Wednesday, 25 January 2012

A (Very Late) Review of Scarlet Spider #1

Scarlet Spider #1 By Yost / Stegman

The decision to publish a series titled 'Scarlet Spider' is nothing if not a bold move on Marvel's part. The name immediately harks back to darker days - The Clone Saga, widely recognised as one of the worst periods in Spider-Man, if not Marvel itself's history. There are those who would argue that the storyline was unfairly reviled, but it cannot be denied that it is one that Marvel would rather brush under the carpet.

Their attempt to revive the, admittedly popular, Scarlet Spider name stars Kaine, a failed clone of Peter Parker,  a character who till now has been largely villainous, attempting to bring some semblance of purpose to his life. Although I have always felt that Kaine would be a fascinating adversary for Spider-Man, I think that his move to the side of the angels is an interesting one too. From the off, Yost establishes that Kaine is a very bad man, even if the idea is put across in a bit of a heavy handed way throughout. Kaine's characterisation is spot on and complex throughout, but it is difficult not to be reminded of the rash of 'anti-heroes' that broke out in the 1990's, with the issues tagline 'All Of The Power. None Of The Responsiblity' seeming particularly cheesy. From this issue it seems that Yost is doing more to make Kaine himself an interesting character, but I do hope that we aren't beaten over the head with how 'bad' he is constantly.

The plot is what you would expect from a first issue - it sets the scene, establishes the central character and introduces a couple of subplots. There is little room to manouver for Yost and it does feel a little formulaic at times, but it is still very readable. Some semblance of a supporting cast, or at least hints in that direction would have been welcome, but that aside this ticks all the boxes. The tone of the issue is dark, but not overly so - a fact helped by Ryan Stegman's soft, rounded pencils. Stegman's storytelling is great throughot, and the issue has a very cinematic feel.

If all goes well then it seems as though Yost is close to perfecting a formula that many writers struggled with in the 1990's. Kaine has been mishandled over the years, but Yost seems a good choice to give him a more consistent voice and motivations, although I think he will struggle to carry the series on his own. This issue was mainly build up and exposition, but handled very well by an undoubtedly talented creative team.


Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Review: Ultimate Spider-Man #6

Ultimate Spider-Man #6 By Bendis / Samnee

In many respects the hard part is over for Brian Michael Bendis. Following Peter Parker's high profile death and subsequent replacement, expectations were always going to be meteoric for the experienced writer, yet they were generally met with aplomb in the series' impressive opening arc. With the business of establishing Miles as a character largely over and done with, it seems that Bendis can now begin crafting the meaty tales that he is so famous for.

One of the biggest complaints about Ultimate Spider-Man's opening few issues was its slow pace and noticeably decompressed style. Although it didn't particularly bother me, Bendis has amped the pace of his storytelling up a few notches with this issue. Although it is hardly a return to the breakneck pacing of the 1960's, there is a lot of plot packed into this issue without it ever coming across as too cramped. Miles receives a pleasing amount of development, and his increasingly large supporting cast are also utilised well. It is great to see Jonah Jameson and the Daily Bugle returning too - I have always found his Ultimate iteration a  brilliant character and am curious to see how he interacts with the new Spider-Man.

Chris Samnee temporarily takes over art duties from Sara Pichelli and does a solid job. Although his work lacks the definition and finesse of Pichelli's, he boasts a distinctive and quirky style that works well with the tone of the book. Perhaps the most pleasing thing about his artwork was the way that he shifted seamlessly between gritty and light hearted scenes, showcasing an impressive level of artistic versatility.

This issue didn't miss a beat. Action, character development and humour, with the return of some older characters and the introduction of an intruguing new villain. This story may not boast the levels of hype that were attached to the series in its earlier months, but is perhaps all the better for it.


Monday, 16 January 2012

Why Did The Spider-Man Reboot Fail? Part 14: Another Return Of The Sinister Six

The Amazing Spider-Man #12 By Mackie / Byrne / Beatty / Ramos
Peter Parker: Spider-Man #12 By Mackie / Romita Jr / Isherwood / Hanna / Ramos

In theory, the Sinister Six should be one of Spider-Man's most fearsome threats. In practice - despite being comprised of six of his best known villains - this has often not been the case, despite the team starring in some memorable stories. After an underwhelming first year of the reboot, what better way to restore a bit of excitement to the titles than another return of the team. The first crossover between the newly relaunched Amazing Spider-Man and Peter Parker: Spider-Man even featured a nifty (if slightly jumbled) wraparound cover. But was the story any good?

The first part begins with a duel between Spider-Man and an ever-enigmatic Mysterio, who is repeatedly committing suicide. Spider-Man actually comes straight from a shift at Tricorp, a refreshing reminder from Mackie of his new job. The rest of the meat of the issue is largely based on Sandman recruiting a new Sinister Six, aiming to take on original leader Doctor Octopus, as well as score some cash for the capture of Senator Ward.

Throughout the issue we are also reminded of Peter and MJ's marital strife, and the friction that his activities as Spider-Man have caused between the couple. It seems believable enough that MJ would be annoyed at Peter lying to her, but her opposition to his secret identity seems way out of left field. I have always preferred Mary Jane when she is more accepting of his alter ego and her portrayal here never quite rings true, just as I was never convinced by Peter lying to her about being Spider-Man. There are plenty of other ways that Mackie could have driven a realistic wedge between the two characters, and I think that using Peter's superhero status was fairly lazy writing.

It turns out that Doctor Octopus is allied with Senator Ward, and neatly enough the Sinister Six attack him at the same that Spider-Man has tracked down Arthur Stacy (who is also after Ward). Spider-Man battles with the Six for a while, and just as he is on the ropes things get a whole lot worse as the Six are joined by a surprise new member.. Venom.

