“Revenge of the Spider-Slayer, Part One: Army of Insects”

Writer: Dan Slott

Penciler: Stefano Caselli

Inker: Stefano Caselli

Colorist: Edgar Delgado

“Lock and/or Key”

Writer: Fred Van Lente

Penciler: Reilly Brown

Inker: Victor Olazaba

Colorist: Andres Mossa

Cover Art: Stefano Caselli and Edgar Delgado

Be warned – there are SPOILERS ahead!

You’ll have to make due without scans today … the combination of boiler gas and time constraints mean that this one will have to go without them.  Sorry!

The Plot

Peter, Aunt May, J. Jonah Jameson Sr., and Mary Jane (?) attend Carlie’s first roller derby match.  Horizon Labs prepares a shuttle launch to their space station with John Jameson as the pilot.  Smythe and his spider-slayers infiltrate the command center and sabotage the launch while simultaneously attacking Mayor Jameson and his father, both of whom are attending the launch.  Spider-Man holds off the slayers for a time, then heads for the shuttle to save John – where he’s intercepted by the Scorpion.

In the backup story, Spider-Man is about to receive the key to the city when the new Power Man attacks, trying to one-up his mentor Iron Fist by defeating Spider-Man (a foe whom Iron Fist could not overcome).  Power Man gets in a good punch, but Spider-Man defeats him easily.  In the confusion, they key to the city is stolen by a minion, who hands the key off to The Looter.

The Good

Right off the bat, the starkest difference between this issue and the previous arc is the tremendous jump in artistic quality.  Penciled and inked by Stefano Caselli and colored by Edgar Delgado, the story looks a hell of a lot better than the slop we got from Humberto Ramos.  Caselli draws stable, consistent renditions of the supporting cast members in the Peter scenes, and he showcases a very dynamic style in the Spider-Man sequences.  His mastery of facial expressions is top-notch, and his grasp of anatomy in bombastic action sequences is superb.  Other than the d-bag, moussed-up hairstyle he gives Peter, I love his work here.  His J. Jonah Jameson in particular is fantastic.  I should also mention the work of Brown, Olazaba, and Mossa in the backup.  Even though I didn’t like the story (more on that later), I thought the art looked great.

This issue spends much more time on the civilian cast than the previous arc, and it works wonderfully.  The opening sequence at the roller derby is cute and amusing, for the most part.  (Though, I wonder why Slott chose to use fictional roller derby teams when we actually have a small league operating here in New York City.  I don’t think they would complain about the publicity.)  Yeah, the skating bit is dripping with cliché, but clichés exist because they work very well in certain instances, and this is one of them.  The J. Jonah Jameson bits are entertaining and funny – Slott definitely has a good grasp on Jonah’s character and is able to write some funny and in-character stuff for him to say.

That’s not to take anything away from the superhero stuff, either.  While I don’t particularly care for the concept of the spider-slayers used here, the sequence at Andru Air Force Base (named for former The Amazing Spider-Man penciler Ross Andru) is tense and exciting.  This issue gave off a lot of “Jonah Sr. is about to bite the dust” vibes, so the attack of the slayers carries a legitimate sense of consequence.  When Spider-Man is forced to abandon protecting the group from the slayers to pursue the shuttle, I actually got the feeling that he may have left one of them to die.  Slott manages to create a subtle dramatic moment that should pay off in the subsequent issues – I’m certainly looking forward to seeing how this plays out.

The Bad

I liked the roller derby scenes quite a bit, with one exception: the characterization of Mary Jane.  I don’t quite understand what they’re trying to go for here, but Mary Jane comes across as an idiot here.  First, MJ is used as the “you guys are supposed to like Carlie!” mouthpiece for the umpteenth time, telling us how great and fantastic Peter’s life is with her.  The particularly egregious mistake here is that the elements are almost entirely unrelated – Carlie is not the reason that Peter has the hot job or the new Spider-Man gimmicks, yet MJ essentially puts it together in such a way as to suggest that this is the case.  Later, despite being entirely aware of the consequences of such a thing, she basically tries to guilt Peter into telling Carlie his secret.  What?

There are already worrying signs that Horizon Labs will become the catch-all for anything even remotely scientific in this series.  Apparently, Horizon has billions of dollars just lying around, because they own and operate a freaking space station.  Oh, and since Peter has shown some know-how on a topic completely unrelated to goddamn rocket science, Max Modell decides to give Peter an important role in the launch.  These are the sort of plot contrivances that make me scratch my head.  Just because a character shows aptitude in one scientific discipline doesn’t mean that he or she can be used as the Swiss Army knife of science.  This is one of those things that you just have to shrug your shoulders at and hit the button for the sound clip of Donovan Grant yelling “SCIENCE!”  (By the way, the first person to make me a clip of Don yelling “SCIENCE!” gets a big shout-out in the next review.  And maybe candy.)

Oh, and the spider-slayer designs are ugly as sin.  But I didn’t need to tell you that, did I?

The Ugly

The backup strip isn’t terrible in and of itself.  Like I mentioned earlier, it actually has some pretty sweet artwork, and it’s harmless enough as to not be offensive to my palette (despite the fact that it’s clearly a case of Van Lente forcing his characters into a Spider-Man book for about the fourth time).

The problem is that the backups are the sole justification for making the book cost $3.99 per issue.  When I find myself not being entertained by them, it’s a problem.  I’m paying an entire buck extra for them, so I expect something in return here.

The Bottom Line

Despite some minor flaws, the core of the book is very solid.  Great art, good writing, and an exciting setup for the next issue make this the best issue of Slott’s run to date.  This issue took me by surprise, and I highly recommend it.  4.5 out of 5 webheads.

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