“Mr. Parker Goes to Washington” Part One of Three
Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Artists: Ron Garney (p), Bill Reinhold (i)
Plot: Peter Parker receives a new, tech-heavy uniform from Tony Stark to give him an edge while acting as Spider-Man. After a test run, he offers Peter a position as his protégé to assist him during an upcoming period of uncertainty.
Commentary: I’m not a regular reader of the Spider-Man titles. I like the character and have flirted with being a regular reader on several occasions, but invariably I will drop the books, and I'll go along my merry way. After reading “The Other,” I decided the time was right again to get back into the Spider-Man titles. Surprisingly, the fact that Peter got a new costume didn’t have anything to do with my renewed interest. To me that’s a rather silly reason to pick up a book again, and besides, I get the feeling that this is a temporary change.
More on that last point in a second.
The first part of “Mr. Parker Goes to Washington” was a solid beginning at what will no doubt become a dramatic storyline for Spider-Man. One of the main reasons I’m picking up this title again is how Straczynski is playing with the relationship between Peter Parker and Tony Stark. These are two characters I never really thought of having any kind of dealings beyond the occasional team-up, but Straczynski manages to make it work by building on what Peter and Tony have in common. J.M. uses Tony to make his points, and I agree most of them with the exception of the one about Peter not just reacting but evaluating. To me Spider-Man is all about reacting. He swings around, sees some crime in progress and dives in to stop it. Sure he’s good at using his surroundings and thinking on his feat when he’s involved in the melee, especially with his more powerful villains, but as Peter David had Captain America point out in the first issue of Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man, Peter doesn’t really have a fighting style. He’s just going with the fight and until he does come up with that plan to bring the bad guy down, he’s doing his best not to get himself or any of the people around him killed.
What make the new costume and the new position so appealing is the slow twist J.M. takes as the issue progresses. When Tony is running down the suit’s abilities with Peter, it’s pretty standard super-hero stuff. There were jokes and the mood was light. After the action scene where we get to see some of what Tony was describing, Straczynski slowly begins to change the tenor of the story. Through the dinner sequence where Tony is offering Peter the role of protégé, J.M. begins to plant the seeds of Spider-Man’s role in the Civil War event to come. It was kind of unnerving. Tony starts to sound like the guy you think you know until he pulls you aside and starts explaining the significance of the imagery on the one dollar bill. It all sounds so rational, but there’s something unsettling about the situation.
The blocking was another reason the scene worked so well. It begins with a quiet dinner and then moves to a balcony over looking New York City. If you are going to give a big picture pitch to someone, a balcony over looking the city is the place to do it. J.M. also rode the fine line of Peter’s personality in the way he had him come to his decision. You could see (through Ron Garney’s art) that Peter really struggled with his decision to accept Tony’s offer. By doing this, Peter unknowingly chooses a side in the upcoming conflict. He’s with Tony, so Spider-Man stands with Iron Man. This gives a different perspective to Spider-Man’s new duds because if he is with Tony and uses Tony's tech then what happens if at some point during the whole Civil War event, Peter decides that Tony isn’t right? What contingencies has Tony built into the suit that would keep Peter obedient?
It occurs to me that I could just be paranoid about the whole thing, but I don’t think I am.
As for the costume; I like it. I think it plays into the Civil War and once that story ends, Peter will dramatically go back to his original costume and if this happens in 2007 then it will be just in time for the next movie. I don’t see this as anything other than temporary, and it is a neat design. No real complaints there.
Speaking of no real complaints, I absolutely dug Garney and Reinhold’s art for this issue. I’ve always liked Garney’s work, and he really turned in some of the best work I have seen from him. The initial shot of Spider-Man in his new threads was really nice. The page layouts on the car chase were amazing, and I also enjoyed the scene with Tony and Peter at dinner. The body language Garney and Reinhold gave the characters helped underscore the emotions they were feeling and the importance of the offer Tony made to Peter.
In The End: This was a great jumping on issue. I appreciate the organic way they are bringing Spider-Man into the Civil War in the same way I appreciated how DC brought the vast majority of its characters into Infinite Crisis. As much as I enjoyed the action of the car chase and the drama of Tony’s proposal (Wouldn't it have rocked if Tony offered Peter a million dollars to sleep with his wife?), there were some humorous moments as well. The gag with the talking eagle was great, and I absolutely loved Tony’s explanation of how Mary Jane’s arm was set after it had been broken. It was funny, and even though it was a bit of a stretch, I totally bought it because Stracynski threw in the bit about Tony having the cold-silicon compound around from past experiences of having to cover up a broken arm. How can you argue with something like that? The ending promised some interesting times ahead, and for the moment I’m sticking with this title to see where things go. Just when I think I’m about to leave Marvel behind forever, they drag me back in. I’d be upset about it, but there’s really no point. I’m a sucker for a big event, and this looks to be the start of a fun and interesting one.
