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The Amazing Spider-Man – The Gauntlet: The Lizard – Shed (Review)

This April, to celebrate the release of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, we are taking a look at some classic and modern comics featuring Spider-Man (and friends). Check back daily for the latest review.

Shed is the climax of The Gauntlet. It is The Gauntlet pushed to its logical extreme – just about as dark and grim as you could possibly make a story in The Amazing Spider-Man. In many respects, Zeb Wells and Chris Bachalo’s Shed starts out as a typical Spider-Man story. Curt Connors has relapsed, as he tends to do. Connors has transformed into the bestial Lizard, and the Lizard has decided to target Connors’ family in order to assert his dominance.

The basic plot is familiar. It is standard Spider-Man fare. Our hero will react to this crisis and fight the Lizard to save the Connors family from the monster that their husband has become. Indeed, Spider-Man may even use Curt Connors’ love his family to help vanquish the Lizard, thus offering readers a “happily ever after” ending to what was an emotional ordeal for all involved. It’s one of the most basic and archetypal of superhero stories, one so compelling because it’s about humanity winning out over basic instinct.

Here there be monsters...

Here there be monsters…

That isn’t what happens in Shed.

What makes Shed so brutally effective is the way that it manages to completely subvert expectations. Thanks to the meddling of outside forces, Peter Parker isn’t able to protect the Connors family; he can’t save the life of Billy Connors; he can’t redeem Curt Connors. The Lizard wins. The Lizard dominates. However, what makes the story so clever is the way that Wells layers another twist on top of this, suggesting that although the mosnter has vanquished the man, the monster may not be unchanged.

Balancing the scales...

Balancing the scales…

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Non-Review Review: Transcendence

Transcendence is a passable b-movie suffocated by pretension and self-importance. What amounts to a conventional paint-by-numbers story about technology-gone-mad is suffocated by the weight it affords itself. The movie feels like it wants to be a meditation on technology and human independence, but instead feels like a re-heated fifties science-fiction horror lightly flavoured with millennial anxieties. There are good ideas here – the movie’s second act comes quite close to working, sandwiched between a fuzzy first act and a messy climax – but none of the fun that might excuse the sizeable flaws.

There's an app for that...

There’s an app for that…

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The Amazing Spider-Man – The Gauntlet: The Juggernaut – Something Can Stop the Juggernaut (Review/Retrospective)

This April, to celebrate the release of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, we are taking a look at some classic and modern comics featuring Spider-Man (and friends). Check back daily for the latest review.

Something Can Stop the Juggernaut is a bit of an oddity in the grand scheme of The Gauntlet, if not the larger scheme of Brand New Day. One of the stated goals of Brand New Day was to present readers with a thoroughly modernised version of Spider-Man, an iteration of the character who had been distilled to his purest essence, unburdened by the weight of decades of character development and continuity.

As the “new” in Brand New Day suggests, a large part of the editorial stance on Brand New Day was the opportunity to do something novel with The Amazing Spider-Man. It was a conscious break with the old, and an attempt to push the character in new directions. After all, the early issues made an effort to shuffle new characters into the established ensemble and to feature new villains and threats for our hero to face.

Leaping into action...

Leaping into action…

(To the point where the emphasis on classic foes was one of the selling points of The Gauntlet – a sense that the comics were finally trying to bring many of these iconic baddies into the twenty-first century alongside a reinvigorated and re-energised Spider-Man. Indeed, it’s interesting how much of The Gauntlet makes a point to reference or mirror Peter’s continuity reset into Brand New Day. Much like Peter in One More Day, many of his classic foes lose their new-found families to reset them to villainy, except without the benefit of a magical reset button at the end.)

So drawing back in celebrated creator Roger Stern to craft a sequel to a beloved eighties Amazing Spider-Man story feels rather surreal. The three-part Something Can Stop the Juggernaut exists as an explicit to Stern’s deservedly beloved classic Nothing Can Stop the Juggernaut, right down to classic flashbacks to the comic, follow-up references to various characters, and the fact that events spiral from that story.

Spidey is a little tied up...

Spidey is a little tied up…

Something Can Stop the Juggernaut is crafted as a celebration of vintage Spider-Man, which works very well in the context of The Gauntlet. As the on-going epic spirals towards its climax in Shed and Grim Hunt, it’s nice to hace a reminder of a classic Spider-Man story. After all, Grim Hunt makes a point to stress the perfection of another classic Spider-Man story, albeit in a very different way.

Something Can Stop the Juggernaut seems to exists to assure readers that the legacy and history of Spider-Man is still valid and meaningful, not rendered moot by the continuity-tinkering shennanigans of One More Day.

The Juggernaut who fell to Earth...

