Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Why Did The Spider-Man Reboot Fail? Part 18: Doomed Again

Peter Parker: Spider-Man (volume 2) #14 By Mackie / Romita Jr. / Hanna

Although the previous issue of Amazing Spider-Man allowed readers a glimpse at Peter Parker after learning of MJ’s death, it hardly gave us an emotional reaction, choosing instead to focus on Spider-Woman, a character who even her most ardent fans would admit seemed completely out of place. This issue is a little more like it, and begins with Aunt May preparing a meal for Peter and Mary Jane’s friends, with the scene shifting across to see how various members of the supporting cast are handling her death. It is brief, but handled very well by Mackie. Spider-Man’s supporting cast is one of the best in comic book history when used correctly, and this issue certainly stands as an example of that.

Peter Parker however is not helping his aunt prepare the meal, instead choosing to spend his time trading blows with the Incredible Hulk, who he confusingly seems to have blamed for MJ’s plane crash. It isn’t explained particularly well and seems like a humungous leap of logic, although it does set up a fairly visually spectacular fight sequence between Spider-Man and the jade giant. Peter is still in denial, and at this point it seems like a realistic reaction for a character who has experienced as many returns from the grave as he has. The characters trade blows, in the process destroying a set of train tracks.

In the meantime, Peter and Mary Jane’s friends arrive at the meal, and comfort a flustered Aunt May. This is a particularly touching scene, and somewhat surprisingly Mackie’s dialogue is excellent, in an understated sort of way. The rest of the issue cuts between the two scenes, with both working well in entirely different ways. Eventually Spidey and the Hulk hear a train coming and decide to patch up their differences and repair the train tracks that they wrecked together. It’s a fairly convenient end to the issue, but one that works well in the context of such an emotionally driven plot. The Hulk's characterisation is dead on, and a lot more nuanced than it often is. Peter returns home to Aunt May and apologies for missing the meal, before reiterating his belief that MJ is not truly dead. The issue concludes with Peter receiving a mysterious phone call in the middle of the night, simply saying ‘She’s alive’.

Unfortunately the conclusion rather ruins what had been a quietly excellent issue from Mackie and Romita. Giant leap of logic from Peter aside, his fight with the Hulk was terrifically rendered by Romita, with enough character work behind it to make it interesting on a number of levels. The dinner scene worked well as a way of bringing Peter’s supporting cast into the story, and all the characters rang true throughout the scene. The final three panels, although a tiny part of the issue undermines it somewhat, and come across as a cheap way of dragging the plot out and reiterating Peter's belief that his wife is still alive. Despite this, this is still an impressive issue that seems to have been lost in the shuffle in subsequent years – somewhat understandably so.


Amazing Spider-Man (volume 2) #15 By Mackie / Byrne / Green

Peter Parker Spider-Man (volume 2) #15 By Mackie / Romita Jr. / Hanna

Although Doctor Doom is broadly known as an adversary of the Fantastic Four, he actually went toe to toe with our favourite Web-Slinger in just the fifth issue of Amazing Spider-Man. This two parter sees famed Fantastic Four writer John Byrne tackle a character that made up a relatively small part of his acclaimed run on the series, albeit in slightly less impressive style.

Following the enigmatic phone call he received at the end of the previous issue a dogged Peter heads to Latveria determined to prove that Mary Jane is alive. Why Latveria? As Peter recounts in a brief flashback sequence, the fictional Eastern European nation ruled by Doctor Doom was the destination for the flight on which Mary Jane supposedly lost her life. After arriving in the country, Peter (in full webbed attire) heads to castle Von Doom in an attempt to find her. He is chased off by robotic guards led by Doom himself and soon hooks up with a female rebel whose father is being held hostage in the castle. After having had the ails of the country recounted to him, Spider-Man goes straight back to the castle, and is once again attacked by Doom. After a brief skirmish he manages to knock his head off, revealing that he is actually a robot. The headless Doombot blasts him right out of the castle and he finds Anna again, revealing that he ‘has a plan’.

The second part begins with the Doombot undergoing repairs while ordering his men to track down and kill Spider-Man. Romita Jr takes over art duties for this issue, and the opening is probably the highlight of the arc, with the Doombot actually coming across as a genuinely impressive figure. Doom’s men begin to open fire on sections of Latveria, and Anna has to stop Spidey from going out to help. He changes into his civvies, with Anna logically reminding him that his secret identity is relatively meaningless in Latveria. The pair of them leave the town - Peter destroying a troublesome robot along the way – and enter the countryside. Why? I have no idea. After Peter sees yet more devastation being caused he immediately changes into his costume and heads back into the town, where a crazed and apparently malfunctioning Doombot is turning on its own followers, and is about to execute Anna’s father. Spider-Man swings in and battles the Doombot for a few pages, eventually destroying it. He rescues the rebel leader and resolves to leave Latveria, bemoaning the time that he has wasted in finding his ‘dead’ wife.

This two parter is genuinely a bit of a mess. The plot is very uninspired, and in places makes little sense. Although the plot sounds fairly complicated it actually feels padded out to fit into two issues and is poorly paced throughout. Peter seems to forget about his search for Mary Jane very quickly, and his characterisation does not seem like that of a man who has recently lost his wife. Visually speaking the Doombot is a good villain, and he is well drawn by Byrne (predictably) and Romita Jr across the two issues. His motivations are non existent, but it seems as though that is sort of the point, and his showdown with Spider-Man in part two actually feels quite intense, moreso than it has any real right to. As a character I genuinely liked Anna, but her, her father and the rebels in general are all very forgettable.
It still feels as though Peter has not properly reacted to MJ’s death, and after three issues his state of denial is beginning to wear thin. A paper thin plot and forgettable characters do nothing to detract from what continues to be an aftermath that is beginning to get tiresome.


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