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Amazing Spider-Man #50 By Matt Martin
Marvel Comics – J. Michael Straczynski (w); John Romita, Jr. (p); Scott Hanna (i)
Y’know, everyone, it seems, has loved Straczynski’s run from Day One. Well, I haven’t.
There, I said it. I think the majority of his run has been, at best, mediocre.
While Batman is, historically speaking, my life-long hero, Spider-Man is a really close second. I was, for the majority of my comic-reading career, psychotically loyal to both characters. In fact, only the Clone Saga broke my Spider-Man addiction. So when JMS took over the reigns on Amazing, I was thrilled. And while I admit that most of my joy was derived from seeing the abysmal Howard Mackie leave the book, it was nice to see Marvel replace him with a solid writer, not just a competent one (though after Mackie, almost anything would’ve been a step up). The appearance of JMS was enough to make me regularly buy the book again.
But I’ve gotta tell you, I thought his opening arc could’ve been better. If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s stories that try to convince me that a hero of Spider-Man’s caliber is in mortal danger. I understand that we’re supposed to suspend disbelief and tell ourselves that Morlun really might kill Peter, but I find that hard to do, particularly when there’s a movie just around the corner. I just find the faux suspense hard to tolerate; that’s just me, I’m a hard man to please. The now-famous September 11th issue rolled around and I absolutely hated it, because that’s my birthday. I mean, I can’t even read comics now to escape the fact that my friggin’ birthday has been forever tainted?
From there, things pretty much go down hill for me. The Dr. Strange and Shathra arcs made me feel like JMS had no feel for the character whatsoever, because those types of stories just aren’t the things that I associate Spider-Man with. No matter how colorful his rogues’ gallery is, Spider-Man villains are all essentially just criminals, bank robbers, what have you. He doesn’t fight moth-demons or jump through dimensional portals. That just seemed way out of character for me (and maybe I’m off-base here).
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Overall, my problems with his run boiled down to this: Peter was spending far too much of his time whining about how much he missed Mary Jane and very little of it being the light-hearted character that he generally is. And most of the attempts at humor just felt very forced, like they’d been shoehorned into the story for no reason other than to reassure people that they were still, in fact, reading a Spider-Man book.
So where am I going with this, you ask? Right here:
I really enjoyed this issue.
After much ado and even more delays, Peter and Mary Jane are finally reunited, meeting at the airport, just the two of them. But with a move by Straczynski that reminds me of the best Stan Lee issues, it’s not going to be that easy for the pair. Not only does Doctor Doom stride through the airport gates, en route to an environmental conference, but also pro-democracy Latverian rebels spring a plot to assassinate the iron-fisted (my apologies for the pun, it was out before I knew it) dictator. Luckily, Captain America (also incognito) appears to lend a hand.
The simple fact here is that Straczynski delivered the exact opposite of what I was expecting from him. Given my past experiences (during which I had begun to refer to the book as “spidey-something” because of what I perceived as an overuse of “adult” melodrama), I was looking for Straczynski to crank out a heartfelt, sit-down sort of issue. A very special episode of The Amazing Spider-Man, if you will. But that’s not it at all.
The dialogue between Peter and Mary Jane is genuine and realistic-sounding. You can believe that this is the sort of conversation that a superhero and his estranged wife would have; it just makes sense. At the same time, the heart-to-heart sequences never have a chance to feel stale because they’re punctuated regularly by a new wave of attacks from Doom’s would-be assassins. The humor flows along at appropriate moments and, for once, the things that Peter says to break the tension seem to fall in line with what I’m used to. And I’m of the opinion that no one but John Romita, Jr. should ever be allowed to pencil this book ever again, because I simply can’t imagine anyone alive today making it look as easy as he does.
However, I must say, the real show-stealer is Doctor Doom, who is absolutely hysterical. His dialogue alone is worth the price of admission. If nothing else in the issue were spot-on, I’d recommend picking it up just for Doom’s third-person rants. But, thankfully, there’s a lot more to be enjoyed here that just hyperbolic diatribes from a steel-girded madman.