Saturday, February 26, 2011

Coming Home to "Coming Home"

As promised, the first review. Up front: it's actually a great read. "Coming Home" collects the first 6 issues (Volume 2 #30 - 35) of J. Michael Straczynski's run on Amazing Spider-man, with pencils by John Romita Jr, inks by Scott Hanna, and J. Scott Campbell covers. On Amazon you'd be looking at anywhere from a few dollars to $30 US for 152 pages. Or you could get the Ultimate Collection which is essentially the first three trades from JMS and Co. They released those after I started in on this run, so I won't go into what they all give you there.

In brief, Peter moves into a new apartment, meets a 57 year old multi-millionaire named Ezekiel who (wait for it) has spider-powers (possibly from being stabbed in the heart in some Incan spider temple), goes to teach at the highschool he attended as a kid, tells May he loves her, fights a supernatural creature that feeds off his totemic powers, irradiates his blood, wins the fight, passes out in his bed after goofing off a bit, and is found there by Aunt May. Roll Credits.

The money question: is it any good? At the time, it was spectacular. Spider-man was coming out of the horrors of the 90's where he'd dealt with imposter parents, symbiotes galore, clones galore, a nervous break down, the return of Norman Osborn (the Green Goblin), a period of homelessness, and some horrible writing and editorial mandates from people that should have known better. I think most everyone was very glad to see Peter Parker getting back on his feet and taken back to his roots. The sole complaint that can be thrown at this book plot-wise and really stick is that our main villain, Morlun, is not the standard "science freak" Spidey faces off against. Instead he's a creature that feeds off of those with totemic powers (two guesses what Peter's totem animal is). Now I'll pay that as a criticism, but really, it doesn't bother me any more than the idea that Aunt May had a change in hair style. Think about it this way, without unleashing scientific concepts that can't be simply explained in a panel or two on the readership, there's no greater mental challenge for Peter Parker in defeating a villain than asking him to reject (if only momentarily) the idea that everything can be explained by science (though in the end "science" wins the day).

In other words, the plot is solid, it's not great the whole time, but it's a solid story, The snappy banter is well written, and JMS even pokes fun at Babylon 5 (hint, he created Bab 5). There are two let downs in the writing. One is the occasional "woe is me" mentality of Pete, but at least we are spared the "power and responsibility" line being thrown out every other page. The other is a minor plot hole occurs in issue 31 (the second of the volume) where Peter is at school and working to take out an armed kid. He goes out to take the kid on (shrouded in smoke) and changes into Spidey. Now people saw him leave, people know the guy got taken out, and people seem to acknowledge he had a hand in it. The kid (if questioned) would say it was Spidey that took him down. Hmm. Peter could reasonably have stayed in civvies and taken the kid down himself, given people's reactions. It's a small thing but it somehow irritated me. I know that some people have whinged about some of the more throw away lines about how this is the first villain that's really pissed Peter off. Sure hat wouldn't be true, but come on, get over it at least we weren't treated to a brand new period in Spidey's life packed full of Green Goblin and Doc Ock.

The Good and the Bad. The Ugly comes later in the run.
So the writing is good, the story is good, what about the art? I'll admit that if offered to see JRJr's art or not, I'd opt for "not". I generally find his ability to draw faces to be disconcertingly cubist, and that his use of lines to add shading was a bit tired in the 90's. That said, this volume has some great examples of good JRJr art (along with some howlers).

What leaves me guessing then, is why JRJr shines so brilliantly during this volume (and others of this run), when I can give examples from earlier and later in his career where I truly shudder at the thought of reading the books again. As best I can tell credit has to go to at least some of:

  • JRJr's ability to draw a great Spidey in all manner of ridiculously impossible poses;
  • Scott Hana's inks; or
  • The colouring used in this run.

In all honesty the things that leave me cold about JRJr are the faces, particularly on supposedly attractive women (I'll have much more to say in later installments of this run). You cut back on those and he works. While I might generally prefer someone like, say, Mike Deodato Jr, the simplicity of JRJr's work is bright and bold and, I suspect, able to be done to schedule.

If you want a good read for a spare hour or so, give this a go. If you read it before and hated it, I'd love to hear what you think on re-reading, because I suspect you'll consider changing your mind. If you don't have a copy, you probably ant to consider the cost of this volume vs the cost of an ultimate collection before deciding which path you go down, especially if you don't want to over commit.

And with that, it's time to tease the next review, and what I was always told is, when you're on to a good thing, stick with it.

Spidey's Crotchless uniform was more than May could handle.


  1. Great review Westy, not that I had any doubt you could put together a great blog!

    I think you're right about JRJR shining when drawing Spidey - he's better suited to a book like this than a big team book, and yes, his faces leave alot to be desired.

    Not being a regular Spidey reader, this is instructional stuff for me. Keep it up!

  2. Great stuff Westy. Really like the interesting approach to the review with your thoughts thrown out there up front and then a breakdown of why through the article. I loved this stuff, JRjr is great when he's good and you're right about him here.

  3. Thanks guys. Next week looks like an interesting review, and I haven't even started writing yet.