Death of Wolverine #2
Written by Charles Soule
Art by Steve McNiven, Jay Leisten, and Justin Ponsor
Letters by Chris Eliopoulos
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by George Marston
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
Wolverine is a fairly unique character in mainstream comics. His storied past allows him to be everything - and everywhere - to everyone. He's filled the role of hero, villain, murderer, martyr, leader, slave and just about everything else a man can be in as many lifetimes as he has lived. Yet even with that extensive resume, his story is easily tracked. Unlike so many characters with as many classic stories and issues under their belts, Wolverine's true narrative can be boiled down to only a handful of essential tales - the early Claremont X-Men years, his first mini-series, Weapon X, Origin. With Death of Wolverine, it is clear that Charles Soule is doing his best to write the final act of that story by taking Wolverine on something of a "greatest hits" tour of his own life. It's a fantastic concept, and one that fits right in with the rest of Wolverine's canon. But even with pitch-perfect art by Steve McNiven, the story is too often hamstrung by pacing issues that undercut the drama of Logan's last stand.
Death of Wolverine #2 starts strong, with Logan lounging in Madripoor, doing his best to cultivate an air of pensive allure while waiting for an audience with Viper. After the first issue's peek at the savage Wolverine, it's interesting to see how Logan has transitioned so fluidly into his persona as one of the many mysterious figures that populate Madripoor's rich underworld. Charles Soule makes the transition with equal ease. As much as he managed to capture Wolverine's gruff, almost resigned demeanor in the previous issue without devolving into cliche, Soule's script feels most comfortable when Wolverine is masquerading as a criminal, using his natural charisma to worm his way into Viper's presence. Unfortunately, it's once Wolverine is in Viper's nest that things start to deteriorate quickly.
While Wolverine's encounter with Viper kicks off with the book's best fight scene, with Logan taking down a swarm of ninjas without even popping his claws, the action ironically takes a bit of a nosedive once Viper introduces her secret weapon: Wolverine's greatest nemesis, Sabertooth. What feels like it should be the issue's centerpiece is rendered inert by the intervention of not one, but two successive deus ex machina characters, through a device that, used once, feels weak at best, and used twice in the same issue, starts to feel a little silly. Given the revelation of the true threat at Wolverine's back, it does seem necessary to bring these characters into the story, but they feel literally crammed in, like there was no room in this issue, and yet here they are, against all odds and story logic.
And really, it's all kind of a shame. More than anything, Death of Wolverine has given Logan back something he's been missing for some time now: his own story. Despite multiple solo titles, and his involvement with the X-Men and Avengers, moments of really seeing Wolverine do what he does best have been few and far between over the last several years. And while Charles Soule seems to have an excellent grasp of Logan's voice, and big ideas to spare, the lack of attention to the big moments - and Soule's tendency to undercut them - renders Death of Wolverine a book so close to the cusp of greatness as to be painful.
Furthermore, it's a damn good thing Steve McNiven is on this book. Under a lesser artist's pencil, Death Of Wolverine's flaws could become its focus. But McNiven is in top form here, adding just the right amount of grit to his usually clean pencils to give this book the perfect cinematic quality. McNiven's pencils make Death of Wolverine feel like an event, a quality desperately needed to balance out the obvious flaws in Soule's script. Inker Jay Leisten and colorist Justin Ponsor round out Death of Wolverine's art team, with Leisten fully embracing the depth of McNiven's pencils, and Ponsor providing a perfectly moody palette that adapts effortlessly from scene to scene.
Despite all its flaws, there is still something primally engaging about Death of Wolverine. It's hard to grasp what such a lofty title will mean in the landscape of the Marvel universe - especially knowing Marvel's track record with high profile deaths in recent years. But taken on its own, as the final chapter in the story of a character with a stronger narrative than most with Wolverine's history can hope for, it's easier to judge for its actual merits and flaws. While this second issue fails to feel as contained as the first, the revelations in its final pages leave hope that the epic conclusion Wolverine's story deserves is still on the horizon, even if the way there is paved with particularly rocky ground.
