Okay, now this book is a good seller, so I run the risk of offending customers who are reading it and love it. To any of my customers who I know I run the risk of offending: These are my opinions, if you like the book then great. I am not telling anyone not to buy it, in fact, I buy two of each what with all the pointless variants that make no sense in relation to the story (as I am a spineless consumer whore).
I really didn't want to slate this series, as regular readers of this blog may know I am a huge fan of both Spider-man and Straczynski, but this series has left me with a seriously bad taste in my mouth.
Where do I start, there is so much wrong with the series. I am not a fan of comic newcomer Reginald Hudlin (didn't even like House Party, sorry), but I do however love JMS and Peter David, and I especially love Mike Weiringos artwork. I understand "The Other" is the brainchild of Reginald Hudlin, and it was during his writing tenure* that the series really took a turn for the worst, but I thought I would see it out and wait to see if JMS's issues were any better. They were not, hence this column.
*The Other is a twelve part series. Parts 1-3 and 10 were written by Peter David, parts 4-6 and 11 were written by Hudlin, Parts 7-9 and 12 by JMS. Don't ask why, it defies all logic.
So I guess I should start at the beginning then.
Part One: Friendly Neighbourhood Spider-Man #1
So we open with a dream sequence with Morlun, a portent of things to come or reference to a really kick ass story. Either way, a good start. We have a new Spidey villain debut on page 3, which is a nice idea but he is a technology based villain not an animal based villain, which never works for me. Call me old fashioned, but I like my Spidey villains to dress up in bad gorilla outfits and give themselves bad names. Still, one out of two isn't bad, what with him being called "The Tracer" (your mother's a tracer) and all. Although his only ability seems to be he has magic bullets which chase people and can turn around, fly up and down, go around corners etc...
So, after half an issue of Spidey running away from bullets (plural, take not) he decides to try and catch them (which is better than jumping over them and letting innocents get shot, like the last time PAD wrote Spidey). Strangely enough, Spider-man pulls of the Supes-esque feat of catching a bullet (lack of plural), the other bullet penetrating his shoulder - which promptly makes Spider-man pass out.
Yeah, I know, I have seen Spidey go toe-to-toe with a herald of Galactus, but a bullet in the shoulder drops him. Oh well, never mind, its only set up for the second half of the issue anyway.
So after Spidey gets fixed up and has a blood test taken, he has an obligatory argument with Mary Jane and then goes out to trace the Tracer. A bit of a mix-up means Spidey inadvertently smashes up good ol' JJJ's limo. A welcome return for the grumpy publisher, who has recently only been used to any decent affect in The Pulse and Daredevil.
The issue ends with a grim portent of things to come, with Spidey being told there is bad news regarding his blood test and the foreboding figure of Morlun looking into Peter's apartment.
Not a terrible issue to be fair.
The Other Part 2: Marvel Knights Spider-man #19
I HATE PAT LEE. And I mean his artwork, not the publisher politics. But enough of that, it's the story I am concerned with.
The best thing with this issue, as with the last, are the sepia tone flashbacks (they only go back a few weeks, but the sepia tone works to good effect as we instantly know its a flashback - good work that colourist) showing character building between MJ, Peter and Steve Rogers (that's Captain America people), which shows that moving Peter and MJ into Avengers tower is more than a change of scenery and affects every aspect of their lives.
We then get another "MJ has an obsessive fan" story in between pages of Spider-man and Iron Man fighting The Tracer, but clumsy Tony Stark; despite being arguably the third brainiest guy in the Marvel Universe his armour comes without firewalls (doh!) and Tracer overrides the armour and uses it to attack Spider-man. Yeah, right.
Then MJ beats a guy up with a pool cue, Spidey neutralises the bomb and all is over in the space of seconds. They then go home, after a nice monologue from MJ accusing Peter of having survivors guilt, Peter delivers the bad news that he is dying.
And we have no idea why or what from.
Oh yeah, Morlun showed up in the issue too. To be fair, the thing I noticed most about this issue was the adverts, which tells you something about the story and art.
The Other Part 3: Amazing Spider-Man #525.
We open with an interesting flashback showing Aunt May in her early years at her Mothers deathbed, an interesting look at an early slice of May Parker life, which turns out to be nothing more than a nightmare.
We get a few good pages of Aunt May where, okay, she is talking to herself (well, at Ben, but he is dead) but she is still sharp enough to see through Peter's angry facade. interesting stuff, until...
