Amazing Fantasy returned with much hype and fanfare. Sadly, most of its press was centred around whether the heroine was going to be called Spider-Girl or not, and whether this title was going to be the final nail in the coffin of a comic that's come back from the dead more times than Jean Grey.
Such controversy probably worked in Amazing Fantasy's favour and it debuted strongly in the Diamond Top 300. The cynical among us might think Marvel planned it that way. However, because of this, potential buyers bought the first issue without knowing a great deal about the book except the heroine is a young, Latin American girl with very silly glasses.
So is there any substance to this title beyond the hype, and - importantly from the point of view of this website - what does it have to do with Spider- Man? Read on and we'll find out together.
Santa Monica Pier, Los Angeles. A rakishly handsome man complete with long hair, designer stubble and leather jacket is staring at a burning match in his hand. When it fizzles and dies he realises that the Initiate he is searching for is not to be found in Los Angeles. There is obviously only one other place he could be: Brooklyn! The man is about to leave and report this to Webcorps, when he is jumped by a well-dressed assailant. Our handsome hero recognises his attacker and quickly despatches him with a combination of flamboyant martial arts and magic. He then puts him to sleep with a spell.
Milton Summers High School, Fort Greene, Brooklyn. It is the first day of a new school year for a freshman called Lynn. She is waiting for her friend Anya Corazon, who seems to be late. When she is informed by Paul Townsend (more on him in issue #2) that Anya may already be inside Lynn races into school like a maniac, pushing through crowds of students. She knocks into someone who rips the poster of a mean-spirited Jock. The jock is called Trent (we find that out next issue). This mountain of a man takes exception to Lynn's exuberance and grabs her demanding recompense. Looks like Lynn is in trouble... enter our heroine.
Anya appears in the corridor threatening to beat up Trent unless he releases her friend. As Trent is about twice Anya's height and four times her width this comment is met with understandable derision. She demands Trent apologise and when she won't back down things get rough. Anya is slapped into some lockers but comes out fighting even though she hasn't got a chance. The fight is broken up by a teacher, and Anya has a trip to the principal's office on her first day. However, she still challenges Trent to settle the matter in a further fight after school.
Although grateful, Lynn despairs that Anya never knows when to quit. She retrieves Anya's locket that came loose during the scuffle. The locket has special significance to Anya as it was given to her by her mother before she left. We flashback to about ten years ago, Anya's mother on the doorstep with a suitcase. She tells her daughter to "always be brave". This is evidently supposed to be justification as to why she never backs down from a fight.
After school Anya returns home to find her father trying to stop a water leak in their apartment. After Anya has helped him fix it, he tells her of the call he received from the school principal. He obviously loves his daughter and tells her that there is a difference between backing down and giving up. He says that if she lets people get to her, then she is giving them power over her. All good fatherly advice.
Anya's father is a busy investigative reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper (we don't know which one yet). He takes a call from colleague, Dan Stevens, who is heading out this evening to confront a nasty criminal-type. Anya's father volunteers to accompany Dan and keep him out of trouble. There is obviously some history and a strong bond of friendship between these two. The father heads out for the evening, conveniently allowing Anya to keep her appointment to fight Trent.
On the way to the bridge in Fort Greene Park (where the fight will happen), Anya considers her options for peacefully settling the matter. However, when Trent and his goonish sidekick pull up in a car and taunt her with the fact her mother ran out on her, Anya's temper rises again. She heads to the park to see things through.
Meanwhile, the handsome kung-fu wizard from earlier is already at the park. He is expecting trouble from the same group who sent the gunman after him in Los Angeles, and has created some sort of protective barrier around the area. He hopes this will give him enough time to find the Initiate. He lights a match and this time it bursts into a bright flame that floats away with a life of his own. The person he is searching for is in the park. Of course, we all know by this stage that it is Anya and lo and behold we see her walking into the park right on cue.
The mage (whose name is Miguel) runs through the park when he is intercepted by four individuals. A cane-wielding red-head dressed as a more modest Emma Frost and three male lackeys - one with glasses and a grin, one with a gas mask and one with a pair of walrus tusks stuck to his cheeks. I kid you not. Miguel recognises them as members of the Sisterhood of the Wasp!
Miguel informs his enemies that he has cast a protective circle around the park. This means no weapons or offensive magic can be used here, which is quick excuse for fisticuffs. Miguel explodes into action and during the fight he mulls over a litany of some sort. It could be important, this is what it says:
"The Spider. It is the most ancient of hunters. Nine hundred and nine years ago, we pledged our blood in the night. May we govern over darkness, the peace of the world our black hands protect. One hand is the Hunter. The other hand, the Mage."
