“The Other: Evolve or Die, Part 4 of 12: Bargaining”
Writer: Reginald Hudlin
Artists: Mike Wieringo (p), Karl Kesel (i), Paul Mounts (colours)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
This issue sees the debut of writer Reggie Hudlin in "The Other" crossover, and he’s inherited a premise which is full of potential: Spider-Man has some kind of terminal illness, cause unknown, and he’s haunted by visions of Morlun, the vampiric enemy who once tried to feast on poor Peter due to his totemistic animal qualities. Hudlin takes the concept and uses it to launch a fairly logical whistle-stop tour of all the people in the Marvel universe who might be able to help Spidey out of his mess, and whilst the story doesn’t really progress anywhere, there are some fun scenes and pleasing art which give the issue something to do in the meantime.
First port of call is Reed Richards, who confirms Spidey’s degeneration but – despite being the Smartest Guy in the Marvel Universe™ - can’t pin down the exact cause. This leads Reed, Spidey and some of his Avenger buddies to track down that expert on radiation-based-mutation, Bruce Banner. A confrontation with the Hulk ensues, which – thanks to some great old-school-feeling graphics from Mike Wieringo – proves one of the issue’s high points, evoking the essence of Marvel comics with its colourful and kinetic panels and (purposely?) simplistic old-fashioned dialogue. Sadly, the authority on radiation doesn’t have a clue either, so Spidey journeys to Africa to meet Black Panther, who - despite his society’s advancement and intellect – can’t get to the bottom of it either (are we noticing a trend here?) and so sends Spidey back home in time for a cliffhanger pep-talk from Doctor Strange, which affirms his certain demise. It’s a wild goose chase around the Marvel Universe which is kept fresh and fun thanks to Wieringo’s funky visuals which scream classic Spidey, yet aren’t afraid to go to darker places, such as Daredevil’s intervention after Spidey’s near-killing of a third-rate villain whilst convinced that he was fighting Morlun. Wieringo also provides an excellent blue-tinged cover which is reminiscent of the strong montage work frequently provided by artist Tony Harris on the covers of DC’s Ex Machina. Reggie Hudlin’s writing scores quite well in places too, with the occasionally novel touch such as Peter’s African hair braids or his vanquishing of the Hulk with an unfinished knock-knock joke throwing up a few laughs, even if such moments do undermine the morbid seriousness of the issue’s main theme.
That said, I’m getting a little fed up with the more repetitive elements of "The Other," which are only compounded by the story’s almost weekly shipping schedule. How many times are we going to see Spidey told he’s got a terminal illness, only for the scene to cut away before more specifics are revealed? How many fights is Peter going to get into with the ghost of Morlun before he realises that the villain’s appearance may be less literal than psychological? And how many more times is our hero going to reject the support of those nearest and dearest to him in service of the lazy “loner” tag which writers seem intent on applying to the character? They’re elements which might work well enough once or twice, but in the context of a larger crossover, things have to move on more quickly (or at least be co-ordinated in such a way that different writers and different titles don’t keep regurgitating the same story points over and over again), or the audience is going to start to get tired of reading the same story week in week out. Tantalising hints as to the eventual direction of the crossover are thrown up in places (the revisiting of an African spider-based Temple similar to the ones shown in recent issues of Amazing Spider-Man; the references to Anansi, the Spider-God to which Amazing writer J.M. Stracynski has often alluded during his totemistic storylines) but they just aren’t enough to keep us tided over. If it’s going to take JMS to present the meat of the story then I don’t know why Marvel didn’t let him write the whole thing. After all, the event will be half complete by the time he gets to write his three issues, and that’s too long to keep "The Other" treading water.
This issue does shake things up a little bit for the crossover, taking better advantage of the Marvel Universe as a backdrop to Spidey’s tragedy, and exploring at least some of the logical avenues of investigation that a hero like Spider-Man has open to him when faced with such a fundamental threat to his health. However, if something doesn’t happen soon, fans are going to tire of the vaguaries of the crossover’s plot, because there’s just not anything substantial enough for readers to get their teeth into and care about yet. From what we’ve been told, Spider-Man has cellular degeneration, a dangerous blood condition, radiation sickness and some kind of supernatural curse on his head: the catalyst for all these things still hasn’t been made clear, and Spidey’s ultimate fate never discussed in sufficient depth to really make readers buy the idea that such a significant character’s time is really up. With the best will in the world, it feels like it’s time to get over the early stages of this storyline and get to the meat of the plot, because "The Other" is dragging - and without the benefit of the pretty art of Mikes Wieringo or Deodato, I’m almost dreading next week’s issue of Marvel Knights’ Spider-Man.
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