Arana #12

Background

The Spider Society are attempting to stop the Sisterhood of the Wasp from hosting an international convention of super-criminals in New York city. One of the these criminals is Mexican drugs baron Felix Jade: the man who murdered Araña's mother and forced her family's relocation to the United States. Suffice to say Anya is taking this fight a little personally. In the ensuing battle, Jade uses his mind control powers to dominate Anya and he escapes with her as his hostage. As her allies press the assault against Vincent, Anya is taken further and the further away. Will she escape, and what role does Amun play in this, the final issue of Araña?

Story Details

  Arana #12
Summary: Final issue.
Arc: Part 6 of 'Night of the Hunter' (1-2-3-4-5-6)
Editor: Mark Paniccia
Writer: Fiona Avery
Pencils: Jonboy Meyers
Inker: Mark Irwin
Articles: Arana

Amun is rushing toward the Wasp safe-house at supernatural speed. He discovers Vincent engaged in a pitched battle with Miguel, Nina and Ted. Vincent is not happy at Amun's absence, and is determined to kill the Miguel and his allies once and for all (and Jade as well if he can get away with it). Amun can relate to this, and wades in to help his comrade.

Meanwhile, Jade is beginning to regret dominating Anya. Although he has control of her mind and her actions, he doesn't seem to be able to control her voice. Suffice to say that Anya is at her annoying best. As the two bicker, Anya doesn't see the oncoming traffic and narrowly avoids hitting another car. This provokes her flashback.

Anya is about five years old and travelling in a car with her mother and father. They swerve to avoid another car, crash off the road and hit a tree. Young Anya is scared that she nearly died. Her mother comforts her. "Get out of the car, Arañita," she says. But she didn't say that at the time. Those are words Araña is hearing in the present. It is the voice of Anya's mother, offering to help her daughter and giving her the power to overcome Jade's mind control. Despite the drug-baron's protestations, Anya stops the car and flees into a near by woodland.

There she sees a vision of her mother. Sophia Corazon says that she is there to help her daughter, to "make sure things happen as they should". She says that the conflict between the Wasps and Spiders will be coming to a head soon, that Araña must stay strong. And then she fades from sight.

Meanwhile, back at the battle, Miguel finally overcomes Vincent by pinning him to a wall with a magical spell. Leaving the mage to the tender mercies of Nina, he flies off to find Anya. But Anya doesn't really need his help. Now that she has broken Jade's mind control, he is no match for her. She doesn't even bother to call on the Hunter. Jade killed Anya's mother, and he is quickly beaten into unconsciousness.

Jade awakens tied up in the back seat of the car, which is now parked perilously close to a cliff edge. Jade is confidant that Anya is not ruthless enough to kill a defenceless man. But he is wrong. Anya throws the car into drive and vehicle lurches forward and plummets from the cliff into the water below. "My conscious feel pretty okay," says Anya.

Suddenly, Amun arrives, demanding to know where Jade is. Amun says that Jade did not kill Sophia Corazon. Anya is speechless, but she realises that Jade never actually confessed to the crime. Has she made a terrible mistake? Miguel now floats down onto the scene, to further increase Anya's feelings of guilt.

She dives off the cliff and swims down to the car. But the door is open and it seems that Jade has escaped his bonds and fled. Amun is by her side and indicates that Anya should return to the surface before she runs out of air. Above the waves, Amun swims quickly away, leaving Anya alone with Miguel, and her shame.

Miguel and Anya return to their companions. Nina has beaten Vincent unconscious, so the white mage is now their prisoner. Anya confesses to trying to kill Jade, but Miguel says that because Jade did not die, Anya still has a second chance at redemption. She has friends that will help her, after all. As they depart by car, Ted asks Anya how she managed to break Jade's mind control. Anya replies that she had someone watching over her, and indeed we see a figure watching the car depart. But it is not Anya's mother; it is an ominous grey-cloaked figure - a hood obscuring its face.

Back in New York, Araña is on the streets fighting crime. She may not be able to erase her past misdeeds but she can try to make up for them. She follows the wailing of police sirens into the night.

