Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Why Did The Spider-Man Reboot Fail? Part Eight: Girl Trouble (In More Ways Than One...)

The Amazing Spider-Man #5-6 By Mackie / Byrne / Hanna
Peter Parker: Spider-Man #5 By Mackie / Sears / Hanna

It's easy to forgot that when the Spider-Man reboot first began, Peter Parker himself wasn't wearing the webs, having retired after the Gathering of Five storyline that worked as a climax for the previous era of the character's history. Peter was briefly replaced as Spider-Man by a mystery character, later revealed to be a 15 year old girl called Mattie Franklin. After Peter returned to the webs Mattie promptly disappeared from the titles.. Until now!

The first installment of this three parter opens with a fairly generic scene featuring Mattie Franklin taking down some Millenium bug themed crooks (No I don't get that either, at least its an attempt to make them somewhat unique I suppose). Unlike her previous appearances however, Mattie has taken on the guise of Spider-Woman, sporting an uninspired Spider-Man-like costume pictured above. There is nothing particularly wrong with it, but the ponytail is a little silly and it is quite bland. The scene is brief, but Mattie is as annoying as ever. She seems a little more assured as a hero than before however. Mackie then looks in on the first person to call herself Spider-Woman - Jessica Drew, now operating as a private detective. Drew is ambushed at her home by an unseen adversary, and quickly overpowered, despite a reminder that her powers are still working.

After nearly of a quarter of the issue gone, we finally switch to our hero, Peter Parker, as he chows down on one of Aunt May's signature dishes, while Mary-Jane rushes around, readying herself for another modelling assignment. Aunt May's characterisation is still annoying,but I actually liked the way that Mackie wrote Peter and MJ's relationship in this scene. The two characters haven't interacted all that much since the reboot and its refreshing to see them together and operating well as a couple - that is until a timely reminder that Peter hasn't yet told his wife that he has returned to being Spider-Man, as he is forced to cover up one of his costumes. The action is actually fairly well told by Mackie, but it doesn't disguise the fact that Peter really should have told her by now. We then get another brief scene featuring another ex-Spider-Woman (this time it's Julia Carpenter) being assaulted by a mystery attacker. The sequences seem oddly similar in execution to the sewer kidnappings in the previous issue of PP:SM, and lose a lot of their appeal as a result, although that aside they are still compelling enough.

While at the Bugle (with Tricorp still nowhere to be seen) Peter learns of the new Spider-Woman, as well as the recent assaults on her predecessors. Peter correctly guesses that she is Mattie Franklin, and webslings across town to where she is battling a group of hulking monsters. Mattie seems to be holding her own, but makes a couple of rookie errors, although she eventually manages to defeat the monsters with Spider-Man's help. Despite her victory Spider-Man spends a few pages chiding her for her inexperience, before they are both attacked by the mystery villain from earlier in the issue, who is revealed to be YET another Spider-Woman - this one decidedly more evil than the other three.

On the whole this was a decent issue. Mattie is a slightly annoying character, but needed to be followed up on, and its always great to be reminded of Spider-Man's maturity as a character. The action is well drawn by Byrne, and the idea of a villainous Spider-Woman is a neat concept, particularly as Spider-Man tends to lack female foes. Peter keeping secrets from MJ does rankle a bit, but that isn't enough to take the sheen off what is actually a solid issue.

Part two is once again drawn by Bart Sears rather than John Romita Jr, although given that Sears was the artist on Spider-Woman's solo series it does make some sense. His work is a lot more polished here than in the previous issue of PP: SM, although it is still a notch below Byrne's work.

We pick up the story a little after last issues cliffhanger, as its revealed that the villainous Spider-Woman gave Mattie and Peter a bit of a trashing. Peter is considerably worse off and carries her to safety, dropping her off in...a random apartment (?) It's clearly not Peter and MJ's apartment, and its never made entirely clear where it is, or who exactly it belongs to. Very odd. Mattie comes around and recounts her (rather dull) origin to Peter, who attempts to take her to a doctor. Mattie isn't happy and physically resists, before collapsing from the strain of her injuries. Peter carries her off to the Black Cat's apart, reasoning that he 'didn't know where else to turn'. Again, slightly odd, but whatever. As soon as Peter has managed to get the Black Cat up to speed they are attacked by Spider-Woman, and after a few pages of tussling manage to defeat her (but not before Peter has planted a spider-tracer on her). After a bit of awkward flirting between Spidey and the Black Cat, he swings off, once again with Mattie in tow.

The issue is also intercut with scenes featuring Mary-Jane, as she begins to suspect that Peter has returned to the webs. Peter was supposed to take her to the airport for her modelling gig, but hasn't showed up, so MJ cancels her flight and takes to the streets with Jill out of worry. She also receives a couple of threatening sounding phone calls and the issue closes with her collapsed the floor in tears, phone ringing in the background. It's a little over the top but actually quite touching, and a fairly strong note to the end the issue on. The barrier between her and Peter works slightly less well however, and it never quite rings true seeing them keep secrets from each other.

