Sunday, April 23, 2006

Stripping Down #2

Spectacular Spider-Man #133 “To Fight The Fury”
by Jim Alexander, Jon Haward & John Stokes.

Spectacular Spider-Man is a British newsstand title aimed at pre-teen readers and published monthly by Panini UK. The highlight is an original eleven page comic strip, generally following the format of 1970s US series Marvel Team-Up, i.e. pairing Spider-Man with a different superhero each issue in order to take on the latest would-be world beater. As these stories occur outside of mainstream Marvel continuity, the writers are free to feature any characters, in any incarnation. 2004’s Spectacular Spider-Man #114 saw Spidey team up with Captain Britain - based on the definitive Alan Moore / Alan Davis version - against the Red Skull. This particular issue generated so much interest that Marvel wound up reprinting the story in the US as a ‘Marvel Milestone Edition’. Bang on two years later, and Captain Britain rejoins Spider-Man, this time facing the ultimate killing machine, the Fury. The Fury, an original Moore / Davis creation, featured in their ground-breaking run on Captain Britain in the early 1980s. In it’s first appearance, the Fury committed wholesale slaughter and hounded a terrified, broken Captain Britain to a graveyard before executing him. Although the hero was subsequently resurrected by Merlin, it took a combined force of heroes – and a heavy death toll – before the Fury was finally defeated. And, fittingly, the Fury’s reputation as an unstoppable force remained intact, as the character resided in comics limbo for the next twenty years. Interestingly, as Spectacular Spider-Man #114 saw print in the UK, it was followed across the Atlantic by Chris Claremont and Alan Davis’ return to Captain Britain and the Fury in Uncanny X-Men. Given that reaction to the handling of the Fury from fans of the original stories was pretty negative, Jim Alexander’s task is an unenviable one. On the one hand, Spectacular Spider-Man’s target audience are likely to be too young to have encountered the characters, and therefore not be too concerned with the minutiae of characterisation and continuity. On the other hand, a large number of ‘non-target’ readers will be drawn to this issue because it features Captain Britain and the Fury, some of whom will undoubtedly be looking to cast criticism on the writer’s handling of revered characters. Given the incredible weight of expectation (acknowledged in his own blog), Jim Alexander delivers an extremely satisfying narrative which doesn’t pull it’s punches. The story opens with the Fury’s arrival on Earth from a parallel universe, the strain of the journey reducing it to nothing more than a component part. A cyborg, the Fury is able to regenerate itself by absorbing any materials immediately available; a chilling sequence makes explicitly clear that this includes human beings. Captain Britain, and his mentor Merlin, immediately intercept the Fury, though the latter recognises that they will be ineffectual against this otherworldly threat and more help is needed. And so, five pages in, Spider-Man makes an appearance, as Merlin transports him to the scene of the conflict. Consider that for a moment: on page five of an eleven page comic strip, the title’s star finally makes an appearance. A brave move from Jim Alexander and a successful one, as Spider-Man’s subsequent appearance in Glasgow seems less contrived as a result. Another interesting development is that Spider-Man is immediately floored by the Fury, which seems to silence his characteristic wise-cracking. Again, given the Fury’s mute, relentless menace, it’s entirely convincing that Spider-Man usual confidence takes a blow. Achieving a respite – albeit a temporary one – Spider-Man wonders how to “stop the unstoppable destroying machine”, to which Captain Britain replies “you don’t”. The narrative concludes with a surprisingly downbeat, but entirely fitting, resolution. Jim Alexander successfully manages to deliver a story that is somewhat harder hitting than the usual fare, treating both the characters and the readers with respect. The strong narrative is supported by top-notch visuals from the creative team. Jon Haward’s pencil art has improved greatly with time and the inking by veteran John Stokes results in a much more polished effort than their work on the previous Spider-Man / Captain Britain team-up. Likewise, John Charles (colours) and Wil Lucas (letters) greatly enhance the story’s visual impact. “To Fight The Fury” is undoubtedly one of Spectacular Spider-Man’s best stories to date and will hopefully repeat the success of it’s predecessor with a Stateside reprint.
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Blogger Jim Alexander said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

11:16 am  
Blogger Jim Alexander said...

Hullo there. Thanks for the great review, which I've given an honourable mention on my blog. Do I have you on a retainer or something :-)



11:23 am  
Blogger Khayem said...

Not a bad idea - what's the going rate these days?!

Thanks for taking a look at my comments. I usually review SSM every month for Comics International, though the 50-60 word count can be a bit limiting. I felt your latest story deserved something a bit more substantial!

11:17 am  
Blogger Jim Alexander said...

Been posting you in duplicate, Kieron. Anyhoo I felt duty bound to zap one of 'em.

Out of interest, to paraphrase, why didn't the dialogue on the Spider-Woman story always convince? I'm just interested.

11:44 am  
Blogger Khayem said...

Hi Jim,

I think the particular lines I was referring to were in the opening couple of pages:

"By the saints, Norman..."
"Now let's beat it while the beating's good!"
"Driven out of shop and home! Have pity!"

I can't really put my finger on it, but it didn't seem to convince as much as, say, the later dialogue between the lead characters.

Or maybe I'm just a pedantic nitpicker...

6:59 am  
Blogger Jim Alexander said...

Oh, right, I see what you mean. "By the saints" is taken straight out of the Dr Who episode "Aliens of London". I was probably thinking of a mixture of Blackadder and bad-Phil Collins with the other lines.

"Pedantic nitpicker," is pretty good actually. You don't have it copyrighted do you?

9:08 am  
Blogger Khayem said...

"Pedantic nitpicker" is in the public domain, so please feel free to use with abandon!

By the way, what constitutes "good" Phil Collins? :-)

12:25 pm  

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