Arana #2

Background

Araña and the mage, Miguel, have captured Judge Thomas Bandar for the Spider Society. It seems that Bandar has been passing sensitive information to the Sisterhood of the Wasp and our heroes need to get to the bottom of it. Coincidentally, Gil Corazon (Anya's father) is also investigating Bandar for a piece he is writing for the New York Herald. Are two halves of Anya's world on the verge of colliding? What is the Sisterhood up to? Will Anya get over her cold?

Story 'A Tangled Web'

  Arana #2
Arc: Part 2 of 'In the Beginning' (1-2-3-4-5-6)
Editor: Jennifer Lee
Writer: Fiona Avery
Pencils: Roger Cruz
Inker: Victor Olazaba
Articles: Arana

At the Webcorps building, our heroes have discovered more than they bargained for from Judge Thomas Bandar. Information and contact coordinates reveal that the Sisterhood of the Wasp has found itself a new recruit. Those canny devils have hired someone to fill in for their own chosen one, whom Anya disposed of back in Amazing Fantasy #6. Damn the free market economy.

This new recruit is a fifteen-year-old boy code-named Amun. He comes from a long line of Egyptian assassins and has such formidable skills that he doesn't bother to conceal his identity - everyone who has ever seen him has never lived to tell the tale. However, Miguel is willing to risk it as it seems Bandar was just a facilitator - a meeting between the Sisterhood's mage, Vincent, and Amun has been set up for this very evening. It is a meeting that Miguel and Anya plan to gatecrash.

Anya returns home to find Gil finishing his article about Bandar. When Gil answers the telephone, Anya commandeers the computer and hacks into his article to see what he has written. She corrects his grammar, and the pair of them begin to look through the article.

Meanwhile, Vincent arrives in an abandoned dockside warehouse. He thinks Amun has arrived before him, but it is not Amun - it is Miguel! Miguel and Vincent talk. Miguel tells Vincent he is worried that the Sisterhood have chosen Amun to be their second-in-command.

Unfortunately, Miguel is there alone. Anya is still at home with Gil, reading the article. Anya is particularly interested in reports of the judge talking to "weird guys". Ted telephones Anya to remind her of where she should be, and a contrite Araña swings off to help Miguel.

Back in the warehouse the mages are still talking. Vincent says that the Wasp's chosen one isn't dead, but in intensive care. However, the white mage grows impatient of the conversation and things get violent. At this point, Amun decides to make his presence felt. A stylised throwing-knife that looks a little like an ankh, hurtles toward Miguel. He barely blocks it with a protective spell, and while he is distracted, Vincent kicks him in the back.

Amun (who is still unseen in the shadows) complains that he wanted to meet Vincent alone. Vincent reveals that he deliberately lured Miguel and Araña to this warehouse so Amun could face them, and therefore "audition" for his new role. Bandar was expendable, and all this is a set up.

As Vincent and Miguel magically battle and verbally fence, we finally get to see Amun. Long dark hair, earrings, black fingernails and a costume straight from a Goa'uld garage sale. His knives have some high-tech element as he 'locks-on' to Miguel. Before he can throw it, the knife is destroyed by a spinning bola. Araña has arrived! She and Amun size each other up. She has seen his face!

Anya is momentarily distracted by the battle of the mages. By the way Miguel is fighting, she surmises that he and Vincent must have a history together. But she should have been paying attention, as the white mage takes a moment to zap her in the back with a bolt of green energy. Anya quickly calls on her carapace, and attacks Vincent. After a lightning-quick display of gymnastic prowess, she knees Vincent in the face and knocks him cold.

Suddenly, Anya is hit in the back by one of Amun's knives. It almost punctures her carapace, which is more than a little worrying. Vincent takes the opportunity to escape. From what he says, Vincent seems fearful that Amun will turn on him as well, although he is very pleased with the assassin's audition.

As Vincent disappears, more knives rain in from the darkness. Miguel can't even see where Amun is, and Anya has lost track of him. The two beat a hasty retreat. Miguel points out that Anya saw Amun's face, and is now marked for death. Anya says that she knows this, and doesn't look too pleased about it.

The following day, Anya is walking into school with her friend Lynn. Anya isn't bothered that she forgot about the test they are having in history class. However, she doesn't think that afterwards. The teacher, Mrs Wegmann, has prepared a stinker, so Anya mentally soliloquises about what a good friend Lynn is to her, rather than thinking about the test, or what happened last night.

After the class, the pair are at their lockers. Anya is bemoaning that she has no time to study. Lynn suggests that she quit her internship at Webcorps, but obviously, Anya isn't going to see that as a solution. Lynn is suffering from Anya's cold, which Anya herself seems to have shaken off since last issue.