Part two starts with Arthur Stacy rescuing Spider-Man from a distance. Ock and Ward leave, with the Six  hot pursuit. Interestingly Venom struggles as a team player, and finds himself in constant dispute with Sandman. Meanwhile MJ's stalker is turning his activities up a notch, continuing to detonate bombs and notifying the Daily Bugle of his activities. MJ is unlucky enough to be trapped in a car with him, but she manages to pepper spray him and escapes. Spider-Man turns up just a little too late, and predictably enough MJ is not happy.

The Sinister Six plot ends in confusing fashion, as Ward starts emitting powerful looking pink rays of energy and is spirited away by Electro and Mysterio (who are now apparently a duo). Mysterio remarks that they've done it.

It is always good to see the Sinister Six appear, and for that reason I enjoyed bits of this two-parter. The Sinister Six themselves though seemed misused throughout. Venom joining the team was on paper, a very cool but never really went anywhere - although I thought that the friction between the team was both realistic and well written by Mackie. Despite tis The Sandman's role as leader seemed out of nowhere, and Mysterio and Electro's bond was random and poorly developed, with Electro's previous appearance (and apparent death) barely referenced.  Their reasons for reforming too, were strange, and I'm not sure what exactly they wanted revenge on Ock for. He did once betray them but it was years ago, and there didn't seem to much of a catalyst for them getting together again. Kraven Jr had never even met Doc Ock, and his reasons for joining and characterisation were both fairly blank throughout. Visually, the Six were as much of a spectacle as ever, it just didn't make much sense.

The stalker subplot is still kicking into high gear, and getting a little out of hand in the process. He is still a suitably creepy threat, not to mention a unique one in a world of flashy costumes and superpowers, but seems too omnipotent and vague to be much of a realistic character. Weirdly the subplot works fairly well as a way of establishing tension between Peter and MJ, so it seems odd that Mackie decided to favour the Spider-Man angle which is as tired as ever.

The Senator Ward subplot is also moving along, but by this point has got very out of hand. Ward has received barely any character development, and the mystery around him has been sloppily developed. Mackie is great at building mystique and intrigue around a character, but seemingly little more. Ward's character amounts to a series of vague hints and poorly outlined links to more interesting characters. Ock's presence in the story is pretty much neutered through his connection to a thoroughly inferior character in Senator Ward. By the time Mysterio and Electro were revealed to have a connection to him it was approaching the point of self parody. To credit Mackie though, the Arthur Stacy angle is far more interesting and needs more development.

It seems difficult to miss the target with a Sinister Six story, and on a basic level this is a fun, slightly overcomplicated two parter with good art. The plot is a little muddled and the dialogue is a mixed bag, but it is still perfectly readable. Where Mackie falls down however, is where he trys to be too elaborate, with many of his attempts at depth falling flat.


Saturday, 14 January 2012

Review: Batman And Robin #5

Batman And Robin #5 By Tomasi / Gleason

Batman And Robin has so far been one of the titles that seems to have been lost in the shuffle since D.C's much vaunted relaunch. With Scott Synder's more simply titled Batman series attracting rave reviews, Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason's series has been shifted to one side, perhaps unfairly given the solid stories that have been produced by the duo.

Their fifth issues sees Batman reeling after learning that his son Damian, the latest youth to wear the Robin costume, has defected to join forces with the mercenary Morgan Ducard. Despite having generally altruistic goals, Ducard's slightly more morally dubious methods promise to allow Damian the chance to let loose, and live up to his bloodthirsty upbringing. Along the way Batman recounts Ducard's origin, giving us an interesting look at a man who promises to be an engaging villain - or perhaps even antihero. Ducard has been an enigmatic figure throughout this series, something that I felt has harmed it at times. His origin was well told however, and reveals him as a figure who shares some intriguing similarities with both Damian and Batman himself.

As with the rest of the series, this issue also gives us a look into Batman's psyche, revealing some of the difficulties that he has found with being a father to Damian. The idea is fairly solid, but perhaps not as clever as Tomasi thinks it is. It doesn't help that Damian himself is a fairly one note and unlikable character. For me, he seems to hold far more potential as a villain than at Batman's side. Batman has seemed a rather passive figure at times in this series, and although it makes sense given his status as a father to Damian, it stands slightly at odds with what makes the character interesting. Although Tomasi shows him taking to the streets in a bid to find his son, greater emphasis is placed on his thought processes - I tend to prefer him written as a man of action.

This issue is solid in every respect. Tomasi's writing is very polished and Gleason's pencils are understated, but still stylised and with a tone suitable for Batman's world. It still seems to lack 'wow factor' though, for want of a better phrase. The build up has been slow and measured, but so far there has been little pay off. This approach may have worked had Damian been a more engaging character, but as it is there is little reason to care particularly deeply about him. It is welcome to see development given to Morgan Ducard however, and he seems a promising character. It seems churlish to criticise such a well crafted series, but despite being competent in every respect Batman And Robin still seems critically lacking in bite.


Friday, 13 January 2012

Why Did The Spider-Man Reboot Fail? Part 13: Bright Lights, Bigger City

The Amazing Spider-Man #11 By Mackie / Byrne

Has anyone else noticed that I'm writing my thirteenth part on Friday 13th? No? Just me? Ok. Anyway.. You may have seen that I have skipped two issues of the Amazing Spider-Man. For those of you who don't know, Amazing Spider-Man #9-10 were a two part Doctor Octopus story with several fairly heavy links to Spider-Man: Chapter One - a recently (at the time) released mini-series by John Byrne that rewrote Spider-Man's early history. That series is no longer in continuity so I decided to skip the issues - no significant developments occur, unless you count a genuine Tricorp sighting. The issues aren't quite the worst that the reboot has to offer, but I would recommend that only completists bother hunting them down.

#11 begins with a few pages of essentially exposition, reminding us of the difficulties currently facing Peter Parker and Mary-Jane, and how their many differences have finally driven a wedge between the couple. There is a decent double page spread of Spider-Man and Mary-Jane (across town from each other) but it doesn't really tell us anything that we didn't already know. We move slightly into the future to Mary-Jane's dressing room, where Jill appears. Her and MJ talk and we get yet more reminders of how distant Peter and MJ has been. MJ's phone rings and she exits, clearly rattled due to the threatening phone calls she has been receiving.

