Writer: Mark Millar
Artists: Frank Cho (p&i), Laura Martin (c)
So, the last issue of this series ended on a dizzying cliffhanger: J. Jonah Jameson sees a photo snapped of Peter in hospital and says “That’s one very familiar face...”. Now – and correct me if I’m wrong – in an episodic story like this, shouldn’t the next issue follow on logically from this teaser and deliver on the promise of what that final page suggested? Apparently not, because this element of the plot fizzles into nothing but there being a price on Spider-Man’s head from the Bugle for anyone who can reveal his true identity from what turns out to be a very noncommittal picture. First of all, it’s a bit of a cheat, and secondly, it’s far from an original idea – indeed, one that has cropped up in the Spider-titles more than once before. However, Millar looks to be intent on working such over-familiar Spidey themes (such as the characteristic bursts of humour) into larger, more original plot machinations, so such a classic about-face is perhaps forgivable in that context.
Other developments this issue examine the Parkers’ money troubles and the threat posed by the Black Cat to their relationship, both of which show that Millar recognises the need to constantly ground the central character with relatable difficulties in amongst all the superheroics. Whether Millar can balance these more mundane issues with the immediacy of Aunt May’s kidnapping is another matter – on the evidence here it’s going to be a bit of a tightrope walk, and one which risks pulling readers in too many different directions. However, one thing you can never say about Millar is that he’s boring, and there is some excellent action this time round as Spidey takes on a strangely berserker Doc Ock in a sequence which again hints at the greater force puppeteering Spidey’s major foes, suggesting that someone may be conducting “tests” on the villains to ends unknown. These mystery elements keep the reader guessing in the absence of a more tangible super-bad-guy, and the early appearance of Eddie Brock also foreshadows an encounter with Venom not far down the line. Let’s just hope that the individual single-issue elements don’t get given short shrift when it comes to the grand finale.
It’s also worth noting here that this issue sees Frank Cho filling in for regular artists Terry and Rachel Dodson. At first, the slightly flatter, cartoonish figures seemed like a rough fit, but - having read the issue – the inking and colouring techniques used work very well towards keeping a real sense of continuity in the series. Sequences with Mary Jane and the Black Cat are lent a touch more femininity than before, and even if the action in the Doc Ock sequence lacks some of the detail we’ve seen from the Dodsons, a sense of dynamism and spectacle is still maintained. In short, the switch in artists doesn’t affect the story’s readability, and Cho will be welcome when he returns for similar duties in issue #8.
The idea behind a 12-issue plotline which throws the best of Spidey’s rogues’ gallery up against him has been compared by many to the recent “Hush” arc in DC’s Batman. Frankly, I’m not finding it quite as entertaining in single instalments as that project was, and, on the evidence each 4-issue mini-arc is hardly going to be a self-contained story at all. However, if what Millar has said in interviews is to be believed, it should turn out to be a far more tightly-plotted, complete and satisfying enterprise than Loeb and Lee’s Batman story turned out to be. So whilst it seems like a cop-out to constantly describe this book as “mixed”, that’s the adjective that I’ve got to pick out again: Some bits I like, some I don’t, but it’s never less than compelling reading – and that sounds like a fair recommendation to me.
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