As the city of New York rapidly approaches total Spider-Island infestation, Mayor Jameson takes action! But can Spidey keep the irascible official in check when the key behind saving the city lies with Alystair Smythe?
“Spider Island Part Four: Spiders, Spiders everywhere”
Written by Dan Slott
Illustrated by Humberto Ramos
Inked by Victor Olazaba
Colored by Edgar Delgado
Lettered by VC’s Joe Caramagna
THE PLOT: The hundreds of thousands of citizens with Spider-Powers all spontaneously explode into gigantic Spider creatures. The Queen, the big bad revealed to be behind the infestation, gets wind that Anti-Venom has the power to cure the infected. “Spider-King” is sent in to silence him, but Venom, who was posing as the Spider-King, quickly takes Brock down and sends him to Reed Richards to help develop a cure.
LONG STORY SHORT: Meanwhile Jameson, brimming with Spider-Power and short on patience, takes Spider-Man and goes to Alystair Smythe in order to seek a solution to the Spidery problems affecting New York. Smythe can’t help mocking Jameson for his desperation, which causes Jameson to suddenly transform into a Man-Spider and chomp and economy-sized bite into Smythe’s neck.
MY THOUGHTS: Ugh…I didn’t like this.
Spider-Island has been a very uneven mini-event this far in its run, and I’ve not always known exactly why. The whole idea of it is really sensationalistic, but hey it’s a comic book. Some of the concepts such as ordinary people with Spider-Powers is an interesting idea, but does that wholly make it worth doing? Well…yeah, sure. But if you’re asking me (in fairness, nobody is) a potentially good idea is only worth trying if done right. This arc has just left me with so many questions, and the holes those questions make cause my reading experience of the book to be very strained and impatient. It’s worth mentioning, why is every citizen that gets Spider-Powers so amazingly adept at using them? Why does Carlie automatically know the Jackal is behind everything? Why doesn’t Peter question the Jackal potentially being alive? Where are the rest of Spidey’s foes, including the one’s he’s put away like the Vulture? Why is everyone seemingly thrilled at having Spider-Powers, and not freaked out or even concerned? If New York City, one of the most populous cities in the entire world is majorly infected by a mutating virus, why hasn’t the National Guard been called in? Clearly the Avengers, X-Men, New Avengers and Future Foundation aren’t enough.
I know the textbook answer to those questions are “It’s a comic book, genius.” and that mass goings-on in New York have been used in comics before. What I keep thinking back to is Maximum Carnage, where an endless killing spree happened, and only Spider-Man, Venom, Captain America, Black Cat, and a handful of C-List super heroes responded to the threat. The thing with this is that Marvel has bandied about the image of New York to the hilt in ASM as of late, and Spider-Island is probably the biggest example of that. Everyone loves New York, New York has some many notable things about it, New York is awesome. I’m not trying to denigrate New York, but if Marvel is using the imagery to give a sense of relatability in using an actual city, for a city-wide crisis such as this one, questions have to come up. Some are important, some aren’t. My point again is that there are questions that have been popping up for the entirety of the arc, and hardly any have really been explained.
That’s one thing.
Another is Slott’s dialogue, and this is becoming an ongoing trope with me. But honestly, I have to mention it here. Dan Slott’s a solid writer. He can tell a story, pace it out well (Spider-Island has actually been very well paced thus far, that I will most certainly give it.) and hit the main story beats with ease. My problem is in his execution of those scenes, I.E. scenes with dialogue. This was discussed on episode #153 of the Crawlspace Podcast, mainly by J.R. and I 100% agree. Slott doesn’t seem to really go after genuine human interaction, or really any plausible, realistic interaction at all. An example can be found immediately with the recap page at the beginning.
“New Yorkers manifest spider-powers!” “And then mutate into spider-monsters!” “The Queen is back and is building a Spider-Army!” “With help from the malicious geneticist: The Jackal.” “Even Mayor J. Jonah Jameson is infected!” “Jameson’s already had a hellish year after his wife Marla was killed by the Spider-Slayer Alistair Smythe. But now he’s living out a new nightmare as…the spider-mayor of SPIDER-ISLAND!”
Or at least it comes off as stupid to me. I know Slott is going for a old-school, “Stan Lee”-ish, comic-booky feel with this story, but it’s things like this which make it come off as schlocky and low-brow. I’m not saying I need every comic I read to be Watchmen-level intelligent, but at the very least I need to feel immersed in the characters through the experiences they go through with each story. There’s not a sense of humanity with this story, there’s just…story tropes. It honestly feels to me as if Slott goes down a number of tropes in order to write an issue.
