“Identity Wars, Part 1”
Writer: John Layman
Penciler: Lee Garbett
Inker: Mark Pennington
Colorist: Fabio D’Auria
Cover Art: Steve McNiven, Mark Morales, and Marte Garcia
Be warned – there are SPOILERS ahead!
Spider-Man annuals have always been a downer.
Some of the character’s greatest, most influential stories occurred in annuals, such as the first Sinister Six story in The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1, the story of his parents in The Amazing Spider-Man King-Size Special #5, and his wedding to Mary Jane in The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #21 (a story that Quesada can never take away from us, True Believers). On the other hand, the vast majority of Spider-Man annuals – the ones that aren’t simply reprints, of course – range from mediocre to utter crap.
This is one from the “utter crap” category.
Spider-Man, Deadpool, and Bruce Banner are transported to a parallel universe in which Spider-Man is a Batman-esque hero that has all but eliminated crime from New York City. “Hijinx” ensue.
Despite being the first part of a trilogy of annuals, this issue does a decent job of presenting a story that is relatively self-contained. Deadpool and Banner (with an appearance as the Hulk mixed in) feature primarily in the setup, but they more or less disappear once Layman gets into the meat of Spidey’s adventure. The primary focus of the issue is a Spider-Man story, and that story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Yes, the epilogue of the issue fails to resolve the primary conflict of being trapped in an alternate universe, but without those last two pages setting up the Deadpool and Hulk annuals the story does stand up on its own.
The artwork of Lee Garbett, while painfully bland at times (mostly the overly-expository dialogue sequences), is still good enough to put in the plus column. This is the first work of his that I’ve seen, and after hearing our very own Stella talk him up on her great Batgirl to Oracle: A Barbara Gordon Podcast, I was expecting to be bowled over. For the most part, I liked what I saw here. The action sequences were clear and easy-to-follow, and the choice of shots were interesting enough to keep me reading. I’m looking forward to seeing more of his work in the Spider-Man backup stories he’s currently drawing.
Unfortunately, the story itself is not impressive.
Do you remember What If? It was a comic series that is mostly remembered for two volumes that ran for 47 issues from 1977 to 1984 and for another 114 issues from 1989 to 1998. It was a very mixed bag, with some pretty interesting premises and a whole lot of crappy ones. And sometimes, there were ones that left horrifying mental scars, like What If Vol. 2 #34:
Generally, What If stories took a character and an event in that character’s career and then presented an alternate take on that event and its aftermath. Volume 2 featured such stories as “What If Kraven the Hunter Had Killed Spider-Man?” (issue 17), “What If Spider-Man Had Kept His Six Arms?” (issue 42), and the Quesada-tastic “What If Spider-Man Had Not Married Mary Jane?” (issue 20). It was common fodder for the series to present alternate takes on Spider-Man’s origin, especially Volume 1: What If #7 presented a story in which characters like Flash Thompson and Betty Brant (boy, Bertone would have a field day with this …) gain spider-powers instead of Peter, What If #19 imagines Spider-Man’s life if he had stayed in showbusiness instead of becoming a superhero, and What If #46 imagined what would happen if Uncle Ben had lived.
I mention all of these, and ESPECIALLY that last one, because this issue reminded me of What If. It felt like it was an unused stock issue from the end of Volume 2 or something, because it was both unimaginative and by-the-numbers. While reading, I could feel the “twists” coming pages ahead of time because it felt like something I had read before – and chances are, I probably have. Don’t get me wrong – it’s certainly not the worst What If that I’ve read, but it’s so terribly generic that it failed to hold my interest for long. I needed three different sittings to read this through once because it was simply so boring and obvious.
Despite the vanilla nature of the story, there were a few huge missed opportunities. Despite being mentioned several times, we see absolutely nothing of the Peter-Gwen-Mary Jane love triangle that Layman sets up in the story. In fact, Gwen only appears one page, and Mary Jane doesn’t appear at all. The epilogue outright TELLS us that Peter has no interest in facing these alternate versions of Gwen and MJ, so the encounter never happens. To quote Ben Grimm, watta revoltin’ development dis is! Similarly, we see that the Aunt May of this universe is either appalled by the ongoing plan, terrified of Ben, or both, but the story never follows up on it.
Beyond that, I don’t really have much to say about the issue. It was such a textbook alternate universe story that I can’t even find the words to discuss most of it. It’s THAT bland.
Okay, I get it. There are people out there that like the character. I’m not one of them. In fact, I find the character so incredibly annoying that just seeing him makes my blood boil. I’m tired of seeing the character shoehorned into Spider-Man stories. Just make it stop.
The Bottom Line
ZZZZZ. 1 out of 5 webheads.