Comics : Arana #4

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

This review was first published on: 2005.

Background...

Oh dear, it's all gone hideously wrong. Anya's two lives have collided in spectacular fashion as her father, the great investigative reporter, sought out a battle between the Spider Society and the Sisterhood of the Wasp! While Anya was busy saving him from Amun, she wasn't there to stop Judge Bandar being killed, or Miguel being seriously wounded. Knowing that Amun won't stop until all her friends and family are dead, Anya decided that everyone was better off without her... and so she has run away.

In Detail...

"Between Life and Death"
Arana #4
Jun 2005 : SM Guest
Summary: Spider-Man appears
Arc: Part 4 of "In the Beginning"
Editor:  Jennifer Lee
Writer:  Fiona Avery
Pencils:  Roger Cruz
Inker:  Victor Olazaba
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Articles: Arana

The action opens in a coffee house somewhere in New York. It is the following morning. Gil Corazon is talking over the events of his previous evening with his long-term friend and fellow investigative reporter, Dan Stevens. Gil says how he had a tip that Spider-Man was going to show up and bust up a criminal ring. Of course it wasn't Spider-Man at all, but this new freakish bug-girl. Gil thinks she was just a kid under that armour...

Gil is full of questions: why did his source think Spider-Man would show up, when he didn't? What is this criminal organisation Gil knows as "the Wasps", and why did they kill Bandar, when he thought he was working for them? And who are these "Spider" people?

Dan is the voice of reasons. He points out that this could be extremely dangerous. For one thing there was a murder last night and no-one's reported it. That means the Wasps have powerful connections. Also Gil has absolutely no proof that anything happened, so unless Gil's contact surfaces with more information then they have nothing to go on.

Gil is bothered by the girl that rescued him last night. Fatherly feelings are stirring within him. Dan, tells him to look out for his own daughter, but Gil says that Anya respects his work and knows that he has a job to do. Gil wishes he could speak to Spider-Man: maybe that would clear things up. Yeah, like that's going to happen....

Meanwhile at the Webcorps building, Ted joins Nina at Miguel's bedside. The mage is in a critical condition. Ted shows Nina a letter he received from Araña. It basically says that everyone she cares about is either hurt or in danger of being hurt by Amun. She's going to settle things with Amun once and for, but even if she succeeds she has no plans to come back to work as the Hunter.

Nina is angry with Anya, she believes that Anya has given up on her responsibilities. The matter should be brought to the board. Ted sees things differently. He plans to go and find Anya and explain things to her. Nina refuses to help. Her actions are coloured by her feelings for Miguel, just as Ted's are governed by his feelings for Anya. But maybe Ted has the better point. Anya doesn't know that Miguel literally can't live with her. He gets on his bike and cycles off into the city hoping to track Anya electronically. However, as soon as he leaves he is spotted by a man in a brown suit called, The Tiger.

It is dusk, Anya is sitting in a bell tower overlooking the city, when who should swing past but the ever-amazing, Spider-Man! Seems that Spidey has been hearing much about Araña's crime-fighting shenanigans and wants to meet her. They start chatting, and Anya tells Spidey that she's resigned from the superhero-biz. She also mentions that she got her powers from something called the Great Weaver, which puts Spider-Man in mind of that supernatural spider- entity he met on one of his escapades with Doctor Strange back in Amazing Spider-Man (vol 2) #46.

Anya tells Spidey that some weirdo has learned her secret identity which has put all her friends and family in danger. She has hung up the mask to protect them. Spidey understands wanting to do that, but he tells her that "with great power must also come great responsibility" (I'm sure I've heard that somewhere before). He gives her a pep talk and convinces her that she should follow her destiny. Anya isn't a protector, she's a hunter and it's her job to stop the perps before they can hurt her family.

Suddenly they are interrupted by Ted. The bicycle-riding computer jockey shoots past the bottom of the church tower pursued by two cars filled with armed men. Anya leaps off the tower onto one of the cars and begins to disarm the foes, while Ted babbles an explanation that these are 'killers from his past'. Spidey lends a hand and webs the two cars together so that they crash. Anya thanks him and he swings off into the city.

