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Monday, 2 June 2014

The Amazing Spider-Man: David Michelinie and Todd McFarlane Omnibus Review

Rorschach Reviews

Omnibus Review

The Amazing Spider-Man by David Michelinie and Todd McFarlane



I'll admit it, I needed some help with this one. 

How do you review a book that is 800+ pages long? 

As you can see from the above picture, that's my Birthday gift. 

A book that consists the entirety of David Michelinie and Todd McFarlane's run together, two men who helped shape Spider-Man during the 80's into the 90's.

A bit off back story first then. This was the time when gritty books were in and supposed overtly sexy looking females and jam packed muscular males were considered norm for comic book art. It was the time that the likes of Jim Lee and Rob Liefield and above all else Todd McFarlane were the In crowd. 

At that time Michelinie had slowly creeped his way into the spider-verse of comics, including writing the legendary 21st Annual which saw the wedding of Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson. In fact, this omnibus just contains a third of Michelinie's work which he would continue extensively alongside Erik Larsen and Mark Bagley later on.

The Omnibus itself is a bag full of entertaining stories. I'm most likely going to review it from story to story. There's 34 issues of the run and a bonus issue from Spectacular Spider-Man with art by Todd McFarlane. Some of the issues are one in done stories where as others are extensive arcs specifically Spider-Man centric stories such as 'Venom' and 'The Assassin Nation Plot' as well as other two issue arcs. Then there's also larger crossover plots like the 'Inferno' saga and the 'Acts of Vengeance' plot. 

Before I do go into the meat of the book, I will review the omnibus formatting of it as well as the extras included. 

But before that, here's a bit of tidbit on what the Omnibus contains and who it's by. 

Writer: David Michelinie, with Glenn Hardin (Spectacular Spider-Man Annual 10)

Pencilers: Todd McFarlane (ASM 298-323, 325, 328 and Spectacular Spider-Man Annual 10) 
                 Alex Saviuk (ASM 296-297)
                 Erik Larsen (ASM 324, 327, 329)
                 Colleen Doran (ASM 326)

Issues: Amazing Spider-Man 296-329 with Spectacular Spider-Man Annual 10

Best Single Issue: 'Down and Out In Forest Hills' Issue 314

Best Story Arc: 'Venom' Issue 299-300 and 315-317

Best Moment: The final page of issue 300 when Peter finally gets rid of the Black suit (not symbiote) and embraces the classic red and blue

Best Quote: 'Hi Hoooneeey...I'm Hooomee!!!'-Venom to Mary Jane...when he attacks her at her house, Issue 299

As a collection, the Omnibus by Marvel is to put it in pun...Marvelous!

The above picture is off the slip-jacket, off which two versions were released; the mass market cover with classic Spider-Man and the direct market edition with the same pose just the Black Spider-Man. 

The book is in sewn binding and quite sturdy, however with any omnibus there's a particular way to open them by starting with the Hard cover and then fits of pages until you reach the center and finally pressing the book down. This should be repeated for a while, so as the book stays in place and pages don't easily tear off. 

Released in 2012 prior to the release of the first Amazing Spider-Man film, the book collects the entirety of David Michelinie's run with Todd McFarlane up to even the point where the artist was gradually being moved out so as he could take over double duties on the solo adjective less Spider-Man book.

Paper is great material, thick with gloss coating the kind used to print modern comic books and one that makes the re-colored pages that much more vibrant. It's quite thick obviously, but unlike many off the other older Omnibuses it doesn't seem to weigh that much and can be carried around for a period of time before strain. 

It doesn't mean it's low on content, quantity wise the book has a lot to offer. After all it produces the initial popular work of then maestro Todd McFarlane, who seemingly redesigned the way some detailed aesthetics of Spider-Man worked specifically the webbing. 

The art especially during the action scenes is gorgeous but the stories themselves are also great.  So let's get into the main review.

First what works. 

The best thing about such an extensive collection especially for a character already so rich and developed is that there's a lot of elements that can be applied issue by issue. Michelinie makes sure to use a plethora of villains ranging from the debut of Venom to even Red Skull and some interesting choices during the Acts of Vengeance cross over. 

Major arcs revolve around the introduction of Venom as a villain to the comics to Mary Jane's Kidnapping, A spy thriller stylized plot and a final salvo that sees Spider-Man gain the powers of Captain Universe. 

Even though Venom is such a substantial and awesome arc, it can be collected elsewhere. As such it's much off the single issues or two parter's that make for an enjoyable read. Especially when a classic Spider-Man villain is involved from Scorpion to Dr. Octopus and Rhino to Mysterio and beyond. 

On the home front, the books depict Peter and Mary Jane adjusting to married life so there's much of heart to heart romance between the two and a hangover of the honeymoon period as McFarlane get's to capture Mary Jane in all her sensual glory. 

