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Amazing Spider-Man #49
writer: J. Michael Straczynski
artists: John Romita, Jr. and Scott Hanna

As we get closer to the climax of Peter's current romantic subplot, JMS has little choice but to divide the story in two. One continues the strange and mystical journey that Peter accidentally plunged into when his new writer came onboard, and the other feels like Sleepless In Seattle. Which half works is a matter of taste, really.

For me, it's the mystical. Because Spider-Man has long been so iconic in popular culture, it's hard to understand the revulsion that people in the Marvel Universe are supposed to have towards him. Until now.

By tapping into Peter's inner spider, JMS has begun explaining just why some people might get the creeps around him. It's not the costume, as Romita and Hanna never draw the mask in this issue. Instead, they portray a Peter Parker with a newfound casualness, almost relaxation, around spiders. And that can build to great effect in the future. What makes this subtle change in our view of Spider-Man work is that it only adds to the character without negating anything we knew before (as, say, a clone might). Peter, too, maintains a healthy skepticism.

His guide Ezekiel also warns that important things come in threes. After attacks from Morlun and Shathra, something even bigger has to be gunning for the spider. Am I the only one envisioning a giant Garfield with a rolled-up newspaper? Okay, it's a creditable and credible threat, that promises great excitement.

Unfortunately, that excitement isn't coming for an issue or two. Instead, JMS has to clean up the mess between Peter and Mary Jane. No doubt he will, and no doubt it will be good, but to maneuver the two into that spot in time for a special anniversary issue (#50), he has to play the two for romantic farce. Though not quite marking time, it's a dissonant touch, and it overwhelms the issue.


Batman #611
writer: Jeph Loeb
artists: Jim Lee and Scott Williams

Do everything you can not to look at the house ad right before the last page of this story. Even though the cliffhanger may be a foregone conclusion, it's still really strange placement to have it spoiled a page early.

With this issue, Loeb and Lee journey to Metropolis, as Batman goes hunting for Poison Ivy. In addition to continuing one of the best Batman stories in a while, Loeb once again proves that fans should be salivating over the long-promised Batman and Superman title.

Seriously, freed from the overall Superman story arcs that hindered him, Loeb writes the best Superman in comics. A quick discussion between Clark and Lois about Bruce Wayne marks the first time the two have ever really had the rhythms of a married couple in love.

Actually, what's making this book work is that Loeb is free from an all-encompassing Batman story arc, too. He goes ahead and lets Batman's attraction to Catwoman build, something not allowed in quite a while, and certainly not reflected in any other Batbook. (It doesn't hurt that Lee draws a smoking Selina Kyle.)

As a result, anything can happen. So far, Loeb and Lee largely riff on old themes, but they are turning those themes upside down.

If you haven't figured out why this book has suddenly catapulted to the top of the charts, believe that it's not a sudden simple wave of nostalgia for one of the big guns in comics. It's because Loeb and Lee have made this big gun well worth reading.


Birds of Prey #51
writer: Gilbert Hernandez
artist: Casey Jones

Melding DC's more traditionally cartoony characters with their grittier ones is always dicey. And I'm not sure that Hernandez and Jones have quite pulled it off yet. Most of Metamorpho's supporting cast are either absent or sufficiently altered so as to fit, but every panel with Java screams comic relief, and not in a good way.

For those unclear on the history, Java (or, as he often calls himself, "faithful Java") is basically an unfrozen caveman moron. Hopelessly in love with Sapphire Stagg, he has long been in a thorn in Rex Mason/Metamorpho's side.

But here, with Sapphire and her son merged into one being, he rather abruptly switches allegiances to Black Canary. Yes, Hernandez just wants to write a fun adventure story (never mind the oedipal complications), but he's left too much of the ridiculous in Java's character. Why would Simon Stagg build a protective exoskeleton suit that looks like the old '50's Robot Monster, when in all other ways, the crotchety billionaire is an industrial genius? It only serves to add an element of the goofy, and it stretches too thin.

Meanwhile, we've got two other mysteries.

The one most relevant to the arc at hand involves a handsome thug who claims to have been Killer Moth. While he does at least realize that he was present at Batgirl's first appearance, he can't account for the demonically mutated Killer Moth languishing at Arkham. This could develop into something interesting.

As for the remaining mystery, it applies to a lot of DC books. Just when and how did Metamorpho come back from the dead? I'll grant you, his dying in the first place was an arbitrary move meant to wring a little last sympathy for a failed Justice League. Even with Hypertime, I'm a little bothered because his corpse actually served as a plot point in Waid's run on JLA. But since Doom Patrol mysteriously revived him, and coyly left it to someone else to figure out the resurrection, everybody just treats Metamorpho's being alive cavalierly.

If DC thinks the character has potential (and indeed, he has appeared directly and indirectly in three books this month alone), then fans are owed some sort of explanation. Stop distracting us with that cool action figu…um, what was I saying?


Daredevil #42
writer: Brian Michael Bendis
artist: Alex Maleev

The "outing" of Matt Murdock as Daredevil has had some interesting repercussions. Some villains have turned tale and run. The media has grown tired of his denials and moved on to bigger, sexier stories. (Could Matt really have just outlasted the fourth estate?) And some villains have realized they have to do business differently.

In the many years that few read Daredevil, something happened to the formerly vaguely urbane Owl. It's for the best, because he was little more than a strange clone of Kingpin, made irrelevant once Kingpin moved into this book. Now he's feral and struggling to maintain civility, and you have to wonder how he ever managed to cleverly trap Daredevil.

Bendis and Maleev portray a grimly funny confrontation between the two, as they dance to the new rules. Ironically, Daredevil himself is the one taken aback by the new status quo, which may be leading to something big in his own character.

Certainly, he's in denial, and even if he finds it amusing that his foes think that Daredevil is Matt Murdock, it doesn't change the fact that Daredevil is Matt Murdock.

Also mixing things up is the reappearance of Milla. Her confirmation of Daredevil's identity is so mind-blowingly simple that it's a wonder nobody thought of it before. Just how easy would it be to find a hero's identity if you knew him?


Derek McCaw


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