With the goons unconscious, Anya rounds on Ted. He tells her that she has to come back to Webcorps, and hands Anya her mother's locket that Miguel took from her back in Amazing Fantasy #1. Ted says that Miguel is in a really bad state, that the Webcorps board hasn't told her everything, that she must return.... then their conversation is interrupted by the arrival of Amun.

Anya protects Ted from the assassin and then summons her protective exo- skeleton. They fight, and Anya angrily calls on Amun to attack her and not her friends. Amun doesn't seem particularly ashamed by his current tactics and dumps her into a near-by fountain. Suddenly, Anya starts to drown. Ted tells her to retract the carapace, that it can't take the water, but Amun silences him. Yet the advice was enough. Anya absorbs the carapace back into her tattoo and clambers out of the water. She is no longer armoured, but she's annoyed. One might even say possessed.

She is the Hunter. The Hunter controls the game. The Hunter strikes first. She uses her bolas and wraps up Amun in the rope. Ted can see what is happening, he warns Anya not to unleash her rage because Miguel is not here to help her control it. But she isn't listening. Amun has threatened her family, has made her abandon her friends and her life and she is going to make him pay. She loops the rope over a road-sign and pulls. Amun is lifted into the air by his neck. She begins to strangle him.

Amun barely gets his knife to the rope in time and falls bodily to the floor. He is amazed at Anya's ferocity. Ted leaps in-between them, fearful for Anya. He tries to reach her through her rage. He tells Amun to run if he values his life, which the assassin duly does. And then Anya slowly returns to herself, and is rather perplexed to find Ted holding onto her for dear life.

Anya doesn't remember the rage, she just remembers a feeling of having nothing left to lose. Ted said that she released the Spirit of the Hunter, and must never do it again without Miguel around. But he isn't the one to tell her about this, Miguel must do it. Ted tells Anya that she and Miguel are bonded together. In his current condition, Anya's absence is hastening his demise, and he won't recover at all unless she returns. Does she really have any choice in the matter?

In General...

Well, I really enjoyed this issue. It was amusing, witty and dramatic. It tied up some loose ends, and hinted at some interesting stories in the future. The writing was solid, the art was good (especially the cover). All in all, the new standard set by the previous issue has been maintained.

But you know me by now. I always have some gripes. They're minor this month, so I'll get them out of the way quickly. Firstly, the way Spider-Man turns up in the issue is handled badly. I know he's just there as a foil for Anya and to remind her of her responsibilities, but just swinging by with the line "Figured I might find you here" is a bit lame. Why did Spidey think she might be on this particular clock-tower? Again, this is just lazy writing on Avery's part. She wants Spider-Man to be in the book, she has limited pages to work with and so she can't be bothered to come up with a convincing reason for him to be there. Does it spoil the issue? No. Is it a bit annoying? Yes. I would have hoped for better than that.

Secondly, it is established this issue takes place one day after the events of last issue. Anya has been out all night and not returned. But Gil doesn't seem to care about this. He doesn't even mention it. Now it's possible that Gil has been so caught up in his own affairs that he didn't bother to check on his daughter in the morning and just assumes that she is at school, but it does seem out of character for him.

That was the bad, let's talk about the good because there is far more of that in this issue. His arrival was a bit annoying, but using Spider-Man in this issue was a good move on Avery's part. He is the perfect super-hero to give Anya advice, and Avery is using some clever parallel story-telling here. The advice Spidey gives Anya - that her family will understand she has a job to do, even if they don't know what she's doing - is the same thing that Gil says to Dan in the opening scene. Nicely done.

And let us not forget Spidey's own links with the Spider Society. Anya told Spidey that the Great Weaver gave her powers, and he definitely overheard Ted talking about Webcorps. Spidey should know that Anya is connected to Ezekiel's organisation and if he is being written even partially in character, that is not something he is going to let drop. I hope we see more of Spider-Man in this title, Anya could use his advice and his help when she moves against Webcorp's board of directors (which I think will inevitably happen at some point).

