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The Amazing Spider-Man – Grim Hunt (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.

Although not technically part of The Gauntlet, Grim Hunt serves as a climax to eight months of stories in The Amazing Spider-Man. It comes at the end of what has been a pretty tough slog for the wall-crawling web-slinging superhero, after a string of pyrrhic victories and out-and-out losses. In essence, Grim Hunt is the culmination of all the plot threads running through The Gauntlet, as the sinister plot against the iconic superhero enters its end game.

It also comes towards the end of the Brand New Day era of The Amazing Spider-Man, only two story arcs before regular writer Dan Slott would take over the series for the next stage of the character’s development. Brand New Day was a controversial era for Spider-Man fans, building off a clumsy continuity reset in One More Day and trying to balance the weight of the character’s history against bold new directions.

As such, Grim Hunt also serves as something of a meditation on the history of The Amazing Spider-Man, a reflection on editorial attitudes to continuity and character development – an astonishingly self-aware and reflexive story arc that feels like a commentary on the character and the way that comic book storytelling tends to work.

A shot in the arm...

A shot in the arm…

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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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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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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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The Amazing Spider-Man – The Gauntlet: The Vulture – Scavenging (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 biggest problem with Scavenging is the villain.

The classic Vulture is admittedly a goof design, but – as with most of Steve Ditko’s villains – there’s an undeniable charm. With his silly “villainous green” colour scheme and the image of a super villain old enough to be collecting his pension, the classic Vulture sticks in the memory. Like so many of those classic Amazing Spider-Man bad guys, the Vulture has a sense of character that extends beyond his goofiness. (After all, Electro, Sandman and Mysterio are no less goofy in design.)

Feeding time...

Feeding time…

In contrast, the “new” Vulture featured in Scavenging feels decidedly generic. More animalistic, with a pinsir-like mouth and the ability to spew hot bile, the character is dressed in red – as if to suggest the classic costume design is more menacing in that colour. Introduced by Mark Waid in the 24/7 arc of Brand New Day, there nothing memorable at all about this version of the character, and he feels like an awkward fit for The Gauntlet, which traverses Spider-Man’s iconic selection of foes.

There is a reason that the character ended up as C-list fodder at the start of Greg Rucka’s Punisher run.

The Vulture has landed...

The Vulture has landed…

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The Amazing Spider-Man – The Gauntlet: Morbius – It Is The Life (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.

At a scant fourteen pages (sharing a single issue with a larger Flash Thompson story), It is the Life feels like something of an interlude in the large scheme of The Gauntlet. While most of the stories in the cycle are relatively short and contained (with nothing running over four issues), this is an exceptionally brief encounter between Spider-Man and one his older foes-turned-allies.

At the same time, writer Fred Van Lente manages to pile a lot into the fourteen pages of It is the Life, maintaining a wonderful thematic consistency across the line. Editor Stephen Wacker has done a wonderful job managing his team of “web-heads” and making sure that The Gauntlet remains internally consistent and on-point. Despite the diversity in talent working on the sprawling Spider-Man epic, it never feels like the larger threads get away from any of the writers.

Even a short fourteen-page interlude manages to hit on many of the event’s core themes.

What's at stake?

What’s at stake?

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The Amazing Spider-Man – The Gauntlet: Mysterio – Mysterioso (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.

And so The Gauntlet circles around to writer Dan Slott and artist Marcos Martín. It really is impressive the talent that Marvel was able to draw to The Amazing Spider-Man as part of their Brand New Day. The comic was publishing several times a month, requiring rotating writers and artists to keep everything moving, with a strong editorial hand to guide the comic. Whatever one might say about the motivations and consequences of Brand New Day, it affirmed the idea that The Amazing Spider-Man was one of Marvel’s premier titles, featuring some incredible creative talent.

The Gauntlet is focused on the idea of re-working and re-engineering various classic Spider-Man bad guys. Both Power to the People and Keemia’s Castle stressed the idea that Spider-Man’s bad guys are really tragic figures – that there is something to pity in figures like Max Dillon or Flint Marko. With Mysterioso, Dan Slott and Marcos Martin focus on Mysterio, perhaps the least sympathetic bad guy featured as part of The Gauntlet. (The only real competition comes from either the new Rhino or the Lizard, if you separate him from Curt Connors.)

"Mister Spider-Man, I've been expecting you..."

“Mister Spider-Man, I’ve been expecting you…”

Far from a tragic figure trapped by circumstance, Slott positions Mysterio as a arch-criminal-as-artisté – a character who not only revels in the crime that he causes, but also the psychological damage he inflicts. He is a super villain who considers the entire world to be his set, staging elaborate set-pieces for nothing beyond his own amusement. There’s no fractured psyche here, no familial love, no excuse. Mysterio is a character who simply enjoys what he does. It doesn’t add much depth to the character, even if it is great fun.

And yet, despite this, Slott manages to make Mysterioso something of an encapsulation of the themes of The Gauntlet. This is the first time in the epic that Spider-Man’s “no kill rule” is discussed and stressed, and a story that emphasises that Spider-Man’s unique brand of heroism is about enduring the impossible without being corrupted by it. As such, it feels like Slott is really codifying some of the rules of this epic. Mysterioso skilfully closes out the first third of The Gauntlet, confirming what lies ahead.

All bets are off...

All bets are off…

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