It’s part two of Gerry Conway’s return to The Amazing Spider-Man comics (or least a series of “Point One” issues) and this time, he’s got Spidey and the Wraith matching up with one his own villains, Hammerhead. Oh, and they also fight Phil Urich, who was also created by Conway. Hey, when it comes to making original super-villains, even great comic book writers can have their off days.
“Spiral, Part Two”
WRITER: Gerry Conway
PENCILER: Carlo Barberi
INKER: Juan Vlasco
COLORS: Israel Silva
LETTERER: VC’s Joe Caramagna
COVER ARTISTS: Arthur Adams and Morry Hollowell
VARIANT COVER ARTIST: Gabrielle Dell’Otto
ASSISTANT EDITOR: Devin Lewis
EDITOR: Nick Lowe
STORY: The comic opens with Hammerhead and Phil Urich’s “Goblin King” discussing who should get Tombstone’s territory since he’s been imprisoned. They agree to settle the matter by choosing the best fighter from their crews to battle it out in a no-holds barred, winner-take-all, fight to the death cage match on “neutral ground.” However, Spidey arrives and takes out the gangsters (including Hammerhead’s champion for the match), but Hammerhead and Goblin King escape. And while Spidey doesn’t know what Hammerhead and Goblin King were planning, he did hear their “venue” is taking place somewhere in Yuri Watanabee’s police district which was also part of Tombstone’s turf. Meanwhile, Yuri’s chief, Yarborough, is furious with her for arresting Judge Howell (the judge who threw out Tombstone’s case on a technicality and photographed purchasing drugs from one of Tombstone’s men last issue) without following proper procedure. Yuri defends herself by saying she got results, but the Chief tells her she just wanted revenge for the death of her former partner, Teddy. She also informs Yuri that Judge Howell requested to see her at Ryker’s Island. As Yuri drives to prison, she’s stopped by Spidey, who tells her about Hammerhead and Goblin King’s meeting. When he tries to caution Yuri about taking things too personal, that they’re supposed to “catch the bad guys and let the system do the rest,” Yuri shows Spidey the photo of Judge Howell buying drugs, calls the legal system a joke, and drives away.
At the prison, Judge Howell confesses to Yuri that he did buy the drugs from Tombstone, but explains they were painkillers for his wife, a cancer survivor, because her prescribed medication wasn’t effective. However, he insists he’s innocent of being on the take as he didn’t know the painkillers came from Tombstone until after the fact, and really did dismiss the case against him because of the defective warrant drafted by Teddy. Howell begs Yuri to drop the collusion charges as he fears Tombstone might have him killed, but Yuri refuses and leaves. As she heads to her car, she is met by Mr. Negative, who informs her about the cage match, including it’s time and place, thanks to the same informant who took the incriminating photos of Judge Howell.
Before the cage match starts, Goblin King thinks Hammerhead is going to give up, but is shocked when Hammerhead himself steps into the ring, then kills the Goblin King’s champion with a single headbutt to the chest. At that moment, Spidey and Yuri, as the Wraith, arrive, and start taking down the bad guys. Wraith declares the Third District is her territory, which takes Spidey aback. Hammerhead, however, manages to grab Spidey and haul him into the cage and starts giving him a viscous beating. Spidey, however, manages to stop Hammerhead and knocks him out with a single punch. Wraith tells Spidey the Goblin King escaped during the commotion, but believes everyone got the message. Spidey, however, berates Wraith over placing more value on protecting “turf” than protecting people; he also points out that the photo of the Judge could only have been taken by a mole within Tombstone’s organization, which means the whole thing reeks of a set-up. Wraith, however, doesn’t care, which makes Spidey even more worried about her. And again, secretly watching both Spidey and Wraith is Mr. Negative.