Meanwhile, Peter swings off to the Daily Bugle and is greeted by an uncharacteristically cheery J Jonah Jameson, who it turns out wants Peter to get him an exclusive interview with his supermodel wife. Peter accepts the assignment as long as he is allowed to take photos, seeing it as a way to get closer to her. Jill and MJ re-enter her dressing room, only to find that her mirror is emblazoned with a creepy message from her stalker, reading 'YOU'LL NEVER BE ABLE TO GET AWAY FROM ME! IF I CAN'T HAVE YOU NOBODY WILL! YOUR HUSBAND IS GOING TO DIE'. Jeepers. Outside, Peter is trying to get in to see MJ, but security refuse to believe that he is her husband. She comes out, guards in tow and Peter's spider sense goes off. In a bid to protect from the unseen danger her he leaps at her and pushes her to the floor, only to be dragged away by a posse of armed guards. The source of his spider sense soon appears on the scene, busting out of an armored truck - it's classic X-Men villain The Blob. Peter gets changed and the two fight for a few pages, before Spidey defeats him by unloading a web cartridge onto him, trapping him in place. He swings off to find MJ, who is in a limousine with... you guessed it, Jill! A bomb goes off nearby them, and MJ correctly guesses that it's the work of her stalker, and is understandably terrified. She gets out of the limo and is immediately grabbed by Spider-Man, who swings her away.

The story is picked up on Peter Parker: Spider-Man #12, which I also won't be taking an in depth look at. Most of the story is mired in an Avengers crossover that will just confuse matters - I didn't mind covering the  Thor crossover as that was a fairly self contained story in its own right but this would just be a waste of time. The first few pages of the story are moderately important however - they see Peter revealing to MJ that he is still Spider-Man, much to her disgust, before they both learn that Arthur Stacy has gone missing.

After a few encouraging issues, this was a deeply disappointing story. Until now MJ's stalker was an interesting subplot, and although it remains a solid mystery, I thought that his methods this issue came across as a little over the top for my liking. The attempts to put distance between Peter and MJ are, once again, unwelcome and come across as forced and frankly unrealistic. This isn't such a problem when it is merely lingering in the background, but with this issue it took centre stage. The Blob isn't the best villain, but as purely a visual spectacle he is fairly interesting. The fight between him and Spider-Man was largely formulaic stuff, but I did think that Spidey's method of defeating him was nicely done.

However bad the stories have been since the reboot, I have always at least been able to say that they have boasted very nice art (with the slight exception of the two issues drawn by Bart Sears). With this issue however, that is not the case. Scott Hanna's usually capable inks are missing, leaving Byrne to ink his own work. It is noticeably rushed throughout, and a real step down from his previous work on the series. Byrne's distinctive style still shines through, but it is a far cry from his best work, with some questionable storytelling choices too.

Unfortunately nothing really went right for this issue. A promising subplot went a little off the rails, and it was plagued by the same problems that have been there for most of the reboot. Jill Stacy still refuses to go away, Peter and MJ are still on the outs, and even the artwork is not up to scratch anymore. A very disappointing effort from all concerned.


Thursday, 12 January 2012

Why Did The Spider-Man Reboot Fail? Part 12: Venom Returns

Peter Parker: Spider-Man #9-10 By Mackie / Romita Jr. / Hanna

Since his introduction in the now classic Amazing Spider-Man #300, Venom has been one of Spider-Man's most acclaimed foes. Unfortunately, as is inevitable with all popular characters, he suffered from horrendous overexposure during the 1990's, as Marvel took the ill advised path of trying to turn him into an anti-hero, with predictably limp results. As the above cover suggests, the reboot signaled a return to Venom's days as an antogonist, a welcome move amid a reboot that had largely struggled to build much in the way of momentum.

Part one opens with the symbiote (currently separated from Eddie Brock) attaching itself to a homeless man in an attempt to find ex-host Peter Parker. There is a nice reference to Joey Z and its generally a well done, very creepy scene that builds up tension for the issue ahead. We then look in on Peter, who briefly discusses the threatening phone calls that Mary-Jane has been receiving with Aunt May before heading out, convinced that  a recently escaped Eddie Brock is behind them. A fairly logical way of thinking, and a decent way of working Brock into the story. Peter (as Spider-Man) recounts Venom's backstory before calling in on private investigator Arthur Stacy, who is having something of a tete a tete with children Paul and Jill. Jill has been forced into centre stage since the reboot and is a slightly weak character but Arthur and Paul are both stronger and its nice to see them show up, even if Paul's appearance is very brief. Peter returns home, with the symbiote hot on his heels and is briefly accosted by it in a very creepy scene. After he fights it off it resolves to rejoin with Eddie, and leaves. Peter is distracted by the doorbell, and would you believe it's Jill Stacy, who has shown up to tell Peter that his wife is coming home. At this point Jill is appearing in every issue and it is coming across as more and more forced each time. She reveals that Arthur has some information for Spider-Man, so Peter makes his awkward excuses and leaves. After Arthur gives him a line on Eddie's whereabouts Peter tracks him to his scummy looking apartment. Eddie seems in a bad way, and seems ignorant as to the threatening phone calls that MJ has been receiving, even claiming that he can't remember Peter's secret identity. A weak, and so far unexplained move that actually takes away a lot of the tension between the characters. Inexplicable writing from Mackie.

Predictably enough, the symbiote appears and attempts to bond with Eddie, much to Spider-Man's horror. Eddie seems terrified of it and jumps out of his window into a nearby river, with the creature in hot pursuit. Spider-Man follows, but loses them in the river and after waiting for 'hours', gives up and leaves. Just a page later though, a fearsome looking Venom emerges, with Eddie seemingly having shaken off his antipathy towards the symbiote. A cool cliffhanger, and one well rendered by Romita, but hardly surprising.

