Sunday, 8 January 2012

Why Did The Spider-Man Reboot Fail? Part 10: The Perfect World

Amazing Spider-Man (Volume 2) #7-8 By Mackie / Byrne / Hanna 

After providing a good issue last time round, Howard Mackie has once again delivered the unthinkable - this time by following up an unresolved plotline. After being confronted at his home at the end of the last issue of Amazing Spider-Man, Flash has been seen walking around in a daze in the intervening issue of Peter Parker: Spider-Man. With this two parter we finally find out what happened to the former high school jock.

The issue's opening firmly establishes the storys setting in an alternate universe of some kind, as Flash is woken up in a luxury apartment by his superhero partner - Spider-Man. Flash's powers are not made entirely clear, but he appears to be able to fly and have superhuman strength, both potentially enabled by the jazzy suit that he wears throughout the story. This is a minor detail though, and doesn't make much of a difference to the plot. Flash and Peter learn of Dr. Doom's latest scheme through Captain Stacy, before Flash has to fight of a gaggle of women comprised of Mary-Jane, Gwen Stacy and Betty Brant. Oddly, Spider-Man doesn't react to their presence at all.

The bulk of the issue is composed of a light hearted super hero romp, as Flash and Peter rescue a captured Fantastic Four from Dr. Doom, defeating Blastaar and Annihilus along the way. Mackie's tongue is firmly in his cheek, and its clear the story is not supposed to be taken seriously - a welcome move as it is hardly compelling. Mackie's dialogue is at times poor, but works better in a more light hearted setting than usual. After their victory Flash and Peter are granted a lavish, over the top victory paraded, before Flash is handed the keys to the city by mayor Norman Osborn (?), despite the protestations of a bedraggled looking Jonah Jameson.  Perhaps the issue's most intriguing detail comes in its final few pages, as we are granted a look at Peter Parker, who interestingly does not appear to be Spider-Man. Peter is in a wheelchair, back wearing glasses and while watching the parade on TV claims to Aunt May that something is wrong, and that the world is a little off centre. His complaints are rebuffed by a smiling Uncle Ben on the issues final page. How's that for a cliffhanger eh?

The beginning of the next issue is more of the same, as Flash and Spider-Man take on the Red Skull, Kingpin and a veritable army of goons. Their eventual triumph is predictable, but brief, and the heroes are confronted by wheelchair bound Peter Parker at their victory press conference, who is still sure that something is not quite right. Peter is dragged off by police and strapped down in their vehicle, and Gwen follows in an attempt to calm him. Gwen tells Peter that she has always loved him, before her face and hair bizarrely transform into her cousin Jill's. Peter becomes enraged and asks to see MJ, before Gwen/Jill informs him that she is due to marry Flash that afternoon. This appears to be the final straw for Peter, and he unleashes hitherto unseen super strength to break free of his shackles, and escape from the vehicle (shedding his glasses in the process)

Peter now seems to remember the 'real' world, and heads to the church. Upon arriving he bumps into 'Spider-Man', who is acting as Flash's best man, and shown dispelling some of his fresh doubts. Peter knocks out Spider-Man and unmasks him, revealing a familiar (but initially unseen) face. Putting on the webs, Peter enters the church, just as it comes under assault from virtually every major foe of Spider-Man's (with one notable exception). Byrne's double page spread here is excellent, and a great glimpse at his interpretations of Spidey's rogues gallery. Peter and Flash fight off the villains while Peter explains to his friend that something is very wrong. Flash seems reluctant to accept it, but it appears to be dawning on him too. Eventually Peter finds the true source of the illusion, Quentin Beck, aka Mysterio, who had been posing as Spider-Man. He reveals that he had created the illusion in order to figure out Spider-Man's true identity, capturing several of those closest to him in order to create the 'Perfect World' scenario. It seems that Flash's will was strongest, and thus his desires took centre stage. It's up to Flash to shatter the illusion, and despite his misgivings he does, smashing Mysterio's fishbowl and restoring the true reality. Mysterio jets off, and Flash, Peter, and most of the rest of Spider-Man's supporting cast wake in a mysterious chamber, all floating in a vat of mysterious liquid. Peter reaches out to Flash but he hits back, and appears resentful, seeming to revert to 'dumb jock' mode and verbally lashing out at Peter, before leaving.

Although the plot of this two parter is utterly ridiculous, it is actually a pretty good story. Mackie actually seems well suited to writing a more light hearted tale, and Byrne does a great job at drawing some classic members of Spider-Man's supporting cast and rogues gallery. It is also telling that one of the strongest issues of the reboot is one where the focus has been taken away from Mackie's dull subplots - this story is very self contained and all the better for it. Perhaps more than anything else it is simply a great character study of Flash himself, revealing his innermost desires and frustrations, while also emphasising his heroic qualities at the conclusion. I wasn't initially a fan of his bitterness on the issues final page but can't deny that it was a realistic reaction.

The main plot, and explanation for the 'Perfect World' scenario is gibberish though, and riddled with contrivances and plot holes. Mysterio is a good villain but his presence here doesn't really convince, not least because Quentin Beck was killed off in an earlier issue of Daredevil (a fact that the story does half heartedly make reference to). His desire to figure out Spider-Man's secret identity comes out of nowhere, and doesn't really make sense at all within the context of the story.

Still, this was an enjoyable, and perhaps most all original diversion from the tiresome world of the reboot. It's always good to see a member of Spider-Man's fantastic supporting cast take centre stage, and for the most part Flash is portrayed realistically here. A poor plot is not enough to take the sheen of another solid story from Mackie.


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