Thursday, 22 December 2011

Why Did The Spider-Man Reboot Fail: Part Five - And Here, My Troubles Begin...

Amazing Spider-Man #3 by Mackie / Byrne / Hanna

Peter Parker: Spider-Man #3 by Mackie / Romita Jr. / Hanna

Surprisingly enough, Amazing Spider-Man's second issue was a decent enough story in its own right. Sure, it had the same faults that have plagued the rest of the reboot, but at its core it was a solid slice of superhero action, with a cool villain. A good conclusion to the story may have kickstarted what was already a somewhat disappointing start for the rebooted Spider-Man titles. Unfortunately what we were ultimately given fell a little short of the mark...

Amazing Spider-Man #3 follows on from the end of #2, with Peter Parker (now as Spider-Man) exiting the scene while handily recapping the events of the previous issue. He also forgets that the Spider-Man costume that he is wearing doesn't have webshooters and falls to earth in embarassing fashion. Oops.

We then get an origin for our intriguing new villain, Shadrac, as his shadowy master reveals that he is Override, a pre-reboot villain who took part in the Gathering of Five ceremony in an attempt to save his dying wife. The ceremony held five possible outcomes - one being power, but Override ultimately received death, a 'reward' that appears to have transformed him into Shadrac, a ghoul like character. The shadowy figure reveals himself to be Dolman, the previous owner of one of the five shards required to perform the ceremony, who is now on a quest to recapture the shard. Or something. If it sounds boring and convoluted, it's because it is. I could feel my brain turning to mush just typing it out. Override was actually a very interesting character before the reboot, but loses a lot of his depth as Shadrac. His dying wife seems abruptly forgotten about, and he simply becomes an anguished pawn of Dolman's and an essentially useless character, cool design or not. This is the point where the arc begins to go off the rails.

Mackie switches the scene to Peter Parker, who has stopped off at Tricorp to pick up some webshooters, that he has inexplicably stashed at his place of work. It seems like an awkward way of squeezing Tricorp into the story, which isn't actually a particularly bad thing given how irregularly Peter's new job was mentioned later on. Peter runs into resident A-hole Javier who tries to rope him into viewing an 'exciting' new project. Unfortunately Peter is forced to leave to track Shadrac, much to the disappointment of his new boss. While Mackie obviously has the best of intentions with the scene, it reads very irritatingly. The balance between being Spider-Man and having a real life has always been a fundemantal aspect of the character, but it comes across as forced  here, and far too early to show Peter letting down his new employers. He comes across as a bit of a jerk, even if he does have the best of intentions in mind.

Shadrac and Dolman continue to look for the shard, but are interrupted by Spider-Man and Iceman (?). Dolman is revealed to be in complete control of poor Shadrac, but is nowhere to be found as Spider-Man and Iceman take on the beleaguered villain. Iceman's appearance is completely inexplicable, he seems to have been placed in the story purely for the visual of his ice against Shadrac's fire. It makes some wonky sense, but isn't explained very well and after a few pages of enjoyable enough tussling, Iceman literally freezes Shadrac in a block of ice.

The story continues in #3 of Peter Parker: Spider-Man (not #2, confusingly enough. We'll get to that next time). Here, Mackie takes the interesting step of recounting the plot through the eyes of a handful of innocent   bystanders, the idea being that Betty Brant and Jonah Jameson are trying to piece together the events so as to include them in a story. The idea is neat but doesn't really work, it ends up being fairly annoying having to see the events of the conclusion second hand, it doesn't help that Mackie's dialogue is sort of clunky too. I think that the idea would have worked more effectively in the middle part of the storyline. MJ being interviewed about Spider-Man was a nice idea though, and she is written very convincingly. It's always nice to see her showing up at this stage, even if it is a cameo.

Anyway, various bystanders guide us through what is a very formulaic story, as Shadrac breaks free and runs off the pawn shop owned by yet another person to take part in the Gathering of Five ceremony. Spidey and Iceman follow, but somehow allow him to build up a significant lead over them, despite the fact that they should both probably be quicker than him. Never mind. They eventually track Shadrac through a sewer, bringing them to an underground cavern, where he is revealed to have kidnapped the pawnbroker, with Dolman joining the two of them in some sort of bizarre ritual. The characters keep talking about preventing Dolman making contact with 'the spindle' but it's unclear what it is. It's also unclear why the pawnbroker needs to be there, Dolman refers to him having the spindle, and having hidden it somewhere in the crevice but it's all very sloppily explained. I'm not sure why Dolman couldn't have just gone to the pawnbroker himself without involving Shadrac, particularly as it's already been established that he can control the holders of of the other shards. At several points reading this story it feels like I've missed a few pages somewhere along the line.

Anyway, Dolman starts suddenly getting really powerful - again its unclear why - giving off lots of yellow crackly energy and levitating a couple of feet off the ground. Who knows what he actually plans to do with this power, he is a really poorly defined character. The next few pages are a total mess, as Dolman seems to cause the cavern to collapse around them and the other characters sort of...flail around a bit. Eventually Shadrac leaps at Dolman and thrusts his arms into his chest, revealing that if he can't stop him as Shadrac, maybe he can as Override. No, I don't know what he means either. There is a big explosion and Spider-Man and Iceman run away, pawnbroker in tow.

The final civilian - a hobo - finishes telling the story to Jameson and sneaks off when Spidey and Iceman show up, neither of whom can remember seeing a hobo on the scene. When he is alone, he removes his hood and reveals himself to be.. Dolman! And Shadrac, the two of them having somehow merged. He slinks off into an alley, and is never seen again.

This was a really poor end to what had started off as a promising story. The involvement of the Gathering of Five was completely unnecessary - apart from revealing what happened to a couple of characters - and feels tacked on. Mattie Franklin is completely forgotten about, after the first couple of pages of Amazing #3. I have no doubt that she will appear again, but it feels pretty jarring. Peter being back as Spider-Man doesn't really have the impact that I thought it would either.

Shadrac was a decent enough villain who became completely pointless by the stories end. As I said earlier, Override was a good character and seems to have been totally ruined. As I keep pointing out, he does have a cool design but that doesn't make up for his failings in every other respect. Dolman is an atrocious villain with no motivations or personality to speak of. Mackie does make a half hearted attempt to give him a British accent, but it adds nothing to the character and he is very very weak throughout. Iceman's presence was pointless, and he really added nothing to the story apart from being able to cover Shadrac in ice - which ultimately never achieved anything. The pawnbroker's also seems pretty superfluous, and does very little. He only actually appears in a handful of panels - again, what was the point?

It pains me to say it, but this was a total failure of a storyline. Mackie seemed to have good intentions, dealing with the ramifications from the Gathering of Five, but nothing is properly explained or resolved. Dolman/Shadrac never appeared again, and it is easy to see why. The story is a convoluted mess. Byrne's art on part 2 is excellent, and makes the story somewhat readable, but Romita Jr.'s work on the conclusion is less successful, often coming across as slightly muddled and sketchy. The artwork was enough to rescue the first two issues of the reboot, it unfortunately can't do the same here.


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