Batman: Futures End #1
Written by Ray Fawkes and Scott Snyder
Art by Aco and Fco Plascencia
Lettering by Dezi Sienty and Carlos M. Mangual
Published by DC Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
Out of all the heroes relaunched by the New 52, the character who required the least amount of tinkering out of the gate was undoubtedly Batman. He's the ultimate all-purpose, plug-and-play, ready-to-roll superhero, always equipped for action and always motivated to achieve maximum results.
But five years from now, that intensity has not been kind to him.
Pitting an aging, battle-damaged Bruce Wayne against both the weapons of Lex Luthor as well as the ticking time bomb of his own decrepit body, Batman: Futures End #1 is an action-packed thriller that never ceases to raise the stakes. Tying in cleverly to Detective Comics #27, Ray Fawkes and Aco take the narrative baton from Scott Snyder, producing a fun and frenetic one-shot that, like all the best Batman stories, immediately roars out of the gate.
From the very beginning, the stakes are high - even though it's just five years in the future, the Batman seems to have aged decades. He's had his back broken, his heart is ready to give out - he's literally stitched together just by the nanomesh that comprises his suit. It's not just a concept we've seen before, it's a trope, but it's one that only increases the tension - Batman doesn't know when to quit, but what happens when even his indomitable will has to succumb to the limitations of human meat? With only 40 minutes to achieve his mission, Fawkes already makes this a challenging mission within three pages.
And the next 17 pages are nothing to scoff at, either. Part of the fun of Batman is, like James Bond, he possesses an arsenal of gadgets, and bits like shielding himself with a cape cocoon or vibrating through walls using "the Allen Suit Protocol" are a great nod to the wider universe Batman has seen over his career. Fawkes keeps referencing the greater DCU in this issue, whether it's Batman seeking out the Caulder Component in order to save his life or Lex Luthor's prerecorded taunts as Bruce goes through level after level of security.
In terms of the art, this is one of the best Futures End tie-ins I've seen in quite some time, thanks to the moody, scratchy artwork of Aco. This is a guy that DC really needs to utilize more often - he reminds me a bit of Roberto De La Torre, but his compositions are superb. (A panel of Alfred manning the computers while the shadow of the Bat covers him is just sublime, and the hidden adversary locked deep in Lex Luthor's catacombs looks appropriately creepy and all-powerful.) It also helps that Aco is aided by a superb colorist - Fco Plascencia really goes crazy here, but he also helps cover when Aco's panels are a bit too rendered. With the occasional explosion of oranges and blues, it's easier to play it off some of these overwhelming panels as the disorientation of battle rather than as ill-conceived.
While admittedly this issue has its moments of feeling rushed, there's something so pure about Batman: Futures End #1, something that speaks to the power and longevity of DC's most popular character. You don't need crazy setup, you don't need explanation - you just need action. Even when he's at death's door, Batman is always ready for war. And that's a thrill that five years could never touch.
Amazing Spider-Man #6
Written by Dan Slott
Art by Humberto Ramos, Victor Olazaba and Edgar Delgado
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Pierce Lydon
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
Dan Slott has a knack with toying with fan’s expectations, but never in a way that’s a disservice to the character. That’s what’s made most of his Amazing Spider-Man run so much fun as a reader and as a critic. We’re six issues into Peter Parker’s return, and Slott is setting up a narrative that is totally different in tone from Superior Spider-Man but still manages to build up Peter Parker’s world in new and interesting ways.
The opening pages of this issue are played to great effect. Slott seemingly wrote himself into a jam at the end of the last issue, but he always has a way out. I’ve said before that he doesn’t get the credit that other “more serious” writers do for planning out his work, but it’s clear that he has a very specific vision to execute. Slott has made Silk a very likable character in a very short amount of time, and while her existence might require a little too much continuity gymnastics for some readers, Slott at least gives her skill level some context.
