Current Reviews

subheader

Sunday Slugfest – Amazing Spider-Man #512

Posted: Sunday, October 3, 2004
By: Craig Johnson

“Sins Past: Part 4”

Writer: J. Michael Stracyznski
Artists: Mike Deodato Jr. (p), Joe Pimentel (i)

Publisher: Marvel





Average Rating: 3/10

Jason Cornwell:
Michael Deeley:
Shawn Hill:
Craig Johnson:
Jim Kingman:
Judson Miers:
James Redington:
Ray Tate:
Dave Wallace:






Jason Cornwell

Plot:
As Mary Jane details how Gwen could be the mother of twins, we see her explanation reveals a previously undisclosed secret about Gwen having a one time fling with Norman Osborn, that left her pregnant. We than learn Norman's alter genetic make-up resulted in the rapidly ageing children who are now the adults that are looking to kill Peter for what they believe is his abandonment of them, as well as his murder of their mother.

Comments:
Gwen Stacy represents innocence and purity. She's the "happily ever after" that was forever denied Spider-Man by his greatest enemy. In fact her death is largely recognized as the end of the Silver Age because she was the first damsel in distress who wasn't rescued, and this made her death a watershed moment in comics. The fact that J. Michael Straczynski doesn't seem to be aware of this idea leaves me quite concerned, but what makes it worse is that the whole dog and pony show that he's offered up is such poorly constructed tripe, that I honestly believe even an afternoon soap would pass by on the idea as being overly melodramatic. In fact the idea is more along the lines of the Jerry Spinger show, and this isn't exactly a great payoff for a story that is messing about with a fundamental element of Spider-Man's mythology. To be perfectly honest the entire story feels like something J. Michael Straczynski threw together out of sheer desperation after his first idea was rejected, and having Peter repeatedly point out how logically all the pieces fit together does nothing to address the big questions that are breezed past or ignored outright. Now it is worth noting that the entire idea is based on a conversation Mary Jane overheard, so there may be more to this idea than meets the eye, but as it stands now it's a silly bit of writing that I hope is shown the same degree of attention by the writer that follows J. Michael Straczynski on this title as J. Michael Straczynski extended toward the work of Stan Lee and Gerry Conway.

Mike Deodato Jr. earned this book its single bullet as he does a convincing job of conveying the emotional impact moments of this issue, from Mary Jane's anguish in the opening pages as she builds up the courage to tell Peter what she knows, to Peter's eruption of anger when he imagines Gwen's betrayal. There's also a great little moment where we see Mary Jane admitting the real reason why she never told Peter what she knew about Gwen. Norman's sinister edge is also well conveyed by the art during the scene where we see the wheels turning in his head about what to do with Gwen, the there's also a nice quiet moment where Gwen exits the room to learn Mary Jane overheard the conversation. It's just a shame that the art is in service of such a poorly thought out story, as Mike Deodato Jr. proved with this issue that he is up to the task of conveying the emotional turmoil that pervades this story.




Michael Deeley

Normally a bad comic book starts with a good idea, and then ends up with poor writing and art.

In this case, we get fine writing and beautiful art, but it’s based on an impossible premise:

Gwen Stacy cheated on Peter Parker with Norman Osborn.

I just can’t buy it. Granted, I haven’t read every Spider-Man comic, and I’ve read very few with Gwen Stacy. But the impression I have of her is she really loved Peter. She was a good person. And I just can’t accept the possibility that she would sleep with another man. Especially if it was her “first” man, and especially if she found herself attracted to Osborn’s Green Goblin persona.

That’s right. It’s strongly implied that Gwen was seduced and overcome by Osborn’s “mysterious”, “powerful”, and “secret” side; his Green Goblin persona. So Gwen didn’t just cheat on Parker, she was cheating with the Goblin. Setting aside the whole issue of acting out of character, that’s just plain gross.

The product of this liaison is the twin children that are trying to kill Peter. They believe Peter is their father; probably more of Osborn’s handiwork. But how could these children have grown up so quickly? Why they inherited Osborn’s healing powers, granted to him by his super serum. Of course! Superhuman healing powers always result in accelerated aging. Just look at Osborn himself, or Wolverine. They’re decrepit old men! Pardon my sarcasm, but it is clear JMS didn’t think this through. He need only have thought about it for 5 seconds before coming up with a better explanation. Here’s one: The chemicals that gave Osborn his powers mutated his DNA. As a result, any of his offspring will suffer accelerated aging. They’ll be physically perfect but never live long. So a man obsessed with creating an heir will never have the chance to pass on his legacy. That’s sufficiently ironic.

