Thursday, October 15, 2009

Trade Waiting - Amazing Spider-Man: Crime And Punisher

While I haven't been the biggest fan of Amazing Spider-Man since One More Day, the series has managed to snag a bunch of good to great artists, the first twelve issues include work by Steven McNiven, Phil Jimenez and Chris Bachalo after all, and these artists are the only thing that will occasionally get me interested in the series. In fact, John Romita Jr.'s art is the main reason why I got New Ways To Die and the solid line-up of artists is also the reason why I checked out Amazing Spider-Man: Crime and Punisher.

Chris Bachalo is slowly working his way up to a 'must buy' artist for me and, when looking for more of his work, I found this volume of Amazing Spider-Man, which also included work from Barry Kitson, another favourite of mine, and Paolo Rivera, who I've heard good things about, which made this collection a no brainer purchase  for me. Hit the jump for my review.

Written by Marc Guggenheim, Joe Kelly and Zeb Wells
Art by Chris Bachalo, Barry Kitson and Paolo Rivera
Collects Amazing Spider-Man #574-577 and material from Amazing Spider-Man: Extra! #1

As mentioned above, and in my New Ways To Die review, I haven't cared for many of the new status quo changes that Brand New Day brought about, partly because I find them uninteresting and partly because, to me, none of them justified One More Day or the new status quo.

One of the good things that Crime and Punisher does is mostly avoid the various BND subplots and just tells some good Spider-Man stories but, again, none of them need a single Peter Parker in my mind. Of course, a few BND plots do pop up, but they are mostly the ones that I do like, such as Mr. Negative and the Front Line paper.

I didn't really cover this in my New Ways To Die review, but I do like Mr. Negative and the new Front Line paper where Peter is employed. They are both solid additions to the Spider-Man books that add to them regardless of whether or not Peter is single. Mr. Negative is a very good replacement for the Kingpin who stands on his own and doesn't come off as a Kingpin clone. The Front Line paper is also a logic extension of 'great power, great responsibility' aspect of Spider-Man, but for when he is out of costume. Again, adds to the book in a mostly BND-neutral way so I approve. Although they only plays minor roles in the story, I did want to point them out as something from BND that I do like.

As for the stories, the collection is bookended by two done-in-one tales, so I'll start with those before getting to the story that takes up the bulk of the collection, the Kelly/Bachalo Hammerhead arc. The first done-in-one story involves Flash Thompson, who is now an Iraq War veteran post-OMD. Overall, it's a solid story, but it felt out of place in both the collection and the larger Spider-Man narrative. Don't get me wrong, Guggenheim did some good work with the material and subject matter, but it still feels like it doesn't belong.

The rest of the trade is about the criminal underworld so it doesn't really fit in with the other stories and Flash ends up having both of his legs amputated, which, given the incredibly impermanent nature of Marvel comics, makes the whole thing seem off to me. This is also re-enforced by the fact that Guggenheim juxtapositions Flash's flashbacks with some flashbacks to some of Spider-Man's adventures, which, again, makes the whole thing feel out of place. So, in summation, Guggenheim does a good job with the material and subject matter but it's awkward in the context of the Marvel Universe and comics on the whole.

The last story is a Punisher story that I enjoyed a great deal. As I've said before, I have a lot of problems with the Punisher as used in the main Marvel Universe but this story, but Wells not only gets around those, but does so in a manner that doesn't bring attention to that fact. This is mostly done since Spider-Man shows up and therefore stops the Punisher from killing the main villain and some henchmen. Wells also does a good job of balancing out the humor, of which there is a lot of for a Punisher story, and the more serious aspects. He also has a great handle on both Spider-Man and the Punisher and manages to do a good job with their dynamic.

The art by Rivera is also a wonderful treat. It's got a cartoon-ish vibe to it, which I liked, and he handles all of the various aspects of the story very well. He is also one of the few artists that I've seen that can make Spider-Man's mask emote, which I definitely enjoyed. All in all, it's a surprisingly good and unexpected story that displays Wells's and Rivera's talents as creators.

Unfortunately, the story is rudely interrupted by a BND-side story, quite literally. The Punisher story is divided into two parts while the BND side story is sandwiched in between. Anyway, I didn't care for the side story one bit, even though J. Jonah Jameson tasers a guy at one point, and it's just an unwelcome intrusion about a story I could care less about.

The main story in the collection is Joe Kelly's and Chris Bachalo's three part Hammerhead tale. The first part is Death Of A Wise Guy, which is an origin retelling/revamp for the character, and is followed by the two part Family Ties story which is the character's reintroduction into the title.

To me, Hammerhead has always been Mob Enforcer Guy who occasionally gets beat up by Spider-Man which is probably why I enjoyed the story so much. It surprised me, honestly. Another thing that makes the story work for me is that Hammerhead is basically a blank slate to me since I can't really remember any comics I've read where he showed up. There might have been one or two from back when Ben Reilly was Spider-Man, but that was over a decade ago and I don't remember either way.

