Monday, September 5, 2011

Amazing Spider-Man #578-#579: "Unscheduled Stop"

**** (four of five stars) 

Peter is riding on the subway when his Spider-Sense leads him to the last car; seconds later, an earthquake derails the train and collapses the ceiling, isolating the car from the others and trapping the passengers in the tunnel.  The passengers wind up being the jury and lawyers involved in the Giacomo mob trial and suspect that Giacomo was trying to kill them to send a message.  The situation gets worse when it's revealed they're trapped under the river, and the tunnel starts to fill with water.  While finding an escape route, Spidey finds the cause of the "earthquake:"  the Shocker, who was indeed hired by Giacomo to kill the jury.  Spidey defeats the Shocker by collapsing the shaft in which they're fighting, effectively trapping the Shocker in the tunnel with them.  When the situation looks dire, one of the jurors reveals himself to be J. Jonah Jameson's long-estranged father.  The Shocker leads Spidey to his escape route -- an abandoned maintenance tunnel -- but double-crosses Spidey and the jurors when he collapses it behind him.  Spidey evacuates everyone via a sewer grate.  J. Jonah Jameson, Jr., who had seen an image of his father on the TV, is on the scene, but Sr. disappears before Spidey can make Jonah thank him for saving his father. 

The Review
I really enjoyed this arc.  It was a classic Spidey tale:  he fights the villain, he saves the day, he shrugs off the mistrust.  It was fun and clever. 

The Good
1) I've always like the Shocker.  I don't know why.  I've just always felt like he was one of the better villains in Spidey's rogue gallery, maybe because the fights with him are pretty straight-forward.  I mean, all Spidey's villains can't be the Green Goblin, with the psychological damage and the unending intrigue.  Sometimes you just need a guy who provides an adequate challenge for Spidey, but who Spidey is going to beat in the end.  I thought Waid used him well here.  If I were going to try to kill a train full of jurors via an earthquake, I'd call the Shocker, too.  It's actually rare, I feel, that a villain's motives are so clear, his powers so well targeted to the job, and his personality so well expressed.

2) The art is pretty great.  I think Marcos Martin worked on the "Peter Parker:  Paparazzi" arc, and I can't say that I was quite as impressed with his work there as I was here.  The three panels of Peter staring at the model in need of a photographer after she asked him what he does were just great.  The covers, too, are excellent.  When I got the whole 100+ batch of issues, I remember flipping through them and the cover to #579 was one of the ones that really jumped out at me.  The Waid/Martin combo is now my second favorite behind the Wells/Bachalo combo.

3) JJJ...Sr.!  Crazy!

4) Normally, I'm bothered by the "Spidey just happens to be on the same train as one that's about to go boom" coincidences.  But, Waid went the extra mile in introducing the whole idea of it being a lucky day for Peter (and giving a nod to the Parker Luck that a lucky day for Peter involves fighting a super-villain and having rats eat his costume while saving a train full of people from drowning).  The "lucky day" shtick was more or less an acknowledgment of the artificial nature of the set-up, and I appreciated that.  Most writers don't take the time to incorporate that sort of nod to the reader. 

The Bad
1) I wasn't entirely sure what happened with the initial derailment.  I thought someone just knocked the train off the tracks, possibly through a well-planted bomb.  But, instead, we discover that the ceiling collapsed, separating the back car from the front car.  It seems pretty unrealistic to me that only one person (one of the cops) in any of the cars was killed, since it seems fairly unlikely that the roof collapsed perfectly between the two cars without smushing the front or back of either car.

2) Also, how did Spidey get into the last car?  Part of my confusion over what happened came from the fact that he hadn't been in the last car when the collapse happened.  I guess we're supposed to believe he jumped into the back car off-panel just before the collision.  Along with the nature of the derailment mentioned above, these two inconsistencies definitely took me out of the story while I tried to figure out what exactly happened.

3) I'm not sure if creating an "earthquake" to crush a car full of jurors is necessarily the most, I don't know, efficient way of whacking them.  But, I take the point that Giacomo couldn't just bomb the train, because it would be way too obvious it was him.  Also, in comics land, I feel like you have to be somewhat forgiving of such elaborate set-ups.  So, I'm giving Waid a pass on this one, particularly because I enjoyed the story so much.

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