Current Reviews


Slugfest Special - Marvel Knights Spider-Man #19

Posted: Wednesday, October 26, 2005
By: Keith Dallas

“The Other (Part 2 of 12): Denial”

Writer: Peter David
Artists: Pat Lee (p), Dream Engine (i)

Publisher: Marvel Comics

Average Rating:

Kelvin Green:
Paul T. Semones:
Dave Wallace:

Kelvin Green

Pat Lee is (allegedly) a dodgy fellow who (allegedly) doesn’t pay his employees, and yet here is Marvel paying him good money to draw this chapter of their big Spider-Man crossover. Nice bit of solidarity with those unpaid writers and artists, Marvel. Real nice.

Pat Lee is (definitely) a dodgy artist who (definitely) can't draw people, and yet here is Marvel paying him good money to draw this chapter of their big Spider-Man crossover. Nice bit of solidarity with those fans who value the continued use of their eyes, Marvel. Real nice.

I mean really, it's one thing that hiring Pat Lee and his "new" company to pencil, ink and colour this comic is morally dubious, but when the art that's turned out is so atrocious, one has to wonder what the heck the thinking was behind this. The first page features Dead Mary Jane, apparently an escapee from Kirkman's "Marvel Zombies" project, all stiff limbs and dead staring eyes, and the art just degrades from there. Lee's figures have no movement to them, and because he has no idea about what real people actually look like, the pages are filled with grotesque manga-lite renditions of what can only be described as Roadkill People; faces are lumpy and disproportionate, and often change between panels, as if everyone's flesh has lost its cohesion, like the Nazis at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

I quite liked the first chapter of the crossover; David set up some interesting problems for Spidey, and while I'm not amazingly enthused by the return of Morlun, I'm willing to wait to see what the writers do with him. David does make interesting use of the character in this second issue, keeping him at the edge of events with unclear, although presumably hostile, motivations. Sadly, that's about the best thing about the second chapter of "The Other"; the rest feels like a lot of treading water, and I'm really not particularly excited about dragging out the "MJ has a hard time dealing with Peter's superhero lifestyle" thing again, after JMS dealt with it so well not long ago. Since Straczynski is one of the architects of the crossover, I assume there's some reasoning behind its resurgence, but that doesn't make it any less dull at this point.

I might have looked upon this comic a tad more favourably if the art had been slightly less hostile to human perception, and if Marvel had had a better sense of decorum and professional courtesy than to hire Pat Lee, but at best it would have got only a bullet or so more; the story doesn't so much grow here as flounder about a bit before having a lie down, making for a rather forgettable issue.

Paul T. Semones

Well, this is definitely a case of the art being insufficient to telling a decent story.

Not that this is Peter David’s finest work, either, but this second issue of “The Other” storyline could have come up a bullet or two higher with a different artist more well-suited to telling a story involving people, not robots.

Basically, Spider-Man is involved in a rematch with Tracer, David’s new punk villain from Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #1. But it’s a fight told third-person, through the eyes of a TV news chopper, and Mary Jane is stuck trying to watch the action from a bar after one of her plays (which must have been an afternoon matinee, since the fight is happening in broad daylight).

That, and she has to deal with an obsessed fan.

There are a number of specific problems with the issue. First, it takes a skilled artist to render the necessary level of suspense when portraying a super-fight through the eyes and emotions of onlookers, instead of through directly portraying the fight itself. Pat Lee is not up to the challenge. Peter David’s panel-to-panel writing doesn’t help. The pacing is off, and a couple of segues to the fight itself – including Spider-Man and Iron Man interacting in the midst of it – are rather abrupt. David’s writing style is usually pretty rapid-fire, and to make sense of it, an artist needs to carefully plan out the pacing of the page turns and panel sizes. It just doesn’t work here.

That, and Iron Man tries to rescue a plummeting Spider-Man by grabbing him at the throat. Is this Lee’s fault or David’s? I’m not sure, but it’s pretty foolish.

Morlun makes some strange appearances throughout the issue, including a curious showing on the first page where he seems to be standing right behind MJ in her dressing room … or is that just metaphorical? He seems to manipulate events through mind control on occasion, but I have no idea if that’s one of his powers. Maybe he’s just a really intimidating guy? Again, the art is inadequate to making these interactions clear, and David’s not doing us any favors by making nothing explicit.

By the way, the present storyline is doing nothing to explain anything about Morlun yet. He just shows up. Luckily, I picked up a trade of Straczynski’s first Amazing Spider-Man arc, which introduced Morlun, this summer when I visited the comic book mecca of New York. Had I not read those issues, I’d be lost and frustrated with his involvement.

David writes a scene that could be a dramatic reveal of the pain Mary Jane goes through as the wife of a secret superhero, but the art fails to make it resonate. Panel size leading up to the scene is a problem, because Lee never gives the visual side of the story a chance to breathe in the pause between the fight and the heart-to-heart talk. So it just begins abruptly. That, and Lee decides to copy and paste the same panel six times on the same page to show MJ slowly unveiling her pain to Peter. It doesn’t work, because, since we don’t see him on the page, I was afraid maybe Peter had walked out half way through the talk. That, and, well, MJ seems to have two left legs that are crossed on each other.

