Friday, March 14, 2008

Arana: The Heart of the Spider #1

Arana: The Heart of the Spider #1, March 2005, Marvel Comics
writer: Fiona Avery
penciller: Roger Cruz
inker: Victor Olazaba
letterer: VC’s Rus Wootan
colorist: Udon
editor: Jennifer Lee
EIC: Joe Quesada
creative consultant: J. Michael Straczynski

Blogger’s note: Entry for Thursday, March 13, 2008.

“Who would have believed that the next hunter of the Spider Society would be a little girl from Brooklyn?”

Honestly? It isn’t too great a stretch of the imagination.

I remember when Arana was introduced in the pages of Amazing Fantasy volume 2, number 1. Oh, I didn’t buy it, and I still haven’t read it, but I thought that her creation was a bold move on Marvel’s part, an arguably vain attempt to catch lightning in a bottle a second time. You might remember the last time a spider-powered superhero was introduced in a comic book called Amazing Fantasy. Marvel certainly does. The results have reverberated into every aspect of pop culture imaginable, from multimedia entertainment to a crisis of infinite franchising. When Kirby drew that iconic cover of Amazing Fantasy, did he suspect that his webbed hero would grace underroos for year and years to come?

Did the creators of Arana hope for the same success?

Based on this first issue of her self-titled series, writer Fiona Avery certainly utilized the same formula. No, Arana isn’t trying out for the Fantastic Four or battling masks super-villains like the Chameleon. Instead, she’s the primary warrior for a spider-themed cult of do-gooders who, in this issue, are on the trail of a corrupt judge. A majority of this issue is consumed with the pursuit and capture of their quarry, a task easier said than done considering the “Wasp” soldiers he’s paid off to protect him. Political and supernatural suspicions and implications abound in the midst of Arana’s good old-fashioned slugfest with these enemy agents, and when she emerges victorious, she sheds the superhero gear, has dinner with her dad, and goes to sleep. All in a day’s work, I suppose.

So, on the surface, the correlations to Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s Spider-man seem to be in name only. Right . . .?

Well, since Avery tickles the hard-luck hero concept, I’m guessing that her intentions imply that the spider mantle comes with much more than just a goggle-eyed mask. In the opening act, as Arana prowls upon some potential informants, she blows her element of surprise with a sneeze. Then, throughout the issue, she reminds us that she’s got the flu. While this element adds a touch of realism to her adventure, it throws the enigmatic tone of her Spider Society roots into disharmony; further, in this twenty-two page story, eighteen pages are dedicated to the pursuit of the corrupt judge. The final four pages are purely domestic, as Arana spends quality time with her father while her mentor, who I’ll get to in a minute, muses about the direness of their mission. Supporting characters are mentioned by name but never introduced (I assume they appeared in Arana’s Amazing Fantasy run), and the whole secret identity shtick is so rushed it barely registers as relevant. See, I can tell that Avery wanted us to feel for this adolescent girl and her single father, just as we felt for Peter and his single aunt, but since Arana’s worlds weren’t interwoven, the connection is never really made.

Remember, I’m looking Arana #1 as a first issue, not a continuation of a previous title starring the same character. Consider the second episode of the Kids’ WB! Spectacular Spider-man cartoon series; sure, we never saw Aunt May, but Peter’s 10 p.m. reminders to check in offer a funny (enough) tether to his secret identity. That’s all I’m asking for from this issue, too.

Another quick gripe: Arana’s Spider Society mentor is named Miguel. Now, I’ve read some issues of Spider-man 2099 (yes, I’m the only one), and I vividly remembered that his civilian name was Miguel. Considering her mentor’s role in a group called the Spider Society, I thought that these characters might be one in the same. I would’ve appreciated the foundation in something familiar, the link between successors to the spider-throne. Alas, a quick Wikipedia search revealed that these characters are remarkably different. Sigh. Do we really need two Miguels in the spider-verse? Didn’t an editor realize how potentially confusing that might be, or am the only one (er, again)? Incidentally, this Miguel is responsible for this review’s introductory quote. Indeed, who knew?

Don’t get me wrong; Arana: The Heart of the Spider wasn’t a terrible issue. It was a nice infiltration story regarding the judge’s corruptions and subsequent capture, but overall the story’s multiple subtexts were just too disjointed for me. I still sense a smoldering homage to Marvel’s original swinging superhero, especially considering that both characters can be summarized by the following pitch: “Adolescent receives spider-like powers and must balance private life with undeniable responsibility to do good.” Unfortunately, only one character’s synopsis can continue to include: “Becomes comic book and pop culture icon with multiple multimedia and franchised incarnations.” I’ll give you a guess which one.

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