Black Cat’s new villain turn doesn’t have me as sold, though. Sure, “hell hath no fury as a woman scorned.” But something about Black Cat’s approach seems a little bit out of character. I think that Slott salvages it in the end, but her uneasy partnership with Electro seems to be born more out of necessity to the plot than natural character development. That said, Felicia’s not always the easiest character to read, and there might be more going on that Slott hasn’t let us in on. On the whole this arc has given us a new status quo for Spidey and that’s exciting. He’s got a new partner, a new enemy and there are things lurking in the background at his company that will surely have repercussions.
If there’s a problem with Electro stories, it always comes from the colors. This book drowns in electric blue, and that’s a shame. There are only a few pages that don’t feature the character but even some of those have a hint of it in their color palette. It’s makes the issue look a bit repetitive, especially during the big climax. While it’s not colorist Edgar Delgado's fault that he had to color the lightning that was drawn, there could have been a better effort to introduce a better contrast to make the pages a little less blinding.
And except for drawing all that lightning, Humberto Ramos pencils a great issue. This is an artist who has noticeably toned down some of the more cartoony elements of his work and is truly blossoming as a more direct storyteller. He has completely stepped up his game in terms of drawing faces and executing more realistic expressions and that helps sell more of the emotional aspects of Slott’s script. Once the action gets going, Ramos really kicks it into gear by delivering quick and concise panels that ooze with excitement and tension. And it might just be a small detail, but I love how he renders webbing. It’s a sensible evolution from Todd McFarlane’s style that doesn’t overwhelm the panels and makes sense visually.
This issue is another win for the Spider-Man office. Slott is constantly resolving plot points with satisfying answers while still bringing up new questions and that’s one of his greatest strengths, the ability to keep moving forward without leaving any dangling plot threads. With Silk, Black Cat and Parker Industries all vying for Peter’s attention in some way, we’re sure to get some interesting new stories. Plus all of these storylines have the potential to link back to Spider-Man’s central maxim, “With great power comes great responsibility,” and that’s how you know you’ve got a creative team that’s on the right track.
Written by Grant Morrison
Illustrated by Frazer Irving
Lettering by Jared K. Fletcher
Published by Legendary Comics
Review by Brendan McGuirk
'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10
“The exiled space genius trying to bring his dead girlfriend back from the dead is good... but what's next?”
There is a truism that says writers make for poor protagonists. Their talents and conflicts are too passive and inward for audiences to identify with, the thinking goes. Grant Morrison doesn't seem to agree. In Grant Morrison stories, the writer's imagination is often the literary theater where warring forces manifest themselves and the power of concepts and values live and die on merit. Believing in something, in Morrison's worlds, actively means something. Concepts have power. Ideas are worth fighting for, and sometimes they even fight back.
The writer's chief curiosity seems to be the “why” of fiction. His narratives are never satisfied simply to move a plot along a diverting path. They tend to shoulder the burden of pushing the boundaries of people's relationship with creativity and imagination, as well as the purpose of expression, on either side of the page. In his superhero fare, this often reveals itself through tales that explore the primal roots of familiar cultural icons, testing and proving why they are so resilient in people's collective imaginations. His non-superhero stuff can get a little weirder.
Annihilator tells parallel stories. In one, a bad-boy outcast takes on an impossible task in order to prove his worth to the universe. In the other... sort of the same thing happens. The first protagonist, Max Nomax, is an intergalactic outlaw escape artist, who has descended to the galaxy's dead heart, a prison planet rotating around a black hole sun known as the Great Annihilator, only so he can look into its world-crushing maw and willfully defy its power. The second, Ray Spass, is the darkly depressed, drug-addled screenwriter willing Nomax's quest into existence on the written page in frustrated fits and spurts, who has decided that the inspiration he needs to tell a story as dark and defeating as the one he means to can only come by indulging in any and all available vices, subjecting himself to unnatural discomfort, and moving into a home he hopes is haunted. If these two have a grand unifying theory, it's that darkness and isolation are the universe's only true virtues. So, y'know, they're probably working through some stuff.
