Hi, all! I'm short on time and still have a backlog to get through, so in the interest of time, I'm doing two Spider-Man mini-reviews in one post! This month has been a bit graphic novel-heavy due to my coursework and slight obsession with Spider-Man, but there will be more diversity on this blog soon, I promise!
The Amazing Spider-Man: The Death of Captain Stacy, by Stan Lee (author), Gil Kane with John Romita (artists): Before Gwen Stacy met her demise at the hands of the Green Goblin, her father was killed trying to save a child in the path of a battle between Doctor Octopus and Spider-Man. Unbeknownst to Peter, Captain Stacy had known for quite some time that Peter was Spider-Man, and, with his dying breath, made Peter swear to protect Gwen. Peter swears he will, but that might be a problem--believing the accounts of the passerby who thought Spider-Man taking Stacy's body away from the crowd meant he went to finish him off, and with Peter unable to tell her his side of the story, Gwen swears that she hates Spider-Man, and joins forces with a corrupt D.A. candidate who wants to stop Spider-Man for good.
Having read the Gwen's death story arc earlier this year (review here), I wanted to read the issues where her father died, to see a bit more of Peter and Gwen's relationship as well as Peter's mentor/mentoree relationship with Stacy. I don't think this arc did as much for me, emotionally and as a story, as that arc did, but it was still touching, and still had some very worthy moments. One of them: Doctor Octopus is a very menacing villain; I can see why he was picked for the second film adaptation. It's tough to beat titanium tentacles that basically keep fighting no matter what. It was nice to see a glimpse of one of Spidey's most famous foes.
Another: Stacy's death scene is very touching. "Be good to her, son! Be good to her... she loves you--so very much..." Knowing Gwen's eventual fate compounded the emotional impact. There wasn't as much direct interaction between Peter and the Stacys as I thought there would be, but there's a cute scene where Peter collapses from overexhaustion and Stacy has Gwen take care of him at their home. The art was somber when it needed to be, like when Peter is cradling Stacy's body, but bright and colorful during the battle scenes.
The subplot involving the smear campaign against Spider-Man by the D.A. candidate just didn't do it for me. I didn't care about the guy's political maneuverings. I did, however, like seeing more of Robbie, Peter's only ally at the Daily Bugle--he gets a lot to do, and it was so awesome to see who my research tells me was the first major supporting black characters in comics. I also really enjoyed the last issue, where the X-Men's Iceman first thinks that Spider-Man is the enemy, but then comes to realize he's the good guy, leading to their teamup. The two of them taking down the bad guys together was fun to see.
I'm going to be interested to see how the Stacy family dynamic is handled in the 2012 reboot, and to see if Stacy's death will make it on screen. I was a bit bored by the smear campaign subplot and didn't see enough of Stacy to get too attached to him, but this one is worth reading if you want to see some of Doctor Octopus, or if you want to learn a little more about Peter and the Stacys.
Spider-Man: Reign, by Kaare Andrews (author and artist) with Jose Villarrubia (artist): In the future, New York City has outlawed vigilante activities. Masks are forbidden and citizens are cowed and controlled by a brutal police force known as the Reign. Print media is tightly regulated. Peter Parker is an aging man working as a flower seller and haunted by the ghost of Mary Jane, deceased for quite some time.
J. Jonah Jameson shows up on Peter's doorstep on the eve of a new program, the Webb, being initiated that would contain the City in a sort of electrified bubble, preventing the intrusion of criminals from other areas. He wants Peter to become Spider-Man again and fight the government, but Peter refuses. One spark, though, is all that's needed to light a fire, and when Peter dons the costume again, he becomes the City's only chance at salvation.
There was some influence from Watchmen here, with the outlawed superheroes and the perpetual night, and I've heard that this is apparently heavily influenced by the classic Batman graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns, which I've not yet read. I was curious to read this because I've never really seen the concept of a very elderly superhero played with before, and because I wanted to see how the impact of Mary Jane's death on Peter would be handled.
In that regard, this book made me weep. Not as hard as Gwen's death, not as hard as Blue, but it made me realize how much Mary Jane means to Peter in a way I hadn't before considered, even when I read the major points in their history. Sebastian Mercer over at SpiderFan puts it eloquently: "Peter's religion is his wife." Mary Jane's death is the big symbol here; losing her makes Peter lose his faith, and it symbolizes the downfall of the City. Yeah, there were things I could have done without, and Peter cradling Mary Jane's long-dead corpse was one of them, but there are some truly beautiful scenes where Peter imagines conversations with Mary Jane, or when he remembers sitting by her bedside as she died, that really touched me. "I remember the day we met. You already knew it and you told me. I hit the jackpot. Your face was so beautiful… the sky cracked like ice. And I could feel the sun pour down on me like rain. It was all I could do to stop staring. You were so… my chest was too small for what you did to my heart. I wanted to tell you so much, but words didn’t have enough. So I tried to show you. But just when you meant the most. Just when I thought I could do it. I screwed up." That passage alone really made me feel how badly Peter needed the faith and love Mary Jane gave him.
As for the elderly superhero angle... well. I was a bit nonplussed. Elderly Peter fights with far too much ease. I kept expecting the scene from Up where Carl and the villain duke it out, only to be thwarted by their backs going out. Instead I got a Peter who basically had every bit of strength and agility the young Peter had, with wrinkles. I guess you could chalk that up to super strength, but I don't know if it should work like that. If you're in your sixties or seventies and haven't been a superhero for quite some time, I don't think it should come as easily as it did here. I'm also not quite sure how Jonah was still kicking, but he had an awesome role here and he was probably my favorite of all the side characters. He can be a jerk in the original continuity, sure, but there seems to be some good in him.
I admittedly don't think I knew quite enough about old Spidey villains to keep track of what was going on here. The art was a bit dark and it made me muddled at times. I was deeply confused and wondering what the hell was going on at one point; that might have been because I hadn't paid enough attention to some things, as reading the recaps on SpiderFan cleared me up. (In one of the few parts I could keep track of, Peter's joint taking down of Hydro-Man and Electro is priceless, and his knocking out Mysterio was applause-worthy.) I've seen people say there's some post-9/11 commentary in here, what with the panopticism going on and the control on the press. I don't really look for politics in what I read, so I couldn't say, but having just reread Watchmen recently, I caught a hint of that same political commentary and that who watches the watchmen? attitude.
Overall, as a Peter/Mary Jane fan, it was touching and exactly what I wanted to see of a graphic novel exploring the impact of her death on Peter. On the other hand, without as much knowledge of Spider-Man villains as I'd thought, I was often confused and needed a plot synopsis to help me keep track of the action. Despite that, I was really moved and haunted by some of the imagery of a city in chaos and the people who rise up to try and fight that, and I'm glad I read it.