Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

The Tangled Web They Weave

Posted by Don MacPherson on August 21st, 2008

Amazing Spider-Man #568
“New Ways to Die, Part One: Back With Vengeance”
Writer: Dan Slott
Pencils: John Romita Jr.
Inks: Klaus Janson
Colors: Dean White
“Fifth Stage”
Writer: Mark Waid
Artist: Adi Granov

Letters: Virtual Calligraphy
Cover artists: John Romita Jr./Alex Ross (regular covers) and John Romita Sr. (variant)
Editor: Stephen Wacker
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Price: $3.99 US/$4.05 CAN

I checked out the first issue of the new thrice-monthly Amazing Spider-Man in January, and I didn’t find it strong enough to lure me to read further issues in the new direction and format. However, with the debut of a new storyline and the addition of a couple of strong creators (John Romita Jr. and Mark Waid) to the creative team with this issue, I decided to give it another look. I’m glad I did. While the creators haven’t reinvented the wheel or anything, I can’t deny that I was entertained by and interested in the story. This is a solid super-hero story that stays true to the traditions of the title character, but what really held my attention was the shakeup in the status quo of newspaper scene in Spidey’s New York.

Peter Parker happens upon a juicy spot-news photography opportunity after a brief, violent and unsuccessful clash with the new super-villain known as Menace, but since he’s been blacklisted by the new owner of what used to be The Daily Bugle, he has no way to capitalize on it. That’s a problem, since he needs to make rent soon, so he gets some sage advice from his pal Harry Osborn. Speaking of Osborns, Peter has no idea that a member of Harry’s family is plotting against him and is ready to set his plan into motion, while elsewhere, Eddie Brock, the one-time host of the Venom symbiote, turns up at a soup kitchen/shelter for the poor, still tormented by his violent past and the pain of an illness that’s slowly eating away at his body.

John Romita Jr.’s return to the adventures of Spider-Man and Peter Parker is a thoroughly satisfying one. I like how he adapts his style somewhat for the flashback exposition that opens the book, and he evokes memories of Steve Ditko’s classic artwork on the initial issues of this series more than four decades ago. For the main action, Romita achieves a nice balance between the brighter, more fun side of the property and a darker, grittier undertone that seems to be vital for this new storyline. The Thunderbolts scene looks a bit rough and rushed, but otherwise, the art is solid throughout the main story. I love the texture Romita adds to the mix, specifically when it comes to stonework and rubble. Just look at those steel weapons embedding themselves in the wall behind Spidey during his fight with Menace.

Speaking of that new Spidey villain, I love the updated Goblin look, but man, the name is as bad as Spidey suggests. I realize it’s a reference to the classic “Spider-Man: Threat or Menace?” headline from a Silver Age story, but it really says nothing about the character.

Mark Waid’s backup story focuses on Eddie Brock and his illnesses, both psychological and physical. Brock’s earlier portrayals cast him in a pathetic light for the most part, but here, he’s sympathetic. He’s trying to atone for his past, but he’s shown to be infected by the violence of Venom as much as he is by cancer cells. It’s an interesting conflict. We see Brock striving to become a better person, but that conflicts with the fact that he has no future. I don’t know what the creators have planned for the character, but I hope it’s not something as predictable as transforming him back into Venom. A return to the status quo for the Brock and Venom characters would make these character-driven moments a pointless endeavor otherwise.

It was a pleasure to see Granov’s work on this backup feature, as it enables to bring a more organic look to his artwork. Until now, Granov’s Marvel work has been almost exclusively associated with Iron Man, and while he’s done great work with that character, this story allows him to explore more grounded visuals and more horrific ones as well. The piece is dominated by darker colors, which is appropriate, given the mood of the main character in the segment.

A recurring theme throughout the main story is manipulation. The DB is trying to manipulate public opinion against a candidate. Harry Osborn advises Peter to play his former employer off a competitor. Norman Osborn manipulates a politician so he can begin a campaign of revenge. And Martin Li seems to be manipulating Eddie Brock’s very physiology without his knowledge. It all adds up to establish a rather insidious atmosphere, thereby bringing some real gravity to this Spidey storyline.

Slott’s commentary about the state of mainstream news media today is biting but sadly on target as well. The over-the-top approach adopted by The DB really isn’t as far fetched as it may seem at first. As a reporter, I loved the scene set in the newsroom of The Front Line. The chaos of a small busy newsroom is well worth it when one finds the kind of passion for the truth in this idyllic symbol of journalism. The rivalry arising between the two papers was one of my favorite conflicts in the book. Is Slott’s exploration of the New York newspaper scene realistic? I’m guessing it really isn’t, but the spirit and satire make his points and add to the storytelling. 7/10

2 Responses to “The Tangled Web They Weave”

  1. Joe Says:

    Romita Jr seems to get better and better with each and every project he is a part of and to me that’s pretty impressive considering everything he’s already accomplished.

    I really can’t wait until Waid writes a full issue(s) late this year. I can only hope his Spidey is half as funny as the one he wrote during his Fantastic Four run.

  2. tokyopop82 Says:

    “A return to the status quo for the Brock and Venom characters would make these character-driven moments a pointless endeavor otherwise.”

    A more plausible guess is that Brock will become the new “Anti-Vemom.” Brock is shown trying to redeem himself by shedding his dark side away, and the idea of him literally becoming the anti-thesis of who he was adds some juicy and clever symbolic twist to that premises.