Thursday, 27 January 2011

Review - Amazing Spider-Man: Character Assassination

This story was originally serialised in Amazing Spider-Man issues 584 to 588 and Amazing Spider-Man: Brand New Day Extra. These issues were eventually reprinted in the Election Day trade paperback (and hardcover) but I recently read them in the pages of Astonishing Spider-Man issues 23 to 25. Astonishing Spider-Man is a reprint title, published in the UK by Panini, who also publish several other Marvel reprint titles (Mighty World of Marvel, Fantastic Four Adventures, Marvel Legends, etc.). The Panini titles usually reprint three Marvel comics per issue – although sometimes they publish 100 page specials with more comics in them – and retail for £2.95. This is a pretty good price but they would seem like even better value for money if there were ever three comics in a single issue that I wanted to read.

Astonishing Spider-Man usually reprints two fairly recent (well, about two years old) issues of the Amazing Spider-Man and one crappy adventure from the ‘80s. At the moment, the ‘80s adventures aren’t quite as awful as the ones they usually pick – they are currently reprinting the early Todd McFarlane issues – but I still can’t be bothered to read them and am really just buying this title for the modern adventures. Even these modern adventures aren’t that great most of the time, and I often wonder why I ever asked my friendly neighbourhood newsagent to start getting this comic for me (I’m nearly 42!!!), but there is the occasional good issue and I am curious enough to keep buying this (fortnightly) title for now.

Character Assassination saw the culmination of several fairly uninteresting storylines that had been running in the pages of the Amazing Spider-Man ever since the Brand New Day issues started (these issues are also from the Brand New Day era). In particular, we finally got to find out the identity of Menace, a new Green Goblin / Hobgoblin type of villain, and the identity of the Spider-Tracer Killer, a serial killer who had been leaving spider-tracers on his victims, causing most of New York to believe that Spider-Man was now a killer.

Menace, it turned out, was Harry Osborn’s girlfriend Lilly Hollister, who had stumbled upon a vial of goblin gas in Norman Osborn’s secret lab and now possessed the ability to turn herself into a crazed goblin creature at will. Her father is Councilman Bill Hollister, who was running for mayor, and Lilly was using her newfound abilities to help him win the election (without his knowledge). Among other things, this involved her attacking her dad to win him sympathy and attacking and defeating Spider-Man and handing him over to the cops, who stuck him in jail for the Spider-Tracer killings.

The Spider-Tracer killings, it turned out, were actually unrelated killings that a bunch of crooked cops – including Peter Parker’s Spider-Man-hating flatmate Vin Gonzales – had managed to attribute to Spider-Man by sticking spider-tracers on the bodies, in an attempt to get Spider-Man off the streets. Eventually, the other crooked cops framed Vin for the whole thing and he ended up in jail with Spidey.

Overall, this story, written by Marc Guggenheim, was not the best Spider-Man story I have ever read. The stuff in jail was okay and there was some nice interaction between Spidey and his lawyer Matt Murdock (AKA Daredevil) but the rest of the story was just a bit dull. The revelation that Lilly was Menace, like her origin, was pretty lame. In fact, Menace was pretty lame all around and whoever came up with the name ‘Menace’ for Spider-Man’s latest foe should probably be fired and never allowed to work in comics again. The Spider-Tracer Killer storyline was pretty lame, too. For one thing, would the cops in New York really be stupid enough to believe that Spider-Man was committing murders and leaving spider-tracers on the bodies? Surely any idiot would realise that Spider-Man was being framed? Also, wouldn’t it have occurred to Vin that, by framing Spider-Man for a bunch of murders he hadn’t committed, he was letting the real killers get away with murder? I realise that I probably just need to get out a bit more and get a life, but this really annoyed me, particularly as Vin was eventually painted as being just a bit misguided – some of the other cops were really rotten and had actually killed one of the Spider-Tracer Killer’s ‘victims’ – rather than a total f**king idiot.

Luckily, this storyline had some pretty great art in it. One issue was drawn by Barry Kitson, who is okay but not an artist I can ever get excited about, but the rest were drawn by two of the greatest Spider-Man artists of all time, with one issue drawn by my current favourite Marvel artist, Marcos Martin, and the rest drawn by John Romita Jr (inked by Klaus Janson). If the art hadn’t been so good, I probably would have called this a pretty crappy Spider-Man story, but the great art lifted it up to a just about acceptable level. Hopefully, now that these two storylines are resolved, future issues will be a bit better – during this period, the Amazing Spider-Man had a rotating team of creators working on it so Guggenheim was just an occasional writer – but I’m not that optimistic because Character Assassination ended with the threat of more appearances by Menace and a greater role for Norman Osborn, who is one of my least favourite Marvel villains and, at this post-Secret Invasion point in time, was pretty much running (and ruining) the Marvel Universe.


  1. Like you say, these Panini comics can be great value, particularly if they feature three strips that you want to read. At the moment I have a years worth of Fantastic Four Adventures to read featuring Millar and Hitch leads backed up by yummy Lee/Kirby goodness. Even better value for money when you subscribe as a years worth of comics is heavily discounted. Standing orders even more!

  2. I had a flick through the latest issue of FF Adventures in WHSmith's yesterday and it looks like the next issue might start reprinting the Jonathan Hickman stuff. If so, I'm gonna start buying it!

  3. I gonna try and do a 'Likely Lads' and avoid finding out which member of the FF got killed in this week's American version for the next few years until it's revealed in the Panini reprint.

  4. I know who died. I just looked it up. I'll try and keep it to myself for the next couple of years.

  5. It was Ben!

    No, I'm kidding, it was Sue.

    Oh, very well then, it was Johnny.

    OK, it was Reed.

    One of the above is not a lie.

    Being the world's biggest Spider-Man fan, I'd tell you to keep reading, Rob, since the title gets gradually better towards the end of the Brand New Day run (Guggenheim is the weakest of the pool of writers they have at this point - Waid, Kelly and Slott are much stronger) and the new Big Time adventures have started particularly strong.

    But then, being the world's biggest Spider-Man fan, I may be biased.

  6. Don't worry, I'll keep reading, partly because I'm still interested enough to keep reading and partly because I'm too embarrassed to ask my local newsagent to cancel this title just weeks after I asked him to cancel Mighty World of Marvel.

  7. And never mind which member of the FF died, I want to know when Herbie the Robot is going to replace him or her in the FF.