Spencer: I’m a pretty big fan of Doctor Who, and one of my favorite aspects of the show is that its premise has infinite possibilities; the writers can literally take the Doctor to any location or time-period they can imagine. The only problem is that the network created a rule that every episode has to feature a monster of some sort. This isn’t a huge deal — monsters are an essential part of the Doctor Who mythos — but it becomes rather frustrating when there’s an episode that doesn’t need a monster, but has one shoehorned in anyway; at its best it’s distracting, but at its worst it can derail episodes completely. Dan Slott and Humberto Ramos’ The Amazing Spider-Man 2 suffers from a similar problem; while the scenes about Peter are quite enjoyable, everything about Electro’s inclusion feels shoehorned, and it threatens to derail the entire issue.
Anna Maria takes the news that she was dating Doc Ock rather well; while she’s thinking (and covering for him at Parker Industries), Peter convinces the Avengers that he’s himself again. Meanwhile, Electro — whose powers are still on the fritz — meets up with a friend named Francine. He wants to hide out, but she wants to make out, and that doesn’t end well for her. Electro gets pissed, attacks the city, and gets into a brief skirmish with Spider-Man before taking off; inspired by the fight, Peter declares that Parker Industries’ next project will be building a new super villain prison!
Everything about Peter’s scenes work quite well; Spider-Man lives in a world where things like “mind swaps” happen every five minutes, so it’s wise that Slott doesn’t try to drag the drama out, instead letting the Avengers and Anna Maria believe Peter right away. Moreover, these scenes aren’t just bland exposition and obligatory plot beats — there’s plenty of humor to liven the proceedings, and there’s a particularly interesting cadence to the conversation between Peter and Anna Maria that instantly defines the kind of relationship these two will have from here on out. And hey, if you think things are going too easily for ol’ Peter on this front, then there’s always the Parker Industries plot; I can’t imagine Sajani is going to take too well to Peter cancelling their big roll-out!
Perhaps my favorite element of the issue is the advice both Captain America and Johnny Storm give Peter about waking up and moving on:
If events like Peter and Otto’s “mind swaps” are so common, then of course Peter’s going to have friends who understand what he’s going through trying to reacclimate to his life; again, it’s a clever, touching, and “real” use of superhero tropes and the shared Marvel Universe, and I’m always up for that sort of thing.
As much as I like the Peter Parker portions of this issue, though, the stuff with Electro feels entirely tacked-on and obligatory, like Slott realized at the last minute that the issue “needed” a super villain (or perhaps like Marvel and Sony wanted the issue to have some synergy with Peter’s current big-screen adventure).
Slott’s an expert at seeding plots that pay off a long way in the future, and we’re actually seeing a lot of the plots Slott planted during Superior come to fruition in the Peter sections of the issue, but at the moment all the villains in this title are still in set-up mode, and as a result the brief skirmish between Spidey and Electro feels awfully perfunctory. I understand that their beef will be better settled further down the road — I have faith that Slott will make it worth the wait — and I understand that this fight gives Peter the idea for his new prison, but neither fact helps negate how awkward this set-up period is coming across.
Still, this is ultimately a minor sin; what really threatens to sour me on this issue is the stuff with Francine.
Okay, despite multiple warnings from Electro that his powers are on the fritz and he’s dangerous, Francine does…that — she essentially commits suicide just to kiss Max! Everything about this is upsetting to me. That second panel makes me really uncomfortable; I know Ramos makes Max look willing, but the “Don’t. Please,” in small print seems to contradict that, depicting an Electro who is pleading with Francine not to kiss him while she clearly ignores his wishes. Ick. If the genders were reversed here the Internet would be up in arms already, so let’s not even try to pretend that this is not problematic.
