"The War At Home: Part 5 of 6"
Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Artists: Ron Garney (p), Bill Reinhold (i) Matt Milla (colours)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
In this latest issue of Amazing Spider-Man, a lot of elements conspire to undermine what had actually been a decent enough story so far. With last issue's cliffhanger already wrapped up by Mark Millar in Civil War and with Spidey currently out for the count in the core book, J. Michael Straczynski is forced to fall back on some of the less successful techniques in his writer's armoury to stretch out his story in two distinct sections: the first sees Peter duke it out with Iron Man before fleeing to the sewers, at which point Civil War #5 takes over and the story continues from there; the second sees Straczynski skip over not only one, but two issues of Civil War to bring us to a point where Peter has apparently recovered from his injuries sustained, thrown in with the anti-registration crew, and reunited with Aunt May and Mary Jane in order to shuffle them from hiding place to hiding place before deciding to expose himself once again to the media anyway - this time to publicly oppose Tony Stark.
To cut a long story short, I'm baffled as to why the story presented in this issue even exists. Anyone who's read Civil War #5 (so that's everyone) will already know how Peter's confrontation with Iron Man plays out, and only those of us who have read the non-existent Civil War #6 (so that's no-one) will want to see this book devoted to inconsequential talking-heads scenes about what happens to Peter and his family way after the events of that as-yet unreleased issue. JMS' leap from one part of the story to another not only prematurely defuses the latest Civil War cliffhanger, it also completely curtails the tension of his own story which has effectively been built up over the last year's worth of issues, showing that Pete, May and MJ can apparently hide out in school gyms and dirty motels despite the fact that everyone in the world knows their faces, and the resourceful Iron Man is desperate to track them down. Ultimately, the conflict between Peter Parker and Tony Stark which has been so keenly anticipated by fans is reduced to a mere few pages of fighting before the issue launches into a second, disjointed plotline, and Straczynski's story is massively deflated by selling this aspect of Civil War so short. The writer even has the temerity to re-use the Iron Man vs. Spidey cliffhanger for a second time at the end of this issue; on the basis of Straczynski's plotting so far, Pete should just go and hide out at the nearest Holiday Inn or spend a quiet afternoon in the park, as S.H.I.E.L.D. and Iron Man both appear to be confounded by such innovative escape techniques.
The only minor saving grace of this issue is the artwork, but penciller Ron Garney only gets a chance to really shine in the opening fight sequence before being shunted into a series of talky, static scenes which don't make the most of his abilities. The combination of his well-defined, crisp linework with Bill Reinhold's chunky, thick inking and Matt Milla's vibrant colouring has already produced some memorable images in this arc, but when you take a team which excels at providing energetic action sequences and tie it down to the kind of drab and dull sequences that populate the majority of this issue, it's not surprising that they don't provide their best work.
When JMS gets it right, he can produce some pretty good Spider-Man stories, and his run on Amazing with John Romita Jr. saw the fortunes of the book improve with good reason, due to his back-to basics approach and enjoyable story ideas. Ever since then though, it seems as though the book has been occasionally flirting with creative success whilst treading water for the rest of the time, with only the New Avengers arc really standing out as a return to the quality of that initial couple of years' worth of stories. Sadly, a lot of JMS' niggling writing tics surface again this issue to ensure that the already thin story feels clunky and unexciting: we get politicised, preaching soliloquies which read more like campaign speeches than a character voicing their mind, misfiring gags (Aunt May talks to a pimp! Crazy, man), schmaltzy sentimentality (old Peter has a heart-to-heart with young Peter in a playground) and predictable plot twists concerning the Iron Spidey suit ("Ah-ha - but I've got a shutdown for your shutdown," etc.), all of which conspire to bury the issue - and combined with the frustratingly piecemeal story, it makes for a disappointing read. Whether due to editorial imperatives and scheduling issues or not, "The War At Home" has gone from being an involving, compelling and exciting story to being a dull echo of the events of the core Civil War title, with very little reason to pick it up in its own right. A shame, as this is the one place I thought we'd see Spidey's part of the Civil War story done right.
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