Writer: Kaare Andrews
Artists: Kaare Andrews with Jose Villarrubia
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Kaare Andrews' second issue of Reign proves slightly more compelling than the first, exploring his characters a little more fully than he was able to amongst the setting up of the story that was necessary in issue #1. Here, an aged Peter Parker continues to be haunted by the image of his dead wife at the same time as New York's corrupt mayor makes preparations to roll out "The webb," a city-wide defence network with uncomfortable ramifications for the civil liberties of the city's inhabitants. When the long-lost Spider-Man does make his public return, a number of his old villains are hauled out of retirement to deal with him, and his public struggle begins to galvanise the citizens into a minor revolution.
Andrews' story benefits from some canny writing throughout, which makes up for the occasional moments which don't quite work (such as the clunky renaming of Spidey's classic super-villain group as the "Sinner Six"). A sequence in which the hitherto crazy and desperate Peter Parker rediscovers his mojo with a "Woo-Hoo!" and starts wisecracking as he beats up the government enforcers is a joy and captures the character perfectly. The recasting of J. Jonah Jameson as an anti-establishment zealot who preaches his views from the pulpit of an abandoned church is an original take on the character which remains true to his bombastic roots whilst exploring the concept of power and responsibility on a social (rather than personal) level, and it'll be interesting to see how the plot thread which deals with Jameson's urging of the people to "take the power back" will develop. Andrews even chooses to puncture the overwhelmingly dark mood with a hilarious appearance from an ancient D-list villain in the form of the Hypno-Hustler, in a scene which provides a welcome burst of relief despite the character coming to a sticky end. The acknowledgement of the deus ex machina nature of the conclusion to the climactic fight between Spidey and his rogues - although not wholly satisfying - suggests a certain self-awareness on the part of Andrews which points to a more complex story development than Doctor Octopus' late appearance at first appears, and I'm intrigued as to how the dark conclusion of this issue will play out next month.
Visually, the book is a success. Andrews conveys a lot of information about his dark, futuristic New York through subtle elements such as the forced smiles of his television newsreaders, the proliferation of information technology, and the military dress of the city's police force. I'm enjoying the look of the book, and the melding of hand-drawn figures with computer-generated backgrounds seems far less obvious and jarring than it was in the first issue - then again, maybe I'm just getting used to the style that Andrews has adopted for this project. Andrews also makes some daring art choices in places, such as the stark, white, completely blank page which kicks off a dream sequence. His action scenes are fairly decent; he's got Spidey's wiry physique down to a tee, and every punch or kick feels like it connects, but it isn't always clear what's happening, and he doesn't give every member of the "Sinner Six" a chance in the spotlight, resulting in a slightly muddled, crowded fight. Although there are still nods to Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns (check out that splash page of Spidey leaping into action against the lightning-bolt background), they aren't as clunky or distracting as they were in the first issue, and although he can't escape some of the thematic parallels with that defining work, this second issue feels more distinct from DKR than the first.
Unfortunately, the timing of this book's release has resulted in Civil War stealing some of its thunder. A storyline set in a future New York in which superheroes are illegal and equated with terrorists, the law is enforced by a group of faceless, government sponsored thugs, and the establishment has to resort to using a team of hardened super-villains (controlled by injections of nano-technology, no less) to bring in its detractors just doesn't seem so novel when it's exactly what's happening in the mainstream Marvel Universe today. Thankfully, Kaare Andrews' story has enough original elements to set it apart from that crossover event, and the singular vision that the writer-artist brings to the book has allowed it to develop a distinctive, haunting and dystopian tone which gives Reign a strong sense of atmosphere. Despite the pretty art and the effective dreamlike qualities of the story, however, there's a sense that the book is under-reaching. The central concept is a fairly strong one, and Andrews does some interesting things with his DKR-meets-Spidey confection, but ultimately it feels like there is potential to do much more, and with half of the series over already, it feels like the story is only just getting going. If this had been the first issue instead of the second I'd be far more excited about what Andrews was doing with Reign, and although I'm still interested enough to see where he takes his story, it's going to take a lot of work in the final two issues if the creator is to craft it into the epic tale that he seems to believe it is.
One other comment that I would make is that the placement of advertisements in this issue suggests that Marvel has listened to their readers' complaints about the deluge of advertising in their books of late and modified the placement of ads accordingly. Although a necessary evil of monthly comics, the advertisements here are unobtrusive, and don't interrupt the flow of the story.
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