Finally, Kelly starts from the ground up with a new origin for the character. Well, I think it's a new or revamped origin since I don't actually know what his original origin was. Either way, in addition to having some factors working in Kelly's favor, he still puts in the work to make the revamp of Hammerhead as well as his character interesting and puts him over as a credible threat to Spider-Man.

Kelly begins his story off with Death Of A Wise Guy, the Hammerhead origin revamp. Again, I don't know how much of this is Kelly adding to the character or reworking what was already there, but it's pretty good. Kelly manages to give him a some what sympathetic and tragic backstory but it doesn't take away his status as a villain since he is still a bad person, putting it simply. What it does do though is give Hammerhead some depth and motivation that Kelly can use, which he does. Kelly does a good job of making him compelling, as far as comic book villains go.

By the end of the story, Hammerhead is now an enforcer for Mr. Negative, who has given him a power upgrade as well. Kelly uses the backstory from earlier in the issue and works it into Hammerhead's reason for joining Mr. Negative. It's a great start that leads into the two part Family Ties.

Family Ties involves Hammerhead acting as an enforcer for Mr. Negative and goes about bringing all of the lesser gangs of New York City under Mr. Negative's control, which brings him into conflict with Spider-Man. This is because Spider-Man is trying to help out a couple teens who are involved in one of the gangs Hammerhead threatens.

Kelly does a wonderful job of presenting Hammerhead as an actual threat to Spider-Man without making it seem contrived. He mostly does this by having Spider-Man underestimate Hammerhead though Kelly also leaves open a way for Spider-Man to win that, again, isn't contrived. Kelly also presents a reformed Hammerhead, as it were, from the 'classic' one that was in Death Of A Wise Guy. This also helps to adds the new threat that Hammerhead has become. Kelly does all of this in a relatively small amount of space given that the story only lasts two issues. The ending is a little on the weak side but it's still pretty good.

Kelly also has a pretty good handle on Spider-Man and is probably the strongest writer of those whose work I've read in the post-BND Spider-Man comics. He really gets the various aspects of Spider-Man's personality and does a really good job with the humor aspect. He doesn't just do some one liners here and there but more of a constant stream of witty remarks. The tone Kelly gives Spider-Man as well is pretty good and I enjoyed it though it could be a little bit more crass than what you would generally expect. He also does some decent work with Peter Parker though he doesn't show up that much in the story. The supporting cast and other minor characters are also well done and most of them contribute to the story in some way, which is something else that I enjoyed.

And, finally, the art by Chris Bachalo is wonderful. It's probably some of the best stuff I've seen from him. The most striking thing about the art though is the colouring, which Bachalo shares duties with Antonio Fabela. The colour pallette is muted with contrasting, brighter colours, like Spider-Man's costume against a muted blue-grey background. Definitely some of my favourite colouring that I've seen in a while.

In addition to being visually striking, it also helps to create a nice subdued tone and mood to go with Kelly's story, creating a nice synergy between the writing and art. He also makes good use of some white space backgrounds which I think works very nicely with the colour palette.

Bachalo also manages to keep the same level of detail that he does in a lot of his work though he doesn't have the chance to do a lot of his crazy character designs and the more absurd aspects of his work that I enjoy, there is some of it though, but it's only a small loss as the rest of his work more than makes up for it. I like his Spider-Man as well, who seems kind of small and compact compared to the rest of the characters but I think it's a good look for the character. I just like the way it looks really. It's also a nice contrast to his imposing Hammerhead. His action scenes are pretty clear which is something he can have a problem with every now and then. Again, this is some of the best work I've seen from Bachalo and I really did enjoyed it.

Verdict - Buy It. Despite including three different stories from three different creative teams, Amazing Spider-Man: Crime and Punisher manages to maintain a consistent quality through out with strong storytelling and compelling narratives and manages to reinvigorate a lesser Spider-Man villain in the process.

Interested in Amazing Spider-Man: Crime and Punisher? Buy it on and help support the Weekly Crisis!

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Flip The Page said...

This is one of the three best BND stories around and with good reason. I mean I never liked Hammerhead before it and it made that do a 180 and i crave more of him. It helps that Mr Negative gives automatic awesome points to anything (including that shitty villain Overdrive) and that Bachalo draws the arc but still, great stuff.

The other two great arcs being Kraven's First Hunt(kinda) and New Ways to Die of course.

... in fact American Son wasn't that bad either.

M├ędard said...

This was Kelly's best Spider-Man story to date. American Son was horrible and his latest Black Cat story was a terrible one.

That's strange, because I really liked his Hammerhead story. Spidey's real fun and sympathic and Hammerhead is a real believeable villian.

I agree with you that this was some of Bachalo's best work, and I'm excited for his upcomming Lizard story written bij Zeb Wells.

Eric Rupe said...

Medard - I hadn't heard of the Wells/Bachalo/Lizard arc. I assume it's for the Gauntlet stuff that's starting up soon? Do you have a link for an article about it or anything?

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