Tuesday, May 18, 2010
Amazing Spider-Man - Shed Parts 1 & 2 - A Review
Spider-Man’s been a bit of a tricky subject to discuss on the internet for the past few years. The undoing of the Spider-Marriage in One More Day has cast a phenomenally long shadow over the books that still isn’t gone. You basically can’t find a review of a Spider-Man book on the internet that doesn’t mention it (including this one).
Which is a shame, because since Brand New Day kicked off, Amazing Spider-Man has probably giving us the highest batting average of a Spider-Man book I’ve ever seen on a regular basis since I started reading them in the early 90’s. The only better run was JMS’ initial run with John Romita, Jr. and even THAT had Dr. Doom crying in it.
While there have been some misfires (you’d think Mark Waid would be a better fit for Spider-Man than he has turned out to be), there have also been some pleasant surprises (apparently Joe Kelly can write good comics when he’s being paid by Marvel), and some great additions to the Spider-Man mythos (J. Jonah Jameson as Mayor is a fantastic spin for that character).
The three-times-a-month and written by committee approach has been a bold experiment and while I would say it’s a success, it hasn’t clicked as well as I’d have hoped. For instance, the ongoing Gauntlet storyline, where Spidey’s classic villains have been manipulated into fighting him in succession has been largely good, with a few standout bits (mostly Kelly’s stories about the Rhino), but it hasn’t gotten me excited for the next issue in the way that, say, Fraction’s Iron Man or Brubaker’s Cap does.
That changes a bit, however, with the latest story arc, Shed, which brings back the Lizard. Shed reunites one of the more successful creative teams of the Brand New Day experiment: Zeb Wells and Chris Bachalo. They contributed one of the earliest stories to the new status quo, when Spider-Man got caught in the middle of a blizzard fighting a Mayan cult, an evil math professor, and the evil Mayan god they were trying to resurrect. It was all a bit bonkers, but it all came together really well.
Whereas their previous effort went to extreme lengths to put Spidey in new territory, this issue is firmly ensconced in classic Spider-Man tropes. Peter is bumbling his way through relationship problems. Curt Connors is trying to get his kid back and suppress the Lizard. He, of course, fails at both of these attempts. And a mysterious villain is manipulating everything behind the scenes.
However, Wells does a nice job of putting a twist on everything. Peter’s in a relationship, but deeply unhappy with how it’s going. He gets a date with a girl he’s been clearly into, but it’s him who gets stood up at the restaurant. Curt Connors is being pushed into turning into the Lizard and we have a scene with him searching for a secret formula, but in this case it’s the antidote. The Lizard threatens Connors’ son and it doesn’t end how you expect. Spider-Man is being stalked for revenge not just by a single member of a dead villain’s family, but by all of them. The familiarity is all here, but the inversions of the old formula not only keep you on your toes, but demonstrate that Wells understands what makes this character tick and what elements it takes to build a strong Spider-Man story.
Another strength of the storyline is the depiction of the Lizard. All the Gauntlet stories have searched for a new take on the classic Spidey villains and I think Shed does the most successful job by a long shot. The Lizard isn’t simply depicted as the savage Hulk with teeth as he so often is. Instead of operating on mindless violence, this Lizard is driven by instinct and what we know about reptilian behavior. When his boss sleeps with the assistant, Connors feels he has to assert his dominance in the office by challenging and killing his boss. The dichotomy between the Lizard and Connors isn’t depicted as a psychological struggle, but a battle over turf between two animals.
Of course none of this would be as effective as it is without Chris Bachalo’s fantastic artwork. Bachalo’s does a fantastic job showing the savagery of the Lizard and making him look distinct and threatening. The mood the artwork sets is amazing. Whenever the Lizard is on panel or threatening to break through Connors’ psyche, everything gets dark and starts looking like an urban jungle. Special credit also goes to Emma Rios, who fills in on the opening of the second issue, showing Peter’s date gone wrong, a crime scene, and an acrobatic fight with the Grim Hunter, all drawn with equal aplomb.
Shed is a bit darker than you’d expect from a Spider-Man story, but that doesn’t mean it’s not good. Zeb Wells has proven time and again that he has a great handle on this character and he works very well with Chris Bachalo and Emma Rios. Shed is proof that even with all its continuity headaches, editorial fiats, and fans boycotting it, Amazing Spider-Man is still producing some great stories. The third and final part of Shed gets published next week. If you like Spidey, I’d say its worth a shot.