ďThe War at HomeĒ
Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Artists: Ron Garney (p), Bill Reinhold (i)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
EDITORíS NOTE: Amazing Spider-Man #532 swings into stores this Wednesday, May 31.
SPOILER WARNING: These reviews discuss significant plot developments of the issue.
After witnessing the destruction at Stamford, Tony forces Peter to make a difficult decision. A decision that shall put a strain on not only Peterís relationship with the Hero community but more importantly also with his family. After discussing the matter with Aunt May and Mary Jane, Peter is surprised to find that they have already made a decision themselves. Inspired by his familyís courage, Peter returns to Tony Stark at the Whitehouse and prepares to make a shocking revelation.
It has been a while since I have last enjoyed JMSí writing on Amazing Spider-Man, and while it has always been quality storytelling I found myself losing interest after the title lost Romita Jr. on pencils. If this is because JMS simply ran out of stories to tell or simply took on too many books to handle, I am not sure but either way I can argue that over the last year or so, the quality has dropped. Well, not anymore. This latest issue directly related to the events in Civil War has sucked me right back in with some great dialog, drama and real emotion.
This issue is all talk, and by all talk I mean there is NO action, at all. Normally I could argue that in a Superhero comic book this is a flaw, but JMS manages to pull it off. Firstly, some great dialog between Peter and Tony shows exactly how hard this kind of decision is on Peter as he wrestles with it. The fear and frustration is articulated perfectly, and for an old fan like myself itís hard not to become emotionally invested.
This feeling of anxiety is shifted in the next scene just as skillfully as Peter talks to his family about his decision. This time the emotions shift to relief and hope as Aunt May and Mary Janeís thoughts are revealed. While it is surprising again, it is articulated perfectly and all leads to a satisfying and heart warming moment. This work between characters has always been one of JMSí strengths, and itís great to see him given a chance to write our favourite characters interacting in such dire circumstances.
The pencils are provided by Garney, and I believe this is his best work. All the characters are perfectly crafted and the moments between Peter and his family in particular are given the attention they need. This particular scene is bolstered by some great colour work by Bill Reinhold on inks and Matt Milla on colours. Matt has been doing the colours for this book for a while and the fully costumed Peter reminds me of earlier days when Romita Jr. handled pencils with Hanna on inks. High praise for this team indeed.
This new story begins a terrific tale of a man making a terrible decision and the effect it will have on everything he loves. The story is solid, the dialog is great and the emotions are real. If you want a very human tale about the events in Civil War, this is what you are looking for.
Peter Parker travels with Tony Stark to the site of the Stamford massacre. After another trip to D.C., Stark tells Peter Congress is going to pass a superhuman registration law. Anyone with powers will be forced to reveal their identities to the public. Those who refuse will be hunted down and arrested. Peter talks it over with Mary Jane and Aunt May. He has to make the hardest decision of his life.
This could be the greatest Spider-Man comic Iíve read in years. I always wanted to see what would happen if Parker told the world he was Spider-Man. It would solve a lot of his problems while creating new ones. How would J. Jonah Jameson react if he knew Spider-Man worked for him? What about all of Parkerís friends? Could Flash Thompson handle his favorite hero really being his old high school victim? The advice MJ and May give Peter makes perfect sense. They want the world to see him the way they see him. They donít want him to be afraid anymore. And yet, Peter still considers running away. Heís been hiding his secret for so long, itís easier to run away from his family and live on the lam rather than reveal himself. By the end of the story, we íre left wondering whether or not Peter really will go through with it.
This is the kind of personal and political story where JMS excels. The issue cuts to the core of who Peter Parker is, as a person and a super-hero. JMS gets it. He understands where Parker comes from in terms of his responsibilities and how they shape his decisions. I also like how Ron Garneyís pencils have evolved over time. Itís not the loose, action-packed style of the past. This is a more realistic style that better suits the story. Iím reminded of Gene Colan and dramatic comics of the 1950s. Bill Reinholdís inks are a great match and further ground the story.