This issue also changes the reason why Osborn targeted/killed Gwen. She told Osborn she was keeping the kids and raising them as her’s and Peter’s. So Osborn takes revenge on his two worst enemies: Spider-Man and the woman who stole his children. This changes Gwen from innocent bystander to person who made a huge mistake. After all, she cheated on Her Man. She was then going to lie to Her Man and have him raise another man’s children. Gwen paid the price for keeping a Father from His Children and cheating on Her Man. That’s the moral message you can now read into the death of Gwen Stacy. Enjoy.

So everything we knew about Gwen Stacy and the events surrounding her death were wrong. But there was nothing wrong with them to begin with.

What makes this issue so disappointing is how talented Deodato and JMS are. The dialogue between Peter and Mary Jane as she tells him this secret is powerful stuff. MJ also shows she understands Peter’s burden, thus bringing them closer together. The two of them work it out like a loving couple should. Deodato’s art is dark, moody, strong, passionate, and very real. It perfectly captures the mood and intensity of the story and characters. I wouldn’t have such a strong emotional reaction if JMS and Deodato weren’t so skilled in their craft.

Well, maybe I would. It’s a terrible premise after all.

In my opinion, you should not buy this comic. If you have, do not buy the next issue, or the concluding issue of the story. Do not buy the inevitable trade collection of this story. Do not support this story in any way, shape or form. I’m not even a Spider-Man fan, and I find this offensive. I can only imagined how pissed off the passionate readers will be. This is going to be more hated than the Clone Saga.

Here’s your review quote: JMS and Deodato have constructed an elaborate and beautiful house of cards. It looks impressive, but it cannot stand.




Shawn Hill

Plot:
Peter learns of a confluence of past betrayals, from one of the sources, Mary Jane.

Comments:
Did we need this? Genetically enhanced children of Gwen and (we thought) Peter? Who grew at alarming rates and hated their dad? I mean, Gwen was a sophisticate, it’s not hard to imagine her fleeing to London or Paris or wherever when in crisis. But sleeping with the apparent father of these genetic freakazoid children? Gwen? The hip party girl who matched Mary Jane note for note, metallic pantyhose to plastic earrings to ultra miniskirts in the swinging sixties? One can’t imagine Mary Jane doing it, and face it, tiger, Gwen was every bit as much of a jackpot.

Sleeping with Harry I could buy, I wonder why that route wasn’t taken. But all this does is besmirch Gwen’s memory, with little payoff (as you know the macguffin children will be dead by the conclusion, don’t you?). JMS also seems to be writing the characters in flashback just as they are now, i.e. as mature, hardened adults. Mary Jane is not the same character she was when Gwen died, but she might as well be in this story, where the women collude to protect poor befuddled Parker. One of the things that troubles me about Spider-Man is how much the women in his life have to sacrifice to keep him strong, as aiders and abettors to his higher cause. JMS reinforces that strain unfortunately, something he’s mostly been avoiding in Mary Jane’s story up till now.

Somewhat interesting:
Not that every note in this tale is wrong. Peter is, and has always been, about suffering to some extent, so to see him suffer here is definitely in character. The lack of doubt that Peter will forgive Mary Jane her secrets is right on; this couple has been through much worse already, and have proven their love time and time again.

Uninteresting:
I don’t think the Goblin NEEDED the additional motivation to off Gwen he’s given here. He wanted to hurt Parker, and she was a convenient body. Complicating the myth (and I think we have to take the first 200 or so Amazing issues as iconic at this point) with mutant children doesn’t enhance it, especially as the kids have been nothing but photogenic ciphers in this story arc, and apparently fools as well. Well, I’d be angry too if I knew my life span was accelerated, but I wonder if I’d remember my supposed father was also a clever scientist? At any rate, Gwen’s death was scary partly due to its random, accidental nature. She was a pawn in out of control events, and that was plenty sad enough.

Still interesting:
Deodato’s art is very strong, and excellent at selling the emotions in this talking heads issue. In fact, the lack of action in this issue is more compelling than more pointless fight scenes would be. JMS is doing so much right with these characters; too bad he’s put them in such a cliché-ridden plot.




