Sunday, May 23, 2004

Some quick comic reviews, this time an all-Spider-Man theme:
Ultimate Spider-Man #58; “Hollywood, Part 5”
Man, this is funny stuff. “Hollywood,” a storyline about the making of a “real” Spider-Man movie and how it draws the attention of the comic book Spider-Man and Doctor Octopus, may not have been the most consistent arc in this otherwise outstanding series by writer Brian Bendis about the reimagining of teen Spider-Man’s adventures. But this part is as funny as any Spidey story I’ve read. We pick up with last issue’s cliffhanger where Dr. Octopus has kidnapped Spider-Man and taken him to Brazil. There’s the usual fisticuffs and a rather perfunctory climax to all that, but the meat of this issue is how teen Spider-Man can figure out how to get home from Brazil to New York, all without getting grounded. There’s some great one-liners as Spidey hitchhikes in plane cargo holds in this age of Homeland Security, and some just plain wacky gags that would only happen to hapless Spidey. “I bet when I write my autobiography -- I bet I skip over just about all of this,” Spidey thinks at one point. Not the most earthshaking of issues and it doesn’t move the plot forward a lot (except for a sharp cliffhanger ending), but that Bendis sure knows how to bring the Spidey funny back after too many years of “grim” Spidey tales. Grade: A-

Amazing Spider-Man #506
“The Book of Ezekiel” storyline kicks off here in this oldest of Spider-Man comics. I’ve been a fan of J. Michael Straczynski’s writing on this for the past few years -- he helped lead the “revival” of Spidey from several years of awful comics -- but I’ll have to lean with the naysayers who say his schtick is starting to get a bit stale now. Stracyznski has almost totally ignored the old rogue’s galley of villains in favor of many dull magical menaces for Spidey to fight. This issue features the return of the character of Ezekiel, an older man who appears to have the exact powers of Spider-Man and who has acted as a kind of mentor to him, hinting ominously about Spidey’s links to age-old legacy of “Spider-Men.” Ezekiel was interesting the first time he appeared, but frankly, the “Yoda” aspect of him wears thin, and when you get down to it, Spider-Man is best fighting cat burglars and Green Goblins, not mystical menaces and supernatural demons. This storyline appears to be moving toward a climax for this interminable direction -- Ezekiel warns here of the “Gatekeeper” coming for Spider-Man and “the most dangerous of all” evils. This isn’t bad stuff -- a bit overblown, maybe -- but it just isn’t the right tone for Spider-Man. Stracyznski still goes great, loose dialogue, and John Romita Jr. is the most consistent Spider-Man artist out there, so I’m still on board this title, but I’d sure like to see the last of these misguided attempts by Straczynski to turn Spidey into “Sir Spider-Man, demon-slayer.” Grade: C+

Marvel Knights Spider-Man #2
Ultra-hot, ultra-cocky hip writer Mark Millar’s new Spider-Man title (because there is a shortage of them, obviously) has been touted as an “ultra-realistic,” violent and sexier take on Spider-Man. It’s styled as a 12-part mystery where an unseen menace has apparently learned Spider-Man’s identity and is using the knowledge to slowly destroy him. At the end of #1, Spidey’s doddering Aunt May was apparently kidnapped. This issue, Spidey goes nuts looking for answers. He seeks the aid of the Avengers but, as is typical in so many superhero comics, there’s a misunderstanding, a little brawling and Spidey leaves in a huff. He then turns to the criminal underworld to find out more about what’s happening. ...I haven’t quite made a verdict on this newest “Spider-Man” series yet. Randy Lander at the Fourth Rail hated this issue and its apparent disregard for established character and years of continuity such as with Spidey’s clumsy fumbling with the Avengers (Millar acts like the characters haven’t known each other and fought together for years). But Millar and the editor’s sloppiness aside, there are still some cool moments here -- the mystery is compelling, a scene with jailbird Norman Osborn is fittingly spooky, and there’s a nifty little bit at the end involving old villain Electro, although once again Millar’s attempts to be “hip” come off a bit like showing Superman chugging back a case of Miller Lite. The beautiful, crisp art by Terry and Rachel Dodson helps make what is a flawed but hook-filled book a little better than Millar’s writing makes it. I’ll stick around, but I’d like Millar to settle down and concentrate on a story rather than being “edgy.” Grade: B

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