I have high hopes for the rest of the story. Spider-Manís impending decision was probably made at the editorial level, but Iím confident JMS can create a compelling story around this new milestone in Spider-Manís life.
Plot: The Civil War punches Peter in the solar plexus, and leaves him with a momentous decision to make.
Comments: More murky morality from Bendis-run Marvel. Weíve already learned that mutants are dangerous freaks who should be executed or otherwise contained and policed. Thanks House of M. Now, in Civil War, weíre learning that anyone with the temerity to consider themselves exceptionally gifted is just as bad.
Somewhere in these pages is an argument that equates Nazi sympathizers and McCarthy turncoats with moral duty and honesty, and thatís just vile. Tony asks Peter to come out, to dispense with his mask, and Tony at last makes the argument that all masks must be dropped, openly and baldly. Thereís to be no pretense of just a secured government registry after all.
Mary Jane and Aunt May consider for a millisecond the danger this might place them in, and then get all gung ho about Peter and his responsibility. Benís original message to Peter about responsibility gets twisted by no less an authority than Aunt May, and Peter seems to gloss over the most important question that Mary Jane asks: ďIs Tony going to expect you to help hunt down whoever doesnít come out of the closet?Ē
That is, betray his friends and colleagues.
Name names, ruin careers, endanger lives, make other peopleís choices for them.
Basically, Daredevilís tedious dilemma of the last few years has now blown up for all of Marvelís heroes.
JMS seems fully on board with Bendisí ongoing project to unmake Marvelís heroes, to turn them into something as dull and disappointing as real life. But JMS is smart, and he can examine all sides of an issue without quite picking one. Significantly, in the final scene, he has Peter step up to the podium, in his best costume, but stops before the mask comes off.
If itís going to. Thatís not the right place to stop for a completely gung ho endorsement on Starkís side. Cliffhanging right there at least acknowledges the momentous nature of the question to this medium.
Iím reminded of a scene from the excellent Spider-Man 2 movie. Fighting Doc Ock to a standstill on the runaway elevated train, Peterís mask is damaged and falls off, singed. Aware of how mightily he has struggled to protect them, the average people on the train hand him his mask, along with their tacit endorsement and thanks. You just know no one in that car would ever betray their savior.
Why does Civil War see only pettiness and envy where Sam Raimi saw hope and
acceptance? Will Peter make the right choice next issue at last?
Amazing Spider-Man #532 is the most significant Civil War tie-in to date, and marks what could ultimately become an even more significant event in the history of everyoneís favorite webslinger. It sets the stage not only for a monumental shift in Peter Parkerís mindset about what it means to be a superhero, but also for what, by all accounts, will be a dramatic shift in Peterís stance toward the Superhuman Registration Act when the consequences of his actions catch up to him.
The opening sequence of Civil War #1 takes place just hours before Amazing Spider-Man #532 begins. During the ensuing day Tony Stark makes an appearance among the rubble of Stamford, Connecticut, visits the White House for a meeting pertaining to the Superhuman Registration Act, and calls upon a previously made blood oath in presenting an ultimatum to his protťgť, Peter Parker: ďTake off your mask, or things are going to get messy.Ē
Action takes a step aside for 22 pages as Parker considers his options. Writer J. Michael Straczynski, whose greatest success on ASM by a long shot has been his characterization of Aunt May, wisely has her step into the spotlight here. Peterís family shows strength and courage in their determination to face whatever challenges come their way. Straczynski analyzes the role of a secret identity by exploring what it means to Peter and those around him, and in doing so proves that it might just be more trouble than itís worth.
Itís impossible not to be intrigued by the puppet strings that are becoming less and less transparent as Starkís manipulation of Peter unfolds. Straczynski makes the reader believe that Parker would place all of his trust in Starkís hands, building upon the last yearís worth of stories since he joined the Avengers. The story is very, very good; itís some of the more technical aspects of the storytelling that cause the problems.