Craig Johnson

Wow, I can’t believe MJ is prepared to lie to Peter in such depth, nor that Peter is so stupid and lacking in knowledge of basic science.

Obviously she’s lying that Gwen willingly fucked Norman Osborn.

Obviously she’s lying that Gwen was pregnant with twins, and managed to not show it at all (this is twins we are talking about, hello), and even managed to get out of London whilst staying with her Aunt and Uncle, nip over to Paris to have them, and nip back to London sharpish to be on the phone to Pete at short notice.

Obviously he’s turned stupid because fetuses growing physiologically nine months in the duration of seven doesn’t actually equate to growing twenty years in the duration of less than ten.

Obviously he’s turned stupid because even if physiologically someone’s body aged twenty years in less than ten, their brain wouldn’t, their personalities wouldn’t mature, and they’d act like nine years old not, er, twenty year olds.

Obviously this is a big hoax pulled on us all by JMS, and he’s going “ha ha” behind his hand, because we’ve paid for AN ENTIRE ISSUE OF LIES for the sole purpose of pulling the wool over our eyes for the big reveal next issue.

Because if not, you just know that JMS has undone years of sterling effort on the book with one, misguided situation – and nothing he will ever write again will remove this taint from his writing.

My 2 bullets are for the art. After months of moaning that Deodato shouldn’t be allowed to draw superheroes, just people, he gets a whole issue to strut his stuff, and does a great job. I cannot, and will not, hold him accountable for the writer’s action.




Jim Kingman

If you’re looking for Spider-Man in action, then the cover of Amazing Spider-Man #512 is all you’re going to get. But if you’re looking for Spider-Man in emotional turmoil, this issue’s story has enough angst to last a good long time.

Gwen Stacy, Peter Parker’s first love, carried a secret to her death. Mary Jane Watson, now Peter’s wife, has known the secret for years, and has until now successfully kept it from Peter. Norman Osborn is a part of this secret. In this issue, the secret becomes Revelation to Peter Parker. It’s a stunner. It’s as unbelievable as Green Lantern Hal Jordan going mad and destroying the Green Lantern Corps. But writer Straczynski insists on stretching, breaking credibility to make it credible. He makes the characters of Gwen and Mary Jane something they are not. By issue’s end, Straczynski has manufactured a personal quest for Peter Parker. I could’ve saved $2.25 and caught this kind of storytelling on an episode of Days of Our Lives.

And that’s what we have here. Days of Our Lives in the pages of a superhero comic book. “Sins Past: Part Four” is the stuff of soap opera. It even employs soap opera fantasy: aging characters at a swifter pace than humanly possible, simply to allow the kind of comic book action and confrontation readers expect from a superhero tale. But for the longtime Spider-Man reader, The Revelation is a harsh body blow. It’s sensationalism. It’s betrayal of established character. It’s bad editing: Gwen went to London, not France (I’m sorry, I don’t care how high the writer or editor is ranked in Wizard’s popularity polls. If they trip up on established continuity, the faithful reader is going to be distracted because of the oversight). “Sins Past” does get high marks for Deodato’s artwork. And I’ll reserve overall judgment because this story arc still has a ways to go. But at this particular point, I feel bad for devout Spider-Man readers. I went through this ten years ago with Hal Jordan. No fun. No fun at all.




Judson Miers

The Backstory
Nearly 400 issues or so ago, ASM 119-121, Peter’s girlfriend, Gwen Stacy, dies at the hands of both Spiderman and Green Goblin. After discovering Spiderman’s alter ego is actually Peter Parker, Norman Osborne decides to cut deep into the heart of his enemy by kidnapping Gwen. During the battle on the George Washington Bridge, Norman’s goblin glider knocks Gwen off the bridge. Spidey tries to save her by webbing her leg as she fell from the bridge, not knowing that the shock of falling off the bridge had already killed her.

