Book Of The Week – AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #672
With a heaping pile of comics this week, choosing this week’s top pick wasn’t easy by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, in a smaller week with a lesser story, either DAREDEVIL #5 or AVENGERS ACADEMY #20 would have taken that top spot of the heap. But in the end, AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #672 wins out for one critical reason – it is the anti-FEAR ITSELF. What does that mean? This issue “officially” wraps up the SPIDER-ISLAND crossover event, although technically there is an epilogue issue up in November. It was very much a crossover event, “minor” or not; it crossed over into several ongoing series (VENOM, BLACK PANTHER, HERC) as well as spawning four one-shot’s and three spare mini-series. It featured an over-the-top crisis, a finale involving a giant monster, and dozens of cameo appearances by no end of superheroes, from the Avengers to the FF to the Immortal Weapons to the X-Men to Firestar. Certain chapters did seem to devolve into massive group brawls and sheer chaos on the page. However, unlike FEAR ITSELF, writer Dan Slott manages to pull it all together into something that many crossover events fail to become; a story. It has critical characters; it has a clear beginning, middle, and end; it has clear foreshadowing; it even mingled a lot of drama and suspense with some humor and one-liners. Even some of the tie-in’s were “important”, yet the core ASM arc recaps all the essential bits. Dan Slott manages to weave together long term and recent continuity within this title and others to make it all work in a tapestry of awesome. While there are a few hiccups, SPIDER-ISLAND has delivered in a way that no other “event” has from Marvel since THANOS IMPERATIVE ended. Even the scene on the cover technically occurs within!
Things pick up with a bang from the previous issue, in which Spider-Man struggled for his life and the lives of all the “spider-ized” New Yorkers against Kaine (http://knotmove.com/comic-books-in-new-york/picks-of-comic-book-week-for-10-12-11-super-models-can-fight-crime-too-review). In this issue, the Queen – the true mastermind of this scheme behind the Jackal – transforms into a 28 story Spider-Queen monster set to rampage across the island and kill everyone. Having a Marvel crossover event end with the villain transforming into a giant has become a bit old hat; recent examples include CAPTAIN AMERICA REBORN (2009-2010) and ANNIHILATION CONQUEST (2007-2008), and even FEAR ITSELF ended with a fight against a giant monster. Mr. Fantastic has a cure for the “spider-virus” at Horizon Labs, but it is useless if nobody is alive to administer it, and the task of administering it to millions of New Yorkers while they and their Spider-Queen rampage throughout is a Herculean task. While Hercules wasn’t able to figure out how to save everyone, Spider-Man does. Meanwhile, Kaine is cured of his clone degeneration as well as his additional mutations by Jackal and fills in for Spider-Man at the big battle in Central Park while Peter Parker and MJ – now with super-powers – attempt to pull off the Hail Mary pass atop the Empire State Building. Tying together elements from the start of Slott’s solo BIG TIME run from last November as well as bits from ASM #600 and even further back, it fulfills a lesson that seems to come up too infrequently in Spider-Man stories; it’s more than a costume and super-powers that make him one of Marvel’s greatest heroes. Peter Parker’s will, imagination, and intelligence will always be just as potent as being able to lift ten tons or swing across a block. The tale finds a good way to dust off an old 90’s relic in Kaine, it makes good use of a new villain (circa 2004) like Queen as well as provides a final panel that even the most jaded and cynical “Spider-marriage” fan will find sweet.
The artwork is handled by Humberto Ramos on pencils, Edgar Delgado on colors, and Victor Olazaba and Karl Kesal double-teaming on inks. Ramos’ style is exaggerated to a degree and not for everyone, and issues in which he is in a rush tend to show it a tad. He works best with monsters or inhuman looking figures, and SPIDER-ISLAND has provided many of those from standard spider-monsters to the gigantic Spider-Queen himself to good ol’ Ben Grimm. Ramos also excells with facial expressions; while simple, his figures never look stiff or static, but always in motion. Ramos’ current work on AMAZING SPIDER-MAN has been superior to his older work with the character at the start of the decade.
There are some quibbles, or rather observations to address. While the banter between Peter Parker and Kaine is very enjoyable, Kaine seems to be acting quite unlike himself. In prior material from the 90’s, he was nowhere near as jovial, jokey, or upbeat – he was the epitome of grim anti-hero back then. Given that he may very well be the star of the upcoming SCARLET SPIDER spin off series, this could be seen as an attempt to make Kaine act like Ben Reilly – the more famous clone who was axed off at the end of 1998’s REVELATIONS. Reviving Reilly would be a chore even by comic book standards – he was killed and his corpse turned to dust on panel – but merely having Reilly return “in spirit” within Kaine may offend some. The fact that Kaine was once physically larger than Peter Parker apparently is also something “cured” within him. The two have a nice banter, and establishing Kaine as “the darker Spider-Man” willing to kill will likely become ore for his own series – although VENOM currently covers similar ground. Much like FEAR ITSELF, there is one figure in the story who could have ended the threat in the first issue with better tactics and planning; the difference is Julia Carpenter’s ineffectiveness as a psychic prophet and guide is acknowledged and even thrown in her face. To contrast, in FEAR ITSELF, the fact that Odin didn’t simply kill “The Serpent” when he was weak or hand magic armor to Thor and the heroes immediately is never addressed or acknowledged. Finally, the sequence in which Peter and MJ get to fight side-by-side is fascinating compared to similar scenes with Carlie Cooper in the first half of this event. Despite Cooper being trained by the NYPD, Peter lectured her assistance at every turn and preferred if she stayed behind. Mary Jane, who is merely a model and B-movie actress who is good with an occasional right hook or can or hair-spray, didn’t get a peep out of the overprotective Peter. More to the point, the major dramatic and emotional moment that Peter has in this event happens alongside MJ, which begs the question: what was the point of “unmarrying” them? If MJ is to serve the same role as emotional bedrock to Peter that she did as wife in every story that matters (and even many that don’t), what was the point of allowing Peter to have interchangeable Designated Girlfriends again? The fact that Peter and MJ worked so well together in scenes just like what is offered was the justification for their marriage enduring for so long. In fairness, Slott is wise to keep MJ as a critical character in this series, rather than pretend she didn’t exist, like a lot of BRAND NEW DAY material seemed to from 2008-2009.