As I said, it's going to take me a while to get into how to review the book but I guess the best way as mentioned is to go issue by issue.

'Force of Arms and I'll take Manhattan' Issue 296-297

The first two issues in the Omnibus are actually illustrated by Alex Suviak. As such the change from him to Todd becomes jarring because his art is a bit more clean cut in comparison. 

The story itself revolves around a Dr. Octopus who has begun to fear Spider-Man, the first issue itself is an intriguing aspect as it sees Dr. Octopus having constant nightmares of Spider-Man attacking him. As any fan worth his salt would tell you, the bad old Doctor's arms cannot be far behind. The mechanical beings detached from Octavius respond to his thoughts and help him break out beginning a fight with Spider-Man. 

Once he's conquered his fears of the Web Slinger it's the end of the first issue. In the second issue he decides to destroy New York City, but Spider-Man devises a clever plan in which he takes a humiliating beating from Ock in front of people such that Doc Ock will be forced to keep them alive so as Spider-Man cannot live the loss down. As such Spidey saves New York at the cost of his reputation, showing how far Peter has matured. 

It's a cracker of an opening especially considering how well Doctor Octopus works as a counterpoint yet mirror to Spider-Man. The art is also cool, especially seeing Peter in an odd looking mullet. While the Doc Ock dream sequences placed in a conventional manner on page, the work within is cool especially when Octavius is on the street with multiple people looking like Spider-Man.

Suviak's classic art style while nothing to harp on, at least allows much of the bright colors to shine through especially when the contrast occurs with the black suit Spider-Man.


'Chance Encounter' Issues 298-299

Another two parter brings the arrival of Todd McFarlane. For some odd reason the art here doesn't look as scratchy or ink heavy as his subsequent work would look. It seems McFarlane was getting into the groove of drawing Spider-Man, although that webbing has his signature all over it. 

The story's not that great though, it sees the return of a mercenary known as Chance while the story also looks into the intriguing concept of Peter being emasculated by Mary Jane, when she turns into the bread winner. 

The best part though is the building sub-plot regarding a mysterious figure researching on Spider-Man with the symbiote in his grasp (or him in the symbiote's). The action is fun to read especially with the cleaner look that McFarlane initially kept and the way the colorist uses plain blacks here is enticing.

Especially in the final pages that seeps into the next major storyline when Venom invades Mary Jane's privacy at home. 

A tepid story with a taste of both classic McFarlane yet cleaner and visible art that allows the colors to burst out. It really sets up Venom nicely. 

Score: 7.1/10

'Venom Part 1' Issues 299-300

This is the first time Venom made his full fledged debut as a villain and with a host other than Peter Parker. It's an intimidating entry, especially when he scares the often brave Mary Jane without so much as touching her. 

There's a reason why Venom is a classic character, yet one that clearly isn't well written because of the impact he made in his debut is rarely ever lived up to

McFarlane comes into his own in this arc, as he starts to really draw in his fascinating style. Peter looks bulked up yet not to the point where the essence of the scrawny kid is lost, while he brings a sexy edge to Mary Jane. Much of the art is brilliant during the action sequences, especially when the background has that old dank vibe to it with the grey green backgrounds and the dusty wooden floors and stuff. 

Special marks to the way McFarlane provides a fluidity to the symbiote when it scuttles to reveals Eddie Brock or to cover his hands and face. Much of the fight is highlighted by heavy exposition dialogue, which is helpful in such a collection as it recalls Brock's tragic back story and Peter's own realizations of the power of the alien fluid.

It's by far the best arc in the omnibus and is also collected elsewhere which is great. With it being a milestone issue, the pages are extra as such an extensive battle between the two vaunted foes makes this one stunning when Spider-Man takes the battle to a church rooftop where sound can be used against Venom (the symbiote). It also allows neat cameos by members of the then Fantastic Four giving some range for McFarlane to draw from. 

The comic ends in the most brilliant way with MJ forcing Peter to give up the black suit even if it isn't symbiote in favor of the classic version, a splash page ends with Spider-Man swinging through New York in the winter. It's a brilliant piece of art that highlights McFarlane's interpretation of Spider-Man, with the hero swinging like an actual Spider. Next up would be a sort of new lease of life for Peter, a reboot in a way.

As a whole this arc really elevates the collection, if your looking for the classic Venom along with a bit more. 

Score: 9.4/10 

'Silver Sable' Issues 301-303$(KGrHqEOKooFGWwrGOGnBRtjLl62kQ~~60_35.JPG

While there isn't a specific arc to draw from here in traditional sense, what the next three issues of the omnibus comprise of is a sub-plot revolving around Silver Sable. Sable during this time period becomes an integral character in the Spider-Verse, holding up Spidey in many off his more espionage styled adventures in vein to the work his parents did as SHIELD agents. It's and exciting yet odd fitting concept for Spider-Man.