Now after all of those years, we find out that Gwen was pregnant with twins and just couldn’t tell Peter about it. Oh and by the way, the twins (one boy, one girl) have aged incredibly fast, possess super strength, and hate Peter (their alleged father) for abandoning them…

The Present
If any of you have been following my reviews (sorry I’ve been gone for the past month or so, but I’m back now!) I made a promise to both myself and whomever reads my reviews. In case you can’t quote my reviews by heart (and who would be able to, especially if I can’t even do it!), here’s what I wrote…“Let’s just hope this doesn’t turn into something as awful as the whole clone affair! If it does, I might just have to tear up my Spiderman fan club ID…”

Well, it appears that I will have to be a man of my word and stop picking up Spiderman titles, especially ASM, for a very long time! Not trying to be melodramatic, I just can’t stand this any more. This is worse than a soap opera, unnecessarily toying with Peter’s mythos!

Peter and I have been through some pretty rough times in the past. It’s been kinda eerie the way that ASM and my life have shadowed each other. Let me first say that I am a very sane and upstanding citizen, not prone to explosive rantings and ravings. Nor do I give quarter to conspiracy theories and those types of people. What usually happens is that something traumatic would come up in my life, I would go to the comic book store, catch up on about a year and a half worth of back issues, and find that Peter had been having some of the same struggles that I was!

Fast forwarding to the present, the revelation that Gwen Stacy was raped by Norman Osborn would be enough, but to find out that she had slept with him knowingly and willingly is just too much to handle.

I’ve had a very similar event happen in my life (without the superpowers and the drug overdoses, and mutated children and all), and I’ve just gotta say that either Peter goes ahead and does “the unthinkable” and finally once and for all kills Norman Osborn, or he’ll never respect himself again. Of course in real life, those sorts of actions aren’t allowed, but I can tell you that I really, really wanted to do that myself to the “Norman” that slept with my “Gwen.” I just kept seeing visions of “Norman” and “Gwen” over and over in my head. Fortunately, I had enough friends and family keeping me active (meaninglessly busy) that I was not able to succumb to those dark desires.

I’ve made a commitment to see the storyline through to the end, but there probably won’t be another ASM coming home with me. I just can’t respect someone who has been so brutalized, allowed so many of his family and friends to be terrorized, and still goes on about his merry way carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders without doing what is extremely justifiable to everyone else. If he doesn’t finally stop Osborn, he’s as guilty as an accomplice and deserving of his own justice…




James Redington

Why should I bother? That’s the question I ask myself along with and repeatedly why, why, why, WHY?

Spoiler WARNING...

Norman Osborn had consensual sex with Peter Parker's (then) girlfriend Gwen Stacey - she had twins which grew faster than normal because Norman is the Green Goblin, and they are now back because Norman has turned them against Peter because they believe he is their father and that he abandoned them and let Gwen die.

I hate to say it, but what the smeg? Has JMS gone too far? Gwen freely had sex behind Peter's back with the Green Goblin? Why not make it rape, its the 'in' thing in comics at the moment - at least that wouldn't destroy the character of Gwen too much.

If I can for just a minute stop looking at the awful details of this story, stand back and take a breath, try and review the comic on a production level... it's not that bad. The pencils are ok as it the writing - but the plot, the destruction of history YOU CAN'T ESCAPE IT!!

The struggle that Peter goes through as Mary Jane tells him the story of the twin's birth and Gwen loss of virginity was well structured and written. The characterizations of the spider couple is good, there is nothing wrong with the dialogue - but the reasons behind it, AGGGGHHHHHH!!

I will say one thing for it, I liked the way JMS worked in the previous Green Goblin stories from the previous years - like the "I want you to be my son" story and "let’s be a family" stuff.

The art is good, the strength of the pencils on character's faces is beautiful and there is little action with Spider-Man, which is good because that seems to be where the artist has failed in previous issues. The cover is ok, but not really great and it doesn’t stand out as a memorable one. Spider-Man is awkward looking and has strange bumps on his back again.

JMS has a lot to answer for, but not half as much as the editors at Marvel who agreed to this story arc. I will give this issue an extra half mark for being so stupid to think this was a good idea. Also I have given JMS an extra mark on the off chance this is all a buff, and the last part of the story will expose the truth that Mary Jane has indeed gone nuts and got it all wrong!!




Ray Tate

State Copy

Silver Bullet County Warrant for Arrest

Subject: J. Michael Straczynski

Vital Statistics: Unknown at Present Time

Base of Operations: Amazing Spider-Man #512

Charges:

Plotting without a brain; felonious use of a plot contrivance; statute of limitations violation regarding dead villain use; libel against the Gwen Stacy Estate; gross negligence with regard to mathematics; trespassing on Marvel history; creation of angst based upon false pretences; slime trafficking; multiple homicides perpetuated against members of the plant kingdom; conspiracy to commit fraud.

