Friday, October 7, 2011

Amazing Spider-Man #590-#591: "Face Front"

*** (three of five stars) 

Favorite Quote:  "Hi, Pete.  Long time, no see."  -- Johnny Storm to Spidey, upon his unmasking 

Previously, on Spider-Man, an unmasked Spidey and the FF went to the Macroverse for...some reason or another.  Johnny and Pete flirted.  Upon seeing a damsel in distress, Johnny, Pete, and Ben decided to help.  Later, the FF get a distress call from the Macroverse asking for them and Spidey to return, which they do.  Once there, they discover that, by saying the damsel, they sparked a war between two tribes.  They also discover that time moves 13.5 days more slowly in the Macroverse than on Earth, causing Spidey to miss several important events (e.g., Harry falling off the wagon and Carlie helping him recover, Flash winning a wheelchair race, Norah dating Robbie Robertson's son, and Aunt May dating JJJ, Sr.).  But, the FF and Spidey commit to helping resolve the war, which they do.  Meanwhile, Johnny see a statue of an unmasked Spider-Man and realizes that he used to know Spidey's identity.  Reed develops a way to mimic Mephisto's psychic block, and Peter unmasks.  He also discovers, upon returning home, he missed the most important event:  JJJ, Jr. has been elected mayor! 

The Review
I wanted to give this arc four stars, because Spidey's interaction with the FF is great.  But, the confusing plot involving the warring tribes, the bizarre revelation that Pete knows about the mindwipe, and the art inconsistencies in issue #591 bumped it to a three.  Regarding the revelation, I'm quite surprised by it.  I go into further detail below, but I'm surprised that the Spidery Brain Trust decides to add a "One More Day" plot twist.  We had pretty much gotten to the point where the only dangling thread was "what happened to MJ and Peter?"  By introducing uncertainty about what Peter remembers, the Spidery Brain Trust has re-invoked "One More Day," despite the fact that the issues in the new status quo that have focused on those sorts of plots have generally been the least enjoyable. 

The Really Good
1) The Torch/Spidey interactions are great here not because of witty banter, the usual expression of their long friendship,  but because of real issues.  It showed a depth to their friendship that I don't know if we've ever seen before (at least to such an extent).  Slott really used Johnny's realization that he didn't know Spidey's identity as a great frame for the drama.  He reminds us of the old status quo in the opening scene, where Johnny refers to Spidey as Pete, even calling him, "my friend, the science geek."  So, when Spidey later comments that they aren't fifteen any more, we're reminded just how distant they've become.  I've loved the issues since "One More Day" that have handled the Harry/Peter friendship (particularly the "Mind of Fire" -- also by Slott -- and "Character Assassination" arcs) because they're similarly infused that friendship with some depth.  So, it was satisfying to see that attention brought to Peter's friendship with Johnny.  Plus, when you add witty banter to emotional depth, I'm a happy camper.  The reveal itself was great.  Johnny giving us the quote above, the Thing ruffling Peter's hair, Mr. Fantastic giving him a hug, Sue kissing him on the cheek:  I choked up a little.

2) I'll have to reserve my judgment a little, but my sense is that the two-month fast-forward that came as a result of this adventure is going to wind up moving along some rather boring plot lines.  Usually, the need to fast-forward a plot is the transparent goal of an arc meant to do so.  Here, it was really a side event to the central plot revolving around Spidey's relationship with the Fantastic Four.  Sneaky, sneaky, sneaky Spidey Brain Trust. 

The Good
1) JJJ, Jr. the mayor:  awesome.  I have been repeatedly impressed (see "Character Assassination") -- usually after moments of despair (see "New Ways to Die!") -- by how the Spidey Brain Trust has clearly had a specific idea in mind that they've unfurled slowly over the course of now dozens of issues.  Everyone clearly knew JJJ, Jr. was going to be mayor when "Brand New Day" began.  To that, I say, well done.

2) You know, in the hands of another writer, the Patronus reveal (and how the purpose of the whole story was essentially to mirror Peter's internal conflict) could've been really cheesy.  I generally HATE when writers use meta references to try to acknowledge the fact that their plots are contrived (see Cap and Hawkeye's "you need to hit women to get a date" conversation from "Lionheart of Avalon" in Avengers).  But, here, I don't know, it kind of worked.  I enjoyed Peter struggling to explain how Patronus' situation was different than his, and Johnny just sort of going, "Uh-huh, sure it was."  I don't know how he did it, but Slott did it.

3) Harry looks HOT.  Barry Kitson should draw him all the time. 

