Tuesday, 3 January 2012
Why Did The Spider-Man Reboot Fail? Part Seven: Guest Stars Galore!
The Amazing Spider-Man #4 By Mackie / Byrne / Hanna
Peter Parker: Spider-Man #4 By Mackie / Sears / Hanna
After a couple of multi-part stories it's back to single parters for the Spider-Man reboot. Single part stories tend to work well for the character, and it's a particularly welcome move after seeing most of the reboots subplots ground to a halt in recent issues.
Amazing Spider-Man #4 throws us straight into the action, right in the middle of a brawl between Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four, The Sandman and The Trapster. The double page spread on page three does a lot to intrigue the reader about the upcoming story - Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four's team ups are about as iconic as they come, and both the Trapster and particularly the Sandman have been well developed in recent years. Mackie then rewinds, as Spider-Man visits the Fantastic Four so that they can confirm that he is the real deal, following his brief retirement. Mackie's dialogue is slightly vacuous and stilted, but its still good to see them interacting. The scene is brief but is good fun, and Peter and Johnny's conversation (pictured above) is amusing enough. The merriment is interrupted by a blackout that Reed decides is linked to an anomalous magnetic pulse that occurred just moments before. In the meantime Peter notices that the Thing has been monitoring the Sandman, his reasoning being that he never fully believed the ex-villain's conversion to the right side of the law. This troubled me somewhat - although I haven't read it, Sandman and the Thing actually went out drinking in an acclaimed issue of Marvel Team Up years before, and it seems slightly creepy that the Thing has been monitoring him for all the time.
The scene then neatly switches to Sandman, who is working as a bodyguard for Senator Ward, a solid way of involving him in the story - or so we think. The brief scene is mainly exposition and nothing much happens before we move to Spider-Man, on the phone to Mary-Jane. MJ assures him that she is fine, but asks him to go across town and look after Jilly Stacy, who is 'freaked out' because of a childhood incident involving the dark. Why Mary-Jane doesn't just go herself... I don't know. Peter goes to meet Jill who greets him with uncomfortable warmth. They make small talk, and the conversation is jarringly shifted onto Peter's relationship with Mary-Jane, as he confides in Jill the difficulties of being married to a supermodel. It's fairly believable, but seems crowbarred into the story. Peter eventually spots the Trapster, and ditches Jill to follow him.
The Trapster attacks Sandman and Senator Ward, with Spidey following closely on his heels. Spider-Man and the Sandman seem to have Trapster on the ropes, before the supposedly reformed Sandman wallops Spidey right off the roof. Luckily the FF are on hand to catch him in their Fantasti-Car. Meanwhile Sandman and Trapster continue to tussle on the troof. It emerges that they were working in cahoots but Trapster somehow ruined their plan. Sandman seems enraged that his career as a do-gooder is in tatters, even though he hardly seemed to be working hard to preserve it. Ward tries to escape but Sandman stops him, before Spider-Man and the FF turn up and make light work of the two villains. The Thing uses the Trapster's adhesive to stick the pair together but they quickly jump off a building and... dissapear. Hmm.. After a bit of head-scratching our heroes split up, and Peter escorts Jill back to his apartment where it dawns on him that he has completely forgotten that its valentines day (MJ is asleep with Aunt May on the sofa, cradling their gift to him). Jill reveals that its been the 'best she's EVER had', and plants a kiss on Peter's cheek. The romantic tension between Jill and Peter would be a lot more believable if she wasn't best friends with MJ. As it is, it makes her seem like a creep.
Mackie cuts to one of Senator Ward's press conferences, where after leaving he phones up... The Wizard! It emerges that Ward hired the Wizard to loose the Sandman and the Trapster on him as a fake assassination attempt, therefore making him more of a hero to the public. A fairly interesting twist, although it seems slightly odd that Ward would go to a known supervillain for something like that. It makes some comic book sense though. The mystery around Ward is getting deeper and deeper, without any questions being answered, or even clues being given. This is fine though, for now at least.
Although it falls apart under close scrutiny, Mackie writes a fairly enjoyable action packed romp of an issue. The camaraderie between Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four is fun to see, and Byrne's art is terrific throughout. The use of the Sandman however, is terrible. His development as a hero was great to watch over the years, and for Mackie to undo it in one issue is very poor form. It also seems that he was pretending to be reformed the whole time, which undermines several years of good storytelling. Jill's characterisation is also pretty troubling too and I don't like where that particular subplot is going at all.
If you ignore these flaws however, its a decent, well drawn issue, with a good balance of action and subplots - even if the subplots themselves are not entirely to my liking.
The first thing I noticed about Peter Parker: Spider-Man #4 was the change in artist - after a solid mix of John Byrne and John Romita Jr for the reboots opening issues, Romita Jr appears to have taken a month off, and has been replaced by Bart Sears with Scott Hanna on inks. Sear's artwork is very cartoony, but with a more angular quality than many of his contemporaries. He draws a great, almost McFarlanesque Spider-Man, but his civillian characters are not to my liking at all. Another minor point - The issues cover advertises its guest star Marrow as 'The Hottest New X-Man', which doesn't seem true at all whichever way you look at it.
