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The Amazing Spider-Man #58 (499)
writer: J. Michael Straczynski
artists: John Romita, Jr. and Scott Hanna

Every now and then, a Marvel superhero book just has to have a big knock-out dragdown fight almost for the sake of itself. No foe could be more aptly named for such a task than The Mindless Ones, slaves of the dread Dormammu.

And so, in the midst of an arc entitled "Happy Birthday," we move away from the stories of Peter Parker's exploration of his powers and himself. Instead, we get how other heroes see him, as he fights alongside a who's who of the big guns of the Marvel Universe. (And, almost inexplicably, Cyclops.)

Clearly, the other heroes find him to be goodhearted and loyal, someone they can trust. But it's also clear that his wisecracks get on their nerves. No one more so, unfortunately, than Dr. Strange, who finds himself victim to both that loyalty and that humor.

Straczynski has given Peter an idealism that borders on the naļve. In order for it to work, we have to forget all the times the character has ventured into the realm of the supernatural (outside of this run). With a storyteller this sure, it's easy to do. It also helps to pretend that no issue of Marvel Team-Up ever happened.

The issue also provides opportunities for Romita to remind us of all the projects we've loved him doing. (That's the best explanation I have for Cyclops' presence - oh, yeah, some of Romita's work on X-Men was really cool.) The artist skimps a bit on background detail, but he has a huge cast to worry about, and handles them all very well. The bobble-head effect seems to have gone away.

Once again, it's an enjoyable stop on a long ride, setting up for a milestone issue next month.


Exiles #34
writer: Judd Winick
artists: Jim Calafiore and Mark McKenna

It's clever of Winick to call this short run "A Second Farewell." Not only does it aptly describe what's going on for many of the characters, but it sets up his own leaving them, some of his most vivid creations.

This issue turns the spotlight on Sunfire and Nocturne, revisiting the world of the Vi-Locks. Doing this seems to mix up the rules of the book, but it's refreshing to see the aftermath of an Exiles intervention for a couple of reasons.

First, it shows that they really do have hope. The team's interference makes a difference in the realities they visit. Certainly, they work in hopes of getting back to their own homes, but seeing the results of their work should lend them a little more sense of the nobility of their cause. Too often the Exiles seem (understandably) bitter about what they have to do. Winick also lays hints that the return to their realities may not be as pleasant as they've let on.

This return also allows for better exploration of character. Sunfire, long revealed to be a lesbian, had the beginnings of a romance with this reality's Spider-Girl/Woman, and if there were any clues to that in the midst of the earlier living dead pastiche, they sure slipped by quickly.

So other than a couple of obligatory encounters with rogue technozombies (and that's not a euphemism), this issue has little action. But it does have romance, heart, and tragedy. In a way, this and the previous issue have involved completing two characters' tasks, as their own emotional damage may now be able to heal.

Calafiore isn't the strongest artist for portraying quieter moments, but he does a decent job here. When he can just deal with alternate hero designs and action, the book looks really good. But there's not a lot of subtlety of emotion in scenes that could have used it.


Derek McCaw


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