Arana #3

Background

Things aren't going well for our heroine. Vincent (evil goatee-twirling magus of the Sisterhood of the Wasp) set up Araña and Miguel, luring them into a confrontation with Amun, the deadly and pubescent assassin. No one has ever seen Amun's face and lived to tell the tale... so guess what Araña did? If having her alter ego marked for death were not enough, Amun has his own civilian identity, and he has just joined Anya's history class. Now read on.

Story 'Ultimatum!'

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

The action picks up directly from last issue. Mrs Wegmann is happily telling the class the salient points of US reconstruction, but few people in the class are listening. Amun doesn't seem to recognise Anya, but how long will that last? Not long, it would seem, as Lynn purposefully drops her pen to get Amun's attention. As he stoops to retrieve it, he notices the tattoo on Anya's arm and for the first time he realises just who he is sitting next to. Amun settles back into his seat with an evil grin on his face, as the horror of what has just happened settles slowly on Anya.

After class, Anya bravely tries to talk Lynn out of getting her own tattoo. The glance between Amun and Anya was not lost on Lynn, only she is under the mistaken belief that Amun is attracted to her friend. She claims that guys are always "scoping" Anya out and that she is living in Anya's shadow. With the help of a handy (and quite amusing) flashback to their eighth grade dance, Anya points out this is blatantly untrue. Anya begins a spiel about how neither of them needs men, but Lynn isn't buying it, and wanders off. She really seems to like Amun.

Cut across town to Fort Tryon Park, and Vincent is on the phone to Amun. The assassin tells Vincent that it was extremely stupid to try and set him up to kill Araña and Miguel without asking him first. Amun says he has a good mind to kill Vincent and the Wasp Grand Council who ordered the "audition". However, Amun agrees to work with Vincent, at least for the time being.

Also present is Sam, a blond-haired woman making her first appearance in the title. She seems to be senior to Vincent, as she refers to herself as a "sister", and to him as the "hired help". This only further confuses me as to the hierarchy of the Sisterhood of the Wasp. Didn't they say last issue they were hiring Amun to lead them? Anyway, that's neither here nor there, as Sam and Vincent plan to ambush Webcorps as they attempt to move Bandar to a safe house.

Meanwhile, Amun is on the Internet looking for more information about Anya. He finds a recent picture in which Anya does not have the mark of the hunter (the tattoo), and he realises that she has only recently inherited her powers. Then he finds details of Anya's father and realises her weakness.

Trivia buffs will be delighted to know that the screen shots on Amun's computer reveal a wealth of data about Anya and her father (including Anya's eighth grade final quarter grades). You learn that Anya was born on 17 June 1989 weighing 7 lbs 3 ozs and measuring 19 inches in length. Her birth certificate was signed by Dr Enrique Simoneson. Gil Corazon was born on 24 October 1964, got his MS in Journalism from Columbia University and has previously lived in Puerto Rico and Mexico. All of that is pretty irrelevant to the plot, so let's press on.

Anya returns home and bumps into her father, hurrying in the opposite direction. Gil has a big meeting at 10:00pm and has to hurry. At first, Anya counts herself lucky, as she can now keep her 10:00pm appointment with Webcorps without thinking of a crummy excuse... then she realises that her 10:00pm appointment and her father's 10:00pm appointment might be one and the same. She rushes to look in his computer, but he has locked it again.

Anya does the sensible thing and phones Ted, who reveals he cannot leave the Webcorps building without being shot. However, he does help remotely. Although Anya couldn't find out where her father was going this evening, Ted does leave her with a back door into many of Gil's other files. A short while later, Anya is in costume travelling in a limousine with Miguel and Judge Thomas Bandar. They are surrounded by five trucks packed with Webcorps agents and led by the lovely Nina.

Ted alerts Nina that they have company. A bunch of helicopters in the service of the Sisterhood of the Wasp are closing in. The limo accelerates away while the vans form a tight road block. The Wasps in the helicopter are led by Sam, whose keen sense of fashion has re-tailored her force of drones so now they look like rejects from International Rescue as opposed to the Matrix. The drones fly down to engage the Webcorps personnel.

Meanwhile, Vincent is watching all this transpire from a near-by vantage point. His helpful narration tells us that Amun can move superhumanly fast. The assassin uses the ability to overtake the limousine. Amun appears in the road in front of the car. The driver swerves to avoid him and careers out of control. Anya leaps out, donning her armour, and prepares to engage Amun in combat.

Up the road, there is a big fight going on between the Spiders and the Wasps. Nina and Sam fight, but Sam has the upper hand and manages to escape. Meanwhile, the out-of-control limo hits a water tower and comes to a halt. Amun confronts Araña and formally tells her that he knows her secret identity. "Bring it on gothboy," she announces, and the fight is joined.

