“Saturday in the park with May”
Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Artist: John Romita Jr. (p), Scott Hanna (i)
After last month's anniversary retrospective over 40 years of wall-crawler history, JMS returns to more sedate cutesyness in a tale which gives us some insight into how Peter's Aunt May is coping with the knowledge that Peter is Spider-Man. Meanwhile, Peter has worries of his own to contend with when new villain "The Shaker" starts breaking down chunks of New York...
It's a return to standard Spider-Man fare with this issue and, after the slight let-down that was the build-up to last month's 500th issue we get a solid stand-alone story in which May sits in the park talking to some old friends about life, love and Spidey. It's a nice device which lets us see a little more of May's point of view than usual and it lets us understand how, confronted with everyday reminders that Spider-Man is her little Petey, she's managing to get through it all. There's a suitable feeling of strength in May's behaviour here (witness her confidently dealing with a self-obsessed lout in a mobile phone shop) and a real sense that the decision made by JMS to reveal to her that Peter is Spider-Man has added some long-overdue freshness to her character.
This is balanced with a (purposely) generic day-in-the-life adventure for Spider-Man who takes on a thief armed with a prototype mining suit allowing him to "shake" his way into banks, over the rooftops of New York, and into a fun fight with Spidey. Whilst we never really feel that this villain is an effective threat, it's easy to enjoy what's on offer as simple fun, harking back to the one-issue superhero fights that began Spider-Man's comic career. Although a lot of Peter's fights tend to end up in his school these days (think of their insurance premiums!) it gives JMS an excuse to have Spidey yet again use his knowledge of science to defeat his enemy - even if giving a pupil a science lesson whilst in full costume is going to do nothing to preserve his secret identity...
The artwork is as good as we've come to expect from JR Jr. on this title, with his depictions of Spider-Man and Aunt May as well as his handling of the action scenes feeling as confident and well-suited to this title as any other. Of particular mention here is his morning portrayal of Mary Jane - proving yet again that you don't need gratuitous nudity in comics to be sexy. If the art sometimes feels a little comfortable or unimaginative, it's arguably because this artist knows when he only needs to use a simple silhouette or an uncomplicated panel to his advantage to convey a story - and over the last couple of years there has been much in this title to convert me to the idea that JR Jr is one of the most effective storytellers out there.
So why only 3 1/2 bullets? Well, the story isn't particularly gripping, can be a little too cute (especially the schmaltzy ending) and there's the slight feeling that we're treading water here, but the issue is perfectly servicable as we wait for JMS to follow up his Ezekiel thread, which has been running from his first issue almost three years ago. Ultimately, it's a good example of how a superhero comic book can explore adult themes whilst retaining a sense of simple old-fashioned fun. It's to JMS' credit that the two elements are balanced so well here.
A bit of old-school Spidey fun and some nice character work with Aunt May adds up to an enjoyable enough stand-alone issue here - just don't expect to be blown away. Hopefully JMS will get onto meatier stories soon, but stories like this one fill the gap happily enough.
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