Writers: Mark Waid & Tom Peyer
Artists: Salvador Larroca (p), Danny Miki (i), Liquid! (colors)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Ariel Carmona Jr.
Plot: In the “House of M” where mutants rule the world, being a human can get you exiled, or worse, endanger your very existence. While the media reveals to the world the amazing Spider-Man is a fraud, passing as a mutant, J.Jonah Jameson takes to the airwaves to read entries from Peter Parker’s private journal. Meanwhile, Parker goes in disguise to a hospital to visit a boy seriously beaten by his schoolmates for wearing a Spider-Man T-shirt and encounters a sympathetic ear and a less bigoted soul. The Rhino, Parker’s ex body guard, is tearing up Times Square and Spidey rushes off to placate him, only to be confronted with a trash pelting mob of mutants. Rhino scampers off but runs into the Green Goblin who makes him an interesting offer. They rendezvous behind Parker’s house later that night but the Rhino brings along some of his buddies: Vulture, Electro and the Ox. This leads to a huge battle which culminates in a stunning surprise.
Comments: This book’s terrific cover is an inviting image of the spider-suit being burned in effigy with a tag reading “human” affixed to it. Considering such a violent image, one would think the consequences would be more dire than being accosted by a mob of trash hurling mutants in the streets of New York. This is only a symptom of the larger ailment this series has been suffering from all along, mainly an inconsistent portrayal of the consequences of being human in the “House of M” reality. “Sapiens, few in number, cling to the margins, warming themselves on the last faint flickers of life before extinction” utters the introduction to every issue, but very little evidence of this has been shown thus far leading the reader to believe that it’s only hyperbolic rhetoric.
That having said, I enjoyed the pacing to this issue a lot better than the previous one. Following Jameson’s revelation last issue, Spider-Man’s world crumbles as it was expected it would, but I still have to give major kudos to Salvador Larroca for capturing the anguish of Parker’s loved ones in such an effective way. The characters don’t have to say much for the reader to feel their dismay and utter helplessness, as the expressions on their faces or their body language tell the tale.
Jameson is completely in character here as his obsession with Peter’s journal and his fanatical desire to ruin Spider-Man diminish his moment in the spotlight and the old geezer doesn’t even notice. The classic Parker pathos are also evident in the scene where Peter breaks into the hospital to visit the injured boy. He genuinely cares about people and is devastated by the kid’s injuries. Or given the revelation at the end of the comic, is he just playing along, exhibiting some of the skills that made him such a great performer? I happen to think the former.
The scene with the mutant security guard is nice because it establishes the fact that even in a sea of bigotry, there are always those who are not so extreme, that one beacon in the horizon exists in the form of Giarusso. Aunt May is also very much in character, always trying to support her nephew and exhibiting the strength that was always one of her most appealing traits. Lazy writers often painted her as a weak, clueless old lady. The best Spider-Man writers found her inner strength and allowed this asset to shine in their prose.
I credit the writing for all of this, as this may be Waid and Peyer’s best effort of the entire series. I cannot say more about the artwork than I have already mentioned in previous critiques, only that I have grown accustomed to Larroca’s pencils which nicely blend with Liquid’s colors. This issue does not suffer much from Marvel’s trademark big panelitis syndrome and Danny Miki’s inks are especially effective in the murky battle sequences featuring the Rhino’s henchmen and the Green Goblin. The real triumph of the entire comic is the final surprise on the very last page, a reveal which I myself never saw coming. A very solid and satisfying effort this time around.
Plot: In an altered reality where mutants are the ruling majority, Peter Parker is a rich and famous actor, wrestler and scientist who poses as a mutant with the powers of a spider. He is adored by fans the world over, until he is “outed” as a human (rather than a mutant) upon the exposure of his private diary on the evening news by a vengeful J. Jonah Jameson. How does Peter cope with a lie exposed and a public turned against him? How did his charmed life fall apart so easily, so abruptly - and what does it all have to do with the Green Goblin?
Comments: So far, so good! Despite the general sense of ennui I feel for the whole House of M event, I am genuinely enjoying this tie-in miniseries focusing on our friendly world-famous Spider-Man. The first two issues gave us all a look into the life of a very different Peter Parker than the one we’re used to. This guy, in this world, has everything: he lives the dream, and he is loved by everyone. This was interesting and refreshing in that poor Peter has had it rough for so many years, and to see him actually be on top was a nice change of pace, even if it is only temporary. But who knew how temporary it would actually be? With this issue, that whole dynamic gets turned on its ear by having Peter’s secrets spill out to the public, who are not pleased that they have been lied to, and worse - that they have looked up to someone who has claimed to be a mutant all of these years, only to find out that he is really just a human with special powers instead.
