Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Artists: Ron Garney (p), Bill Reinhold (i), Matt Milla (colours)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
This is going to be a fairly short review, because there's so little substance to this issue that there isn't a huge amount to talk about. After teasing us for months with the promise of a major tragedy in Spider-Man's life (which will play into Marvel's "Back in Black" event, beginning next month) this issue drags out the cliffhanger of the last instalment for an entire 22 pages. JMS chooses to have the sniper who had Mary Jane and Aunt May in his sights last month take a break, get some sleep, and generally kill time long enough for Straczynski to tie up the loose ends of the overarching Civil War story, returning to the plot thread only when it's time for another cliffhanger. When the big moment does finally come, it somehow manages to feel flat despite the drama inherent in the situation, and the low-key way in which the injury to one of Peter's loved ones is depicted strongly suggests that it isn't going to be fatal. The rest of the book feels padded out with teases, becoming particularly grating when Mary Jane appears in the sniper's crosshairs for what feels like the seventeenth time. Her dialogue is so transparent in terms of the way JMS is building his story to a conclusion that it saps any sense of tension that might have been created. The issue can't help but feel disappointing when you consider that it has been completely sold on the promise of its climactic revelation (and Clayton Crain's variant cover gives the final page away completely before you even begin reading, which is an interesting way to market such a story. Good thinking, Marvel).
The issue also makes some odd storytelling choices to avoid "spoiling" the events of Civil War #7. The description of the battle royale between the pro and anti-reg forces is surprisingly coy, hinting at developments in the final issue of the core Civil War book without ever explicitly stating what happened. Whilst I can understand Marvel being unwilling to spill the secrets of its big finale (even though both books were released in the same week), the manner in which they avoid giving details of the climax of the event leaves some of the scenes in this book completely meaningless and redundant. For example, what's the point in showing us a sequence of J. Jonah Jameson picking out his front page (from a wall of possible headlines such as "Iron Man Defeated", "Captain America Killed," etc.) if they're going to keep his choice a secret? What does that scene add to the story? The book even goes so far as to build an entire scene around characters talking about events from Civil War #7 which are being shown on a television set, but which are left unseen and unexplained for readers of this title. It's a little late for Marvel to be so transparently clutching at potential sales for their big crossover, as anyone who is following this story will likely have been picking up the core Civil War title too - and if they haven't, these final teases are hardly going to convince them.
The only real redeeming feature is Ron Garney's art. His consistent and reliable linework has given this arc a feeling of consistency even when the story itself has been compromised by the demands of Marvel's big crossover, and Bill Reinhold's chunky and solid ink job really helps to sell the weight and substance of Garney's deceptively simple figures. The art team obviously relishes the opportunity to depict the huge battle from the end of Civil War #7, and it's a shame that this sequence is confined to just a few pages, as the rest of the issue's story is fairly repetitive, with only a full-page shot of the sleeping sniper standing out as a truly memorable visual. I'm loathe to speculate about the extent of editorial meddling in this book, but I simply can't believe that this is the way that Straczynski wanted to tell his story (and the fact that he has recently announced his departure from the book suggests that he's had enough of working within the constraints of Marvel's flagship title). What started out as a strong, character-driven piece which was all about Peter's reconciliation of his feelings of social responsibility with the word of law and his obligations to his family has found itself sidelined and twisted into a story which seemingly only exists to set up the next phase of Spider-Man's life which will see Peter don his black costume again (do I smell a movie tie-in?). When JMS leaves the book, I think I'll leave with him, as Amazing Spider-Man simply isn't the book that it was at the start of its tenure, and forced tie-in storylines aren't the way to recapture that spark.
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