Sunday, November 11, 2012

Review: Spider-Man: Spider-Island Companion

Just like it says on the cover, this huge, 360-page hardcover is a companion collection meant to compliment the similar-in-size Spider-Man: Spider-Island; while that book collected all of the chapters of the "Spider-Island" storyline from issues of Amazing Spider-Man, Venom and a few one-shots, this one collects all of the tie-ins from other books, mini-series and specials.

In other words, this is the unimportant parts of the story, but, because of that, it's also the place where you can see creators having a bit more fun with the concept, more striking artwork that falls a little farther away from the House of Ideas' house style and answers to frivolous questions like "What was Hawkeye doing while Spider-Man was fighting The Jackal's mad scheme?" and "What if The Black Panther had six for twenty minutes?" and so on.

There are a dozen stories culled from sixteen different comic books included here, and they vary widely. I couldn't muster up the interest to read all of 'em, but there's certainly some good stuff in here, and unlike the collection it's a companion to, there's a lot more for a causal reader to like here; if you're not into the "Spider-Island" thing, then you won't get anything out of Spider-Man: Spider-Island, but if you're not all that interested in, say, what Shang-Chi or Hercules are up to when the whole city is coming down with Spidey powers, chances are you'll find something else you do like in this...even if it's just some really great art.

As it's an anthology, let's take the stories one by one, shall we...?

"Tingling" by Greg Rucka and Max Fiumara

The writer of this eight-page short, probably pulled from one of the anthology one-shots like Spider-Island: I Love New York, likely tips one off as to who the Marvel hero starring in it is, although it's meant as a surprise reveal made only in the penultimate panel. It's the story of some spider-powered bank robbers using their great powers to commit great crimes, and is mainly notable for Fiumara's excellent, highly-expressive, illustratorly artwork. He draws neat Spider-Man heads and flexed, angular limbs, and there's a touch of Sam Kieth in some of his close-ups. I've like Fiumara's art since I first saw it, and I was surprised and pleased to see it in a silly Marvel comic like this, although now that I look up his bibliography, I guess I shouldn't be, as he's done plenty of work for Marvel in the past.

Spider-Island: Deadly Hands of Kung Fu by Antony Johnston, Sebastian Fiumara, Leandro Fernandez and John Lucas

This is a three-issue mini-series teaming Shang Chi, he with the deadly hands of kung fu, with Iron Fist against The Bride of Nine Spiders. I made it through the second issue, when Silver Sable appears, before completely losing interest, although I did look at the pictures on the next four pages, and Fiumara, Fernandez and company provide some very nice, slightly sketchy art, ink lines clearly visible, which colorist Dan Brown did not bury under shitty coloring, so hooray for well-rendered, well-produced comic book art from Marvel!

I imagine this is better if you have some idea who some or all of the many characters involved are, and/or if you give a shit about them, but I couldn't get into it.

"Spider-Mom" by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Chuck BB

Yes, Chuck BB. This is another short akin to the opening one by Rucka, although it features a very busy civilian mom and how she uses her newfound spider-powers to go about her regular day. It's fun and funny, and mostly notable for BB's art, which looks absolutely like nothing Marvel publishes outside of their very occasional projects like Strange Tales.

Spider-Island: Avengers #1 by Christopher Yost and Mike McKone

You know, I read Alias, and while I'm sure Jessica Jones was stacked—it being a superhero comic and all—I sure as hell don't remember her looking like she does on the cover Leinil Yu drew for this thing. Jesus.

Anyway, this follows Avengers Ms. Marvel, Hawkeye and Jessica Jones (not wearing that costume shown on the cover, but street clothes with tight, black, elbow-length gloves), as they team-up with Frog-Man to deal with the chaos in Manhattan and fight Flag-Smasher, one of of my favorite Marvel super-villains.

With a few segments featuring Squirrel Girl too, this has a pretty fun cast of weird Marvel characters, and Yost writes them all rather amusingly, although I think he might have gone a a bit too far with Frog-Man at the climax. Dude's costume is funny enough all on its own.

Hawkeye has developed spider-powers, and Yost inventively has him having great trouble trying to control his new stickiness, with his bow, arrows and other objects sticking to his hands.

McKone provides the sort of straight-forward, totally legit superhero art you'd expect from a pro with his pedigree and years of experience.

"Charlotte's Web" by Joe Caramagna and Max Fiumara

Ah ha ha ha ha ha! "Charlotte's Web"; it has the same title as a book and a movie! That's...funny....maybe...? This is another short piece about a civilian getting spider-power; in this case a little girl named Charlotte, who uses her powers to take down a couple of inept bad-guys.

The little-kid-with spidey-powers concept hals already been explored and mined for laughs twice in this collection before this story comes along, so it seems tired by the point a whole eight-page story gets devoted to it. Fiumara's art is even looser here; I hope Marvel gives that guy a monthly title I want to read at some point in the near future.

Spider-Island: The Amazing Spider-Girl by Paul Tobin and Pepe Larraz

Another three-issue miniseries featuring one of Marvel's Spider-Girls, none of whom in any continuity I can seem to bring myself to care about. I think this one is the one that used to go by Arana and wear a dumb vest, although now her hair is grown out and she wears one of the old Spider-Women's old costumes...?

I like Tobin's writing, and artist Pepe Larraz does great work, but I couldn't bring myself to read this one. Looks like some wasp men, The Hand, Madame Web, the new Hobgoblin and a spider-powered Kingpin are all involved.

