Pre-Legacy Review Part 3

 In: Rave > 2017
 Posted: Oct 2017
 Staff: Cody Wilson (E-Mail)

As a new era begins for Marvel, I ask the question: does the Spider-Man line really need to be rejuvenated? Well, the past ten books I looked at in Pre-Legacy Review Part 1 and Pre-Legacy Review Part 2 suggest we really need Legacy to get the ball rolling again. However, I still have the solid books to review, so let's see if the positives can outweigh the many negatives.

10.) Silk (Silk (Vol. 2) #1 - 19, Spider-Man and Silk: The Spiderfly Effect #1 - 4)

As I mentioned earlier in recapping Venom: Space Knight, Robbie Thompson has a very distinct writing style, for better or worse. His characters always have informal, usually down-to-earth voices and they often narrate directly to the reader. There is also a certain amount of self-deprecation to their dialogue and ridicule of their own bad puns (which I’ve never found funny). Thompson writes three Spider-related titles during this period, and his scripting works best for Silk in my opinion. His pre-Secret Wars story on the title was excellent in fleshing out Cindy Moon’s character and making her relatable. Like with most of his characters, Thompson makes Cindy insecure and nervous, but this works well for a socially-awkward character who was trapped in a bunker for years.

In the new volume of Silk, the titular character goes undercover with the Black Cat but slowly finds herself pulled to the “dark side.” Thompson does an excellent job scripting Cindy during this period and making her character struggle compelling. Writers will often play with an obligatory moral quandary that is easily resolvable for their lead characters, but Thompson scripts Felicia Hardy well enough for the conflict to feel substantial. In the second half of the run, he focuses on Cindy’s relationships with friends and family, and his dialogue is excellent in this area as well. He always has a good handle of character in this series, and Cindy’s character arc comes to a satisfying conclusion as the series ends.

While Thompson’s dialogue works well, his plotting and pacing fall apart in this volume. He fails to truly deliver on many of his slowly-building plot threads. Cindy’s destruction of the Goblin Nation feels rushed, and the conclusion of her conflict with the Black Cat is unsatisfying. The final issue feels rushed in tying up a plotline that had been building since the inception of the series. Although Thompson develops high stakes by involving Silk’s supporting cast in these conflicts, he fails to deliver well-considered conclusions to give these events true finality.

Silk benefits from Ian Herring’s distinct, fun colors, but the pencil work shifts in an unsatisfying way. Stacey Lee, the strong artist for the first volume, only draws two issues of this series. The majority is handled by Tana Ford, whose art I prefer less than that of Stacey Lee. Her style isn’t dynamic, and many of her character are awkwardly positioned during battles. She slowly does improve in this area, though, and her fight scenes near the end are far stronger than those earlier. Ford specializes in facial expressions, which also improve with time, and she is in-tune with Thompson’s sense of character. Like the script, her pencils work in the emotional beats with the supporting cast but the actual superhero element of the title is lacking.

Also, I refuse to comment on the train wreck of the Spiderfly Effect. If I don't acknowledge it, it won't enter Spider-Man continuity.

9.) Avengers (All-New All-Different Avengers #1 - 15, Avengers (Vol. 7) #1 - 11, Avengers #1.1 - 5.1)

Following the high-concept, large-scale Avengers run by Jonathan Hickman, Mark Waid took over the title to completely contradict everything his predecessor accomplished with the team. The All-New, All-Different Avengers (what a horrible name) are a mix of new and old characters handling small-scale threats. Hickman’s Avengers were a global machine feared across the universe, but Waid’s are a rinky dink team that operates from a dilapidated warehouse. In some ways, this gives the team a more down-to-earth, classic Avengers feel, but I personally feel like this is a step back from the massive developments of Hickman’s run.

The actual conflicts this lackluster team faces are quaint and inconsequential. The arcs feel like predictable episodes to a weekly television series, even with major villains like Kang and Annihilus. The toys always go back in place for the next episode. While lacking plot-wise, this series benefits from Waid’s strong sense of character and dialogue. The characters often have witty exchanges, and he especially highlights the relationships between the younger and older heroes. There are also excellent character moments, especially involving Nadia Pym, the fun new Wasp he creates. Jarvis also has some funny scenes while Captain America and Thor bond in an interesting way. The character interactions are often enough to make up for the unremarkable plots.