Separately, the first issue sees Spider-Man teaming with Sable. A lot of issues crop up here as part off the initial set up to the story takes place in other Spider-Man issues not collected here, that's the problem when there's three different titles of Spider-Man running around under three different writers. Minimum exposition is required and makes the story feel stilted. 

The plot revolves around an Old Nazi criminal hellbent on revenge against Sable and her crew, as such Spider-Man's intrigue in their business saves the bounty hunter. At the same time, Peter faces the crisis of getting back into education in the form of Photography and a man chasing him to offer him a job in the mid-west. 

This goes onto the second issue where Peter struggles between living in New York or making a healthy living down south in Kansas. Sable's sub plot continues for the hunt for Franz Kraus from the previous issue, while Peter faces the threat of an ambitious scientist in Dr. Royce Nero as a construction worker at the labs is hiding super powers. Even Mary Jane struggles with the idea of seeing Peter wanting to relocate but eventually agrees, showing how supportive the character is. 

The final issue in the arc is where Sable comes head to head with Kraus, but before that she requires the help of two volatile individuals in Spider-Man and Sandman. Peter finally decides to remain home and for a change do something about his passion for science, but most importantly for Mary Jane's benefit. 

In a way the best thing this sort of arc explores is the bond between Mary Jane and Peter. A lot of the greatest Spidey moments revolve around his personal relationships and slowly but surely Michelinie makes the two characters get a hang of each others life in this newly formed dynamic. It's a plot thread that continues over from the Wedding annual and shows how matured Peter gets and how well Mary Jane knows him and is willing to help him. 

Mary Jane is elevated much more so as then just the hot house wife, being a person willing to do anything necessary for Peter and their marriage as well as accepting his role as Spider-Man. 

Unfortunately post the Venom introduction anything was bound to be a let down and the whole twice moving plus Sable centric story doesn't help. The great thing is that McFarlane shines once again, the final issue has oodles of action that allows him to depict one of the most artist friendly villains with Sandman. His scratchy style adds that rough texture to Sandman that much of the artists miss due to the need of adding a flowing sense to his form. The panel formation is also splendid when he has Spider-Man jumping around whenever he faces threats in the building, against Nero or from lasers. 

A coherent arc that boils under the surface relying on some thoughtful exploration of the Mary Jane and Peter Parker dynamic while giving a character like Silver Sable some breathing space. 

Score: 7.9/10  

'California Scheming' Issues 304-305

Another two parter story that begins an extensive sub plot when a company publishes Peter's Spider-Man sub plot and takes him on a cross country press tour to promote the book. It's a relief for Peter as he sets to pay for his Masters education back at the Empire State University. Of course if Peter goes, Spider-Man follows and where Spider-Man goes, trouble is definitely not far behind.

Also for MJ it starts to establish the menacing Jonathan Ceasar as a character being the wealthy supervisor for the couple's condo. The action of the plot mainly revolves around a thief names Fox set to steal a ruby where Peter has a party held in his honor, in Los Angeles. While Fox is ready for the steal, he is not only stopped by Spider-Man but his friend the Prowler as well. It's not as interesting as the building of Mary Jane and Peter's relationship and there isn't much action to be depicted either.

What's worse is that at times Michelinie paints Peter as a very childish and whiny character, it helps put Mary Jane in a better light but doesn't make sense of why she loves him or for that matter why Peter can be considered a heroic character. It's not so overt but rather you can see that subtle unnecessary negative characteristic each issue.

While Spawn may look like Prowler he is in a pose very similar to the one McFarlane likes drawing Spidey in

The art here saves these issues as it's fun to see McFarlane's interpretation of the Prowler making him look menacing and mysterious, it kind of gives you the idea of where McFarlane's character Spawn was inspired from.

Score: 7.4/10

'Humbugged' Issue 306

Finally a one-off story, but not one that's particularly great.

Still Michelinie begins to sow the seeds for much bigger plots to come especially Caesars wandering eyes on Mary Jane.

Before that let's talk about the cover, not many of the previous covers catch the eye even the 300th issue one. Here it depicts Spidey trashing a cop car mirroring the original Action Comics cover in which Superman made his debut and when superheroes were born.

What's fun is that with the framing of the picture making Spider-Man grounded, pushes McFarlane to sketch him in a more human manner compared to all those web slinging arachnid poses. Yet he's able to provide Spidey a dynamic look thanks to the strength of Spider-Man the image conveys.

Even the opening splash page presents how distinctively McFarlane draws Spider-Man's webbing.