Despite some warts, SPIDER-ISLAND has been a success as both an AMAZING SPIDER-MAN story as well as a Marvel crossover event, at a time when such a thing is even more appreciated.
AVENGERS ACADEMY #20 – It seems every issue appears on this review column at some point each month, right? As used to be said about NOVA, that is simply because it is always that consistently good, as written by underrated Marvel scribe Christos Gage. Billed as a FEAR ITSELF tie in issue, the events of the final issue is paid lip service two in the first few pages. The real focus of this issue is on the aftermath of the last, in which Veil decided to quit. As predicted in this column last month, manipulative super-powered tycoon Jeremy Briggs from issue #14.1 becomes involved (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). The real strength of this issue is that it takes a plot which is standard in team series – a roster shift – and makes it work as a character focus and building exercise. Veil doesn’t just exit stage left; the rest of the cast center around her to offer opinion, and she gets a lot of time to explain her decision. It turns out she isn’t the only person leaving the cast; the two former New Warriors who served as mentors have also decided to split. As the book is geared to enter it’s second year in publication, Gage is shifting the location to California and making it seem more like a school by introducing more characters to the cast – which include his AVENGERS: THE INITIATIVE creation Butterball alongside old characters like Lightspeed from POWER PACK and newer ones like Juston Seyfert from 2003’s SENTINEL series. In the letter column, Gage promises that the extended cast won’t divert focus from his core Academy cadets; and given how well he managed to juggle a few dozen characters in AVENGERS: THE INITIATIVE from 2009-2010, that isn’t an empty promise. Tom Raney continues on regular art chores (which he rotates with Sean Chen), alongside Scott Hanna on inks and Jeromy Cox on colors. There is very little action for Raney this time, but he proves just as effective with the more quiet moments. The future remains bright for this title, so long as sales remain north of cancellation range. This remains on of Marvel’s best “new young heroes” series since the peak of RUNAWAYS half a decade ago. Much as Gage managed to turn an obligatory crossover tie-in into a compelling arc, he has made a routine roster shuffle into a strong character piece. The series earns it’s double A initials.
DAREDEVIL #5 – As one of a few Marvel series not currently involved in some sort of crossover – although not for long – Mark Waid’s relaunch of the Man Without Fear is proving to be a sleeper hit from Marvel and one of their best relaunches since, perhaps, IMMORTAL IRON FIST. No longer is the character dour, depressing, and bleak, but this hasn’t meant the end of urban adventures. Waid presents short arcs revolving around mysteries that utilize the full scope of the Marvel Universe, from Klaw last arc to Latveria and various evil Marvel organizations. Murdock’s choice to look into why a fellow blind person was let go from a company under unknown circumstances (as covered last month: http://knotmove.com/comic-books-in-new-york/picks-of-comic-book-week-for-9-21-11-the-man-without-fear-or-ben-affleck-review). Matt and his client have stumbled upon a conspiracy that now threatens both their lives – but Daredevil naturally has many tricks up his sleeve. When a gang of killers fail, the guilty parties sic a masked super-goon with the generic name of “Bruiser” after them, which will make the next issue even more exciting. Just as key as Waid’s top notch storytelling and dialogue is the artwork by Marcos Martin and Paolo Rivera, who rotate as regular artists. These past two issues have been by Martin, and AMAZING SPIDER-MAN’s loss is DAREDEVIL’s gain. This book, visually, looks nothing like any book on the stands in a good way. DAREDEVIL’s artwork hasn’t been this striking and distinct since the runs of Frank Miller, John Romita Sr. or Jr., or even Gene Colan. To describe an issue of DAREDEVIL under the Waid/Martin/Rivera run is akin to trying to review a concert or a party – the best way to know it is to experience it for themselves. Bruiser may be a generic villain, but the overall narrative is both simple and compelling, with artwork that displays the action and details of Daredevil’s powers like no other book does. While sales have not rebounded for DAREDEVIL as Marvel would have liked, it is the sort of run that should not be read months later in trades after a desperate relaunch has ended it in its prime – it is a run that should be embraced monthly, in the here and now. For too long, the franchise has cyclically rehashed Frank Miller’s 1980’s opus into near parody; Waid, Martin, and Rivera have finally shaken off those chains and are boldly forging new ground. In fact, if any piece of work showcases how DAREDEVIL could work as a weekly TV series – a mix of a legal and masked crime fighter procedural – it is this run.
Also Good Reads: TMNT #3 (IDW); GUARDING THE GLOBE #6 (Image Comics); ANNIHILATION: EARTHFALL #2, FF #11, SPIDER-ISLAND: CLOAK & DAGGER #3, SPIDER-ISLAND: AMAZING SPIDER-GIRL #3, SPIDER-ISLAND: DEADLY HANDS OF KUNG-FU #3 & VAMPIRES: MARVEL UNDEAD (Marvel Comics)
Last Week’s Reviews – http://knotmove.com/comic-books-in-new-york/picks-of-comic-book-week-for-10-19-11-and-you-thought-your-dad-was-a-pain-review
Last Week’s NYCC ’11 Reviews – http://knotmove.com/comic-books-in-new-york/new-york-comic-con-2011-reviews-the-epic-and-iconic-review