Waid’s Avengers run receives a massive boost following the Civil War II relaunch and the introduction of artist Michael Del Mundo to the title. While Mahmud Asrar’s clean art served its purpose and Adam Kubert’s sloppy art was … well … distracting, Del Mundo’s psychedelic, creative energy finally gives something unique to the Avengers team. His trippy visuals aren’t what readers would expect on a mainstream Avengers book, but that’s what gives them the edge. His art complements the wild, outlandish Kang arc and makes the story one of the best Avengers time travel stories in recent memory. Waid also carries over his solid character work with this relaunch, and the dialogue remains strong.

Avengers has evolved from an overall boring title to one I excitedly look forward to every month. It’s one of the few cases during this period in which the writer starts weak and progressively gets better.

8.) Amazing Spider-Man (Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 4) #1 - 32, Amazing Spider-Man Civil War #1 - 4)

Dan Slott is easily one of the best Spider-Man writers. But, his newer work is certainly not his best, and many would agree he’s overstaying his welcome at this point. Slott’s decision to make Peter a CEO is intriguing, but he fails to construct many interesting stories out of it. The first issue introducing the new status quo is well-plotted and clever, as Slott brilliantly addresses concerns readers have about Peter as a businessman. However, the first few months of the title follow a boring reimagination of the Zodiac that bogs down the title. The organization checks the box of the big, global threat to match Spider-Man’s status quo, but it never feels truly threatening. The “Power Play” arc is also lackluster, feeling like an odd retread of Renew Your Vows with some cringe-worthily immature interactions between Peter and Tony Stark.

In the second half of this volume, Slott amps up with nonstop events to rejuvenate the title. Although the event has been met with mixed reactions, I personally enjoyed “Clone Conspiracy” despite its flaws. The event is a logical continuation of the themes of death and guilt that Slott enjoys revisiting, and it carries more emotional weight than the Zodiac story for sure. Plus, the story successfully brings back Gwen Stacy and Ben Reilly with interesting new spins. The following event, “The Osborn Identity,” is more inconsistent as Peter making odd decisions throughout and the pacing is uneven. Slott seems burnt out by the prior event while plotting this rushed, half-hearted battle between Peter and Osborn. He closes the Parker Industries era with a quick Secret Empire tie-in during which Doctor Octopus destroys the company in an intense conflict that is both brief and satisfying.

These successive events give the title little room to breathe, but Slott really shines with the small moments. Peter’s interactions with Harry Osborn, Johnny Storm, and Betty Brant are highlights of the early issues of the volume. My favorite arc is “The Dark Kingdom,” a tightly-plotted, brief story that features clever twists involving Cloak, Dagger, and Mr. Negative. This story combines Spider-Man lore, emotional stakes, and superhero action into a satisfying plot that also utilizes the new status quo. Slott’s writing is particularly strong in Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 4) #19, a heartbreaking reminder of how Peter’s responsibility as Spider-Man affects his personal life. In Clone Conspiracy, the character work involving Gwen is fantastic, and the oddball relationship between Spider-Gwen and Kaine is fun. Doctor Octopus’s continued pining for Anna Marconi is fascinating if not disturbing, and Anna has a few cool character moments as well. While these elements are all excellent, Slott fails to incorporate them evenly in his narrative. The Parker Industries status quo splits up the supporting cast across the world, so they appear inconsistently. The title would have benefited from more regular subplots involving these characters.

In the arena of art, Amazing Spider-Man routinely looks stellar during this period. Giuseppe Camuncoli’s more traditional, Romita-inspired art embellishes the majority of the title. His work can be inconsistent (especially during the “Clone Conspiracy” tie-ins), but the storytelling is always clear. His art shines particularly in the chase scene of the opening issue and the sequence in which Spider-Man falls from space. Matteo Buffagni and R.B. Silva both deliver excellent fill-ins, and I would enjoy seeing more of both artists. Jim Cheung finishes all five issues of the “Clone Conspiracy” without any fill-in artists impressively, and his work is perfectly-detailed and visually stunning. Stuart Immonen joins the title near the end, and his work is stellar in its raw dynamicism and flowing layouts. Even if the scripting doesn’t always hold up, the art is always a treat on the main Spider-Man title.