Now we see more of the Peter that we as readers have known and loved for so long - the misunderstood underdog trying to get a leg-up in the world, with less than stellar results. What makes this familiar scenario fascinating, though, is that even in this “new” reality where everything is different, our hero still has to overcome these obstacles and once again “prove himself” to an untrusting public. It’s the same old tune with a fresh feel,
and I found it be rather heart-warming. What’s not so heart-warming is the mysterious manipulation being imposed upon Peter by the Green Goblin. In this reality, the “Green Goblin” is merely a wrestling partner of Peter’s, not the nefarious supervillain we’re accustomed to. However, someone else has donned a goblin mask, jumped on a glider, and has his malevolent sights set on Peter. This “fake” Green Goblin is a nasty character, and the reveal of his identity on the final page is something I truly didn’t see coming. I have no idea where this story is heading next, and that's a great thing.
Waid and Peyer do a fine job with the story telling - their dialogue is snappy, and there is a fantastic balance of humor and poignancy. Even with the affected environment and status quo, Peter’s voice is spot-on. J. Jonah Jameson is also a joy to listen to. The glee he feels in reading Peter’s private diary on television is palpable, and the comic timing within that scene is excellent. On the flip-side, the writers nail two emotionally-charged scenes as well: one dealing with Peter’s family’s reaction to his exposed lie, and the other being a scene in the hospital where Peter has snuck in to visit a boy who was beat senseless for publicly supporting his “hero” Spider-Man. This scene especially struck me, in that a mutant hospital security guard sort of “fills in” for Uncle Ben as the voice of reason and responsibility for Peter. It really works, and you can almost hear the music swelling in the background as Peter is moved to take action.
The art isn’t bad, but I found it to be the weakest aspect of the book. I have no problem with Larroca’s pencils. I’ve always enjoyed his work, but the washed-out water colors employed by “Liquid!” made the art seem drab and boring to me. I also felt cheated by the mono-chromatic coloring of backgrounds and people. It seems as though the colorists were either rushed, lazy, or going for an effect that just didn't work.
Final Word: A nice mix of the familiar and the strange. Though it’s hard for me to reconcile how this story will morph over the next two issues into what we see when Peter is “righted” by Layla Miller in House of M # 5 (it definitely appears that Peter is still a Big Man on Campus at that point rather than a public disgrace), I will give the writers the benefit of the doubt. If you’re a Spider-Fan, this mini is definitely worth your time.
After last month’s “shocking” revelation that Peter Parker was never the mutant he pretended to be in the House-of-M-iverse, I fully expected this miniseries to continue down a predictable road of rejection, redemption and eventual acceptance for Spider-Man. However, Mark Waid throws a proverbial curve ball here, taking his time to delve into the impact of Peter’s “out”-ing as much through the supporting cast as through Peter himself.
Waid writes a great ensemble piece this issue, opening with J. Jonah Jameson’s perfectly in-character tirade which lays the young Peter’s personal diaries open for public attention. The difference is, in this reality there’s a pang of sympathy for Jameson, due to the shitty way that he’s been treated in the past by Spider-Man. The young Peter’s diaries are a note-perfect recreation of the tortured, sensitive and isolated soul that first appeared in Amazing Fantasy #15 before a spider-bite changed everything, and it’s nice to see Waid has such a complete grasp of the character. It’s also a surprising pleasure to see many long-dead characters resurrected in this alternate reality, as how can the Spider-Man fanboy not love seeing a heated showdown between a well-captured Uncle Ben and George Stacy over the moral implications of the dual life which Peter has been leading.
As the stakes get higher, and events begin to spiral out of Spider-Man’s control, a sinister Green Goblin waits in the wings to try and exploit him by gaining the sympathies of ostracised Parker bodyguard, the Rhino. However, when their meeting doesn’t go exactly as planned, the Goblin is unmasked (in a sharp, if slightly predictable twist) and we get the sense that Waid might well have more to say about the split-personality nature of the character’s psyche than has been suggested in the past.
Salvador Larocca’s artwork is effortlessly effective here, from the quiet, contemplative hospital scenes which open the issue to the supervillain showdown at the end. His attention-grabbing cover is effective - unshowy but evocative (and, in a rare move for Marvel, is relevant to the story inside) – and his final page perfectly captures the madness of the House of M’s Green Goblin in a single deft visual. His Spider-Man is classic, yet modern; detailed yet dynamic; and has a powerful, lithe grace which suits the character to a tee. Indeed, his artwork seems to gel so well with Waid’s writing that I’d be excited to see them tackle one of the core Spider-titles together at some point.
One slight complaint with the book might be that Gwen Stacy’s presence here seems to be limited to the role of shrill, shrieking wife and eventual damsel in distress – a surprise, considering her significance in the Spider-Man mythos. However, Waid has given the reader a lot of food for thought with this issue, which reaches far beyond the mere window-dressing of an alternate reality story. His implication of a certain self-destructive nature on the part of Peter Parker suggests a grim inevitability of unfortunate circumstances in his life: that without tragedy, the character ceases to exist. Whilst the final page spread might push that theory slightly too far, I’ll be interested to see how Waid builds upon the idea next issue.
What did you think of this book?
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