Friday, 18 November 2011

Review: Spider-Man: Shed

The Amazing Spider-Man: Shed, collects The Amazing Spider-Man #630-633 by Wells / Bachalo / Rios

It is unlikely that there has ever been a Spider-Man story that has split collective fandom down the middle as much as last years Shed. Although he is one of Spider-Man's oldest foes the Lizard has hardly been one of his most compelling, with the nature of his character lending itself to repetitive story arcs. While several writers have attempted to combat the Lizard's lack of long term appeal, none of his revamps have stuck and he has ended up reverting to type every few years. It is true that he is one of Spider-Man's more visually spectacular villains, there is only so many times you can see Spider-Man battling to defeat Curt Connors reptillian alter ego without harming him, eventually (and inevitably) defeating him through the use of some sort of hastily devised serum. With the character starring in the forthcoming Amazing Spider-Man film, the time clearly seemed ripe last year to give the tired rogue a more lasting overhaul. Opinions on Shed have ranged from disgust to acclaim, but thanks to my stubborn Spider-Man buying habits I have only just got around the reading the much reviled story. Does it deserve the criticism that it received in some quarters? Or is Shed merely a misunderstood gem?

Zeb Wells is a writer whose interpretation of the Web-Slinger I have long admired. Put simply, he has a great handle on Peter Parker's voice and has managed to excel telling more off-beat Spider-Man stories that other writers would perhaps not attempt. This arc is no exception and if Wells is to be criticized for anything it should not be his handle on the character. Wells' Parker is shy, nervous and humble, retaining a sense of humor without descending into the wisecracking loser that he is sometimes mistaken for. While some Mary Jane apologists would take issue with Peter's flirtations with other women, the Black Cat and Carlie Cooper scenes are all pitched perfectly and are among the highlights of the arc. I find Peter to be a more engaging character when his personal life is in disarray, and this story is no exception. Carlie Cooper in particular is an excellent foil for him and I found it an interesting twist having Peter be stood up by a date who needs to be present at a crimescene. It could easily become tired, but for now it is an interesting subversion of what by now is a ubiquitous Spider-Man trope.

The Lizard sequences are less convincing, something of a bad omen considering the pivotal role that the character plays in this arc. Wells seems confused as to his intentions for the character, with the plot initially seeming as cliche as any of his previous appearances, and just as predictable too. There is little in the way of suspense or surprises regarding Curt Connors' transformation here.

Of course the meat of the story occurs when Connors has been transformed - this time for good. This is a new iteration of the Lizard, one that eventually severs all ties with its human counterpart. The idea of the Lizard without Connors initially seems pointless and this story does little to convince otherwise. His new schtick of driving humans wild is somewhat confusing explained as well as executed and does not really add much to the character, with mst of his subtleties lost with Connors. Visually the new Lizard is spectacular and Wells does attempt to inject some much needed depth late in the day, but he remains an unconvincing adversary.

Much has been made of the stories so called 'explicit content', with several choosing its dark nature as a point for criticism. It is true, that this is a dark, harrowing story, but I wouldn't say that it particularly bothered me, although I could have done without some of the more obvious sexual imagery. It is always interesting to see Spider-Man plunged into more mature situations, and while this is clearly not a story suitable for all ages that is an entirely different issue.

Another plot given some face time here, albeit briefly is 'Negative Aunt May' - Peter's Aunt May having earlier been transformed into a bitter old crone by Mr. Negative. The subplot was initially interesting but lost direction over time and gradually fizzled out. Its conclusion at this story's close was welcome, but was very rushed for such a long running plot thread. I didn't feel that it had as much emotional resonance as Wells was hoping for, although I must admit I found the closing panel with Peter and May to be fairly touching.

The artwork over the course of this four issues is the very definition of inconsistent. Bachalo at his best is one of the finest artists in modern comics, and at times he manages to reach that peak here. His rendition of the Lizard is truly frightening and enough to make an unremarkable villain something more than the sum of its parts. Unfortunately this arc also seems some of the artists worst excesses, and some of the arc's action sequences are very difficult to follow. Emma Rios is a good artist but her soft, clean style is an abrupt shift from Bachalo's and she is never given much of a chance to shine.

Shed was, in theory, a good idea. The Lizard has long been in need of a retool and Wells and Bachalo seem like fine choices to be charged with his rebirth. Their second duet on Brand New Day Spider-Man feels like a missed opportunity however - the new Lizard is hardly an improvement on his old character and scarcely seems worth the collateral damage accumulated across the four issues. A frustrating read, but one ultimately worth checking out.


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