With Spider-Gwen hitting stands this week, we thought it would be fun to go back to Wednesday, February 9, 2005, and see what our own Dave Wallace said about the final part of perhaps the most infamous comic ever to feature Gwen Stacy, “Sins Past”
It’s difficult to know what to say about this arc that hasn’t already been said on internet messageboards, in comics shops worldwide and in SBC’s very own reviews (often in loud, angry voices to boot). Well, how’s this: “Sins of the Past” is a well-meaning, intriguingly-conceived arc which holds real potential at the start, and features some well-written scenes of both Spidey’s superheroics and Peter Parker’s civilian travails throughout. Unfortunately, it drops a huge clanger when it comes to the details of the plot and the eventual direction that the story goes in, misjudging Gwen Stacy’s character severely, and disintegrating into an eminently predictable, derivative and uninspired Green Goblin story by the end of the six issues. But then you probably knew that. The saddest thing is that to read the impressive first couple of issues – which provide the groundwork for a decent enough superhero mystery with very strongly written and emotional character elements – is only to set yourself up for a massive fall.
I’m going to assume that most of the readers of this review will be familiar with the concept of “Sins of the Past,” and now that the ballyhoo surrounding Gwen’s twins, her affair with the Green Goblin and her secret pregnancy is all out in the open and has been given a few months to sink in, it’s possible to take a more removed, objective view of the whole fiasco. However, for once, the whining fanboys had hit the nail on the head in their reaction to this story: this was a betrayal of Spider-Man; a betrayal of Gwen Stacy; and most unforgivably a two-fingers up to fans who actually cared enough about the characters’ history and significance to think long enough about the story (for, maybe, a few seconds) to realise that it simply doesn’t work. The plot is full of holes and all the retconning in the world couldn’t squeeze a secret pregnancy into the tightly-written soap opera of the early Lee and Romita issues that form the basis of much of the backstory here. What’s more, the plotting is some of the laziest I’ve seen from such an established writer, plucking plot elements out of thin air to account for any discrepancies in the story and setting up subplots only to leave them dangling and unresolved at the end of the tale. Undermining some of the greatest Spider-Man issues ever written is only a side-effect of “Sins of the Past”; the worst sin committed by the arc is to be such a lazily, carelessly-executed comic book story in its own right.
That said, I really liked some elements of this book: first and foremost, this was a great introduction of Mike Deodato Jr. into the stable of Amazing Spider-Man artists, and he excels in these issues. The expressiveness of his characters is top-notch, and his ability to capture an emotion through body-language or facial expressions – though clearly photo-referenced and melodramatic in places – is unmatched. Heavy black patches reflect the darkness of tone that the script aims for, and even if it takes a few issues to really nail his rendition of Spider-Man in costume, Deodato makes up for it with some great action sequences throughout the book. Other strong work includes JMS’s take on Mary Jane and Peter’s relationship, with the two sharing a depth of understanding and ability to carry each other emotionally which is not always apparent when the two characters interact under other writers. MJ’s complicity in past events is actually justifiable by the abused, repressed nature of the character of her younger self, and she almost comes off as stronger as a result. It’s a shame, however, that the same could not be said of Gwen Stacy. One can’t help but wonder how the story might have turned out if Gwen’s affair was a more run-of-the-mill affair: Peter could have been emotionally devastated far more effectively by a more simple (and crucially, vaguely plausible) past infidelity than he was by what amounted to nothing more than yet another crazy scheme of Norman Osborn. The story simply relies far too heavily on the dramatic irony of past Green Goblin stories (read: ripping off every Green Goblin story ever written) to be interesting or thought-provoking in its own right. Far from being the emotional roller-coaster that early issues suggest, the only emotion that the reader is likely to feel will be directed at Straczynski, for stringing him along and wasting his time.
If it seems like I’ve tried too hard to be balanced with this review, then maybe it’s true: indeed, the faults with this story are so severe that if you’re a longtime Spider-Man fan you’ll likely be turned off JMS (if not Spidey) for life. How such an obviously half-baked idea for a “shock” revelation in Peter’s life was ever passed by Marvel editors and turned into a six-issue story (yes, that’s half a year of Amazing Spider-Man that I sat through) is really beyond me. But if you look past the major problems, there still are a few well-crafted elements here to appreciate – and if you’ve got a passing interest in Spidey then it’s just about worth pushing through the silliness and fragility of the overall concept to check out due to the art and cinematic action sequences.