"The War At Home: Part Three of Six"
Writer: J. Michael Stracynski
Artists: Ron Garney (p), Bill Reinhold (i), Matt Milla (c)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
In this latest issue of Amazing Spider-Man Marvel Universe's Civil War over the issue of superhero registration continues, and everybody's friendly neighbourhood web-slinger continues to play a part on the side of eeeeevil (sorry, Pro-registration) as Iron Man's team copes with the aftermath of a recent bust-up between the two sides. The main source of drama comes from Spider-Man's relationships with the figureheads of the two superhero factions: Captain America, whom Peter respects but must fight against in pursuit of the ideals of Tony Stark, who is rapidly falling in Peter's estimations but who is at least supporting the law as it stands. Peter's adherence to the letter of the law instead of what he feels is morally right is an interesting take on his character, although I'm not sure it rings 100% true: Peter has the power (and indeed, the responsibility) to stand up for what he believes in, but instead he has chosen to follow the official state line of reasoning on the subject instead of his own instincts. Stracynski seems to be building up to an inevitable change of heart for Peter in future issues of his story, but the ramifications of swapping sides - compounded by the hero's decision to unmask himself publicly - are bound to cause huge problems for him if he does take the plunge. The dramatic weight of this internal conflict provides a great engine for the story, but it's not enough to carry such a long arc in its own right, and too much of this issue feels like filler for it to stand as a successful continuation of what has so far been a very strong storyline.
Like Civil War, this current arc doesn't flow naturally as a story in its own right, relying on readers' familiarity with Mark Millar's book in order to make sense. The jump in time from last issue's gathering of the pro-registration task force to this issue's post-battle recap of events is just as jarring as Civil War's sudden presentation of Spidey's change of heart has been, and I can't help but feel that both stories are going to feel mutually incomplete once the dust settles on Marvel's big event. What's more, Stracynski has to keep parts of his storyline sufficiently vague that we're not let in on key plot points for fear of "spoiling" Civil War #4: How else to explain the complete lack of reference to Thor's climactic appearance in battle at the end of Civil War #3, or the enigmatic references to the unnamed heroes who were apprehended during the fight and whose transportation forms the backbone of this issue's plot - but who remain unidentified and unseen for the duration? JMS further risks crossover fatigue by making reference to events in his other book, Fantastic Four, which don't hold any meaning for those who don't read both titles thanks to the detail-free nature of the footnote. It's nice to see a cohesive Marvel universe in action, but when that cohesion extends only to an enticement to buy another book in order to get some detail on what's going on, you know that the shared-universe approach is being taken for financial rather than storytelling reasons. There are even a couple of inconsistencies with the rest of the Civil War books here, and whilst I much prefer the more thoughtful, conflicted Peter Parker that JMS writes to Millar's off-key Spidey, I was surprised to see Stracynski showing the opinion of the general public in the Marvel Universe to be just as polarised as that of the heroes, when the introduction of the Superhero Registration Act was supposed to have been driven by overwhelming public demand. As for Peter's claim that he's only ever told two people in the world about his Spider-Sense, I think he'd better go back and reread a few issues of New Avengers, because he never seems to shut up about it there.
That said, there are some very enjoyable elements to be found here too. Peter's fight with Captain America is well-staged, and his voice-over really helps to sell the difficulty with which Spider-Man is facing up to the iconic superhero. Iron Man's knowledge of Spidey's secrets points to an interesting and sinister development for the "Iron Spidey" costume, and I look forward to seeing just how Machiavellian Tony Stark is going to turn out to be. Ron Garney's artwork is clear and consistent (although still a little loose-feeling, but I think that's down to the inking) and the book manages to be bright and colourful without undercutting the serious tone of the Civil War event. We get some neat action beats - Spidey taking out two missiles is a nicely-drawn bit of comicbook excess - to go along with the brooding, indecisive scenes (I enjoyed the early sequence in which Spidey "isn't feeling very court-jesterish"), and none of it feels too contrived or jarring, despite the essentially artifically-engineered nature of the entire crossover event.
Ultimately though, these positive points can't outweigh the feeling that nothing has really changed between the start of this issue and its final page. The growing uncertainty that Spider-Man is feeling regarding his choice of side suggests that major upheavals are on their way for the book - and not before time, as Spider's affiliation with the pro-registration heroes has never been destined to last - but a couple of adequate action scenes and some indecisive interior monologues do not a classic comic make. Stracynski has shown in the past few issues that he can write a great Spider-Man Civil War tie-in, even going so far as to improve Mark Millar's core title by association, but there's not enough meat here for Spidey fans to get their teeth into. Hopefully this issue of treading water will just be a small blip in an otherwise strong arc.
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