Frazer Irving's depiction of Spass invokes the willful androgyny of Prince and the forced weirdness of Tim Burton. His bleeding-edge-of-cool hairstyle gives away how entirely image-conscious he is, and his insistent and angry defiance does little to hide the fear and desperation barely simmering beneath his surface. Nomax, then, seems inspired by the kind of Johnny Depp-playing-a-Marilyn Manson-type audiences might expect from a Burton movie. He's an ideal self, who needs nothing from anyone in the universe, and who can only prove them all wrong, and himself right, by attacking the most impossible odds imaginable. Nomax is wracked by none of the failings Spass faces. He is the writer's shield and avatar, and Spass has pinned immeasurable hopes on Nomax saving him.
Irving avails himself beautifully in presenting both the terrestrial and non-terrestrial worlds. The visuals of the sci-fi story are insular and paranoid, and soaked in grime in exactly the way you'd expect an ambitious screenwriter envisioning his art-house dystopian space thriller with a limitless budget to dream up. The “real world” story is open and atmospheric, curved and haunted in different way than the “fiction.” Where Spass is stuck in his orange-hued world, Nomax is made for his sharply blue-tinted one.
Irving and Morrison are at their finest in this Legendary collaboration. The impacting drama meets its equal in the affecting imagery, and Annihilator shows all the promise one would hope for when one of comics' most challenging minds collaborates with one of its most distinct and deliberate visual voices. Stories about creators and their creations have been told before, but then, there were many Batman stories told before the likes of these guys got their hands on him, too. Darkness soaks Annihilator so thoroughly that you'd think the paper it was printed on was black, but I doubt very much that this story will, in the end, advocate nihilism and bleakness. Negative forces can only affect stories relative to positive ones. Here, with Spass and Nomax and prisons and anxieties and deadlines, I have no idea where the plot is going, and don't care to guess. It will be explosive, because the forces are explicit and volatile.
Plots come and go. They are only engaging for as long as you are engaged in the tale's telling. The ideas that sustain them, however, endure. We take them with us, outside of our stories. Like the biggest of ideas, the best fiction can annihilate our very real expectations.
Written by Matt Fraction
Art by Annie Wu and Matt Hollingsworth
Lettering by Chris Eliopoulos
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
It's somewhat fitting that the trajectory of Hawkeye has been as meandering and spazz-like as, well, its central characters. Plagued with delays and tangents - "Pizza Dog" may have won an Eisner, but did it really push the main storyline forward? - it can be a little hard to connect with this series, even if its quirky characters and time-jumping story structure are charming. But regardless of your bias as to this series as a whole or whether this is worth the wait, it's undeniable that Hawkeye #20 is a sharply crafted piece of work.
Following Kate Bishop in California - yeah, what did I say before about tangents from the main story? - this long-delayed comic may bug some readers, who have been itching for what feels like eternity to figure out what happens to Clint Barton, his brother Barney, and the other tenants in the Brooklyn apartment building. But I digress. You could beat up on this comic for a long time about whether or not it hit its deadlines, but at the end of the day, if you're reading these books in one go, this comic is going do just fine. Kate remains a likable, funny character, as she inherits the screw-up gene from her mentor. (Do genetics work like that? Oh, jeez, is Clint's screw-upness infecting me now?)
Running her own private investigation service, Kate is trying hard to bring down Madame Masque, who's had a vendetta against the young archer since way back in Issue #5. While it's clear that Matt Fraction has been transitioning on to bigger and better things than superhero books lately (have you read the Eisner Award-winning Sex Criminals? You really should be reading Sex Criminals), it's clear his long tenure on these books has really sharpened his sense of pacing. He bounces around from past to present to future with an editor's eye, whether it's a quick page devoted to Kate's many would-be clients or Kate recapping her raid against Madame Masque to an as-yet-undetermined audience. (Fraction determines it. It's a good determine.)
