Spider-Man: The Short Halloween
Written by Bill Hader and Seth Meyers
Art by Kevin Maguire
Published by Marvel Comics
This one passed me by when it first came out earlier this year. As a special Halloween treat, let’s look back at this delightful one-shot. How often is it that you have “Saturday Night Live” veterans writing a superhero comic? Is it possible that Bill Hader and Seth Meyers are the first? I think so but I’d be happy to learn that there’s like some Chevy Chase script about Wonder Woman out there or maybe Al Franken’s take on Wolverine.
Hader and Meyers opt to be respectful and even include a reverential recap on how Spider-Man got his powers just in case you’re from some other planet. The story finds Spider-Man in typical fashion, pursuing a baddie. But that’s perfectly fine as we ease into some offbeat and often hilarious writing. It’s easy to see that Hader and Meyers love comics and the people who read them. The title itself, “Spiderman: The Short Halloween,” is a geek in-joke referring to Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s “Batman: The Long Halloween.” And the story, well it’s not some obvious satire. No, it’s actually a little masterpiece involving mistaken identity and, in the bargain, a clever juxtaposition of the weird world of superheroes and us average citizens.
In some ways, you feel like you can’t cross a line with Spider-Man. Peter Parker is as average as you can get. He’s forever fighting for his well-earned cash from The Man, J. Jonah Jameson. Who can’t relate to that? And, as Spider-Man, the guy gets no respect. What’s not to love? Hader and Meyers appear to feel the same way and give you a story where Joe Average gets to take center stage and we consider his problems. And the villains, they’re average too. Actually, they’re below average. And Spider-Man is totally enmeshed in this.
You can really take this mistaken identity thing to new heights. What happens is that the real Spider-Man is quite accidentally knocked out while confronting a third-rate wannabe villain. At the same time, a drunk in a Spider-Man costume, who happens to have a great Spider-Man costume and a credible build, is being hauled around by two of his buddies after a Halloween night that has gone wrong. As the drunk Spider-Man careens down a corner and collapses by a dumpster, the real Spider-Man heroically falls out from the sky and crashes into a heap nearby. So, the buddies haul the real Spider-Man into their apartment. And the awkward villain makes off with the drunk Spider-Man to show off to the rest of his crew of lame baddies.
I love it every time New York gets to be a character in a Spider-Man story. I prefer the offbeat and the more domestic and talky stuff and how it can play off the superhero stuff. That’s always been an important part of Spider-Man and it’s carried off here with a lot of authentic dialogue and some very natural action. For example, the drunk Spider-Man’s life is a mess with his girlfriend ready to leave him. Finally getting past his friends, she is more than ready to go through “the talk” with him as he lays on a couch. Having said what she needs to say, she feels some regret and goes to kiss his hand. And, with perfect comedic timing, that’s when Spider-Man’s webbing shoots into her face. It’s a scene done with such skill since it’s so in the moment.
What keeps the writing so in the moment too is the amazing art by Kevin Maguire. His realism mixed with cartoony flourish is a perfect match. From the start, you know that Fumes, the clumsy villain, is more like us than Doctor Octopus. He has that face. And the guys out on the town with the drunk Spider-Man, elicit sympathy. You’ve been in that same cab with these guys as they agree with their pal that’s he’s Spider-Man– or at least you feel like you have.
How often does comedy mix with comics? Well, within superhero comics, there’s some of that in the current run of Marvel’s “Strange Tales” which includes Peter Bagge’s hilarious sendup of The Hulk. Of course, superhero comics can have a sense of humor but strictly comedic, not so much. Then again, it all depends on where you look, like for instance, “The Metal Men.”
That said, comedy is certainly as viable as anything else in comics. As reported here at Newsarama, American Original’s Jeff Katz, in connection with Top Cow, will gather a lineup of star comedians to create their own comics. They will be collected into graphic novels under the series title, “Comedy Death Ray.” It will be an impressive roster including Sarah Silverman, Zach Galifianakis, Patton Oswalt, Bob Odenkirk, David Cross, Paul Scheer, B. J. Novak, Janeane Garofalo and another SNL talent, Fred Armisen. The proposed first four issue run is scheduled to come out this winter.
“Comedy Death Ray” probably won’t have that much to do with superheroes. The series editor, comedian/writer Scott Aukerman, is more of a fan of stuff like Dan Clowes’s “Eightball” and Peter Bagge’s “Hate.” But maybe he’s read “The Short Halloween.” If so, that’s a good thing since it’s a great example of comedy writers writing comics.