The main plot (if you can call it that) however utilizes a lame scientist villain in the form of humbug and as such it's the smaller side plot threads that are significant. Besides Jonathan's creepy wooing of Mary Jane, there's the side plot that see Black Cat returning to look for her lover AKA Peter Parker. Sadly this plots resolution isn't in the Omnibus. But the biggest is Chameleon putting his plot into motion to destroy the USA. It's one that carries over to the next issue.

These sub plots in a relatively low key one off issue allow for a rest stop from those continuous stories yet thankfully lead into another single issue story then a full blown entertaining arc.

Score: 8.3/10

'The Thief Who Stole Himself' Issue 307

What I really adore about this issue is how well Michelinie is able to craft small moments between the couple of Peter and Mary, especially when he doesn't really rely on McFarlane to add some sexual tension to the end of it.

Their mundane trip to the grocery as the dialogue points out does become an adventure, simply because of how well Michelinie captures the characters voices and crafts the joyous chemistry from it. It's punctuated by a scene that expresses Mary's love for Pete, yet keeps the reader in the loop on how psychotic Jonathan Caesar actually is regarding MJ.

Once again the main plot pushes Peter out of New York and towards Chicago where co-incidentally Chameleon is hatching his plot. I actually loved some of the page layouts where McFarlane exquisitely draws splash pages of Chameleon, with descriptive panels littered to explain much of his back story in connection to his main agenda.

A lot of times, Marvel refrains from producing larger books that have no previous works to look upon from, yet here when the issues released and for the omnibus itself it helps that Michelinie has such info set up in the most intriguing manner acceptable albeit the exposition dialogues.

Obviously Spidey doesn't catch his sneaky foe, but it provides some much needed action in between all the comedy revolving around Peter's book signing. The issues ends in a very grim note setting up Spider-Man's hunt to find Mary Jane.

Score: 8.1/10

'Who Kidnapped Mary Jane?' Issues 308-309

Since the villain of the piece is basically a meek Jonathan Caesar and Spider-Man isn't yet suspecting him, the arc begins with his hunt to find Mary Jane through other methods. This allows Spidey to face other villains down, although surprisingly and non-fittingly those who aren't in his rogues gallery.

The first issue begins with a bang as is echoes by the cover, Spidey holding a defeated Taskmaster down in a graveyard. It's a haunting site contrasted by the idea of Spider-Man having taken down a skilled villain such as Taskmaster, thus the artist (since I don't think it's McFarlane) symbolizing the strength of Spider-Man as well as the rage under the mask.

On the inside it seems McFarlane's off his game or his weakness is starting to show. His scratchy form of art really makes the work and causes the inking to be darker, as such the whole graveyard battle scene feels murky and to dank to be visually coherent. Thank god for the restored coloring or it would be worse to read. Even his depiction of Taskmaster is to dull for my taste, the villain looks like too much of an undead style of Goblin. He requires the much more simplistic skull mask feature than the cross breed human/skull face McFarlane presents him in.

Yet once the action moves to Taskmaster's training room, it feels much more fluid and in fitting form to his previous efforts. The best is the last page panel that presents the condo and building with Peter standing on the roof and a tiny window below him housing a captured Mary Jane looking out. It's scary and actually prompted me to scream at Peter as to how close MJ is to him at that point.

Kudos to the writer for making Mary Jane equally strong as she is vulnerable, it allows the tension to remain while retains the fortitude that MJ's character has when she stands up to a slime ball like Jonathan.

The second issue then is a sort of let down, seeing as it is another point where Spidey faces another villain who has taken someone he loves. I know Jonathan isn't a super villain or arch nemesis, but to not able to see Spider-Man giving one hell of a beatdown was disappointing.

Yet it's here that the writing makes me realize how brilliant Michelinie's depiction of MJ is, she is the one who takes out Jonathan and even his bodyguards and runs away from his lair. It shows you what a perceptive and individually powerful character she is and endears her to the reader more so. Not only that she manages to save Spider-Man from Styx and Stone.

MJ has always been a great character and Michelinie makes her more so.

Once again though with underwhelming villains, McFarlane's art falters. It's not that it's particularly his fault, but it just doesn't all blend well with the colors.

Score: 7.6/10

'Shrike Force' Issue 310

Another filler issue, but this time one that's really not centered around Peter/Spider-Man or has any sub plot to further develop anything incoming. Instead it has a bad team up of villains between Shrike and the Tinkerer. The only major news being Peter's return to university which is downplayed in favor of the villains and his senior Dr. Swann.

The art is much better though, I especially like how the inking and colors capture the silhouette's and blacks in the frames including Shrike's cape/cowl covering him with no real tint. It's another aspect that shows you where maybe McFarlane was inspired from for Spawn.