At bottom, the David/Lee team-up works against itself. These creators are not suited to each other, especially when David is, as he is here, taking some risks with his story pacing.

I have to admit I’ve been turned against Pat Lee after reading all the scathing news and commentary regarding the collapse of Dreamwave and the Transformers franchise there. There’s a significant level of personal antipathy I feel toward him as a creator.

But more objectively speaking, I think he’s a crummy artist. His Manga-influenced style doesn’t work in the world of Spider-Man, where faces, tears and smooth body shapes demand a careful and practiced hand.

When Transformers #1 came out from Dreamwave a couple years ago, I was ready to kiss his feet. When I’d finished the first six issues, I realized the perils of giving work to a creator who seems, quite frankly, to be a fan first and a professional second. There’s more to making a comic work than drawing pictures and writing dialogue. There’s also a host of more subtle talents that involve beats in the visual telling of the story and composition of panels that, unconsciously to the casual reader, fit the scripted content of the panels. Such things require practice – more, I suspect, than Lee has had. I wish he wasn’t “practicing” on such a seminal storyline in the life of one of comicdom’s most important heroes.

Well, at least there’s fully 24 pages of ads to pick up the slack. Will Marvel please fire the person responsible?

Dave Wallace

After last week’s first instalment of “The Other,” I was keen to see more of what Peter David had got planned for Spider-Man and this crossover as a whole. Unfortunately, after a strong start, this second issue flounders and feels more like an exercise in treading water than an engaging continuation of David’s storyline. Part of this problem arises out of the convention that writer David has chosen to employ of telling each of his opening three chapters from the point of view of a different character, as whilst Pete’s narrative was compelling and exciting in part one, the pace-sapping switch to Mary Jane’s character’s viewpoint makes for a decidedly dull second chapter. Few creators can write MJ in a way which makes her stand up as a character in her own right, and truth be told, I don’t really think that she’s been a very worthy member of Spider-Man’s supporting cast for a long time.

Here, we see MJ handle an incessant stalker, debate the motivation of superheroes with Captain America, and try to follow a televised Spider-Man battle which shows Pete once again tackling the new baddie Tracer, who appears to have hacked through Iron Man’s defences with ease to turn him against our wall-crawler. It’s an indictment of the script that I was so eager to follow Spidey’s story that as soon as the television coverage of his fight ended, I was as disappointed as MJ – but for different reasons. Frankly, the last thing I wanted to do was to go back to following MJ’s uninteresting adventures, and by the issue’s end I was glad to see the return of one of the more major plot strands of “The Other” – that of Pete’s deteriorating health. Sadly, even this element proves a let-down, as we don’t find out any more about the nature of Peter’s affliction this issue, and the whole reveal is already starting to feel drawn-out and laboured.

The duller parts of this book’s “story” would be forgivable if the art could somehow make them exciting or interesting in a visual way. Unfortunately, the downturn in quality of David’s storytelling is matched by a drop in the quality of artwork, as Pat Lee steps up to continue where Mike Wieringo left off last issue and falls at the first hurdle. I don’t think I’ve seen such an ugly cover to a flagship title in some time, and the scratchy quality of the pencils and inks combine with the pale, washed-out colouring to create an image which inspires no emotional reaction whatsoever. The interior art is as bad, with Lee’s manga-lite style fitting the material badly. Established characters are barely recognisable (check out Cap if you really want to punish your eyes), grotesque long noses afflict every visage and facial features seem to shift around between panels, and all of New York’s inhabitants seem to have asked their hairdressers for “The Akira” by sheer coincidence. This simplY doesn’t feel like a Spider-Man book, and any character moments which might have had some impact – like the last few pages – are so undermined by the poor visuals as to fall completely flat. The only thing that Lee does get right is Morlun, whose vampiric Euro-goth look is rendered faithfully and effectively in the few pages where he does show up, and his dark purples and blacks really helps him to stand out amongst the otherwise generic colour scheme which Dream Engine adopts.

This issue shows to just what extent bad art can cripple a good writer, but to be honest I think that Peter David is at fault here too, as his MJ story just lacks any kind of excitement or intrigue to hook in readers who have come to this title looking for a good book about Spider-Man. The entire issue seems an inconsequential diversion, and even if David aims for a little poignancy with MJ’s final speech about how Pete may have a death wish, it just doesn’t ring true. It’s an interesting point of view, but one which runs completely counter to handfuls of examples which have shown Pete’s triumph of will against overwhelming odds in the past, and it’s difficult to contradict such a fundamental tenet of the character with such a flimsy premise (although I liked the section which queried why Pete wouldn’t have built some kind of web-fluid meter into his web-shooters). The overwhelming reaction to this issue is that it’s something dull to get through before we can get to the good stuff of “The Other,” and it simply doesn’t compare to the strong first issue of FNSM which kicked off the storyline.

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