THOUGHTS: With two chapters of “Spiral” now done, the story of Spider-Man and the Wraith taking on the criminal underworld as they fight over the scraps the Kingpin left behind becomes much more clear. Our heroes and villains’ motivations and respective goals are now firmly established, as are the dividing lines between them, thus setting the stage for a potential physical and climactic conflict between Peter and Yuri. It’s the recipe for a very good, well-structured, character-driven story. However, it also has one significant drawback: even though there are still three more issues left in this five-part mini-series, “Spiral” now runs the risk of having it’s plot become far too predictable.
Not that Gerry Conway doesn’t offer some nice flourishes and interesting twists when it comes to Yuri Watanabee’s overall arc. As I mentioned in the review for Amazing Spider-Man #16.1, Yuri’s narrative journey follows the common path seen in many path an action film, in that after the death of her former partner, she’s out to get her own brand of justice by any means necessary. Usually, the type of protagonists in such stories are always portrayed as being in the right, and for good reason. We, as an audience, love it when we see actors like Clint Eastwood, Bruce Willis, Keither Sutherland, and Liam Neeson shoot-up, torture, or just plain beat the crap out of bad guys, psychos, and scumbags because it feels good seeing evil getting a taste of their own medicine. It’s one of the reasons why, as comic book readers, we are such fans of anti-heroes like Batman, Green Arrow, Wolverine, Ghost Rider, and Conway’s own creation, the Punisher because they’re able to cut through the red tape.
But in this instance, Conway is very much showing us not only is Yuri letting her need for vengeance cloud her judgment, he also suggests the bureaucracy within the justice system exists for a reason. The revelation that the judge who threw out Tombstone’s case wasn’t corrupt, that he was a somewhat innocent pawn in Mr. Negative’s scheme to take control of New York’s criminal empire, and that Yuri is still willing to let him rot or potentially be murdered in jail regardless is proof we should not be rooting for her one-woman quest for vengeance. In the previous issue, Yuri refused to touch Mr. Negative due to his powers being able to bring out the worst in others, only for him to assure her he wasn’t trying to corrupt her. Only now, it seems the irony is Mr. Negative has done exactly that and didn’t even need to use his powers to do so. (Or is he? After all, every time he meets with Yuri they’re always blanketed by darkness and mist.) Furthermore, not only is Mr. Negative using Yuri to take down his competitors, the ending of this issue heavily implies that he knows Yuri is the Wraith. After all this is twice now he’s appeared at the same location where Spidey and the Wraith have taking down a crime boss after he’s previously tipped off Yuri, so there can’t be any coincidence at this point.
It also provides a better contrast between herself and Spider-Man. Long time readers know there have been many instances where Peter, due to the loss of someone he cared about, nearly crosses the line, and Conway reminds us of this. There’s a very nice monologue were Peter ruminates on the nature of guilt, how we blame ourselves when someone close to us is taken away, and how we keep looking for someone to lash out and blame to bury that guilt. This, of course, is to show us Spidey sympathizes and understands where Yuri is coming from—until he realizes Yuri isn’t bothered a (somewhat) innocent man is being framed to imprison Tombstone. This is not only a more introspective Spider-Man compared to recent depictions, this is someone who regards disagreements between how to fight crime as a battle for someone’s soul.
Where Spidey’s concerns over Yuri heading down a much darker path become a problem, however, is when he realizes her sincerity over her telling Hammerhead and the Goblin King that Tombstone’s territory now belongs to her. It’s a bit of a leap for Spidey to see this as a major sign that Yuri is well on the path to becoming just as bad, if not worse, than the criminals she’s putting behind bars. Furthermore, the ending of the issue repeats the same plot point almost beat-by-beat as last time: Spidey lecturing Yuri over how she’s taking things too far, her refusal to listen as she takes off, followed by Spidey’s internal monologue full of unease and foreboding, with Mr. Negative watching them from out of sight. The only difference is who Spidey and Wraith take down, where they take them down, and how they take them down. If this winds up being the same pattern as how the other crime bosses are stopped in next issues, then “Spiral” is going to get really dull, really quick.