Lynn has a photograph of Anya's crush, Paul Townsend, that she pins to the inside of Anya's locker. Anya is worried about this - if someone should see it, then they might know she likes him. Lynn doesn't see this as too much of a problem, and says she will never speak to Anya again if she takes it down.

Anya feels bullied. Both Lynn and Miguel are forcing her to do things she doesn't want to do. We have a brief flashback to a conversation with Miguel: he has been sweeping the school environs for dangers and is meeting Anya after school to walk her home. He is taking the threat of Amun far more seriously than she is.

Back in the present, Anya is at her desk when Mrs Wegmann introduces a new student to the class. She calls him Jon Kasiya, but it is obvious to Anya that this is none other than Amun! Jon is aloof, and Anya is mortified when he sits next to her. She can't believe that he doesn't recognise her from the night before. But Lynn finds the newcomer very attractive and passes him a note (which Jon quickly destroys).

The issue ends with Anya sitting in class next to Amun. She most certainly does not want to be there. "It's gonna get a lot worse from here on out," she thinks.

General Comments

Well, it seems the story might just be going somewhere interesting after all. Having Amun join the same class as Anya seems horribly contrived and coincidental, but it is a twist that genuinely surprised me. This is the first time this book has done anything that actually surprised me, and in doing so Avery has my attention.

There are various ways this can go, and I won't try and second guess the narrative at this stage, but on the whole, this is a promising move.

I was also quite pleased with the dialogue between Miguel and Vincent. It would be wrong to say that either are particularly well-rounded characters. Miguel has so little depth you could slide him under a door, and Vincent has only ever had the chance to sneer and convince everyone how very evil he is. But I like the idea that there is a history between this pair, and I like the idea that beneath the obvious loathing there could be something verging on respect. If Avery pursues this then she will flesh out both these empty shells quite nicely.

This issue also proves what a bunch of unimaginative minds work for Webcorps. They thought that stopping the Wasp's chosen one would weaken the Sisterhood, but not a bit of it. The Wasps just put a discreet want-ad out for a homicidal assassin (preferably a young boy with rakish looks) and, lo and behold, the Spider Society are once again on the defensive. I do admire such lateral thinking on the part of the bad guys. Although would they really make him second-in-command?

Yet it's not all good news. Here's my latest list of complaints:

Some of Avery's narrative choices still strike me as rather odd. She introduces Bandar, has Anya abduct him - has Gil work on a story about him - and then she rather dismisses him toward the end of issue. Was any of that relevant to anything? It doesn't seem that way. And what about Anya's cold? Built up last issue, utterly ignored this time around. I realise it's supposed to be a few days later, but really... what was the point?

Once again, we also suffer from a high level of inconsistency. In the last issue Gil agreed that Anya could read his article on Bandar, so why is she trying to break into his computer to read it? That doesn't make any sense at all, and is one of those little things that really annoy me.

Some of the dialogue is really clunky this time around. When introducing Amun, Miguel helpfully explains Egypt to ill-educated readers. He announces to his companions that "Egypt is an ally of the U.S., but it has produced some of the most mysteriously skilled mercenaries over the ages". That statement is so ludicrous for so many reasons that I don't know where to start. Work it out for yourselves.

Although it's a much better issue, it still fails on the same grounds that all the other issues in this series have failed on. To avoid repeating myself, I'll just mention one here, which is I have been given no reason to care about the whole Wasp vs. Spider plot. It's the eighth issue and no one has properly explained why they are even fighting. I would have thought that was fundamental.

That's the review. As an aside, let's talk sales figures, for a moment. Issue #6 of Amazing Fantasy sold about 23,869 copies. Both Mystique and Emma Frost were selling more than that and they've been cancelled due to lack of sales. We can therefore assume that 23,869 is a perilously low figure for a Marvel comic. The first issue of Araña sold 29,843 and debuted thirty places higher in the Top 300.

This can be seen as good news for the continued survival of this title, but we shouldn't be too optimistic. Issue #1s always sell significantly more than subsequent issues. Even Marvel's high sellers Ultimates 2 and New Avengers saw about a 25% drop in sales between their first and second issues. If this happens to Araña then it'll be back down to its Amazing Fantasy sales figures, which could be dangerous, to say the least.

Of course, Marvel may be applying a different set of sales criteria to Araña. Given how much of their publicity machine they have invested in it, they may be unwilling to pull the plug and decide to keep the comic going. After all, Spider-Girl regularly sells less than all above titles. My gut instinct is that Araña's survival depends on how well the trade paperbacks sells. It will be interesting to keep an eye on this as the months pass.

Overall Rating

Better than last time, and I'm curious to see where this Amun thing is heading. But there are some narrative holes, and there's still nothing exceptional about the story. It's competent, but nothing more. Three webs.