Or – “Dying Is Easy, Comedy Is Hard… And They’ve Tried One Already.”

ham8.jpgreviewbubble.jpgOkay, that’s probably not fair. After all, comedy is difficult, and many writers who have a good grasp of dialogue, story, and character can’t be funny. Heck, even the writers who are PROVEN funny (guys like Dan Slott, Kurt Busiek, even Joss Whedon) aren’t 100% universally hilarious. They say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but the often-imitated, never-duplicated concept known as “The Funny” is trapped somewhere between the lens and the retina of the beholder, forever entombed in eye goop. Why do you think they call it “Vitreous HUMOUR?” Contrary to my snarkiness, nobody deserves to die for participating in this issue. But, can I actually say that it’s good?

ham1.jpgIndeed, I cannot. The most interesting thing about this book for me was the story of it’s title: originally solicited as “Ultimate Civil War: Spider-Ham Crisis (Featuring Wolverham),” it was unwieldy and confusing enough. But, somehow, the week it was due to hit the stands, it was suddenly showing up on shipping lists as “Ultimate Civil War: Spider-Ham Frisis (Featuring Wolverham).” I don’t know if it was a typo, a “fried ham” joke, or an honest attempt not to step on DC’s toes, but it was interesting to see. And when it finally hit the stands, the “Crisis/Frisis” was entirely missing, ironically giving the book it’s first grammatically correct (if still inordinately confusing) title. Having little to do with Civil War, and even less to do with the Ultimate Universe, it does bear some resemblance to the original Spider-Ham comics from 1980-whatever, with one major difference: Those were funny.

What we will generously call “the story” begins with Peter Porker sitting in an alley, surrounded by the “Chris Claremont writes Wolverine” caption narrations that are now en vogue at Marvel. Unlike most caption boxes, though, Spider-Ham’s have an interesting tendency to not disappear when they’re done being thought… erm, out… or however that sentence began. He begins to gather them all, when something unexpectedly frightening occurs to him…


This rather ‘meta’ premise sets up the issue, with Spider-Ham setting out in search of his lost thought balloons. The nominal Civil War tie-in kicks in as he steps out of frame and through the background of a Civil War crossover issue. I don’t know where it fits in continuity, if indeed we can even assume it does… I’d make a joke about not being able to tell the Civil War crossovers apart, but I don’t want to be crueler than I’m already going to be. Suffice to say that there’s an unintentional (I *think*) joke that was the only thing in this issue to really make me laugh out loud…


What does Marvel do when they’re out of ideas? Giant cross-over fight scene, of course. The first time I read the issue, I thought this joke was intentional. Upon re-reading, I’m not so sure. In any case, I have to say that while Dagger’s costume isn’t right in that panel, it’s actually quiet striking. Stick a chest symbol on that thing, and you got yourself a winner. Turning a corner, Spidey sees Captain America and Iron Man standing in the street fighting as innocents burn and die all around them. Or, as they call it in the Marvel Universe, the entire year 2006. The next panel acts as both the Cliff’s Notes version of what’s happened so far, and as a pretty wry comment on the whole Civil War itself…


Heh. Okay, that amused me, too. When you boil it down like that, the whole CW conflict looks even goofier. And Spider-Ham’s Spidey-nose never ceases to get a smile out of me. In the midst of the chaos, Porker encounters Doctor Strange, (who hasn’t participated in any Civil War fights yet, which puts this in the future, if it even takes place in the 616 universe) throwing about his standard “hoary hosts of Hoggoth,” “rings of Raggador” dialogue, to which Spider-Ham replies, “There’s no call for that kind of language, okay?” That doesn’t even really make any sense, as none of those words sound obscene in any way. Doctor Strange decides that he must open a doorway to a parallel world (Why? Why not?), but Spider-Ham’s presence causes the spell to go awry… “No! Another being has been caught up in the spell,” cries Strange…


