Avenging Spider-man #4

Holy wonderful. While the first three issues of AVENGING SPIDER-MAN were beating up the other comics in your longbox, AvS #4 was waiting to get under your skin like a virus. This ish is a lot more of a meditative, character focused story – still a lot of action, character bickering and MTU throw-back stuff, but it feels a lot QUIETER.

A lot of this comes from the storytelling. Greg Land is a very different story teller from Sir Mad, and it directs the story in a completely new way. Whereas the Rulk story had a frenetic pace told mainly with splash pages, spreads and dynamic panel compositions, AvS #4 is told in a more cinematic style. The story unfolds more through the juxtaposition of images and how the compositions differ – a lot of close ups contrasted with wide shots, down angles and stylized profiles. The last five pages is almost a master class in comics storytelling – using those shots as storyboards for a film WOULD NOT work – and that’s a fantastic thing. Comics are a very unique form of storytelling, and I get the impression Land completely understands that. I’ve heard a lot criticism of Land – judging just by this issue, I can’t see it. Fantastic acting, poses, storytelling, pacing…what’s not to love?

As in the first three issues, the primary focus of the story is what makes Spider-man different from any other superhero in the Marvel Universe – and that’s a unique angle on a team-up book. Honestly. MTU, for everything fantastic about it, was more focused on Spidey meeting a bunch of great characters and getting into super heroic exploits with them. In the two stories of AvS thus published, the climax of the story is Spider-man saves the day, despite his many faults, for being who he is, and I LOVE that.

Hawkeye is portrayed almost more as a throwback to how he was in a lot of late 60’s and ’70’s Avengers stories – his ego is his ultimate weakness. He can’t concentrate on the mission, he’s impatient, he’s brass – he’s a street kid. This works for me – I saw some complaints on the net that Hawkeye didn’t feel like Hawkeye in this story – but the guy was an orphan who ran away to the circus who managed to get into the Avengers without any superpowers. Wells grasps the insecurities that would come with such an origin. His constant training is – natch – a mask to hide his fear of being the only one without powers on a team with a God. He’s not bragging that he never misses – he can’t miss, or he’d never be able to live with himself.

This is what sets up the ending. As I mentioned earlier, AvS is primarily concerned with what makes Spider-man unique. In the climax of the story, Spidey says he’ll take down the big baddie (Sidewinder in this ish) himself while Hawkeye takes the goons. Hawk says fuck all over that idea and goes for the shot. He doesn’t make it – but the miss of the shot makes Sidewinder take a second to gloat (WHEN WILL SUPER VILLAINS LEARN?!?) only to get a Spider boot in the face. Spidey looks down at the arrow – the moment is brilliantly paced, you HAVE to see it for yourself – and knows what he has to do. When Hawkeye arrives on the scene, arrow now planted in Sidewinder’s chest, he pats himself on the back while deriding Spider-man for bringing nothing to the team-up. Spidey looks off panel with a look on his face that says it all – and please understand I am talking about a character with a full mask that can’t change expression, so the story tellers are doing SOMETHING right if I can get an emotion out of that  – he did the ‘right’ thing even though he didn’t really want to.

That’s Spider-man. He followed his instincts ONCE – and he never forgave himself for it. To me, that’s why I love Spider-man, and Marvel comics in general. Batman and Superman are, in their soul (IMO anyway) good people. They are constantly following their instincts and being rewarded for it. Spider-man, by contrast, never wants to do the right thing. He wants what the majority of young North Americans want – an easy life with no responsibility and no work, with constant reward for doing nothing. But he can’t have that – no one can – and he learned it the hard way. This issue shows what separates Spidey, morally, from any other character. He will reluctantly pick up that arrow, put it in a knocked out Glam villian’s chest, and not say anything after you give him a hard time. Because he’s Spider-man.

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