Sunday, 16 June 2013

Spiderman Reign

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns was a gritty, dystopian tale of Batman’s return to the streets after a decade of retirement. Spiderman Reign is exactly the same thing. But with Spiderman. And not quite as good.

The trouble Spiderman Reign has is that it is so obviously designed to be Marvel’s answer to Dark Knight. Deliberately setting out to emulate such a successful book is always going to be a dangerous thing to do because anything you get wrong is going to be amplified by the original’s success.

I’m not a big fan of DKR but I can see where its appeal lies. I can also appreciate that it was an interesting idea borne of its time. It was in part a response to the world Frank Miller found himself in in the eighties. It’s grim and dark because Miller was in a world that was grim and dark and, crucially, its success came in part because that simply wasn’t what comics did at the time.

Spiderman Reign was produced in 2006. As far as comics are concerned that places it firmly into the era of retreads, cash-ins, and set-ups for movies. That’s a far cry from the world of originality Miller was writing in.

The story sees Peter Parker return to the streets of New York City as Spidey after a period of inactivity that’s seen him wind up as a florist. How and why he gave up the photography and journalism career he’d juggled with his night job as Spiderman is never adequately addressed and is the first sign that the entire premise hasn’t really been thought through.

In NYC masked criminals are a thing of the past, the town now being under the protection of the powerful, and inevitably corrupt, Reign enforcement team. They answer to an equally corrupt mayor. Parker bumps into a teen that’s found himself on the receiving end of the overzealous law enforcers and gets beaten up by the cops. It’s this trivial occurrence that ultimately prompts him to don the mask again.

From there it’s the standard sequences of Spidey returning to the rooftops and getting one over on the bad guys in a series of Feel Good Moments™. This leads to the mayor unleashing Mysterio, Electro, Kraven, Sandman, Hydro-Man and Scorpion, collectively billed as the Sinner Six, from jail so that they can target New York’s premiere masked vigilante. Cameos are also made by J Jonah Jameson (who should really be dead by this point considering his age) and, for no particular reason, obscure enemy Hypno Hustler.

Despite the uninspired and vaguely confusing plot that dominates proceedings there are some nice ideas dotted throughout Reign’s slender four issue run. Doctor Octopus is shown to be a corpse slumped in the centre of his still functioning metal arms, stalking the city on the dead of night. That provides some nice visuals. There’s a climactic battle with Venom that’s well drawn. In fact the artwork of Kaare Andrews (who also wrote the script) and Jose Villarrubia is far better than the story deserves. It’s very evocative in places. It’s just a pity it doesn’t have anything substantial to work with.

Spiderman Reign is far from a must read. Pick it up and flick through it if you see it. If you like the art you’ll probably enjoy it as a(n expensive) diversion. Equally if you’re nuts about Spiderman then you’ll probably find it enjoyable enough. For anyone who doesn’t fall into either camp it’s probably best to save your money and buy something else instead.

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