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Volume 2 Review: “The List”

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Volume 2 Review is a regular feature that looks back to the late 1990s when Marvel rebooted its Spider-Man series for the very first time. Each installment will discuss a different arc and whether or not it achieves its goals of presenting something new and/or gripping about the Spider-Man character and mythos.

In this installment, we’re discussing Amazing Spider-Man vol. 2 #9-10 (story by Howard Mackie/John Byrne; inks by Raymond Kryssing (#9) and Scott Hanna (#10))

ASM The List 01Through its preceding eight issues, the second volume of Amazing Spider-Man seemingly dealt more with the fallout from the final arc of ASM’s first volume, “The Final Chapter,” which contributed to the fact that despite the series being a reboot, nothing about it felt particularly “new” or fresh. 

What made such an editorial decision all the more curious was the existence of John Byrne’s Spider-Man: Chapter One — a reimagining of Spider-Man’s origins that tap-danced on the line of being overly reverential to the original source material and only making some minor cosmetic changes for the sake of doing so (and that have little to no bearing on our understanding of Peter Parker/Spider-Man as a character). 

Still, one of the more significant retcons in Chapter One — which, for the record, has since been retconned itself and is no longer considered continuity by anyone at Marvel — is how Peter acquires his powers. Instead of having Peter going to a random science demonstration where he is then bitten by a radioactive spider, Byrne has him go to a demo hosted by none other than Dr. Otto Octavius himself. As was the case in his original origin story in ASM #3, an explosion fuses Otto’s body to his mechanical arms. However, in the same explosion, Peter survives the fallout but is bitten by a radioactive spider making him Spider-Man. There are a few other survivors which brings us to the premise behind “The List,” aka the first Howard Mackie/Byrne story of volume two to embrace Chapter One and attempt to build off the controversial retcon.

Because of how Chapter One has been so thoroughly flushed from the annals of history, it’s very difficult to judge “The List” as being anything other than some inconsequential two-parter that could have possible meant more if the powers that be at Marvel wanted it to. 

ASM The List 02Please don’t read that last sentence as some kind of impassioned defense for Chapter One. On the contrary, it’s quite difficult to advocate for anything the superficially retcons one of the greatest origin stories in comic book history the way Chapter One does. All the same, “The List” isn’t a terrible story in isolation and it’s worth giving credit to Mackie and Byrne for finally trying to work within a new Spider-Man continuity during this reboot. The only problem is nobody likes Chapter One.

The main dramatic thrust behind this story is a list Spider-Man stumbles upon while responding to a fire that was started under auspicious circumstances. The list features a number of names, most interestingly, “Peter Parker.” Peter is naturally concerned as to why his name is on a list of people who seem to be getting violently targeted. As it turns out, it’s actually a list of all of the survivors of Otto’s explosion a few years earlier. And the list was compiled by another someone who survived the blast and received super powers as a result – the self-attributed Captain Power. 

Captain Power himself lends very little to the story other than being a villain that is powered by radiation and is thereby very powerful and tough to defeat. But Mackie and Byrne do a nice job of tying the character into a number of other loose ends that were introduced in volume 2 (of course, many of these ends were loose in the first place because Mackie and Byrne introduced some new ideas or character in the first handful of issues and then proceeded to ignore them for a few months).

One of these subplots involves Doctor Twaki, the head of Tri-Corp — remember that company from the first issues of the reboot? For those that need a recap, Tri-Corp was basically Peter’s first shot at a Horizon Labs-type job before Slott reinvented the wheel in “Big Time” (though Slott actually stuck with the idea of having Peter work at a really cool tech company). Apparently, Twaki was in charge of Otto’s experiment while working for another company, Techtronics. So in reality, not only do Mackie/Byrne bring Twaki back to the forefront in a central way, but they also came up with a way to loosely connect him to Spider-Man’s origin. 

ASM The List 03These are basically just little plot twists and turns, but it’s the little things that go a long way in developing a cohesive narrative that can effectively build upon itself in every succeeding chapter. It’s something that, until this point, was sorely missing from volume two, which meandered from subplot to subplot without giving the reader anything exciting to hold on to.

Of course, while doing this, Mackie and Byrne do introduce some other subplots here that seem destined for failure: a stalker that keeps calling up Mary Jane and making lewd/threatening suggestions (and is seemingly a blatant ripoff of the Jonathan Casear storyline from the David Michelinie/Todd McFarlane years on ASM). There’s also some drama involving Paul Stacy, cousin of Gwen (nephew of Captain Stacy). The existence of an extended Stacy family was one of those things that probably sounded pretty cool to Marvel at the time of its creation, but because of uninspired writing, none of these characters ever successfully distinguished themselves as someone worth following and caring about it. A more cynical blogger would say that sentence more or less sums up all characters created in superhero comics in the 1990s, but who’s truly that cynical?

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