Thursday, June 17, 2010

Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews for 06/16/10

Only two comics for me this week and both come in the form of the Amazing Spider-Man.  One is the conclusion to the excellent Shed storyline and the other is the beginning of the long awaited Grim Hunt event.  Hit the jump to find out what I thought of both issues.

Written by Zeb Wells
Art by Chris Bachalo and Emma Rios

Shed started out exceptionally strong and was shaping up to be one of the best Lizard, if not one of the best Spider-Man, stories in a long time.  Then the last issue introduced the new look and powers for the Lizard and, while still good, deflated my enthusiasm a bit.  With this concluding chapter, however, I think it's safe to say this will go down as one of the best Lizard stories and has turned out to be one of the best Spider-Man stories of the past decade.

Heavy praise, I know, and not one I give lightly.  Similar to previous The Gauntlet banner stories (Sandman and Mysterio in particular), this was a character story first and it excelled at it.  It lost its way a little last issue, especially with the artist change near the end of the book, but more than made up for that with this week's issue. 

The first few issues literally broke Curt Connors's mind with the guilt and shame over allowing the Lizard persona to kill his son.  From there, you'd expect the 'new' Lizard to be just a ravage beast with no real character or emotions.  You would be wrong.  This issue fleshed out the new Lizard a great deal.  It was interesting seeing the conflict over killing Connors's son as this new Lizard deals with 'monkey thoughts', which would be higher brain functions and shame over killing an innocent boy.  He no longer sees things as prey or hunters or food - he's caught between Lizard and man and it really came through in the storytelling here.  Those final few pages of him speaking with Spider-Man and coming to that realization over the killing of Billy were fantastic character work. 

As an aside, don't confuse the conflict of emotions with a struggle between Curt Connors and the Lizard personae.  This is all Lizard, which is the most refreshing part.  It's like an evolution of the Stan Lee 'smart Lizard' stories where the Lizard had intelligence and wanted to rule the world and it works. 

I can't really talk about this issue, though, without mentioning Chris Bachalo's work.  He was made to draw Spider-Man and this arc was absolutely gorgeous on all accounts.  It's not pin-up, poster art like many of the recent event books.  It tells a story and conveys emotion and sense of action.  The fight sequences between the Lizard and Spider-Man are absolutely fantastic and have been all throughout this arc.  This was made all the better since there was no fill-in artist handling the Lizard parts of the issue like previous parts of the story, though they do have a brief Aunt May scene where Emma Rios fills in again, but it's much more seamless this time. 

Verdict - Must Read.  This issue really nailed the new Lizard concept down and capped off a strong storyline leading into Grim Hunt.  Easily one of my favourite Lizard stories and one of the best Spider-Man arcs in years.

Written by J.M. DeMatteis, Joe Kelly & Stan Lee
Art by Max Fiumara, Michael Lark & Marcos Martin

After months of build up, and what feels like a mountain of issues with the thrice monthly schedule (I think this started back in Amazing Spider-Man #600 when they kidnapped Madame Web if I'm not mistaken, but we could go even further to ASM #535 for the first appearance of Ana), the Grim Hunt is finally here and it's a doozy. 

The premise is simple - Kraven the Hunter's family want Spider-Man dead and are doing everything in their power to make it so.  This includes Kraven's wife, Sasha, their daughter, Ana, and son, Alyosha.  Over the past year or so, they've kidnapped Madame Web and used her visions of the future to ruin Spider-Man's life by manipulating events to push Spidey further and further to the brink in preparation for the Grim Hunt.  This saw numerous classic villains get revamps and set on Spider-Man's path, such as Electro, Sandman, Chameleon, and Lizard.  In addition to this, they've kidnapped Maddie Franklin, aka Spider-Woman, and have begun hunting down other spider themed characters, like Kaine and Arachne.  Now, they've finally set their sights on Spider-Man.

It's a compelling premise and has led to many great stories over the past 30+ issues.  None are required reading for this storyline, so don't let talk of the lengthy build up imply you need those comics to understand this first part of Grim Hunt.  Those were all relatively self-contained stories that were merely orchestrated by the Kravens.  For instance, Shed was a Lizard story first and foremost, but was put in motion and helped along by the Kravens, despite no outright fighting with Spider-Man on their part.  That's the kind of subtle manipulations and build up that the story has seen.