The next, and final part begins with Venom paying a visit to his 'son' Carnage, aka Cletus Kasady who is currently incarcerated at 'The Manhattan Correctional Facility'. Venom infiltrates the facility by posing as a janitor, before murdering Carnage's guards, breaking into his cell and...eating his symbiote. Very strange. Mackie doesn't explain how Carnage escaped from the cocoon that the Silver Surfer imprisoned him in before the reboot either. Still, it's a fairly effective scene and does a good job of establishing Venom has a pretty serious threat.

Meanwhile at Peter's apartment he, Jill and Aunt May are putting up decorations ahead of MJ's return home.  While putting up a banner Peter falls, is caught by Jill and they share a brief moment on the floor, much to Aunt May's chagrin. I have no idea where Mackie is going with this subplot. The idea of Peter being attracted to a relative of Gwens is interesting enough, but the execution of it has been layed on far too thickly for my liking. Peter sets up a lavish looking candlelit dinner, but sees Venom swinging about and leaves to chase after him. Venom kidnaps Jonah Jameson and takes him to the scene of his 'birth' - the church where the symbiote first bonded with him. Spider-Man swings onto the scene and the pair fight for a few pages, with Spider-Man struggling against a seemingly turbocharged Venom. Even an attempt to use the symbiote's weakness to loud noise falls flat, as Venom reveals that he removed the clappers from the bells in anticipation for their showdown.Venom trashes Spider-Man, but is forced to leave as the Carnage symbiote begins to... rebel against him. It's odd, and Mackie never fully explains how the process of absorbing it works. Jameson finds himself alone with an unconscious Spider-Man, and is left to decide whether to unmask him or not. The final page sees Mary-Jane arriving home to an empty house, and soon enough a threatening phone call, as her mysterious stalker reveals that her husband will be 'the first to go'...

This was a reasonably solid two parter. Venom's return to the Spider-titles is a welcome one, although I do think that his character was irreversibly damaged by his stint as a more heroic figure. Nonetheless, he is back to his off the wall best here and is a threatening presence throughout. Romita Jr's rendition of him is excellent, but his work looks a little rough around the edges here. As Scott Hanna was inking both Spider-titles at the time its not unreasonable to assume that he may have been feeling rather stretched. The plot seems a little contrived in places, but is paced well and has a good atmosphere throughout, which harks back to Venom's superb first few appearances. Venom forgetting Spider-Man's secret identity does lose a lot of the dynamic between the two characters though, and I thought that the symbiote pining for Peter was forgotten about slightly abruptly after part one.

The subplots are a mixed bag. The tension between Peter and MJ seems as out of place as ever, and Jill Stacy's flirtations with him are getting more and more irritating with each passing issue. Aunt May has been an utterly pointless addition to the supporting cast, and her makeover from earlier in the reboot seems to have abruptly been forgotten about. She isn't quite as annoying, or grating as she was, but her resurrection still stands out as a pointless decision. MJ's stalker on the other hand, is a solidly executed subplot that seems to be moving along well. I do wish that she had played a bigger part in recent stories though. If her and Peter are married I prefer having them bouncing off each other, rather than their relationship being a source of tension.

There are better Venom stories than this, but there are also far worse ones and for the most part Mackie does a solid job of reintroducing him as a Villain. Some of the finer details of the story do not quite work, but on an exclusively shallow level it is very decent, entertaining stuff.


Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Review: Wolverine And The X-Men #4

Wolverine And The X-Men #4 By Aaron / Bradshaw 

It's safe to say that the X-Men franchise has not been at its healthiest in recent years. Usurped by the Avengers as Marvel's top property, and struggling for consistency, it seemed that the X-Men's most recent reboot may have signalled a return to better days with solid reviews across the board. Wolverine And The X-Men's debut arc was a particular triumph, featuring strong characters, effortless humor and superb artwork throughout from Chis Bachalo. Expectations have been high since the titlesopening issue, which makes its first misfire all the more disappointing.

This issue is a done in story and something of a departure from the frantic action of the opening arc. Jason Aaron takes the opportunity to introduce a handful of new characters and subplots, as well as to nurture some of the ideas introduced in his first three issues. At various points the plot seems to paint itself as a Wolverine centric story, which seems a rather tacked on idea. Wolverine's interior narration comes only on the issues first and last pages, and seems rather forced and unnecessary given the fairly small role that he plays in the plot. Wolverine's titular role in the series is not one that has bothered me as yet, but if he is crowbarred into every story it will begin to grate. His recent hi-jinks with X-Force allow the introduction of a former X-Men favourite, namely Warren Worthington III Aka Angel, although due to a significant recent trauma he has lost his memories and believes himself to be an angel of the slightly more literal kind. As an idea it falls totally flat for me. Aaron chooses to play the character entirely for laughs and it seems very jarring and ultimately unsucessful, despite the writer largely succeeding with his humor in the titles opening few issues.

Nick Bradshaw's art too, is a step down from Bachalo's in the opening three issues. I am not a fan of his style at all, and although it shares the cartoony quality of Bachlo's work, it lacks the edgy quality that makes his work such a joy to look at it. Bradshaw's work is defined by smooth lines and while his use of detail is excellent, his style as a whole is unfortunately not for me at all and detracts from the story.

That's not to say that this issue is all bad. A new student is introduced, and he seems like a genuinely fascinating character with a lot of potential. The existing students too were dealt with well, and Aaron seems to have a good handle on his supporting cast, each character fitting into a clearly defined role without their actions ever coming across as formulaic or dull. His willingness to mine the Marvel Universe for existing characters and continuity is welcome too, and having Deathlok appear was a nice surprise.

If anything, this issue suffered from the quality of those that have come before it. Bradshaw's artwork is worlds apart from Bachalo's style, and much of the kinetic energy of Aaron's opening arc has fizzled out. There are positives though - Aaron's cast of characters look to be interesting and promise a lot, while his use of the more iconic characters has been nothing if not solid. A backwards step, but not an irreversible one.


Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Why Did The Spider-Man Reboot Fail? Part 11: All You People Are Vampires

Peter Parker: Spider-Man #7-8 By Mackie / Romita Jr. / Hanna

Howard Mackie wasn't always universally known as a writer of bad Spider-Man stories, and it seems unfair that in recent years that is all he is remembered for. Before the reboot, he and John Romita Jr actually had a solid run on Peter Parker: Spider-Man, generally dealing with Spider-Man's interactions with the shadier side of New York, nominally involving plenty of gangland scuffles. With that in mind it is more welcome to see Mackie and Romita Jr returning to their roots for this two parter, even if they have decided to introduce a more supernatural element to the proceedings.

The first two pages introduces us to Mutt and T-Bone, a pair of small time crooks working for the Kingpin. They break into a crypt, where they are met by a group of creepy looking vampire types guarding a mysterious looking trunk. The scene shifts to Peter Parker, who is preparing for a long deserved holiday with his wife Mary-Jane. After getting his belongings together Peter makes it as far as a shop before he is caught in the middle of a brawl between Mutt and T-Bone (who seem to have stolen the trunk) and the vampires from earlier. Peter changes into his costume and joins the fray, naturally taking sides against the vampires, despite being unsure as to how genuine they are. After dispensing with the undead types, Spidey follows Mutt across town to an abandoned factory, and after being surprised by the web-slinger, Mutt decides to fill him in on recent events. It seems that a recent gangland showdown was interrupted by a shadowy vampiric figure who killed a lot of Mutt's colleagues - understandably leaving he and most of his cohorts rather shook. up.

Spidey and Mutt are interrupted by a vampire who Mutt quickly stakes, before inadvertently revealing that the vampire who attacked the showdown was none other than.. Hunger (remember him), a shadowy figure that Spider-Man tussled with a few months ago. Spidey webs up a few more attacking vampires, before reminding Mutt that he doesn't want any more killing. The two of them are interrupted by Blade the Vampire Hunter, followed by another group of vampires and another brief fight scene quickly ensues. The trio once again go off in search of the trunk, and quickly find it, along with none other than Hunger, shrouded in purple smoke. Hunger reveals that he is feeling a lot more together than when they last met, and quickly destroys their weapons before making light work of both Blade and Spider-Man. Mutt has wandered off, and quickly runs into T-Bone, who is now a member of the undead. Unswayed by his former friends desire to convert him, Mutt stakes him, and Hunger quickly feels the loss and slinks off into the shadows. Spidey leaves the trunk with Blade and swings off to catch his and Mary-Jane's flight. Surprise suprise - it's delayed, and Peter is left to commiserate with Jill Stacy who is waiting with him at the airport. The issue closes with Kingpin, who outlines his desire to regain the trunk, and 'return some control to the city'. Exciting.

The following issue begins with Spidey trying to get a hold of MJ, and unsurprisingly failing. He eventually gets a call from Robbie at the Bugle, asking him to go and cover a summit of crime lords across town. Peter goes there, and after hiding in the bushes is greeted by the sight of Kingpin and Jimmy Six who appear to be closing some kind of deal. Peter is found by one of Kingpin's men but runs off, straight into Blade. Another goon fires what looks like a rocket launcher at them, and Peter knocks Blade out of the way before losing consciousness. The two of them come to with a group of cops standing over them and quickly exit, with Blade reminding Peter to stay out of the conflict. We are treated to a brief interlude where one of Kingpin's men brings him Peter Parker's name, before we move over to the Daily Bugle offices. Robbie is advising Peter to get out of town for a while for his own safety (why hasn't he just got a later flight to join Mary Jane) before another reporter blurts out that Eddie Brock (aka Venom) has escaped from jail, and is apparently heading back to New York Peter muses it on it and decides to join MJ, before learning that she is so annoyed at him that she is refusing his phone calls. Surprise surprise Jill Stacy is on hand to soften the blow, and she promptly appears out of nowhere to reassure Peter that him and MJ will be ok. This is then followed by an awkward moment where Peter double takes, as he realises how similar Jill looks to her cousin (and Peter's ex girlfriend) Gwen Stacy. Jill tells him that it happens to her a lot, before exiting. I have been very critical of the romantic tension between Jill and Peter, but in this case I thought it actually worked well and was very realistic. Jill's attitude towards Peter still seems a bit strange, you might even say creepy, but this brief exchange has given me some hope for the subplot.

Peter changes into his costume and heads across town to yet another gangland meeting, where the mysterious trunk is opened, revealing it to contain classic Spider-Man villain Morbius, the living vampire, who was presumably being contained within the trunk as a sort of living weapon. Blade appears, and a fight begins between him, Spider-Man, Kingpin and Morbius, who seems understandably confused at the situation. After zapping Morbius, Kingpin slinks off and Spider-Man is left attempting to stop Blade from killing the Living Vampire. Blade agrees to do things Spider-Man's way and leaves, leaving the web slinger alone with Morbius. Morbius reveals that Hunger is actually Crown, a Hydra-created villain from before the reboot, and warns Spider-Man to stay away from both he, and Senator Ward before collapsing.

Peter returns to his appartment, and reveals through internal narration that he dropped Morbius off at Tricorp. Finally! A mention of Peter's new job. It might be a brief one but it is welcome nonetheless, and a genuinely clever way of working it into the story. Peter answers the phone and is shocked to hear that it is MJ's mysterious stalker, who he immediately assumes is the recently escaped Eddie Brock. While Peter is distracted by the phone call he is crept up on by Jimmy Six, who appears behind him, holding a gun to his head. Six, who was friends with Peter's late 'cousin' Ben Reilly, warns Peter to lay low and stay out things before exiting, leaving Peter clutching a ringing phone, with his other hand clenched into a fist.