Oh, indeed we did see that coming… I predicted that “kosher” joke from the moment I opened the Previews that solicited this issue last year. Flung through time, space, and dimension, Peter finds himself in Saigon, trapped in a parody of… well, something. It’s a dash of Marvel’s old “The ‘Nam” series, and a chunk of Apocalypse Now, stuck together with duct tape, and Peter is now a low-level soldier who looks kind of like Larry Hama. He mentions to a superior officer his mental search and rescue mission, and ends up getting sent downriver to find his target…


The Apocalypse Now thing hasn’t really been all that funny, and even if the movie is a cultural touchstone, it’s nearly thirty years old! The “On The Waterfront” joke is cute enough for the five people who got it, and Marlon Brando points Spidey through a door where his destiny (“or more accurately, your destinies”) are said to lie. He peers into the darkness, murmuring “the horror… the horror.” And suddenly, a character so important as to get billing on the cover makes his dramatic appearance.


That’s the whole joke, folks. A pinup of a pig-Wolverine saying “Wanna make something of it?” I certainly see the horror, but I don’t see the funny, unless the joke is Wolverham making a one-page cameo after getting cover billing (like his X-Men surrogate apocryphally did in the 90’s). Then we get a pinup of a pig-Iron Man, a pig Hulk, a total of SIX pages of pinups where the jokes are either non-existent or not funny (the Fantastic Four parody satirizes issue FF #1, but the only joke is that Stan put reams of dialogue on the cover, but Quesada doesn’t allow word balloons on covers any more. My knee aches from the slapping…) Doctor Strange arrives to zap Peter back to reality, but accidentally sends him into a 2001: A Space Odyssey parody that still isn’t funny. Space baby pig falls back into the atmostphere, and The Swine Who Fell To Earth learns an important lesson: To Thine Own Self Be True.


Why are there rats dressed as Spider-Man? I don’t know. Why not? Peter Porker runs after them, stealing THEIR thought balloons for himself, a pretty larcenous move for a superhero, and gloats in a fate-tempting manner… “And you though that Marvel stories never had happy endings?” Suddenly, another reality-rending ZORT blasts Master Porker into another alternate universe, this one much more lucrative, if no more funny.


That last page, while cute, doesn’t actually have anything resembling humor or plot in it, though, come to think of it, neither does much of the actual issue. The cleverness of searching for his lost thought balloons is the only notion worth it’s salt, and that’s part of the problem. The whole book is a series of half-baked notions, carried forth only by the thought of “wouldn’t it be funny if Spider-Ham was (insert concept here)?” Spider-Ham wasn’t funny just because he was a pig dressed as Spider-Man. Spider-Ham stories were funny because they made fun of the beloved old Spider-Man comics, pointing out the silliness and the things that didn’t really make any sense, while obviously loving the books themselves.

This book, like Civil War: The Return before it, did nothing but fill a hole in the publishing schedule, presumably caused by allowing the creators of Civil War a little extra time to do their best work. It’s kind of Alanis-Morrisette’s-version-of-ironic that a comic owing it’s existence to letting creators have time for excellence feels so rushed, so poorly-concieved, so opposite-of-excellent. As for me, I’m just glad I got a discount on the thing, because I certainly didn’t find $2.99 worth of enjoyment in it. I give it only one-half star, for two reasons. First, I wanted to make sure it got a lower score than The Return (which, for it’s overwhelming conceptual flaws, at least seemed to TRY for relevance), and because I have no idea how to draw negative stars. I try not to be this negative very often, but take your three bucks to Baskin Robbins instead. That way, you’ll at least get a sugar buzz for your wasted money.


The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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1 Comment

  1. February 18, 2007 at 1:30 pm — Reply

    The REAL Irony of that ‘Crossover Hero Battle’ panel is that it’s actually demonstrating how effective Captions are in demonstrating a peron’s thoughts while also explaining a scene. So in effect, he’s negating the whole issue through seeking it.

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