While all this has been happening, Sam has concealed herself nearby with a sniper rifle. As Miguel helps Bandar out of the limo, she shoots him dead, thus successfully completing the Wasps' mission. As she takes aim at Miguel himself, Nina intervenes and kicks Sam into unconsciousness.

Araña's fight is not going very well. Amun is too fast, and she can barely dodge his throwing knives. She turns in the battle and sees a sight that freezes her blood: her father, Gil, is filming the whole thing! "If you don't surrender to your fate, I will target the people closest to you," Amun says calmly to Araña. She panics, grabs her father, and runs for it. Amun cannot be bothered to give chase at the moment. Instead, he throws a knife at Miguel and stabs him (possibly fatally).

Anya drops her father at a nearby house and removes the memory card from his video camera. The reporter in Gil comes out, and he starts to quiz Araña, but Anya doesn't reply, in case her father recognises her voice. Anya is distraught, doesn't know what to do, and bounds off to deal with Amun.

Meanwhile, Vincent has turned up, planning to take full advantage of Miguel's incapacity to kill him. Fortunately, Nina appears with Sam's rifle in the nick of time and forces Vincent to depart. She calls for a medical team, but it might already be too late.

By the time Anya returns from taking Gil to safety, Miguel is being loaded into the back of an ambulance. Nina doesn't know if he is going to make it. Anya comes to a difficult decision. She can no longer be around the people who are closest to her, for fear Amun will kill them. She tells Nina this, and walks away from the scene, presumably for a new life of exile.

General Comments

Yes. Yes. Yes! Finally, a good issue! It's been a long time in coming, and I'm not sure it was worth the wait, but this issue was significantly above average. It was tightly written, the characterisation was spot on, the plot was more focused (although read on for some minor gripes), and even the art seemed to be more expressive than it has been in previous issues.

The opening scene in the classroom is particularly well done. At first the teacher's voice-over seems to be irrelevant to the events unfolding, but Avery ties it in nicely, and, in doing so, raises the narrative to a level we haven't previously seen in this comic. However, Roger Cruz deserves the greater credit for making this scene work. Without dialogue he manages to convey Amun's realisation of who Anya is extremely well. The smirk on the assassin's face when he works it all out is evil, but even better is Anya's vacant stare into the middle-distance, a slight tightening around the jaw, as she realises the horror of what is happening. Excellent.

In fact, this issue is full of nice little character touches. The scene between Anya and Lynn where they flash back to their eighth grade dance showed the reader more about the pair's friendship than had been conveyed in the past eight issues. Nina's comment to Anya on the last page - "How in the world did I just insult you?" - was exactly in character for her. And for the first time, Anya looks like someone in serious danger of growing a third dimension. Her response to Amun's knowledge and her father's peril were spot on, and they were human. Anya's departure at the end of the issue is also exactly what I would expect of her.

The pedant in me cannot stay completely silent, however. The stuff about Ted never being able to leave the Webcorps building is rubbish. In Amazing Fantasy #4 he was in the helicopter that went to extract Miguel from a nest of Wasps. In Amazing Fantasy #6, he and Nina were parked in a freight yard in Queens doing reconnaissance work. It would be nice if Avery could remember things she's written less than five months ago. And if Ted is right and Webcorps is the safest possible place for him, then why are they moving Judge Bandar to a safe-house? How can the safe-house be safer than Webcorps? Seems like a bit of a tactical error, especially considering how easily the Sisterhood of the Wasp were able to remove Bandar once he was in transit.

Speaking of which... what is the point in throwing up a road block if your pursuers are in helicopters? There was no reason for the helicopters to stop at the road-block and have a quick fight. They could have just flown over the vans, got to the limo and (with Amun helping them) probably succeeded in killing Bandar and Miguel. I don't understand why these things aren't thought through properly.

However, for once I'm prepared to overlook my misgivings. You compare this issue to something like The Pulse or even its Marvel Next contemporaries Young Avengers and Runaways and it doesn't really stand out. But if you compare it to the first two issues (and the Amazing Fantasy run) it leaps out at you - a definite hike in quality. Let's hope the creative team can keep it up.

Overall Rating

I gave the rating some thought. I'm not so much judging it on the final product as I am the significant increase in quality. The comic has gone from bland to dramatic in one issue. This is far and away the best issue featuring Araña that Marvel has produced. On those grounds alone it deserves four webs.

Footnote

I promised another look at the sales figures this month. However, Araña was running a bit late so the sales figures for issue #2 will be delayed until next month. I'll get back to this next time.