Friday, November 18, 2011

Amazing Spider-Man #617: "The Gauntlet: The Rage of the Rhino"

**** (four of five stars)

Favorite Quote:  "You're not an easy person to like."  "The gifted rarely are." --  Spidey/Norah banter

In a bit of foreshadowing, we learn that Peter's been having nightmares that he's been hunted by a lion.  He reports to work looking tired, and Ben Urich offers him a staff position, since "Front Line" is increasing its circulation.  A new Rhino has been created, but, before he can accept his assignment to work for the mob, he decides he must first challenge the old Rhino.  On his first assignment as a staff photographer, Peter accompanies Norah to a casino, where the old Rhino is working as a security guard.  The new Rhino attacks, but the old Rhino offers him the name without fighting.  The new Rhino doesn't accept the offer, since they must fight for him to "ascend."  Spidey visits the old Rhino later and convinces him not to go find and kill the new Rhino (who the old Rhino fears will hurt his wife), since he doesn't want to risk the now crime-free life he now lives.  Kraven's wife is revealed as pulling the new Rhino's strings and convincing him he must "ascend."

The Review
This issue is great for a number of reasons.  First, the story of the Rhino is really compelling and it's presented in a fun yet still serious way.  Second, the art is awesome.  Seriously, I don't think we've seen Max Fiumara's work before, but he can draw Spider-Man any day in my book.  Finally, it raises a number of questions that actually advance some old, stale sub-plots, making them much more interesting.

The Good
1) I continue to really like Norah.  Although she's crazy, she's not depicted as crazy in the misogynistic way Michele is presented as crazy.  (More on Michele below.)  I hope we get to see more of her now that Pete might be working at "Front Line" full time.

2) I'm assuming the woman who worked on the new Rhino was the woman who gave Hammerhead his adamantium skeleton.  She appears to go by "Dr. Trama," and it's unclear to whom she's allied.  In the Hammerhead case, she worked for Mr. Negative.  So, either Mr. Negative is also somehow involved with the Kravinoffs, or she's freelancing her talent.  Similarly, it's also unclear for whom the new Rhino is working.  He speaks to Kraven's wife on the phone, but, if Dr. Trama is still working for Mr. Negative, the new Rhino is at least theoretically attached to him, too.  Does Mr. Negative know the new Rhino is working with the Kravinoffs?  He may not, since the new Rhino's vague with Dr. Trama, telling her he has "something" he must do first before he's provided to the Russian mobsters who appeared to have paid for his services.  It's all pretty interesting and really injects some life into the Mr. Negative sub-plot, which has mostly been drawn out excessively since he first appeared in "Brand New Day."'

3)The casino sequence was awesome.  Seriously.  Having the Rhino working as a bodyguard at a casino?  Genius.  It served as the perfect scenario to see how the Rhino has reformed.  Speaking of him having reformed, I really enjoyed heart-to-heart Spidey and the Rhino have at the end.  I think Kelly makes it feel really natural, from Spidey reflecting on the tough times people around him have had lately (Flash and Harry come to mind) to the exchange about where he planted the Spider-Tacer.  I'm worried for the Rhino, because I'm pretty sure that Oksana isn't long for this world.  But, it was nice to see.

4) Again, the art is so well done.  I particularly loved the scene where Peter's pulling off his shirt, and the buttons are almost rendered 3-D, popping off the panel at you.  Well done, Fiumara, well done.

The Unknown
I'm not sure I get this whole "Gauntlet" thing.  I mean, I get the point that amped-up versions of old Spidey super-villains have started to appear and that the Kravinoffs may be behind it.  But, it's not all that clear.  Diablo was approached after he fought Spidey and the Black Cat (pre-"The Gauntlet) and Electro was approached by Kravinoff after his appearance in "The Gauntlet."  Moreover, Sandman wasn't approached at all (that we saw).  Here, the new Rhino has more of a connection to the Kravinoffs, but he wasn't going after Spider-Man; he was going after the old Rhino.  I'm sure everything will be revealed eventually, but right now I feel like we're just kind of seeing an average week in the life of Spider-Man, not really anything that different.

The Bad
1) Enough with Michelle.  Really, enough.  She bursts into Peter's room with a shotgun?  WTF?  Then, she implies she still wants him to ask her to be her date for New Year's Eve.  Really?  I'd rather, if we're creating tensions in Pete's love life, we focus on the Black Cat, Mary Jane, or Norah (I'd even take Carlie) rather than a character who seems to change personality every issue.

2) Peter has to think about taking a full-time staff position at "Front Line?"  Really?

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