Back in August 1962, a little known comic called Amazing Fantasy reached its fifteenth and final issue. It went out with a bang rather than a whimper, introducing the ever-amazing Spider-Man to the reading public. Now, a scant forty-four years later, Marvel are hoping to repeat history. One comic, that is also the fifteenth issue of a run of Amazing Fantasy and six brand new characters. The public will vote, five will fall and one rise from obscurity to star in its own story-arc.
One of the six new characters, the Heartbreak Kid, has a link to Spider-Man so the story gets a review here. Read on for an unrevealed tale of the Webswinger's past:
Midtown High. It is just days after the murder of Ben Parker at the hands of the burglar Spider-Man could have stopped. Peter Parker finds his fellow students are giving him a wider berth than normal. He doesn't care. Peter is drifting into despair. He is responsible for his uncle's death. How is he going to keep going?
Approaching the school is a boy called Danny Shepard, also known as the Heartbreak Kid. About Peter's age, Danny discovered his own special powers two years earlier and has been wandering the country ever since. He has the ability to sense emotions. He can absorb sadness and grief from others. The grief of Peter Parker is lighting up the school like a beacon. Danny seeks him out.
Danny sits at a table opposite Peter in the cafeteria. He reveals that he knows Peter's secrets and he knows the terrible guilt that Peter bears. He offers to take that guilt away. He could keep it himself, use it himself. Peter quickly veers from denial to disgust at Danny's request. Danny is nothing more than a vampire!
Peter needs his pain! It is all he has left of his Uncle Ben, and he knows it will eventually drive him to atone for what he has done. He storms off, leaving Danny to contemplate his own actions, and what he will do with his powers from now on. Danny leaves the school and keeps on walking.
This is the weakest story in the entire issue, and by far the least likely character to be taken forward. The very concept does not lend itself to interesting ongoing stories, and I'm not really sure how you would even begin to write them. Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa presumably had something in mind or he would never have pitched The Heartbreak Kid for this anthology issue, but the story falls rather flat. We aren't told enough about Danny Shepard to view him as anything more than a cipher, and a rather unlikeable cipher at that.
I will grant that eight pages isn't much space to produce a completely rounded character and a compelling story, but it's not an impossible feat. In this very issue, Greg Pak and Robert Kirkman happily pull off good and memorable tales. Dan Slott manages it in two pages, but Aguirre-Sacasa delivers something distinctly lacking in action and characterisation.
The whole history of the Heartbreak Kid appears in monologue, which is hardly lends the tale any dynamism. I applaud Jeff Parker and Sal Buscema on the pencils. They are presented with a story where the directions are basically "boy walks into room, sits down", and turn it into something that is visually entertaining. It's not as if they had much to work with.
In fact it is the art where all the strengths of this story lie. The pages are a washed-out off white and the colours are extremely reminiscent of comics from the 1960s. Unfortunately, this attention to detail is draped around an utterly forgettable story.
I'll give Aguirre-Sacasa some points for trying to tie his tale to the original Amazing Fantasy #15, but this story is far, far from his best work. And, for Heaven's sake, can everyone please remember that Harry Osborn did not go to high-school with Peter Parker? It's not that hard, surely. The movies and Ultimate Spider-Man have a lot to answer for.
The pencils and the colours deserved a better script. I'm going to give this one and a half webs and, frankly, it's all for the art.
The winning story, as voted for by readers of Marvel.com was Mastermind Excello by Greg Pak, and rightly so. Although I had a soft spot for Dan Slott's Blackjack, it's Pak's character that has the most chance of carrying his own story-arc. However, with the cancellation of this title with issue #20, no vehicle for Mastermind Excello has yet materialised. When it does, I will be sure to mention it here.