Comics : Amazing Fantasy (Vol. 2) #5

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This story is part of an Arc: "Heart of the Spider"
     Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3 / Part 4 / Part 5 / Part 6

This review was first published on: 2004.

Background...

The spider society has finally accepted that Anya Corazon is the chosen one. But before she is ready to face the evil Sisterhood of the Wasp she needs to be trained, and her partner and magus extraordinaire, Miguel, has a plan about that. But before Anya can 'wax on wax off' she must face her most formidable challenge: her father.

In Detail...

"Roaming"
Amazing Fantasy (Vol. 2) #5
Dec 2004 : Review (No SM)
Arc: Part 5 of "Heart of the Spider"
Editor:  Jennifer Lee
Writer:  Fiona Avery
Pencils:  Mark Brooks
Inker:  Jaime Mendoza, Victor Olazaba
Staff Only
Issue
Review
 Reprinted In: Marvel Tales Flip Magazine #5
Articles: Arana

At home in Brooklyn Anya is lying to her father. She is trying to convince him that she has an internship at Webcorps but forgot to give him the permission slip. Gil rightly thinks that with homework, field hockey and gymnastics Anya doesn't have time for an internship. But Anya is determined, and eventually Gil relents. After all, it's just one weekend away.

What Gil doesn't know is that Anya is going to spend the weekend marooned on the Yucatan Peninsular. To be fair, Anya doesn't know that either until Miguel dumps her there with only a bag and pair of outlandish yellow specs. Ted has second thoughts about leaving her there. He seems to be developing a bit of a crush on our girl. However, Nina is unsympathetic. Anya is wired and her vitals are monitored. If there is any trouble then they will know about it. Miguel pretends not to be concerned. If she is the chosen one she'll survive. If.

Miguel now falls into a standard mystical rant about how Anya must cleanse her body of the poison of modern society; how the desert is a shrine to the old ways and how in ancient times priests of the great weaver went into the desert to purify themselves. Interesting Miguel questions the wisdom of moving from the desert and relocating Spider Central to New York, away from the "core" of their power.

Notably these are the first scenes in the comic where we see Anya in the 'costume' she has been sporting on the covers of all the issues up to now. A pair of skin tight trousers, white shirt, red back-pack, ludicrous gloves with pouches attached and those strange glasses. The gloves, bag and glasses where given to Anya by Nina before she set out. Worth mentioning, I think.

Back in Brooklyn, Gil is worried about his daughter. He is talking to the picture of his dead wife (Sofia) and telling her that Anya hasn't called and her mobile phone isn't switched on. Gil tells his wife how much he misses her. This implies they parted on good terms. The mystery of Anya's mother deepens.

In the desert, Anya thinks she has found some water but as she bends to drink the puddle starts to talk to her and rises up forming itself into an approximation of Anya's face. "I am you, but not of you," says the puddle. Understandably, Anya panics and runs away. In her haste Anya falls over and witnesses a mantis seize a fly, and then fly into the web of a waiting spider that devours them both. The circle of life is being played out just for her. Then she hears the baying of a coyote, and suddenly she is surrounded by a pack of them. Their eyes are glowing red; these are not natural creatures.

On the helicopter, Ted is monitoring Anya's vitals and notices her heart rate has gone through the roof. Miguel is using his magic to see what is happening. He won't interfere, however, believing that she is very close to "awakening".

Anya is surrounded and the coyotes are moving in. This time Anya isn't gung- ho and brave: she is terrified. She realises she is all alone. She prays to her mother for help, and amazingly her mother answers. An apparition of Anya's mother appears before her child. Anya begs her for help, and her mother says that Anya has the means to help herself already within her, if only she will release it.

She touches Anya's chest, and a spider symbol appears on her shirt. The mother says to Anya: "You have things left unfinished in life?" These are exactly the same words Miguel said to her on the night of Anya's stabbing, when Anya agreed to all this in the first place. Anya's tattoo flashes into life. Blue carapace grows over her head and limbs and the spider symbol. She is ready, and she lays into the coyotes.

The coyotes keep attacking Anya in waves, but she calmly butchers them with a mixture of acrobatics and brute force. On the helicopter Ted, Nina and Miguel are amazed at Anya's read-outs. She is more powerful than they could have imagined - surpassing even Miguel. They return to pick her up and find Anya surrounded by the corpses of scores of coyotes.

As the helicopter lands the spirit of Sofia Corazon comes again to her daughter. She says that now Anya has embraced the power she can back down, she can retire and not be a part of the spider society. But Anya says she must go on, she does have things unfinished in her life. "I couldn't do anything when you died, and I hated myself for being weak. It's been ten years. I never want to have those regrets again." Anya's mother turns away. She is obviously disappointed at her daughter's decision.

