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Book of Revelations

  The Amazing Spider-Man: Revelations

 

J. Michael Straczynski, John Romita Jr., Scott Hanna

Marvel, 2002

Rating: 4.2

 

 

Posted: August 27, 2002

By The Gentleman

In the follow-up to Coming Home, which collected the team's early work on Amazing Spider-Man, scribe J. Michael Straczynski (Babylon 5) and artist John Romita Jr. (The Incredible Hulk) wisely scale back from that collection's overwrought melodrama and esoteric mythos-building. Instead, Revelations, which collects issues #36-39 of Amazing, is a tighter, more streamlined run that sticks more closely to traditional superhero formula without ever becoming formulaic.

Revelations opens with a tribute/memorial, of sorts, to the events of September 11th, and damned if, against all odds, it doesn't prove to be a moving affirmation of the strength of American character. Romita's scratchy pencil style has always straddled the line between comic book fantasia and photo-realism, and here he deftly juxtaposes images of horror and despair with realistic shots of (steel yourselves, it sounds cornier than it looks) the Fantastic Four and other heroes helping sift through the rubble of the World Trade Center.

After this oddly affecting interlude, Straczynski picks up the soap opera plot thread left dangling in Coming Home, as Peter Parker's elderly Aunt May struggles with her discovery of her nephew's double life. What would have made for a train wreck 10 or 20 years ago is handled smoothly, believably and, best of all, interestingly: This is in part because Straczynski knows more about subtleties of characterization than most superhero writers. But it's also due to the fact that May Parker, as handled by Straczynski and Romita, is a far cry from the frail, worrisome white elephant of old; she's a downright plunky old gal who adapts with grace, and a little humor, to Peter's alter-ego. "The Conversation," in which May confronts Peter about his secret, and Peter reveals his complicity in the death of his Uncle Ben, is one of the best comics stories of the year.

If the September 11th issue and the exceedingly well-executed "The Conversation" pack a commendable one-two punch, Revelations ends on an awkward note, with a tacked-on, "silent" issue (part of Marvel's ill-conceived 'nuff said event, wherein writers were directed to script an issue without dialogue) about the tired relationship between Parker and (estranged wife? Ex-wife? Who can keep track?) Mary Jane. Basically, each one still thinks about the other. Quite the deep revelation, there. But if anyone can salvage the ungodly mess made of the entire Peter-and-Mary-Jane debacle, it's Straczynski: If he's able to apply the same strong story dynamics to this embarrassment of a plot thread as he has to Aunt May, he should earn the Nobel Prize. (Heck, he should be canonized simply for delivering four issues, three of them gripping, in which not one slugfest or lame-brained supervillain plot appears.)

Revelations does flirt with traditional comics formula in one standard-issue subplot involving the plight of Jennifer, an impoverished student in Peter's science class. But as Boston Public as this diversion proves, it's nonetheless effective, especially a scene wherein Spider-Man rushes Jennifer's brother, a drug overdose victim, to the hospital at the risk of his secret identity. And a bit of sassy dialogue between Parker and a noisome busybody in Jennifer's neighborhood is funnier and folksier than any similar exchange Quentin Tarantino might contrive.

All in all, however, a workmanlike Public Service Announcement and a patience-testing wordless interlude involving Mary Jane Watson-Parker aren't near enough to detract from the many strengths of Revelations, chief of which is a sturdy hand at characterization and drama all-too-sadly lacking in most superhero titles these days. The contributions of Romita, inker Hanna and others are nothing to sneeze at, either. Still, Straczynski is the MVP here. More so than his work on the compelling Rising Stars or his own Joe's Comics imprint, his stint on Amazing Spider-Man keeps getting better, proving him one of the industry's most assured storytellers.

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 Ratings Key:
 5.0: Breaks new ground
 4.0-4.9: First-rate
 3.0-3.9: Solid
 2.0-2.9: Mediocre
 1.1-1.9: Bad
 0.0-1.0: The worst

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