Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Amazing Spider-Man #666: "Spider-Island" Prelude

**** (four of five stars)

Favorite Quote:  "So, you and the ex...what happened there, huh?"  "Long story."  "Just saying, you guys were good together."  "Drop it."  "She was hot.  Had a real girl-next-door thing goin' on."  "You're from Yancy Street.  Girls next door are missing prominent teeth."  "Y'know if she's seeing anybody.  'Cause maybe I could --"  "I do not know you."  -- Thing and Spidey banter

Spidey, directed to the crime scenes by his police scanner, disrupts a robbery and saves the Young Allies from Hydro-Man.  Returning to Horizon Labs, Pete reveals that he's wearing a new unstable-molecule suit.  He also exhibits to Max Modell and his colleagues his new "Cryo Cube 2000," which he developed partly from the tech he created to freeze Hydro-Man.  Carlie, on the scene of the robbery, calls Pete to tell him they need to talk about something "weird" that's happening to her.  To underline the point, she cold-clocks one of the muggers who uses his new Spider-Powers to break free of Spidey's webbing and try to escape.  Distracted by his fear that Carlie wants to talk to him because something's wrong in their relationship, a Spider-Sense-less Peter almost gets hit by a bus, but is saved by Phil Urich, who's hanging on the street with Norah.  Pete makes his way to the Baxter Building, and then he and Ben go to New Avengers HQ for some poker (despite Sue Richards warning Ben not to do so).  Meanwhile, Aunt May and JJJ, Sr. are having their apartment cleaned of "bed bugs," the Jackal tells one of the folks exhibiting Spider-Powers to meet his at a set location, and a hospitalized Betty Brant observes the Emergency Room suddenly flooded with folks exhibiting powers.  Spidey trains with Shang-Chi only to learn that he and Madame Web set up the training so Spidey's prepared for the coming problems.  The Jackal is revealed to be experimenting on [an unnamed figure], at the instructions of a mysterious benefactor.  The experiment results in a powered-up [creature] now under the control of the benefactor, who appears to be able to control all the people exhibiting Spider-Powers.

The Review
"Spider-Island" is here!  Woot!  I have to say, I'm pretty happy with the way it started.  The last few issues have been kind of hit or miss for me.  I liked the Anti-Venom arc, but the Avengers Academy arc and the Betty Brant issue sucked.  This issue, to me, was a real return to form, evoking Slott's excellent work on "Big Time."  Slott covered a lot -- A LOT -- of ground here.  I mean, it was almost worth $3.99!  It was a fast-paced issue that incorporated all aspects of Spidey's and Peter's life (lives?) in a way that didn't feel rushed.  It dropped some hints about where we're going and I found those hints to be intriguing and not annoying!  All in all, a great start to what I hope is a fun story.

The Excellent
Spidey comments on how engaged he is as Spider-Man now, essentially confirming the sense I've had that Slott's goal is to turn Spidey into a grown-up character.  I occasionally get annoyed (Bendis is often guilty of this sin) when authors portray Peter as a rank amateur, despite the fact that he's still one of the more seasoned heroes out there.  By putting him on two Avengers teams and the FF, Marvel has decided to let him become one of the big boys in-universe.  Slott seems to really have a grip on that, which I think is why we're seeing things like the evolution of his Spider-Tech, his use of the police scanner, his training with Shang-Chi:  it's all part of him becoming a serious superhero.  More so than the events of "Brand New Day," Slott is really bring Spider-Man into the 21st century and setting the ground work for years of stories...assuming Marvel doesn't completely undo it in a future ill-advised reboot.

The Really Good
1) I continue to love Peter's constant innovation of his Spider-Tech.  I mean, it's been 50 years and he's finally (FINALLY!) got an unstable-molecule suit!  Hurrah!  I can't believe costume near-miss stories are finally going to be a thing of the past!  Also, the mid-air cartridge swap and Anti-Hydro Man Tracer were equally excellent!

2) I loved everything about the FF and New Avengers' appearances here.  I loved how Sue Richards nagged Ben and Peter about the Avengers poker game, I loved Ben basically telling Spidey he was Team MJ (!), and, most especially, I loved, loved, loved the poker game itself.  Words fail me to describe how much I loved that scene.  They didn't previously invite Peter because of his Spider-Sense and because his ongoing brokeness?  Excellent.  Awesome.  Way to build relationships, Dan!

3) Moreso than, possibly, like, anyone ever, Slott is a master of not dropping loose ends.  From mentioning the "no one dies" pledge to keeping Phil Urich as a presence in the book, he makes sure that storylines end because they've run their natural course, not because they've been forgotten.  It's a rarity in comics and it deserves to be applauded.  It's an offshoot of his uncanny ability to synthesize Spider-Man's various supporting characters, making sure they all stay present.  He's done that since "Big Time" and it continues to be impressive. 

The Good
1) The opening was fun.  I don't have much more to say about it than the fact that it was just good ol' wholesome American Spidey fun.

2) Carlie with powers!  Carlie with powers!  I enjoyed how Slott gave us a really great depiction of a perfectly normal relationship in the Carlie/Peter scenes.  The miscommunication between them felt really organic.  I didn't worry that they were going to have unncessary drama over it (like the Carlie-getting-a-tattoo debacle of "Amazing Spider-Man" #659-#660).  They were just an exhausted guy and a worried girl who had to put off having a discussion because they weren't sure how to have it.  Well done, Slott.

3) I thought the premise that Spidey may have to kill someone to end the upcoming events of Spider-Island was interesting.

4) Stefano Caselli keeps getting better and better.  The first-page scene of Spidey floating above New York was just really well done.  In his first few issues, I had some problems with the way he drew his faces, but he's really seemed to have improved in that department.  It's a really great issue, art-wise.

5) I wasn't really sure what the plot of "Spider-Island" was going to be, other than just a bunch of people with Spider-Powers.  But, the revelation that some mysterious benefactor of the Jackal's will be able to control and direct an army of Spider-Men works for me as a significantly scary event.  I just hope it's not the Kravens... 

The Bad
Slott was downright brilliant in his use of practically the entire bench of Spidey supporting characters.  (Only the Phil/Norah scene felt a little forced.)  However, we yet again see MJ as nothing but a nag here.  Can this stop, please?

* NOTE:  The redacted brackets used to say "Kaine" in them.  Originally, when I read this issue, I thought it was Kaine in the tube, not, as we later learn, Captain America.  I explain my initial confusion -- and subsequent epiphany -- in this post:


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