If there’s a better way to spend a sick day than
curled up in bed reading comics, I don’t know what it
is.

General Information

Title: Amazing Spider-Man #501-524

Author: J. Michael Straczynski

Illustrator(s): John Romita Jr. for 501-508, and Mike
Deodato Jr. for
the rest (with Mark Brooks filling in some flashbacks
on 515-518)

Original Publication Date: These issues run from early
2004 to late
2005, and leave off right where “The Other” picks
up.

Premise

Issues 501-502 cover the tail end of the Happy
Birthday

arc, with some stand-alone little amusements that are
quite
entertaining, bringing Spider-Man back to the patrols
he did often
before he got tied up in all the supervillains.

The Book
of
Ezekiel
collection contains three stories. Issues
503 and 504
cover a team-up with Loki that is extremely funny.
Issue 505 is
mainly about the relationship between Peter and Mary
Jane, as it plays
out on a slow night. Issues 506-508 form the Book of
Ezekiel, which
finally explains why so many magical enemies are
coming after him
lately, while filling in the gaps in Ezekiel’s past.

The Sins
Past

collection is just the six part “Sins Past” storyline,
in which
someone is using Gwen Stacy’s memory against Peter
Parker. This is
undoubtedly the most talked about arc in the JMS run
on the title, and
one that many people hate. I disagree with those who
claim it
violates continuity, since it doesn’t seem to have
anything here that
directly contradicts the past, though I still don’t
think it’s likely
that Gwen would have made the decision she made. I’ll
spoiler-guard
the rest (highlight to read): You
really don’t
want to read this if you haven’t read the issues yet
and don’t already
know what’s happening; there’s a mystery element
that’s about to get
destroyed. In this story, we
learn that Gwen succumbed to Norman Osborn when Harry
was back on LSD,
and ended up pregnant with twins, which is why she ran
to France.
After a very rapid pregnancy, she returned, and
refused to give them
to Norman to raise, which is why he chose Gwen out of
all the people
who were important to Peter when he decided to throw
someone off a
bridge. MJ remembers Gwen telling her that she just
felt an
overwhelming magnetism to Norman that she couldn’t
resist, but the
details are sketchy. I don’t think that Gwen, who was
that involved
with Peter at the time, would have been involved with
Norman that
way. JMS has been involved in numerous debates about
this on the
rec.arts.comics.marvel.universe newsgroup, stating
that he has known
very respectable women make similar choices, and that
he felt that he
chose to focus on the strength of the way Gwen
responded to the
situation. Personally, I’m not convinced that Gwen
was one of the
women who’d made that choice. It’s established here
that she and
Peter never reached that level of physical
involvement, while I
suspect that a woman who would make this choice would
also be that
involved with the man she planned to marry. Maybe JMS
has a different
insight into this; he’s said that he’s met women
who’ve done this,
while to the best of my knowledge, I have not. What I
would
accept, and what doesn’t contradict what was said
here, is that it
happened more in a “date rape” situation without the
date, and that
Gwen would have been one of the many women who didn’t
recognize that
situation as a true rape, and blamed themselves. This
is something
I’d find to be more in line with the character, and
that her inability
to recognize what happened is what led her to give
Mary Jane the
skewed perspective on the events that took place.
With that tweak to
the original event, it’s easier to set that choice
aside and look at
what Gwen did with the children, which did, in fact,
involve several
difficult and respectable decisions.
End
spoiler-filled
discussion.

Issues 515-518 are in the Skin
Deep

volume. This one brings in a character Peter knew in
High School
before the spider bite, who hasn’t appeared in the
comics before. He
comes looking for Peter’s help, and naturally gets in
over his head
working on a science project, and blames Peter and
everyone else for
his own failures when the project goes wrong. It’s a
nice look at
what kind of people Ben and Peter were before
Amazing Fantasy
#15
, and Peter’s ability to let his guilt
overshadow his
judgement really sets the story up nicely.

