“Chasing a Dark Shadow: Part 2 (of 2)”
Writers: J. Michael Straczynski & Fiona Avery (story); Fiona Avery (script),
Artists: John Romita Jr (p), Scott Hanna (i)
Morwen's magical rampage continues, as Spider-man and Loki form an uneasy alliance trying to save the life of an innocent girl - and the rest of New York into the bargain...
Magic. Since the very first issue of JMS' run on Amazing Spider-Man, he has made it clear that he wants Spidey to be imbued with a greater sense of spiritual and mystical depth. Talk of a Spider-god, Spider-Totems and the regular appearance of Dr. Strange have all suggested that the events set in motion by the enigmatic Ezekiel are pointing to a major magical element being forced into the Spider-Man mythos. As Pete said way back at the conclusion of the Morlun arc, "I say it doesn't matter to who I am, why I am or what I am." - but Straczynski obviously begs to differ.
Out of his depth yet again in the mystical and magical, Pete shares his fears of what these harbingers might signify. It's nice to see a writer have a character acknowledge events in his series taking a turn for the unusual, and it provides a good platform for JMS to prepare the way for future plotlines. Indeed, a number of dangling plot threads (the supercharged thugs last issue, the Spidey/Loki relationship that grows out of this storyline, all the Spider-Totem baddies) are threatening to come together to make the upcoming Ezekiel arc quite an interesting one - and assuming that this is the case, you have to admire the thoroughness of the groundwork being done here. The script itself is perfectly serviceable with a good sense of Pete's character, making some fun asides but reacting heroically and selflessly whenever the occasion demands. His interaction with Loki - which seemed uncomfortable last issue - has settled into a fun mismatched-buddy pairing this time around, and the end of this issue implies that more may yet come of this strangely forged alliance.
In amongst the magical mumbo-jumbo we get a fair amount of action, the all-out battle with Morwen sustaining a thrilling pace for quite some pages, thanks largely to the superior pencils of JR Jr. A minimalist and tranquil interlude in the proceedings allows some quiet character moments for Loki, whilst still showcasing the powerful battle sequences in the background. If there is any fault in the art, it is the occasional over-simplicity of colour and shape - noticeable in the unnecessarily large splash page of Morwen's capture of Spidey - but this is balanced by other beautiful panels such as Morwen's implosion/Tess' explosion, for which credit should also go to Scott Hanna's inks and the colouring skills of Matt Milla.
The lengthy epilogue sets up some interesting future plot devices, as well as showing that Spidey doesn't have to be in costume to be heroic and protective. Most importantly of all, this issue triumphs in a smooth integration of Spider-man and magical mysticism, in a way which does not jar or feel as forced as some of the earlier issues. Enticing hints are also dropped that darker times are ahead - Loki's warning "I have no intention of jeopardizing my progeny with enemies or foolishness because they discover too much of their origins" suggests that the Spider-God undertones that have been present for some time may not point to plain sailing for Spidey. All in all, if JMS has intended to pave the way for a darker and more meaningful magical storyline to begin next issue that does not feel out of place in this title, then on the evidence of this issue he has succeeded.
A justifiably brief yet enjoyable story arc ends here in a definite improvement over last issue. Although readers who are unfamiliar with the current run may be baffled by the heavy backstory and unfamiliar characters and tone, as part of a larger whole the book does a lot of good work integrating Peter's recent adventures more fully into the Spider-Man mythos. In addition, the stage is set for a significant arc to begin in forthcoming issues - hopefully bringing together the stronger elements of JMS' work on the title so far.
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