The Juggernaut who fell to Earth…

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Andy Diggle’s Daredevil – Reborn (Review/Retrospective)

This April, to celebrate the release of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, we are taking a look at some classic and modern comics featuring Spider-Man (and friends). Check back daily for the latest review.

Well, by the end of Daredevil: Reborn, it is certainly time for a change.

Radar love...

Radar love…

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The Amazing Spider-Man – The Gauntlet: The Scorpion – The Sting (Review)

This April, to celebrate the release of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, we are taking a look at some classic and modern comics featuring Spider-Man (and friends). Check back daily for the latest review.

Like Scavenging before it, The Sting saps a little of the momentum of The Gauntlet. In fact, The Sting might just be the weakest single chapter of the entire epic – a one-shot story that has little interesting or insightful to offer. While Van Lente’s fourteen page It is the Life represents the shortest single story in The Gauntlet, The Sting feels like the most hollow – the story that could be removed most easily from the sequence of events without any sense of loss or absence.

Indeed, even branding it as “the Scorpion” feels a bit cynical. While the Scorpion is a classic and iconic Spider-Man adversary, the character included here has no real connection to the wall-crawling adventurer. This new Scorpion has no history with Peter Parker, and was really a supporting character in the Avengers spin-off The Initiative. Along with the guest appearance from New Avengers baddie the Hood, The Sting seems like the wider Marvel Universe is encroaching upon The Gauntlet.

While it’s occasionally nice to get a sense that Spider-Man coexists in the same world as the Avengers or the Fantastic Four, The Gauntlet really isn’t the place for this. In fact, all the outside characters serve to undermine the otherwise effective claustrophobia of The Gauntlet – chipping away at the sense that Spider-Man is alone and isolated, being hunted and pursued by an ominous adversary.

Something to chew over...

Something to chew over…

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Non-Review Review: Tracks

Tracks looks absolutely stunning. Photographer Rick Smolan is credited as an inspiration for the look and feel of the film, which makes a great deal of sense – Smolan was the photographer tasked by National Geographic with documenting Robyn Davidson’s trek across Australia. His pictures, accompanying Davidson’s article in National Geographic, captured the raw beauty of the Australian countryside. Director John Curran and cinematographer Mandy Walker create a rich a vivid study of the journey.

The story itself is told at a leisurely pace, allowing the audience to absorb the scale of Davidson’s remarkable accomplishment – as if documenting the sheer breadth of the continent. Tracks isn’t quite perfect. It occasionally indulges a little too heavily in clichés while refusing to delve too far under the skin of its protagonist. Still, it’s a beautifully produced piece of cinema featuring a wonderful central performance and some absolutely breathtaking imagery.

"I walked through the desert with a camel with no name..."

“I walked through the desert with a camel with no name…”

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The Amazing Spider-Man – The Gauntlet: The Rhino – Rage of the Rhino/Endangered Species (Review)

This April, to celebrate the release of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, we are taking a look at some classic and modern comics featuring Spider-Man (and friends). Check back daily for the latest review.

The Gauntlet is structured very carefully. The opening salvo of The Gauntlet is comprised of stories spanning a reasonable number of issues. These aren’t epic six-month-long encounters with classic bad guys. Thanks to the thrice monthly shipping schedule of The Amazing Spider-Man, few of the stories lasted longer than a month of real time. Still, stories like Power to the People, Keemia’s Castle and Mysterioso unfold across a number of issues.

As The Gauntlet races towards its climax, the stories get shorter. We begin to get a series of one-issue interludes, like It is the Life or The Sting. These are shorter, quicker affairs – they create a sense of heightened pace, as if the story is speeding up and gathering momentum as it moves towards its endgame. This is the middle act of The Gauntlet, working from the premise that the stage has been set and the band is engaged.

A smashing success...

A smashing success…

Then, as we push on into the third act of climax of The Gauntlet, we get three extended storylines. Something Can Stop the Juggernaut serves as something of a breather story arc, insulating the events of Shed and Grim Hunt from the rest of The Gauntlet. However, the four-part Shed is very much the climax of The Gauntlet – pushing much of the arc’s tones and themes to their logical endpoint. After that, Grim Hunt is the culmination of it all; a meditation on what this has all been about.

This clever structuring is in evidence for Joe Kelly’s story about the Rhino. The two-issue story arc is structured as two one-shots cleverly split over the course of The Gauntlet. The first part of the story, Rage of the Rhino appears nestled between Keemia’s Castle and Mysterioso. It appears to stand alone. And then, as The Gauntlet gathers pace, Endangered Species hits. And it hits with the power of a freight train.

Building up momentum...

Building up momentum…

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