Last issue, we got a display of Spidey’s new powers, and this issue, we get to see his new, ugly, stupid, costume in action. And while it’s a competent display, there’s nothing here that convinces me one jot that the costume redesign isn’t utterly misguided; after spending the majority of the last issue telling us about Spidey’s new senses, and how he’s even more agile now, why promptly stick him in a bulletproof suit of armour and give him a tactical heads-up-display? I just cannot fathom the reasoning behind such deliberate ineptitude.
But comics aren’t only about costumes, so what’s the rest of it like? Frustratingly erratic, actually. The art veers wildly between strong and incompetent, often on the same page, and Straczynski’s script shifts between moods with all the elegance and grace of an inebriated rugby player on ice skates. The comic opens with a light-hearted, Fourth Wall-breaking, apology (or perhaps JMS is goading his critics) for parts of "The Udder," and ends with Iron Man being all sinister and Machiavellian for no apparent reason, other than that the upcoming crossover demands such behaviour. These unpredictable shifts in tone make for a somewhat bizarre, and not entirely comfortable, reading experience, as if this comic were written not by one writer, but many, all with vastly different ideas of how to tell the story. The action scenes work well, the jokes are funny, and the sinister bits are suitably ominous, but they make for very strange bedfellows, and the comic just doesn’t work as a whole.
Meanwhile, on the art front, some panels and pages look like John Romita Jr drew them, and some panels and pages look like Mike Deodato Jr drew them, and some panels and pages look like Blind Spasmodic Gibbon With No Hands Jr. drew them. Try as I might, I could find no compelling reason for the varied art styles, and again, the general feeling is one of an uncredited, impromptu, and not entirely successful, group collaboration.
This really isn’t the most impressive beginning for Marvel’s Civil War event; it’s a strange and desultory comic that seems more like it’s marking time than providing a springboard into a larger story. Even as a regular issue, it’s a bit naff. You can safely skip this one.
Plot: New Avengers benefits continue to pour into Peter’s world in the form of a new high-tech costume, and a job offer he can’t refuse from Tony Stark. Meanwhile, some kidnappers try to flee Manhattan in a conspicuous car by heading towards the 59th St. Bridge.
Comments: Didn’t something happen to Spider-Man recently? Some sort of big
and scary rebirth sort of thing? No trace of that here, as instead we get Peter waking up (make that awoken by) a request from Tony Stark to meet him in the lab.
Which he does, and finds his brand new costume. Which looks too sadly like the Loonatics “futuristic” Buzz Bunny for me to take seriously. But Peter takes it very seriously as it contains all sorts of mesh this and heat sensing that and homing gobbledygook and is meant to just be super awesome and appeal to the scientist in Peter and even MJ gives her seal of approval—we get it already! New costume! Check!
The car chase is formulaic, but well executed by Garney, who is on point in this entire issue. Oh, the cars are a bit old-fashioned, and the whole scene is more French Connection than Bad Boys, but it’s decidedly well-told and clearly serves as a workout for the new-model Spider-Man and an example of his rising respect in the eyes of the cops and criminals alike.
Garney does his level best to sell the new costume, happily dispensing with the three extra legs (what are those about?) on the cover, and he does improve it to some extent. At least with his competent anatomy it looks like there’s a real man inside the sparkly thing.
Spidey saves the girl, survives a bullet, and returns to the mansion—oops, skyscraper in time for dinner with wife and boss, who immediately (if vaguely) gets into all the impending Civil War stuff. I like how JMS, master of clear characterization, has Tony and Peter relate as fellow genius inventors, though I’m not sure Peter would sign up for anything without knowing the full story.
Summation: A good-looking serviceable issue that makes the best of the hand
it’s been dealt.
This is supposed to be the issue that starts the path toward Civil War, the huge Marvel event looming on the horizon. But all I seemed to get out of this issue is that J.M. Straczynski loves to show off the new-look Spider-Man, all to the tune of major sales. Yeah, this issue is totally a publicity stunt for Marvel, lacking any real development for any of the characters involved. This is an issue a fan should buy only if he has a Spider-Man costume collection he needs to complete. If you are looking for some sort of key piece leading to Civil War, you’re not going to find it here. I know that Straczynski is trying to make a statement about the new and improved (?) Spider-Man by giving him an entirely new look, but this whole issue feels more like a fashion show than a meaningful read. More specifically, it’s an Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe entry extended for 22 pages.