Yes, there are nods to other corners of the Marvel Universe, but for the most part you can ignore them. This is instead just a plucky girl detective gettin' into scrapes and often getting bailed out by the two dudes whose wedding she saved back in Issue #14. (Cliff Notes!) She doesn't always win - in fact, she kinda never wins - but like my mom used to say, it's not about whether you get knocked down, but how you get back up again. Every time that Kate Bishop gets back up, we like her more.
And speaking of things we like more - the artwork. Wow. Have you ever seen those movies about prison, where the dude goes to jail and then comes out completely ripped? That's what I feel happened with Annie Wu's art. It's been awhile since she's been on the outside, but man, she is completely jacked. Her characters are expressive - Kate's gap-toothed prison mug shot is one of the funniest images I've seen in a long time - and the fact that she makes an 11-panel page flow so well proves that she's got a long, distinguished career ahead of her. This might be a weird thing to comment on, but she also really makes people getting the crap kicked out of them look great - there's one bellhop who gets shot by an arrow who seems almost Disney-esque in his expression, and seeing the random bandages on Kate's face just gives her more character.
Admittedly, there are a few flaws to this book - namely the fact that the whole storyline just kind of falls apart with a deus ex machina. Fraction tries to play it off with a funny epilogue, but it's a little bit of a bitter pill to swallow when this subplot has been going on since July 2013. Another mild issue is that occasionally Wu's inks look just the slightest bit scratchy - her character designs are generally pretty smooth, so that little bit of roughness can be a hair distracting. And there are going to be some critics who are upset that Clint Barton's more compelling main story isn't in this issue. That's true. That happens. But at the same time, are we going to complain about the book we don't have, or start appreciating the book we do?
It was a simple job. Maybe. And admittedly, neither Kate Bishop nor Matt Fraction really accomplished it. Kate Bishop's jaunt to L.A. wound up taking over a year to wrap up, and all she has are some newly discovered daddy issues to show for it. That's life, sometimes. That's drama. And for a comic that's as goofy, self-effacing and naturalistic as Hawkeye, maybe that's fitting, too.
Ms. Marvel #8
Written by G. Willow Wilson
Art by Adrian Alphona and Ian Herring
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge, III
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10
Just when you think G. Willow Wilson’s Ms. Marvel couldn’t get any better, she goes and pairs her off with Lockjaw, delivering one of the most adorable and effective team-ups ever. While last month’s adventure took Kamala way out of her depth, Ms. Marvel #8 finds Kamala truly making her own way through her investigation into the Inventor’s nefarious dealings - oftentimes with varying results. While she now has an extremely willing and helpful companion in Lockjaw, she still has much to learn about the responsibilities and precautions one has to take in order to be a successful superhero. Wilson, Adrian Alphona, and Ian Herring may have a metric ton of love for Kamala and her adventures, but that doesn’t mean that they are going to let her skate by just on pluckiness alone. That’s what truly makes Ms. Marvel #8 fantastic.
While artist Jake Wyatt took over the reigns for the art side of Ms. Marvel and acquitted himself admirable with some anime-inspired visual jokes as well as a emotive, kinetic style, the return of Adrian Alphona and Ian Herring is like a cool drink to a parched throat. Alphona’s Kamala Kahn is now the only Kamala Kahn in my mind, even though other artists will occasionally step in and more than likely do amazing work with her. The opening two pages, viewed through the POV of Lockjaw as he bounds down the street toward Kamala, set the tone for the issue beautifully and include the kind of rich character details that we have come to expect from Alphona and the title as a whole. Even the pedestrians on the street and a family’s bug-eyed pug display a full range of emotion as the weirdest dog in the Marvel Universe skips down the street toward his new charge. It is a tremendously cute opening and one that feels right at home within the pages of Ms. Marvel. Ian Herring's colors are also just as sharp as ever, as each page is saturated with color schemes and pallets that pop without every overpowering the scene. Nobody colors Kamala’s costume like Ian Herring.