Score: 6.9/10

'The Return of The Man Called Mysterio' Issue 311

Now is when the single issues arrive that I talked about earlier, this is what the book is really worth shelling an extra alongside Venom for.

For the next 8-9 issues the stories are superb with some great villain of the month pieces where Michelinie mines Spidey's extensive rogues gallery. But the best is that in these issues McFarlane goes through a period of sensational or should I put it as Amazing art work.

While Mysterio's return strictly falls under the Inferno crossover, it is still a one off in a main storyline sense.

While difficult to do, if drawn spectacularly Mysterio is stunning to see in full color

From the cover you can tell this is going to be an interesting piece as Spider-Man is reflected on Mysterio's odd fish bowl helmet. There's the arachnid feel to Spidey that McFarlane loves, where as like with Sandman, Mysterio is the type of character any artist would relish to draw in their own fashion (including me, since he's a favorite).

Early on the book we see the full effects of Inferno working when things break off in demonic fashion including killing a person trying to help Spider-Man. Peter then faces mental trauma. The book sees him having to take on Mysterio while hell runs amok over New York.

As mentioned with Mysterio it's the art that is dazzling, in this case Mysterio's illusion of death to trick Spider-Man and get him off guard and this creates some intriguing concepts. On the other end of the writing, Michelinie develops different steps for the next villains of the Inferno crossover from Hobgoblin to Lizard.

At the end McFarlane produces a winner this issue, while Michelinie gives Spider-Man one heck of a lesson; not all lives are his responsibility, sometimes a man can choose to be a hero.

Score: 9.1/10

'The Goblin War' Issue 312

One of the things I've really liked so far is how well Michelinie has been able to characterize his two leads and their own bubble of a world, so it's good to see him branch out. Much of the issue revolves around Harry Osborn's struggle to suppress the Goblin side of him as well as channeling it to take down Hobgoblin and save his family.

You can also examine Michelinie's frustrations with Marvel, as he circumvents himself from the whole Inferno crossover bit in the most easiest way and then he can get on with his own story. Some of those Inferno points do hinder his work but not as much as the latter crossovers will during his initial run.

Not just Harry, but the best thing Michelinie does is give the lead couple breathing space and expands on plot points for his coming issues such as Doctor Connors slow turn into the Lizard once again. 

Harry's turn here as Goblin is integral as it becomes the next big push for him to fully accept the mantle leading to his redemption and eventual demise. For now though, the reader can be engaged by the fight between Green Goblin and Hobgoblin, this helps thanks to McFarlane's art work.

Even the initial exposition filled setup is offset by some stirring images, McFarlane surprisingly does well to distinguish the looks of the Original Goblin, Harry's Goblin and Harry himself. There's a sharpness that he brings to Hobgoblin as well, it distinguishes his cape and adds a demonic look to it. The best thing is that Hobgoblin's face is covered by the shadows of his hood and is a simple black, enhancing the fearsome appearance.

Apart from that, it's unfortunately this issue that I begin to notice chinks in McFarlane's armor. His scratchy sort of style works when he has space to present Spider-Man in all his action glory or too accentuate how beautiful Mary Jane is, but when it comes too the backgrounds and conveying other aspects of action he falters. Things such as demonic portals opening and fire blasts seem too similar and are simple lines.

Still this continues the phase of excellence that the duo would have for a dozen issues.

Score: 8.9/10

'Slithereens' Issue 313

After teasing us for two issues, Michelinie brings in another misguided villain like Harry into the fold of the Inferno cross-over; The Lizard.

First let's talk about the cover. This is along with the Mysterio one, the best cover of the omnibus. I really like the close up shots McFarlane draws, it allows him to get in a lot of detail, such as the blood on Peter's mouth and the Lizard's yellow saliva (?). Plus I always emulate the way he draws fingers with all the bends and sharpness. The depth the inking adds to the work is mind blowing as you really feel Spider-Man's mask is coming off and his clothes are torn. The color defines the tension the issue is conveying. It's basically comics 101; make the cover eye catching and people will want to buy it.

As mentioned Michelinie has no interest in keeping with Marvel's Inferno story and he doesn't necessarily have to. In fact he makes the opening shot exciting by having Peter face a shark! Yet he does let it play on a few pages in to the story.

With Lizard comes his family and a lot of drama for the misguided scientist. Once again what Michelinie and McFarlane work to do well together deliver some back story to a new reader. It specially helps if you are to pick up this Omnibus as one of your first Spider-Man comics. The panel break is one thing McFarlane does spectacularly as he captures the emotions festering within Martha Connors.

