Monday, July 26, 2010

Review - Amazing Spider-Man: Shed

Any comic with a constantly rotating team of writers and artists is going to have its ups and downs and Amazing Spider-Man was not an exception to that rule. While that may not sound like a compliment, I think the highs have been higher than the lows have been low. Amazing Spider-Man is also one of the few comics I buy mostly for the art. While it is not the sole factor I use to decide whether I buy an issue or arc - a bad writer will stop from picking up work by a good artist - it is the primary reason why I check out issues from this series right now.

Chris Bachalo is almost to the point of being a "must buy" artist for me - where I will buy any new work he does regardless of other factors. Bachalo, aside from being an artist whose work I enjoy in general, is also one of my favorite Spider-Man artists outside of John Romita Jr. so I was going to be picking up any work he does on the title. Add in Zeb Wells, who previous impressed me with a done-in-one issue featuring the Punisher, and Shed turned into an automatic must buy for me. Hit the jump for my review of the arc.

Written by Zeb Wells
Art by Chris Bachalo and Emma Rios
Comprise of Amazing Spider-Man #630-633

This is the kind of comic DC either thinks they are making or wishes they were making. Or I think it is at least. For all I know, they actually want to put out crass, exploitative tragedy porn that makes a veteran comic retailer wonder why he's even in the business of selling comics.

Cheap shots at DC aside, tragedy, with varying degrees, has always been apart of Spider-Man, with Shed being an excellent example.  It reads a lot like a Greek tragedy with Curt Conners playing the role of a great man brought down by his own hubris, though I guess calling Conners a "great man" is kind of stretch. He is a loving father, but his achievements amount to very little in the face of his Lizard persona.  Either way, Wells does a fantastic job of showing Conners downfall and giving it some real emotional intensity.

While some familiarity with Conners probably makes the story a better read, Wells still does an excellent job of building up all of the necessary emotional tension to make Conners's fall moving. In fact, the dual Curt and Billy's (Connors's son) death scenes were one of the best executed death scenes from any superhero comic from at least the past five years. It works on so many levels, with one of the biggest reasons being that Bachalo does not graphically depict it and instead creates a wonderful two-page spread that gets across the brutally and horrorific nature of the death without ever having to use any gratuitous violence or gore.

Wells, with Bachalo and Rios, creates a mature superhero story while avoiding the massive pitfalls that most other similar comics fall into nowadays. Aside from avoiding the crass exploitation that can often accompany a story like this (killing children is often just a means of evoking emotion and rarely well written - people just react to the child's death), Wells also has the story have some consequences, at least in the short term, and uses the tragedy as a core part of the story. Billy's death isn't just used for cheap drama or angst, it plays a central part in not only the story but the Lizard's character arc as well.

While the tragedy aspect of Shed has made it a thoroughly enthralling read, there are other things that I loved as well. Like the other Gauntlet issues I've picked up, the reinvention of the villain is one of the story's biggest strengths. Aside from the great dueling Conners/Lizard narration Wells uses in the first two issues, the rebirth of the Lizard in part three is wonderful, even if parts of it borrow heavily from one of Grant Morrison's more inventive uses of Aquaman's powers in JLA. While I think it is a great new take on the Lizard, I'm not really sure how viable it is in the long term but I don't particularly care about that at this point. Wells does get around to laying the ground work though and it still remains undefined to a large degree just how long this iteration of the Lizard will be last, but that is not really a problem with the story itself. As I said though, I do like Well's reinvention of the character since it takes him new places and makes him more than just a rather one-note threat to Spider-Man.

There is also some wonderful humor, mostly in issue #630, particularly the opening chase scene with the Black Cat, which, again, is lovingly rendered by Bachalo. There is also a funny conversation Peter has with Aunt May and another nice sequence with Carlie Copper. These are nice touches that add to the overall story without getting in it's way. The only thing I didn't particularly care for was the inclusion of Kaine, Spider-Man's deformed clone. Despite growing up reading the Clone Saga, it's not something I'm not interested in seeing Marvel revisit.