What should be a thoroughly engrossing read sometimes leaves a bit to be desired. The hyperbolic speech often gives me the sense that the dialogue is for the readerís sake rather than natural interaction between the two characters. Starkís words are painfully melodramatic and repetitive, overly emphasizing points that are surely already obvious to those who have followed Civil War so far. The writer falls into the trap of ďtellingĒ rather than ďshowing.Ē
Apparent continuity errors also grate on me. It astounds me that the beginning of Amazing Spider-Man #532 and the conclusion of #531 would contradict each other, but that seems to be the case. The entire story just doesnít seem to fit well in the context of what occurred in the first issue of Civil War, either. These are minor problems, I guess, but theyíre annoying.
Ron Garney returns to the title after a few issues away, and any complaints I might have about his art are only due to being spoiled by John Romita, Jr. and Mike Deodato for so long. Peterís fear and anguish are apparent on every single panel. Garneyís rendition of the ďIron SpiderĒ costume is slowly winning me over, as well. Itís hard to find a more definitive-looking Spidey than the one Garney draws. Each of the two full-page spreads pack a powerful punch.
As expected, the issueís end is left ambiguous, but I personally hope Straczynski makes the plunge and shakes up the Spider-Man titles like never before. No doubt, many fans consider the secret identity a sacred and untouchable element of the Spider-Man mythos and anything to the contrary blasphemous, but I say, ďbring it on!Ē This has the makings of a storyline that I feel has been a long time coming. Spidey is supposedly the character most affected by the events of the next six months, so ďThe War At HomeĒ should continue to be an essential part of the overall Civil War picture.
Wow, what a cliffhanger! Yes, most readers of Civil War in this early stage will probably figure out the difficult decision that intrudes on Peter Parkerís life in this issue, but it still makes the fanboy in me all tingly to think that a once highly improbable decision may be on the horizon. Being a little vague and playful, am I? Well, I just donít want to give anything away about this issue of Amazing Spider-Man, particularly with the apparent roller coaster that will be screaming through all Marvel titles this summer. No, I donít have the scoop on whatís coming up, but I can guarantee that it will change story elements for many years. What I can say is that Straczynski has crafted a good lead-in for this six issue storyline that will coincide with Civil War and the various offshoot titles that are coming soon. This issue possesses a story richer than the last three issues, which were full of new costume ogling and cheesy speeches. Yes, the cheesy speeches are apparent in this issue too, but I will say something that all Spidey fans can agree on: when Aunt May speaks, people listen. And what she says in Issue #532 may very well change the future of Spider-Man forever.
Straczynski does a great job of respecting the past of Spider-Man while embracing his possible future, which has always been one of his strengths during his run on AS-M. Here, Peter is looking for a way out of the decision he has to make, mainly because he is worried about the possible dangers it may present for Aunt May or MJ. The threat of losing a loved one is a constant worry for Peter, and he will go to any length to prevent this from happening, even if it means running away from the problem and becoming a fugitive super-hero. Straczynski, in his typically fanciful fashion, puts some of Peterís thinking into words as he asks himself whether itís better to have nobody believe in you or to have somebody believe in you so completely that ďtheir love could burn you to the ground.Ē Yes, typically grandiose, but fitting with the tone of this issue, which is all about an impossible choice and the future consequences of this choice. Needless to say, there is no action whatsoever in this issue. This is all about drama and the hard decisions people have to make throughout their lives, amped up by a radioactive spider. As always, Straczynskiís dialogue works on all levels, enunciating the various emotional twists and turns that Peter goes through in this issue. All in all, very good work by JMS.
Also very good is the art team of Ron Garney and Bill Reinhold, who have come together for another great job in this issue. Where were they for the last two issues? Tyler Kirkham and Sal Regla did a capable job filling in, particularly with action scenes, but their dramatic scenes just didnít cut the mustard. However, with Garney and Reinhold, we have some beautiful, heartbreaking close-ups that really capture the emotions that are surrounding Peterís huge decision. Aunt May and Mary Jane both have tearful moments that are visually effective, even though I would have liked to have seen a close-up of Peterís face before the end of the issue (For instance, in front of the mirror before he puts on his mask and...). The artwork here is another definite plus for this issue even without any action at all. All in all, this is a much better JMS Amazing Spider-Man story than I have seen in at least a few months, if not the year so far, and it looks like this kind of story will continue for at least the next six months. The action will be along shortly, Iím sure, but this lead-in to the main Civil War event is a nice combination of class, style, history and foreshadowing. Plus, I like that Peter breaks out the original costume...Oops, Iíve said too much!