And for me personally, Carlo Barberi’s penciling continues to be a mixed bag. While his figures are distinctive and (for the most part) consistent in their proportions, there are moments where they also look stiff even while action is happening on panel. Perhaps it has to do to the light inking by Juan Vlasco, but they also occasionally look flat, especially when it comes to showing perspective angles, as if they were cut and pasted on the scenes after the fact. And while it’s not as prevalent as it was last time, Barberi has a habit of drawing too many panels with wide angle views when it would be far better to see what’s happening up-close, if only to not make the figures look so microscopic. Giving readers a sense of scale if you barely tell what the people on panel are doing because they look so small. However, Israel Silva’s coloring is vibrant and really gives Barberi’s work an added pop.
Even though I consider Amazing Spider-Man #17.1 to be somewhat weaker and slower paced than it’s predecessor, this is still a very enjoyable read. It’s always good to show why Spidey is the hero that he is by pairing him up with someone who doesn’t follow his moral code, especially when there’s the possibility when there’s the hope that person can be redeemed. And again, it’s great to see Spidey tackling the more Earth-bound, urban, and seedier underbelly of the Marvel Universe without becoming a dark and grittier hero in the process. Considering how the next issue features Spidey and Wraith up against the Black Cat, I’m interested in seeing how Conway handles Felicia Hardy’s current status quo in light of what Dan Slott making her into a more straight-up villain. So I’m keeping my fingers crossed that Conway will continue the great characterization and won’t succumb to making “Spiral” be so by-the-numbers.
- So Phil Urich is seated on the table’s left, Hammerhead is seated on the table’s right, and blood-spatter on the table cloth is in the shape of a frowny face. But then in the next panel, we see the scene from a reverse angle, and the blood-spatter is in the shape a smiley face. Except shouldn’t the blood-spatter look like a “u” with two “dots” under it?
- Speaking of Hammerhead, what’s with his sticking a piece of Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit gum halfway in his mouth and bending it? I guess he needed some other idiosyncrasy after Marvel did away with his talking like a stereotypical 1930s Hollywood gangster.
- Am I to understand that we have two major scenes in a Spider-Man comic involving a caged fighting arena, and not one appearance of someone look like “Macho Man” Randy Savage saying “Bone Saw is ready?” For shame!
- You may not be supposedly as crazy as Norman Osborn, Phil, but at least the original Green Goblin would stick around to put up a fight. Then again, maybe the only reason you managed to escape both times is because you’re not much of a super-villain any way. Also, how is Phil Urich even still around after Roderick Kingsley humiliated and beat his ass? Or did the events of AXIS happen after “Spider-Verse?”
- Hold on a minute…is that a coloring mistake I see, or did Phil Urich make his second escape by changing himself to look like the Hobgoblin? Because I can just make out in that upper-right panel what looks like Hobby’s trademark orange and blue outfit. Phil’s lucky Kingsley doesn’t sue him for copyright infringement.
- How exactly did Spidey know Yuri was heading towards Ryker’s Island? And don’t say it was his “spider-sense” because, as inconsistent as it’s been portrayed, it’s never worked that way. Also, methinks it would have been a little safer for Spidey to meet up with Yuri outside her police station instead of while she was driving her car on a busy road.
- Jeez, Yuri! Are you trying to seduce Spidey by showing off your tush, or you practicing for a photo-shoot? Cause I can think of better ways to get those photographs out of your car that potentially breaking your own spine.
- “Always wanted to get you somewhere nice n’ tight where you couldn’t jump around.” Except for little problem, Hammerhead. The cage doesn’t have a covering on top of it, so theoretically, Spidey could still “jump around” and escape from you rather easily.
- Also, Spidey, for all your talk about Wraith being too rough on bad guys, you sure socked Hammerhead pretty darn hard into the bars of that cage, enough that you actually drew some blood. Guess you were counting on him being fine what with the metal plate in his head, right? Right?!