I didn't understand the stay puft Spider-Man idea, it was a part of Inferno and once again shows why the cross-over was particularly detrimental to non x-men comics specifically plundering the tense pace of this one. Even the monsters attacking the Connors were useless as Michelinie didn't capitalize on them to show Lizard's heroic side, he simply presented him as pure evil. When he's redeemable, that's when Lizard is at his best. This wouldn't have been necessarily bad, but as with the Lizard it ends in the same way each and every time; a remorseful Connors distancing himself from his family.

The issue ends with another lead in, as Jonathan Caesar (Mary Jane's kidnapper) planning his revenge.

Score: 8.6/10

'Down and Out In Forest Hills' Issue 314

As I've mentioned, Michelinie is very smart when it comes to circumventing issues that can become filler and making them mean something. Rather than simply doing an issue based around Christmas and taking it lightly, he adds a lot of depth to Peter and Mary's relation as they battle homelessness.

Jonathan Caesar rears his ugly head and shows that Spider-Man can't win every fight, especially those that allow the law to bend to the will off the powerful. So the issue becomes a sort of internal crisis for Peter, a learning lesson one that suits the mood as Peter understands it's family that stands together.

Through the issue Michelinie unravels the tidbits we already know about, he reminds us of Peter's responsibilities as Spider-Man and how Mary Jane has become his moral center. Peter gripes with having to go back to stay with Aunt May and how it could be a form of regression for him.

What Michelinie also does supremely well is highlight the comedy in the situation, there's that sitcom vibe on the above page. Peter shifts through a party and contemplates his next move. McFalrane and Bob Sharen (Colorist) share a perfect rapport and support Michelinie aptly. As the page shows, you can see subtle shifts in Peter bolstered by a basic background. The punchline thanks to the monotonous blue background then becomes a laugh riot, a shift to yellow denotes the desperation with Peter and evokes Jonah's own harsh tone and demeanor. It's funny that Peter would be so desperate to lodge with Jonah, in fact that would make for a really cool situation if it ever came to fruition.

It all just circles around the 'Parker Luck' that has become a theme off itself within Spider-Man's universe. A splash page also brings in Uncle Ben (in grave form) for the first time in Michelinie's run and kind off matches the writer back tracking himself as Peter struggles to do the same.

Much of the action is not anything to write about, except for the funny part where Santa Claus help Spider-Man beat the generic bad guy.

After the machinations of Marvel in putting Inferno down our throats, this free spot lets Michelinie run free and he takes the reigns gleefully. He's a writer whose tapped into the core of Spider-Man; Peter Parker and his relationships. The final pages convince Peter and through that us, that it isn't wrong to sometimes go back and live with your parents/family. It's a touching moment between Aunt and Nephew and McFarlane's brilliance punctuates that with use of shadows to emote the expressions of grief and regret as well as the burden of guilt Peter carries, in the graveyard scene.

The final page is full of Christman Spirit and the last dialogue '...the love is in here' is and example of how well Michelinie can craft his plot into words and storytelling.

McFarlane doesn't lag behind at all, but this is a Michelinie showcase through and through.

Score: 9.4/10

'Venom Returns' Issue 315-317

A three part story, the first keeps both Venom and Spider-Man separate detailing Peter's own issues and Eddie Brock's escape from prison and subsequent hiding. Once again this has a wonderful cover, Hydro Man's the poor man's Sandman, but I'll be damned if it isn't another good drawing opportunity as highlighted by McFarlane's work. Though is it me or do the anatomies look a bit off. The coolest bit is the dialogue which lands in a neat joke.

Here's where some of my issues with McFarlane's work crops up.

*First let me just say, even though I'm an artist it's hard for me to review the work. So bear with me if I'm wrong.*

Is it just me, or is there a lack of perspective to this page?

The opening splash page feels a bit off, as can be seen above Venom takes out the prison guard. Yet I seem to feel there's isn't the perceived depth to the main feature as is with the background that shows the room Venom escapes from. It persists with Venom, as McFarlane draws him in dashing poses but to me doesn't seem to take into account the perspective he provides to backgrounds.

Where the previous issue was a Michelinie highlight, this set up issue for the initial part seems like a McFarlane showcase. In the ongoing Spider-Man and Hydro-Man battle he fares much better, the battle begins out of nowhere and highlights the sense of urgency the issue has in heading to its pay off. Michelinie and McFarlane seem restless to get into another successful showdown between Venom and Spider-Man, yet they contrast the build up with a wasted issue.

This is seemingly indicated with the use of a very low villain in Spidey's rogues gallery. As a budding writer one of my wishes is too take a D/Z-List villain from one of my favorite heroes like Spider-Man and giving him a compelling story, to me Hydro-Man looks like a place to start from. The art is terrific, but nothing too write home about as we already know McFarlane can do something terrific with an elemental villain as similar as Sandman.

