Amazing Spider-Man 514 – “Sins Past, part 6”
By J. Michael Straczynski and Mike Deodato Jr.
The Story: The final fate of both of Gwen’s children is decided.
The Good: Okay, I finally see where he was going here. In introducing Gabriel and Sarah, JMS has set up an allegory of mankind’s struggle against its good and evil natures. Spidey’s good, the Goblin’s evil, and the decision of which to follow determines the course of one’s life. There’s all sorts of theological and philosophical implications here; I particularly like how, even as Spidey is set up as a surrogate Christ figure, the Goblin has devised his own profane sacrament to mirror it. It’s a rather ambitious thing to be doing with Marvel’s #1 icon, and everyone involved should be applauded for having the guts to attempt it.
Deodato handles the demands of the script quite adeptly, bringing tension not just to the action scenes, but also to the story’s real climax, the turning point in both Gabriel and Sarah’s lives. He also draws great versions of the cast; his Mary Jane and Green Goblin are particularly distinct, while still maintaining their archetypal quality.
The Bad: Since the story’s climax comes pretty much dead center, what’s left is eleven or so pages of anticlimax. The fight between Spidey and Gabriel exists mostly to take up space, and while there’s a nice flashback involving Gwen, it’s still a mostly empty finale. The last page in particular feels like a big cheat, as JMS cuts the legs out from under his own story for reasons I can’t entirely see here.
The Quote: “The truth is in the blood… and nothing will ever change that.”
The Final Word: What could have been an excellent conclusion is hampered by its own construction, and becomes merely a good one.
The Grade: B+
New Thunderbolts 2 – “The Games People Play”
By Fabian Nicieza and Tom Grummet
The Story: The Wrecking Crew, Sub-Mariner, Mr. Fantastic, the Great Game, and two new members make the team’s second big outing a lot more complicated than the first.
The Good: There is a lot going on here. Some would say too much for the story’s own good, but I’m not some. As far as I’m concerned, this pacing is just fine, hearkening back to the glory days of Lee and Kirby, when the characters were propelled through event after event at breakneck speeds. This is classic pulp storytelling, and something modern comics are sorely missing.
Characterization continues to be the byword, as pretty much every element introduced last issue moves forward somehow, and new ones are introduced. I particularly like the way Speed Demon and Joystick are each introduced to the team; both situations set up friction down the road while giving the characters a solid foundation in the immediate story. Nicieza’s clearly boned up on his fundamentals of serial fiction, and God bless him for doing so.
We also see some surprising guts from MACH-IV. Abe Jenkins was one of my favorites from the old series, and it’s good to see his depths being further plumbed in this volume.
The guest shots by Namor and Reed Richards are handled great. Both of them play a serious part in the story, reinforcing the concept of the Marvel Universe as a coherent entity, something that’s been lacking in Marvel’s books for a while now. Hopefully this means a return to form for the company as a whole.
The Bad: I’m a little worried about how long the team can keep up this level of activity, but other than that, this is a great ride of a comic.
The Quote: “He respects us. That is so cool…”
The Final Word: Everything that made issue one (and volume one) great, and a bit more.
The Grade: A
Excalibur 7 – “Bad Moon Rising! (Food Fight, part 3)
By Chris Claremont and Aaron Lopresti
The Story: Xavier’s crew tries to wrest tenuous control of the island back from Dark Beast.
The Good: Aaron Lopresti’s visuals are really cool. This issue is very action-oriented, and that’s an area he’s well-equipped to handle. The scenes in the rain are particularly neat.
There are some good character bits here, particularly with Magneto and Wicked. I’m coming to a better understanding and liking for this cast. And Xavier is always a treat in the hands of the right writer.
The Bad: There’s a lot that’s muddled in this issue. We never get a coherent explanation for why Dark Beast is here, or for that matter who he is. I didn’t expect a complete retrospective of the character’s admittedly convoluted history, but given that Xavier’s met him before, I at least expected a throwaway “think evil twin” explanation for the newbies. Superhero stories are defined by their villains, and since DB comes off as a cipher, there’s little if any tension. It doesn’t help that exactly what the heroes are trying to accomplish is undefined until after they’ve accomplished it.
And where the hell did these Asgardian trolls come from?
While Lopresti’s figures and architecture are good, he lacks a bit in backgrounds in several panels. I ordinarily wouldn’t notice, but it’s so prevalent here, it rips me out of the story in places.
So where is this series going? Seven issues in, and I’m not sure. There’s the hinting that a government is being set up, but little if anything is concrete, and the blurbs for the next storyline aren’t too promising (apparently the fallout from “Avengers Disassembled” is going to sprawl into the story, and God only knows where that’ll take things). I’m adrift here.
The Quote: “Charles, I’m the Master of Magnetism. I had… what’s the word… flunkies for such tasks.”
The Final Word: Seven well-realized characters desperately in search of a series. Chris, I’m serving notice: Get somewhere in the next arc, or I’m gone.
The Grade: C