Comics

Grading on a Curve: "Spider-Man and the X-men #1"

Spider-Man's first teaching experience with mutants has some new twists, but misses out on important lessons.


Spider-Man and the X-men #1

Publisher: Marvel
Price: $3.99
Writer: Elliott Kalan, Marco Failla
Publication Date: 2015-02
Amazon

Teachers are heroes in their own right. It really takes superhuman courage to walk into a class room and attempt to educate a bunch of kids who would rather have their wisdom teeth pulled than learn algebra. Give those kids mutant powers and suddenly teachers have to worry about more than spitballs, cheating, and texting during class. Concepts like responsibility and respect do not yet fully compute in an undeveloped mind. It just isn’t as cool to them as texting each other pictures of pets and body parts.

Few characters understand the importance of responsibility like Spider-Man. His strength and personality is built around responsibility almost as much as it’s build around his wise-cracking. After what happened to his uncle, he had to build it the hard way. In that respect he’s in a unique position to teach kids about responsibility. But it’s one thing to teach under-privileged kids in a failing public school this lesson. It’s quite another to teach that lesson to the students of the Jean Grey Institute, whose idea of responsibility is restricted to cleaning up the Danger Room and staying away from Wolverine’s liquor cabinet.

This is exactly what Spider-Man attempts in Spider-Man and the X-men #1. As one of Wolverine’s final requests prior to his death, he’s taken it upon himself to honor his fallen friend by contributing to the school he founded. It’s an entirely noble and responsible endeavor. It’s also one that even involves skills with which he has experience, having been a teacher at one point. It all sounds so good on paper. Then again, communism sounded good on paper as well. Spider-Man’s efforts to work with the X-men didn’t result in another Russian Revolution, but the results left room for improvement to say the least.

From the beginning, it’s painfully clear that Spider-Man does not get along with the rest of the X-men. He arrives at the Jean Grey Institute like someone who got invited to a frat party by mistake. He also does little to make it less awkward, showing the social skills of Mormon at a strip club. He is able to connect with some of the other X-men he’s teamed up with before, like Iceman and Firestar. But as a whole, Spider-Man and the X-men do not get along. They’re like Windows and Mac users. They both do similar things, minus commercials starring Justin Long. They struggle to interface, even though their goals are the same.

This sets up a unique yet engaging tone for the story. It’s harsh and crass in revealing how little the X-men have in common with Spider-Man, but that’s exactly what helps give it its appeal. Just because the X-men and Spider-Man consider themselves heroes doesn’t automatically mean they get along. That’s not to say they clash like nitro and glycerin. They just deal with very different circumstances and go about their business in a very different way. They can still coordinate well enough to stop some lesser challenge like Unus the Untouchable. But teaching young mutants the value of responsibility? That’s right up there with Apocalypse and an army of Sentinels.

It makes for a messy, but entertaining narrative. Spider-Man tries to be one of those teachers that will later be played by Edward James Olmos, attempting to connect with a bunch of young mutants who are already alienated from a world that sees them as freaks. He struggles at first because he tries to do things his way, as though dealing with students who have 50 eyes and shark fins respond the same way. But he eventually does adapt, attempting to convey his message to these young mutants in a way they understand. Unfortunately for him, that way involves teaching while fighting killer robots in the danger room, but it helps add to the entertainment value.

And Spider-Man’s message is one that’s worth conveying. He points out that these young mutants spend so much time learning to fight and survive, but they don’t put that much time into actually using their powers responsibly. It’s not an unfair criticism to them and the X-men as a whole. In their defense, they have been facing extinction, extermination, and a string of bad movies. But it’s still a valid point. They wouldn’t have to fight so hard to survive if they showed they could do more than just fight. It sounds like one of those ideas that makes too much sense, like raising the minimum wage or giving free school lunches to poor children.

The strength of this message, along with the general dysfunction that surrounds these young mutants, helps create a nice blend of depth and fun. There are serious issues at hand in this story. There are also plenty of entertaining moments that involve deranged mutants, killer robot holograms, and mischievous bamfs. It creates an engaging story, but one that doesn’t take itself too seriously. If it were an actress, it would be right up there with Jennifer Lawrence.

However, that potent blend becomes somewhat messy down the line. It’s not that the story starts getting overly serious. It just ends up trying to hide these issues, but does a very poor job of it. Instead of Spider-Man trying to teach these students, it devolves into another conflict involving dinosaur humanoids and kidnapping. It’s really not that far away from being a blatant rip-off of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. And because of that, the underlying message Spider-Man is trying to convey gets lost.

There are a lot of strengths to build on with this narrative. Spider-Man and the X-men #1 establishes an awkward set of circumstances, but in a wonderfully entertaining way. It just goes off-track before it can develop into something truly cohesive. It still has the potential to become a more polished product that blends all these themes. It just needs to find a better way to do so without resorting to killer dinosaurs.