Miguel rushes to Anya who angrily punches him and knocks him to the ground. She is hungry and more than a little annoyed at being dumped in the desert. Anya strides toward the helicopter, the carapace she wears disappearing as she calms down. Miguel seems quite pleased. He tells Nina that he saw "the old hunter" in Anya. There is no explanation for this statement, perhaps we'll find out more later.

As the helicopter pulls away, the spirit of Sofia Corazon can be seen watching it, playing cat's cradle. She says: "One thread at a time, one thread at a time..."

Ted returns Anya's mobile phone. There are eighty-eight messages from her father. Miguel asks Anya not to tell her father what Webcorps really does, but Anya's not a fool - she figured that out for herself. Miguel also asks her to choose a given name she can be called by (that's a super-hero name for us comic fans). After very little deliberation, Anya chooses Araña. It was her mother's maiden name, it's what her father calls her and, appropriately, it means "spider". What were the chances, eh? Anya tells Miguel that she saw her mother, but nothing comes of the conversation.

Back in Brooklyn, Gil has been crying and imaging all sorts of horrible things have happened to his daughter. When she arrives home he is mad, and wants to pull Anya out of this 'internship'. She talks him out of that, but he still demands to meet Miguel.

In General...

I'm torn by this issue. I'll start with the bad, move onto the good and see what we've got left. Firstly, this is still uninspired and unimaginative stuff. If you're getting tired of reading this in my reviews, then I'm getting tired of writing it. Avery needs to raise this a notch, and having the 'hero- wanders-the-desert-until-she-finds-herself' routine is not the way to do it. This is so very tired, and we've seen it so many times before. Another similarity to Buffy the Vampire Slayer by-the-by.

Nextly, the fight was the wolves/coyotes was just wrong. Let's assume for a moment that these were supernatural creatures, and let's assume they were conjured by Miguel to test Anya. I can accept that, and it gets around the problem of fifty suicidal wolves just happening upon our heroine, but pause for a second and remember what happened in the story. Anya tore them apart with her bare hands.

Anya is fifteen years old. She is a good kid, she hasn't killed anyone or anything larger than a house-fly. In this comic she stands in a desert and literally rips apart dozens of wolves. That's blood spraying from the creatures on p14, it's coloured black because this is a PSR book, but it's blood. Anya has snapped the necks of living creatures. She has seen the bodies twitch, heard the death rattles, witnessed the death throes. And she has seen all this without it affecting her at all, without displaying a speak of revulsion or horror. Even if the persona of the Hunter took over during the fight, when the red mist cleared and she returned to her senses what must she have thought? What would any fifteen year old girl have thought?

But the characters in this comic are not written as real people. They don't seem to possess anything but the most superficial emotions. They are not human. Now you can argue that this is not supposed to be a deep comic, that this is escapist fantasy and that it doesn't matter. You would be wrong.

The fundamental mark of a Marvel comic is placing normal people in fundamentally abnormal situations. The characters may have the strength to lift a mountain, or the ability to turn their body to silly string, but they remain real people who react to events in the way real people should. Stan Lee started the ball rolling in Fantastic Four #1 and it's the pattern that Marvel have followed ever since. It wouldn't have taken much to acknowledge how Anya should have been affected by the events of this issue. A little more dialogue, maybe two or three additional boxes of art. But Fiona Avery didn't do this, and because she didn't more of Anya's credibility as a lead character has been chipped away.

That's the bad, onto the good. I an increasingly happy with the way Avery is handling the character of Anya's father. He is only in a few small scenes, but those scenes are the best in the comic. When Anya notices her father has been crying, he doesn't try to hide it, he says: "It's a father's duty. I would rather cry than see you cry." This is good stuff, I actually feel something for the father. But if Fiona Avery can write one engaging character, there's no reason why they all can't be engaging.

From a plot related point of view there is also a great deal of interest in this issue. The appearance of Anya's mother as a ghost or illusion is intriguing. Is it her mother? I don't get the impression it's Miguel messing with Anya's mind, I think this is something else entirely. There are plots within plots here. I now suspect that the voice Miguel heard when he was spying on Anya's gym class in issue #2 was Anya's mother. I am keen to find out what is happening, but I'm sure it will be revealed "one thread at a time" as Sofia says. My only concern is that a complicated and multi-dimensional narrative isn't supported by equally complex characters. Hopefully that is something that will change.

Overall Rating...

The good didn't quite balance out the bad this time around. I just couldn't accept some of things Anya did in this issue. This is not irredeemably bad stuff, but it falls a little short of average this month. Two and a half webs.