Oops, Tony Starks done it again, Tracer has managed to break into Avengers tower and is now sat down having a chit-chat with Aunt May. You really think Mr. stark would be more careful though.
Morlun shows up, then pisses off, then Wolverine shows up (but at least he did it without making the cover, must be a first) and queries "What's the matter Groucho? Don't want to belong to any club that'd have you as a member?". A great line which really sums up Spidey's inability to be a team member over the years.
Back to Aunt May who is now making a sandwich for Tracer, and to be fair, their conversation is handled pretty well. Tracer reveals he is a modern God of technology, which is a nice spin on an origin (and fits in nicely if you've just finished reading American Gods). Spider-man shows up just in time to stop Tracer finding out his secret origin and starts trying to beat up Tracer. One quick blood analysis later and Tracer too finds out Peter is dying, he refuses to fight him which gets our hero all flustered and he starts wailing on Tracer, who promptly melts, but all this forces Peters hand and he has to come clean to Aunt May.
Part Four: Friendly Neighbourhood Spider-Man #2
The first few pages continue directly after the events of last issue, then a perfectly placed comic relief page raises the somber tone before we all start killing ourselves from the depressing tone of the book. Light pieces of dialogue and comic relief seem to be Hudlin's thing, its quite reminiscent of Smith and Bendis when its done right (a few times in black Panther its been very obtrusive) - but still, a compliment to Hudlin.
A nice utilisation of Spidey's new found "I'm a genuine superhero" status brings Hank Pym and Reed Richards into the story, obviously trying to stop any more Stark-isms happening (although bringing in the creator of Ultron might not help), they come to the conclusion they need the foremost expert on radiation based mutation: Bruce Banner.
An atypical superhero fight ensues to fulfil the action beat requirements of a Marvel comic, and eventually the Hulk is subdued. Brucy can't help, but he recommends a trip to Wakanda, a place that is more scientifically advanced than anywhere on Earth and coincidentally, where Black Panther (currently written by Hudlin - cheap plug) lives.
A nice nod of the head to Anansi the Spider-god pays homage to the totemistic theme introduced originally by JMS way back when (Amazing Spider-man Vol. 2 #30-35). Spidey gets his hair braided which is still better than the skin-'ed look in his House of M series. all this is to no avail for our webspinning wonder, for even the mighty Wakandan's can shed no light on what is killing our hero.
Morlun shows up to mess with Spidey's head again, obviously playing the much-lamented mindgames, on top of everything else that is happening too. Tut tut Morlun. Cameo from DD leads into cameo with another famed Ditko character; Dr. Strange, who tells Spider-man in no uncertain terms "You are going to die".
The Other Part 5: Marvel Knights Spider-man #20
Meanwhile in Latveria...
Okay, are you ready for this? Because this is where the series gets really bad, but don't fret, there are 7 issues left and it's going to get a whole lot shitter before its done.
Spider-man is breaking and entering Castle Doom, and with him are two Iron Men, or at least two people in the really old sixties style Iron man armour (you know, like the statue in my shop that has never sold), we'll call them Gold and Silver for the time being as we have no idea who are in them. One seems a bit old but...nah, it couldn't be, could it?
Nothing's happening, nothing's happening, Spidey break a lot of doors down, something about a map.
Oh, right. He's trying to use a time machine despite everything we have ever been told about the delicate nature of the fabric of time and space, how heroic. It's on this very same page that Gold and Silver are revealed. Are you ready?
It's Mary Jane and Aunt May.
Are they fucking kidding me? What the fuck? The entire F4 have tried and failed to infiltrate Doom's fortress, but MJ and Aunt May manage it. Oh well, at least they didn't fight anyone in the costumes, as that would be stupid.
So, they go back in time but chronal displacement yadda yadda yadda, sees his dead parents, Pat Lee art, "we'll be back Peter" (no you won't, Amazing Spider-man #365 not withstanding), "I wuv you Daddy". Wuv you? Jesus, I ask you.
Then PP and co. go back to their proper timeline and loads of Doom-bots attack them all, Spidey is trying to fight back but its too much for him (the bad art is killing him remember). Luckily, MJ and Aunt May still have the Iron Men costumes so they put them on and fight all the Doom-bots. You read that right.
