Monday, November 14, 2011

Amazing Spider-Man #615-#616: "The Gaunlet: Keemia's Castle"

** (two of five stars)

Favorite Quote:  "Though I personally wouldn't turn my back on today's grittier, darker, more morally ambiguous 'super heroes' for five seconds..."  -- Spidey to Keemia, after he lies to her (bad Spidey)

Glory tasks Peter to take photos of the NYPD's crime lab to prove how efficient it is, in response to the revelation that three murder weapons disappeared over the weekend.  The city plans on blaming it on Carlie Cooper (yes, who just happened to be on duty that weekend), who begs Peter to help her.  Spidey investigates, discovering that one of the victims is the mother of a missing child (Keemia) and another victim was the mother's lawyer.  Approaching Betty Brant (now a news blogger), Spidey learns that the third victim was a concert promoter who planned on setting up a concert series on Governors Island.  Spidey heads to the island, where he discovers that the Sandman has created a castle for Keemia; Sandman had been in a relationship with Keemia's mother and he views Keemia as his daughter.  After being knocked unconscious by Sandman, Spidey recovers and gets Keemia to free him, grabbing her and heading for the exit.  Sandman pursues him, spawning several copies of himself.  During the fight, it's revealed that, although Flint Marko knew nothing about the murders, several of his duplicates had grown sentient and committed the crimes.  Spidey defeats Sandman Prime and delivers Keemia to Glory Grant, who puts her in the custody of child-protection services (who deemed Keemia's grandmother unfit to have custody).  Peter is thanked by Carlie for saving her, but feels he let down Keemia, who we see in her new foster home waiting for Sandman to come get her.

OK, I'm going to be honest.  Something about Fred Van Lente's writing bothers me.  I can't put my finger on it, but I consistently find myself ranking him lower than other Spidey writers.  I can't say I felt substantively different about this arc than the Electro arc before it (which I ranked a full star higher).  I did enjoy this arc overall.  The motivations are similar (Electro needing some money, Sandman needing his daughter), the situations are similar (both characters have amped-up versions of their powers, but this augmentation comes at a price, in the form of Electro's health and Sandman's sanity).  But, Van Lente seems to stumble in the details, leaving me with a series of nagging questions as the arc completes itself.  If he can tighten up those details, I think he'd be a really imaginative writer.  Until then, though, I find myself dreading his stories.

The Good
1) Encyclopedia Brown!  I loved Encyclopedia Brown as a kid and I love the idea that Peter and I read the same books as kids.

2) I like how Betty Brant seems poised to play an almost Oracle role as "Bugle Girl."  I really, really hope that happens.  I've said before that I've always liked Betty Brant, and her sudden rise in prominence has been one of the best aspects of "Brand New Day."  I really think having her play information broker for Spider-Man would be an awesome way to keep her involved in the comic and prevent her from fading into the background yet again.

3) I like the fact that this issue ends on the implication that we're going to see Keemia and the Sandman again soon.

4) The art is pretty great.  I was particularly impressed by the Escher-esque style Javier Pulido used in depicting the insides of Sandman's castle.

The Meh
Carlie Cooper.  Huh.  Here's the thing.  I was always more or less ambivalent about Carlie.  She seemed to like Peter, then she went on that bizarre tirade during the "Mind on Fire" arc when Peter asked her on a date, then she seemed to want him to ask her on a date for May's wedding, and now she's suddenly a damsel in distress needing his help.  The characters introduced during "Brand New Day" have mostly disappeared -- Vin is in prison, Lily is in hiding -- so her occasional re-appearances seem a little forced.  I feel like she's been put in the old Betty Brant role, of occasional guess spots of varying degrees of importance.  It's fine -- it's not like she has to be in every issue -- but it's still a bit odd considering that she seemed poised to play a bigger role at the start of "Brand New Day."  I wonder if they made an editorial decision to move from the "Brand New Day" characters and toward the old-school characters, like Betty and Glory.  Though, to be fair, Harry has been laying low since "American Son" ended...

The Bad
1) Ok, so, I've got to ask why exactly Sandman didn't unmask Spidey when he was unconscious.  I know, at this point in my time as a comic-book fan, I should give any author a pass in these sorts of situations.  But, I'm sorry, it always bothers me when a super-villain passes on a chance to unmask a superhero, and it particularly bothers me because it happens so often in "Amazing Spider-Man."

2) Um, not to put too fine of a point on it, but does Flint Marko really not have a penis?  Really?  Spidey says that he's "lacking some essential parts for baby-making."  Also, how does Spidey know that?

3) How exactly would Peter Parker have saved Carlie, as she clearly thinks he did?  He, what, took photos of Spidey defeating Sandman?  I just don't understand why she thanks Peter for saving her, when she's got to know it was Spider-Man who did it.  Unless they're saying she knows Peter is Spider-Man (which they're pretty clearly not), then it makes no sense for her to thank him.

4) I don't exactly understand how Peter defeats Sandman.  He says he used up all his acid webbing in their first fight.  But, then, he webs his feet with what looks like acid webbing.  If it's not acid, what is it?  I'm not sure if it's an art problem or a script problem (or both), but it was a pretty important point to leave some hazy.

5) Pet Peeve #2:  The recap page in issue #616 tells us that Sandman thinks he's Keemia's father.  Now, in issue #615, it was strongly implied that Sandman thought that...but it wasn't said.

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