Current Reviews


Amazing Spider-Man #53

Posted: Thursday, May 29, 2003
By: Jason Cornwell

Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Artists: John Romita Jr.

Publisher: Marvel Comics

The book opens with Mary Jane & Aunt May having a sit-down conversation about Peter being Spider-Man, but we see this conversation is cut short by a phone call from Peter who attempts to explain the overly complex situation that he's currently become embroiled in. We then join Peter later that night as we see him attempting to sort out his conflicted feelings about acting as a hired bodyguard for a ruthless gangster, and we see his mind is momentarily put off this topic when Mary Jane invites him to spend the night. We then jump to even later that night as we see Spider-Man's nightly patrol is intruded upon when his beeper goes off, indicating the monster created out of the dead bodies of slain gangsters has resurfaced, and Spider-Man confronts the creature as it's busy ripping apart a casino. As Spider-Man uses this encounter to take measure of just how powerful this creature is, we see the fight takes a dangerous turn when some hired guns arrive and try to blast the undead creature into next week. However, this exchange does provide Spider-Man with a blood sample that he believes will provide the key to defeating the creature, and after he pays a visit to the targeted mob boss to give him an earful, we see Spider-Man head off into the night with his blood sample, while the wounded creature takes refuge in the tunnels beneath the city.

I realize that J. Michael Straczynski brings a certain amount of prestige to the book, as well as a sizeable fan base, but I must confess I honestly don't see what all the fuss is about. I mean the book is entertaining enough, and most of the time the humor manages to at least make me smile. However, the one area where J. Michael Straczynski has failed to impress me is his creation of new villains, as the basic theme he seems to be trying for is big, unstoppable brutes who, with the only real separation between the various characters being that they each have a different back story. I mean I will concede that John Romita Jr. does a fantastic job delivering wholesale destruction, and perhaps this plays a role in the string of baddies that J. Michael Straczynski has sent Spider-Man's way, but frankly it's starting to feel like he's stuck in a creative rut. I mean I'm sure I could make this case about half the titles I read, but I'd be hard pressed to find a book that has me more disillusioned than this title. There's only so much mileage one can draw out of these three-four issue arcs where Spider-Man spends most of his time fighting the latest "almost as strong as the Hulk" villain, and this time out it's even worse, as it truly looked like this was the final chapter, but the issue ends with the villain still on the loose, and a rematch is pretty much already a done deal.

Ever since Aunt May learned Peter's secret I've been eagerly awaiting the scene where she has a conversation with Mary Jane about Peter, and this issue finally delivers this moment. However the anticipation was far more enjoyable than the actual moment in question as J. Michael Straczynski delivers one of the most ponderous, over written dialogue exchanges this side of Chris Claremont, and when all is said and done the one idea that I had hoped would be discussed is barely even touched. I mean Aunt May has learned that her beloved Peter is putting his life on the line pretty much ever single day of his life, and the best this scene could do was have her saying she's unable to look at Spider-Man & see Peter. I mean this exchange conveys none of the emotion it should, and frankly I feel that it also displays a very poor understanding of what these two characters represent in Peter's life. I mean these are suppose to be people who care deeply for him, and they manage to come across sounding like they have no emotional investment in Peter. There's also J. Michael Straczynski's attempt to draw humor from the overly convoluted back-story he's created for his latest villain, as Peter attempts to explain it to MJ, and I found myself wondering if J. Michael Straczynski deliberately crafted a complex back-story so he could deliver this scene, or if he came to realize it after the fact. I'm more inclined to believe it was the former.

First off I have to say I love it when John Romita Jr. provided the covers, as his dramatic, in your face visuals make for fantastic covers, and this month's effort is a particularly strong effort. As for the interior art, this issue offers up a battle sequence that draws upon the very best elements of John Romita Jr.'s work, as the raw fury of the villain is perfectly contrasted by the sense of constant motion that makes up Spider-Man's rather distinctive fighting style. This issue also has a group of gangsters arrive at the battle, and their attempts to blast the villain into oblivion made for a very lively exchange. There's also a fairly impressive display of brute strength by Spider-Man as there's a scene in this issue where the character decides to meet an attack head on, and while the internal dialogue is a bit silly, in that it suggests that this is a maneuver that Spider-Man would even considered attempting if the villain had been anywhere close to Hulk strength levels, the double-page shot is a strong visual reminder that Spider-Man can hold his own in the strength department. The one thing that I am curious about though is that the colors on this book do seem to be far brighter than most titles, and it makes this book stand out from the crowd. In fact there are times when the colors are almost too vibrant, but overall it does mesh quite nicely with John Romita Jr.'s style.

Final Word:
I think John Romita Jr. is one of the best artists to ever work on the Spider-Man books, and I appreciate that J. Michael Straczynski looks to be crafting stories that play to his artist's strength, as the battles are truly wonderful displays of what John Romita Jr. can bring to a title. However, I'm starting to look to this book for a little more than simply a brawl of the month, and lately that's all that J. Michael Straczynski seems to be bringing to the table. The subplots are virtually nonexistent, the battles all play out in roughly the same manner, and worst of all even Spider-Manís internal thoughts during the battles are starting to feel like they've been regurgitated from the previous tussles. There's also seems to be a rather poor understanding of what makes Spider-Man & his various supporting players tick, as having Spider-Man demanding financial considerations for his services feels wrong on so many levels, and I dearly hope J. Michael Straczynski doesn't follow through on this idea.

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