Monday, 16 January 2012

Why Did The Spider-Man Reboot Fail? Part 14: Another Return Of The Sinister Six

The Amazing Spider-Man #12 By Mackie / Byrne / Beatty / Ramos
Peter Parker: Spider-Man #12 By Mackie / Romita Jr / Isherwood / Hanna / Ramos

In theory, the Sinister Six should be one of Spider-Man's most fearsome threats. In practice - despite being comprised of six of his best known villains - this has often not been the case, despite the team starring in some memorable stories. After an underwhelming first year of the reboot, what better way to restore a bit of excitement to the titles than another return of the team. The first crossover between the newly relaunched Amazing Spider-Man and Peter Parker: Spider-Man even featured a nifty (if slightly jumbled) wraparound cover. But was the story any good?

The first part begins with a duel between Spider-Man and an ever-enigmatic Mysterio, who is repeatedly committing suicide. Spider-Man actually comes straight from a shift at Tricorp, a refreshing reminder from Mackie of his new job. The rest of the meat of the issue is largely based on Sandman recruiting a new Sinister Six, aiming to take on original leader Doctor Octopus, as well as score some cash for the capture of Senator Ward.

Throughout the issue we are also reminded of Peter and MJ's marital strife, and the friction that his activities as Spider-Man have caused between the couple. It seems believable enough that MJ would be annoyed at Peter lying to her, but her opposition to his secret identity seems way out of left field. I have always preferred Mary Jane when she is more accepting of his alter ego and her portrayal here never quite rings true, just as I was never convinced by Peter lying to her about being Spider-Man. There are plenty of other ways that Mackie could have driven a realistic wedge between the two characters, and I think that using Peter's superhero status was fairly lazy writing.

It turns out that Doctor Octopus is allied with Senator Ward, and neatly enough the Sinister Six attack him at the same that Spider-Man has tracked down Arthur Stacy (who is also after Ward). Spider-Man battles with the Six for a while, and just as he is on the ropes things get a whole lot worse as the Six are joined by a surprise new member.. Venom.

Part two starts with Arthur Stacy rescuing Spider-Man from a distance. Ock and Ward leave, with the Six  hot pursuit. Interestingly Venom struggles as a team player, and finds himself in constant dispute with Sandman. Meanwhile MJ's stalker is turning his activities up a notch, continuing to detonate bombs and notifying the Daily Bugle of his activities. MJ is unlucky enough to be trapped in a car with him, but she manages to pepper spray him and escapes. Spider-Man turns up just a little too late, and predictably enough MJ is not happy.

The Sinister Six plot ends in confusing fashion, as Ward starts emitting powerful looking pink rays of energy and is spirited away by Electro and Mysterio (who are now apparently a duo). Mysterio remarks that they've done it.

It is always good to see the Sinister Six appear, and for that reason I enjoyed bits of this two-parter. The Sinister Six themselves though seemed misused throughout. Venom joining the team was on paper, a very cool but never really went anywhere - although I thought that the friction between the team was both realistic and well written by Mackie. Despite tis The Sandman's role as leader seemed out of nowhere, and Mysterio and Electro's bond was random and poorly developed, with Electro's previous appearance (and apparent death) barely referenced.  Their reasons for reforming too, were strange, and I'm not sure what exactly they wanted revenge on Ock for. He did once betray them but it was years ago, and there didn't seem to much of a catalyst for them getting together again. Kraven Jr had never even met Doc Ock, and his reasons for joining and characterisation were both fairly blank throughout. Visually, the Six were as much of a spectacle as ever, it just didn't make much sense.

The stalker subplot is still kicking into high gear, and getting a little out of hand in the process. He is still a suitably creepy threat, not to mention a unique one in a world of flashy costumes and superpowers, but seems too omnipotent and vague to be much of a realistic character. Weirdly the subplot works fairly well as a way of establishing tension between Peter and MJ, so it seems odd that Mackie decided to favour the Spider-Man angle which is as tired as ever.

The Senator Ward subplot is also moving along, but by this point has got very out of hand. Ward has received barely any character development, and the mystery around him has been sloppily developed. Mackie is great at building mystique and intrigue around a character, but seemingly little more. Ward's character amounts to a series of vague hints and poorly outlined links to more interesting characters. Ock's presence in the story is pretty much neutered through his connection to a thoroughly inferior character in Senator Ward. By the time Mysterio and Electro were revealed to have a connection to him it was approaching the point of self parody. To credit Mackie though, the Arthur Stacy angle is far more interesting and needs more development.

It seems difficult to miss the target with a Sinister Six story, and on a basic level this is a fun, slightly overcomplicated two parter with good art. The plot is a little muddled and the dialogue is a mixed bag, but it is still perfectly readable. Where Mackie falls down however, is where he trys to be too elaborate, with many of his attempts at depth falling flat.


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