Anyway, the issue begins in typical horror movie fashion, with a young couple out alone at night. The man (Jeff) gets abruply dragged down an open manhole by an unseen assailant, much to his companions horror and she collapses to the ground screaming in apparent terror. The scene is pretty poorly rendered by Sears, and seems fairly rushed. It serves a purpose though, and we quickly move on to the Daily Bugle, where Jonah is instructing his staff to somehow implicate Spider-Man in what is apparently a recent spate of kidnappings. Jonah's characterisation seems to have been reset to the silver age - although his hatred of Spider-Man has always been a major aspect of the character, I prefer it when he is a more nuanced character, something that is definitely not the case here. Jonah leaves, and enters a limousine to meet...yeah you guessed it, Senator Ward. Ward wants to talk to him about the sewer kidnapping story, but it isn't revealed why before the scene is cut short.
Peter and MJ are out on the streets investigating the story, before Peter gets a whack on the head and Betty is dragged down a manhole by our mysterious kidnapper. As I keep saying, it's great seeing Peter interacting with Betty, but the constant focus on the Daily Bugle seems unnecessary when he has a new job at Tricorp. It seems confusing that the focus is on his old job, when you consider the fanfare that accompanied Tricorp's introduction just a few issues ago.
We get a look in at the X-Men, which seems realistic enough given that mutants have been implicated in the disappearances. Most of them seem content enough to sit back, but Marrow is a lot angrier. Her reaction is understandable given that she is a former member of the Morlocks - a sewer dwelling tribe of somewhat unattractive mutants. Marrow's concern for her former comrades is realistic, and actually fairly touching.
Peter wakes up in hospital, with Mary-Jane, Aunt May and Jill Stacy (?) at his bedside. His immediate concern is for Betty, but the girls tell him that there is nothing that he can do to help. MJ reminds him that he isn't Spider-Man anymore (remember - she still thinks that it's the new Spider-Man out on duty). Flash enters and seems enraged at Peter for not doing more to protect his ex-girlfriend. He resolves to rescue her himself and exits. His reversion to silver age meathead is pretty abrupt, and his friendship with Peter seems to have been completely forgotten about, although I suppose it could just be that he cares more about Betty than most people would suspect. Jonah shows up and tells Peter to kill the story, the implication being that he was ordered to by Senator Ward during their encounter in the limousine.
Peter, of course ignores everyone's advice, changes into his costume and actually sneaks past his wife to get out of the house. His constant deception seems ridiculous, and undermines what had been a very strong relationship before the reboot. A full scale riot has now developed on the streets, with Flash at the forefront, enraged at not being allowed into the sewers to look for Betty. Marrow appears, and chaos ensues (remember that mutants have been largely blamed for the attacks) Spider-Man manages to calm things down a little, and he and Marrow are allowed down to try to get to the bottom of the attacks. Flash manages to break free of the crowd, and follows a constantly bickering Spidey and Marrow down to the sewers.
Marrow's characterisation is a little one note - what was initially endearing has become wearing, as she seems to take offence to everything. They eventually arrive at a large cavern, where the kidnapped humans are... just lying around. Weird. One of them is Marrow's old mentor from the Morlocks, who reveals that several more of her people are among the kidnapped. Spider-Man finds Betty and sets her free, before their mysterious captor arrives, heralded by a ridiculously cliche stream of bats. He is a pretty stereotypical looking vampire.. thing, calling himself 'Hunger'. His design is actually fairly good, if a little unimaginative, although his dialogue is very hammy. During the ensuing battle, Hunger claims not to be a vampire and seems generally confused as to his origins. The fight goes on for a few pages - during which Flash tries to help out before being swatted aside -before Spider-Man defeats him, although he refuses to stake him using one of Marrow's bone daggers. Hunger vanishes, and Peter, Flash and Betty depart the scene, leaving Marrow to ponder on why Flash would risk his life. The issue isn't complete without what is now becoming an obligatory Senator Ward epilogue, as the mysterious character reveals to an unseen ally that he was responsible for Hunger's appearance. Once again.. Hmmm.
In general this was a pretty poor quality issue. Bart Sears' art was a step down from Romita and Byrne - his Spider-Man is good but most of his work seemed rushed, with some suspect storytelling. I don't think that he did a particularly good job on the issues climatic fight scene either, with much of the action seeming overly static. Mackie's plot is serviceable, but some of the finer nuances are frustrating. The Daily Bugle's continued prominence is strange and Peter and MJ's relationship is being portrayed as far less intimate than it should be. Mackie seems to be ignoring several years worth of character development, particularly with the likes of Flash Thompson and Jonah Jameson. Flash's heroic turn at the end of the issue seemed thrown in for the sake of it, and didn't really have the desired impact. Marrow's appearance as a guest star was ultimately a little pointless - the mutant element of the story was logical but added little and without its presence Flash may have been able to have more of an impact on the story. As it is, his inclusion seems like one element too many. Senator Ward's involvement in every storyline is getting tiresome, and frankly seems a little lazy. His character is still poorly defined beyond his status as a mystery man. The mystery is still engaging enough, but is beginning to get wearing. Some answers, however small are needed in the near future. Overall, a below par effort from all concerned.