Monday, July 7, 2003

Amazing Spider-Man #54 - A Review

Written by: J. Michael Straczynski
Penciled by: John Romita Jr.
Inked by: Scott Hanna
Colored by: Dan Kemp
Lettered by: Randy Gentle
Editor: Axel Alonso
Publisher: Marvel Comics

When JMS first took over the title, I cheered and praised it for he had returned something to Spider-Man long missing; a sense of humor. An actual sense of humor that felt like it came from a real person and not just a few token one-liners tossed out at random. And now as I read this issue, I find myself laughing and laughing hard. And yet I wonder if I should be laughing THIS much. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not the sort to complain just for the sake of complaining… though you’d never know it from reading my reviews. But it seems to me that there’s a bit too much comedy in this issue, and indeed the last few issues of Amazing Spider-Man.

The story thus far is that the dead bodies of several gang-bosses buried in the Nevada desert have been revived thanks to a gamma bomb test and reborn as a mass of green muscle nearly as strong as The Hulk. They have come to New York, seeking revenge on the mob boss who ordered their deaths over 40 years ago. Spidey has been hired by said boss to act as a bodyguard, over the objections of his daughter, who has been kept blind to her dad’s business dealings and is doesn’t like Spidey due to being an avid Daily Bugle reader.

And so Peter is caught between two conflicts: the fight with Digger (as the zombie calls himself) and the inner conflict over taking money for an honest job, even as he protects a dishonest man. All this, and his slow re-romancing of Mary Jane have given this book the fine sense of drama that is expected of Marvel’s flagship character.

But it is the humor that stands out this time. As well it should, as it is humor that has often separated Spider-Man from his more serious costumed cohorts. Still, a few of the gags are a bit forced, such as Spidey’s encounter with an autograph hungry janitor. And the daughter of a criminal who is unaware of her dad’s criminality is an old cliché that does little to advance the plot here, other than continuing the running gag of how nobody trusts Spider-Man thanks to the Bugle. Then again, the public’s lack of trust in Spider-Man has been so long neglected a plot thread in the title, it is nice to see it mentioned if only as a throw-away joke.

Speaking of neglected plot threads, shouldn’t Peter be teaching school? We haven’t seen him at work since sometime around the late 40’s. Granted, it could be summer when class is out of session. And he could have his early meeting with Detective Lamont before going to class. But after all the early investment in Peter’s new role as a teacher, it would be nice to have a mention of it. Although we do get a nice shot of the school at the end of the issue in a scene that should quell the fears of all those who were afraid that Peter was becoming tainted by the promise of easy money from the mob.

Quibble as I may over the story, I cannot complain about the art. Romita and Hanna do their usual excellent job. Digger himself is well portrayed, looking like a patch-work Hulk that is slowly coming apart at the seams. And the cover by Terry Dodson is gorgeous; and somewhat symbolic of how Mary Jane is always in the background of Peter’s thoughts, even as he is in the middle of saving the day.

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