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As one of the most famous superheroes, Spider-Man has been so well documented that for many it's hard to imagine fiction with him. Scientist Peter Parker gets bitten by a radioactive spider, adopts some fo the spider's abilities, and the rest is history.
In an attempt to revitalise the friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man, Marvel started from scratch with The Amazing Spider-Man series, and tried to run it with a bit of a difference, to give the character a bit more of a raw and independent look. However, this almost backfired and could have detracted from the popularity the character had with his fans. By the time J Michael Straczynski came in to save an almost sinking ship with his skillful scripting, Spidey wasn't currying much favour with his fans.
However, this particular volume, which is Volume 2 of Amazing Spider-Man, and incorporates episodes 30-35, takes us back to the wisecracking Spidey just as he was as a teenager, cocky and sure of himself, yet completely dedicated to saving lives and doing things for other people. A very raw Spider-Man is presented here, and Strac gives us a superhero tale with more words coming in the form of thoughts than the actual spoken word.
The wisecracks are a-plenty, as Spidey faces a new and deadlier foe, potentially the most deadly he has ever faced. Villains have come a long way since the Green Goblin, and now there is a force intent of seeking out Spider-Man and sucking his life force from him, in order to continue his existence. His name is Morlin, and we soon realise that no matter of fighting him would do any good - the guy is too on his toes.
In a way, this is a very violent collection of episodes. The graphic portrayal of physical injury is enhanced magnificently by the artwork of John Romita Jr and Scott Hanna, and there is a very busy look to every frame. There is a lot going on in the background, and while I often like comics/graphic novels to be basic and simple, especially where a prime characetr such as Spider-Man is concerned, I kind of liked the way this was done. It spoke of confidence in the scriptwriting to allow the artwork to be so busy, with explosions all over the place.
Page after page had me enthralled, and I read this much quicker than previous graphic novels. I don't think this is the way I would usually read, as I like to examine the artwork, and allow the story to sink in, but this seemed to scream out a need to be hurried, a frantic and desperate tale which epitomised the mental struggles Peter Parker is going through, having just split with long term love and eventual wife Mary Jane, and not yet back in the loving guardian folds of his Aunt May's apron.
Morlin catches Spidey in a mental limbo, and with the appearance of Ezekiel, a character possessing similar abilities to Spidey and seeming to know him equally as Peter, the confusion mounts. It will take Spidey's super sense to get his head round it all and discover the secrets to staying alive against Morlin: but at what cost?
Overall, a fantastic display of artwork and scriptwriting combined, the version of Coming Home that I have also includes a special 36th episode at the end, devoted to the events of 9/11. It features Marvel characters working side by side with the real heroes of the disaster, the resuce servicepeople, the citizens, those who attempted to stop the terrorists. There is a narration through this episode from Spidey, as Strac gives us the superhero's thoughts, very philosophical, and for once, as is appropriate, no wisecracks. A powerful and moving episode, and one which slowed the whole volume right down, with the artwork even busier, showing an immense amount of patience, detail and care. It is summed up by the subtle tear of one rescuer as he walks away from the wrecks and ruins.
The volume finishes with some work from J Scott Campbell's sketchbook, where quick attempts at Spidey and some villains are featured. Its presence wasn't essential, but it made the whole package seems more like a project in itself. Oh, and by the way, episode 35 has a shocking conclusion, one that got me a bit. Completely took me by surprise and made me want to find the next volume straight away.
Coming Home is available from amazon.co.uk for £7.89. The version I have with the 9/11 episode included is currently on there for just over £10. Either way, I thoroughly recommend this one.
A review of the first numbered Amazing Spiderman graphic novel, reprinting issues 30 through to 35 of volume 2 of the regular comic book series, this volume was first published in 2002 and has since gone on to be re-published many times. A 'platinum' version can be picked up for a little under £4.
It's a new era in Spiderman's life. Estranged from his wife Mary Jane and back at home with his beloved Aunt May, for Peter Parker it feels like a return to his roots. Out web-swinging late one night, he is confronted by a mysterious stranger who calls himself Ezekiel. Older and, undoubtedly, wiser than Parker, what is more remarkable about Ezekiel is that he appears to possess exactly the same spider-like abilities and what's more, he knows all Parker's secrets. But he doesn't pose a threat. Indeed, he has spent many years preparing for the moment when he will finally introduce himself and help Peter Parker understand his real heritage. But with the discovery comes a warning. Death is coming and nothing can prepare Spiderman for the ancient evil that is Morlun.