The main portion of the issue is poor quality too, and probably could have been skipped. As with many of the recent guest stars, Black Cat's role in the story is utterly superfluous and forgettable. Spider-Woman appears again but receives little development, while Mattie ranges from being unconscious to intensely annoying. A large step down after an enjoyable first part.

The conclusion sees John Byrne on art duties, so in that respect it is an instant step up from Bart Sears' mediocre artwork on the middle part. The first few pages are composes of thinly veiled exposition, as Spidey  recounts the events of the previous two issues in fourth-wall-breaking fashion. It isn't particularly necessary but we get a nice double page spread out of it from Byrne. It isn't immediately clear what Peter has done with Mattie, but the assumption seems to be that he has dropped her off at hospital, before heading home to profusely apologise to Mary Jane. We get what now seems to be a standard few panels of Aunt May character deconstruction, before MJ confronts Peter, asking him outright if he is Spider-Man again (but not before lying to him about the threatening phone calls she has been getting) Peter opens his chest to reveal no Spider-Man costume underneath, and claims that he isn't. Oh dear. The phone rings and it's Robbie from the  Bugle, who wants Peter to cover a sighting of the new Spider-Woman. Still no sign of Peter's flashy new job at Tricorp by the way.

We cut to the evil Spider-Woman, who seems in anguish. She is talking to someone who isn't in the scene but appears to be in her head, controlling her somehow. After randomly attacking some cops she is found by Spider-Man, and claims to him that she doesn't like violence, and is being controlled by someone who wants her to drain the powers of the other Spider-Women before killing Spider-Man - A Doctor of some kind who has experimented on her in a lab, and presumably given her her new abilities. She swiftly loses control and attacks Spider-Man, before the scene shifts to Jonah Jameson and his wife Marla, who are visiting Mattie Franklin - it turns out that her father is a friend of Jamesons. I actually found this to be a fairly interesting move, and the scene is pretty funny. After Jonah and Marla leave, a de-aged Madame Web enters, who claims to have a job for her. Interesting...

Oddly, Mackie skips the fight between Spider-Woman and Spider-Man. It turns out that she defeated him, and he is now webbed up, hanging from the ceiling in the secret lair of... Doctor Octopus. It turns out that classic Spider-Man villain was the mysterious doctor who gave Spider-Woman her powers, and he now appears to have Spider-Man on the ropes. Ock recounts Spider-Woman's origin, but it doesn't make any sense. He reveals that she was a fashion designer called Charlotte Witter, who lived a 'double life' and that she possessed 'qualities that would prove to be valuable'. Neither of these statements are expanded on at all and we are left to guess at what Ock is talking about. He kidnapped Witter and experimented her, turning her into the villainous Spider-Woman. Her powers are still not made entirely clear, aside from an ability to 'mesmerise' males, that as far as my memory goes hasn't been glimpsed yet.

Spider-Man breaks free of the webs, and after fighting off Doc Ock and Spider-Woman smashes a window, flooding the presumably underwater hideout. Ock grabs Spider-Woman and leaves, while Spidey swims to surface, remarking that he has a feeling that he hasn't seen the last of Spider-Woman. The final scene sees him racing across town to meet Aunt May, who has just undergone a dramatic new look (that seems to have shaved about 30 years off her life). I was never a fan of the skeletal look for Aunt May, so I quite like her more youthful appearance, even if it doesn't make much sense and came completely out of nowhere. The cliffhanger sees a brooding Flash Thompson surprised at his home by an unexpected (and unseen - to us) visitor...

After a solid first part I had high hopes for this arc. The new Spider-Woman has a decent design, and as mentioned earlier, new female villains for Spider-Man are always a welcome thing. I thought Spider-Man's characterisation was excellent too. The latter two parts however saw a massive drop off in quality. Mackie's pacing was very off throughout - Black Cat's appearance was ultimately pointless, yet Doc Ock barely appeared in the story, the conclusion is horribly rushed and Spider-Woman ends up defeating Spider-Man off panel, which was a little disappointing. Her origin is pretty lacklustre and poorly explained, although the idea of Doc Ock controlling a villainous Spider-Woman is quite an inspired one in my opinion. Worse still is the portrayal of Peter and MJ's relationship, with both lying to each other. MJ's refusal to tell Peter about her strange phone calls is particular jarring given that they were forced to deal with Jonathon Caesar stalking her when they were newlyweds. As a couple they have gone through too much to constantly deceive each other in this way, and it comes across as very forced. The Tricorp situation has reached ridiculous levels too - with the Daily Bugle playing a part in every story it begs the question of why Mackie bothered introducing Peter's job without a clear idea of where he was going to go with it. The first part saves this story somewhat, but this is still yet more below par work.


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