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What A Tangled Web...

  The Amazing Spider-Man: The Book of Ezekiel

 

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

Marvel, 2004

Rating: 3.5

 

 

Posted: November 24, 2004

By The Gentleman (exclusive to Shaking Through)

Call it the Alan Moore syndrome: Injecting new life into a superhero character by introducing new dimensions to his origin story (as Moore famously did when he made Swamp Thing a "plant elemental"). Or you can call it the Frank Miller syndrome, since he did much the same thing with Daredevil. Whatever you call it, it's all over Babylon 5 and Rising Stars creator J. Michael Straczynski's run on Spider-Man. And as The Book of Ezekiel proves, it's the best thing that's happened to Peter Parker, from a creative standpoint, in a long, long time.

Now, don't be alarmed. The web-slinger's origin hasn't drastically changed. Nor has Marvel gone off the deep end and decided to rewrite decades of comics history, as it did with the extraordinarily ill-conceived "Clone Saga" in the mid-1990s. No, the basic facts of Spidey's genesis are the same: Nerdy high school student Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider, which gave him the proportionate strength, speed and agility of a spider.

Straczynski's masterstroke has been to introduce another element to this oft-told tale. As Ezekiel, the grizzled, enigmatic figure who takes it upon himself to act as a kind of mentor to the skeptical hero, puts it, Parker is clear on the "how" of his origin, but not the "why." As he tells Peter's wife, Mary Jane: "(T)here's a supernatural component to his abilities, linking him to similar people over time.the spider that bit him may have done so with intent, carrying out a specific destiny." Sounds very Swamp Thing, doesn't it?

In the issues of the monthly Amazing Spider-Man comic collected here, this unfolding tale is amped up to a new level. Now that Parker's been made aware of this aspect of his powers, Ezekiel says, other forces have become aware of him as well. And since Parker didn't gain his supernatural spider-totem powers in the usual fashion -- don't you hate it when that happens? -- those other forces aren't happy: "The bill is coming due," as Ezekiel puts it. Sure enough, a mystic "Gatekeeper" made up of countless spiders begins terrorizing the New York area, and suffice it to say that things get very, very bad for the wall-crawler very quickly.

Straczynski being the skilled plotter he is, it's no surprise that things aren't precisely what they seem. Your humble correspondent is too much of a gentleman to reveal the plot twist that unfolds in regards to Ezekiel, the Gatekeeper and Spidey's background. But he can say that the climax of this particular storyline proves distressingly pat and obvious -- it's as if Straczynski wrote himself into a corner and could only see one trite, easy way out.

On other story fronts, Straczynski's plot thread involving Peter's marriage to Mary Jane is just above perfunctory (it's not his fault the characters are married, and one could argue he's doing the best he can to introduce some realism to their tired sort-of-estrangement). And the issues that don't further the main story are little more than standard-fare superhero filler; not awful, but hardly compelling. The images, fortunately, fare better: As usual, John Romita Jr.'s artwork is clear, his storytelling fluid and precise. The inking (by Scott Hanna and Scott Koblish) and colors (courtesy of Matt Milla) also merit attention.

The aforementioned disappointing development that concludes this collection aside, Straczynski's clearly not done with the whole "supernatural component" twist, which is good news. This is a property, and a title, stretched so thin by Marvel over the past few decades that it desperately needs just such an injection of freshness. And Straczynski has proven to be a deft enough storyteller that this gentleman, for one, is content to give him the benefit of the doubt. It could be that this development involving Ezekiel goes on to serve a greater purpose in the overall tale. Here's hoping.

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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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