It seems Miguel is a better mage than he is a martial artist because he is beaten and captured. However, he manages to wriggle free until the woman kicks him off the near-by bridge. As fate would have it he lands directly upon Anya Corazon! Suddenly Anya is involved in the fight. The woman muses over whether Anya can be the Initiate Miguel is seeking, to which Anya pulls out her mobile phone and threatens to call the cops.
The walrus-faced thug is having none of this. Pulling a knife he attacks Miguel, but Anya tries to protect the mage and is stabbed. However, the thug forgot about the protective circle. There is a powerful blast of magic that either atomises or banishes the Sisterhood leaving Miguel and the wounded Anya alone in the park. The free-floating flame Miguel released earlier descends on the scene revealing that Anya really is the Initiate he has been looking for. Unfortunately, this discovery could be short-lived as Anya is bleeding to death.
I was really looking forward to this comic. Despite age, gender and nationality working against me I enjoy a good high school adventure. Unfortunately, this isn't good adventure. At best it's competent, and at worst it's just unremarkable.
This comic did not come about because the writer had a burning desire to tell this story. It came about because a managerial committee somewhere at Marvel decided they should have a title like this in their portfolio. We have a sassy female lead because Marvel wants to appeal to female readers. Our heroine comes from an Hispanic background because Marvel needs readers from that demographic. There are tenuous links to Spider-Man to make us Spiderfans pick it up. Anya Corazon is a soulless marketing exercise, not a character.
All this could be forgiven if the story was any good, but it isn't. Fiona Avery has managed to tell an average tale rather than a terrible one, but it is still clichéd and formulaic. The similarities between this opening issue and the premise for Buffy the Vampire Slayer are not lost on me. One girl in all the world chosen by the representative of a mysterious organisation to defend us from the forces of evil...
In addition to these fundamental problems, some elements of the story simply do not work. For example: the whole fight scene at the beginning of the issue really doesn't send the message the writer intends. For a start it's all over a ripped poster. A poster? Could Fiona Avery not come up with something a little more dramatic? For comics to work the characters have to be larger than life. When Peter Parker was having a bad day he was really having a bad day - everything went wrong. If Avery wants to show that Anya is fearless to the point of stupidity then put her in a situation where there is more at stake than a ripped piece of paper. It comes across as petty.
More importantly, as I was reading the scene, my sympathies were almost entirely with the Jock. Lynn is completely in the wrong here. She was the one running pell-mell down the corridor, she destroyed Trent's property. He is entirely in his rights to demand some sort of recompense. Lynn doesn't even apologise, just tells him to 'get over it'. The reader has no sympathy for her, and therefore no reason to support Anya when she appears like Lynn's guardian angel. That cannot have been Avery's intention.
Later on Trent taunts Anya but saying that she was abandoned by her mother. This is supposed to be Anya's first day at a new school, so how does Trent know? Is divorce so unusual in Brooklyn that such a tale has spread through the school like wild fire? Seems unlikely to me, and an unnecessary hole in the story.
If the concept and writing are flawed, the art does succeed in lifting the book. It is a little cartoony for my taste, but the characters are vibrant and colourful and suits the story that I wish Avery was telling. Brooks is a good choice as artist, although why Marvel felt the need to move him from Cable & Deadpool after only two issues is anyone's guess.
But although the art looks good, I have some small observations I thought I'd share. In the scene where Anya helps her father stop the water from flooding the apartment it looks as though he has been trying to connect the mains water supply to the back of his refrigerator - he really doesn't know anything about plumbing, does he? Also, the water main Anya turns off is the size of a fire hydrant! How did her father miss that? Full time investigative reporter, and part-time myopic anti-plumber. Maybe that'll be a spin off.
Oh and Anya's hair looks like a brown pineapple. Of course, that might just be the fashion....
So, what's the Spider-Man connection? The mention of the Sisterhood of the Wasp got me thinking about Shathra - the Spider-Wasp woman from Amazing Spider-Man (Vol 2) #46-48. This in turn led me to the conclusion that Miguel and Webcorps might have something to do with Ezekiel. After all the shaman who helped Ezekiel during the "Book of Ezekiel" story that ran from Amazing Spider- Man #506-508 was called Miguel. This is something that caught my interest, and something I would like to see explored in later issues. There's more to Ezekiel that JMS had time to focus on. More of this, please.
Yes, I gave the issue a bit of a drubbing, but I was concentrating on the negatives. It is a solidly written story, and all the elements of something better are there if only it can raise itself above the constraints of the initial concept. Good art, but a shaky premise and some sloppy writing. Two and a half webs.