Arana #7

 Title: Arana
 Posted: 2005
 Staff: Neil McClean (E-Mail)


Those devilish chaps at the Sisterhood of the Wasp are organising a summit for crime lords of all shapes, sizes and proclivities. The reason for this has not been revealed, but our heroes from Webcorps are out to stop them! However, Anya and the Wasps' golden-boy Amun have come to something of an 'understanding' of late. How will that affect what is come? Read on....

Story Details

  Arana #7
Arc: Part 1 of 'Night of the Hunter' (1-2-3-4-5-6)
Articles: Arana

Anya has been given an assignment to write a paper on her childhood using the third person. In the writing some more of Anya's history is revealed. It seems as though Anya's mother was murdered by a Mexican tyrant who made the land and the people of the area suffer. Shortly after her death, Anya and her father moved to America. However, Anya is finding it difficult to transfer all these painful memories to paper, and is pleased when she gets a call from Webcorps.

Anya is late for a combat training session with Nina, and this does little to enamour Anya to her tutor. Anya is surprised by Nina's hostility and resentment toward her; she thought they had got past all that. Nina is still bitter that Anya was selected as the Chosen One and not her. It makes their fight brutal and "honest".

Miguel interrupts the girls. They have a briefing on this gathering of crimelords, and must do all they can to prevent such a dangerous alliance. Miguel is particularly worried that someone called Lady Chi is going to be involved. He tries to thank Nina for taking the time to teach Anya, but warns her to be careful not to push the girl too far, in case she unleashes the Hunter. Nina rejects his concern: "Don't even pretend you care when you're still the same cold jerk."

Meanwhile, Lady Chi has arrived in her private jet. She is of Clan Fei, and is representing the Serpent of the Triads at the crime conference. Chi has rejected an offer of protection from the Sisterhood of the Wasp, believing she is more than capable of taking care of herself. This has annoyed Vincent, and he and Amun are still keeping on eye on her from a distance.

Lady Chi is a beautiful oriental lass who can kill men with her touch. Her ego is slightly larger than Fin Fang Foom and she surrounds herself with sycophantic yes-men. Any of her aides that are not quite sycophantic enough she quickly executes, just to teach the others a lesson in servility. She is accompanied by her father, who is fearful of her. In a piece of shameless exposition, he points out that the Serpent of the Triads is twice as old and twice as accomplished as the Sisterhood of the Wasp, and he considers their hosts to be entirely inferior. Lady Chi departs in her limousine shadowed by Amun.

Back at Webcorps, Anya has finished her debriefing and is in the underground car park working on a Vespa she has acquired. She is using her technical know- how and Ted's illegal contacts to soup up the vehicle. She muses she might call it the Webspa, or perhaps the Spidey-Scooter, although this is largely to wind up Miguel who is being his usual stuffy and intractable self. He cannot seem to get over the fact it's pink, and questions whether she is old enough to have a scooter. Anya says that she has cleared everything with Sanderson on the board.

In the big city, Lady Chi has a craving for ice cream and stops at a Jen and Berry's emporium to taste the wares. Her heavies cause a ruckus, and legitimate customers start fleeing. She has some ice cream and menaces a terrified sales assistant. However, a familiar bolas knocks Chi's poisonous hand away from her victim: Araña has arrived, deftly avoiding the hail of bullets that streak toward her.

It seems Chi is intent on poisoning the ice cream with her touch. Araña knocks it out of her hand again, which incenses her enough to tell her gun- toting flunkies to stand down while she deals with the girl herself.

Meanwhile, in the car outside Chi's father hears the ruckus and gets out to help. He is confronted by Miguel. The father proves he by far the better physical combatant, but Miguel easily bests him using his magic. He imprisons Papa Fei in a magical net.

Amun finally arrives and sees the fight going on in the ice cream parlour. He runs toward the fray, but is distracted by Miguel who easily entangles him with Papa Fei. Amun is suddenly at Miguel's mercy, in a complete reversal of the situation last issue. Miguel says: "I may not be allowed to kill you for the night you almost killed me, but I will make your life a waking nightmare from now on."

