Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #561

 Posted: 2008
 Staff: Neil McClean (E-Mail)


Hollywood star and media target, Bobby Carr is in town. The press want a piece of him and are determined the find the identity of his mystery girlfriend. The unscrupulous Dexter Bennett is working secretly with Carr's publicist; it has already been decided that the DB! will get the exclusive shot, and that the paper's newest paparazzo, Peter Parker, will be taking the picture. But Peter is having second thoughts about the ethics of his new role, a dilemma that will come to a head should he discover that Bobby Carr's new girl is none other than Mary-Jane Watson.

Story 'Photo Finished'

Paperdoll's real name is Piper. She walked into her father's "dimensional compressor" when she was a teenager and came out rather flat. Obsessed with the cult of celebrity, unhinged by what happened to her, and a typical teenager at heart, she ran away from home. In her deranged state she became convinced that Hollywood superstar Bobby Carr was in love with her, and that they were destined to spend eternity together. Now the DB! is calling this mystery girl "the one". Piper isn't happy.

As a murderous Paperdoll closes on their secluded hideaway, Bobby Carr and his secret girlfriend (Mary Jane Watson – you may have heard of her) are having some alone time. They're not as alone as they think. Your friendly neighbourhood paparazzo is in the garden. MJ moves at the last instance and Spidey doesn't get a clear shot. What are the chances?

Spidey pauses to dwell on how morally conflicted he is. Cue a flashback of earlier today at the DB!. Joe Robertson is taking Dexter Bennett to task over his pursuit of Bobby Carr. Anyone who gets on Carr's bad side is targeted by Paperdoll – they can't put a picture of Carr's girlfriend on the front page. They would be signing her death warrant.

Bennett only sees the money coming in. Robbie won't stand for that. He quits. Peter watches him go, unable to summon up the same degree of integrity. He takes Bennett's money and his tip and heads to Carr's secret hideaway in the Hamptons. He tells himself that he is doing this so he can get the jump on Paperdoll and protect Carr. That's right isn't it.

Speak of the devil... Spidey leaps aside as Paperdoll rushes toward the house. He webs his camera to the tree and sets it on automatic (getting a perfect picture of Carr and MJ that he doesn't see) and pursues the villainess. He bumps into the remains of two of Carr's security guards, and is just explaining himself to two others when he hears screams from the house.

Bobby Carr and MJ are lying on the bed. Carr suggests that if they can't go out they should invite MJ's friends around to the house - take the first step. MJ is unwilling to do this. None of her friends or family even know that she's been coming to New York. Carr is surprised, and MJ seems strangely out of sorts. Then Paperdoll pops up from the middle of the duvet and all hell breaks loose.

Paperdoll tries to come on to Carr, but MJ clonks her around the head with a night light. The murderous Paperdoll turns on MJ, ready to vent on her for stealing her man. Carr directs MJ to a panic room in the wardrobe, desperately hanging onto Paperdoll long enough for MJ to get to safety. Paperdoll thrashes about an is mortified that she accidentally struck Carr. As she hovers over him Spidey arrives to save the day.

Spidey and Paperdoll battle, while MJ gives Spidey advice from the panic room. Note that the pair don't actually meet, and Spidey hasn't a clue who's locked in that room. MJ watches the fight on the dozens of monitors in the room. Spidey talks with her, makes a few jokes as he is wont to do when his life is on the line. MJ seems strangely melancholy. "Do I know you?" asks Spidey. "We've met. In another live," she replies.

The battle goes on. When Bobby Carr rushes into save the only picture he has left of his grandpa, Paperdoll hits Spidey and turns his arm into two painful dimensions. Spidey is on the ropes, but then he remembers something that Carlie told him – something about a compressed Paperdoll having no lung capacity. Spidey grabs Paperdoll and wrestles her into the swimming pool. Paperdoll almost succumbs, then reverts to her full 3-D form and heads to the surface. It is at this point that Carr punches her out.

Paperdoll is captured, and Carr and Spidey seem to be bonding. Then the disembodied voice of MJ floats onto the scene. The cops are on their way, Spidey needs to get out of here. Spidey thanks her and swings away. "We made a pretty good team!" he chirps. "Yeah," replies MJ. "Maybe we did... in another life." She touches the image of Spider-Man on the security monitor quite tenderly.

Back at the DB! Peter has had a change of heart. His conversation with Carr has humanised the Hollywood star and he isn't about to hand over the pictures to Dexter Bennett. He offers Bennett some Spidey pics, but Bennett isn't interested in that. Peter breaks the memory stick of his camera without even looking at it. And so Mary Jane remains an anonymous player in this drama - at least as far as Peter is concerned.

