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The Amazing Spider-Man, Vol. 2, No. 36, December 2001
J. Michael Straczynski (illustrated by John Romita, Jr., inked by Scott Hanna, coloured by Dan Kemp)
Marvel Comics, 22 pages

The Amazing Spider-Man
J. Michael Straczynski
J. Michael Straczynski, the writer behind Babylon 5 and Crusade, has turned his hand to comic books these days. His imprint, Joe's Comics, is published by Top Cow. Two of the titles include Rising Stars and Midnight Nation.

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A review by Neil Walsh

I walked into my local comics shop the other day, and almost the first words out of the mouth of my friend and comic book guru behind the counter were: "Did you read the new issue of The Amazing Spider-Man yet?" (I haven't looked at an issue of Spider-Man since the time I was stuck at my cousin's cottage for the whole summer when I was 12 and it was the last thing left to read within a 15-mile radius.) I tossed him a quizzical look and said, "Dave, you know I don't read superhero titles." "Doesn't matter," he said, "go: read it -- now."

The first thing you should know is that it's written by J. Michael Straczynski, the man probably best known for the TV series Babylon 5. In the world of comic books, he's responsible for such series as the highly acclaimed Rising Stars and the superb Midnight Nation, among others.

The second thing you should know is that this is probably the best single issue of a comic book you'll ever read.

Issue 36 does not appear to be part of the ongoing Spider-Man series. Spider-Man is the vehicle, but the message is a lament for the people who died on September 11th. It's a fitting and moving eulogy, both for the victims and for the survivors. It speaks of "the death of innocents and the death of innocence." For many inhabitants of the western world, particularly, I think, for North Americans, this is a resounding truth. Our innocence was brutally and irretrievably crushed that day when we watched in horror as so many innocent lives were cruelly blotted out. For many of us, it is a sad reality that the world will never again be as it once was. But Straczynski is aware of and sensitive to the fact that in other parts of the world innocence has been dead for a very long time, and innocents are still dying.

Throughout this issue, there is a sense of quiet anger at the enormity of these atrocities. Straczynski speaks of "Rage compounded upon rage. Rage enough to blot out the sun." But this anger is balanced by compassion, as he warns: "Do not do as they do, or the war is lost before it is even begun."

In the aftermath of Bush's unwise references to crusades, and his apparent blundering effort to start a new one, it was no surprise to see in the text and in the artwork some obvious attempts to steer away from any sort of racist slant. Portrayed here are radicals and fanatics from at least two sides of the fence, as well as reasonable people of various races, creeds and nationalities mourning what has happened. And it's interesting to watch the artwork: you'll see the faces move from shock and horror in the beginning, to grim determination towards the end of the book.

Unlike Americans, Canadians have always tended to be quietly patriotic. There was a time when I, as a Canadian, would have found this issue to be too flag-wavingly pro-American. Under the circumstances, however, in this post-innocence world, I find it entirely understandable, somewhat reassuring -- and somewhat frightening:

"You wanted to send a message, and in so doing you awakened us from our self-involvement. Message received. Look for your reply in the thunder."
As a final point, I'd like to mention the integration of the superheroes into this issue. Straczynski and Romita have done a marvellous job of putting superheroes into the context of the American psyche. Together the writer and artist have portrayed Spider-Man, Captain America, the X-Men and all the other Marvel superheroes as representatives of the true heroes who are the real people, the ordinary people, who occasionally do extraordinary things. Fire fighters, police officers, medical staff, shop keepers, blue- and white-collar workers. People you know. People like you.

With this single issue, Straczynski has crystallized in my mind what superheroes are all about; I feel as if I understand them better now. It's almost like Straczynski has done for Spider-Man and his ilk what Alan Moore once did for the Swamp Thing: he's made them somehow credible.

All in all, and for a number of reasons, this issue is a piece of comic book history. Do yourself a favour: Go. Read it. Now.

Copyright © 2001 Neil Walsh

Neil Walsh is the Reviews Editor for the SF Site. He lives in contentment, surrounded by books, in Ottawa, Canada.

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