, while Jason Macendale was long dead. As a result, for Spider-Man, this story seems to be set at some undetermined point earlier in the marriage/living together era, probably prior to the "Clone Saga".

At any rate, Venom interferes in the battle between Sonja and Spider-Man and in so doing comes to the attention of Kulan Gath. Gath summons Venom to him and steals the alien symbiote from Brock, transforming himself into "Kulan Venom". Spider-Man and Sonja are separated but soon reunited, they battle some villains, get captured by Gath, and eventually break free and defeat him, restoring Manhattan to normal. Sonja awakens back in the Hyborean era, while Peter and Mary Jane enjoy some ice cream.

The story is all right, though heavily decompressed. Claremont could've done it in no more than two issues. Only a couple oblique references are made to the original team-up, both from Gath rather than Spider-Man or Sonja (while the latter might not recall all that happened, Spidey certainly should). The sequel from X-MEN goes unremarked upon, though that makes a bit more sense -- while Gath might remember it, Spider-Man and the citizens of New York should not.


Oeming also doesn't go with the conceit Claremont employed in both previous Gath stories, in which Spider-Man, the only untransformed character, couldn't understand anything anyone else was saying since they were all speaking some ancient Hyborean tongue. Instead, here everyone simply talks sort of like Thor, and Spider-Man comprehends everything they say, though he constantly refers to their speech as "Tolkienese" and "Hobbit slang" -- which, while cute, is still a bit disappointing compared with Claremont's approach.

The artwork from Mel Rubi, a couple years after the work covered last week in RED SONJA 1 - 6, seems to be a step up from those issues, and he draws a really nice Spider-Man as well -- clearly influenced by Todd McFarlane, but with shades of J. Scott Campbell mixed in too, particularly in the face. However, as with those previous RED SONJA issues, I feel that the colors here really, really overpower the artwork. Coloring in comics is a tricky thing -- it should support and complement the penciled and inked artwork without overshadowing it. Unfortunately, to my eye, Brian Buccellato's work here has the opposite effect. Much of the series looks muddy and drab, and when there is color, it's almost as if there's... too much of it, I guess.

Interior art by Mel Rubi. (All series covers by Michael Turner.)
There are some cute bits in this series and the work by Rubi is mostly pretty good, but I just couldn't get into it. Certainly the colors are part of it, but it's more than that. Beside the original Claremont/Byrne story and the Claremont/Romita Jr. sequel, this one just feels drawn out and rudderless. And the timeline issues, while not a big deal to most sane people, really bother me. I'm happy SPIDER-MAN/RED SONJA gave Marvel an opportunity to reprint MARVEL TEAM-UP #79, and the book will remain on my shelf for that reason, but I really can't see myself returning to this particular mini-series again.

Available from Amazon: Hardcover | Paperback

2 comments:


  1. // I feel that the colors here really, really overpower the artwork. //

    Yeah. What you have here is exactly what I hate about modern coloring gone (in my opinion) amok. This ain’t even the worst of it, either, but it’ll do as a case study. All the colors are modeled in that sort-of airbrush style with no real sensitivity, so that the result is — like you say — alternately, sometimes even simultaneously within a particular scene, garish and murky. Textures like the lizard skin and rocky surface and billowing sand in that double-page spread you show work at odds with the line art itself; you really need the penciler/inker(s) and the colorist to work together if you’re going to do that sort of thing, filling an area with a pattern or effect. Sonja’s armor is glowing, Hobgoblin’s cloak looks almost like flowing lava, and I can hardly even see the webbing on Spider-Man’s costume. Grumble grumble grumble.

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    1. I think modern coloring looks really good when employed well, but the problem is, as John Byrne has noted many times in his forum, many colorists want to run wild with Photoshop and use "all the toys" whether they're right for the artwork or not!

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