7.) Spidey (Spidey #1 - 12, Spider-Man: Master Plan #1)

Spidey is unapologetically a title aimed for kids, but it’s fun and entertaining for adults as well. Everything missing from the mainstream ASM title is here too, as Peter is a high-schooler again with the bare bones classic supporting cast of Gwen, Flash, and Aunt May.

Writer Robbie Thompson approaches this title like the writers of Marvel Adventures Spider-Man, in that every issue is an accessible, self-contained story. The stories are so continuity-light that there is almost no plot whatsoever. Spider-Man coincidentally runs into less-than-fearsome villains, and the stakes are always low. Many have compared this to the Lee/Ditko ASM, but Spidey lacks the tight plotting and breakneck speed of that classic run.

Although Spidey is deficient in compelling plots, Thompson more than makes up for it with his fun, amusing tone. The plots are often cute and genuinely funny, especially in Spider-Man’s team-ups with older heroes. The dialogue successfully appeals to both kids and adults, unlike many kids-targeted books. Particularly, I enjoyed Thompson’s scripting of Peter’s interactions with the supporting cast, and he depicts high school teen angst well. I also appreciate how Thompson centers each issue around a moral, tying everything up into an easily-digestible lesson for a younger audience.

Nick Bradshaw opens the title appropriately with his cartoony, dynamic style. His artwork fits the fun mood well and is full of heart. However, his layouts and pencils tend to be rushed for the less-important, non-spread pages. Andre Araujo takes over as a downgrade to the series with his weak lines and bland storytelling. The title truly finds its way when Nathan Stockman takes over. He perfectly merges action and emotional beats to successfully depict an insecure teenage hero. The detail he puts into every scene, even the seemingly least significant, is a treat, and his storytelling skills are excellent. Stockman’s art has the potential to earn him a place on the main Amazing Spider-Man if he keeps up this work.

6.) Scarlet Spider (Ben Reilly: Scarlet Spider #1 - 7)

Upon reviving the character in “Clone Conspiracy,” Dan Slott turned Ben Reilly into a dark mirror of Peter Parker that has become desensitized towards death. He served his purpose for the event, but I was hesitant in supporting Marvel’s decision to give the character a solo series. Fortunately, veteran writer Peter David has the task of writing this antihero. His amazing knack for characterization is put to good use with Reilly, as he shifts him from the reprehensible villain to a morally-dubious antihero. David’s subtle philosophical undertones give Scarlet Spider an interesting existential hero vibe, and this comes to head in a profound interaction between Reilly and Death herself.

As one can expect from him, David provides amazing scripts for this series with his signature sense of humor and satire. The dark humor especially works in this title revolving around an antihero with a general disregard for human life. He demands money from those he saves and encourages the gambling habit of a dark version of Aunt May. The series is so messed up and absurd that readers can’t help but laugh. Any title that uses Kaine as a voice of morality is bound to be dark, but David offsets this gloom with satire.

Another interesting element is the way the series responds to fan reactions and 90’s nostalgia. David recognizes that many of his readers followed Ben Reilly during the original Clone Saga, so he recalls that period’s large pool of continuity by using Kaine and the Slingers. Even the brilliant decision of Mark Bagley as the first arc’s penciller brings to mind the artist’s prolific 90s work. Also, David fixes unpopular elements of his run with a surprisingly accurate finger to his audience’s pulse. The creative team ditches Reilly’s unpopular new costume almost instantly for his classic threads after fans complained. David provides an interesting cosmic explanation to dismiss complaints about inconsistencies between Reilly’s 90s personality and his Clone Conspiracy characterization. As an industry veteran, this writer recognizes the importance of catering to his audience, especially in writing a book for such a niche market.

Scarlet Spider is an unexpectedly interesting book with constant curveballs and twists from Peter David. I highly recommend it to any fans of dark humor or 90s nostalgia.

 In: Rave > 2017
 Posted: Oct 2017
 Staff: Cody Wilson (E-Mail)