Known Associates:

Mike Deodato Jr.; Joe Pimental; Matt Milla; Axel Alonso A.K.A. The Necrophiles

Summary of the Case:

MJ spills the beans about the previously unknown tryst between Norman Osborn and Gwen Stacy--when she was six. Norman didn't set into motion Gwen's death just because she happened to be Spidey's girlfriend. Nope; she was also Norman's girlfriend, and they had irreconcilable differences.

Notes:

The link between the Green Goblin's regenerative powers and the tots' accelerated aging remains unexplained. In other words if Daredevil and Shanna the She-Devil mated, I wouldn't expect their kids to be invulnerable. I might expect them to have radar sense or hyper-hearing.

Recommendations:

Prepare second arrest warrant should the accelerated aging be responsible for the Green Goblin/Gwen Stacy Tots' death or should one Tot kill the other Tot.

Judge Harold T. Stone
____________________

Signature






Dave Wallace

I ended my review of last issue by saying “I’m expecting to be pleasantly surprised by what is turning into JMS’ true return to form on the title”. Well, I couldn’t have been more wrong.

You’ll probably be familiar with every nook and cranny of this month’s story from the above reviews, so I’ll be light on the details and get to my point quickly: this is an incredibly frustrating and self-destructive issue of the current run. Straczynski has shown that he can craft a good story and add a lot of insight into the title character (as well as his rejuvenated supporting cast) through his pitch-perfect dialogue and compelling plotting, whilst Mike Deodato Jr’s art is so brilliant and well-suited to the tone of this story that I find it difficult to believe I was missing Romita Jr’s art so much during his first couple of issues. But where the book trips up is in JMS’ complete misjudgement of the content of the story, to such an extent that it threatens to corrupt one of the most defining moments of the Spider-Man mythos.

Straczynski rides roughshod over Gwen’s character here, retconning with abandon and adding facets to her character that just weren’t present in the original Lee/Ditko/Romita issues. This would be all well and good if the character was a more minor one and JMS had something new and interesting to say, but going against the spirit of one of the most (if not the most) important Spider-Man stories of all time – the death of Gwen Stacy in ASM #121-122 – is such a blunder that I begin to wonder if JMS really “gets” Spidey and his world at all. The writing seems very self-satisfied with its clever weaving of Gwen’s affair into Spider-Man continuity, regardless of the fact that the plot mechanics don’t add up with Spidey stories of that era and the “attraction” between Gwen and Norman is horribly misjudged. Readers will likely be outraged at the revelations that long-term loving boyfriend Pete never slept with Gwen whilst Norman managed to sweep her off her feet through the sheer force of his “strength” and magnetism” – and we really didn’t need to all-too-explicit and genuinely stomach-churning images of the act to ram the story home. Whilst the writer may feel that such a betrayal of the readership will help to convey Peter’s own sense of anger and revulsion, in the end they’re nothing but cheap writing tricks regardless of the emotional weight that they intend to convey. There’s always the caveat that the entire plot could be pure misdirection, but it’s looking increasingly unlikely. Unfortunately, the feeling JMS is most likely to evoke in long-time readers is certainly anger, but not at Norman - at himself.

It’s amazing (no pun intended) that an issue which contains so many good elements can be such an appallingly misconceived comic book, but it’s true. Moments like Deodato’s crying Mary Jane or his silhouetted, brooding, costumed Peter standing at his window would be standout pieces of art in any other book, and JMS skills as a writer are still in evidence – despite the subject matter – but everything is so subsumed by the core of this story that it doesn’t seem to matter any more. I’m surprised that Marvel editors let him mishandle one of the key Spider-Man characters in this way, taking away more from Spider-Man’s world in one issue than the entire contribution he has made since he started the book. Luckily, as a reader you are free to choose what you want to accept as “continuity” and what you want to throw away as if it never happened – and I know where this plot is going. There’s only one image that is going to stick in your mind after reading this book: it’s not pretty and it’s certainly not fun, but then again it’s not Gwen Stacy to me.



What did you think of this book?
Have your say at the Line of Fire Forum!