Amazing Reviews: “Crime and Punisher” (Amazing Spider-Man 574-577)
Unlike the New Ways to Die story arc, this volume deals with a trio of tales, which help to finish the complete second volume of the Brand New Day collection. Already, a group of writers and artists have constructed a brand new world for Spider-Man in the wake of J. Michael Straczynski’s run. This volume tops off the first stages of that new world, laying the groundwork for what’s to come during the rest of this new era.
The first story is a single-issue tale cleverly entitled “Flashbacks,” written by Marc Guggenheim and illustrated by Barry Kitson. The title is a bit of a pun, since it centers around Flash Thompson, an old rival/friend of Peter Parker’s. For the uninitiated, Flash and Peter attended and high school together, where Flash regularly tormented Peter until he finally matured and grew to become his friend. The irony is that, even during the days where Flash bullied Peter, he was the self-proclaimed biggest fan of Spider-Man, even starting a fan club for the superhero in earlier comics. Having grown up, Flash decided to take his rough-and-tumble, quarterbacking demeanor and transfer it over to the army. Due to the shifts in real-world time, the Flash that originally joined the army in the 60s and fought in Vietnam is now partaking in the conflict in Afghanistan in 2008. Don’t ask how it all works. It’s comics, let’s leave it at that.
The issue opens up with Flash in bed, discussing his most recent mission as a soldier with a general. While I think there are writers stronger than Guggenheim, what he does very nicely here is insert a lot of military-centric lingo. I will admit some of the language seems shoehorned (there are moments where the general asks questions about terminology that I believe a general would know), but combined with Kitson’s illustrations, Guggenheim can also show as much as he tells and gets you into the story, making it feel very legitimate. And once you know the creators sought the assistance of a U.S. Army sergeant in order to get the details correct, there’s a major amount of respect here.
The story follows the “flashback” of the mission, where Flash and his team are sent into a town to stop some insurgents. It’s an action-packed issue with Kitson’s art detailing a death-defying battle against enemy troops. What Guggenheim does nicely is he focuses on the mission. He doesn’t feel the need to get into politics or ideology. In this tale, Flash is the hero, the soldier, and he’s fighting a war. That’s all that matters. Perhaps the best part of the story are moments where Flash finds himself in situations that mirror Spider-Man. He’s Spidey’s biggest fan, and so he draws on his knowledge of the hero to help him through dangerous situations. An image of Spidey vs. the Juggernaut pops up when Flash references fighting an enemy who’s “like a tank.” When facing a daunting task head-on, a picture of Spidey lunging straight at the Kingpin is displayed. Ultimately, Flash stares down six different enemies and fights them all on his own—which includes his own references to the Sinister Six—receiving a variety of injuries to his legs. It should be said he does this while helping an injured soldier. All the while, this idea of being inspired by Spidey and his heroics is at the forefront of his mind.
The last page brings a shocker: We return to Flash Thompson’s bed to find his legs missing. It’s quite the twist. In a world where heroes and villains seemingly come back to life on a regular basis, it’s hard to remember that consequences can exist in fiction, especially consequences which make you remember that, oh, yeah, this is a real thing that happens to real people. It’s a scene that makes you think, makes you realize that Flash Thompson is not the only soldier to have been injured in battle, to have lost part of himself. That’s where the punch of this issue comes from, and Guggenheim does well in saving this reveal, ramping up the tension until he hits the reader with the image of Flash lying there, without any legs. It's a well-paced story that actually made me flip back to see if I could spot clues earlier. Nope, not a one.
The Amazing Spider-Man: Crime and Punisher
This leads into the next story, a two-parter by writer Joe Kelly and returning artist Chris Bachalo, who previously worked with Zeb Wells on the Spidey/Wolverine story a few issues back. I will say this, to begin: Joe Kelly is funny, legitimately funny. It’s hard to write humor, especially in the limited space a comic provides, and Kelly is one of the few who puts Spidey’s unique voice on the page constantly. He does that really well. Bachalo, as usual, brings a nice level of cartoon-esque artistry with his signature touch of grit.
In this tale, Spidey takes on his old foe Hammerhead. The man with the steel noggin has never been one of his greatest enemies—I don’t think he’ll be appearing in any Marvel Cinematic Universe movies any time soon—but he’s been there for a long time. This time, he goes after street gangs, venturing to unite them under the banner of Mr. Negative. Spidey finds himself on the “hammer” end of his foe as he tries to help a young boy escape the grip of the gangster-ridden society he lives in.
Spidey knows this kid is smart, and he does what he can to help the kid out. Kelly is not only funny here, but deep, as he shows how supercrime is capable of mingling with elements familiar to us. We all understand the plight of a young man driven into darkness by the society he lives in or the people he interacts with. It makes the character relatable, and then you interject a punk-like Hammerhead who rams people to death and dislocates Spider-Man’s jaw, and it adds a level of superhuman grit to the story only comics can possess. Kelly’s narration is fantastic here, achieving a significant level of Spidey’s trademark humor, and Bachalo’s colors blend well with shadows and darkness he puts into the story. It also shows more of Nora Winters, a character Kelly seemingly loves to use, a witty reporter for Peter to hang out with, a Lois Lane to his Superman. She’ll stick around a while.
The Spider-Man in the High Castle
The final story in this volume is brought to you by the writer “Zeb Wells” and illustrated by the artist “Paolo Rivera,” who reminds me a lot of Marcos Martin. Their styles are similar. The tale puts Spidey on the trail of the Punisher, who originally appeared in an ASM issue and, along with the Human Torch, Daredevil, and Wolverine, is one of the heroes Spider-Man “teams up” with quite frequently. I say that in quotes because Wells does a good job illustrating how it’s not so much a team up as it is Spidey making Frank Castle is kept on some kind of leash. He contrasts the two incredibly well: on one hand, we have the fun-loving, quipping, colorful Spider-Man, and in the other corner, we get the tough-as-nails, no-nonsense juggernaut that is the Punisher. A guy who wants to save lives versus a guy who wants to end them.
The villain of this issue is…Magnum Moses? Of all the guys Wells could bring in, it’s hilarious he brings in an incredibly obscure C-level baddie whose powers include shifting tectonic plates. Even funnier, he puts the guy’s “secret base” on a boat where, in an attempt to rescue a kidnapped Punisher, Spidey remarks his power can’t affect anything because “We’re on a boat, you moron.” Really funny. In a world where a constant question writers must face is “Okay, how does our hero stop this overly powered supervillain?” this is a clever technique to give Spidey the win.
The story is actually divided into two parts within the issue, with an interruption in the middle. In this small interlude—written by Kelly and illustrated by Kitson—J. Jonah Jameson is approached by the Bookie, a guy we saw Spidey save a few issues ago. He’s on the hunt of the Spider-tracer murderer, and he thinks ole’ JJJ is the killer. Our favorite flat-topped, former Daily Bugle publisher is in the clear, however, but Bookie’s accusations give him an opportunity to test his heart rate, which he says has to be maintained after his heart attack at the very beginning of Brand New Day. This piece of the issue feels a little shoehorned—it’s the only part of any of the issues in this volume which really covers a larger Spider-Man story—but it leads the Bookie to realize who the actual murderer is…unrevealed, for now. Gotta keep the mystery going.
Overall, this selection of stories is fun and engaging. Perhaps they don’t add much to the ever-growing Brand New Day mythos the Webheads are creating for Spider-Man, but we still have good action, good villains, and the brand of Spider-Man humor comic fans everywhere have come to love.
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© 2017 Nathan Kiehn