Monday, March 06, 2006

Spider-Girl #96

"Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully." Samuel Johnson, quoted by Boswell in his Life of Johnson.

As I've posted earlier, Spider-Girl is facing cancellation at issue #100. If issue #96 is evidence of what's ahead in the remaining books, Spider-Girl will go down on a welcome high note.

In this issue May "Mayday" Parker confronts three problems:

(1) She's consumed with guilt for the serious injury suffered by the fire-fighting father of a friend during a battle in the previous issue. If she had taken the hit, she deduces, Moose's dad wouldn't be in the hospital.

(2) Her principled decision to resign from her high school basketball team has placed coach Flash Thompson's job in jeapardy. In turn, this has strained her relationship with Felicity Hardy, Flash's daughter. (Felicity's mom is Felicia Hardy--yes, that Felicia Hardy, the Black Cat. It's an alternate universe kind of thing; Felicia retired from adventuring, married and divorced Flash T. [and yes, it's that Flash T.], and is presently in a relationship with another woman.)

(3) The Brotherhood of Scriers (an international organization of pallid, ghoulish-looking, murderous fellows in capes) have taken a deep interest in Spider-Girl. This particular problem is greatly compounded by the fact that Kaine, an ally of Spider-Girl who possesses precognitive abilities, has forseen her death at the hands of one of these ghoulish types.

Given all that's in play, (and I haven't mentioned one other sub-plot), this issue could easily have been an utter disaster. However, deft writing, nice characterization, and good art come together to produce pure comic book goodness: secret identity complications; the kind of self-torturing existential guilt that can only afflict young heroes; May's sometime side-kick the Scarlet Spider returns; and, in the final pages, we're given a well-choreographed confrontation with the Scrier who has been shadowing the heroine.

And it must be said that the book's impending demise, coupled with the ongoing Scrier plot-line, places the prospect of the title character's death squarely on the table. After sparring in a martial arts vein, the Scrier ups that ante by brandishing a sword:

Although the attacker's weapon heightens the danger level and puts Mayday off of her game, the tide turns after the Scrier gets the drop on the Scarlet Spider and offers Spider-Girl a choice: she can exchange her own life for that of her friend. This spurs May to put all of her talents to work, and she unleashes a vigorous and welcome beat-down on the villain, with her battle cry being: "No one dies on my watch!"

Though she's right about her friend, Spider-Girl is not entirely right about this. The following panels provide evidence, if anyone needed additional internal proof, that the book is indeed ending soon. The defeated Scrier dramatically pays the ultimate price for failing in his mission:

Like I said, old-fashioned, high-stakes, comic book goodness.

Recent statements by Joe Quesada, editor in chief of Marvel Comics, show no change in the plans about the title's demise. When asked by a Newsarama reader about the possibility of increasing sales through beefed-up advertising, Joe Q. said:
But now, let me ask for a show of hands, how many people on this board right now haven’t heard of Spider-Girl? How many people on this board haven’t heard about how a good book it is? Haven’t heard about the troubles it’s having?

By the way, I’ve asked this same question at convention panels and everyone raises their hands. I’ve asked this at comic shops and everyone is aware of the book, how beloved it is and of course its impending cancellation. Everyone knows about it, everyone knows about its plight, yet it isn’t getting more people to buy it. If everyone knows this, what the heck is an ad going to do for the book? It’s not an awareness problem, I guarantee you that.

There's a small silver lining: I'm thankful that as we enter the final stretch the mind of this reader, and those of the book's creators, are wonderfully concentrated, indeed.

I'm also a fan of this book. I wasn't quite as high on this issue as you were: I still felt like this was a set-up issue for the big wrap-up, which bothered me a little. Still the book is one of my favorites each month.
Thanks for your comment, Calvin!

Since I actually hadn't been enjoying the previous few issues, this one really stood out for me as a welcome return to form.
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