Thursday, May 10, 2012

GN Review -- Amazing Spider-Man: Matters of Life and Death / Dan Slott, Fred Van Lente, Stefano Caselli, Humberto Ramos, and Marcos Martin

I don't think I've made any secret that Spider-Man is one of my favorite, if not my absolute favorite, comic book superhero. I've read a lot of the more recent story arcs, particularly after the lamentable One More Day, and have to admit I've found the treatment of the web-slinger to be pretty admirable since then. One volume that deserves mention in that group is the collection by Dan Slott and company, titled Matters of Life and Death.

There are several stories included in this collection, starting with the Revenge of the Spider-Slayer arc, where Alistaire Smythe tries to wreak vengeance on NYC's mayor, one J. Jonah Jameson, by using an assembly of insect-based villains--many of whom have a personal connection to the mayor--to kill everyone Jonah holds dear. Of course, Spider-Man gets involved, pitting him against the Scorpion and Smythe's minions, and calling on him to make a significant sacrifice, which even then may not prove to be enough.

We are then shown a story of the new Venom, the one joined to Flash Thompson, who has volunteered to bond with the unit for a total of 20 covert missions. The bonding gives him use of his legs, many of the same powers Spider-Man has, and quite a few other abilities. He uses his gifts to save an international banking magnate, learning that partnering with the Venom symbiote comes with quite a few risks of its own.

Two other plots encompassed in this volume are the funeral of Marla Jameson, wife of the mayor, prompting a personal psychological crisis for Spider-Man, and the Human Torch's death, which has effected Peter greatly and requires more than a little reassurance from the rest of the Fantastic Four. Several stories show the relationship Spidey and the FF had with the Human Torch, and at the end of the arc, Spider-Man is offered the Human Torch's place on the Fantastic Four.

I personally found this collection to be a delight to read. Spider-Man's relationship to J. Jonah Jameson has always been an antagonistic one over the decades, and it's fun to see the stakes amped up now that Jonah's blundered his way into political office. It's also telling to see that Jonah, while constant in his dislike of the wall crawler, is nonetheless willing to use him to divert or mitigate damage, suggesting that he knows deep down that Spider-Man is a good guy. He'll never admit it, but at least he has the werewithal to not blame Spidey for the most significant tragedy that occurs in the story, showing he has at least marginally matured over the years.

This is also the story arc where Spider-Man loses his very powerful Spider-Sense, which has an enormous effect on how he uses the rest of his powers. I remember reading about this, and am not sure how long the effects last or have lasted, but it's one of those questions I've pondered and would have loved to write. I'm happy to finally see the arc where it happens, and can't wait to see more about how he adapts to this loss of
one of his most reliable senses.

Finally, I really enjoyed the Human Torch story arc. I have issues with how Johnny was killed off and then brought back to life so quickly, but the time of his passing has not let me down in conveying a profound sense of loss. The stories Spidey and the FF tell about him are funny, touching, and make clear that Johnny was more than a friend to Spidey--he was family as well. My favorite story is the one the Invisible Woman tells, as it does an excellent job of conveying Spidey and the Torch's collective ability to torment someone with their combined sense of humor.

There are plenty of other good stories and scenes in this volume that are noteworthy and significant, including Marla's funeral, Spidey and Jonah quietly insulting each other during a public ceremony, and Flash's current life paralleling Peter's in many ways. It's all done well, and worthy of reading!

Artistically, there are a number of different styles playing on the different stories in this collection, all of them wonderful. Stefano Caselli brought a fun, detailed, and dynamic visual sensibility to the Smythe storyline, while Marcos Martin's style in the Marla Jameson funeral story was sparse, expressive, and packed an emotional wallop. Humberto Ramos is in his usual top form in the Venom storyline. All in all, the art is excellent collection of several different styles.

Overall, this is a highly enjoyable and well-told collection of stories. Spider-Man fans will definitely want to read this, as will anyone who wants action-filled, dramatic stories with good characterization, excellent myriad art styles, and excellent narrative exploration. Highly recommended.

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