Typically, the Spider-Man Crawlspace podcast has a diverse array of views, so that multiple perspectives are represented on a given topic. There are some exceptions including a story likely to have an impact on the upcoming “Clone Conspiracy” mini-series: the Gauntlet: Lizard storyline from Amazing Spider-Man #630-633, also known as Shed. The panelists and reviewers hated it.
In his review of Amazing Spider-Man #631, Gerard Delatour II started by saying he wants to keep his comments civil. The beginning of the review made his opinion clear.
Way back in November of 2008, in Episode 51 of the Spider-Man Crawl Space Podcast, Kevin claimed that The Amazing Spider-Man #575 made him consider quitting comics. It was a very funny moment, but when I first listened to that episode, I thought, “Man, there’s no way a single comic (that isn’t the last part of One More Day) could be that bad!”
Ladies and gentlemen, I was proven wrong today. The Amazing Spider-Man #631 is so offensively terrible that I got the same feeling Kevin did about a year and a half ago.
In the 104the episode of the podcast, Kevin Cushing hated the art by Chris Bachalo in the first issue, which he described as “not as bad as it’s going to get.”
A lot of pros will say that we the fans don’t understand what pros look for in good art, and they talk about storytelling abilities and things like that. I’m sorry, but if you have, let’s say, a volunteer to read to blind children, and his inflection and intonation is perfect, his pauses are timed just right, his character voices are excellent, but he whispers everything so the children can’t quite understand what he’s saying, he’s still not a good storyteller. So if Chris Bachalo has fantastic layouts and all that kind of stuff, it doesn’t really matter if we can’t understand what the hell is going on in half of his panels.
Cushing gave it a C-. JR gave it a D, saying “there is not a pro.” Stella gave it a C. Brad gave it a B-, partly because he didn’t find the issue “as offensive as the other two.”
This was a story in which the Lizard ate his son, so there was some nasty stuff on the page. Emma Rios drew a few of the pages, which made for a jarring contrast to Bachalo. Stella gave it a D-. Cushing gave it a D. JR was bothered by a subplot in which Kaine was afraid of Kraven’s preteen daughter. He gave it a C- . BD gave it a D-.
One factor with the second issue was a discussion about whether a minor character was raped off-panel. This led to several minutes of discussion, and JR described his views.
As far as the Lizard rape, I have to be absolutely honest, it never crossed by mind the first time I read it. To be perfectly honest, if I saw a guy turn into a giant lizard and promptly rip about half a dozen people to shreds, I’d be sitting in a rubber room in a straightjacket mumbling. I’d be pretty traumatized too. But then the subject came up, and I looked at the dialogue again, and Carlie says “She’s in no shape,” and a beat, and then (she says) “Let’s leave it at that.” It still doesn’t mean a rape happened. But for Marvel to say that there’s no way you can read that into it, is totally disingenuous. I think it’s deliberately left to be vague, and you’re allowed to think that.
JR didn’t hold Billy’s death against the issue, because he felt it was left ambiguous in the context of that particular chapterrev.
We don’t find out what happened to Billy at the end of the issue, but the whole idea of serial fiction is to paint as bad as possible a situation before the next part, so you’re supposed to say “Oh God, how are they going to get out of this one.” So, as far as the way this ended, I didn’t mind that this implied that something happened to Billy, because that’s what you’re supposed to do. You’re supposed to paint a very dark black picture, and then see how they get out of it in the next issue. As we find out, that didn’t happen, but I wasn’t so hung up on that in this particular issue.
The third chapter received an “absolute steaming F-bomb” from Kevin, a C- from JR, an F from BD and a D- from Stella.
Kevin didn’t mind what happened to Billy.
On the one hand, I think it’s going a bit too far to have the Lizard eat a child. On the other hand, that does break the cycle of what the Lizard stories are over and over every time, so with Billy dead, I’m okay with that. I agree that the Lizard eating a kid is kinda bad, and I don’t know how to reconcile the two.
In her review, Stella made a reference to Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal.”
Billy getting eaten is sort of a genius idea by the brain trust. They’re referencing Jonathan Swift, and we’re in a hungry time right now. If you need to eat babies, then goshdarnit you need to eat babies.
Brad was bothered by the contrast with previous depictions of the Lizard, and with an inopportune location for a problematic scene. He emphasized the unanimous feelings of the group.
Just an awful awful month for spider-reviews, and this is from four people who love the character and think he’s been thrown through the gutter this month.
The fourth issue got an F from BD, a D- from JR, a D- from Stella, and a G from Kevin, as “this was worse than anything I’ve ever graded as an F.” Michael Bailey—who hadn’t participated in the previous episode, gave it an F—bringing the number of Crawlspacers who strongly dislike the story to six. He didn’t care for the power upgrade.
Why should we make the Lizard so powerful to begin with? He’s not a decent villain. He’s a Hulk-like character for Spider-Man to punch.
A unified front doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s something wrong with the critics. Some things are very well regarded, and some things are universally despised. If six film critics agree that Raging Bull is pretty good, it doesn’t suggest that there’s a lack of intellectual diversity with the group. It could be that an acclaimed work is well-made, and that critics are able to recognize it. Likewise, if they think that the 2001 film Dungeons & Dragons, or the recent Fantastic Four remake is awful, it could just be that the film is poorly made, and they recognize this as well.
