Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Trade Waiting - Amazing Spider-Man: Election Day

Once again, I'm taking a look at another Brand New Day collection and, just like the last two times, I'm back for the art. The Election Day collection includes work by John Romita Jr., my favourite artist, as I've mentioned before, as well as Barry Kitson, another favourite.

However, unlike with New Ways To Die and Crime & Punisher, Marc Guggenheim's writing, of which I've never read anything of that has impressed me, and the rest of the material in the collection made me wary about purchasing it. Luckily, my library got a copy of this trade, so I picked it up to see if it was something worth buying. Hit the jump for my full review.

Written by Marc Guggenheim, Zeb Wells and Matt Fraction
Art by John Romita Jr., Barry Kitson, Fabrizio Fiorentino, Patrick Olliffe, Marcos Martin, Todd Nuack and Andy MacDonald
Collects Amazing Spider-Man #584-588, Amazing Spider-Man President's Day Special plus material from Amazing Spider-Man Extra! #1 & 3 and Amazing Spider-Man #583

Although Character Assassination, the main story collected in the volume, wraps up several long running Brand New Day plot lines, it is mostly accessible to new readers in the terms of the story it tells, unlike New Ways To Die. This is because the Spider-Trace Killer plot line doesn't seem to have a complicated back story and Menace's motivations and back story are revealed as part of the character's arc, so it clears up the confusion I had in New Ways To Die. Now, Character Assassination is not the best Spider-Man story I've ever read, but it's decent enough.

As already mentioned, the story is about the culmination of several Brand New Day stories that intersect in this volume. They are the Spider-Tracer Killer plot, the mayoral election and the backstory behind Menace. Guggenheim weaves them together in a way that does a good job of making the various plots stronger.

Early in the story, a wounded Spider-Man is taken down by Menace and then arrested by the cops as the obvious suspect for the Spider-Tracer killings.  Along the way, several supporting characters are caught up in the Spider-Tracer Killer plot while Spider-Man is dealing with his incarceration. By the end of the story, Spider-Man is cleared and the identities of the Spider-Trace Killer and Menace are both revealed.

Guggenheim's plotting is solid with the story having some good twists and turns and the pacing is also strong, especially with a interlude in the middle of the main story. All in all, it feels like a classic, down-on-his-luck Spider-Man story where he struggles against the odds when it would be easier for him to just give up and go home. It did feel like a lot of similar stories that I read when I was younger. It's a refreshing, back-to-basics approach that works well in small doses and, not having read a story like this a while, I did enjoy it.

The Spider-Tracer Killer is definitely the B-plot of the arc and it's a solid one. I though it did a good job of strengthening the A-plot, Menace and the mayoral race, while still being interesting in it's own right. It's also one of the those ideas that is obvious and, while I don't know if its been used before, I would be surprised if it hasn't. It is a police conspiracy to bring Spider-Man down but, while a good idea, it has problems with the way Guggenheim uses it. Mostly, it has to do with the fact that the police needed a way to swing public opinion against Spider-Man, but that runs into the problem with the fact that the public's opinion of Spider-Man can literally change from story to story in order to suit a particular plot's need. So, I thought it was a good idea but the execution did leave something wanting.

Menace's plot, on the other, actually turned out to be a lot better than I'd thought it would be based on my experience with it in New Ways To Die. Menace is revealed to be Lilly Hollister, Harry Osborn's girlfriend and daughter of Bill Hollister, one of the mayoral candidates. Although I expected Menace to end up being a one-dimensional Goblin knockoff, she ended up being a pretty decent twist on the concept.  Nothing spectacular, but definitely outside of the general Goblin mold.

What really sold it to me was the interlude issue, #856, which explained Lilly's backstory and motivations. While my low expectations did play a role in my enjoyment of the story, Guggenheim still did a good job with it and made it work. Harry also played a substantial role in the story and, while I'm not convinced that he should have been brought back, Guggenheim did show that there could be potential with the character other than being used to replicate an "ideal" status quo for Spider-Man.

A pleasant surprise in the story though was Matt Murdock's involvement as Spider-Man's lawyer. Guggenheim had a very enjoyable take on the character, which really shined in The Spartacus Gambit story from Amazing Spider-Man Extra! #1, which detailed all of Murdock's legal maneuvering on Spider-Man's behalf, a highly entertaining tale. Honestly, Marvel should given Guggenheim a back-up in Daredevil and have him detail various super hero related cases that Murdock has worked on. I'd definitely be interested in getting it. J. Johan Jameson also has a couple of great moments in the story, particularly his reaction to Spider-Man's arrest.

There are problems with the collection though. While Character Assassination was enjoyable, it never really rose to being above average on the whole. This a combination of it mostly treading over well worn territory and the fact that Guggenheim, while a capable writer, isn't really above average himself. There are also some minor storytelling problems I had, which were annoying but not much else. These included the fact that most of the issues began with talking head news anchors, which was great in The Dark Knight Returns but nowhere else.

Another, slightly bigger, problem is the politics of the mayoral race, which mostly revolves around the possible arrest of Spider-Man and which candidate it will benefit. It was mentioned that Spider-Man's arrest would help Hollister but we are never told why so it comes off as weak story telling to justify a plot point or two.

The editor's notes were also problematic. First, because Stephen Wacker is easily the most annoying editor I've ever encountered or, at the very least, his public persona is, so the notes are always a pain to read. Secondly, they referenced the individual issues, not the collections they showed up in. I think this is a more fundamental problem since it seems that people tend to read a series in singles OR trades, not both, so the editor's notes should be adjusted as such between the two formats.

A big problem though is that all of the additional material in the collection, aside from The Spartacus Gambit, is pretty worthless, on the whole, in the sense that I didn't find any added value from their inclusion. They were either poor quality or didn't add anything to the collection, from a story telling perspective, or both. None of it really felt worthwhile to me or that it should have been included in another collection.

The art though, was very enjoyable on the whole. Romita did the four main issues of Character Assassination while Kitson did the interlude issue and Marcos Martin did The Spartacus Gambit short story. Romita's art was his up to his usual standards, though the last few pages of his work looked very rushed. His art has the the less polished, rougher look that his older work had, which I actually like more for Spider-Man. That rougher look works better on a street level character in my mind. Kitson's work was also up to his usual standards and he did a great job handling the dialogue heavy interlude issue, especially with the characters' facial expressions and body language. Martin also maintained his standard level of quality athough he did not have as many opportunities as Romita or Kitson to showcase his talents. The rest of the art was generally acceptable, if uninspired, work.

Verdict - Check It. Although the auxiliary material is lack luster, Character Assassination is still a solid and enjoyable arc with the feel of a classic Spider-Man story.

Interested in Spider-Man: Election Day? Buy it on Amazon.com and help support the Weekly Crisis!

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