Bennett isn't going to take this lying down. He fires Peter on the spot, and makes implicit threats that he is going to make Peter's life very, very difficult. But that is for the future, right now Peter is moving into Vin's apartment and all of his friends are there to help him. During the unpacking, Harry turns up to bury the hatchet with Peter. Pete pays back the money he owes Harry (leaving him with nothing in his wallet as usual). All in all, Peter is feeling pretty good about himself.

At the airport, MJ is debating whether to call Peter. She decides against it. A fan who remembers MJ from her days in Secret Hospital approaches her. It's Sara Ehret (the girl whose name really should be an anagram). For those with a limited memory or a limited time, the MJ look-a-like superheroine Jackpot said her real name was Sara Ehret, although when Spidey confronted Sara she denied it.

MJ signs the autograph and gets on the plane. When will she return?

General Comments

After writing the review of Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #559, I received an email strongly disagreeing with rating I gave the issue. It's nice to get feedback, and I replied only to have that reply bounced back. Now, sometimes we publish letters and our responses on Spiderfan, but I decided rather than do that I would tackle it here. The points raised are as just as relevant to issue #561 as they were to issue #559.

The main thrust of the argument was that Peter Parker was being written incredibly out of character; that Peter Parker has never been as much of a jerk as Dan Slott portrayed him in this arc. This is not an uncommon opinion, in fact it's one that shared by many of the staff here at Spiderfan. This arc in particular has engendered a surprising level of dislike and dismay. Everything from the Spidey's botched chase with mere gymnast in #559 (would he really have fallen into a hot dog stand, really?) to the decisions that Peter makes over the course of the three issues.

Do I think that Peter should have become a paparazzo? No. I don't think he would or should have crossed that line. But I also don't think that it's completely beyond the bounds of possibility that he might. There is a history of Peter being a jerk in the comics. It was Peter being a jerk that got Uncle Ben killed, and although he's learned from that mistake he is still impetuous, and still prone to making mistakes. The central conceit of this arc doesn't sit as poorly with me as it does many others. This still feels like Peter to me.

However, I do have problems with this story - problems that have only really come to a head with this issue. The first problem is the smaller one, and it is that Dan Slott has written a morality play. We could tell exactly where this story was heading from the first few pages of issue #559. Slott tried to distract us with the return of MJ, but the fact is if you can tell how a story is going end only a few pages after you start reading it, then there's something wrong.

Now, Slott is a good writer and he makes the journey an entertaining one. He makes an effort to inject some sympathy and humanity into Bobby Carr. Carr really does risk his life to save MJ, after all. Slott takes a fair stab at highlighting the relationship between the famous and their fans. He shows that there is no black and white here, that Carr has to pretend to be someone he's not in public, and that even someone like Edith Harper (the true victim in this drama) was prepared to take advantage of an opportunity that presented itself. Maybe by the end of the issue we come to understand, as Spidey comes to understand, the intense pressure and continual surveillance that stars like Carr are under. Perhaps we understand his violent outbursts even if we don't condone them.

Because Slott had Spidey acting at the limits of his characterisation in issue #559, we readers could tell what was going to happen. The arc became an exercise in joining the dots, which meant it could never be as compelling as Slott probably wanted it to be. I felt like an observer to the action, rather than being truly involved in it.

The second problem is MJ. And this is not a small problem.

She knows. She remembers the deal cut with Mephisto, she knows what she and Peter had and what they have lost. This is not something I'm getting from the subtext, this is not hinted at - it is explicit. Obviously, this is part of a larger plot that began in One More Day when MJ muttered something to the Prince of Lies. Evidently we are building up to something.

However, that's not the point. If MJ remembers everything then why is she with Bobby Carr? Yes, Slott draws the similarities between Carr's fame and Spider- Man's infamy quite well, but are we really expected to believe that MJ would be with anyone else if she could remember being married to Peter? Now this is a failure of characterisation that I can get behind.

And then there is the art of Marcos Martin. I've seen much worse art than this, but the strangely elongated faces, and ridiculously long fingers of the characters mark him as the weakest artist we've had since the reboot. It all counts against the issue.

Overall Rating

The soap-box narrative doesn't endear itself, and the use of MJ is jarring. Combine this with some disappointing art and I can't give this more than two webs. A shame really.

 Posted: 2008
 Staff: Neil McClean (E-Mail)