Monday, August 29, 2011

Amazing Spider-Man #575-#576: "Family Ties"

*** (three of five stars)

Favorite Quote:  "*@%# that."  "What he said."  -- Shoulder Angel Spidey and Shoulder Devil Spidey agreeing that Spidey should surprise attack Hammerhead

Spidey rescues a homeless woman being chased by clowns dressed in suits riding Goblin gliders who are trying to recover her "pet" rat, who actually has a supercomputer brain.  (Um, yeah.)  He later chooses to cover the community events fair with "Front Line" reporter Norah (who seems to like him) rather than the Hollister campaign event, for fear of running into Lily (who, as we all remember, kissed him in "New Ways to Die!").  Meanwhile, a gangbanger named Dunk is about to be initiated when the "ceremony" is interrupted by Hammerhead, who informs the gang that everyone who doesn't follow Mr. Negative (his new patron, who gave him a super-strong skeleton in "Amazing Spider-Man:  Extra!" #1) will be toast.  Dunk then removes his little brother from the science exhibit at the community events fair, despite Peter's protestations.  Spidey later tries to scare Dunk straight, only to have Dunk reveal he doesn't really want to be a gangbanger, but has to protect his family.  Hammerhead appears to take down the whole gang and soundly beats Spidey, who's not expecting his enhanced powers.  Peter and Norah follow the "Hammerhead as a new enforcer" story, when Peter discovers that Dunk's little brother faked his own kidnapping to get Spidey for Hammerhead.  Spidey defeats Hammerhead, Pete and Norah get the story and possibly a date. 

"I...but, wait, when did that that the Joke...why are they...did he just...STOP!"

The above line sums up my impression of the first ten pages of issue #575.  I had a hard time rating this arc, and I would've given it 3.5 of five stars if I'd let myself take the easy path and add in half a star.  The issue flirted with greatness, invoking the same feel of playfulness as the awesome Mayan deity arc from "Brand New Day."  But, that feel of playfulness occasionally became a sense of confusion through odd characterizations (see the discussion of Aunt May below), a bizarre opening, and poor editing (see the comments about the recap page below).  So, I think we're going to have to stick with three.  But, after the "New Ways to Die!" fiasco, it was refreshing to have a stand-alone arc that lets us forget about Mephisto and Harry and just enjoy ourselves.  So far, the best stories since "One More Day" do what the Spidey Brain Trust wants them to do; they don't get overburdened by the superhero shenanigans (like "New Ways to Die!") but instead give us Spider-Man stories of yore:  fun, clever, and meaningful.  Even with the uneven parts weighing down the overall rating, I'm really looking forward to more stories by Kelly, because I think, once he grows into writing for "Amazing Spider-Man," we're going to see a lot of five-star reviews attached to his name in the future.

The Really, Really Good
I loved Shoulder-Devil Spidey and Shoulder-Angel Spidey agreeing that he should engage in a sneak attack.  It could've been terrible, but Kelly wrote it so well and Bachalo depicted it so well that it was hilarious and unexpected.  

The Good
1) I like Norah.  Her introduction is kind of weird, in that she treats Peter in a Fourth Grade "I like you so I'm going to tease you" kind of way.  But, his chemistry with her is a lot more organic than it is with Carlie, who, after all, may or may not be dating Vin.  (We haven't really re-visited that sub-plot.  In fact, this arc almost exists outside ongoing continuity, which, as I mentioned above, is part of what I like about it.  I mean, Peter can have a few girls expressing interest in him at the same time.  But, I almost feel like we need a Peter-centric issue at some point to resolve some loose ends in his personal life.)  Anyway, I hope she sticks around a while.

2) The covers are awesome:  Hammerhead punching Spidey, then Spidey punching Hammerhead in the next one.  They're simple, but the symmetry and the execution are really well done.

3) The plot (outside the bizarre opening sequence, mentioned below) was nicely handled.  It could've been VERY "After-School Special"-y, but it wasn't.  It was pretty light and really fun, particularly given that it's dealing with a dark issue like teenage gangbangers.  The conversation between Spidey and Dunk when Spidey's trying to go all "scared straight" on him was touching and hilarious.  Well done, Mr. Kelly.

4) The art for most of the arc is great.  I love Bachalo.  My only qualm here (and why it's not in "The Really Good" category) is that the opening sequence (yes, I know, I'm officially harping here) is really, really confusing to follow.  The mouth on the homeless woman was so bizarrely drawn that it actually distracted me on several occasions.  Even when I wasn't distracted by the mouth, I found the flow of the action to be somewhat disorienting.  Otherwise, the art was great, but the opening sequence definitely weighed down the whole.

The Bad
1) Pet Peeve #2:  Whoa, whoa, whoa, WHOA!  The recap page discusses Mr. Negative's rehab of Hammerhead as a past event to such an extent that I actually had to look to make sure I hadn't missed an issue.  With some Internet research I discovered it occurred in "Amazing Spider-Man:  Extra!" #1, a title I didn't even know existed until this point.  (I tracked down the "Extra!" issues, and I've put #1 in chronological order in my blog posts.)  But, the editors really need to let us know when they're describing something from another comic, because it's distracting to be hurled into a story feeling like you skipped a few issues by accident. 

2) I've said it before and I'll say it again:  the opening sequence is just bizarre.  I think it's here where Kelly's inexperience showed.  I don't even know where to begin.  I mean, a bunch of guys dressed suspiciously like the Joker are riding Goblin gliders trying to recover a bionic rat being kept as a pet by a homeless woman.  Really?  The research lab that sent out the Jokers spent the time to dress them in costumes and put them on Goblin gliders rather than just, I don't know, giving them a company car?  It's actually not an entirely uncool sequence, but it needed to be a little tighter to work.  I get what Kelly was trying to do and I applaud it, but the combination of the recap page revealing previously unknown information on Hammerhead and this random opening sequence left me not really wanting to read more by the end of the first ten pages.  Thankfully, I did, because the rest of the arc was great.

3) I could've really lived my whole like not seeing Spider-Man puke in his mask.

4) I really didn't get the Aunt May scene at the fair.  I mean, why does she hate Lily Hollister?  It seems particularly weird since Mr. Li, who runs the shelter where Aunt May volunteers, endorsed her father for mayor.  Instead, Aunt May calls her a gold-digging skank.  No, I mean, literally.  (OK, she actually calls her a "skunk," because it's amusing when old people get hip-cat lingo wrong.)  As Pete notes, Lily is actually the one who's loaded, not Harry.  Also, I want to know how exactly Aunt May was in a conversation where Lily was said to be a skank, despite Aunt May telling us not to ask.  Is Aunt May racist?  Otherwise, the whole exchange makes no sense.

5) Spidey's webs dissolve after one hour.  If he really slept a few hours, they would've been totally gone.

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