“The Book of Ezekiel: Chapter Three”
Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Artists: John Romita Jr (p), Scott Hanna (i)
Peter Parker gets a final showdown with Ezekiel as the fates demand recompense for his stolen Spider-powers. Which of them will come out on top... and what will happen to the loser...?
Back when Amazing Spider-Man was numbered as volume #2, issue #30 introduced a new creative team which paired J. Michael Straczynski with veteran Spider-artist John Romita Jr. Together, they have done much to improve the face of Spidey comics, long smarting from their mid-90s panning which saw a creative nadir coinciding unfortunately with the implosion of the collectable comics market. JMS has always faced an uphill struggle to redeem fans who have been bitten too many times by stunt writers to get too excited about the Next Big Thing. However, by and large Straczynski has shown us a Spider-man free of the clutter which had accumulated around the character - a pared-down, streamlined Spidey which got back to the core of what the character was really about. A big part of this success has been the excellent rendering of John Romita Jr., living up to the seal of quality that his name conveys and producing some of his all-time greatest work on the title. Sadly, Romita Jr leaves the series (at least for a while) with this issue, but as the climax to JMS' big multi-arc Spider-Totem storyline, it's doubtful that he could have picked a better time to sign off.
Anyone who's been following this title will know by now whether they like the Spider-Totem idea or not. It's more of the same here, balancing Spidey's ever-present scientific, analytical style with a mystical, magical element - and for the most part, it works. Pete's potentially final confrontation with Ezekiel carries a lot more weight when you've been following their relationship from the start, and most of the dangling story threads are resolved here... except the Spider-guardian from last issue, seemingly consigned to irrelevance in a pint sized arc that has the rare quality of making you wish it had been padded out to a few more issues. Exploring Spider-man's resolve to never give up is hardly a new idea, but Romita Jr's emotionally evocative artwork connects well with the writing to do it justice here. Whilst the showdown may feel predictable and a little too simple given the 2-year-plus build-up to this climax, there is a genuine sense of jeopardy created - even for such an invincible character as Spidey - and that's no mean feat.
To be brutally honest, the story presented here is not quite a fitting send-off for the enigmatic presence that Ezekiel has provided in this series - but this issue gains a lot of goodwill for being John Romita's current swansong. His artwork (along with Scott Hanna's perfectly suited inks) has been consistently excellent, keeping me on the title when JMS' writing went through some rocky patches: indeed it will be interesting to see if this title can maintain momentum without him. Whilst he is apparently contracted to draw Mark Millar's upcoming Wolverine run, the farewell message suggests that his return to these pages won't be too far away. We can only hope that he gets to do his Spidey thing again sooner rather than later, as the title won't be the same without him. JMS is going to have to work especially hard in the coming months to convince his readers that his time isn't up.
The era of JMS and JR Jr comes to an end - for now - and, along with Bendis and Maleev's stellar tenure on Daredevil, it's a run which I'm proud to have in my collection. I'm not convinced that the quality of this team's work over the past few years can be matched by Mike Deodato Jr (starting next issue) - especially with the rumoured plot developments recently leaked to the comics community - but I'm willing to be convinced.
What did you think of this book?
Have your say at the Line of Fire Forum!