Let’s do something new with something old, shall we? When I recently went through the Crawl Space archives to retag things (mainly reviews) to make them easier to search in the categories bar on the right side of the page, I noticed several holes in some titles, mainly mini-series and anthologies. It happens – a reviewer will have to step down for whatever reason and sometimes you just don’t find someone else to pick up the slack on that mini before it ends. Sometimes a reviewer loses interest and stops buying a title and it slips through the cracks. But me being the sort of obsessive personality that I am – now that I know about those missing issues, I just can’t stop thinking about them. So I’m going to take on a project of doing some flashback reviews to fill some of the gaps. Now when I say flashback reviews, I don’t mean we’re going to go back and review classic issues from bygone eras – that’s more the niche of fellow fansite spiderfan.org and they’ve got their business handled pretty well. I’m just going to be focusing on filling in the gaps in the reviews we already have, and throwing in a few other minis and one-shots here and there that have been released since the current incarnation of this site was established in 2008 (a lot of reviews of older material can still be found in the archive of the previous version of the Crawl Space here). So, onto this particular issue!
This comic is cover-dated February 2010 and was released during Brand New Day’s “The Gauntlet” event. This incarnation of Web of Spider-Man was launched featuring a “Gauntlet Origins” story by Fred Van Lente every issue showing a bit of the history of one of the villains involved in Amazing Spider-Man’s Gauntlet. It also housed print versions of originally digital-only Spectacular Spider-Girl stories by Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz with various other back-up stories rounding it out.
This issue’s origin story spotlights The Rhino. Spider-Man’s Brand New Day era certainly had its ups and downs, but it is almost universally considered a great time for The Rhino thanks to a truly excellent story by Joe Kelly in Amazing Spider-Man #617 and 625. The Rhino originally appeared in a 3-part arc by Stan Lee and John Romita, Sr., in Amazing Spider-Man #41-43.
Assistant Editor: Tom Brennan
Editor: Stephen Wacker
Cover Artist: Jelena Djurdjevic
“GAUNTLET ORIGINS: RHINO”
Writer: Fred Van Lente
Artist: Nick Dragotta
Letterer: Joe Caramagna
THE STORY: The Rhino tears through a rebel camp in a dictatorship and then flashes back to his origins. He was a petty crook who met some defectors (he’s Russian) who offered to give him great power. He let them fuse The Rhino suit to him, and here we are. Back where we started, those same defectors tell Rhino he wasn’t supposed to attack the rebel camp, they are supposed to be working for the rebels. After being called stupid one too many times, Rhino kills the defectors and then completes the actual mission.
MY THOUGHTS: When I’m getting a retelling of a character’s origin right before that character’s return in a big story, what I’m mainly looking for are three things: 1) Useful information, 2) Something that adds to the modern story, and, as always, 3) Entertainment value. And on the whole I can’t say this story did much to satisfy me. As far as useful information, there’s not really anything presented here that can’t be gleaned from any appearance of The Rhino ever. He’s strong, he’s dumb, he doesn’t like being called dumb, and he likes money. This story, in fact, doesn’t even manage to work in The Rhino’s real name (Aleksei Sytsevich) which would have been easy to do either at the beginning of Rhino’s narration or when he’s being addressed for the first time by the defectors. It doesn’t actually even mention that he’s Russian outside of one of the defectors dropping that he used to work for the Kremlin. So no real useful info here. Does it add to the modern story? I’m going to have to go with “not really.” The only way I could see this adding to the forthcoming story in Amazing Spider-Man is if you’ve never heard of The Rhino, this will give you 11 whole pages of him being a stupid crook before we see him in love. But if you’ve ever, ever even HEARD of Rhino, there’s really nothing you’re going to take away from this that will deepen “Rage of the Rhino.” So the only criterion we have left is entertainment value. On that front I can only say “a bit.” That mostly comes from some good art giving us some panels in the shape of THOOM sound effects and things of that nature. On the writing front it’s not a bad read, it just feels rather inconsequential.
GRADE: 2 webs out of 5. Very standard fair where it should have been supporting a bigger story bring the grade way down, but it’s buoyed by some creative art.
“THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-GIRL in WHOM GODS DESTROY”
Writer: Tom DeFalco
Pencils: Ron Frenz
Inks: Sal Buscema
Colorist: Bruno Hang
Letterer: Dave Sharpe
THE STORY: After a battle with Fury, the Goblin Queen, Spider-Girl is trapped under a building but gets out of it pretty quickly. She spots Fury making off with classmate Simone DeSantos while dropping good friend Wes out of the sky. With no webshooters on her, May makes an impressive if injurious save. Kaine and Darkdevil show up and Spider-Girl leaves with Darkdevil. Kaine informs his secret government organization that they need to take Simone’s father – Rene DeSantos, head of the New York branch of the Goblin Cult and betrayer of Fury – into protective custody. Mary Jane Parker, at the high school, learns of what’s going on. Fury returns to her secret base with Simone, where she is also holding April – the symbiotic clone of May who is still insisting she’s the real one. When Fury informs April that May is alive, April changes her costume to blue and gives Fury a signal that will call May there to spring her trap. Meanwhile, Black Tarantula, in his penthouse with Arana and his assistant Chesbro, mentions that he offered Don Silvio a truce, but then the penthouse blows up, which is apparently Don Silvio’s answer. Back to the main plot, Spider-Girl and Darkdevil pop in on Fury who has a new partner – symbioted-out April!
MY THOUGHTS: Tom DeFalco. Does NOT. Practice. Decompression. Holy crap did a lot just happen. At 16 pages, this story was a mere five pages longer than the Rhino story (which was 11 pages for those that don’t truck with math) and yet it felt like an oversized comic book all on its own where the previous story felt more like a 5-pager. I have to give it to DeFalco here – even though characters were being thrown at me in droves and the scene changed at The-Flash-on-crack speeds, I never felt confused or like I didn’t know what was going on. I’m not a novice Spider-Girl reader, but I’m not an expert either. I read a bit of the original Spider-Girl series and most of Amazing Spider-Girl, but this is the first Mayday story I’ve read in a long time and I clearly missed some chapters. But between a thorough review, expository dialogue that rarely felt too forced, and flat-out clear storytelling, I didn’t get left behind for this story. That’s a pretty impressive feat for a 16-page story with well over a hundred issues of heavy continuity built up before it.
As expected by those that know them, I really have to give it up for the art team here, too. Ron Franz and Sal Buscema are classic Spidey artists that got to the top of their game a long time ago and never left it. It’s definitely got a classic comic book feel to it which means your mileage will vary depending on how much you dig that look, but one cannot discount the storytelling skills of these guys in any era. Tons of characters, fast-paced scenes and quick cuts, and these guys never miss a beat in leading the reader easily along the path. Never a panel I have to go back and examine to figure out what happened, just solidly telling the story to the reader.
Now, having praised the skills of the men that were able to tell this story so well, I do have to say I think there may be a bit too much going on here even though the storytellers are up to the challenge of handling it. The one-page check-ins on Mary Jane and Black Tarantula felt really out of place, particularly the latter, and I wonder if they really needed to be in this chapter or could they have better fit somewhere else. Also the inclusion of Darkdevil gives May someone to talk to and a way to quickly get into Fury’s hideout, but he feels like he may be the character breaking the camel’s back here. So while the writer and artists have no problem handling all that’s going on, as a reader I feel like it could have been streamlined a bit for even more enjoyment.
“AUNT MAY AND J. JONAH JAMESON, SR., in LOVE AND MARRIAGE”
Writer: J.M. DeMatteis
Pencils: Val Semeiks
Inks: Dan Green
Colors: Andres Mossa
Letterer: Jared K. Fletcher
THE STORY: Hotel staff talk about May and Jay having sex. Then May and Jay, in bed, talk about having sex. Then they go to the beach and mention having sex in the water. Then they travel some. Then they get to an airport – reference sex – and decide to keep travelling.
MY THOUGHTS: I had forgotten how much elderly sex was being thrown at us during this era of this couple. Why? Just why?
GRADE: . 1 web out of 5. I really, truly LOVE me some J.M. DeMatteis, but this is a story that never justified its existence in the slightest. The web is for the art.