Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Spider-Man: Spider-Island (comic)

Writers: Dan Slott, Rick Remender
Artist: Humberto Ramos, Stefano Caselli and Tom Fowler
Collects: Amazing Spider-Man #666-673, Amazing Spider-Man: Infested, Spider Island: Deadly Foes, Venom #6-9

You may have guessed by the lack of reviews over the past couple years, but I fell off the Spidey bandwagon a while back. It's not for utterly boring reasons like "oh my god I'm so mad Peter and MJ aren't together anymore", as you may recall that I was pleased with that development. It's not really an issue of quality either, though I have some issues I'll get to in a minute. No, there are a few reasons, but the biggest one is a pretty simple one; I just plain could not keep up with the Spider-Man release schedule.

It started with Brand New Day, where Amazing went thrice-monthly. I loved the first few volumes, warts and all. But the trade release schedule was just as hectic; seemed like a volume was releasing every other month thanks to the accelerated schedule of the floppy and Spider-Man was about mid-way on my list of purchase priorities. It was sort of inevitable that I was going to fall behind. It got to a point where I was so far behind I just gave up and figured I'd get back to it later. I didn't.

Spider-Island seemed enough of a self contained thing that I could pick it up and go from there. The premise is just ridiculous enough to scream "fun" at me in big bold letters. Basically, everyone in Manhattan suddenly has all of Spidey's powers, with none of his morals or - cliche as it is to say it - responsibility. Clearly, this is not going to end well.

Oh, also, Jackal's involved, which nearly caused me to drop the book on page one - to paraphrase Mary Jane in this story, "If we're doing the clone thing again I'm leaving" - but thankfully there's only a bit of his usual shenanigans.

If you want to look at the big picture, it's easy to see the reason for this story. By giving everyone his powers and thus making him one in a crowd, Slott can highlight what it is that actually makes Peter Parker stick out. A good trick to be sure. DC had a similar idea not that long ago; the entire New Krypton saga existed for many of the same reasons, though how much success they had with that one depends on who you ask*.

Spider-Island is far from the most cerebral read going, but there's something to be said for some dumb superhero fun mixed with your typical Spider-Man soap operatics. It also has the good sense not to overstay its welcome; think about how many past big Spider-Man stories seemed to never end. Overall, we get a decent portrait of what makes Peter Spidey, along with some choice developments to the ongoing narrative.

But then there's the other half of the coin. I actually read the first volume of Big Time a while ago in an attempt to get back on the Spider-Man bandwagon. Apparently, I didn't review it - a quick check of the Spider-Man tag seems to indicate as much - but there was one impression that stuck with me. I just flat out hated the artwork.

To my disappointment, the artist Marvel chose to accompany Slott on the Big Time venture was Humberto Ramos. He's still around for the main storyline of Spider-Island. I am not a fan of his work for numerous reasons, many of which can be seen in this book. The anatomy is always off, limbs are bigger than they should be, judicious use of impossible poses abound (at least one panel has Carlie swinging while she's bent so far back I'd expect to see a "snap" SFX somewhere near her midsection) and everything looks vaguely ugly.

Being harsh is not my intent. His style does have its fans. I simply do not see it. I have a similar problem with Kelley Jones; at some point, I just can't chalk things that bug me up to "it's just his style" anymore. I don't begrudge the man work and have nothing against him. His art is just a major turnoff for me. I try, but I can't look past the Popeye proportions. It's part of why I didn't stick with the book after reading the first Big Time trade.

Also included here are four issues of the Venom ongoing. A while back I actually wondered where the hell #6-9 ended up and this seems to answer that question. The first couple can stand apart from the main story well enough, initially making me wonder why they didn't have their own volume, but by the end I understood; the events of #8 are very important and lead right into the next issue of Spider-Island, making them inseperable. Clearly Marvel hates me.

All four issues are very good - and frankly, I'd rather Tom Fowler or Stefano Caselli had handled art duties for Spider-Island proper - with numerous developments building off the first volume of Venom. This is a joy and a curse; these issues are important to the ongoing events of the Venom series, yet are tied so strongly to Spider-Island they can't really stand alone. As such, this is likely to be the only place you're going to find these issues in trade. Dammit.

The Score: 7.5 out of 10

I'd score this higher, but the art really hurts it for me. If you can deal with Humberto Ramos artwork - or are a fan of his - bump this up half a point higher. It's far from an instant classic, but it's fun and it's memorable.

* Some people think it was an interesting experiment, but most were sick of it and it seems largely forgotten now. It certainly didn't help that Geoff Johns run on Action Comics was cut short at the time for reasons I can't recall. He essentially set the whole thing up and had to bail, leaving New Krypton to others. The whole saga seems to be regarded as a failure and I'd say losing its architect before the plot gained momentum had a large part in that.

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