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Marvel Knights Spider-Man #4

Posted: Wednesday, July 21, 2004
By: Dave Wallace



Writer: Mark Millar
Artists: Terry Dodson (p), Rachel Dodson (i)

Publisher: Marvel

Plot:
With Peter Parker badly bruised and beaten after last issue’s encounter with Electro, another super-villain shows up to make his life even more difficult. How will a virtually comatose Spidey deal with the new and improved Vulture…?

Comments:
This series has been a bit of a mixed bag for me. After a hugely entertaining and well-written first issue which set up a compelling mystery as well as a genuine sense of jeopardy with the kidnap of Aunt May, we were treated to a silly diversion at Avenger’s mansion which robbed the title of the immediacy of the first issue. Last time, however, we enjoyed a knockout showdown between Spidey and Electro which ended on a doozy of a cliffhanger, as the Vulture showed up in hospital as Spider-Man was at his most vulnerable. This time round there’s further unevenness, as the enhanced sense of danger and darkness that Millar’s writing has attempted to inject into Spider-Man’s life finds itself struggling in the face of a plot in which very little happens. An impotent Spider-Man is hauled around like a piece of meat for a few pages during which a villain who we’ve been led to believe is out to kill Peter instead treats him to an anecdote about his family. It’s an attempt to add depth to a previously one-dimensional character, but one which comes off as trite and uninspired, especially after the wittily misleading opening sequence, which crams in a fair amount of exposition without being dry or uninteresting.

Subsequent ideas meet with more success: the appearance of the Black Cat is long overdue (especially for those still waiting for that other Dodson-drawn miniseries to conclude), and her ambiguity puts a more interesting spin on her and Spidey’s character dynamic than we’ve seen since their initial relationship in 1980s Spider-Man comics. Whilst the ultra-violence that Millar writes into the tale later on seems jarringly incompatible with the four-colour world of Peter Parker, it at least underlines the fact that this is a book which is heading in a different direction from the other Spider-titles in Marvel’s canon. The Dodsons reinforce this with some fairly graphic sequences displaying some very real-looking injuries, relishing the opportunity to put the title character through the ringer. This is balanced with some trademark cheesecake art on the Black Cat. Even if it’s more restrained than their previous outings, it’s still an almost comic sight to see a superheroine struggling to contain her bosom as she saves her ex-boyfriend from a painful, grisly death. There are also some nice “easter eggs” within the art for eagle-eyed readers to spot, such as the reference to this summer’s Spider-Man 2 movie continuity as the Black Cat smashes the Vulture into Mary Jane’s “Emma Rose” billboard.

The ending of this issue deserves mention, as much for its lack of conclusiveness as for its “revelation” – if I was buying the collected edition of this “arc” in a few months’ time, I’d be pretty dismayed that it’s such a big cliffhanger. Indeed, I’m hoping that Millar’s gone for a bluff this time around, because whereas it’s been shown in the past that close friends’ knowledge of Peter’s secret identity can make for far more compelling storylines, this is one relationship that I wouldn’t want to see changed as I can’t believe it would add anything to the Spider-Man mythos. Neither is there any conclusion (and barely even reference) to the mystery bad guy who’s co-ordinating all of this. Let’s just hope that the full twelve-issue run ends up more satisfying once complete than this initial four issue arc.

Final Word:
A mixed issue, but one with more good than bad. The Vulture encounter is a let-down, albeit one which is redeemed somewhat with the appearance of the Black Cat. Whilst the constant urge to reveal Spidey’s identity can be a bit draining (and suggestive of further revelations to come throughout the arc), feeling like a cheap shock tactic, it’s worth a read if only to see things being done a bit differently in a Spider-Man comic.



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