“Not An Angel”
Writer: Fiona Avery
Artists: Mark Brooks (p), Jaime Mendoza & Victor Olazaba (i)
J.M. Straczynski's "spider-totem" idea over in Amazing Spider-Man was criticised by many (but not by me) as a painful shoehorning of Buffy The Vampire Slayer ideas into the Spidey mythos. With Amazing Fantasy (how long before that title gets changed I wonder? Sounded great in the 1960s, sounds like porn now), Straczynski's protege Fiona Avery decides to try and shoehorn Spidey ideas into the Buffy mythos. The result is a very odd mix that doesn't quite work. There seems to be a conscious attempt to distance Amazing Fantasy from Spider-Man, but at the same time making use of what's gone before (not least the title), which ends up as rather strained. The main character, for example, is a misfit at school but unlike Peter Parker, she's not a nerdy weakling. Rather, Anya is a tough troublemaker with a good heart. The general impression is either that they're rather desperately trying to do a "same but different" reflection of Spidey's origins. Similarly, there's no radioactive spiders here, but more mystical goings-on that strain painfully between doing something new and suggesting a connection to the spider-totem idea.
(To be fair, there's no overt references to the spider-totem, but I wouldn't be surprised to see it turn up here. It would seem to a be a logical connection to make anyway, since Marvel claim that this is set in the Marvel Universe, and it's pretty clear that our heroine will develop spider-like abilities. Given that Straczynski's plot suggested that Spidey is the chosen recepient of the spider-abilities and that anyone else is an imposter who tends to end up being messily eaten by Higher Powers, our heroine would have to be very lucky (or the editors very lax) to avoid getting tangled up in that plot. The close professional relationship between Straczynski and Avery would also suggest a connection being made at some point. Anyway...)
All that said, these difficulties could be put aside if it weren't for the fact that it all gets even more messy due to the Buffy influences. The heroine is a tough troublemaker who's also a misfit. Just like Buffy. She's been “chosen” to wield some fantastic power. Just like Buffy. It looks like she's going to have a mentor who belongs to a secret society, knows all of the enemy's secrets and will train her to use her powers. Just like Buffy. Again, if these influences were taken on their own, it would be derivative, but it would work. Ripping off Buffy could work. Ripping off Spider-Man could work. Ripping them both off and mixing them together just reeks of desperation. This comic feels like one of those terrible film pitches that follow the A-meets-B format as an alternative to actual innovation.
Aside from the concept, the writing is acceptable, although it’s not without its problems. Unless Avery is pulling a very clever switch, I don’t think that anyone will be surprised if the heroine’s father (who is a journalist, and looks just like J. Jonah Jameson) is at some point killed pursuing a story, prompting young Anya into a life of crime-fighting. Earlier, a flashback to Anya’s mother leaving the family clumsily drops into an unrelated scene for no reason and without explanation. Giles-stand-in Miguel, considering he can shoot magic bolts out of his hands and can apparently seal off an entire park from evil influences, has a stupidly gimmicky and impractical way of tracking down the chosen one. I’d guess it’s supposed to be symbolic and clever in some way, but just makes Miguel look like an idiot. Falling short of Austen-style inconsistencies, these problems still detract from the story. Another problem is the very dull format of this first issue. Just because this is an origin story, it doesn't necessarily follow that it has to happen in the first issue. I think I would have much preferred an issue or two of the new Spider-Girl (or whatever she'll be called) in action, with the story of her origin coming along later as a flashback. It would have made for a much more compelling opening issue, I think, and would make it stand apart from the crowd. So plotting is not of high quality here, but sadly the other aspects of the writing are not much of an improvement. The characters are two-dimensional at best, and it’s hard to make any kind of connection with them, even Anya, who comes across as the result of a Google search for “tough teenage female heroine”. The script is similarly below-par, which makes me wonder how the target audience (teenagers, particularly girls) will take to the comic (which of course, we really shouldn’t expect them to at all, since teenage girls don’t go into comic shops, which is the only place they could get this…). The dialogue stinks horribly of a non-teenager trying vainly to write authentic teenager dialogue, which ironically enough, is something that Buffy got right. The art is a little bit too spikey for me to really enjoy it, but on the whole it's pretty good stuff. I'm not sure whether it's a problem with my copy or just an editorial failure, but there would appear to be a gratuitous storytelling/continuity flaw in the art between pages eighteen and nineteen. If I'm missing a page, let me know, as I don't know how Giles...er Miguel gets from the position he's in on eighteen to the position he's in on nineteen. Odd.
So Amazing Fantasy is just about okay. There's nothing here that compels me to pick up the next issue. I don't particularly care for the characters, the plot, or the art. In fact, the only thing that interests me is how this relates to the Spider-Man mythos as presented by Straczynski, and I can find out about that connection by looking out for when other reviewers start talking about it, and flicking through that issue in the comic shop.
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