Issues 519-524 are in the New
Avengers

volume, which (oddly enough) deals with how membership
in the New
Avengers changes Peter’s home life. There’s some
great work with May
and Jarvis, as well as with Wolverine and Mary Jane
here. Even though
the New Avengers are present, it’s the kind of
situation that requires
them to work independently in many ways, so we still
get Spider-Man
front and centre in his own title. It leaves off
right where The
Other
begins, the final issue of which just hit
shelves a few
weeks ago, and which won’t be reviewed until I get the
hardcover in
April.

High Point

The team-up with Loki. There’s some really fun
dialogue dealing with
hot dogs, trickster personas, what Norse Gods tend to
do, and whether
or not Peter would know what to do with real power if
it bit him.

Low Point

The set-up involved in all that stuff I
spoiler-guarded earlier. As
mentioned, I can mentally rewrite what’s on the page
into something I
can accept, but I shouldn’t need to.

The Scores

There are original elements here,
particularly the team-up
with Loki, and in the “Spider-Man in a team” arc that
ends out this
batch. There’s also a return to the types of thing
that Stan Lee
wrote for the character that have been forgotten over
the years,
primarily his continued fight against random street
crime. I give it
5 out of 6.

The artwork from John Romita Jr. works very
well for the
comedic stories that he’s contributing to. It’s nice
and clear, with
some very good poses. The “Sins Past” story wouldn’t
work as well
with that artwork, given the serious nature of the
story, so the
timing was right to switch to Mike Deodato Jr. for
that one. (Deodato
does everything that’s not a flashback from then on.)
He’s got that
clear, consistently on-model art style that I like so
much, and he
maintains it right through to the end of the “New
Avengers” arc. I
give it 5 out of 6.

The stories work well, apart from that one
sticking point.
It’s a big one for that particular story arc, and
would have quite an
impact if I were reviewing these individually, but as
far as the
complete 24 issue set goes, it’s really not that
significant. (Think
of it as one flaw in one story of an anthology, where
the other
stories are all quite enjoyable.) It’s a major
sticking point for a
quarter of the issues being reviewed here, so I give
the collection 4
out of 6.



The characterization is also tied to that
same major sticking
point, as it sticks for me because I have a hard time
accepting that
decision from that character. The other characters
are bang on,
including the New Avengers. I give it 4 out of 6, for
the same
reasons as the story score.

The emotional response was, for me, more
positive than it
would have been for most readers. That one point I
keep talking about
is the kind of thing that absolutely erupts on
rec.arts.comics.marvel.universe (which I used to read
daily, and now
scan weekly due to spoilers.) As a result, those of
us reading the
newsgroup couldn’t avoid the spoilers, as someone was
bound to put
them in the headers, or make cracks about them in some
other unrelated
thread with no advance notice. The initial, gut
response then was
being filtered to me through people who were
vehemently and venomously
opposed to the idea. As a result, that story arc
played out somewhat
flat for me, since the mystery surrounding the
revelation had already
been revealed, and was somewhat coloured by the fact
that I’d read
much of the debates between JMS and his critics that
appeared on that
newsgroup. (You’ve got to give the guy kudos for
standing up to that
type of onslaught and stating his side of things.)
The parts I was
seeing truly fresh were those in all of the other
issues, which I
haven’t heard anyone complain about at length.
There’s still some
distaste for me when it comes to that one aspect, but
it’s not a major
issue. I give it 4 out of 6.

The flow was very well done. We have a
number of short
stories here, but they generally have little hints and
clues about
what the next big arc will be, so it still reads as a
coherent whole.
The action depicted in the artwork is nice and smooth,
so the package
works together very well. I give it 6 out of 6.

Overall, it’s another portion of a very good
run on the
title. I give it 5 out of 6.

In total, Amazing Spider-Man #501-524
receives 33 out of 42.

Additional Notes and Comments

I’ll be buying individual issues starting with #529,
which is the
first issue after “The Other.” After that, I’ll try
to keep the
reviews up to date. (I’m going to aim to get caught
up on reviews for
one title a week in this fashion, sometime lumping
several story arcs
into one review in order to get caught up after
spending so much time
on the 40
Years of the
Amazing Spider-Man
review. I’ve got a few more
“40 Years Of…”
packages to cover, too, so this pattern is likely to
repeat itself.