Joe Kelly is the member of the Spider Brain Trust handling this story and, outside of a few minor hiccups, it's a great choice.  He's got a good handle on Spider-Man and hasn't really let me down on any of his issues since joining the team.  Those hiccups I mention include some oddities like having Spider-Man contract H1N1 swine flu as a handicap for the story when they could have easily had him torn up inside over the death of Curt Connors's son, Billy, last issue or recovering from wounds suffered in the fight against the Lizard.  It's a small thing to nitpick, but struck me as an odd story choice.

On the art side of things, Michael Lark knocked it out of the park.  I loved his work on Daredevil and was wondering how he'd handle the transition to a lighter, friendlier title like Spider-Man, but this is some fantastic work on his part and definitely a highlight of the issue for me.  It's moody and fits the grim tone of the storyline and Lark is always excellent at handling both action and dialogue scenes.

One thing I really enjoyed about this issue was how it hit the ground running and never let up until the very end.  Spider-Man is sick, as I mentioned earlier, and awoken from his sleep by Kaine, who's been beaten and is a bloody mess and seeking help from Peter.  From there, Peter is forced to work past the flu symptoms and investigate nearby explosions, to which we find both Alyosha and Ana Kravenoff hunting Arachne.  Spidey intervenes and it's a frantic fight for their lives, to which both barely escape.  The banter between Peter and Arachne was great and immediately established the history the two share without bogging readers down with needless exposition or background info dumps on the character. 

An interesting turn of events came in this issue after Spidey and Arachne escaped the Kravens.  When Arachne takes the wounded Spider-Man back to Maddie Franklins's abandoned apartment (she was captured by the Kravens in one of the Deadpool guest appearance issues a while back and Arachne has been looking for her), they encounter Ezekiel.  You may remember him from J. Michael Straczynski's run on Amazing Spider-Man as the clone other spider powered old guy that mentored Spider-Man and introduced all the totem craziness.  I was shocked to see him here, despite having heard rumours of his impending return.  He looks a little worse for wear and seems to know Spider-Man.  Not sure if he remembers pre-Brand New Day completely or not, but knows the Kravens have been after him for months now, implying he at least is aware of Spider-Man's exploits. 

The one part of this issue I didn't care for was the ending.  We slowed down quite a bit from the frenetic pace that started it and it followed it up with a shock killing of Maddie Franklin.  I'm no fan of her - I quit comics altogether around the time she was introduced during that Gathering of Five/Final Chapter nonsense - but this was just a ritualistic sacrifice of a random spider themed character for the sake of killing someone.  I didn't feel any emotion for it and she was never really established as anything other than a scared little girl crying in Madame Web's arms before being killed here.  It felt unnecessary to me and added nothing to the story, so why kill someone off like this?  

Oh, and the ritualistic killing?  It was for reviving Vladamir Kravenoff, a deceased son of Kraven who was killed by Kaine back during the Clone Saga.  The catch is he comes back as a werewolf.  Yeahbuwha-???  Supposedly they want to revive Kraven, but needed to test the ritual.  They conclude they need "him", obviously referring to Spider-Man, to make it work properly on Kraven.  I think I liked it better as a straight up revenge plot.  Don't think they need the mysticism or revivals, but am willing to at least give them the benefit of the doubt after enjoying the first 20 some odd pages prior to this.  

In addition to the main Grim Hunt story, they also have a back-up story by J.M. DeMatties and Max Fiumara that I enjoyed a great deal.  It followed an untold tale of Kraven and how he had a run in with Kaine.  A enjoyable story that leaves me wondering how it will relate to the present day story and Kaine's involvement. 
Finally, there's a two page story by Stan Lee and Marcos Martin.  I honestly was really excited about reading this and couldn't wait to get to it when I picked up this issue.  Others may disagree, but I was really happy with how it turned out.  It's only two pages, of course, but they were really fun in a way only Stan Lee can write.  It's currently about two "real world" criminals - one the brains of the operation and the other the meathead muscle - that build a machine to allow them to escape into a comic book world.  Their choice?  A Spider-Man comic of course.  It's simple and doesn't take itself serious and was fun for what it was.  It's not what I was expecting in the least from them - I really wanted to see Spidey drawn by Martin - but it has potential to be a fun extra at the back of each issue, especially in future installments now that the duo are "in" the Spider-Man comic. 

Verdict - Must Read.  I had some minor issues with the story, particularly the end, but it was a top notch effort all around in both writing and art and the extras provided with the back-up stories were all value added content that no one will look at as pure filler or wasted pages.  Great start to a long awaited storyline.

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Jeremy said...

So basically, Spider-man is still awesome. OMD was an ugly band-aid rip, but I've really been enjoying a lot of these stories(especially the Gauntlet, which has been mostly excellent).