What I like about this issue is the “24”-esque scene transitions. By that I mean that with a crisis such as this, we need to see different viewpoints with various characters as quick and succinctly as possible. Slott does that here, and does it well. The downside to that is instead of the characters coming off as genuinely concerned about the threat, they spout off lines of dialogue that seem to be written for the sake of characterization, but feel to me at least as though they’re cheeky lines for the sake of being cheeky and glib. Like in ASM #665 when Robbie said Betty suffering brain swelling was no big deal because she’s worked for J. Jameson before. I know Slott was writing Robbie as an optimistic person trying to soften the mood, but it was out of character for Robbie and inappropriate for the situation. In this issue, we get lines like that from all over. Randy Robertson mutates into a Spider-Creature, and Robbie says “Randy?! Dear Lord, it’s not just him…” as he sees others start to transform. Again this may just be me, but I would imagine Robbie would be more concerned about seeing his son turn into a monster than notice anything else happening in the room. I would imagine the NYers at Riverside to be more concerned with fighting the Spider-Creatures rather than being annoyed that Mary Jane isn’t doing anything. I would imagine somebody noticing that a large population of the creatures are swarming to the one spot where the Queen and the Jackal are, out in broad daylight, but I digress. My point is this, Slott is too concerned with the frenetic energy of the situation to fully realize the emotional and dramatic conflict the crisis very easily presents. He’s been doing it throughout most of his run, but mainly in this arc and it’s intrusive to the reading experience. With the short Robertson family scene, it would make more sense to concentrate of Robbie’s horror at seeing Randy become a monster while other people are transforming in the background rather than have Robbie say “Randy! Oh look, everyone else is a monster too.” It doesn’t. Feel. REAL.
The same with the exposition. It’s 1960s style exposition in the worst way. “Who would have thought that little old Ardriana Sorina would grow up to become Queen of a whole Spider-Island?” says the Jackal. “Who in their right mind would have thought to speak that out loud?” thinks Donovan. Again, more of Slott pandering to an audience that thinks of old school comic book storytelling to be the best there is, and I am calling out the people who’ve enjoyed Slott’s run in the past year. I am in no way wanting to take away from their/you’re enjoyment, but it becomes an example of what comic book readers seem to expect from certain titles with each new writer. People seem to eat Amazing Spider-Man up, and more power to them. But from what all I’ve read, Amazing Spider-Man appears to be in people’s eyes a less sophisticated title which appeals to a cartoon-style sense of storytelling in the medium. Why? This whole story is sold on the idea that people with Spider-Powers is the best idea ever! Okay I obviously disagree, but even if it was, is this really the only way to write it? Spider-Man himself is barely in the story for the most part, taking back seats to Jameson, Carlie, Jackal and other characters. He had his moments in the past, but this book isn’t about the life of Peter Parker, it’s about the hijinks of New York with Spider-Man in it. One of the first things he thinks about when he reacts to the Spider-Creatures is “I don’t know what to do! I need help! I can’t do this alone!” I can see Peter think or say that sometime in his lifetime, but as weird as this may sound, he’s faced worse than this. He’s been a clone, not been a clone, fought his clone, see his clone die, see friends die without any immediate explanation, been framed in both identities, been thought to have been dead, and has lost so much in terms of loved ones. Throughout all of those instances, one thing has always remained true to the character: he’s a scientist by heart. He’s not going to just freeze Batgirl #1 style and stand around like a deer in the headlights. He’s much more prone to think “Okay, what can I do? How can I stop this? What needs to be done?” This was true way back when he was a teenager, don’t cash out that part of his character now just to throw about the notion that he’s young and makes mistakes. It’s another insulting aspect of the current Spider-Man’s portrayal that isn’t necessarily intentional but all the same frustrating.
There’s a scene in this comic where it’s revealed that Alicia Masters was once turned into a spider in a story from Marvel Two-In-One. It’s “reminded” to us in a line or two of dialogue, but it comes off as Slott waving around his continuity-slut banner. Honestly, it’s cool that such an innocuous story has relevance in a modern story, but the way that was revealed in this issue was cheap. We aren’t given any flashback panels showing how this went down or any explanation further than “Well gee, if Alicia was once a Spider, then she holds the key to humanity’s salvation!” What about freaking Spider-Man! He’s turned into a Man-Spider at least twice! The scene comes off not as a plot point with a nice nod to continuity, but as a pointless thread which is forced into the story for the sake of showing off that Dan Slott has read Marvel Two-In-One, a title which hasn’t existed since 1983. This is absolutely ridiculous. I can’t imagine a reader going “A-ha!” at reading that unless he has read Marvel Two-In-One, but all the same the odds of that are nil in a Spider-Man comic book! If Marvel is aiming at newer and younger readers, what’s the point of referencing something that didn’t even happen in Spider-Man’s own title nearly thirty years ago? New readers are going to say “Huh? What?” when they see that. And even if they go out to try and find it to read, judging by the Thing’s remarks of initially thinking that story was a random incident, it doesn’t sound like those issues were worth anyone’s time.
Let’s end this. I like how Slott writes Reed Richards. He feels as though he’s lost his temper, but he hasn’t yelled at anyone. It’s very nerdy of him, and it’s great characterization. Slott’s Jonah is slightly better here if only because whenever his wife is referenced, you can see the damaged quality of the guy in his eyes and what he says. Kudos to both Slott and Ramos there. I actually like the ending, but I didn’t like the dialogue again. If Jonah is in a bloodthirsty rage, why is he taking the time out for a quip? It’s too…too “comic booky” which goes to show how the medium has changed, how it’s grown, and how this writer is hampering that growth.
Apologies if this has come off as too harsh of a review, but I can’t take much more of this ridiculous writing. There are other titles I read which I dislike for various reasons, but for the most part they all feel as if they take place in a 2011 contemporary mindset. Spider-Island and the majority of Slott’s run…doesn’t. It feels forced, childish, and unnatural.