'The Amazing Spider-Man': In praise of Marcos Martin's amazing artistry

Amazing-Spider-Man-655In my reading of comic books, and in my coverage of comic books as a journalist, I tend to pay more attention to the artists who write the words than those who draw the pictures. It’s not that I don’t appreciate what pencilers, inkers and colorists do; I do, even if I often don’t give them the thought (and ink) they deserve. I promise to change. But I am a child of the ’80s, the decade that introduced us to Alan Moore, Grant Morrison and Neil Gaiman and ushered in the era of the auteur scribe — inventive, intelligent scripters with a vision and distinctive authorial voice that was discernable no matter who was making the pictures, even if you didn’t like the pictures. The irony, of course, is that the only reason I purchased my first Alan Moore comic (Swamp Thing #36) was because when I dared to pick it up and leaf through it, the art work of Stephen Bissette and John Totleben knocked me on my ass. Here’s the truth: When you go to the comic book store fishing for The Next Good Thing, chances are it’ll be the visual storytelling, not the word balloons, that’ll hook you. And for me, it often comes down to one arresting page — one that stops me in my flip-through tracks and makes me go: “There’s something special going on here — something worth my time.”

Last Saturday, I had exactly such an experience in my local comic book shop, a dimly lit, uncomfortably humid shoebox of a place tucked away in a strip mall in Long Beach, California. The comic: The Amazing Spider-Man #655. It’s a funeral story, filled with quietly observed grief — just like Fantastic Four #588, which we reviewed yesterday in Shelf Life. (What a deadly-sad month in the Marvel Universe.) The departed character: Marla Jameson, wife of J. Jonah Jameson, mayor of New York City and Peter Parker’s former boss at The Daily Bugle. To be clear, I don’t know Marla, and her passing means little to me, because I haven’t read The Amazing Spider-Man in quite awhile. But I will begin buying it every month — as long as Dan Slott is doing the writing and especially if Marcos Martin is doing the drawing. (For a peek at what I’m talking about, check out the preview of the issue posted at Newsarama.com.)

The page that wowed me: Page Nine. It begins with a narrow, page-length panel of J. Jonah Jameson entering St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The man is rendered in shadowy silhouette and made to look very small, framed within a block cold, blue-tinted white space meant to represent the church’s door. A long gray aisle looms before him; a rosary window floats high in the darkness looming above him. Flanking this panel are six smaller ones. An overhead shot of Jameson walking alone down the aisle, moving between pews filled with mourners. In the next panel, we see Jameson’s father, Jay, reach out to touch his son’s arm. The very next panel reverses the shot and widens the frame, so we can see that Jonah has clasped his father’s hand and see the two people sitting next to Jay: Peter Parker’s Aunt May and Peter’s girlfriend, Carlie Cooper, both of whom are looking tenderly toward Jonah. But right next to this panel, we get another, smaller one that widens the perspective to reveal the man sitting next to Carlie. It’s Peter himself — looking squished, not looking at James, looking like he’s about to lose his mind from some internal crisis; you immediately sense, from his facial expression and his bracketed isolation from the other mourners, that Peter has a unique and awful relationship to the tragedy these people have gathered to grieve. In the last two panels, we see Jameson reach the front of the church, and then we get a close-up of a portrait of Marla mounted on an easel next to her casket.

Here’s what I find extraordinary about the way Martin has drawn this page. First, the design of it all — the thoughtfully considered composition of each panel, and how those panels, taken together, create a compelling composition unto itself. And yet, even though the page is clearly “designed,” there’s a naturalistic vibe to it all; it feels like a collection of found moments, captured by Martin’s camera and then artfully arrayed on the page. And I love the hands — Jay’s bony fingers; Peter’s clenched anxiety; Aunt May covering her heart. Martin’s style is reminiscent of Spider-Man’s first artist, Steve Ditko, especially in the slinky bodies and even more so in the long, expressive hands. It is a page that’s striking for its subtlety, that suggests so much about the characters and the relationships between characters without saying a word. I am deeply impressed by a storytelling intelligence that can produce pages like this and wants to produce pages like this. I want more of it.

You will find other pages filled with such quiet power in this issue. And there’s some more ostentatiously dynamic stuff, too — especially the surreal sequence inside Peter’s head, which reminded me of those trippy Tony Soprano dream sequences we used to get from The Sopranos, suffused with guilt and anger and flecked with cryptic, fearful portents of even more awful things to come. I wish I understood more of the context; like I said, I haven’t been reading the comic of late. But I intend to invest in the back issues and get up to speed — and I intend to come back next month to experience more of Martin’s amazing magic.