In the late 1990s and early 200s, in a bid to revive its (comparably) flagging fortunes, Marvel Comics set about re-inventing most of its major titles. Along with major editorial changes, it was decided that the big titles would all come to an end, to be re-started as a second volume, re-numbering from scratch. For titles like The Amazing Spiderman that had run uninterrupted from 1963 is was a big (and unpopular) move and in some cases was almost disastrous. Volume 2 of The Amazing Spiderman presented an uninspiring creative team and seemed to be heading down the dumper until the writer J Michael Straczynski (JM for the rest of this review) came on board. Previously known for his work on the television series Babylon 5, JM took The Amazing Spiderman to new heights, stripping the character back to basics and making up for the many mistakes made by previous writers. JM's run on The Amazing Spiderman has turned out to be one of the most popular and successful of all time and Coming Home reprints the first six issues of his seventy-five-issue tenure.
It's a wonderful Spiderman story containing every element that long-term fans of the series might expect, combined with changes and new elements to take the title in a new direction. JM's writing is humorous, thought provoking, insightful and dramatic in so many ways and on first reading there's an overwhelming feeling of relief that the character has the sort of writer he deserves again.
The storyline running through the six parts is one of the strongest fans had seen for some time, introducing the suggestion that there was something rather more mystical to Spiderman's powers than we had every really understood. It was to be followed in later issues by a continuing series of villains that were linked to this mystical side of Spiderman's nature and presented the writer with opportunities to introduce us to host of new bad guys. JM was always respectful of spider-continuity, acknowledging the need to keep the old alongside the new but for his first major outing he resisted the temptation to go for the easy option of re-introducing an old villain and opted for something new.
The villain of the piece (Morlun) is a terrifying creature, whose history we gradually begin to understand as Coming Home unfolds. He isn't camp or eccentric in the way that many spider-foes are and adds a harder edge to the series that reflects the direction in which the entire Marvel Universe was heading. But in many ways, he's still an old-school villain, intent only on demolishing and devouring Peter Parker for reasons the narrative gradually uncovers. He's a worthy foe, and this volume's battle sequences rank as some of the most brutal that Spiderman has ever seen. JM manages to convince us that this guy is really, really bad and, for the first time in years, Parker's victory never quite seems assured. Morlun's supernatural status combines well with JM's evolving mystical back-story and the way in which Spiderman must gradually be convinced is rather reflective of the fact that many readers would initially feel the same way.
Ezekiel is immediately an intriguing character and it was clear from the beginning that JM had big plans for the character. Spiderman's secret identity had always been an enormously significant part of the character's life and times and to introduce a new character who immediately new all of Peter Parker's secrets was more of a big deal than anyone could probably comprehend. It sets a tone and direction for the story that amply demonstrates that with JM at the helm, anything would be possible and many things were. Indeed, via Ezekiel, JM rocks the very foundations of the entire Spiderman history by posing a very simple question. Did radiation enable a spider to give Spiderman his powers or was the spider already trying to give Spiderman his powers, only to be killed by the radiation? It may seem like a rather simple, unimportant question but it was to have implications on every part of Spiderman's existence.
It's on the personal level that JM really seems to shine, along with all the little details. As a character, Peter Parker has always been someone with whom the readers should empathise, a sort of underdog character for whom things never quite work out. In recent years, Parker had secured a fairly comfortable lifestyle and JM felt it necessary to shake this up again. Hence we see Peter Parker struggling to balance the different priorities in his life and this is demonstrated most obviously via his separation from Mary Jane and the very "back to the beginning. JM (a New Yorker through and through) has an intimate knowledge of the city and its inhabitants and this comes out to enormous effect through the varying character interactions we see, ranging from a lazy construction worker to smart high school kids and everyone in-between. There's something hugely affectionate about seeing Parker back at his original high school but this time at the front of the class teaching and JM uses this effectively to connect with a new, younger audience. He doesn't ignore the evident "power and responsibility" issues in which the series has always been steeped either. Indeed, the arrival of Ezekiel prompts Parker to think about these things in a new and more interesting way.
John Romita Jr's artwork is also classically revered and Coming Home is a good example why. Romita presents Spiderman as a sinewy, lithe character full of sharp lines and contorted shapes reminding us that the man under the suit can move in inhuman ways. It complements the mystical elements of the storyline perfectly, giving Spiderman a slightly sinister yet always comforting feel that gave us some of the strongest artwork for years. Romita's pencils don't have the greatest eye for detail but the overall effect is almost magical, far less crisp and modern than other titles in the Marvel universe, but never old-fashioned. The six associated pieces of cover art are displayed with pride in between each chapter of the volume and are equally memorable. J Scott Campbell and Tim Townsend's art has a markedly different feel to Romita's interior work, a slightly glossier yet more intriguing sheen that betrays a sense of mischief the main series might have welcomed.
Whichever way you look at it, Coming Home is an impressive collection and it's no real surprise that the volume continues to go out of print at regular intervals. JM brings a feeling of loyalty and affection to the series and an inherent knowledge of New York that, whilst almost derailing volume 2, was at this stage a wonderful addition to the series. If you've never read a Spiderman comic book/graphic novel this would be a worthy place to start.