That's the first half of the issue. the rest of the issue is taken up with Spidey doing all the things he never got around to doing, like going to Las Vegas. Super hero fight. Morlun. someone breaks into Avengers tower. Peter Parker and MJ go into Space in one of Tony Starks space-pods (knowing how airtight and secure Stark's security measures are I wouldn't trust a space-pod in a vacuum). Aunt May cries.
The Other Part 6: Amazing Spider-Man #526.
Back on Earth. With a monologue that would make Wolverine proud.
Morlun shows up, and finally he decides its time to fight Spider-man, as Spidey fights tend to go from time to time, they fight through the Bugle for a bit. To be fair, the characterisation on JJJ is spot on, and Spidey does keep firing out his trademark quips. Morlun does his best Gwen Stacy impression and falls out of the sky, unlike Gwen he gets back up. They stumble into Empire State University - which contrary to John Bryne's scribing is the birthplace of Spider-man - a nice piece of symmetry for a final fight, more akin to JMS's writing than Hudlins, nice touch.
We have the "Never been hit that hard, and I've gone toe-to-toe with the Hulk" line, which I believe was used in the first Morlun fight, another nice touch.
Spidey musters up all his resolve, uses his usual "I will not quit" schtick, which usually works very well for him, and it honestly looks like he is going to win. But Morlun is too strong and powerful, and a quick wry smile tells us that Morlun isn't even close to beat.
He rips out Peters eye and eats it, and then proceeds to beat seven shades of poop out of the red and blue adorned arachnid.
The best issue so far to be honest, but it's a horribly deconstructed fight scene, in the days of Ditko, Kirby et al, this fight scene would have been told in 5 pages, tops. These days it takes an issue. And I'm not sure with the eye thing, I'd think it was cool if I thought it would stick.
Part Seven: Friendly Neighbourhood Spider-Man #3
At least this issue had a more reasonable advert count (12 pages). This is easily the worst issue, which I find all the more disturbing as this marks the first issue of the story written by JMS - one of my favourite ever writers. I was kind of holding out hope that this would be the issue where it all turns around, but alas, 'twas not to be.
Morlun has won, battered Spidey close to death and eaten his eye (as you do), but then the cops show up and Morlun decides the best thing to do is disappear. An old Spidey trick is used, where he gets unmasked but his face is battered, bloody and broken beyond all recognition (its not a proper Spidey story unless someone takes his mask off).
The New Avengers and MJ show up at the hospital where Peter has been taken, the hospital refuses to let the Avengers move him as it might prematurely kill him - meaning; he is going to die. Mary Jane arrives in the hospital room just in time to witness Morlun about to eat Spider-man with his hands (just like the watered down pathetic Morbius from the Fox Spider-Man cartoon).
All the while a pathetic monologue is running about how "The Man is dead" and "only the Spider remains", which has been done before numerous times throughout Spidey's 40 year history, and Mary Jane decides to stand against Morlun, a nice gesture if futile. At the point where Morlun breaks MJ's forearm, Spider-man awakes from his death bed coma.
Now, it is important that you remember the following fact: When cornered, when death looms, Spider's bite, and they sting.
Spidey leaps from his death bed onto Morluns back, his one good eye glowing, a massive stinger protrudes through Spidey's wrist and he stabs with it, paralysing Morlun. Then Spidey grows fangs and feasts on the head of Morlun, much to the disgust of MJ. The New Avengers hear the screams and rush to the aid of PP, just in time for Spider-man to die. The Avengers take Spidey's body from the hospital, deciding that the World cannot know about his demise, and the issue ends with a two page spread of Iron man flying across the NY cityscape with the corpse of Peter Parker.
To be fair to this series, the dialogue between Peter and MJ moments before his death is pretty decent, and stays true to the characters. But the damage has already been done. Even if there weren't five issues left in this story line, I think the most novice comic reader would have a hard time believing Spider-mans death. It reeks of Superman's death all those years ago: pointless and titillating.
What's next for Spider-man? If I was a betting man, I would expect to see him disappear into a cocoon (not the Guttenberg flick), before eventually emerging stronger than ever before, bound forever to the totemistic rituals of Anansi the Spider god "I am forever the Spider" yadda yadda and saves the day against Morlun, hoorah, everyone is safe, status quo is reset, the end.
Maybe it's just me. Is anyone enjoying this series? I need to know for the sake of my sanity.
Jesus, 5 more issues.
-Sid Beckett (uses too many brackets)