“The Other: Evolve or Die, Part 11: Destiny’s Child”
Writer: Reginald Hudlin
Artists: Pat Lee (p), Dream Engine (i & c)
This issue sees Reggie Hudlin pick up the story from where this week’s Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man cliffhanger left off, showing Pete’s pursuit of a mysterious beast which formed after an army of Pirate Spiders ate the shell of dead skin which he left in the morgue at Avengers tower. Things get even more strange from there, as the otherwordly being (who may or may not be “The Other”) informs Pete that they are both parts of the same whole, and that spider-based cosmic forces are vying for control of his life. Apparently, although a spider-deity known as “The Great Weaver” thought that Spidey’s death was premature and pulled him back from his fate, others disagreed - and Peter feels his life being pulled in different directions as a result, at the centre of a metaphorical Spider’s web of which he is unsure if he is the predator or the prey.
If all this sounds like wishy-washy mystic mumbo-jumbo, it is, but Hudlin manages to keep a handle on it by condensing the cosmic explanation of Spider-Man’s recent troubles into some fairly brief exposition, and allowing the story some fairly exciting action sequences, as well as some interesting character moments which suggest that Pete isn’t fully aware of the nature of his recent transformations (despite the implication in earlier issues that he consciously “embraced the Spider” in order to be reborn). To be honest, I don’t think that the character of Spider-Man sits easily with such mystical, magical storylines – but Hudlin wisely counters the cosmic self-importance of the (presumably JMS-inspired) plot thread with some grounded asides from Spidey which show that he’s just as incredulous as we are about the Spider-Totem-related forces which seem to be plaguing him at the moment. Hudlin’s writing seems defter and more focused this issue, and it makes for a fairly trim and efficient story, albeit one which feels like it only really exists to move the pieces into position for JMS’ big finale in next week’s issue of Amazing Spider-Man.
Surprisingly, there’s an increase in the standard of artwork this issue too, with less evidence of the kind of misshapen bodies and grotesque faces which have characterised Pat Lee’s earlier work on this arc. There’s definitely more attention being paid the inking and colouring of Lee’s linework here, which makes the visuals seem less scratchy than before and colours them in more subtle and richer shades, avoiding the washed-out look which made Lee’s already uninspiring work look even worse in previous issues. However, Lee’s pencils have also clearly improved here: this is perhaps because the majority of the issue presents Peter in costume, chasing an inhuman spider-monster, and as such, the standards of anatomy and realism that have tripped the artist up in the past don’t apply in the same way. His Spider-Man is detailed and muscular in a way which is reminiscent of Todd McFarlane’s take on the character and his action sequences are equally dynamic, but unfortunately Lee also seems to have inherited McFarlane’s weaknesses for capturing realistic figures when his characters are out of costume. That said, The artist does handle the more character-based sequences adequately this issue, and even if his Aunt May is still somewhat witch-like - and an unintentionally hilarious two-panel sequence shows Dr. Strange looking more like he’s trying to seduce Spidey than view him from more than one perspective - they’re minor faults this time around instead of the major distractions which scuppered previous issues. Lee even manages to evoke a genuine feeling of tenderness in a rooftop meeting between Peter and his Aunt towards the end of the issue, before leading fairly seamlessly into a suspenseful and visually intriguing cliffhanger which has me genuinely hooked to see where this story goes next.
However, my major worry is that the pacing of "The Other" just hasn’t allowed for this conclusion to have the necessary time to breathe. Just as the story seems to be getting interesting and actually going somewhere, we’re left with only one issue to go to provide the major conflict that all of the mystic Spider-Totem threads seem to have been building up to, as well as some resolution to the story as a whole. Frankly, despite Amazing Spider-Man’s JMS and Mike Deodato being my favourite current creative team to be working on a Spider-title, I can’t see how they can pull this all together in the space of an issue without some element of the story being compromised. It’s a shame, because with less emphasis on the drawn out build-up and more attention paid to this freaky finale, we could have seen another mystic Spider-Man story on the same level as the Ezekiel arcs, which were some of the character’s strongest of recent years. Sadly, however, this story isn’t as well-conceived or well-executed as those issues, and we look to be left with an inferior follow-up which suggests that the potential of the Spider-Totem take on the character might well have been exhausted. A shame, as - although I still feel that there’s room for further exploration of that angle – I can’t see readers buying into it again after the disappointment that “The Other” has become.
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