7

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

Electronic music is one of the broadest-reaching genres by design, and 2017 highlights that as well as any other year on record. These are the 20 best albums.


20. Vitalic - Voyager (Citizen)

Pascal Arbez-Nicolas (a.k.a. Vitalic) made waves in the French Touch electro-house scene with his 2005 debut, OK Cowboy, which had a hard-hitting maximalist sound, but several albums later, Voyager finds him launching into realms beyond at his own speed. The quirky, wallflower vocals and guitar snippets employed throughout Voyager drop a funk that brings to mind WhoMadeWho or Matthew Dear if they had disco-pop injected between their toes. "Levitation" is as pure a slice of dance floor motivation as theoretically possible, a sci-fi gunfight with a cracking house beat sure to please his oldest fans, yet the album-as-form is equally effective in its more contemplative moments, like when Miss Kitten's vocals bring an ethereal dispassion to "Hans Is Driving" to balance out its somber vocoder or the heartfelt cover of "Don't Leave Me Now" by Supertramp. Voyager may infect you with a futuristic form of Saturday Night Fever, but afterwards, it gives you a hearty dose of aural acetaminophen to break it. - Alan Ranta



19. Antwood: Sponsored Content (Planet Mu)

Sponsored Content is a noisy, chaotic, occasionally beautiful work with a dark sense of humor that's frequently deployed to get Antwood's point across. For instance, throughout the aforementioned "Disable Ad Blocker", which sounds mostly like the creepy side of Tangerine Dream's early '80s experimental output, distorted slogans and recognizable themes worm their way into the mix. "I'm Loving It", we hear at one point, the Sony PlayStation startup music at another. And then there's a ten-second clip of what sounds like someone getting killed in a horror movie. What is there to make of the coexistence of those sorts of samples? Probably nothing explicit, just the uneasiness of benign and instantly-recognizable brand content in the midst of harsh, difficult art. Perhaps quality must to some extent be tied to sponsorship. That Antwood can make this point amidst blasts and washes of experimental electronic mayhem is quite the achievement. - Mike Schiller



18. Bonobo - Migration (Ninja Tune)

Although Bonobo, a.k.a. Simon Green, has been vocal in the past about not making personality driven music, Migration is, in many respects, a classic sounding Bonobo record. Green continues to build sonic collages out of chirping synths, jazz-influenced drums, sweeping strings and light touches of piano but on Migration sounds more confident than ever. He has an ability to tap into the emotions like few others such as on the gorgeous "Break Apart" and the more percussive "Surface". However, Bonobo also works to broaden his sound. The electro-classical instrumental "Second Sun" floats along wistfully, sounding like it could have fit snugly onto a Erased Tapes compilation, while the precise and intricate "Grains" shows the more intimate and reflective side of his work. On the flipside, the higher tempo, beat driven tracks such as "Outlier" and "Kerala" perfectly exhibit his understanding of what works on the dance floor while on "Bambro Koyo Ganda" he even weaves North African rhythms into the fabric. Migration is a multifaceted album full of personality and all the better for it. - Paul Carr


17. Kiasmos - Blurred EP (Erased Tapes)

The Icelandic duo of Olafur Arnalds and Janus Rasmussen, aka Kiasmos, is a perfect example of a pair of artists coming from two very different musical backgrounds, finding an unmistakable common ground to create something genuinely distinctive. Arnalds, more known for his minimal piano and string work, and Rasmussen, approaching from a more electropop direction, have successfully explored the middle ground between their different musical approaches and in doing so crafted affecting minimalist electronic music. Blurred is one of the most emotionally engaging electronic releases of the year. The duo is working from a refined and bright sonic palette as they consummately layer fine, measured sounds together. It is an intricate yet unforced and natural sounding set of songs with every song allowed room to bloom gradually. - Paul Carr



16. Ellen Allien - Nost (BPitch Control)

BPitch boss and longtime lynchpin of the DJ scene in Berlin, Ellen Allien's seven full-length releases show an artist constantly reinventing herself. Case in point, her 2013 offering, LISm, was a largely beat-less ambient work designed to accompany an artsy dance piece, while its follow-up, 2017's Nost, is a hardcore techno journey, spiritually born in the nightclubs and warehouses of the early '90s. It boasts nine straight techno bangers, beautifully minimalist arrangements with haunting vocals snippets and ever propulsive beats, all of which harken back to a hallowed, golden, mostly-imagined age when electronic music was still very much underground, and seemingly anything was possible. - Alan Ranta

It's just past noon on a Tuesday, somewhere in Massachusetts and Eric Earley sounds tired.

Since 2003, Earley's band, Blitzen Trapper, have combined folk, rock and whatever else is lying around to create music that manages to be both enigmatic and accessible. Since their breakthrough album Furr released in 2008 on Sub Pop, the band has achieved critical acclaim and moderate success, but they're still some distance away from enjoying the champagne lifestyle.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image