MC Nedelsky said...

Uh, woah, are spoilers implied in all Weekly Reviews? I'm new here, and had picked up you're liberal with story details, which is fine (maybe necessary for a detailed review) but saying who was killed with out any kind of warning? Not cool man.

onefinemess said...

The sacrifice was ... I dunno it just seem unnecessary at minimum, cruel at worst. It's like they are taking a page from DCs "kill young girls to elicit emotional response" book, except they picked someone even more random and made it even less emotional. Which I didn't think was possible.

The writing was there, but the sacrifice seemed horribly unnecessary. Especially in the sense that it brought nothing to Spider-Man as a character... it's just some shit that happened in the background to someone who had the bad luck to be tangentially related to him. A "named" character death should be meaningful to the lead, I think. If anything, Spider-Man should have failed to save her or something. Eh, I dunno. Not worth my $$ that's for sure.

The bit with Ezekiel does have me at least moderately interested though. I'm one of those random people who liked JMS's run. That was the closest I've ever came to forking down money for a Spiderbook.

Wez said...

Chris Bachalo can do no wrong in my eyes.

Everytime I see a comic with his name on it I have to buy it.

Ivan said...

Is this Alyosha the same son of Kraven who was portraied as a carefree douchebag every other time before, including the Spider-Man/Jay Leno crossover? What, is he eeeeeeeeeeeeeevil now?

Kirk Warren said...

@MC Nedelsky - I dont really see a need for spoiler warnings. If you are reading a review, you want to know what the book is about, if it is good and why you (or why the reviewer) liked/hated the issue. Telling you in broadstroke generalizations that 'this fight happened and someone dies, but you'll never guess who, but i hated it!' is not a review in my eyes. I want to be able to discuss Mattie, how she died and the impact, or lack thereof, of it.

Another reason is that I don't think spoilers spoil anything. Perfect example is Sixth Sense. That movie isn't ruined by knowing the twist ending - it's just bad. IN comparison, the same director did Unbreakable and the twist ending on the badguy doesn't spoil the movie at all and you can rewatch it over and over and it's just as good.

Finally, people don't actively seek out information on a new book or television show or movie without expecting spoilers. I also keep spoilers contained to each topic at hand - you won't find spoilers for a current Amazing Spider-Man in a Batman review or post or vice versa.

@Ivan - I dont think thats teh same one, but I could be mistaken. This is the Kraven that was introduced post-Clone Saga by JM DeMatteis. Could have been used in those Get Kraven and other titles though.

Philipe said...

I really enjoyed the Shed storyline, especially because it featured the pencils of Mr. Bachalo. He's was just perfect for this story.

As for #634...I don't know. I absolutely hate that type of character that just seems pure evil. I prefer a villain who's more conflicted. The Kravinoff girls are just ruthless and evil for the sake of it. Even Dr.Doom is more human than this...I didn't mind the ritual, I actually like that there was a purpose for Mattie's kidnapping other than just torture her for pleasure.

I absolutely hated Michael Lark's pencils. This is NOT a Daredevil comic, there's no need to get all Alex Maleev on it. It looked ugly.

Steven said...

Well, we know they are very quickly going to bring the rest of the Spider based characters into play. But will Spidey ever think to call either of the Avengers teams that he is currently on for help?

Great more juvenile killings in comics. Mattie was JJJ's niece, do you think they will even bother to remember that?

MC Nedelsky said...

Agree to disagree on this point then. Having given a detailed explanation of exactly what happens and why you think its good, all that seems left for a new reader to do is admire the art, and perhaps appreciate the comic on the level of craft. Little seems left to appreciate the story as a story. Personally, I sacrifice some surprise so I know what not to waste money on, but I want to actually read it myself anyways.

Chris said...

The backup story by DeMatties and Fiumara is about Kraven, not Alyosha and since it starts off with "Many Years Ago" I do not think it will tie in to Kaine showing up at Peter's door, that was pretty much covered in the main story.

I'm with you on both reviews, these were two really good issues of ASM. I didn't mind the sacrafice part at all, as it got rid of a character I never much cared for, it wasn't overly graphic, and does show what the Kravens have planned for Spider-man. I'm interested to see how Ezikiel is back from the dead though....not sure how I feel about him being back and as mentioned how it ties into the BND continuity.

Kirk Warren said...

@Chris - wow, I dont know how I missed that. He even said Sergei. I just assumed it was tying into Alyosha. I'll fix that.

Russ said...
This comment has been removed by the author.

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