Phew, Mackie certainly packs a lot of twists and turns into this two parter - not all of them entirely necessary. The plot is certainly not his strongest and doesn't hang together well at all. Far too many characters are used and none of them are particularly strongly portrayed - with even Spider-Man himself often seeming like a passenger in several scenes. Hunger's return was welcome, he is still an intriguing villain with a solid design and his links to Crown and Hydra were fairly realistic. His character is still a little vague and poorly defined though, and he was underused across these two issues. Blade's presence is logical, but he adds barely anything to the story plotwise. As with many of Mackie's guest stars, he seems largely superfluous and adds little to an already overcrowded cast.

As mentioned before, Mackie and Romita Jr tend to excel at mob based storylines, and although this is one of their weaker efforts the tone is spot on throughout. The Kingpin's presence in the background once again lends a certain sense of foreboding to events, but I thought it was a mistake to use him in the story's climatic fight scene. To me, Kingpin has always worked better when operating from the shadows. Jimmy Six's return was well handled throughout though, and a good example of using a previously existing character when other writers might have created an unnecessary new one.

Once again, Peter and MJ's relationship takes a backburner (for the most part), but as often seems to be the case with the reboot, when Mackie focuses on it, it tends to be misused. I'm not entirely against creating tension between the couple, but I think it has been very forced in recent months. It is good to see the Jill Stacy subplot portrayed a little more realistically however, and I'm hopeful that this is a sign that the character will edge into a slightly more believable direction. It's good to see the stalker subplot coming along too. It has been one of the better handled ones from the reboot, even if it has been seen before (albeit with a few differences) in David Micheline's run.

This was far from Mackie's worst storyline since the reboot, but it's not the best either. Romita Jr's art is a mixed bag, and most of the fight sequences are a little messy, but it still managed to be good fun, with some interesting twists and turns and bags of suspense throughout - even if a lot of it is ultimately unfulfilled.


Sunday, 8 January 2012

Why Did The Spider-Man Reboot Fail? Part 10: The Perfect World

Amazing Spider-Man (Volume 2) #7-8 By Mackie / Byrne / Hanna 

After providing a good issue last time round, Howard Mackie has once again delivered the unthinkable - this time by following up an unresolved plotline. After being confronted at his home at the end of the last issue of Amazing Spider-Man, Flash has been seen walking around in a daze in the intervening issue of Peter Parker: Spider-Man. With this two parter we finally find out what happened to the former high school jock.

The issue's opening firmly establishes the storys setting in an alternate universe of some kind, as Flash is woken up in a luxury apartment by his superhero partner - Spider-Man. Flash's powers are not made entirely clear, but he appears to be able to fly and have superhuman strength, both potentially enabled by the jazzy suit that he wears throughout the story. This is a minor detail though, and doesn't make much of a difference to the plot. Flash and Peter learn of Dr. Doom's latest scheme through Captain Stacy, before Flash has to fight of a gaggle of women comprised of Mary-Jane, Gwen Stacy and Betty Brant. Oddly, Spider-Man doesn't react to their presence at all.

The bulk of the issue is composed of a light hearted super hero romp, as Flash and Peter rescue a captured Fantastic Four from Dr. Doom, defeating Blastaar and Annihilus along the way. Mackie's tongue is firmly in his cheek, and its clear the story is not supposed to be taken seriously - a welcome move as it is hardly compelling. Mackie's dialogue is at times poor, but works better in a more light hearted setting than usual. After their victory Flash and Peter are granted a lavish, over the top victory paraded, before Flash is handed the keys to the city by mayor Norman Osborn (?), despite the protestations of a bedraggled looking Jonah Jameson.  Perhaps the issue's most intriguing detail comes in its final few pages, as we are granted a look at Peter Parker, who interestingly does not appear to be Spider-Man. Peter is in a wheelchair, back wearing glasses and while watching the parade on TV claims to Aunt May that something is wrong, and that the world is a little off centre. His complaints are rebuffed by a smiling Uncle Ben on the issues final page. How's that for a cliffhanger eh?

The beginning of the next issue is more of the same, as Flash and Spider-Man take on the Red Skull, Kingpin and a veritable army of goons. Their eventual triumph is predictable, but brief, and the heroes are confronted by wheelchair bound Peter Parker at their victory press conference, who is still sure that something is not quite right. Peter is dragged off by police and strapped down in their vehicle, and Gwen follows in an attempt to calm him. Gwen tells Peter that she has always loved him, before her face and hair bizarrely transform into her cousin Jill's. Peter becomes enraged and asks to see MJ, before Gwen/Jill informs him that she is due to marry Flash that afternoon. This appears to be the final straw for Peter, and he unleashes hitherto unseen super strength to break free of his shackles, and escape from the vehicle (shedding his glasses in the process)

Peter now seems to remember the 'real' world, and heads to the church. Upon arriving he bumps into 'Spider-Man', who is acting as Flash's best man, and shown dispelling some of his fresh doubts. Peter knocks out Spider-Man and unmasks him, revealing a familiar (but initially unseen) face. Putting on the webs, Peter enters the church, just as it comes under assault from virtually every major foe of Spider-Man's (with one notable exception). Byrne's double page spread here is excellent, and a great glimpse at his interpretations of Spidey's rogues gallery. Peter and Flash fight off the villains while Peter explains to his friend that something is very wrong. Flash seems reluctant to accept it, but it appears to be dawning on him too. Eventually Peter finds the true source of the illusion, Quentin Beck, aka Mysterio, who had been posing as Spider-Man. He reveals that he had created the illusion in order to figure out Spider-Man's true identity, capturing several of those closest to him in order to create the 'Perfect World' scenario. It seems that Flash's will was strongest, and thus his desires took centre stage. It's up to Flash to shatter the illusion, and despite his misgivings he does, smashing Mysterio's fishbowl and restoring the true reality. Mysterio jets off, and Flash, Peter, and most of the rest of Spider-Man's supporting cast wake in a mysterious chamber, all floating in a vat of mysterious liquid. Peter reaches out to Flash but he hits back, and appears resentful, seeming to revert to 'dumb jock' mode and verbally lashing out at Peter, before leaving.