Inside, Araña backs away from Lady Chi seemingly scared of her deadly touch. Chi manoeuvres Araña so that she is within reach, and forces Araña to grab her bare skin. It looks as though she has won, but our heroine has come prepared with a magical coating to her skin that has neutralised the poison. Lady Chi is quickly subdued.

Miguel calls in clean-up crews to deal with the local authorities and Lady Chi is taken into custody by Webcorps. Anya asks where all the bad guys they catch are taken; does Webcorps work with the police? Miguel says that their actions are sanctioned, but the relationship with local law enforcement is a complicated one. Anya mentions her homework assignment and confesses to Miguel that she remembers very little of her mother or her time living in Mexico. Ominously, Miguel thinks this is a very good thing.

Meanwhile Amun and Papa Fei are still wrapped up in that magical net. They are harangued by a passing clown.

General Comments

Heavens, it's a stand-alone story. That's something you don't see very often these days, although this is presumably the beginning of a new arc centring around the crime conference. Maybe we'll have one new villain each issue from now on?

We're back to solid superhero fare with this month, which is all very well and good but I'm a little disappointed that it hasn't built upon the new dimension to Amun and Anya's relationship chronicled in the last issue. Presumably we'll get back to that next time, as Amun is now a captive of Webcorps along with Papa Fei.

It is odd but although none of the creative team has changed, the art in this issue looks slightly different. It is softer and a little more cartoony that Brooks's usual work. Anya's hair also looks less like a brown pineapple. I can only assume this is a deliberate change in style, although I'm at a loss to suggest why. The writing is also lighter, an effort seems to have been made to produce wittier dialogue; and the plot itself has descended to levels of whimsy previously unseen in this comic.

Is all this a deliberate change to try and sell more issues of the comic or the digest? If it is, I'm not convinced it's going to work. Avery has delivered an utterly middle-of-the-road tale. It is technically competent, but boasts no great virtue or damning flaw. It's reminiscent of her work on the character in the Amazing Fantasy run. Lady Chi is little more than a two-dimensional character, and Avery doesn't try to build her up as anything more than a quirky, throwaway villain.

The crime conference story-arc doesn't grip me in the slightest. We've been here dozens of times in Marvel comics over the years and nothing suggests that Avery has an original or entertaining spin to put on these events. Far more interesting would be a return to the supporting cast and work on the characters of Gil, Lynn and Amun. Although to be fair, we do see a little time given to Nina's character in this issue which is quite welcome.

I have a little space left, so I think now is the time to raise something that's been bugging me for a while. It's not a particular criticism of this issue, but applies to the series as a whole. I speak of the magic used by Miguel and Vincent. There has been no explanation or definition of Miguel's powers or limitations. He simply seems to be able to do whatever the plot requires of him - his powers are as diverse as putting enemies to sleep, to flashes of light to an anti-poison overcoat as seen in this issue. He is the mage of the Spider-Society: shouldn't his powers be more... well, spidery?

At the moment Miguel is simply the Swiss-army knife of mages. Any and all magic in fiction is preposterous mumbo-jumbo. It is up the writer to couch and justify it in such a way that the reader accepts and understands it. Well, there is no justification for Miguel's powers except for the fact he's a wizard. This might be good enough if you're playing Dungeons and Dragons, but shows a distinct weakness of imagination in published fiction.

Compare Miguel to Doctor Strange. Both can use their powers for seemingly any eventuality, but we know where Strange's power comes from. He has dark books and incantations, he draws power from a bunch of Lovecraftian horrors with unpronounceable names. Miguel has none of this. He describes his magic as "shamanist", but we see no trappings of the shaman, no materials, no fetish, no totem.... This is a definite weakness, and should be addressed.

Overall Rating

A standard tale of superheroics. The stuff with the Vespa was amusing but not enough to raise the issue beyond the average. Disappointing after last month. Three webs.

 Title: Arana
 Posted: 2005
 Staff: Neil McClean (E-Mail)