"Down Among the Dead Men - Part Two”
Writer: Mark Millar
Artists: Terry Dodson (p), Rachel Dodson (i)
The worst has finally happened to Peter Parker: a mystery bad guy has discovered his secret identity, kidnapped his Aunt May, and left Pete without a clue what to do. Will he get any help calling on an old friend? Will his most dangerous foe be able to shed any light on the matter? Local super-brats The Avengers make a guest appearance as Spidey begins a frantic search to unravel just what's going on...
A neat set-up in last month's opening issue gave Mark Millar the perfect opportunity to jump straight back into a thrilling storyline this time around. A mysterious bad guy, a precarious secret identity and an immediate danger to Pete's loved ones is perfect comics material, especially for a writer with such a pedigree for providing large-scale, explosive work. A shame then, that this issue feels less compelling than last issue's cliffhanger would have had us believe. Peter's initial need to hide away a reluctant Mary Jane as well as come up with an excuse for Aunt May's absence are convincingly portrayed - making him feel "like a murderer covering my tracks" - and add a real immediacy to his predicament. The telegraphing of a future Black Cat appearance may seem a little heavy handed (also hearkening back to her still-unfinished miniseries with Kevin Smith and the Dodsons), but this contrivance is nothing compared to the Avengers' mansion sequence which follows.
Feeling quite redundant in terms of story, the pace-sapping overlong guest-appearance of the Avengers serves only to underline the lone nature of Spidey's struggle and adds very little to the overall story. The events connected with this tie-in also throw up multiple continuity problems, many of which Mark Millar may well not be aware: Nick Fury's knowledge of Spidey's identity may be true in the Ultimate Universe, but not (as far as I know) here; The Owl is a very different beast to the one last seen in recent issues of Daredevil; and the clash of the Green Goblin's appearance here as well as in The Pulse is less of a spoiler than a confusing timeline problem: is this series set before, during or after Bendis' title? How does one Norman relate to the other? These are not, however, faults that should be laid at the door of Millar himself: after all, isn't this what editors are for?
The Dodsons have thus far proven a winning team in illustrating a supposedly more adult take on Spider-Man, with the consistent darkness of inking and colour proving a good fit for the title despite the sometimes overly cartoonish style. The interior art is generally of a high quality, conveying a slickness which is lacked by the plotting and writing this time around. However, this issue also warrants closer examination of an element which is one of the most important in comics but is often under-estimated by reviewers: the cover. This issue's cover image is unrepresentative of the tone and direction of the comic. It doesn't entice the reader to read more, and - regardless of these concerns - is an uninspired piece of artwork even on its own terms. The use of blank space can be an asset in comics artwork, serving to accentuate an important, stark element of a picture: unfortunately, all that remains here is a goofy Avengers pin-up sans background or context, which is especially disappointing after last issue's impressive wraparound. A wasted opportunity to attract further readership is also a bland opening image for a story which strives to be different and original.
Overall, it is a shame that some out-of-place and unnecessary elements drag down what is an otherwise compelling comic: great scenes like Norman Osborn's interrogation in captivity show that Millar can capture cold menace better than many more overly theatrical writers, and that he understands more than competently the dynamics of Spidey's world: "I can't even tell if you're wearing a mask any more, Osborn" is an well-judged line which sums up the pair's relationship nicely. Unfortunately, diversions such as the Avengers Mansion debacle come to nothing other than to throw up plot and continuity inconsistencies and waste time that could have been spent crafting a leaner, slicker, and more adult Spider-Man story.
After a promising first issue, Mark Millar settles into the meat of his 12-part Spider-Man tale... or does he? Whilst the opening pages play out some satisfyingly realistic concerns often neglected in comics plotting, the rest of the issue seems to take a left turn into irrelevant territory, felling downright illogical at times (couldn't there be better reasoning provided for an Avengers/Spidey throwdown?) and leading to a final cliffhanger which is less than thrilling. Despite some good writing and well-suited art, one has to hope that the next issue will put the more immediate plot-driven concerns back on track, and provide more thrills and character exploration and less nonsensical diversions than are apparent this time around.
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