"9 Lives" by Skottie Young, Dave Guertin and Greg Baldwin

Next to BB's piece, this is the most cartoony thing in the book, and according to the credits, Young writes rather than draws it, although it definitely looks to be done in Young's style, albeit a looser, more energetic version of it.

It's about a cat who gets spider-powers, dons a Spider-Man costumes and fights Venom-possessed pigeons, but it ends up all being a dream, because apparently a cat with spider-powers crosses some line that giving The Kingpin, J. Jonah Jameson and babies spider-powers does not.

Spider-Island: Spider-Woman by Fred Van Lente, Guiseppe Camuncoli and Klaus Janson

Spider-Woman fights a lady in a dumb costume called Gypsy Moth for 20-pages or so. I didn't read this one either, save for a few stray narration boxes, like this one: "Damn! Gypsy Moth used her telekinetic control over clothing to change my costume to look like--" Telekinetic control over clothing...? That's a super-power I've never heard of.

Camuncoli and Janson's art make for a pretty neat combination, but then, Janson inking just about anyone's pencils usually makes for something neat looking, given Janson's distinct style.

Spider-Island: Cloak & Dagger by Nick Spencer and Emma Rios

I tried really very hard on this one, as I love Rios' artwork, like the visuals of the main characters despite never having read anything other than guest-appearances from them and Spencer is supposedly a rising star writer who I felt I should start paying a bit more attention to.

I couldn't make it through the first twenty pages, though.

I did look at every panel though, and Rios did an incredible job with everything from layouts and staging to character acting and costuming to rendering in her own style. Mr. Negative appears to be the main antagonist, and I didn't actually see a whole lot of Spider-Island business, save for a scene where the pair help the Avengers fight some spider-powered, spider-costumed crooks and another where Dagger, wearing street clothes, fights some spider-monsters (Rios draws the best spider-monsters; hers look like shaggy-legged tarantulas, while the ones that appear in the main "Spider-Island" story look smooth, brown and hairless...and not really all that spidery. I suppose it comes down to how good Rios is with design and texture).

Maybe I'll re-borrow this from the library at some point in the future and try again, but with over 350-pages of comics with different characters by different creators, it was very hard to slog through the stories that didn't grab me right at the outset.

Herc #7-#8 by Greg Pak, Fred Van Lente, June Brigman and Roy Richardson

I lost track of the Pak/Van Lente Hercules story a while back, thanks in large part to Marvel shifting it from title to title and miniseries to miniseries, with delays between chapters and a price-increase in there somewhere, and I haven't been able to find it again in trade yet, as I don't exactly remember where I left off. This is one of those storylines that Marvel seemed to be playing defense on, trying their damnedest to keep readers from reading it (although I suspect their true intent was to find a way to keep sales high enough for Pak and Van Lente to keep telling it somewhere, even if they and Herc couldn't sustain a monthly), and I like to think of myself as a fairly engaged follower of the goings-on of the Big Two.

Anyway, this is two issues of the latest incarnation of Pak/Van Lente's Hercules story, in a title called Herc featuring a de-powered Hercules. In these two issues, however, he gets powers, they're just Spider-Man's rather than his own.

He gets a Spider-Herc costume too, and it's neat to see such a big, beefy Spider-Man spider-ing around. He battles the X-Men (Wolverine, Gambit, Storm and Emma Frost) and has some dealings with Ananzi and Arachne.

The climax, in which Herc has transformed into a sort of centaur (if you subtract the horse part and replace it with a spider-part) deals with Arachne is...interesting. The Brigman/Richardson art team is decidedly old-school in flavor, but it's good old-school.

Black Panther: The Most Dangerous Man Alive #524 by David Liss and Francesco Francavilla

This issue seems to be continuing whatever was going on in this title before it was forced to crossover with "Spider-Island," so, for all intents and purposes, the main thing it has to do with the storyline is that The Black Panther has six arms instead of two.

He chases a car-driving villain named Overdrive and fights Lady Bullseye. It's no great shakes, save for Francavilla's art, which is incredible. I have no idea how this title was, but Francavilla's a great artist, well-suited to a crime narrative and a visually interesting character like Black Panther, although I suspect this was a particularly insane chapter, and difficult to judge the book by.

Spider-Island: Heroes For Hire #1 by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Kyle Hotz and Bob Almond

I rather liked the cover for this one, which boasts some crazy visuals that don't actually occur within the book (How did they all make new costumes to allow for their extra limbs? Would Falcon be able to fly like this?)

This is tied to the already-canceled and abandoned (I think...?) conception of Heroes for Hire as Marvel's answer to the old Birds of Prey, with Misty Knight playing the Oracle role, and various street-level characters and mercenaries like The Falcon, Black Cat, Silver Sable, Elektra and so on acting as her agents.

In this story, they are all dealing with various Spider-Island craziness, although it is mainly the story of Misty developing feelings for Paladin, who is in the process of turning into a giant spider. Like that of McKone and Brigman, Hotz's art is of a more standard super-comic variety than a lot of what you'll find in this collection, but I really like it here; there's just enough of a flair to it to give it a slightly cartoony edge. It reminded me an awful lot of John McCrea's art on Htiman, save with stronger, sharper blacks and better, brighter coloring.

1 comment:

adrien said...

Telekinetic control over clothing...? That's a super-power I've never heard of.

Jean Grey started using that super-power during the Dark Phoenix saga.