Current Reviews


Amazing Spider-Man #52

Posted: Thursday, May 1, 2003
By: Jason Cornwell

Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Artists: John Romita Jr. (p), Scott Hanna (i)

Publisher: Marvel Comics

The book opens with Spider-Man discovering the hulking green monstrosity that he stumbled across last issue is rather powerful, and it's all that he can do to stay in one piece. However, when he's nailed by a solid right cross, we see while Spider-Man's busy seeing stars, the bad guy has decided to pull off a vanishing act. Making his way outside we see Spider-Man finds himself confronted by a rather shady character who lets it be known that his boss would like to see him. As Spider-Man agrees to meet this man's boss, he finds himself meeting with a mob boss named Mr. Forelli, and in a rather odd moment we see Spider-Man is offered $10,000 to protect this man & his family from the creature which has decided to exact its revenge upon the Forelli family. As Peter weighs his opinions and can't really see why he should turn this offer down, as he was going to protect them for free, we see he agrees to carry a pager that will alert him when the creature makes a return appearance. W e then join Peter later that night as we learn Mary Jane isn't exactly pleased that Peter's even considering the offer, but when the pager goes off Peter is off to the races. However, but the time he arrives the creature has already come and gone. Still, in the interests of learning more about the creature, Peter finds himself sent halfway across the country to learn how the corpses of several murdered gangsters have pulled off their return from the dead.

After the big throw down that Spider-Man has in the opening pages this issue effectively comes to a complete standstill. In fact I'd even go as far to say that the book not only lost its momentum, but it actually took a couple steps backwards. I mean given a large chunk of the first chapter was devoted to letting us readers know how the latest threat Spider-Man's facing was created, was it really necessary to have Spider-Man travel to ground zero to learn this information first hand? I realize that Spider-Man probably needs to know this information, so J. Michael Straczynski can have him employ the necessary comic book science that will result in this creature's defeat, but having the book going over ground that was already covered in the first issue is not the way to go about this. I realize it's a little too late to go back & fix it, but the story would've been better served if the back-story we received for the villain in the first issue have been removed completely, as having Spider-Man discover this information alongside the readers would've made for a far stronger reading experience than watching him uncover it after the fact. One also wonders why the mob boss felt he had to send Spider-Man to ground zero, especially since the danger to himself & his daughter is active in New York.

What this comic needs is a laugh track, as while there are some funny moments in the book, there's also some moments where it's a little too obvious that J. Michael Straczynski is going for the laugh. I mean Spider-Man is a character who delivers humorous banter, so I have little problem with his amusing exchanges with others, but when the book hands over an entire page to a gag that has such a weak payoff I start to grow a little concerned that the book is expending too much energy trying to be funny. The throwaway gags like the butt-prints in the concrete wall, or his getting a ticket from a police officer for riding on the car hood are amusing enough, but the stewardess gag is a complete nonstarter, and the protest chant at ground zero is so awful it's actually worrisome that J. Michael Straczynski felt this was going to elicit laughs. The book also engages in social commentary that is so patently obvious in its intent that it's difficult to accept as anything but the writer pulling out a soap box. I mean the scene where the villain gets brought up to speed by reading newspapers floating in the sewer almost reads like a remake of Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start the Fire" (I also have to seriously question the idea that a newspaper would even be legible after spending 20+ years in the sewer). Peter speech to his class is also so far above their heads that I think J. Michael Straczynski forgot who Peter's audience was supposed to be.

John Romita Jr. gets to show off his skills as an artist in the opening pages of this issue as Spider-Man battles the big, bad villain, and I'm starting to think John Romtia Jr. couldn't deliver a bad looking action sequence if he tried. His art has a sense of power that is unrivaled in comics, as the impact shots look like they're ready the shatter the very panels themselves, and having the villain use a massive support column as a Spider-Man swatter results in a wonderful display of the villain's considerable strength. The scene where Spider-Man empties his entire web cartridges to no avail is also a solid display of what he's up against. Now when the action ends, the art manages to keep things interesting, as Spider-Man interaction with the hulking mob underling was smartly done. There's also a some nice perspective shots that keep the material visual interesting, such as the shot of Spider-Man & the mob boss on the dock, that is looking up at them from under the water. The art also manages to keep us aware of which member of the science team investigating the crater is Spider-Man, and the last page shot of the villain rising up out of the sewer is a pretty solid visual to carry us over into the next issue. It's a shame about the cover though, as it's an interesting idea visually, but it's executed rather poorly.

Final Word:
This book is equal parts amusing & annoying, as while J. Michael Straczynski has delivered several genuinely funny moments in this series, he's also delivered several duds, and the general sense that I get from this book is that he's simply trying too hard to keep maintain the comedy. I like the idea that Spider-Man is delivering a steady stream of amusing banter, and there's a couple amusing throwaway moments in the issue. However, there's also a sense that the plot is simply a framework to hang these various amusing situations upon. There's also the fact that this issue has Spider-Man investigating a mystery that was already explained in the previous issue, so the final pages of this issue felt like a big waste of time. Then there's the moments during the issue where J. Michael Straczynski uses his characters to address the social ills of society, and while in don't really have a problem with this, I do wish it wasn't so patently obvious that this is what he was doing.

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