Although the plot of this two parter is utterly ridiculous, it is actually a pretty good story. Mackie actually seems well suited to writing a more light hearted tale, and Byrne does a great job at drawing some classic members of Spider-Man's supporting cast and rogues gallery. It is also telling that one of the strongest issues of the reboot is one where the focus has been taken away from Mackie's dull subplots - this story is very self contained and all the better for it. Perhaps more than anything else it is simply a great character study of Flash himself, revealing his innermost desires and frustrations, while also emphasising his heroic qualities at the conclusion. I wasn't initially a fan of his bitterness on the issues final page but can't deny that it was a realistic reaction.

The main plot, and explanation for the 'Perfect World' scenario is gibberish though, and riddled with contrivances and plot holes. Mysterio is a good villain but his presence here doesn't really convince, not least because Quentin Beck was killed off in an earlier issue of Daredevil (a fact that the story does half heartedly make reference to). His desire to figure out Spider-Man's secret identity comes out of nowhere, and doesn't really make sense at all within the context of the story.

Still, this was an enjoyable, and perhaps most all original diversion from the tiresome world of the reboot. It's always good to see a member of Spider-Man's fantastic supporting cast take centre stage, and for the most part Flash is portrayed realistically here. A poor plot is not enough to take the sheen of another solid story from Mackie.


Friday, 6 January 2012

Why Did The Spider-Man Reboot Fail? Part 9: Answers? We Should Be So Lucky

Peter Parker: Spider-Man #6 By Mackie / Romita Jr / Hanna

The Kingpin was once - and has often been thought of since - as one of Spider-Man's most iconic foes. He debuted of course in the pages of The Amazing Spider-Man, in the now classic #50, and was used as a primary antagonist in the popular 90's animated series. While now known more as an enemy of Daredevil's, his return to menacing Spider-Man was a fairly exciting step at the time.

Romita Jr returns on pencils, a more than welcome move. His style is well suited to the noirish undertones of this story, and look significantly more polished than Bart Sears' did.

Kingpin appears right off the bat, in the issue's opening page - disappointingly his only panel time in the issue.   While overseeing the routine killing of an inadequate underling, he gives Bullseye a vague set of instructions, telling the master assassin that 'people must die tonight'. A fairly generic scene, but done very well by Mackie and Romita. The pair have often been at their best when working on noir themed stories, and the scene seems to come easily to them.

We move to what is now becoming a routine scene featuring Spider-Man rescuing Senator Ward from some  green-garbed goons. The senator is still no more forthcoming than before about why he is being targeted by super-powered heavies, and brushes off Spider-Man's questions by implicating him in the attack. Spider-Man slings off, promising that they will talk again. He rejoins the scene as Peter Parker, and hooks up with Betty Brant, claiming to have taken some good photos of the action. Betty's response is strange - telling Peter that she has known him long enough to be aware that he isn't the heroic type. It seems unnecessarily harsh, and a lazy way of establishing the dichotomy between Peter Parker and Spider-Man. The pair see a dazed Flash Thompson who walks by them without a word (remember, he was the subject of a cryptic cliffhanger in a previous issue).

Mackie then treats us an increasingly tiresome domestic scene, featuring yet more marital troubles between Peter and MJ. It's fairly standard stuff - Peter lies about being Spider-Man, and MJ feigns ignorance about the threatening phone calls that she has been receiving. Both subplots are still as tiring as ever, and do not appear to be developing at all. What's more welcome is the presence of Arthur Stacy, always an interesting character. His links to Stewart Ward may actually make the shady senator an interesting character. After leaving, Arthur Stacy warns his daughter Jill to stay away from Ward, claiming that he is dangerous, while being spiririted away by a group of the senator's black suited, car driving goons. Peter is on hand to dry Jill's tears, before snagging the vehicle in question with a tracer.

Arthur meets with Ward, and the two trade cryptic statements about their respective pasts. Linking the two characters may be an interesting move, but it still reveals little to nothing about the Senator. Once again, the subplot appears to be treading water, despite seeming to establish Ward as a more definitive thread than before. As Arthur attempts to leave, Bullseye appears on the scene and starts slinging projectiles around at the Kingpins behest, before Spider-Man appears and the two trade a few punches. Bullseye is a logical opponent for Spider-Man and it seems odd that the two characters haven't tussled before this issue. In any case, it's an excellent fight scene with some good dialogue, potentially the best action seen since the reboot. As Spider-Man chases Bullseye off the scene, the assassin detonates a bomb (why didn't he do that in the first place), and the web slinger rescues Stacy and Ward. After returning to ground, Ward refuses once again to give any hints as to his past, while being dragged away by yet more dark suited goons. Arthur appears in poor shape, and murmurs to Spider-Man that he 'has to be stopped', an appropriate enough cliffhanger to end the issue on.

While this issue did carry many of the same faults as the rest of the reboot, it was a very enjoyable story. Not as much was done with the Kingpin as I would have liked, but his presence in the background did lend the plot some additional weight. Bullseye was probably the strongest villain seen yet in the reboot, even if he was lacking in a little depth, the fight scene between him and Spider-Man was excellent. The Senator Ward subplot continues to plod along, but Mackie has at least made an attempt to give the character a more tangible connection to Spider-Man's world, in the form of his relationship with Arthur Stacy. This issue did nothing to convince me that the reboots flaws are on their way to being corrected, but in its own right was an enjoyable, fast paced romp.


Thursday, 5 January 2012

Review: Swamp Thing #5

Swamp Thing #5 By Snyder / Paquette

The cat is finally out of the bag. With this weeks Animal Man #5 finally making reference to Swamp Thing, a crossover that has been hinted at since day one of the D.C reboot seems firmly on the horizon. Both series have been firing on all cylinders since debuting last year, and a meeting of the two seems likely to excite both readers and critics alike.