It's the next page, specifically the above panel that just reminds you; when it comes too Spidey, McFarlane knows just what too do to bring out the power Spider-Man has.

The plot is just a waste and a colossal disappointment from the psychological stance and the hunting aspects of the first Venom/Spider-Man saga. Nothing interesting to account and is just a drawn out yet rushed set-up to give us another epic fight.

The second issue is where the meat is.

First thing, Michelinie once again brings Black Cat to the fore with her search for Peter continuing. It will pay off much later in his run. It allows for a tantalizing fight scene between her and Venom. Though I have to mention the panels that force McFarlane's action to look small make his work look sloppy. He just does wonders when he has space especially to break from panels.

One thing he does have a grasp on is capturing the expressions, in fact he's so good he's able to highlight that even with Spider-Man as can be seen with the determination on the mask on the above splash page.

The fight then takes up the last page and provides epic moments for McFarlane and some great dialogue.

This leads to the third part, where Michelinie once again ups the ante with Eddie Brock playing the psychological game by attacking Peter at his home. This then is juxtaposed by Peter to stop Venom using his brilliance rather than powers.

This is filled in with a cameo by Thing and more importantly an epic showdown between Venom and Spidey. The arc can be realized as a basic cash in on the duo's initial success with Venom and the most important aspect of the first saga, the fights. Yet this physical prowess is what would make Venom a one note character years later.

Score: 7.7/10

'Sting Your Partner' Issue 318-319

The title for the first issue as can be seen above, highlights two things. First the issues that plague the team up of villains for Justin Hammer against Spider-Man, especially Scorpions own agenda. The second is how Caesar's dubious methods of running Mary Jane's life are subsequently creating cracks within her and her relationship with Peter.

As should be known by now, Michelinie is simply a genius when it comes to dissecting Mary Jane and Peter as a couple. It's an over arching plot since he married them off in the 21st Annual.

Another great thing about his writing is that he treats the comic and plots as an organic world breathing and moving on even without its lead protagonist. Just because it doesn't directly involve Peter, it doesn't mean that something isn't happening in the lives of other characters. Chameleon pops up in the guise of Jonah, beginning a build up to the huge Assassin Nation Plot. Then Harry also gets screen time something to do with a master plan, nothing that concerns the current omnibus.

This allows some moments of respite from the main story which I was halfheartedly engaged with.

The main thing that attracts more than the villains plot and Spidey's fight to stop them, is the Peter Parker drama. Between two issues of an arc, Michelinie adds more tension to MJ and by de facto Peter's life as the red head falters further thanks to her old stalker Caesar's machinations. MJ's partying seems to be taking a toll on Peter, but the two fight to reconcile so as to keep their love burning brighter against adversary. As I've said it time and time again, Michelinie is a master of this romance.

The art looks terrific in the three way fight in the second issue of the story, Rhino's brutality particularly depicted well. If only the major portion of this arc was engaging.

Score: 7.0/10

'The Assassin Nation Plot' Issue 320-325

One of the worst things about collecting major runs is that, you wont be lucky each and every time to have a writer at his best and the cracks grow wide here. It can also be chalked up to the fact that a major arc requiring concentration comes at the end of the omnibus, by which time fatigue sets in.

Plus on a personal note, as aforementioned I don't like the Spider-Man spy stories. They're very dull and more so for me as a classic Lee/Ditko/Romita Spidey lover, seems out of the set tone I'm used too.

Worst still some of the art during the beginning is odd from McFarlane, you begin to notice the chinks in his armor and certain fan boy preferences. More so than ever he has a gratuitous lens placed on Mary Jane for no other reason than to titillate. Then a splash page on the first issue made me aware of his problems with perspective drawing. It's the same thing with the cover for the second issue of this major arc.

Spider-Man as Bond...NO THANK YOU!

Although one thing is the smaller bird's eye view and long shot action scenes still look terrific and Michelinie's idea to showcase Spidey's strength through out helps lead into his next arc.

But here a major issue besides the arc being dull, is that even Peter's drama especially early on is borderline terrible and doesn't hook you in. Aunt May is dying, then it's revealed her Boyfriend Nathan is dying. Michelinie just doesn't make you care.

The third issue begins to pick up the Assassin part of the plot and I have to mention has a very silly way even for the nineties to provide exposition of events gone by which occurs in other issues as well. Still the plot just doesn't get any more interesting. Seriously this is so tiring.

Captain America\s entry into the picture livens things up, allowing McFarlane especially to flex his muscle with some dynamic shots involving the Avenger and his vaunted shield.