Also on display is Alphona’s command of visual language during the issue’s primary fight scene. As Kamala and Lockjaw track down the last known location of the mutant used as the Inventor as a power source for his underground base, they stumble upon an abandoned power plant guarded by another one of his NuHuman-powered mechs. This fight, though short, still feels almost harrowing at times because of Alphona’s staging. Here Kamala tries everything she knows, including a few headbutts, to best the robot, but still almost doesn’t come out on top. G. Willow Wilson has been very careful not to overpower Kamala to the point of defeat just yet, but our hero still doesn’t really know that much about fighting, leaving her at a major disadvantage in the field. This is one of the main things that I love about that title; not only does Wilson understand Kamala's amateur status, but Alphona translates that wonderfully into the visual blocking of scenes. Ms. Marvel has a creative team that is truly in sync about their central character, and that makes the title so much more satisfying to read.
Ms. Marvel #8 reads just as well as it looks, with Wilson turning in yet another script that highlights Kamala’s character while hammering home her impact on the world around her. In the midst of the battle with the Inventor’s guard robot, a small drone slips into her boot and tracks her all the way back to school without her knowledge. Kamala has already gone through several trials by fire in just eight issues, but this may be her toughest one yet. Kamala has really yet to deal with this kind of brazen attack into her civilian life, and it is a very bold choice for G. Willow Wilson to make this early. As I said in the intro above, one of the major strengths of this book is that the writer, while clearly loving her creation, isn’t afraid to thrust Kamala into situations that she isn’t wholly prepared for. Kamala never thought in a thousand years that a robot would come crashing through the walls of her school in the middle of a discussion, but this is her life now, and she has to deal with the fallout of it. It is heavy thematic territory to dive into, and I cannot wait to see how she handles it all.
Ms. Marvel #8 is a lot more than the cutesy book that Jamie McKelvie’s cover advertises it to be. While filled with adorable moments throughout, Ms. Marvel #8 definitely takes the training wheels off Kamala Kahn’s superhero training. G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona and Ian Herring understand that jokes and smiles can only get them so far with this series, and now it is time to start upping the ante for Kamala in a big way. Things will probably get tough for her, and understandably so, but through it all, Kamala will still be the hero that we all know that she can be. That’s the very definition of good drama; a worthy character struggling through odds that they might not overcome for the good of all. Ms. Marvel #8 shows us that Kamala Kahn is well on her way to becoming the hero we both need and deserve.
Batgirl: Futures End #1
Written by Gail Simone
Art by Javier Garron and Romulo Fajardo Jr.
Lettering by Saida Temofonte
Published by DC Comics
Review by Richard Gray
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
Gail Simone effectively concluded her wonderful Batgirl run with last month’s issue #34, and pulled the fan-service lever hard by reuniting her “Birds of Prey” for the first time within the context of the New 52. With this flash-forward one-shot, her final issue before a new creative team takes over next month, Simone ensures that her mark will be left on the character for years to come by taking a turn for the unexpected.
Two years from now, Barbara Gordon’s wedding is interrupted by her psychotic brother James, with deadly consequences for the groom. Three years after that, Babs has given up the mantle of Batgirl, and instead runs a "League of Batgirls" from afar under the guise of La Bête Noire - a.k.a. the Black Beast. Trained under Bane, this seemingly ‘roid-rage version of Batgirl has cleaned up all the gangs in Gotham, save for the Bat-breaker himself.
Of all the twists and turns of Simone’s superb run to date, a physically enhanced Barbara Gordon in a lucha libre mask is not one readers could reasonably expect to see coming. The Gordon family has probably been run through the emotional ringer more than most, and here Simone indulges in a chance to see what would happen if the stoic Batgirl ever chose to stop caring. Yet aspects of her strength, intelligence and courage are found in her Batgirls, who are pleasingly represented by "Cassandra," "Stephanie" and "Tiffany Lucille Fox" (straight out of Batwing!) in knowing nods to the faithful. We only get snapshots of them here, but Simone gives us enough of a story "bible" that we can imagine future stories with this crew. In this sense, this is issue is just as much a statement of what Simone would like successor writers and readers alike to take away as it is a message from Gordon herself.
