“The Book of Ezekiel: Chapter One”
Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Artists: John Romita Jr (p), Scott Hanna (i)
Ezekiel returns! The enigmatic mentor once again shows up in New York, revealing further secrets to Peter as Spider-Man prepares to face the one being who has been the centre of the mystical Spider-Totem subplot since the very beginning...
After waiting for what seems like years for JMS to follow up on the Spider-Totem storyline - and being treated to some average filler stories in the meantime - the creative team appears to be back on top with this solid issue, setting up mysteries and hinting at uneasy partnerships which are sure to play out to great satisfaction in the following two issues. Ezekiel's return is not a moment too soon, and JMS refreshingly chooses to plunge us straight into the action at the core of the story. The opening few pages are suitably creepy, introducing us to a South American Spider-Totem similar to the one we have seen in previous issues and hinting that Peter's latest mentor may not be as altruistic as his actions would have poor Spidey believe. JMS also shows his sense of fun later with the character dynamic exploring the benefits of Ezekiel's experience in a pleasant dinner scene which delves into the nature of Pete's Spider-sense. JMS has Ezekiel asking questions that, as readers, we may kick ourselves for not having asked in the past - and as such he brings a refreshing approach to some of the subtleties of the character.
Artwork is once again handled magnificently by John Romita Jr. The Spidey veteran shows us that his handling of figures is unmatched, with much of his character work in this issue revolving around some beautifully staged sequences in which Peter and Ezekiel hang around casually on the side of buildings. It's nice to see Spidey being comfortable wall-crawling out of costume for once, and the command of facial expressions and light and shade in this instance is equal to (and reminiscent of) the artist's work on Daredevil's Man Without Fear miniseries a good few years back. If Mary Jane is occasionally doll-like and Aunt May remains worryingly gaunt, these have come to be acceptable as stylistic tics rather than flaws in Romita Jr's artwork. A shame, then, that there will be only two more issues of his run to enjoy.
So why only 3-and-a-half bullets for this issue? Well, if many were predicting that Ezekiel would be the huge enemy that Spidey is going to come up against at the culmination of the mystical story arc, they will be disappointed - at least so far. Instead, JMS introduces us to a "gatekeeper" - another mystical invention that seems determined to fix itself on the destruction of Spider-Man for reasons that are not wholly clear: it seems that Spider-Man is going to have to pay some kind of supernatural final demand for the powers that he has been using for free up until now. If this hire-purchase attitude to inherited super-powers seems bizarre, it will not be made any easier to swallow by the uninspired design of Spidey's latest foe: if it's an entity composed of spiders that you want, look no further than the stunning artwork of "Kraven's last hunt": this latest baddie seems a poor substitute. And black is soooo 90s....
All in all, a sound issue that seems a return to form for this creative team after a rocky period. Tighter plotting than recent issues is mixed with strong dialogue and a logical plot - as well as the aforementioned solid artwork, as ever - and finally, a beautiful cover. In comparison to the covers of recent issues by such luminaries as J. Scott Campbell and Kaare Andrews, you may suspect that J.R. Jr's more simple style may not be up to the task. You'd be wrong. This issue has a lot to offer, and anyone who dropped Amazing Spider-Man after the constant cuteness and dallying could do a lot worse than looking here, for what would appear to be the beginning of the tying-up of a satisfying storyline which has run its course.
Apparently, JMS' planting of plot seeds only to return to them years later was a big part of his writing on "Babylon 5". Comics enthusiasts who have to wait slightly longer per episode will therefore be pleased to learn that Straczynski is returning to where he began his run on this title. Backed up by some solid art and a strong storyline, it looks likely that this partnership will be ending its run with a bang rather than a whimper.
(Oh, and fans may wish to check out the original biblical book of Ezekiel - regardless of their religious beliefs - if they want some hints as to where this story might be going. There are a lot of false idols being worshipped there too...)
What did you think of this book?
Have your say at the Line of Fire Forum!