Moreover, it’s just stupid! Max makes it very clear that he’s dangerous, so Francine has to be quite literally the stupidest character in all of fiction (Sorry, Bobby “Are we negroes?” Draper) to go through with it anyway. As far as I can tell this is Francine’s first appearance, meaning that Slott created a new female character — a character whose only personality trait is a weakness for “bad boys” — only to kill her off two pages later, all just to motivate Electro to go throw a temper tantrum and attack the city! Talk about unnecessary! Max already hates Spider-Man, couldn’t that be the reason he attacks? I mean, it’s not like Max even mentions Francine again — as soon as Spider-Man shows up Electro becomes fixated on him, so why complicate things by adding Francine, especially when the execution is flawed on pretty much every conceivable level?
I dunno; I think this issue does a lot right, but its flaws are glaring and worrisome, and threaten to overwhelm it. Taylor, does this issue work any better (or any worse?) for you? What do you think of Humberto Ramos’ art? Do you buy Anna Maria’s immediate acceptance of Peter’s story, or is it just too quick and convenient for you?
Taylor: Yeah, this issue has some things that keep me from really putting all of my support behind it. Spencer, I noticed a lot of the problems you mentioned, chief among them the bizarre love/death scene between Max and Francine. It does raise some eyebrows, since, at the very least, it appears Max is a reluctant participant in the lovemaking about to happen. As you rightfully pointed out Spencer, this makes Francine seem like a complete idiot. I don’t know, maybe she is. After all, anyone who hangs around super villains all their life has got to have something a little off about them. But more than this just being a case of Francine being dumb, this situation seems to portray a negative stereotype of women.
Francine is the typical bad-guy female groupy, a troupe which will seem familiar to anyone who’s seen an action movie from the 90s. These women, usually buxom and attractive, are inexplicably drawn to evildoers. While this in and of itself isn’t terrible, these women tend to be little more than eye-candy with little character development. Francine seems to fit this category to a tee. Fulfilling the stereotype, she also is dismissed quickly after she fulfills the role of becoming sexual object, even if for just a couple panels.
I’d be willing to write this misstep off as being symptomatic of a shoehorned plot but it’s not the only off-putting stereotype Slott slips into this Spider-Man story. When Anna Marie learns that she was really dating Doc Oc for the past couple of months she has a reaction that’s a little unexpected.
Of all the actions she could choose to do at this point, she chooses to cook. We’re all aware of the deplorable association between women and cooking so there’s no need to hash that out here, so let’s just consider this scene. Anna Marie is a world class scientist. In fact, her intellect is one of the reasons Doc Oc, as Peter, even decided to court her. Given this, it seems odd that she would suddenly decide to cook in response to jarring news. Hers is a rational mind, why would she suddenly need to turn it off when in the past she’s gotten out of jams by turning it on? That leaves us with the unsettling conclusion that she’s made to cook simply because she’s a woman and that’s something a woman would do to handle stress. I’m not saying Slott did this on purpose, but it sure looks bad.
While aspects of the storyline are indeed troublesome, at least the art is enjoyable for the most part. Peter Parker is such a goofball and so much of why I enjoy reading a Spider-Man issue is due to his unique take on the superhero biz. Ramos understands this and designs his characters somewhere between realistic and cartoonish. This matches the mood of the issue quite well, as the plot bounces between bizarre humor and more serious exposition. As designed, the characters can be portrayed as both silly and sincere which is something that’s deceptively hard to pull off.
My only gripe about the art is that sometimes it makes characters look a little too young. While this works amazingly well for Peter, who is supposed to be young, it’s a little awkward for characters who are supposed to be older. Captain America, for instance, looks like he’s the captain of the high school football team.
I’ve always thought of Cap as being slightly older, perhaps in his late 20s, early 30s. I have no basis for that, it’s just the sense I get of the character. here though, he looks like he’s 19 or 20. Again, it works for Peter, but for a character who’s supposed to be a bit gruffer and tougher, Ramos’ design leaves a bit to be desired.
All that being said, I sincerely hope these are all just some hickups being sorted out as this series takes off from different starting point. There’s a base here for some interesting and fun things to happen (super villain prison!) and I hope it’s only a matter of time before all that’s negative is pulled out of this series.
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