Once one gets over the initial shock to the system of an unfeasibly large Babs, Javier Garron’s art is actually gorgeous to look at. Frequently light on the background details, it allows for a focus on character expression. The Indestructible and Infinite Crisis artist crafts an aesthetically pleasing but practical set of outfits for the new Batgirls, distinguished by Romulo Fajardo Jr’s respective purple, gold and pink highlights. “La Bête Noire” sit somewhere between Bane and Tomb Raider’s Lara Croft, perhaps an inside baseball for fans of Simone’s Dark Horse adaptation.
Batgirl: Futures End #1 falls short of recasting Barbara Gordon as a drug-fueled revenge junkie, so it never really breaks us away from the mold completely. It turns out that Banegirl had the Dumbo feather in her grasp the whole time, leaving us with a slight "afterschool special" vibe that isn’t incongruous with the Babs we’ve come to know and love. With a “re-invention of Batgirl from the boots up” solicited for the next month, this issue is still a timely reminder that no matter how the character is repackaged to appeal to various demographics, strong female characters are ones that "make themselves a goddess." May Batgirl never leave us completely.
Edge of Spider-Verse #1
Written by David Hine and Fabrice Sapolsky
Art by Richard Isanove
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Lan Pitts
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
It's been four years since David Hine brought us to the Spider-Noir universe, and this seedy take on the Webslinger is a great way to start the Edge of Spider-Verse event. While this series, like much of the others in the Marvel Noir universe, rages with pulp sensibilities rather than straight-up noir, it's interesting to see this style eventually clash with trademarked Marvel flair. This issue is the beginning of the thread that ties everything in the Spider-Verse together, but the knot isn't so tight that it can't still do its own thing.
Hine opens this comic with relative calm - a few months have passed since the Peter Parker of this universe donned the midnight black attire of the Spider-Man, since the gangsters of the era, as well as the masked villains of his rogues gallery, are either jailed or dead. Things are looking sort of up for Peter, but as any reader knows, that's when things are about to get worse. I love how Hine and Sapolsky parallels Peter's downtime with things bubbling and building to where it finally reaches the end, with small hints of the beginning of World War II, which is right around the corner.
The big plus for me was how Mysterio was handled. Mysterio's hallucinogenic mist actually aids him in performing illusions as a magician. It definitely amps up the pulp feel, in the same vein as the likes of Mandrake. I also like how this isn't an exact translation of a Spidey story, but the allusions are all there. Mysterio's big finale is a giant sphere, and it all makes for a fun story. Richard Isanove's style can be mistaken for Jae Lee's at a distance with heavy blacks and bold lines, but not as sleek up close. That's not necessarily a bad thing as it is distinguishes the two artists, and gives Isanove's characters more life in them instead of Lee's sometimes too stiff compositions. Isanove keeps the action minimal until the end which is my big gripe to the issue: its pacing.
As mentioned, I liked the build of knowing that Peter knows something is coming, but the few pages of actual pay off left me a bit dry when I wanted to submerge myself again in this world. The visuals are strong here, with tiny peeks into Marvel's 1939 criminal empire, but I felt a lot of the issue was merely Mysterio plotting away. The best pages were the one with Peter being resourceful as Spider-Man and using his webbing as a mask, as I thought of later Ditko art with the panel construction in those. Isanove also did the coloring here, which still fits in the moody noir world with a darker palette all around, and adds to that Jae Lee vibe.
It was weird to see what is usually a mini being condensed into a single issue. I wish there had been more time to explore certain things like where to Peter and Felicia stand now, Mary Jane and Peter's relationship as well, maybe more easter eggs and cameos. I love how Marvel started the event by going to the past first, and fans of the Noir-verse who have been seeking another round with Spidey will get their fix, even if it's just for a little while.