General Comments

Thus ends the issue, the story arc and the series. We're left with plenty of loose ends, but you'd expect that in a comic that's been cancelled rather than allowed to finish naturally. The question is whether this final issue gives the reader a sense of closure, whether it is a satisfying read that sums up all the strengths of the series and leaves you wanting more.

Well, it doesn't do any of those things. And much of the reason why it doesn't, comes from the fundamental problems this series has never been able to overcome. However, before we get to that, let's pretend this isn't the last issue and consider issue #12 on its own merits. Such as they are.

You'll notice that my synopsis of the issue is quite a bit shorter than normal. This is largely because very little happens. Anya has a vision, breaks Jade's mind control, beats him up and tries to kill him, fails and then goes home. There is really not much more to say than that. With the small exception of Amun, any character moments are placed to one side in favour of the action.

The emotional core of the issue should be around Anya's attempt to murder Jade, and how she deals with her shame. I'm sorry, but didn't we all ready sit through that back in issue #9? In that issue, Anya went out in a murderous rage, confronted Jade and was going to kill him but he managed to escape. Anya became contrite and penitent then as well. Avery doesn't need to tell the same story twice! It makes this issue completely lose its dramatic impact.

In fact this entire arc has been the victim of poor pacing. We have been on the same extended fight scene at the Wasp safe-house for three issues now! I can see no narrative justification for that. The story-arc opened promisingly enough, with the debut of Lady Chi and talk of the crime conference. I thought that Avery was going to give us one villain per issue, building to the conference by the end of the arc. Certainly, all the plot we've had concerning Jade didn't need to fill any more than two issues at the most. Consequently, the story feels extremely padded.

But then, maybe it is padded. Perhaps, the direction of the arc needed to be changed to take into account the cancellation of the title. Perhaps Avery had more juicy plots for us, but they were removed to give us a coherent ending. This could have been the case, but I don't see why the 'padding' couldn't have been more of Lynn and the supporting cast from the school (that we haven't seen in the entire arc), or more of Gil's reaction to the return of Jade. I really do question the creative team's choices.

And yes, the issue would not be complete without its chronic continuity gaffs. Exactly when did Amun leave the fight to go after Anya? He was fighting side by side with Vincent and then suddenly he is gone. Miguel might have known how to find Anya, but Amun certainly didn't. Also, at the end of the issue we see our heroes driving away in the car that Vincent blew up in issue #11. Was it too much for someone to remember that? It was only last month for crying out loud!

The art is not that hot either. There is no hint from the art that the car is stopped anywhere near a cliff until the plot demands it - a sign of poor storytelling. Also, it is utterly unclear whether it is Anya or some unseen force that throws the car into gear and sends it into the water. The whole underwater scene fails to convey Anya's frantic search for Jade. I could go on.

The book ends leaving many things unresolved. As I said above, you would expect this in a comic that is cancelled in mid-flow, but many are left over from the Amazing Fantasy run. Who were the people menacing Paul Townsend? What happened to the Wasp's chosen one (that green egg)? What was behind that voice Miguel heard in Anya's school? And, most importantly for me, what is the connection between the Spider Society and Ezekiel? How does it all fit in with JMS's Amazing Spider-Man stories? We should have had the answers to all these long before now. Which brings me neatly to my thoughts on the series as a whole:

This comic was the product of a corporate decision. It was a cynical move to create a title that appealed to a certain demographic - a readership Marvel felt were not being tapped to their fullest potential. No creator burst into the Marvel offices with a burning desire to tell stories about Anya Corazon. The management wanted a Latino super-hero in her mid-teens with some connection to Spider-Man. The creative team were just there to connect the dots. Not a very auspicious beginning.

However, such beginnings are not insurmountable. The reading public will forgive any amount of managerial interference if the end product is any good. Sadly, in this case the end product wasn't good. It wasn't bad either, it was just so wholly average that readers (quite rightly) thought their dollars could be better spent on something else. Fiona Avery and her colleagues were not to blame for the concept of the book, but I do hold them responsible for what they did with that concept. It's their stories that drove over 80% of readers to drop this title before its final issue.

