Current Reviews


Amazing Spider-Man #44

Posted: Saturday, August 31, 2002
By: Jason Cornwell

Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Artists: John Romita Jr (p), Scott Hanna (i)

Publisher: Marvel Comics

The book opens with Peter trying to explain to Mary Jane why he didn't hook up with her during her last visit to New York, and during this explanation she's also tipped off to the idea that Aunt May knows Peter is Spider-Man. While this conversation doesn't fix any problems that exist between them it does reveal that the relationship isn't damaged beyond repair. As Mary Jane is called away to work on her movie role we see Aunt May & Peter set out to have lunch, but in an uncanny coincidence we see Peter's tipped off to the fact that Dr. Octopus is also in town, as the villain is busy having it out with the young upstart who stole his tentacle technology. As Spider-Man arrives on the scene to discover that he's got two crazed villains to fight, we see him momentarily take the copycat out of the game with a faceful of webbing, and he turns his attentions to the real deal. However, when the copycat frees himself he finds the police are arriving on the scene, and he collapses a wall toward a group of bystanders. As Spider-Man struggles to hold up the wall, we see he receives from Dr. Octopus, but this help is short-lived, as once that civilians have gotten out Dr. Octopus departs, and Spider-Man is buried under the collapsing structure.

Mary Jane's back, and so it would appear is the same argument that turned her into such an undesired element with fans the first time out. Now I realize that every relationship has to have some obstacles to overcome, or us readers would be complaining that the relationship was about as stimulating as watching paint dry. However, it's equally tiresome to have writers running back to the staple problem of Mary Jane's aversion to Peter's life as Spider-Man, and to make matters worse J. Michael Straczynski is presenting Mary Jane in a rather unflattering light as she condemns Peter for placing their relationship second, which makes her seem rather selfish when one considers the acts of unrewarded heroism it's taking a back-seat to. I'm also a bit curious about the scene where Mary Jane is surprised to find that Aunt May knows Peter's secret, and then joins Aunt May in expressing their annoyance at Peter keeping this information a secret from her. Sure it made for a cute scene, but given the last issue gave us a scene where Peter's phone calls to her were being refused, should Mary Jane really be surprised that she's not being kept up to date on the latest developments?

However, while I'm a bit disillusioned by Mary Jane's return, J. Michael Straczynski earns my utmost praise for his handling of Doctor Octopus, as we see the good doctor dealing with a young upstart who has stolen his gimmick. I mean, I'll admit I'm a lifelong fan of Doctor Octopus, and as such often times all a writer has to do is convincingly convey the threat the character can pose to the hero to earn my praise. However, J. Michael Straczynski has gone that extra mile as he delivers some picture perfect moments, from the scene where the elder villain makes it clear that his experience is going to play a key role in this contest, to the closing scene where Spider-Man discovers that as an ally Otto Octavius leaves a lot to be desired. There's also some nice little moments during the battle itself, like the fact that the new guy quickly falls victim to the old webbing in the face trick, and unlike Doctor Octopus, he hasn't ordered his special nonstick goggles from the super-villain catalogue. There's also the fact that Spider-Man actually recognized that he could rely on Doctor Octopus for help in keeping the building from collapsing on the people inside.

First off, it's nice to see John Romita Jr. looks to be back on the covers, as his work is heads above what we had been getting, though annoyingly the work is still decidedly uncommitted when it comes to actually showing us what to expect from the story inside. As for the interior art, except for a couple panels where Mary Jane's sheepish grin makes her look absolutely ghastly, the rest of the art is further proof of why I love the idea that a Spider-Man title will always be one of the books that John Romita Jr. works on. I mean the battle scenes between the two tentacle wearing baddies in this issue is more than enough to have me singing this book's praise, as the sense of speed & power conveyed on those pages is absolutely marvelous. Plus when we add the highly mobile Spider-Man to the mix the art becomes a truly masterful visual showcase of how to deliver an action sequence. There's also the little details like the fact that Doctor Octopus is back to his flabby dimensions, or the art's ability to convey the expressions of Spider-Man in spite of the mask that covers his entire face. I mean I can actually tell when he's surprised, or determined thanks to the art.

Final Word:
The Doctor Octopus fan in me is very happy with this issue, as every page featuring the character pleased me no end. Plus, following on the heels of his recent appearance in the sister title, I quite content with the current crop of Spider-writers when it comes to their use of my favorite Spider-villain. Now sure it's a bit much that Doctor Octopus just happen to be in Los Angeles when Peter decides to visit Mary Jane, and I found myself wondering why Doctor Octopus didn't express some disbelief over Spider-Man's arrival. The decision by the copycat villain to seek out hostages at the nearby movie studio also shows J. Michael Straczynski's plot manipulation a bit more than I'd like to see. However, I still found this section of the issue held my interest and made it easier to accept the rather uneven portrayal of Mary Jane, as we see the character shifts from begrudging understanding, to outright belligerence a bit too quickly, and it's a bit too apparent the hostility is being manufactured by the writer, and not the situation.

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