Spider-Man Unlimited #12 Review

Reviewer: Kevin S. Mahoney

Normally, the credits for the issue’s stories appear before any commentary by the reviewer. Generally, the credits for any work belong before any discussion of that work, either as a courtesy to the creator(s) involved, or as an upfront bookkeeping technique. The general Comics Nexus format was broken for two reasons. First, I’m an editor and that privilege/responsibility allows me to play fast and loose with the rules every now and then. Second, there’s a legitimate point to be made about the current use of the “Unlimited” format and it seems fitting to pontificate about it before the work at hand gets any attention.

Anyway, the “Unlimited” tag used to be a more integrated and serious affair than it is now. Crossovers were either set-up or wrapped up in them. Certain marginalized characters could get a full story now and then. It used to be a quarterly, sixty-four page monster. Now it’s a shorter, more streamlined, bimonthly, and creatively diverse affair. Make of that what you will, but it’s a whole lot different.

Story Title: Amends

Written by: Christos Gage
Penciled by: Mike McKone
Inked by: Larry Strucker
Colored by: Sotocolor’s J. Brown
Lettered by: Dave Sharpe
Editors: Tom Brevoort and Andy Schmidt
Publisher: Marvel Comics

There hasn’t been a Spidey yarn like this, told as effectively as this, since Spectacular Spider-Man #185. The story is comedy gold while simultaneously showcasing the hard luck, can’t win for losing circumstances that make Peter Parker unique among super heroic secret identity characters. For those of you who weren’t reading comics back in the halcyon days of 1992, the aforementioned funny book involved Spidey, two pudgy men in robo-amphibian battle armor, a human walrus, and a vamping supervillainess with an albino rabbit motif. In short, it was very funny, and deliberately so. This short story gives us all the laughs of a full issue using only two mirthful foes, the (gasp!) Big Wheel and the (guffaw!) Hypno-Hustler. Giving away the plot would be a shame, so I won’t. Instead, compliments should go out to Mr. Gage for setting a believably light tone, penning some fantastically frothy dialogue, and getting all but one sentence of Spidey’s inner monologue letter perfect. (You overplayed your hand with the Wayne’s World reference sir, but otherwise I commend you.)

The art in this story is too good to be true, which means this story was artistically envisioned by a few experienced and talented folks. McKone has done solid series work before (Exiles, Teen Titans) and doesn’t disappoint here. His Spidey is angular without being gaunt or creepy, and his supporting characters are distinctive and warm looking. The coloring adds a bit of swing without being too chipper or cheery, and the sepia flashbacks are a nice touch. This story really feels very polished overall, and I’d recommend it to readers of any age.

Story Score: 9.0 out of 10.0

Story Title: Private Conversation

Written by: Tom Beland
Art by: Sean Phillips
Colored by: Avalon Studios
Lettered by: Dave Sharpe
Editors: Tom Brevoort and Andy Schmidt
Publisher: Marvel Comics

This second story is so different from the first that reading them in tandem would probably result in some sort of seizure, whiplash, or aneurysm. This is one of those very heavy emotional tales of tragedy. Our hero’s famous trauma is visited upon another similar young child. As a set-up, it’s certainly workable, if a bit trite in a Robin/Wondergirl/Genis-Vell sort of way. How our hero elects to cope with it is so wrought with emotional treacle it squishes. And nothing really can save an over-telegraphed and improbable plot once verisimilitude deserts it. The cool guest stars can’t help it along. The decidedly realistic and hard-hitting lack of law and order progress won’t fix it. Readers are simply left with too much gravitas and not enough gravy. There are isolated moments that might resonate with some readers, but the overall approach is too scattershot to cobble a coherent tale together.

The art in this story is more familiar to those readers who take chances on things like the back-up stories found in a title’s annual, quarterly, or “Unlimited” issues. Not to put too fine a point on it, but it is deeply flawed. While certain details ring true, (Peter Parker’s teacher wardrobe, the body language of certain guest heroes) others constantly distract the reader (the use of shadow to obscure faces, excessive use of black space in place of a detailed setting). The colors invariably run to dark hues, which might compliment the subject matter, but certainly does not fit a few of the guest stars included in the story. It’s a pity, as the few panels of Spider-Man readers receive are well-done. It might be that this artist is better at illustrating long underwear types than their normal counterparts, but the talking heads depicted here are all lacking something.

Story Score: 5.0 out of 10.0