Writers: Fiona Avery and J. Michael Straczynski
Artists: John Romita Jr (p), Scott Hanna (i)
As Mary Jane heads to Los Angeles to see about a job, we see Peter puts on his costume and tries to keep his mind occupied with some costumed heroism. However, with the city on its best behavior, Spider-Man finds his attention drawn to a young man who triggered his spider-sense, and he soon discovers the reason why is because the kid has a gun. After keeping the young man from getting into a fire fight with the police, Spider-Man is able to talk him into giving up the gun before he hurts himself. Meanwhile Mary Jane discovers a painful truth about how she's viewed by others.
Spider-Man is a good hero for a story like this as he's a character that I can see having an easy time dealing with the bullied kids who would be inclined pick up a gun, as he was subjected to the unkind attentions of Flash Thompson and company when he was their age. Now J. Michael Straczynski already offered up a similarly minded story relatively early in his run on this title, but this issue's encounter manages to do a more effective job of making the connection between Peter's own past and the plight of the kid with a gun in the present day. This issue also has itself a very engaging secondary plot involving Mary Jane that I rather enjoyed as she heads out to Hollywood for a job to discover that she has been lumped into the category of a pretty face with marginal acting talent thanks to her super-model roots. Now to be fair there have been a fair number of super-models who have attempted to make the jump from the runway to the silver screen in the real world, and the results have been enough of a mixed bag that it would make sense that there would be a big question mark over Mary Jane's head when it comes to her acting resume, which to my knowledge only includes a stint on the soap opera Secret Hospital, and her recent roles in a couple cheesy sounding B-grade films. In fact if nothing else this encounter does serve to humanize Mary Jane a fair bit, as it's nice to see that she also has to deal with a skewed perception by the public, much like her husband's costumed alter-ego. Her phone conversation with Peter in the final pages was also a powerful little moment, as she puts on a brave face.
John Romita Jr's take on Mary Jane is a bit odd looking at times, as the opening page makes her look a bit dazed rather than amused/annoyed by Peterís incessant talking, but there's also moments where he manages to capture the idea that this is a person who could be a super-model, and oddly enough the prettiest panel in the entire issue is the one of her in the hallway as she is shaking off the effect of jet lag, as it's easily the most human looking shot of the character. There's also some nice Spider-Man action in this issue, as while the kid with a gun isn't exactly a huge danger to Spider-man, the art manages to capture the sense that the situation needs to be dealt with as soon as possible, with Spider-Man's race long the rooftops having a wonderful sense of urgency. The scene where Spider-Man walks up the wall was also a rather clever panel, as I must admit that's probably the most friendly way Spider-Man could've approached the situation. I love the cover image to this issue as well, as it's always nice when the artist recognizes a different angle can be used when Spider-Man is in mid-swing, than the stright on, swinging toward the reader pose.
I realize that this story had an important message it was looking to present, and it offers it up in an effective enough matter as it never felt like the writing was trying to oversell its argument, or artificially amping up the tension by adding unlikely elements, like trigger-happy police officers. However this issue also suffers from the simple fact that it's delivering a plot that seems perfectly content to stay inside the lines, as nothing really occurs that was all that unexpected. I mean basically the plot has Spider-Man encounter an upset young man who has gotten his hands on a gun, and he manages to talk the kid into giving up the gun before he could hurt himself or anyone else. I mean while happy endings are nice, they are also quite predictable when the writing doesn't add any plot twists that could be called even mildly surprising. I also have to take issue with how Spider-Man's spider sense is used in this issue, as it goes off to such a degree that Spider-Man's all but doubled over in pain, when at the moment there's no direct threat to the character, and on the scale of dangers in the Marvel Universe a kid walking past with a gun in his belt shouldn't trigger more than a mild twinge of his spider-sense. What's more the major threat spider-sense trigger is terribly misleading as I spent the issue waiting for the big reveal that there was far more than meets the eye about this kid thanks to this initial indicator. I guess what I'm trying to say here is that his spider-sense shouldn't have had such an extreme reaction unless that kid was a cleverly disguised Thanos.
And The Oscar Goes To...
The plot involving Mary Jane and the rather harsh assessment of her acting abilities is far and away the more engaging of this issue's parallel plots, but I will give the book credit for dealing with the "child with a gun" plot in a manner that didn't feel like it was trying to do anything more than offer up a somewhat harrowing dilemma. I mean there's no internal monologue by Spider-Man about a society where a child can get a hold of a gun, the child's reasons for why he needs the gun are easily identifiable, and Spider-Man's means of dealing with the situation nicely drew upon the character's own teenage experiences. However, this plot is also a bit familiar, and it doesn't really go anywhere all that unexpected, so I found most of my enjoyment of this issue stemmed from Mary Jane's experiences in Hollywood, as first it's good to see the character involving in a plot that doesn't involve her pining away over Peter. If I were Mary Jane though I'd be getting myself a new agent, as they did a very poor job of following up on this job prospect. Still, it does act as a powerful eye-opening moment of humility that should give her a better idea of what some people think of her.
What did you think of this book?
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