Book Of The Week – AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #671
SPIDER-ISLAND, the “mini” crossover event that is focused in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN and has spilled into other ongoing titles such as VENOM (the spin-off), HERC, and even BLACK PANTHER has reached its fifth chapter, or sixth if you count the prelude issue. There are two issues yet to come which means the story is entering its third act and hitting high gear, and writer Dan Slott does not disappoint here. As the cover indicates – as drawn by regular interior artist Humbert Ramos – Mary Jane Watson is now the latest Manhattan citizen who has gained “spider-powers” during this crisis. Fortunately for her, it is still in “stage one” where the infection merely provides super-powers; in later stages, mutations include extra arms or full transformation into spider-monsters. Amusingly, MJ is wearing more clothes in interior art than on the cover (barely), which may be a symbol of the “skin sells” debate. Meanwhile (continuing from the prior issue: http://knotmove.com/comic-books-in-new-york/picks-of-comic-book-week-for-9-28-11-the-crossover-tie-s-that-mattered-review-1), Spider-Man has to contend with J.J. – the ravenous “Spider-Mayor” – as well as assist the rest of his Avengers and Future Foundation allies at Horizon Labs in engineering a cure for the infestation via Anti-Venom/Eddie Brock’s enhanced antibodies. Doing so will strip Brock of his super powers, which is a sacrifice he appears willing to perform. Neither the Jackal or the Queen are thrilled to potentially lose their “Spider-Island”, so they send the monstrous Tarantula – formerly the clone of Spider-Man from the 90’s, Kaine – to destroy the cure once and for all.
The pace of this issue moves along very quickly, with Spider-Man himself sometimes seeming second fiddle towards showcasing other scenes with other characters, such as MJ or the heroes at Horizon Labs. This could be a bad thing, but as the entire premise of this “BIG TIME” launch from November was to showcase how Spider-Man has become the center of the Marvel Universe via his connections to other heroes; thus, it makes sense. Besides, the 14 part MAXIMUM CARNAGE story from the 90’s which crossed over through all four of Spidey’s titles at the time also included a slew of other superheroes, such as Capt. America, Firestar, Cloak, Dagger, Black Cat and Iron Fist; some of which are naturally involved here. The subplot of the loss of Spider-Man’s “spider-sense” ability from the second arc of Slott’s BIG TIME run last year becomes a key plot mechanic here, and the identity of the mysterious “Number Six” scientist at Horizon is revealed as one of Spidey’s long time foes turned anti-hero, Morbius the Living Vampire. It makes a lot of sense since Slott has remembered that Morbius is more than a Comics Code friendly vampire, but was actually a scientist as well. The issue’s climatic battle between Spider-Man and Tarantula/Kaine is especially thrilling, since the states have been set so high. A final showdown against the Queen is firmly established.
There are some quibbles. While Ramos’ artwork on the whole is strong – and backed up by Edgar Delgado’s colors and two inkers – there are panels or bits which show some sign of rush. Julia Carpenter – the new Madam Web – butts into the story at a critical moment in a scene in which she is supposed to once again lecture some characters about visions of doom in the future, although the scene unintentionally reveals that everything would have been sorted out better had she merely been less vague about relating her earlier visions to Spider-Man and Shang Chi. And while a segment where MJ gets to fight off attackers with super powers is a hoot, her lines of dialogue seem to neglect some key prior stories. MJ seems to imply that this is the first time she’s been able to save herself from a super-villain attack, which isn’t terribly true. A key subplot which disproves it is the Jonathan Ceaser subplot in ASM from 1988-1990 in which a wealthy stalker went after her back when she was a TV soap actress to the point that he once hired the mercenaries Styx and Stone to help him kidnap him. Not only did MJ actually defend herself against the mercenaries, she was ultimately the one who defeated Ceaser, a threat who Peter Parker was oblivious to. Alistaire Smythe, who is now Spider-Slayer and featured in this issue, was another villain who ran afoul of MJ (who once posed as Spider-Man herself). When she has been imperiled by some of Spidey’s past foes by virtue of hanging around his world as his (then) wife, MJ often did more than wail in the background. At the very least, MJ having superpowers is a new twist, especially since the identity of Jackpot in 2008 was botched; she was implied to be MJ but was instead some “character out of nowhere”. The Jackal also is in fear of being demoted to a henchman himself, which is a bit disappointing; although amping up a newer (2004 era) creation like the Queen is a wise idea. Spider-Man has long been shy of female adversaries, and Queen is filling that gap in spades now.
This issue has several key strengths. Unlike FEAR ITSELF, SPIDER-ISLAND by writer Dan Slott is an “event” that lives up to the hype and also delivers as a narrative. It advances subplots from earlier stories and sets up new ones. It also is providing one heck of an adventure for it’s hero, in which he has to utilize all of his old tricks as well as new ones (such as kung-fu lessons) to even have a hope of triumph. AMAZING SPIDER-MAN has had quite a few massive, over the top crossover stories in recent years, but this one is the one which is succeeding the best of them. The dilemma in that will be what Slott has in store for an encore, but that’s a riddle for the winter. Two weeks until the next issue can’t pass fast enough!