Comments (22 total) Add your comment
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  • Jeremy

    … Journalist?

    • Jeff Jensen

      … Troll?

      • Timmmmm

        Ha! Nicely done, Doc! And, at the risk of being called out myself, I have to ask….. are we getting the final Lost column any time soon? I miss your theories (and, of course, Lost)!

      • Jeremy

        A troll? Not particularly, no. Just curious. But with a needlessly wordy response now written and deleted, I’ll just concede the uncalled for snarky tone and apologize. I too look forward to the fabled last Lost column, and will continue here with the understanding of something I’ve long suspected but have been too slow to realize: that this website is something I can thoroughly enjoy reading, but really have no place to speak. So it goes.

      • JFWilder

        I am wondering the same thing. Lazy-ass liar Jeff…you said in mid-December we’d have it in two weeks. Same thing last July….I’m past you and on to other reviewers unless you can redeem us with a Part 3 that doesn’t blow chunks.

  • Eric

    …pencilers?

  • Mike

    I thought the issue was interesting though it’s quite a grim time with an issue centered around Spidey remembering the Human Torch’s life in just a few weeks.

    (Also, it’s Carlie Cooper, not Charlie. Though she does look quite manly in some of her appearances!)

    • Jeff Jensen

      FIXED! Thanks for the catch!

  • LOL

    Doc Jensen is the king!

  • Sebastian

    Great article, Jeff. I’m not a big (616)Spider-Man fan either – but I also picked up this issue after being captivated by the art. For me, it was the cover that grabbed my interest – it was very Tim Sale-ish (I *loved* “Spider-Man: Blue”), and the cover is what persuaded me to flip through the issue and buy it.

  • Temp

    “But I will begin buying it every month — as long as Dan Slott is doing the writing ”

    sadly this probably jinxed everything and Slott will be off the title before you can blink. I LOVED slott’s she-hulk (funniest comic of all time) and it was all to short lived

    It seems increasingly rare for a decent writer to stick with a series these days. I would love to see some awesome current writer pull of a clairmont-30-year-xmen run

  • Andy

    Doc-Please,Please,Please,answer this.When are we getting your “Final Lost Column”.Me checking for it everyday.I need to read it,in order to get my final,final closure on LOST. lol .

  • Juan

    I am loving the increased comic book coverage here.

  • Dan S

    I’ve been reading Spider-Man of late, and I don’t think catching up on back issues is going to enhance your understanding of this wonderful issue. Marla was a pretty minor character even in the most recent arc that resulted in her death, and the stuff in the dream sequence was pulled from the entire history of the character–something Slott in particular is known for.

    Martin will be around next issue, but the title’s biweekly schedule requires a rotating stable of artists. I wouldn’t expect him to make another appearance for a while.

    I enjoyed your commentary, though, and I agree that this was the most expressive art I’ve seen in years.

    • Dan S

      (on a superhero title, at least. For an even loftier example of the form, check out Asterios Polyp by David Mazzachelli.)

    • Jason Todd

      There is one issue that’s worth reading – Amazing Spider-Man Annual #18, which is where JJJ married Madison. It’s written by Stan Lee and for the first time presents JJJ in a heroic light. Worth picking up if you can find it for $5 or so.

  • Stephen

    Martin Marcos has a unique style that makes his covers pop out amidst all the other comic books on the stand.

    I first saw his work on the Batgirl: Year One mini-series back in 2002 (?) and would highly recommend it. He also drew a Dr. Strange mini-series several years ago. If it’s his Spider-Man work you want to follow, he drew a beautiful story arc last year featuring the villain Mysterio.

    Gorgeous winners, all.

  • Grumpster

    Oh who cares about this stuff? Jeff, you go on reviewing comics and don’t give us a good Lost Part 3 review now. We’ve all turned our attention to other places within EW and you’re history.

  • Felix

    Enjoy your pieces in the mag, this is the first time I’ve seen your blog (via a Newsarama link). Anyhow, regarding comics, have you ever checked out original art? If not, you can thank/blame me later:P Write me and I’ll send you some links that will blow your mind.

  • will

    Grant morrison reference FTW!

  • this site

    Its like you learn my mind! You seem to know so much about this, like you wrote the e book in it or something. I believe that you could do with a few % to pressure the message house a little bit, but instead of that, this is magnificent blog. An excellent read. I’ll definitely be back.

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    You could definitely see your skills in the paintings you write. The arena hopes for even more passionate writers such as you who are not afraid to say how they believe. All the time follow your heart.

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