Avery was also wise in keeping Spidey's material help down to a minimum. He aided her against the thugs, but swung off before Amun arrived. This is good narrative practice because Amun is Anya's villain, not Spidey's and she should be the one to take him down. Plus Spidey could probably knock the snotty-nosed little punk into next week without breaking a sweat, which would just make Araña look bad.

The fight against Amun was handled particularly well. It's probably the best fight scene in the book to date. Finally we see this Spirit of the Hunter, mentioned in the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe; finally we see Anya consumed by the Hunter and overcome with the red mist of battle. This was the same thing that let her kill all those wolves back in Amazing Fantasy #5, but it was never explained then (leaving a confused reader to read between the lines). It is explained now, and the book benefits immensely because of it.

And so we know that Amun is not unstoppable, that Anya can take him down if she has to. We find out what happened to Anya's locket. We learn that Anya and Miguel are tied to one another (although I'm sure most of us suspected that already). We finally get to see Dan, who was first mentioned back in Amazing Fantasy #1, and who asks all the questions I hope Avery is going to answer. And the whole business about Anya not being about to survive in water while armoured up is explored.

My word. Makes me hungry for the next issue, and that can only be a good sign.

Overall Rating...

Well, Spidey appears and that has to be worth a bonus half-web, right? But even if he wasn't here the quality of last month's issue has been maintained. This series started shakily, but I'm liking it more and more with each successive issue. Four webs.

Footnote...

Well, the sales figures are in and I have to say that it doesn't look good for Ms Corazon. If you recall, issue #1 showed a slight improvement over the Amazing Fantasy issues, but this has not been sustained. Issue #2 sold 22,131 copies - that's 7712 less than issue #1, and 1782 less than Amazing Fantasy #6. The downward spiral continued with issue #3 selling 20,002 copies.

Let's put this is in context with other Marvel comics sold in March 2005. Rogue sold 22,328 copies and has been recently cancelled. Gambit sold 21,509 copies and has been recently cancelled. Captain America and the Falcon sold 20,098 copies and has been recently cancelled. Does anyone begin to see a pattern here?

This is also the first issue where Araña has been outsold by Spider-Girl. Some fans might crow about this, but I'm not one of them. Arguably Araña is exactly the sort of comic Marvel should be publishing, and they have gone to great lengths to publicise and promote this title. The fact it is selling so badly reflects poorly on them and poorly on the industry as a whole. Marvel tried to use Araña to entice non- readers into comics. If they came, they didn't hang around for long - presumably because they didn't like what they saw. What will it take to get those non-readers to try comics again after being so thoroughly disappointed the first time?

I think Marvel backed the wrong horse with Araña. It's a perfectly adequate comic, but it's not the comic they hoped it would be. And it's evidently not the comic that the 42,000 readers that bought Amazing Fantasy #1 but didn't buy Araña #3, hoped it would be.

Which is all a bit of a shame really. This comic does seem to be getting better. This issue, and the last, were actually quite good. Araña is finding her feet, but she may be finding them a little too late to survive in today's harsh marketplace.

But I don't want to be a doom merchant. Predicting the demise of a comic has the tendency to turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy and we're not there yet. Araña #7 appears in the solicitations for July. It's the first part of a six-issue arc so the comic is safe until issue #12. They have nine months to turn things around, and the readers have nine months to encourage them to do just that.

If you like Araña, if you really want this title to survive, now is the time to do something about it. Don't wait for the cancellation notice in eight months time and then complain about it on the Newsarama message- boards. By then it will already be too late. Write to Marvel (genuine ink-on- paper has a more profound effect in these modern times), and tell them how much your enjoy the title and that you want to see it continue.

That's all I'll say on the matter. You either care about the title enough to do something about it, or you don't and I'm not here to persuade you either way. But be assured that I'll be here reviewing it to the bitter end, however close or far away that turns out to be.