SUPER DINOSAUR #5 – While this latest Robert Kirkman series via his Image Comics imprint, Skybound isn’t as behind schedule as his last series alongside artist Jason Howard usually was (ASTOUNDING WOLF-MAN), it still is roughly a month behind schedule. This still remains a series which was created to be a true “all ages” piece in which both adults and their kids could enjoy, and to that end it is living up to that. It also is a series which invokes the spirit of many Saturday morning cartoons, such as the desire to sell more toys with endless new armor and weapon attachments. In this issue, the titular hero and Derek Dynamo climb into some giant mech suits to defend their home from the giant Mega-Raptor unleashed upon them by their arch nemesis, Max Maximus. While the two fight the giant monster, Maximus himself steals into their lab and does battle with Derek’s dad, Dr. Dynamo. The villain was deliberately led there by Erica, one of two daughters of the Dyanamo’s new technicians who was homesick. This issue has a lot of action without relying on gore, which is a change of pace from Kirkman’s other comic series. Erin (Erica’s sister) and the robot Wheels get a moment to shine and Erica’s actions actually have a positive boon. There is a dark twist at the end of this issue, which completes the first arc; Kirkman ending an initial arc with a dark twist has become routine, but effective. Another subplot arises in that Erin is giving Derek more attention, which makes Super-Dino jealous since they’re best friends. While he’s in the title, Super-Dinosaur himself is really Derek’s sidekick and supporting character, so a subplot around him would be nice. While not as good as ASTOUNDING WOLF-MAN – at least to this adult reader – it is more entertaining than Robert Kirkman’s launch of HAUNT with McFarlane Studios. This is an acquired taste; readers who don’t have much of an inner child left, or don’t share Kirkman’s fetish for dinosaurs, may be turned off here. Others may be pleased to find a “kiddie comic” which has enough action and twists to please older audiences too. As stated before and elsewhere, this is a franchise which could merrily exist as an animated cable TV series – as could Jay Faerber’s DYNAMO 5 (no relation).
ALPHA FLIGHT #5 – While the trade dress on the cover claims this is “5 of 8” of a “Limited Series”, Marvel have retroactively made this an ongoing series due to the unexpected sales debut for the first issue of almost 47,000 copies. However, last month’s third issue sold below 25,000 and it could be in cancelation range by issue eight or nine anyway. It would be a tad embarrassing if Marvel extended what was a perfectly lengthy limited series by only one or two issues due to misplaced optimism. This is also the first issue which does not have a FEAR ITSELF crossover banner on the cover, although in fairness that “event” had little to do with the actual story within. Writers Fred Van Lente and Greg Pak have essentially written Canada’s version of DARK REIGN from 2009-2010; nasty villains have taken over the government and made the heroes into legal outlaws, forcing the heroes to watch an underground battle of wits and public opinion. The Unity Party and the arch nemesis of Alpha Flight, the “Master Of The World” (a caveman enhanced ages ago by alien science) have brainwashed Vindicator and made some villains into heroes. To this end, Alpha Flight are waging an underground campaign, having freed political prisoners from a labor camp last week as well as utilizing captured technology there – some of which being Mac Hudson/Guardian’s designs. Puck seems to have past connections to the underworld himself, as the longtime mercenary trainer Taskmaster proves to be one of his old buddies. This allows Van Lente to return to writing Taskmaster for the first time since the end of the TASKMASTER mini series (http://knotmove.com/comic-books-in-new-york/picks-of-comic-book-week-12-2-10-i-said-who-is-the-master-review), and continuity with it is naturally maintained. Snowbird gets a bit more to do here as Aurora’s multiple personality issues prove to be a key subplot, and the re-created Marrina is full of snark. Artist Dale Eaglesham is also on rare form here, and his rendition of Taskmaster’s costume is glorious. The plot in general does a good job of re-creating the “magic” behind the launch of ALPHA FLIGHT in the 80’s as well as unite all of the old members against their greatest enemies. Alpha Flight as underdogs is a somewhat original plot given Canada’s usual political stability in Marvel, and some timely “corrupt banker” sound-bites are used here. On the downside, it is a shame that Heather Hudson/Vindicator has been made into a brainwashed shill to allow her husband to shine as leader in a role that was usually hers, and fans of that TASKMASTER series may remain puzzled as to why Taskmaster can’t remember his wife, but remembers he’s pals with a super-powered midget. In fairness, perhaps that last caveat answers itself. Overall, this has been a terrific relaunch of an long dormant franchise, and however many extra issues of this that Van Lente and Pak will get from the editorial shift will be good ones.
Another Good Read: FF #10 (Marvel Comics)
Last Week’s Reviews – http://knotmove.com/comic-books-in-new-york/picks-of-comic-book-week-for-10-5-11-invulnerable-capes-are-back-style-review