Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Why Did The Spider-Man Reboot Fail? Part 11: All You People Are Vampires

Peter Parker: Spider-Man #7-8 By Mackie / Romita Jr. / Hanna

Howard Mackie wasn't always universally known as a writer of bad Spider-Man stories, and it seems unfair that in recent years that is all he is remembered for. Before the reboot, he and John Romita Jr actually had a solid run on Peter Parker: Spider-Man, generally dealing with Spider-Man's interactions with the shadier side of New York, nominally involving plenty of gangland scuffles. With that in mind it is more welcome to see Mackie and Romita Jr returning to their roots for this two parter, even if they have decided to introduce a more supernatural element to the proceedings.

The first two pages introduces us to Mutt and T-Bone, a pair of small time crooks working for the Kingpin. They break into a crypt, where they are met by a group of creepy looking vampire types guarding a mysterious looking trunk. The scene shifts to Peter Parker, who is preparing for a long deserved holiday with his wife Mary-Jane. After getting his belongings together Peter makes it as far as a shop before he is caught in the middle of a brawl between Mutt and T-Bone (who seem to have stolen the trunk) and the vampires from earlier. Peter changes into his costume and joins the fray, naturally taking sides against the vampires, despite being unsure as to how genuine they are. After dispensing with the undead types, Spidey follows Mutt across town to an abandoned factory, and after being surprised by the web-slinger, Mutt decides to fill him in on recent events. It seems that a recent gangland showdown was interrupted by a shadowy vampiric figure who killed a lot of Mutt's colleagues - understandably leaving he and most of his cohorts rather shook. up.

Spidey and Mutt are interrupted by a vampire who Mutt quickly stakes, before inadvertently revealing that the vampire who attacked the showdown was none other than.. Hunger (remember him), a shadowy figure that Spider-Man tussled with a few months ago. Spidey webs up a few more attacking vampires, before reminding Mutt that he doesn't want any more killing. The two of them are interrupted by Blade the Vampire Hunter, followed by another group of vampires and another brief fight scene quickly ensues. The trio once again go off in search of the trunk, and quickly find it, along with none other than Hunger, shrouded in purple smoke. Hunger reveals that he is feeling a lot more together than when they last met, and quickly destroys their weapons before making light work of both Blade and Spider-Man. Mutt has wandered off, and quickly runs into T-Bone, who is now a member of the undead. Unswayed by his former friends desire to convert him, Mutt stakes him, and Hunger quickly feels the loss and slinks off into the shadows. Spidey leaves the trunk with Blade and swings off to catch his and Mary-Jane's flight. Surprise suprise - it's delayed, and Peter is left to commiserate with Jill Stacy who is waiting with him at the airport. The issue closes with Kingpin, who outlines his desire to regain the trunk, and 'return some control to the city'. Exciting.

The following issue begins with Spidey trying to get a hold of MJ, and unsurprisingly failing. He eventually gets a call from Robbie at the Bugle, asking him to go and cover a summit of crime lords across town. Peter goes there, and after hiding in the bushes is greeted by the sight of Kingpin and Jimmy Six who appear to be closing some kind of deal. Peter is found by one of Kingpin's men but runs off, straight into Blade. Another goon fires what looks like a rocket launcher at them, and Peter knocks Blade out of the way before losing consciousness. The two of them come to with a group of cops standing over them and quickly exit, with Blade reminding Peter to stay out of the conflict. We are treated to a brief interlude where one of Kingpin's men brings him Peter Parker's name, before we move over to the Daily Bugle offices. Robbie is advising Peter to get out of town for a while for his own safety (why hasn't he just got a later flight to join Mary Jane) before another reporter blurts out that Eddie Brock (aka Venom) has escaped from jail, and is apparently heading back to New York Peter muses it on it and decides to join MJ, before learning that she is so annoyed at him that she is refusing his phone calls. Surprise surprise Jill Stacy is on hand to soften the blow, and she promptly appears out of nowhere to reassure Peter that him and MJ will be ok. This is then followed by an awkward moment where Peter double takes, as he realises how similar Jill looks to her cousin (and Peter's ex girlfriend) Gwen Stacy. Jill tells him that it happens to her a lot, before exiting. I have been very critical of the romantic tension between Jill and Peter, but in this case I thought it actually worked well and was very realistic. Jill's attitude towards Peter still seems a bit strange, you might even say creepy, but this brief exchange has given me some hope for the subplot.

Peter changes into his costume and heads across town to yet another gangland meeting, where the mysterious trunk is opened, revealing it to contain classic Spider-Man villain Morbius, the living vampire, who was presumably being contained within the trunk as a sort of living weapon. Blade appears, and a fight begins between him, Spider-Man, Kingpin and Morbius, who seems understandably confused at the situation. After zapping Morbius, Kingpin slinks off and Spider-Man is left attempting to stop Blade from killing the Living Vampire. Blade agrees to do things Spider-Man's way and leaves, leaving the web slinger alone with Morbius. Morbius reveals that Hunger is actually Crown, a Hydra-created villain from before the reboot, and warns Spider-Man to stay away from both he, and Senator Ward before collapsing.

Peter returns to his appartment, and reveals through internal narration that he dropped Morbius off at Tricorp. Finally! A mention of Peter's new job. It might be a brief one but it is welcome nonetheless, and a genuinely clever way of working it into the story. Peter answers the phone and is shocked to hear that it is MJ's mysterious stalker, who he immediately assumes is the recently escaped Eddie Brock. While Peter is distracted by the phone call he is crept up on by Jimmy Six, who appears behind him, holding a gun to his head. Six, who was friends with Peter's late 'cousin' Ben Reilly, warns Peter to lay low and stay out things before exiting, leaving Peter clutching a ringing phone, with his other hand clenched into a fist.

Phew, Mackie certainly packs a lot of twists and turns into this two parter - not all of them entirely necessary. The plot is certainly not his strongest and doesn't hang together well at all. Far too many characters are used and none of them are particularly strongly portrayed - with even Spider-Man himself often seeming like a passenger in several scenes. Hunger's return was welcome, he is still an intriguing villain with a solid design and his links to Crown and Hydra were fairly realistic. His character is still a little vague and poorly defined though, and he was underused across these two issues. Blade's presence is logical, but he adds barely anything to the story plotwise. As with many of Mackie's guest stars, he seems largely superfluous and adds little to an already overcrowded cast.

As mentioned before, Mackie and Romita Jr tend to excel at mob based storylines, and although this is one of their weaker efforts the tone is spot on throughout. The Kingpin's presence in the background once again lends a certain sense of foreboding to events, but I thought it was a mistake to use him in the story's climatic fight scene. To me, Kingpin has always worked better when operating from the shadows. Jimmy Six's return was well handled throughout though, and a good example of using a previously existing character when other writers might have created an unnecessary new one.

Once again, Peter and MJ's relationship takes a backburner (for the most part), but as often seems to be the case with the reboot, when Mackie focuses on it, it tends to be misused. I'm not entirely against creating tension between the couple, but I think it has been very forced in recent months. It is good to see the Jill Stacy subplot portrayed a little more realistically however, and I'm hopeful that this is a sign that the character will edge into a slightly more believable direction. It's good to see the stalker subplot coming along too. It has been one of the better handled ones from the reboot, even if it has been seen before (albeit with a few differences) in David Micheline's run.

This was far from Mackie's worst storyline since the reboot, but it's not the best either. Romita Jr's art is a mixed bag, and most of the fight sequences are a little messy, but it still managed to be good fun, with some interesting twists and turns and bags of suspense throughout - even if a lot of it is ultimately unfulfilled.


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