Plot: Peter Parker, along with his new boss Iron Man, learn of the Stamford massacre. As the Superhero Registration Act comes ever so closer to being passed, Peter is stuck with a difficult decision: unmask and put his family at risk, or disobey the law and become a wanted fugitive.
Commentary: I havenít been following Spider-Man for a while. Sure, Iíve seen the movies, and I know the recent character developments, but there hasnít really been a hook for me to get into the comics. With Civil War underway, I figured Iíd give this series another shot.
This issue kicks off ďThe War At Home,Ē a six issue story heavily tied to Civil War. Personally, I think that this story could take two, maybe three issues tops. Thatís not because itís a boring story; quite the contrary. Straczynski has infused a ton of character development into this single issue that it makes another five issues seem a bit overkill. Now, the story may be good, but itís just not great.
Straczynski earns points in my books for his handling of Tony Stark. Many people griped that Tony was shoehorned into the role of an antagonist in Civil War, myself included. Here, we get a clear insight into Tonyís mind. He knows that the Registration Act will lead to trouble, but heís sure itís the right thing to do. He has to support it because as he said, ďPeter, I have to take the lead in making the other powers register. If I donít, someoene else worse will.Ē At every turn Stark is emotionally preparing for the coming conflict, but still standing by his beliefs. This is a characterization that works. This is what was missing from New Avengers: Illuminati Special. It is really refreshing to get a balanced perspective of the Act as Civil War kicks off.
Meanwhile, Peter is having his own dilemma. Heís back to his most basic worry: the safety of his family. If he unmasks, he puts his wife and aunt in harmís way. If he doesnít, heís a criminal and they can be arrested for aiding and abetting. Either way, heís putting his family at risk. So, in laymanís terms, it sucks to be Peter Parker at this stage of the game. Straczynski has made a compelling dilemma for our wallcrawling hero. I have to say, Iím pretty compelled.
However, while the characterization is pretty good, this issue falters because well, it canít really maintain interest. After a bit it felt like the issue rehashes what was said just a few pages back. Quite frankly, I put it down for a bit before I continued. Iím hoping the final page keeps the next issue exciting, because right now I'm kind of bored with it. There is also a scene where Peter frets about being in Washington and bemoans that he has to pee, which, while funny the first time, gets old when itís used again and again.
The art is a nice little treat though. Garney, Reinhold, and Milla are a perfect team. The artís a bit cartoony, but for a character like Spider-Man, it works. Oddly enough, it also works for a character like Iron Man. The scenes where Peter and Tony are in costume are wonderful, with excellent uses of shadows, reflections, and smoke. Itís when the characters are out of costume that the art has a few odd moments. The details on the close ups are great, but the somewhat far away panels are terrible. Peter, who is in his twenties by now, looks like a fifteen year old. Aunt May suffers in the cartoony style hereself. Also, many panels lack backgrounds behind the characters. However, when the art team does put in backgrounds, they are rather nice and detailed.
Final Thoughts: ďI need to make a decision, and God, I just...I donít know what to do.Ē Same here Peter! I love the characterization and the style of the art here, but there are just so many little things that drag it down for me. Iím happy we get to see another side of Tony Stark and the Registration Act. Iím just not really happy that nothing happens. However, this is only the first issue of a long story arc, so I look forward to the rest. Considering Spider-Manís decision on where to stand is going to be a key plot point in Civil War, I recommend this to those of you who want to see how the perrenial ďEverymanĒ handles politics.
