Sunday, February 27, 2005

Amazing Spider-Man #517 - A Review

Written by: J. Michael Straczynski
Penciled by: Mike Deodato & Mark Brooks
Inked by: Joe Pimentel & Jamie Mendoza
Colored by: Matt Milla & Brian Reber
Lettered by: VC’s Chris Eliopoulos
Editor: Axel Alonso
Publisher: Marvel Comics

No good deed goes unpunished. Sure seems to be a truism for Peter Parker. After several years, an old friend by the name of Charlie looks him up. Charlie, who was even more of a screwed-up nerd than Peter in high school, has gotten an idea for a scientific breakthrough but has no capital.

Feeling sorry and remembering how badly he treated Charlie because it took the bullies’ attention off him, Peter agrees to act as a job reference. Charlie goes to Tony Stark, lies a bit about how much Peter is involved in the experiment, gets his capital and starts experimenting. Peter stops by the lab only to find Charlie working under some seriously dangerous conditions. He protests and Charlie rushes the experiment, trying to finish before the police show up, only to wind-up covering himself in a layer of liquid Vibranium.

Charlie, true to form for his life thus far, blames someone else (in this case Peter) for his mistakes. And as this issue opens up, he is on Peter’s doorstep threatening to destroy everything and everyone Peter loves if he doesn’t help him to clear his name and avoid jailtime.

JMS introduces a wonderful new villain in Charlie. Charlie is a good example of a dark-mirror character. That is, a representation of everything the hero could be if he had the same background but went down the path of darkness. Peter has an internal monologue which sums this up perfectly, in which he ponders (through the aid of a fairy godfather with the face of jolly J. Jonah Jameson) that there are two kinds of people; those who look to the future and those who wallow in the past. Peter, for all his regrets about the past and kvetching over his mistakes, does look forward and try to make things better. Charlie, by contrast, cannot get over how badly he was treated in high school and his attempts at scientific genius come more out of a desire to wow his peers than to better himself or the world.

This contrast is driven home in a flashback scene (done by a completely different art team in a style not too dissimilar to that of Ultimate Spider-Man) in which we see Charlie remembering his mistreatment at a jock and cheerleader not too different from Flash Thompson and Liz Allen. Charlie’s reaction, and the darker art created by Deodato & Pimentel, help to illustrate not only the difference in time but the difference between Charlie and Peter.

Of course, I would be remiss if I did not mention the fact that in addition to some wonderful art and some brilliant characterization, this book also features a semi-cameo by Bruce Campbell. Remember the scene in Spider-Man 2? Peter has to deal with a surly usher in this issue who looks… well… suffice it to say, Peter leaves their conversation muttering about “…big chin, son of a…”

Yes, this is a bit silly and gratuitous. But since it is actually funny and not done in an overly obvious way (the gag is only four panels on one page), I don’t mind. Just like I don’t mind recommending this title to anyone who enjoys a good superheroic yarn.

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