Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Review - Amazing Spider-Man: Coming Home

Amazing Spider-Man: Coming Home
Written by J. Michael Straczynski; Art by John Romita Jr. and Scott Hanna
2002 Eisner Winner for Best Serialized Story

Thanks to the recent movies Spider-Man has been elevated to the most recognizable superhero in the world. His record with the Eisner awards, on the other hand, has been weak. While Batman inevitably has something that wins an award Spider-Man is the perpetual runner up. The one exception when it comes to stories is Coming Home which started the long run of writing Spider-Man by J. Michael Straczynski.

If you listened to fans on the Internet as it was being released Coming Home was the worst thing that ever happened. The problem for these people was that Straczynski came on the book and immediately got around to setting up a new status quo and that tends to upset comic fans who get nervous around new things. From the beginning where Spider-Man is confronted by a man with identical powers who asks him if it was a radioactive spider that gave him his superpowers or if it was just the spider itself. He is confronted with the possibility that his powers are shamanistic in nature and facing a villain who is built to hunt down and consume him. At the same time our hero looks to take a new job teaching at his old high school and the story draws to a close with the promise of an even bigger change.

When a new creative team starts work on a long running title it comes down to that first story for them to define what their run is going to be about. On that level Coming Home succeeds brilliantly; it says that this is going to be a bit more spiritual Spider-Man, gives him a new setting to work with, and establishes a new group of villains. It made me interested in seeing what happened next.

Straczynski gets the tone of Spider-Man's character right. The character shifts between the joking prankster and brooding smoothly without it feeling like it's two separate people. Straczynski does a better job with the lighter moments but I don't have any major complaints about any of it.

The biggest problem with Coming Home is that it just boils down to a fairly unremarkable superhero story. If you've read superhero comics then you've read this basic story plenty of times. Pure hearted hero, nasty villain who is stronger than him, they punch each other a lot before the hero outsmarts the villain. Straczynski tells it well enough that if you like your superheroes then I'd expect that you'd like this but it isn't going to make anyone who is turned off by vigilantes in costumes excited.

Romita's artwork might be the best of his career. This was the comic book that made his father famous and he worked on Spider-Man many times over the years. Of course historical significance wouldn't mean much if the book looked bad and his storytelling abilities are on full display through the story. Take the above page for example: it's perfectly executed with the the panel layout, body language, and structure. While every page isn't quite up to that quality there are more than enough of them to make the art stand out.

I enjoyed Coming Home quite a bit and my enjoyment of Spider-Man has been spotty at best. It's unfortunate where the end of this run wound up but that's not enough to make me say that it should be avoided. If you started reading Spider-Man here and continue on to later volumes of J. Michael Straczynski's run then my advice is to stop reading it as soon as you stop enjoying it; it won't get any better. This is a good example of terrific superhero comics; it's a light, breezy, adventure story.