The Moviehunter

Pulp Culture
Even with new
writer, Spider-Man
is still a whiner

April 19, 2001
By Franklin Harris

I've never really been a Spider-Man fan. When Stan Lee first developed the concept for a superhero whose personal life was always a mess, it was a neat idea, no doubt, but there is only so much moaning and complaining I can stand from a lead character.

Face it, sometimes I want to punch Spidey's alter ego, Peter Parker, just as much as the Green Goblin and Dr. Octopus do.

I don't see my opinion changing much now that high-profile writer J. Michael Straczynski has taken over the writing chores on "The Amazing Spider-Man."

Joe Straczynski
Joe Straczynski
Straczynski, while best known as the creator of the TV show "Babylon 5," currently writes two other comic books: "Rising Stars" and "Midnight Nation," both published by Top Cow.

But if his first issue is any indication, he is an ill fit for Spider-Man.

"The Amazing Spider-Man" No. 30 sets up a new status quo.

Peter is now estranged from his wife Mary Jane. While there is no good reason for this, other than Straczynski's stated disinterest in writing about Mary Jane, it at least beats the old status quo.

Until a few issues ago, Mary Jane was presumed dead.

With his life a shambles -- so what else is new? -- Peter decides he needs a little time to himself. So, as Spider-Man, he web-swings around the city, giving Straczynski lots of time to have Peter conduct an inner monologue, just in case we weren't sure Peter's world is in the Dumpster.

Then, in his civilian identity, our hero visits some of his old haunts, including the high school where he was teased by his nemesis, Flash Thompson. There he runs into a nerdy teen-ager, who -- surprise, surprise! -- reminds him of himself at that age.

Peter decides that some things never change -- unless you make them change. And since the preview for the next issue says Peter gets a new job, I think you can guess where this is heading.

(Someone should have reminded Straczynski that the Peter-as-substitute-teacher angle has been done before, complete with the nerdy student who reminds Peter of himself. Oh, well.)

Not that Straczynski is just retreading old territory. In fact, he goes where no Spider scribe has gone before. I'm just not sure if it is any place I care to follow.

The next night, as he's swinging through the city, Peter runs into an old man named Ezekiel.

Now, Straczynski is always a sucker for biblical allusions, so it helps to remember that, in the Old Testament, Ezekiel was a prophet. Keep that in mind.

Ezekiel is no ordinary old coot, however. It seems he has exactly the same spider-like superpowers Spider-Man has.

And he also has a big secret of the everything-you-have-always-thought-is-wrong variety.

I won't spoil the secret here, in the off chance that you decide to pick up a copy of "The Amazing Spider-Man" No. 30. But I suggest you snag one fast, because Marvel Comics is still keeping to its ridiculous no-reprints policy.

(Meanwhile, DC Comics' "Green Arrow" No. 1 is going into a third printing. What about this does Marvel President Bill Jemas not get?)

Suffice it to say that Ezekiel's secret is either a big red herring, or it's a radical change in who Spider-Man really is as a character.

I'll give Straczynski the benefit of the doubt, but I'm not filled with optimism.

Needless to say, Straczynski isn't the only person responsible for issue No. 30.

John Romita Jr., who has been doing some truly beautiful work on Marvel's poorly written "Thor," is on hand as penciller.

At first, I wasn't quite sure Romita's blocky, Kirby-like character designs were quite right for Spider-Man, but after his fluid rendering of Spider-Man and Ezekiel's rooftop chase, I think I'm sold.

Now it's up to Straczynski to sell me on the story.

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