Good News / Bad News: This Week in Pop-Culture’s Clown World

Imperius Comic News notified that Spencer’s run on Amazing Spider-Man is concluding with what’s currently marked as the 74th issue, and says:


In my honest opinion, Nick Spencer is one of the best Spider-Man writers ever. […]


Whether or not Spencer was a good Spidey writer, he did not do his reputation a favor when he willingly participated in the Secret Empire storyline that saw Captain America altered into a Hydra-Nazi. I assume the deservedly negative reaction that got was the reason he must’ve been glad to get the task of bringing Mary Jane Watson back into Peter Parker’s world, albeit not in married format. I don’t know if their marriage will ever be restored, and that’s one definite drawback of this particular run, which was undoubtedly set up upon C.B. Cebulski’s ascension to EIC, because they needed something well regarded very badly, what with the dire straits they’d be put into during the Axel Alonso regime.



Now here’s where the bad news comes about, as the dreadful Gizmodo’s announced the Clone Saga elements have returned in more ways than one:


Ben Reilly already had a very wild legacy at Marvel Comics, but his return a few years ago in Clone Conspiracy—and his spinoff series as the Scarlet Spider once more—only added to a backstory that, even by comic book superheroes’ most egregious standards, was a bit bonkers. Ben’s pushing all that aside though in a new age for Amazing Spider-Man—and he’s also pushing aside former protagonist Peter Parker.


And it gets worse:


It’s an era, however, that will not be led by your usual friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. Helmed by Kelly Thompson, Saladin Ahmed, Cody Ziglar, Patrick Gleason, and Zeb Wells—with more artist announcements to come—The Amazing Spider-Man: Beyond arc will begin in Amazing Spider-Man #75, and sees Ben return as the book’s main protagonist. Wearing a new suit that evokes the last time he was officially Spider-Man, the new run teases tough times ahead for Peter Parker that will seemingly have him question if he’s up to the great power and greater responsibility of being the spectacular Spider-Man. Can his clone overcome those issues and rise above his estranged sibling? Has everything Ben Reilly lived, died, and lived again through prepared him to once again be Spider-Man?


Wow, this is like a rogues’ gallery of bad writers when you have somebody as terrible as Ahmed getting an assignment, and Thompson is little better. And it’s all topped off with a nod to the most notorious tale of the mid-90s that nobody asked get a sequel. So they’re kicking Peter to the curb yet again, and presumably believe that, if they avoid some of the more tasteless elements that turned up in the original Clone Saga, the audience will excuse it? I’m sorry, but this is practically why what might’ve worked for DC, in terms of passing batons to successors (and sometimes I wonder if it only really worked for the Flash) does not work out well for Marvel (sometimes I wonder if only the Ant-Man/Yellowjacket baton pass did it successfully). Sometimes, a bad story is just that, and when it’s as infamous as the 1995 Clone Saga, few are bound to care for another round. Gizmodo’s lack of complaint about how pathetically cheap the new direction in Spidey’s series is speaks volumes. It was bad enough Spidey had to suffer through such a badly developed storyline; we could do without this boomerang back to it.



Since the Gizmodo site’s been brought up in discussion, I also felt compelled to cite another example of their atrocious propaganda distortions, here being what one of their reviewers said about the Crystal Shard, one of the early Dungeons and Dragons-based novels by R.A. Salvatore. First, columnist Rob Bricken, who’s written about comics too over the years, basically complains there’s not enough use of lady cast members:


However, The Crystal Shard’s biggest crime by far is its scarcity of female characters; only one has a name and dialogue. That would be Bruenor’s adopted human daughter Cattie-Brie, who, even though Drizzt calls her his soulmate in chapter one, gets only a few dozen lines. The only other female characters mentioned are fleeing villagers and various “wenches,” and most of those are Kessel’s enslaved harem who die unmentioned and unseen when the villain is defeated and his tower collapses.



I get the feeling it’ll turn out this was distorted and exaggerated. Besides, if that’s what Bricken thinks, then what was the 1st Star Wars, which had little beyond Leia Organa in terms of female representatives, or even Raiders of the Lost Ark’s Marion Ravenwood? And here’s another example, about the late Gary Gygax’s Greyhawk: Saga of Old City, where the same columnist sets about tearing down on Gygax’s early scripting, supposedly because the dialogue is in poor taste:


Everything else is the pits. The first line of dialogue is “Shiteater.” Gord pees himself on page 13. The first of five female characters, only one of whom has more than a dozen lines of dialogue, is described as having been “a seasoned strumpet by the age of 13.” Gygax also revels in the misery he can inflict upon Gord. He starts in the city of Greyhawk as a young, abused orphan who’s grateful to be caught stealing, thrown into a stinking prison, and forced to hard labor because it gives him a little food semi-regularly. Eventually, he’s brought into the beggars’ guild to be a thief (which is weird because there’s also definitely a thieves’ guild, that D&D staple) where he learns his trade and eventually sets out on a series of adventures throughout the realm of Oerth. Actually, “series of adventures” might be a euphemism for a “series of ho-hum D&D game sessions.” There’s no overarching plot in the novel whatever. Gord has no emotional growth. The “adventures” are utterly unconnected from each other, and even the longest only lasts six of the book’s 33 chapters.