Even amidst all the patriotic sentiments and the differing styles, it's just sad and shocking to realize Michelinie lose grasp over the characters. Spidey's involvement involuntarily for the first time rings hollow and encapsulates the tone of this whole arc; pathetic. Peter's financial woes also seem stretched out and boring by now. This gets worse in the final when Peter is nearly swayed by Red Skull's proposition, just to take out his money problems.

It's the weirdest thing that Michelinie also forgets to mention Red Skull's connection to Spider-Man established years ago. Spidey's parents were SHIELD agents accused of treason, having been framed by Red Skull.

Overall, sometimes the art worked but it could never prevent an all round terrible arc. Spider-Man just isn't a good fit with the espionage tone even if his parents are linked to it and Michelinie just loses everything in a muddled yet cliche plot. The Omnibus had begus to slip in the previous arc and here it takes a nosedive. Sadly this is a major portion of the book.

Score: 5.6/10

'Acts of Vengeance: Captain Universe'  Issue 326-329

Another cross over begins with Marvel villains teaming up to take on opposite heroes as to surprise them. It's tepid, it's lame and it just ruins the end of the book.

The first issue sees him facing Graviton and has Colleen Doran on art duties. Doran's work gets a bit distracting early on thanks to seeing McFarlane everywhere before this, but even after you adjust it lacks the impact.

While McFarlane's scratchy art work can be criticized, Doran's looks so plastic it's hard to think the characters as real and three dimensional. They don't feel organic especially the ladies, even the opening panel with Mary Jane dancing doesn't have any sense of motion.

Even the action set well though it is, lacks any dynamism to feel thrilling.

One of the better things in the first issue here is that Mary Jane's troubles get tackled head on and it ends on a happy note. She isn't jobless anymore and it makes Peter realize that no matter what with her around, he isn't a loser.

Also good thing to note. With three Spider-Man books running at the same time, it's great that Marvel leaves a page to explain the situation about Spidey's newly acquired cosmic powers (from Spectacular Spider-Man) so as not to lose its reader.

The next issue sees Spidey with his cosmic strength take on Magneto and this time it's drawn by Erik Larsen. His work fares better, especially the opening splash page that sees Spider-Man test his mental abilities with his webbing. The problem though is that most of the time like with the previous arc (issue 324) he tries to hard to ape McFarlane without making any style his own.

Larsen's work is a microcosm for Marvel in the 90's. Not only were guys like Rob Liefield and Todd McFarlane phased out, but they're distinct and somewhat bad art styles (bad proportions) were imitated by other artists who couldn't get it right.

Though I have to admit the action looks it looks...pun intended....Amazing!

Michelinie gets a lot of traction from Peter and MJ's married life situation here but seems to build towards something new for Flash Thompson, yet the negative is that in the larger cross over his voice begins to drown.

The second to last issue sees McFarlane return, to draw Grey Hulk's face off with Spider-Man. From the cover to onwards the issue looks great, I always liked McFarlane's pencils of Grey Hulk giving him that scratchy murkiness the original lacks.

On the plot front, Spidey has to face a Hulk rampaging through New York and it's actually fun to see Hulk and everybody's reaction to how easily Spidey beats him. The issue sadly once again builds towards Flash's romantic problems, which are left at a cliffhanger by the end of the omnibus.

The last issue though still is entertaining despite this problem. The Acts of Vengeance comes to an end and Sebastian Shaw prepares mutants for a Sentinel take over (see in a Spider-Man comic, not everything is sadly about Spidey). Loki uses his magic to merge the Sentinels into the Tri-Sentinel to face off against our hero.

Spider-Man has a lot on his plate, he defeats Graviton with one blow and then is costumed in Captain Universe's threads revealing the reason behind his powers. It's just an issue of a fight fest, and that's actually fun. Erik Larsen even begins to try change up his style from before, but you can still see the negative influence of McFarlane's work when he fails with proportions and dimensions.

As I said the issue ends with a cliffhanger when Flash introduces Peter and MJ to his latest girlfriend; Felicia Hardy AKA Black Cat and Spidey's ex.

Overall this is an arc that is up and down and more focused on action. This would have been great if Larsen could have reigned in his art work. Even Michelinie can't get drama from the Spidey has cosmic powers, he ends it with Spidey losing them becoming his normal self.

Score: 6.7/10

Overall I will admit this, I would rather buy any of the Stan Lee/Ditko or Romita Omnibus in favor of this one. Still it was great to be introduced to Michelinie's writing, his one of the Spider-Man writer who gets lost in the shuffle among the greats like Lee/Ditko/Romita, Roger Stern and JM Dematteis.

I would suggest this though, if not the two Lee books then get the recently released Roger Stern Spider-Man Omnibus. That one looks like a cracker and features the second best if not best Spider-Man writer.

Overall Score: 7.9/10 

Your Friendly Neighbourhood

Aneesh Raikundalia

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