Friday, 25 May 2012

Why Did The Spider-Man: Reboot Fail? Part 20: Villains Galore

The Amazing Spider-Man (Volume 2) #17 By Mackie / Byrne / Green
Peter Parker: Spider-Man (Volume 2) #17 By Mackie / Romita Jr / Hanna 

Remember the Sinister Six's return a handful of issues ago? Not the most memorable of stories but set against the rest of the Spider-titles post-reboot output, certainly a decent one. This loose two parter serves as a follow up or sorts, showing a royally pissed off Venom out for vengeance against his former team-mates.

Mackie's script begins with the Sinister Six's de-facto leader - The Sandman - who is decomposing after Venom took a bite out of him in the previous issue. There is something genuinely touching about his plight, although Paul Jenkins does a better job of dealing with it in a later issue. As the Sandman pledges to kill Mysterio, blaming his ex-team mate for his situation, the scene changes and we check in on Peter, who is on his way to a job interview. Glory Grant's appearance was a welcome surprise and it is always good to see Peter's friends looking to help him out. On his way to the interview - somewhat inevitably - Peter's moral code gets in the way, and after helping a mother rescue her baby from the bars of his own cot (yes, really) he is accidently implicated in a drugs raid on her apartment. The scene reads slightly improbably, but is genuinely quite amusing.

 Peter's captors are soon distracted by the appearance of the Sandman, who is making a nuisance of himself, gradually falling apart as he goes. After escaping and changing into his costume Peter sets off after him, before they chance upon Mysterio and Electro in an abandoned warehouse, the pair having become something of a double act. Sandman reveals that he wants Mysterio dead, as the master of illusion was the one who convinced him to allow Venom a place on the team. A brief fight ensues, before Spider-Man pulls the ceiling down on them, rushing Sandman out of the warehouse in the process and leaving him to the police. The final page reveals that, against all odds Peter managed to turn up to his interview on time, although his potential employers have already decided that he is overqualified for the position. That old Parker luck eh?

The second part follows directly on, with a well again Mysterio and Electro resolving to take down Venom before he gets the chance to attack them. Mysterio leaves and, somewhat coincidentally Venom attacks, setting upon Electro and defeating him embarrassingly quickly, in the space of just two panels. After leaving him cowering on the ground Venom leaves, with his dialogue indicating that he may have left him for dead. Although Mackie leaves his fate ambiguous, and he did eventually return, it seems an inauspicious way to treat such a powerful villain, particularly after Spider-Man's ominous (and ultimately pointless) comments about Electro being powered up in the previous issue.

The scene moves to Peter Parker, who is engaged in an awkward conversation with Jonah Jameson, the Daily Bugle head honcho still refusing to print his photos of Spider-Man. The scene reads slightly oddly, with Jonah behaving in decidedly odd fashion. It has an unsettling effect, which I suppose is kind of the point, but it doesn't quite work, with Jameson's actions coming across as mindlessly enigmatic, and Peter making a buffoon of himself. We are treated to a brief interlude, where Kraven having heard of Venom's activities, decides that he will take the fight to the villainous alien symbiote - using Spider-Man as bait! As Peter leaves the Daily Bugle he runs into Robbie, who is arguing with his son 'Randy', who it is revealed has recently gone through a divorce and moved back to New York. Robbie tries to give Peter money but he turns it down and leaves. Once again, it is good to see Peter's friends helping him out. Randy's role in the scene also works well as foreshadowing for a later plot development.

Later, while swinging across the city Spidey is caught by a poison tipped dart, and captured by Kraven. It seems a disarmingly simple way of taking him out, but we'll run with it. Spidey is strung up as bait, and Venom appears shortly (and conveniently) after. Venom is not taken in by Kraven's ruse, and the pair run off to fight, leaving Spider-Man to free himself. After interrupting the fight he tricks Venom into trapping himself in the middle of a ring of fire, before Kraven idiotically bursts through and attempts to kill the symbiote. Spider-Man intervenes, taking down Kraven while letting Venom escape. The scene's conclusion is outrageously nonsensical - after being defeated by a roll of flaming up newspaper in the previous issue, Venom is shown here walking through A WALL OF FLAME with no ill effects. It makes literally no sense, as far as I can see. The issue concludes with Peter returning to his apartment only to find that he has been evicted. Once again - that old Parker luck eh?

It is always fun to see Spidey's rogues gallery show up, and in that respect this two parter works well. The Sinister Six are all visually striking foes (although Electro's new costume is very bland) and they generally look great here. Ultimately though, the story doesn't really work. None of the villain's motivations are particularly strong and it quickly devolves into everyone trying to kill each other with Spider-Man stuck in the middle. Mysterio and Electro's connection is poorly defined and never mentioned again, and Sandman's initially heartbreaking circumstances are undermined by his perplexing desire to kill Mysterio. Mackie's dialogue is largely uninspired too, and does little to convince.

The 'Parker luck' theme is beginning to feel overdone as well. Although it is, to some extent, a hallmark of the character it has felt like overkill in recent issues, and Peter's personal life has become an unrelenting stream of misery. While it is nice to see his supporting cast looking out for him, it is beginning to feel a little samey and depressing.

The artwork is a mixed bag. John Byrne's pencils are predictably erratic, with some nice renditions of the characters mixed in with some lacklustre panels and missing backgrounds. Even Romita Jr's usually reliable artwork feels off form, and is a little too sketchy for my liking in patches. His Venom seems to have changed too, and taken on a more wiry physique with absolutely huge hands. It doesn't really work for me.

Although this is, on some levels, a fun, action packed couple of issues, it is unable to boast an intriguing plot, believable characters or witty dialogue. There is nothing irredeemably awful about this two parter, it just doesn't really work on any conceivable level.


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