The bright spot for this issue, though, is the terrific art by Ron Garney & Bill Reinhold. I think they do a terrific job depicting the action throughout (and I do mean, throughout) and making each panel as descriptive as possible. I really haven’t followed Garney’s artwork closely over the years, but I have to say I might have to pick up a few more of his comic books. He is a great visual storyteller, improving on the somewhat lackluster Spider-Man art of Mike Deodato.
Yes, the art’s great, but I can’t get past the lengths Marvel is reaching to dupe their customers into buying this issue. The headline on the cover of Amazing Spider-Man “The Road to Civil War,” yet there is hardly any revelation here that current Marvel readers haven’t seen coming over the last few months. Sure, Peter is now officially a soldier in this upcoming super-hero war, but I left this issue with the same disappointment as an episode of Lost that supposedly would “change everything.” It might be my fault. I might have set my expectations too high. But, I can’t help feeling that I spent $2.50 to watch an advertisement rather than enjoy a fine Spider-tale.
To credit Straczynski, he has constructively added onto Peter Parker’s character throughout his run on ASM, and I do believe that he is a talented writer with a great sense of symbolism and humor. But I feel that he needs to stop compromising the title for the sake of general fandom. Yes, I know that editorial interference has a lot to do with these decisions, but I also know that Straczynski is a strong enough writer to overcome these restrictions and create a product worthy of discerning Marvel readers. Marvel is trying to keep up with DC in the race to shake up their respective universes, which is great for selling comic books, but terrible for creating storylines that capture imaginations and create thought. Major-label comics have made such great strides lately in literary quality that I hope this issue is not leading Marvel down the road to predictability and inanity.
With this issue Marvel kicks off their big Civil War summer event at the same time as Spider-Man deals with some changes to his life in the aftermath of “The Other.” It’s also notable as the big introduction of his new costume, and whilst there’s been a decidedly mixed reaction to the Tony-Stark-designed red-and-yellow look among fans, I have to say that I’m warming to it on the strength of this issue. Penciller Ron Garney makes a fine fill-in artist in the absence of Mike Deodato (who’s been cherry-picked for New Avengers and will definitely be missed here), as his style isn’t too far removed from what we’ve been used to on Amazing recently. Whilst he gets a fair few talking-heads scenes to try to make interesting - including an opening sequence which shows Tony working on Pete’s costume in all its glory, thus detracting from the impact of its “first” appearance later – Garney’s illustrations really impress with the issue’s central action sequence. Although it’s run-of-the-mill stuff as Spidey foils a car chase and rescues a hostage, it’s made more exciting thanks to Garney’s cinematic sensibilities which really make the sequence move. The splash page of Pete’s new look is also a winner, and I enjoyed the various parts of the story which show him getting used to the new possibilities which are opened up by Stark’s suit. All in all, the introduction of the “Iron Spidey” costume is fairly successful and – even though I’m certain that the old red-and-blues will return soon – Straczynski and Garney do a pretty good job of making the plot point feel as organic and natural as possible.
With the rest of the issue Straczynski explores the burgeoning relationship between Pete and Tony Stark, which has developed from respectful friendship into a full-blown father/son mentor/student rapport. I actually welcome this kind of development, as it takes established characters to new places whilst still feeling completely natural as part of the story, and JMS has clearly been laying the groundwork for the pair’s relationship to develop in this direction for quite some time. However, things begin to feel slightly more forced at the issue’s end, as Straczynski introduces a plot element which doesn’t sit easily with what I know about either of the two characters. Tony Stark’s demand of an oath of allegiance from Peter comes a little out of the blue, especially when you consider that it’s explicitly stated to be made behind Captain America’s back, and without any elaboration as to what Peter’s duties will entail. It’s a slightly cackhanded way to begin outlining the different factions that are going to oppose each other in the Marvel Universe’s Civil War, and I can only hope that future issues flesh out the concepts surrounding the “Superhero Registration Act” which is alluded to in the issue’s closing panels and make the characters’ motivations more clear than they are here.
As a prelude to Civil War, this issue doesn’t really give much away about what direction that series is going to take, short of pitting Tony Stark and Steve Rogers against one another over the direction that the government should take in its approach to superheroes. Even the good character work which is done in developing the relationship between Tony and Peter leaves a slightly bitter taste in the mouth, as the closing pages suggest that this has been done more to move pieces into place for a big crossover event than to really explore how the two characters’ personalities might play off each other. However, it does provide some solid Spidey action with a new twist, and will hopefully put minds at rest that think the new Spider-Man costume is just a simple visual gimmick. I’ll be interested to see where the book goes from here, but I really hope that future issues address the compromises that have been made in allowing both Pete and Tony’s characters to conspire so readily to turn on their friends and team-mates, because it’s a story element that won’t sit happily with fans who will see it as a betrayal of both heroes’ strong sense of honour.
What did you think of this book?
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