Thursday, May 20, 2010

Spiderman: The Gauntlet by Various

This volume reprints three main stories from the Spiderman Comic and one backup story. The first, Dark Reign: The List, reprints the Spiderman story that appeared in that volume. In essence, Norman Osborn has taken over as Iron Patriot, and despite his former career as the frankly insane Green Goblin, he is being lionized by the people because he was the one who managed to kill the Skrull Queen. This disconcerts Peter Parker, who wonders how people could follow a madman, and he hatches a plan to bring down Obborne's Popular Approval Rating.

Stealing into Oscorp, he downloads the videos of Norman's experiments on people using the Super-Soldier Serum mixed with the same serum that made him The Green Goblin. He's discovered by Osborn, who goes up against Spiderman in the Iron Patriot armor, but manages to get to an internet Café, and as Peter Parker, uploads the videos everywhere to everyone in his e-mail list. Will Norman kill Peter Parker in front of an entire Internet Café and put his carefully constructed new persona at risk? Can he keep it together even as he loses everything?

The next story is called "Gauntlet Origins: Electro". Electro was once a normal guy who worked for the power company, repairing power cables and Electrical Lines. Until one day when the Power Cable he was repairing was struck by Lightning. Maxwell Dillon should have died, but instead, the competing strings of power sparked something inside him, giving him power over electricity. For a long time, he used his powers for his own gain, and did pretty well, but now, something has gone wrong, and his powers are alternately waning and supercharging. He wants help from the Mad Thinker, but the Thinker isn't running a charity organization. He wants a cool million dollars to "fix" Electro, which Dillon has no way of getting with his problem with his current powers. Worse, the fluctuations with his powers seems to be killing him.

Fed up with the situation, Dillon videotapes a rooftop rant and releases it on YouTube, where it becomes a viral hit. In it, he rants about the current owner of the Daily Bugle, now known as the DB, Dexter Bennett. He links Dexter Bennett, who he blames for being rich and for receiving a government bailout while nobody else in the city is getting money. People are eating it up and repeating his slogan, "Power to the People!" No one is more delighted about this than Mayor J. Jonah Jameson, who sold the paper to Bennett after he had a heart attack, and hates the way the DB has gone from a newspaper with solid reporting to one that mostly runs fluff pieces. It's become the equivalent of the National Enquirer.

And yes, Bennett has gotten all the blame. And now people are ready to string him up. So when Electro goes to Bennett and offers to spit-roast his insides with a lightning bolt- or Bennett can pay up a million dollars and Electro will leave him alone and stop targeting him, Bennett pays. Dillon immediately runs to the Thinker and pays for his tune-up. But what a surprise! Dillon lied about leaving Bennett alone! With his newly topped up powers, he goes after Bennett at the DB building, amking sure Bennett can't escape by electrifying the outside of the building so that anyone trying to leave gets zapped, and not in a good way.

But Spiderman has been tracking down Dillon, and has even fought him several times, losing every time. But he gives it the old college try one more time at the DB building. Can Spidey find a way to bring down the newly superpowered Maxwell Dillon and save Bennett, not to mention his job? Or will Electro simply prove too much for him, and beat him once again?

The Next story is called "The Other Girl" and involves Black Cat. When Peter Parker sees Mary Jane Watson downtown, life, and bad luck start smacking him down. Could it be due to the powers of his new partner Felicia Hardy, also known as the Black Cat, or is it just his own bad Luck kicking in overtime? And can he convince Felicia that he's not drooling over other women?

Then, when a little girl named Keemia Alvarado goes missing, Peter Parker sets off to track her down for a friend of his and for Keemia's grandmother- and to find out why Keemia's mother got killed. But sometimes, he learns, even happy endings aren't all that happy. To get Keemia back, he has to overcome her "daddy" and protector, Sandman, and when he finally gets her back, the legal system won't let her see her grandmother- because her grandmother lost her in the first place. Can Spiderman do anything about this, or will he let the system get him down? And can Peter discover who stole the evidence and murder weapons from a police lockup so that his friend, a CSI tech, doesn't get the blame?

I found this graphic novel very enjoyable, because they made me think about some of the drawbacks to the powers of some Supervillains. To start with, Electro stinks like burned rubber. I'm sure that's partly to do with his powers, and partly to do with he can't take a bath, because water shorts out his powers. After a few months of not taking a bath or shower, he's gotta really have some kind of stench going on. Add the stench of burning to normal B.O. and that's gotta be deadly. Just adding this one small plot point made the story much more real and enjoyable to read.

Likewise with Sandman. Keemia calls Sandman "Daddy", and Spiderman is shocked. Because Flint Marko is made completely of Sand, he can't father kids. I couldn't help but cringe, imagining the world's worst sand-wedgie "up there". Ugh! But again, it added a definite other dimension to the story. I like stories that make me think about things that I haven't considered before with regards to the Superheroes in the story, or even the Supervillains, and I really have to commend the writer, Fred Van Lente, who wrote both stories in question, for really pushing the envelope here.

I'd definitely recommend this graphic novel, even though the first story here appeared as a reprint, since i'd already read it in "Dark Reign: The List". The other two stories really make this volume, and its not really shown how the Dark Reign Story fits into the series continuity, because there's no fallout from that story in the rest of the volume. But I'd have to say I am going to look out for more stories by Fred Van Lente, because he stretches my brain in ways I find interesting and fun. Highly recommended.

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