Amazing Spider-Man #1.4
Writer: Jose Molina
Artists: Simone Bianchi and Andrea Broccardo
Color Artist: David Curiel
It seems like headliner heroes these days are going through a tough time as they are all being re-imagined. Given the low rate of success, by my personal measure, I would say that where it’s at today is with the non-headliners and ersatz teams, like Deathstroke or Squadron Supreme. There seems to be more interesting stories going on there that are being handled and rounded out with more panache; I’d recommend seeking those out and avoiding the big name heroes for a bit. This take on Spider-Man also seems to be struggling to find a grip with a tone that will feel less awkward, but it has not quite nailed that landing yet. While this issue takes Parker into less familiar turf and provides some opportunity to open up the story of one pretty familiar web-head, there is something tonally off about this take on Spider-Man. And the story overall fails to capture the magic of Spider-Man by putting him in a story that seems intent on telling us about a moral struggle about belief vs non-believers; heavy matter that just gets in the way of telling this arc.
In Amazing Spider-Man #1.4, Peter continues his investigation into the death and resurrection of one of Harlem’s well-known patrons, Julio Rodriguez (seems like a stereotypical name for a Hispanic character, but I’ll trust that Molina knows what he is doing given his own ethnicity). Peter feels like something does not smell right, and given the off-panel stuff we get to see, Spider-Man would not be far from the truth. Teaming up (on some level) with a new group of super-heroes hailing from Harlem, the Santerians, Parker is in a race to reveal Julio for what he really is before Rodriguez can consolidate his power and gain sway over all of Harlem.
Story seems to be where this comic struggles the most. There are a few places where you think the comic is going to go down a certain path. So when it does not, you get pissed, mainly because the exit vector from that scenario takes the story dark, tragic, or just really serious. Spider-Man is often portrayed to (maniacally) swing from wise-cracking punster to anti-religious fanatic. Everything here drips with religious overtones like a Daredevil comic. The new group of Harlem super-heroes is also meant as a religious device. They are called the Santerians, which comes from santeria, which is the Spanish word for the worship of Saints, or a shard of the Catholic religion mixed with other religions, that hails from Spain by way of the Western Caribbean. So is this Spider-Man versus big religion? Or Catholicism? The overall theme feels forced and unnatural. This bleeds into several staged scenes, such as when the Santerians, who originally brought Spider-Man in to help them, attack him when he communicates back information he has uncovered. Or when Parker corners Rodriguez, and goes all Batman, with a line “Stop Lying. Who are you? What do you really want?” while he choke-holds Rodriguez up in the air, off of his feet, menacingly brandishing his other fist as if he is planning on punching the villain’s head off. There are also a couple of 4th wall lines that just made me think “WTF?!!”
The best thing going in this comic is the work from color artist David Curiel. It’s quite frankly amazing, and one of the few things that lend this book any sense of consistent, non-schizophrenic tone. The pencils themselves need a lot of work, as Rodriguez is never drawn consistently from panel-to-panel, and there are a few instances where I could not tell that a silent panel image of Peter was supposed to be Peter. One of the larger fumbles is the horizontal panel pages, which seem to be trying to mimic the work of JH Williams III from his run on Batwoman, but are not as well structured or beautiful. The main problem is that Bianchi/Broccardo (I cannot tell exactly which artist did these panels) just try to stuff too much into one horizontal page, such that the sub-panels are sometimes so tiny that it looks like a shot of Atom from DC. It also means that the spacing in terms of fight choreography and action scenes that are portrayed in these panels gets muddled and often confusing. In terms of storytelling, there are a few panels that jump time and are jarring until you realize you’ve past the last scene and are further down the timeline. And there is one scene at the front of the issue where a woman appears in a doorway who looks like a civilian, but in the next panel seems to be in costume, and you cannot piece together if it is supposed to be the same woman from the same doorway.
There’s a lot wrong here. This book is very similar to Iron Man International #1, which I also felt had not found it’s footing. Marvel seems to be struggling in its effort to reboot and re-imagine some of its mainstream characters in the wake of Secret Wars. In a similar vein, DC seems to be struggling with seminal characters like Green Arrow, as creative teams try to outro those characters in preparations for rebirth. This issue did not encourage to me to get onboard this new ongoing. I think I’ll continue to pan around the Marvel-scape for other interesting things to put on my pull-list. This story seems to be overly bent on taking on the religious right, but is doing so with a Spider-Man that slips from Deadpoolesque in one minute, to Daredevilish in the next, and none of it feels right. Hopefully there will be a different vector after this arc is done, but right now this does not feel like anybody’s favorite web-head.