The Unsure
1) After the events of "Mind on Fire" and "Character Assassination" addressed the "what happened to Harry?" questions, I thought the only real "One More Day"-related question we had left is "what happened to Peter and MJ?"  But, this arc introduces the question:  "what exactly does Peter know?"  The Spider Brain Trust has dropped some hints that Peter might know more than we thought.  In issue #569, Peter makes reference to the fact that Norman Osborn no longer remembers his secret identity thanks to "everything we did."  At the time, I raised an eyebrow, because it seemed to imply that Spidey remembered the deal with Mephisto, which I didn't think he was supposed to have remembered.  In the letter pages in issue #587, the editor mentions that Spidey remembers exactly how his secret identity was re-made secret.  But, in the 45 issues since the deal with Mephisto, those two hints are the only remote indications that Peter might have some memory of the deal with Mephisto.  However, here, it is very clear that Spidey knows that everyone in the world's mind was wiped.  So, we're dealing, as far as I can tell, with three possibilities:

a) Peter remembers everything.  I have to say, I'd be really shocked if this option were the case.  In the first "Brand New Day" issues, we were definitely led to believe (or, at least, I thought we were) that Peter thought he and MJ ended their relationship in a normal (read:  no devil involved) way.  It didn't seem like we were being led to believe that he knew they had made the pact with Mephisto.  If he did know, it seems weird that he was so easily able to return to his swinging life.  I mean, I know the editors can argue that they just haven't shown us Peter's thoughts about the pact and its repercussions, but I wouldn't buy it at all.  Peter has been presented as returning to his happy-go-lucky ways, and I'd be sorely disappointed if we're supposed to believe he was able to do so so easily after making a pact with the devil.  (Though, the fact that he emotionally defends the right to his secret identity in order to protect his family and friends, makes me think he remembers Aunt May getting shot.  See the next option.)

b) Peter remembers the deal with Mephisto, but only the secret identity part.  He doesn't remember his marriage to Mary Jane.  I'd buy this option, simply because he could return to a happy-go-lucky way with no real emotional hangover from the deal with the devil, particularly if he did it to save Aunt May (as mentioned above).  Plus, when Peter and Mary Jane made the deal, the renewal of his secret identity was a separate deal.  So, it's totally plausible Peter remembers the one, but not the other.  But, what did he surrender?  If he doesn't remember it was his marriage, what does he think it was?

c) Mephisto created a false memory, so Peter knows his identity was re-made secret but doesn't actually know the real story (and doesn't know he and MJ were married).  I feel like this explanation is frankly the most believable, though I don't know how it would be revealed without Peter learning the truth.

2) I alternatively had this section under "The Good" and then "The Bad," so I eventually decided to put it in "The Unsure" since clearly I'm not sure.  On one hand, I thought the reveal to the FF was extremely well done.  It gave us the emotional depth in the Johnny/Peter friendship that I mention above and it also gave us some insight into how much pressure Peter has been feeling to keep his identity secret anew.  When he argues with Johnny at one point, he emotionally tells him that Johnny wasn't his "pal" and that Spider-Man wasn't who he really was.  It was obviously not true, and it's clear that Peter has been bottling up a lot of stuff.  I was glad, therefore, for Peter that he got to tell them.  However, given the emphasis on "happy-go-lucky Peter" during "Brand New Day," I had trouble suddenly buying Peter's anguish, just because it's so jarring.  It would definitely fit in some of the pre-"Brand New Day" story arcs.  But, since "One More Day," we haven't really seen any evidence that Peter feels panicked over the idea of someone learning his identity (at least, no more panicked than we was before the unmasking).  Unless Peter does, in fact, remember everything (including, most importantly, Aunt May almost dying) and we're finally seeing evidence of that, I don't see why Peter would be reluctant to unveil himself to the FF given that they knew before.  It makes it seem like Peter regretted the FF knowing, which never really seemed to be the case.  Again, it makes sense if he remembers everything, but, if he doesn't, why wouldn't he tell them? 

The Bad
1) Mr. Fantastic's solution to the Spidey unmasking was a bit of a deus ex machina that I don't fully understand.  He can create mechanical devices that replicate demonic spells?  Really?

2) The art-by-committee aspect of issue #591 was distracting.  I particularly noticed it in the page where Peter reveals himself and the next page, with Johnny Storm going from being slim to buff.  For such an important issue, it's weird that we couldn't get one artist focused on it.

3) I don't understand why Crowne refused to run for mayor again.  It's a minor point that doesn't really detract from the story, but it's just kind of thrown out there with no real explanation.

4) The actual plot of the issue -- the war that the FF and Spidey inadvertently caused -- is really confusing.  So, the Korts promised the damsel (J'Tal) to the Dreggs, but some Kortian guys prevent her from marrying the Dreg.  But, in fact, she does marry the guy and give birth to Patronus.  So, why exactly could no one know that?  I mean, I get why Patronus as an adult wanted to keep it hidden from his people, who wouldn't take his half-Dreg nature well.  But, was he immediately put in a mask as a kid?  Why wouldn't his father just reveal to the Dreggs, that he had, in fact, married J'Tal?  I get that the point of this issue was to get Spidey to unmask to the Fantastic Four, but, really, you've got to at least make sure the MacGuffin works.

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