For quite some time, Amazing Spider-Man has been paving the way for Marvelís Civil War event (which finally kicked off last month), as a couple of yearsí worth of stories have already detailed the burgeoning relationship which has been building between Peter Parker and Tony Stark - Iron Man. The last few issues started to hint at the payoff of this long-running subplot, thrusting Peter Ė and Spider-Man Ė into the limelight as the government of the United States began to hold their senate hearings on superhero registration. Whilst it may have been an important story, it was also a fairly obviously editorially-mandated one, which contained a few neat action beats but seemed to exist more to set up the status quo of the core Civil War series than it did to advance Spideyís title in any meaningful way. A pleasure, then, that this first issue of this tie-in proper throws Spider-Man straight into the heart of the story of Civil War, and examines how the larger-than-life issues and conflicts which lies at the core of the book are going to affect Peter on a very personal level. Perhaps more than any other hero, Spider-Man has a good reason to wear a mask: heís the well-meaning everyman who never gets a break, who is misunderstood and hounded by the press and lives in constant fear for the lives of his loved ones. Stracynski seizes on this and explores what possible motivation Peter could find for unmasking himself in front of the worldís press Ė and I have to say, I like it.
When public anger towards secret-identity superheroes begins to snowball after the Stamford incident, Tony Stark and Peter by extension find themselves vilified by the nationís press. Via a couple of densely-written scenes, JMS elaborates on the storyline of Civil War and actually makes a far more convincing argument for the publicís attitude towards supers than the first issue of Mark Millarís core title managed. Whatís more, we see a far more sympathetic side to Tony Stark, the man who doesnít want to go down the road of superhero regulation, but at the same time thinks he can do more good if heís close to the government rather than making a stand against the registration act. As a British reader, itís reminiscent of the attitude of Tony Blair in always siding with George Bushís America, despite the questionable nature of some of the USAís foreign policy decisions: itís not necessarily the most laudable course of action to take, but he clearly thinks he can temper the worst excesses of the government by working with them, rather than against them. Itís a take on Stark which is far easier to read than last issueís borderline character assassination, and it makes him a far more relatable protagonist in the main Civil War title as a result. Frankly, I felt that the political angle was dealt with better here than in Civil War itself, and itíll be interesting to see how my reading of Mark Millarís work is informed by the parallel storyline playing out in this title.
Happily, JMS also finds time to concentrate on Peterís character in a fair amount of detail this issue, writing a very convincing discussion between him, Mary Jane and Aunt May concerning whether he should ďcome outĒ to the worldís press. As well as the more personal angle, Stracynski explores the ways in which his decision could affect his relationship with Stark, and the frequent allusions to McCarthy-era politics evoke just the kind of atmosphere of uncertainty and mob-mentality persecution that a concept like Civil War demands. I enjoyed the scenes which present Iron Man and Spidey visiting the site of the Stamford tragedy, and Ron Garneyís artwork Ė although a little thick-lined and cartoony for my tastes Ė does some great work in conveying all sorts of story information through his charactersí body language, whether itís Peterís evident discomfort in the White House, or the physical rapport between Iron Man and Iron Spidey which reinforces their master/apprentice relationship. Thereís also a lovely, simple full-page panel which captures the love and affection of the Parker household, and it does much to convince us of Peterís reasons to take the course of action that he eventually decides upon at the end of the issue.
Anyone who usually steers clear of the tie-in issues for big crossover events would do well to reconsider their prejudices and pick up this issue, because it manages to accomplish the delicate balancing act of telling a story which is as big and important for the main character as the core Civil War series is for the Marvel Universe as a whole, whilst still fleshing out the details of the central Civil War premise enough that Mark Millarís series is enriched by the experience. It seems clear that Spider-Man is destined to play a big part in the Marvel Universeís big conflict this summer, and Stracynski has made a great case for himself here as the perfect writer to bring us Peter Parker ís side of the story. With five more issues to go, the story is already looking like a winner, and even this opening issue contains more plot than some entire arcs manage to cram in. Iím sure that things wonít play out in as straightforward a manner as the closing moments of this issue suggest, but Iíll be interested to see just how the writer builds on the foundations provided here to deliver a story which examines Peterís role in the Civil War more fully than space in the core title would allow. Itís testament to JMSí writing ability that he can question one of the key aspects of the Spider-Man character and have me conflicted about what the outcome of the story should be - and after that final page, I canít wait to see where this all goes.
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