Shed’s an interesting exception, because some people really liked it. Marvel has stuck with the developments, even though it would all be easy to retcon. It has shaped the depiction of the Lizard in subsequent stories including a four parter in an X-Men series, a TPB length storyline in Slott’s Big Time run, as well as appearances in Superior Spider-Man, and the build-up to Clone Conspiracy, where the man in red seemed to bring back Billy (as well as Curt’s wife Martha, who was killed off in the Quality of Life mini-series back in 2002.
The Lizard pops up in several of the images for Marvel’s recent Clone Conspiracy teaser, suggesting a large role in the story.
On the podcast, editor Steve Wacker was mocked for saying he’s prouder of Shed than anything else he’s ever worked on.
Yeah, it’s shocking, it’s violent, it’s emotional. But it hits honestly and brutally in a way that isn’t manipulative, other than the heartstring-tugging that any story has to try to pull off to create an emotional connection. In the hands of almost any other team, a story with this mandate — to take the humanity of the Lizard and have him attack his family — would be laughable dross, but here Wells and Bachalo elevate it to a pretty harrowing story that never loses the tone of a Spider-Man book. It’s not a sudden nonstop abattoir, it’s a really dark punctuation mark on a story, represented by the Lizard himself eating the panels and narrative whole.
Even recent stuff has been getting its props: Our own David Uzumeri called Zeb Wells, Chris Bachalo and Emma Rioss’s “Shed” the best Spider-Man story of the decade, and if you don’t think Marcos Martin’s work on “Amazing” stands up to the best artists that book’s ever seen, well, you’re wrong.
The Lizard has always been a favorite of Spider-Man fans, but in the wake of Brand New Day and the revamp of Spidey’s villains, Curt Connors fell by the wayside. With Shed, writer Zeb Wells and artists Chris Bachalo and Emma Rios brought back Lizard in a big – and terrifying – way. Shed depicts the reptile brain taking over the mind of Connors, bringing Lizard to the forefront as the beast decides to shed its skin – the man he inhabits.
What ensues is a horrible tale of tragedy that is as important to Spider-Man’s mission as it is to the Lizard as a villain. Shed caused Peter to deal with yet another failure, both physically and mentally, and find a way to endure the loss. Meanwhile, Shed single-handedly revamped the Lizard into one of the shining achievements of the new Spider-Man era.
According to the algorithm for goodreads.com, it seems to be the 12th highest rated Spider-Man TPB, nestled between “The Origin of the Hobgoblin” and “The Death of Jean Dewolff.” Their system counts “The Night Gwen Stacy Died” and the first volume of Ultimate Spider-Man twice, so it’s arguably in the top ten.
For what it’s worth, I liked it. I wasn’t bothered by the art, or the contrast with previous depictions of the Lizard. In several of those stories, the Lizard had been more feral than usual—As a side note, he has been my favorite Spider-Man villain since “Torment.” I’ve enjoyed Bachalo’s art elsewhere, including earlier Spider-Man stories and some of his Vertigo comics, and was generally able to follow it. I thought he was a good fit for the weirdness of the story. It had some sequences that I thought were powerful: Billy Connors saying that he knew this was how it would end, and Curt’s mind “dying.” I liked seeing Spider-Man pushed to the limit, and thought his responses to the nastiness were appropriate.
Wells captured little details nicely, like Spider-Man admitting to himself that there was no way he could have been faster to save Billy. It was a realization of the promise of the Gauntlet storyline, as Kraven’s family changed the expected outcomes of typical stories for the worse. The A-plot of the Lizard doing something terrible and releasing people’s inner nastiness meshed with the B-plot of Peter trying to find someone to talk to, who could help him with his burdens at a difficult time. This was a story that was clearly about something.
It was bleak, but there is a time and place for that kind of material (and it pales in comparison to August Strindberg’s play Ghosts—now, that is catastrophic.) Shed shows a villain reaching the point of no return in a way that is pretty rare, and raises some tough questions. Should Connors kill himself after the death of everyone he loved, including his son by his own hand? Or should a brilliant man try to make up for it somehow? It’s a character arc that is still ongoing.
Given that there were some rather positive responses, it is worth considering why there was universal negativity with this particular group.
There may be some aspects of the story that affect a certain crowd. The portrayal of Kaine would be more likely to bother readers familiar with him from the original clone saga, who would be more likely to wonder why a guy who killed Kraven’s son runs away from the daughter. There can be some sorting, as the people who were most active on this particular website at that time, might be likeminded in ways that affect how they see the story, such as their views on decompressed comics, or what’s appropriate material for a Spider-Man story. A Spider-Man podcast would attract people who are fans of a particular type of comic, whereas a general comics website would have a bias towards contributors with a penchant for more sundry material.
There can also be a bandwagon effect. If you get a text message from a friend that a comic book sucks you might be primed to look for the worst in it. That can place a high level of scrutiny on a superhero comic book, where a reader has to accept certain outlandish premises to begin with. This could also apply to people who really liked the story. We could just be primed to pay more attention for the stuff it does well.
One element may just be random chance. If the odds are one in two that a random person will dislike something, there is a 1 in 64 chance that six people will dislike that thing. The Crawlspace podcast has been going around long enough that some unlikely events would have to happen every now and then.
So, what do you guys think of Shed? And are there any stories whose popularity simply escapes you?