Spider-Island is spinning its wheels: the action is exciting, and the general feel of the series continues to be pretty fun, but there’s little forward movement in the plot. I’m not sure if this is a victim of decompression or the constraints of Battleworld, but all these factors have compounded and left me a bit bored with this middle-chapter of the series.
So far, each issue of Christos Gage’s story has followed the same general format—action, followed by a respite at Agent Venom’s base, followed by some more action and a cliffhanger. This is extremely apparent here in the middle of this 5-issue series.This issue picks up right where the last one ended—Agent Venom and The Vision have infiltrated another of the Spider-Queen’s bases in order to extract the dinosaur scientist Stegron, finding him alongside an unexpected (to them) Spider-Man. Their escape is rather fast, and much of the rest of the issue focuses on Spider-Man reacquainting himself with the situation (and thus, the readers becoming reacquainted with the story).
Spider-Man’s awakening is immediate, and he joins Agent Venom and the rest of the survivors with a “Gee, what happened?” attitude that lacks any real dramatic weight. Spidey talks with Venom, worries about Tony Stark’s newly-Goblinized nature and assists Stegron in the creation of a large amount of Lizard serum in order to liberate more of Spider-Queen’s unwilling followers. Spider-Man’s attitude is clearly meant to highlight the leadership qualities of Flash Thompson, and that works to some extent. Flash has proven himself a very capable hero, both in his military service and his subsequent tenure as Venom. He’s been an integral part of numerous teams (and a tertiary member of the Guardians of the Galaxy) and it should be obvious to readers by this point that he is a strong leader. I love Flash and his evolving Agent Venom character, but even I think this is a bit too congratulatory for a character who has made a couple of decisions that any competent leader might have made by this point.
Flash Thompson’s character has been developed well throughout this series, even with the heavy compliments, but there has been very little room for many others to receive similar treatment; even the freshly-discovered Spider-Man feels like a background character. I think there’s only so much that can be done about that, with the restrictions of Battleworld and the length of this series. The use of each character, for a particular side-story, never feels fully integrated, as if they were waiting their turn to take the spotlight. In many ways, I felt like I was playing an RPG and only got access to certain characters who remain anonymous until their limited sidequests became the main focus. I’m sure during the upcoming, large conflicts in the next two issues we’ll get some good character moments (like Iron Goblin’s last stand later in this issue) but the general lack of purpose for most of these characters is a real missed opportunity.
Despite my aversion to the story’s use of its characters and general repetition of story beats from prior issues , I continue to find the art to be a real highlight. Pack Diaz and Frank D’Armata manage to convey a sense of desperation and dread throughout, especially in the character designs of the Spider-Queen’s infected groups. Unfortunately for me, this issue seemingly marks the last appearance of Iron Goblin, a character whose personality and design I enjoyed the most of Spider-Island‘s half-monster half superhero cast.
The art in the backup from Ron Frenz and Sal Buscema was also quite a treat as well. Who could resist the classic Spider-Man-style art from Frenz and Tom DeFalco’s joyfully told story? However, I must admit that I find it a bit disappointing how little control over her actions Spider-Woman (The Artist Formerly Known As Spider-Girl) exhibits in her story. She spends the entirety of the backup under mind control, fighting J2 (Juggernaut’s ridiculously-attired son) as Hope Pym, villainous daughter of Hank and Janet, is revealed to be the mastermind behind these events. I know it’s a backup, but this story still feels out of place in the events of Battleworld and just doesn’t fit into this monthly format. Why couldn’t this story have been told in a one-shot book where it could have the opportunity to read as a fully-told story, complete with the emotional ups and downs DeFalco intended?
Spider-Island has the potential to pick up steam in the final two issues and really deliver on the fun promise of its premise and initial issue. Similarly, the Spider-Woman backup could return agency to its main character for a satisfying conclusion. If nothing else, Spider-Island has been a fun roller-coaster ride, even if it seems to be made exclusively of hairpin turns and loop-de-loops.