Swamp Thing is still yet to make reference to Animal Man, but the two titles still share one main element - that is the villainous 'rot', a decaying, malignant that stands as a deathly counterpart to the more benevolent forces of the Green and the Red. This issue sees Alec Holland and his erstwhile companion Abby Arcane finally meeting the Rot headfirst, in the form of Abby's half brother, the eerily youthful William. William, and the decaying forces that he commands, make for brilliantly creepy adversaries, even if they are dispatched quickly by an impressive show of vegetative force from not-quite-Swamp Thing Holland. The pages are beautifully rendered by Yanick Paquette, an artist whose style is not immediately eye catching, but rarely falters in detail and execution. Paquette's layouts are daring too and evocative, and although they don't always come off the issue is rarely anything less than visually impressive.

Synder's script is solid, but feels a little slight. Unlike Animal Man this is not a frenziedly paced romp, and at times this issue feels a little padded - a fact not helped by the bookending scenes, that are not yet straightforward enough to be as compelling as the title's core plot. What they do achieve, is adding a new depth to a story which, to be fair, hardly needed it.

Although it feels very much like a middle chapter, this issue does have its share of surprises, not to mention action. Snyder ably keeps subplots moving along, as well as introducing new ones without the plot ever seeming too overcrowded. An enjoyable, if vaguely unsatisfying installment, in a title that looks set to impress  this year.


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.


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.


Sunday, 1 January 2012

Why Did The Spider-Man Reboot Fail: Part Six - Plaything Of The Gods

Thor (Volume 2) #8 by Jurgens / Romita Jr. / Janson 
Peter Parker: Spider-Man #2 by Mackie / Romita / Hanna

While Peter Parker: Spider-Man #2 was obviously released before #3, I'm dealing with it afterwards for simplicity's sake as #3 followed on from Amazing Spider-Man #2-3.

Just two issues in and the Spider-Man reboot is already the subject of a crossover - with no less than Marvel's God of Thunder, the Mighty Thor! Crossovers are traditionally maligned devices, often quite transparent in their   desire to attract more readers to the titles in question. This one seems particularly unnecessary, as all of the plot threads introduced in the reboots opening issues are ignored.

Part one, from Thor #8 is the first issue that I have dealt with that hasn't been written by Howard Mackie. Oddly enough it's written by Dan Jurgens, who briefly wrote Sensational Spider-Man for seven issues, following the title's launch in 1997. Jurgens attributed his early departure to his unwillingness to write Ben Reilly as Spider-Man, despite his run being generally well received.

Much of the Part One's first half deals with what seems to have been a plot running through Thor's series. I (perhaps understandably) struggled to follow it, but it seems that Odin and Balder have been taken prisoner by an unpleasant looking cabal of villains. The baddies dispatch one of their funny looking lackeys named Tokkots to cause havoc in the mortal world. Many of the plot's finer nuances passed me by, but this isn't down to poor writing at all - although there was little to draw me in, and I felt that Jurgens could have done a better job at getting non-Thor readers up to speed.

The scene shifts to Memorial hospital, where Peter and Aunt May are picking up a prescription. Aunt May's characterisation is as horrible as it has been since the reboot began, an irritating aspect that is showing no sign of going away. It is understandable that writers would be keen to make use of her so soon after being brought back, but there are several more interesting supporting characters that I would prefer to see in her place. Coincidentally, Peter and May are at the same hospital as Thor's civillian alter ego, Jake Olsen. Both characters hear of a commotion over in Midtown, and head to the scene, Peter leaving Aunt May behind while unknowingly keeping hold of her prescription. Oy.. Olsen's career as a paramedic gives him a convenient excuse to join the festivities. Tokkots is trashing the city, while talking exclusively in verse. His dialogue is intensely annoying, and pretty much ruins him as a villain. He has a dodgy design and poorly defined powers, so for me is a complete failure of a character.After a brief melee between the three characters, Tokkots splits into two (?) and the issue closes with Aunt May fearing for Peter's safety. It's all inoffensive enough, but not a particularly exciting read. The main plot of the Thor book isn't explained terribly well so as a Spider-Man reader there is little to care about. Romita Jr's art is decent, and provides nice continuity between the two books, despite looking a little rushed in some places. I prefer his work when inked by Scott Hanna, but that is just a matter of personal preference.

Part two is a fairly standard slugfest between the Tokkots', Thor and Spider-Man, intercut with a few pages of Aunt May fretting about her nephew, before somewhat predictably collapsing from the strain of it all. Once again, very annoying, not to mention dull, and adds little to the issue. Thankfully the Thor details are kept to a minimum, although this means that the story has little weight beyond its status as a generic superhero battle. Romita Jr. does a capable enough job again, without ever really excelling - there were a number of very bland backgrounds that made the issue a bit of a bland read. With a few pages remaining Peter's beeper goes off, which somehow puts Tokkots out of action. It isn't entirely clear why, but I found it a fun and fairly unexpected way to close the battle, even if it did reek of deus ex-machina. The scene featuring the Bugle staff waiting for Peter to answer was amusingly rendered, and made for a pleasing interlude. Jonah, when written correctly is arguably the strongest member of Spider-Man's supporting cast and his brief cameo utilises him well. The issue closes with Peter reunited with his well again aunt, before shaking hands with Jake Olsen, the irony being that the two are unaware of their superhero alter egos. It's a nice way of rounding off the story, if a little heavy handed.

Overall the two parter was below par, but not a disaster. Most of Spider-Man's subplots are firmly on the back burner and there is barely a mention of his return to the webs - a frustrating detail given how much emphasis was placed on his giving up being Spider-Man. The dichotomy between Thor and Spider-Man can be interesting, not to mention amusing, if written well but that is not the case here, and neither Mackie nor Jurgens do a more than average job of pairing the characters with each other. Tokkots is a bland villain, with any attempts to make him interesting or unique largely falling flat. He may be more engaging for those familiar with Thor's world at the time, but that is little consolation to me. Perhaps this story would have been a solid interlude if positioned a little later along the line, but so early in the reboot it feels like an irritating distraction.