Current Reviews


Amazing Spider-Man #531

Posted: Tuesday, May 2, 2006
By: Dave Wallace

ďMr Parker Goes To Washington: Part threeĒ

Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Artists: Tyler Kirkham (p), Sal Regla (i), John Starr (c)

Publisher: Marvel Comics

Spoiler Warning: Some of my reaction to this issue and how it ties into Civil War is coloured by the events of its last few pages, so please read the issue first if you donít want to be spoiled.

Review: So ends the three-part Civil War build up story ďMr. Parker goes to WashingtonĒ in which Amazing Spider-Man has read as much like an Iron Man comic as Marvelís flagship Spider-title. Truth be told, if you enjoyed the previous two parts of this arc, youíll find more to like here, as thereís more action in the form of the tail-end of Spideyís battle with the Titanium man, more political intrigue as the Senate hearings relating to super-hero registration are tied up, and more Machiavellian scheming on the part of Tony Stark, who is fast becoming the most complex (and least sympathetic) hero of the entire Civil War event. However, despite the issue containing a few nice character moments, a solid super-hero slugfest and a well-executed building of tension all the way up to the last page, some of the bookís elements didnít work quite so well for me.

First and foremost, Iím still finding it difficult to get much enjoyment out of the way Iron Man has been portrayed in this arc. Whilst I understand that itís important to have a character like Tony Stark involved in Civil War, who has shown here and elsewhere that heís more aware of the issues surrounding superhero registration and regulation than a lot of his colleagues - and that heís willing to make certain compromises in favour of the greater good - itís very difficult to feel any sense of ambiguity about the political debate which surrounds the event when one of the two figureheads of opinion is shown to be behaving in such an underhanded manner before the major conflict of the core miniseries has even kicked off. Sure, the New Avengers Illuminati Special showed Stark to be uncannily prescient with regard to how events would play out in the lead-up to the publicís demand for superhero registration, but Straczynski fails to make the case that this gives him the right to do as he does in this issue. The issueís final pages make it crystal clear that Stark has outright misled Peter throughout this three-issue arc, paying the Titanium Man to attack our hero in full view of the public, and using Spider-Man as a pawn in his larger plan to address the problems posed by the impending super-hero registration act. As a result, I canít imagine anybody who has read this arc feeling that the Tony Stark of Civil War has as strong a case as those who oppose him, simply because heís been shown to be a dishonest schemer who will happily manipulate his friends in order to gain ground politically, and heís clearly arrogant enough to think that he knows best how to handle the problem without consulting some of his closest allies. Over the next few months, Iím concerned that this handling of Starkís character could upset the delicate balance of viewpoints which is an important part of Mark Millarís story, and harm the central premise of the series as a result.

Despite the trappings of Civil War, however, this is still a Spider-Man book, and in the first half of the issue JMS provides a decent continuation of Spideyís fight with the Titanium man in and around various Washington landmarks. Itís a well-written, well-executed action sequence for which much credit must go to penciller Tyler Kirkham, who makes the most of Straczynskiís script to provide a compelling (if predictable) fight between the two characters. I like the way Kirkham draws Spidey; heís realistically human without being reduced to a mundane everyday figure, and heís muscular without ever losing the wiry physique which sets him apart from other powerhouse heroes. The art team also manages to make the Iron Spidey costume look fairly decent, and I have to confess that Iím getting so used to the new duds that it now barely registers that Peterís wearing a different outfit these days. Writing-wise, thereís a little more exploration of how beneficial Spider-Manís new outfit can be when heís in a tight spot, and thereís even a quiet interlude at the Lincoln Memorial which gives Straczynski a chance to explore Peterís idealistic naivety and impressionable nature, both aspects of his character which seem destined to play into Civil War in quite a big way given the mentor-student nature of his relationship with Stark. However, itís the conclusion of the fight which gave me most enjoyment, as JMS harnesses the essential silliness of Spideyís character to end the battle on a light note without reducing the entire conflict to a joke. Itís little scenes like this that make me think that the writer "gets" Spider-Man - despite the impression given by overblown and ill-conceived stories like "The Other" (which again goes unreferenced here) - and it makes me wish that the story could focus on him more instead of being bogged down in superhero registration and the moustache-twiddling antics of the Incorrigible Iron Man.

JMS takes the chance heís given towards the end of the issue to reaffirm some of Spideyís key values as the Senate hearings on super-hero registration draw to a close, in a neat little speech which states the case in favour of the masked heroes plainly and simply (and in a manner which might seem clichť if it came from anyone but Spidey). Nevertheless, the Senatorís rebuttal of his argument is an equally deft piece of writing from JMS and provides a surprisingly effective counter to Peterís reasoning, which sets up the two sides of the Civil War in an unfussy and easily-comprehensible way. Bar a last-minute gratuitous Mary Jane shower scene, itís a solid way to tie up the story, and JMS has clearly done his best with a plot which carries more than a whiff of editorial mandate. Of course, the final pages provide a segue into the opening events of the Civil War series, and I understand that the next big arc in this issue will also be a direct tie-in with Marvelís big summer event, which doesnít exactly fill me with confidence as Iíd love to see JMS freed up to do what he wants with this title, instead of succumbing to nearly a yearís worth of tie-ins. However, on the strength of this issue, Amazing Spider-Man is still a worthwhile read for Spider-Man fans, even if itís nowhere near the heights of JMSí earlier issues, and the constant inclusion of foreign elements does seem to be persisting at the expense of a good Spidey-centric yarn.

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