Looking Back at SPIDER-MAN: REIGN
Some have read it, some have heard of it, and some have never seen the title before. Here I take a look at one of the most interesting Spider-Man stories ever written, Reign.
Spider-Man: Reign was a four-part mini-series from the Marvel Knights line of comics. The MK comics were stories meant for older readers. Reign is one of the most interesting Spidey stories ever written. Despite its flaws, it's a must-read for any Spider-Man fan, hardcore or casual. Let's talk generally for a second, this is The Dark Knight Returns for the Web-Slinger. Even Marvel themselves compared it to the famous Batman story. It never quite achieved that classic status, but it's definitely something you won't be forgetting anytime soon.
In the near future, New York City has traded the word freedom for security. Peter Parker has long retired, to the point where kids don't even know what a Spider-Man is. With the years gone by, many things have happened, the biggest being the death of Mary Jane. One thing's for certain...the city needs Spider-Man, because the man behind the whole Reign project is none other than VENOM.
The concept of the story is sound. I think every superhero should have a story looking into their future. Spider-Man has always been my favorite character, so personally I was looking forward to reading this. It has aged well, though some aspects just aren't that good. Peter Parker's characterization is the most intriguing aspect. For the most part we see the plot unfold through his eyes. We see he has hallucinations of Mary Jane still being around. Has he gone crazy? You see, it's because of him that she died, thanks to radioactive cells. Peter never truly forgave himself for that. Once he dons the mask he turns into the wise-cracking hero we all know and love.
This whole thing is written by Kaare Andrews, whom has worked on many different comics. The dialogue is technically good and strives to have some hidden text for us readers to take something out of. Freedom, security, youth, Andrews gives the readers some things to think about. I can't help but think however how better this story would have been if it put less into the Greek god analogies and focused more on simply being a Spider-Man story. One could argue that would have been bland, but ultimately the dialogue from some of the characters just doesn't feel very 'real.' The art has an appropriate gritty look, but I can't call it great. The faces often look quite off-putting and just weird for a lack of better word. Maybe that was intended, but it's not exactly what I would call very good art, especially the scenes when Peter Parker looks like he hadn't eaten a meal in over a month.
J. Jonah Jameson has a rather strong presence throughout the four issues. His classic personality surprisingly is retained. The scene when he comes to Peter's apartment was pretty well done. The dialogue, such as "Funny, for all those years, you let me hate him. Hate you" is great stuff for longtime readers. Despite seeing Spidey in his familiar getup, the splash page with him in the mask for the first time in the first issue was truly monumental, classic even. Andrews doesn't shy away from showing the brutal violence of the Marvel Knights title. Despite all the violet things we've seen in comics, movies, and video games, there's something quite unnerving seeing a sword from Kraven the Hunter going through a young boy. Speaking of kids, part of the story focuses on Susie Baker, a young girl we later learn happens to be the Sandman's daughter. She poses an interesting analogy..."So there's these two campers in a tent sleeping, when there's this growling noise outside in the woods. The two campers wake up. Just then, a giant grizzly bear tears through the tent toward them...giant claws. Foaming at the mouth. They're both terrified. The first camper immediately grabs his runners and starts lacing them up. The second camper says, 'you can't outrun a bear!' The first camper smiles, 'no...but I can outrun you.'" If you really think about that, it makes sense. Scary, betrayal, but makes sense.
The 'Sinner Six' come into play in Issue 2. It's interesting because if they manage to subdue Spidey, they could walk away scott free from the enclosed city. So that adds to already fueled bloodlust from all their past encounters. The battle is brutal, and Spidey is saved by...Doctor Octopus, who was long dead but his robot arms still functioning. The dialogue of the recorded message from Octavius is interesting with the analogy of the two being gods. This part of the story is especially intriguing since the current series, Superior Spider-Man, has Ock's mind in Peter Parker's body. The scene following has Peter enter the grave where Mary Jane lays, and in it lies his red and blue costume. This is a truly "aw yeah" moment when he punches the grave open and we see him face New York.
The main thing keeping this story together and making it an immensely worthwhile read (well I think so anyway) is the plot twist that the man behind the Reign operation is none other than Venom. One might argue putting him in the story was just to garner interest, but he doesn't feel shoehorned in at all. The dialogue is quite amazing, since it's the Symbiote that's completely in control. Andrews nails Venom's slithering words with a sarcastic attitude. My personal favorite is when he first reveals his true form a lady says, "My god" and he replies, "Yes...I am." It all comes down to one final showdown between Spidey and him. (Before that, Spidey goes through the Sinner Six...even killing a few of them. Out of character? Hard to say since you have to consider the time period and just maybe he isn't quite the same hero as before.)
Admittedly, the dialogue between Venom and Spidey is better than the actual fight. I would argue that the two have one of the best worst-enemies relationships in comics. The dialogue between the two is worth the price of admission alone. They have fought many times, but here we can look at this, no matter how many years go by, as their true final battle. Sadly Spidey doesn't actually fight Venom, he fights a bunch of other Venom symbiotes in the city, which I thought was disappointing. (Though I think I see where Web of Shadows got the symbiote-infested city idea.)
Spider-Man: Reign, despite its flaws with some of the story, characterizations, and art, is a must-read for any Spidey fan. It's a story on how freedom is better than tyrannical security, a 'what if' future into Spider-Man's world, a story of a hero returning, and simply the final showdown between Spider-Man and Venom. The ending is what made the series for me. Peter says he'll see MJ soon, but right now he has responsibilities.
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