"The Other: Evolve or Die - Part 5: Retreat"
Writer: Reginald Hudlin
Artists: Pat Lee (p), Dream Engine (i&c)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
"The Other" is already proving to be the bloated, poorly-executed crossover that many Spider-fans feared it would be, and the last thing it needed was another issue of treading water and coming to terms with the fact that Spider-Man is the victim of a terminal yet maddeningly-unidentified medical condition which is guaranteed to result in his death (yeah, right). Sadly, thatís what it gets in Marvel Knights Spider-Man #20, with the added detraction of Pat Leeís atrocious artwork to really sap any possible pleasure out of reading the book. Regardless of the manís rumouredly questionable character, Lee is proving to be one of the worst Spider-Man artists Iíve ever encountered: his charactersí face and body types are interchangeable, their facial features are distorted and inconsistent (someone teach this man how to draw a nose!), and his grizzled Aunt May appears to have been taking fashion tips from Spirited Awayís Ubaba. There are admittedly a couple of neat pages: a few panels showing Morlun on the prowl, and one standout full-page spread which rehashes the issueís cover concept (and loses a lot of its impact because of that). But the art as a whole is weak and unfinished-looking, and Iíve seen plenty of fan art which looks far better.
The disappointing visuals could perhaps be overlooked if writer Reggie Hudlin was telling a decent story here, but sadly heís not. Hudlin opens with a silly sequence which shows Mary Jane and Aunt May dressed up in old Iron Man suits (is the man on crack?) and following Peter to Latveria to use what is apparently the only functioning time-machine in the Marvel Universe for a trip down memory lane. Hmmmm. The book then Ė amazingly - goes downhill from there, showing May and MJ accidentally and unhilariously killing a legion of Dr. Doomís robot guards, before a chat with Tony Stark leads to a wholly imaginary excursion for Spider-Man to Las Vegas (a waste of two pages if ever Iíve seen one), and finally results in a trip into space for Pete and MJ to contemplate our heroís imminent death. I had assumed that Hudlinís last issue was an intentionally choppy way to give Spidey a whistle-stop tour of the Marvel Universe, but it now seems that this disjointed method of putting a story together may just be an element of Hudlinís writing style. Juggling multiple story strands seems difficult for him: nothing really seems to hold together, and the erratic pacing of the book serves to sap the few significant scenes of any emotional weight whatsoever. Hudlin doesnít seem sure whether heís writing a tragic account of Spider-Man and his family coming to terms with a terminal illness or a jolly adventure through which Spidey can enjoy his last days here, but neither approach really works.
This entire crossover feels incredibly shoe-horned into Spider-Manís world for little purpose other than to create buzz around an ďeventĒ which exists solely to increase readership of the Spidey titles. At the same time, Marvel have unfathomably chosen to portray the character in a very unfaithful way; I donít think Iíve ever seen the ever-tenacious Spider-Man display such a lay-down-and-die attitude before, and his apparent resignation to his fate makes for dull reading in an already directionless story. Iíd be interested to know just how much of this story is from Hudlin and how much has been influenced by whatever editorial diktat is co-ordinating "The Other," as I suspect itíll only be with the advent of JMSí issues that we really find out where all this is meant to be heading. However, six issues is a long time to string out a tale which effectively amounts to little more than a prologue for Stracynskiís real story, and by the time those issues arrive next month I wouldnít be surprised if "The Other" has seen a huge drop-off in readership. The worsening quality of both story concept and creator pedigree isnít exactly inspiring me with confidence, and I canít help but feel that Iíll be dropping all my Spider-Man titles soon if this crossover is the best idea they can come up with for the character. What a let-down.
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