Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Amazing Spider-Man: The Death of Jean De Wolff

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of The Amazing Spider-Man: The Death of Jean De Wolff (Marvel, 1990)

Here's a book I have not cracked in more than a decade, and yet it has moved with me several times and diligently been filed and refiled several times, the only color Spider-Man collection that I own. I found this copy ages ago in Athens, probably at the old Vinyl & Video store a few doors down from Mama Sid's Pizza in their three-for-a-dollar box.

I think that this book comes from a short-lived line of Marvel trade paperback reprints, aimed past the direct market at bookstores, and collects a four-part story by Peter David and Rich Buckler that originally appeared in Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man in 1985. I really don't know anything at all about that title, and wonder whether it was going through a phase of having Spidey tackle more "real world," street level crime. It starts with the murder of one of the hero's confidantes, a police captain who apparently enjoyed dressing like a 1980s Cosmo model, and over the course of the four issues, Spidey and Daredevil team up to track down the nut with the ski mask and shotgun who killed her.

There's nothing wrong with the artwork, but I didn't care for Rich Buckler's style at all. The story has, pleasantly, aged very well for something so obviously inspired by the period concerns of vigilantism in New York. There are discreet references to the Guardian Angels and to Bernard Goetz, and it's interesting to me how well and how very effectively David slips these into the narrative without lingering on them. I have not read very many of Peter David's comics, but I did follow his later Supergirl run for a lot longer than the material warranted, and suggest that the little "kisses to popular culture" were pretty obnoxiously overt there. In this Spider-Man story, he's much more subtle and effective.

Spider-Man, here dressed in his short-lived black and white costume, works really well in a contemporary thriller like this one. Stripping away the melodrama and fantasy of superhero combat and grounding him in a world of screaming tabloid headlines and a terrified populace, the character really shines, with plenty of chances for his self-doubt and selfish nature to rise. Despite a printing error that reversed the order of two pages, this was much better than I expected it to be. Recommended.

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