There is one problem with the story though - the art. While Bachalo's art is still as great as ever, he didn't do the all of the art and, starting with issue #631, Emma Rios does some fill work, which amounts to about a fourth of the page count for the second and third parts of the story and four pages for the final issue. Now, I love Rios's art but her style does not really mesh well with Bachalo's so she does an imitation of Bachalo's which doesn't work too well and can be pretty distracting at times. This kind of thing didn't bother me in the past as much as it does nowadays, which I can find almost intolerable at times. This is in part because of all of the manga I've been reading, with each series having all of the art done by one artist or team - no fill-ins and no rotating art teams. This has really made me appreciate consistent art in a way that I don't think reading only Marvel and DC comics would have ever done. While I can understand the need for and appreciate the better uses of rotating artists, like on Batman and Robin, I can't say that I have a high tolerance for fill-in or inconsistent art anymore, which is now a blemish on some otherwise fantastic comic books.

Click for larger image

As for Bachalo's art itself, it remains as great as ever but, as I already mentioned, one of the best things he does is never depict the violence in the story in an overly graphic or gory matter and suggests the brutality of it in a way that doesn't have to actually show it in full detail. His Lizard is also one of the best I've ever seen as well. As with a lot of Bachalo's work, what sets it apart is the amount of detail he uses from the scales right down to the wear and tear on the Lizard's claws and teeth. He also manages to pack a lot into each of the panels and pages while still leaving the images clean and uncluttered. He creates a sense of chaos and disorder as well when called for yet his art never becomes confusing for the reader. All in all, just more of Bachalo's normally great work.

Verdict - Must Read. Despite some minor flaws, mostly with the use of fill-in art, Shed is a stunning arc that combines the best of aspects of the Spider-Man comics with some incredible art and tells a story with depth and emotional impact not seen in most superhero comics.

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Wez said...

I agree with every part.

I usually collect ASM in trades but as soon as I saw Chris Bachalo was attached to this, I went and pre-ordered each issue from my local store.

One of the best ASM arcs I have read in a long long time.

Price said...

I couldn't disagree more. I found the story to be incredibly predictable, and Bachalo is probably my least favorite artist. His work is incredible cluttered. I am a big Spiderman fan, and have been collecting the series for years, but was very disappointed with this arc.

Jeremy said...

One of the best Spider-man stories of the decade, and easily the best Lizard one ever. This is the story arc that made me love Bachalo.

twobitspecialist said...

Meh. I didn't think Shed was that great, and I was really turned off by the whole "the Lizard raped his assistant" thing.

Kirk Warren said...

I never got the rape thing. I can see maybe how you might arrive at that, but she just saw her boss turn into a giant Lizard and kill a bunch of people. She was shaken up and iin shock from that to me.

Chris said...


Marvel even said that it was never intended for anyone to think she was raped.....I personally never would have though that myself but it a couple of reviewers on other sites insisted that was the case and it kind of spread from there.

twobitspecialist said...

It was ambiguous enough so that you could arrive at such conclusion. Kinda like the Chameleon making out with Michelle Rodriguez (and nothing else), or Peter's drunken one-night stand (where he wasn't really drunk). And Marvel has to come out and explain what really happened in statements, rather than in the stories themselves?

Chris said...


I agree that part probably wasn't written as clearly as it could have been since some people took it to be rape, but then again I didn't read it that way and I would think that if a giant lizard had just raped a woman she would not be sitting around with the cops afterwards, best case scenario she would be in critical condition being rushed to the hospital and the most likely scenario would be that she would be dead, so they probably didn't think anyone would ever draw that conclusion but once they did, they explained that it was not the intent.

Anonymous said...

You take shots at DC in the beginning and then admit that this ripped off Grant Morrison's ideas for Aquaman in JLA? You're a tool and you shouldn't even be aloud to read comics. The only good things about Marvel are Spider-Man, Punisher and Icon. Don't even get me started on the convoluted shit mess that is X-men, people getting cloned and going back in time to be cloned again and then have kids that go forward in time to be cloned and have more kids. I may have exaggerated but it's seriously that retarded. Also if you haven't noticed you would know unlike Marvel DC uses WAY more genres then just superhero/scifi.

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