I can't begin to list all the problems I've had with this title and the Amazing Fantasy run before it. My previous reviews have made them pretty clear. For me the most glaring problem had to be the slapdash way the comic was put together. I could never ignore the painful errors in continuity - and by "continuity" I don't mean contradicting something that happened in another title twenty years ago, I mean forgetting what happened two issues ago, or even sometimes in the same issue! Fundamental elements of story- telling such as what time of day it is, what the weather is like or how many people are in a given space seem to be irrelevant to the creative team. Such careless attention to detail told me that the creative team didn't care about the title, and if they didn't care then why should I?

This enormous problem was exacerbated by Avery's haphazard understanding of what makes a compelling story. Now, I know that I am not the target audience for this title, but that doesn't mean to say I can't appreciate the story for what it is. I may not identify with Anya in the same was as a reader her own age, but I know human nature, I know how a plot should be put together - and I have wondered about Avery's choices over the last eighteen months.

The battle between the Spider Society and the Sisterhood of the Wasp just wasn't interesting. We have suffered the same people battling each other for no intelligible reason, and no stated goal, for months. The hierarchy of neither organisation has been properly explained, and as a result it has left me completely cold.

The Hunter is supposed to be a force of almost uncontrollable ferocity. When Anya calls on the power she is barely able to hold it in check. Every step of the way is a battle. But that short and simple concept was never properly conveyed in the comic. It was touched on, hinted at, but we never truly saw how it affect Anya herself. It was never personalised. This completely undermined Anya as a believable character. Any other work Avery was doing to round out her personality was swimming against the tide.

But what work was she doing? Characters such as Vincent, Miguel and Ted were barely given one dimension between them. Others such as Nina, Gil, Lynn, Anya and (especially Amun) were given something more, but never consistently and never when you most hoped they would shine. Avery had set up a really interesting sub-plot around the relationship between Amun and Araña, and then she wrote a story that kept them apart for almost six issues. As the comic continued, she abandoned the more interesting supporting cast from the high school to concentrate on the Spider Society. It was all just a mess...a really, really frustrating mess.

Because despite all that I have said, I truly believe there was a great story buried in these issues, a story that was worth telling. It just seemed that whenever Avery got remotely close to that story she shied away from it, took the easy road and threw in some more action and superfluous fight scenes. She missed the point of her own characters, and squandered their potential.

Now, at the end of the run, I reflect whether I'll miss Araña. I have to say, that regardless of the time I've invested in reading about the character and writing these reviews, that I won't miss her at all. I will miss the comic that might have been, the character that Anya should have been. This was a comic of missed opportunities. Despite that fanfare that heralded its publication, it failed to capture the imagination of either its intended audience or the comic-reading public at large. It failed miserably on its own terms and, much as I hate to say it, deserved to be cancelled.

Marvel are producing so many other titles that are so much better than this. Read Runaways, Sentinel or Young Avengers - they'll show you how a book about teenagers should be written. Seal up your copies of Araña and file them away. I doubt you'll ever re-read them.

Overall Rating

A lacklustre issue, that continues the current storyline well past its sell-by date. It's not out-and-out awful, but I long lost patience with this title's inept narrative. Two webs.

Footnote

This might be last issue of Araña: The Heart of the Spider, but it is not the end for Anya Corazon. Our heroine next appears in Marvel Team-Up (Vol. 3) #16 as part of the aptly named Legion of Losers. However, she plays a painfully brief and disarming role in proceedings. If that's not enough, you can read about the MC2 version of the character in the Spider-Man Family one-shot.

Araña's next significant (in continuity) appearance is in Spider- Man/Arana: The Hunter Revealed, a special scheduled for the end of March 2006. That comic promises an end to the conflict between the Spider Society and the Sisterhood of the Wasp (and it's about time). Oddly it is not written by Fiona Avery, but Tania del Rio - a writer best known for her work on Sabrina the Teenage Witch. It should be interesting at the very least.