Coming from a Gizmodo writer, I’m not taking this at face value, and besides, there’s young-adult novels out there that can contain profanity just as crude. If Gizmodo’s writer isn’t complaining about that, he should get a new hobby. I also discovered that a decade ago, he wrote a delighted post on Topless Robot hailing Neil Gaiman’s plan for a Sandman prequel. A series that, as mentioned before, had a scene of a person urinating on an alley wall. So what’s Bricken’s beef with Gygax adding a similar element in his novel, ditto profanity (also to be found in the Sandman series)? Does he think a medival setting makes no sense for 4-letter cussing? Biggest problem: Bricken seems to think this should’ve literally been written for kids, even more so than family audiences. Ah, I get it. A most cunning excuse for employing public moralism, plain and simple. He does no better with the following:


It’s all terrible, but it might be mitigated if Gord weren’t so deeply unlikeable. He’s greedy, petty, and vindicative. He thinks of four of the book’s five female characters solely in sexual terms; the fifth escapes his lust solely because she wants to have sex with someone else. When he joins a Romani troupe—of course negatively stereotyped in the story—he “wins” one woman after a duel but quickly decides she’s “a nag and a bitch.” The most heinous example is when he returns the noble Evaleigh to her home and he’s thrown in prison. He pretty quickly assumes she’s abandoned him and hates her but when he’s freed and realizes Evaleigh was sent away to another nobleman because she was trapped in an arranged marriage—even though she sends him a note wishing she could have stayed with him—Gord calls her “a liar and a bitch.” Gord sucks. I hate Gord.


And I don’t like the columnist’s approach, because he’s being such a moralist who looks for excuses to put down a flawed but otherwise decent fellow’s work of the past to suit his politically correct visions of what literature – and comics – should be like. Not to mention that here, somebody who complained about scarcity of women in Salvatore’s book is here complaining that there’s not enough respect for them in Gygax’s book. Oh, and something tells me the jab at how Roma are supposedly portrayed here wasn’t altruistic either. Bricken says at the end:


I feel very weird about hating a novel written by the father of Dungeons & Dragons, but there’s nothing fantastic about the fantasy in Saga of Old City. It’s just deeply, deeply unpleasant. So while I might give the technical writing a 4 on a 1d20—he’s more competent at scene and actions descriptions than R.A. Salvatore in The Crystal Shard, at least Salvatore’s characters were distinct and memorable—but a penalty of -2, along with a -3 for its outright misogyny. In the end, that leaves Saga of Old City with -1—technically not a critical miss, but still an utter failure. Somehow, there are six more novels Gygax’s Gord series, which seems utterly impossible given that he defeats a full-on demon at the end of Saga of Old City, has multiple magical weapons and items, and seems (based on the stats Gygax gives for him) to be at least 16th level. I don’t know where he can possibly go from here. I just know I have no desire to find out.


Good! I’m sure we don’t need to hear him whine more about his public moralist stance while turning a blind eye to any deviations from sanity committed in modern times by his fellow leftists. I don’t think he feels weird at all about hating the novel so much as I think he’s being hypocritical, since Bricken’s written positively about comics with mature themes like Sandman in the past, and doubtless hasn’t changed his position…though one could reasonably wonder if he’ll be doing a 360 years from now and throw the Sandman under the bus along with the Greyhawk series. “Outright misogyny”? Something tells me even that’s an exaggeration, if only because most fantasy books of those times weren’t known for heavy themes involving sexual assault. He apparently expects adventure novelists to be perfect to the core, which is impossible.



When I looked on Amazon’s page for Saga of Old City, I found most posters viewed the book favorably, and one said:


I read this book many years ago growing up, and I recently decided to read it again to see if it was as good as I remembered, and let me tell you it was a pleasure to read it once again! If this tells you anything, I was reading a Stephen King book (The Gunslinger) simultaneously with Saga of Old City, and I found myself more engaged in Gary Gygax’s classic book. It’s action, passion, and above all OUTSTANDING character development, the journey and growth of Gord is so fun to read about. You witness a scrawny street kid grow into a formidable theif in the theives guild, and eventually become a powerful warrior who can overcome incredible challenges!


So again, something tells me young master Bricken just ragged on the Greyhawk novel for no other reason than to declare a legend’s past work invalid and thoroughly out of date. Which makes him no better than people on Twitter engaging in similar behavior:




Somebody who damns a famous figure like Gygax because he once argued that girls weren’t taking much interest in TSR’s output is obviously nothing more than a deliberate troublemaker, and a leading reason why it’s better not to have a Twitter account, IMHO. 





I’m not saying Gygax was perfect, and of course he made mistakes. But what dismays me about Gizmodo’s potshots at his work is that it looked very forced and contrived for complaints, by somebody who clearly doesn’t know how to make proper distinctions when it comes to pop culture elements.



With all that said, I’m pleased to see Ernie Gygax, son of the original publisher, is reviving his late dad’s company, back in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, where they began it all, and even developing a museum to accompany it. I wish him well in this new venture, and someday, I hope he’ll be able to buy back the original D&D properties sold to Wizards of the Coast at the turn of the century. Because, who knows, maybe Gygax Jr. will have a good idea how to do better than WotC is with them now.



Originally published here.

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Avi Green

Avi Green was born in Pennsylvania in 1974, and moved to Israel in 1983. He enjoyed reading comics when he was young, the first being Fantastic Four. He maintains a strong belief in the public's right to knowledge and accuracy of facts. He considers himself a conservative-style version of Clark Kent. Follow him on his blog at Four Color Media Monitor or on Twitter at @avigreen1