Saturday, 12 May 2012

Why Did The Spider-Man Reboot Fail? Part 17: A Surfeit Of Spiders

Amazing Spider-Man (volume 2) #14 By John Byrne 

After he learned of Mary Jane's death on the final page of the previous issue, you would be forgiven for expecting this issue's follow up to be a somewhat quieter, reflective story, focusing on a grieving Peter Parker. Perhaps that would have been too obvious, because what is delivered here is almost the exact opposite. John Byrne handles both scripting and inking on the issue, taking over from Howard Mackie and Al Milgrom respectively.

The issue begins at Jonah and Marla Jameson's plush looking apartment that they are currently sharing with Jameson's niece Mattie - who unbeknownst to them is also the new Spider-Woman. An interesting enough development, but one that isn't really touched on here. While breakfasting Mattie learns of MJ's death, and finds herself devastated by it, despite never having met her. Jonah's slightly confused reaction is believable enough, moreso than his generally nonplussed attitude towards MJ's death, which makes him come across as very callous given his close relationship to the Parker's over the years. Mattie leaves, changes into her Spider-Woman outfit and races across town, realising along the way that its not really Mary Jane that she is upset about but her husband Peter, although she doesn't know why. It comes across as a very contrived and needlessly artificial way of bringing the two characters together and is a problem for me throughout the issue. Up until she learns that she is Spider-Man, Mattie has no real reason to care about Peter and their interactions feel artificial and staged.

Mattie enters the Parker home and offers Peter and Aunt May her condolences before the evil Spider-Woman attacks. Peter luckily manages to lock a confused Aunt May away before Evil Spider-Woman (ESW) reveals that she is aware of his secret identity - a fact that instantly draws Mattie to him even more. Before he can change into his Spider-Man costume the pair of sparring females take their fight to the street, and Spidey quickly follows. He soon catches up with them and joins the fray but is quickly distracted by ESW knocking a brick wall over on Spider-Woman. When faced with the choice of saving Spider-Woman or going after ESW Spider-Man is forced to help Mattie and allows ESW to glide away into the distance. After saving Mattie, comes the most ridiculous part of the issue - one already telegraphed by the gruesome cover above - as Mattie reveals that they were meant to be together, rips his mask off and 'lays one on him'.

The twist is possibly the worst thing about a truly dismal issue. Quite apart from how creepy it is (lest we forget that Mattie is a teenaged girl) the fact that she lists Mary Jane's death as a reason that they are meant to be together is unbelievably inappropriate. She was an irritating enough character before this issue and this sort of behaviour doesn't help anything.

Quite apart from the story's annoying guest star and ridiculous cliffhanger, it still feels deeply misguided. Peter's grief is barely touched upon and instead we are treated to a fast paced, action packed superhero story. It feels forced, and while the action sequences are adequately crafted they are out of place given the events of Peter Parker: Spider-Man: #13. The Evil Spider-Woman had potential as a villainess, but simply does not seem to possess any character traits that make her remotely interesting. Her powers are extremely vague and she generally feels like a bland adversary. Her relationship with Mattie is the most interesting thing about the two characters, but isn't quite enough to rescue them. John Byrne's artwork is sloppy too - while his distinctive style manages to shine through his work looks overly sketchy and lacking in detail, a few choice panels aside. The story is concluded in Spider-Woman's solo title, but after the vacuum of quality on display here I have no desire to find out how it ends - particularly given that its impact on the core Spider-titles will most likely be minimal at best.


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