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​​​​​​​Spider-Man: Reign (Marvel Comics, 2007; #1-4)

Buckle up, because this is a weird one.

To be fair, I knew going in that this is a weird one.  That (and the fact that I like Kaare Andrews’s work) is why I sought it out.  Its core concept is simple: it’s a Spider-Man version of The Dark Knight Returns.  At its onset, Peter is an old man who works for a florist.  He struggles to make ends meet.  His life is a shambles.  And then J. Jonah Jameson knocks on his door to give him a camera and a Spider-Man mask before taking his own place as a revolutionary.

Why does Jonah need to lead a revolution?  Well, NYC’s mayor rules under martial law.  And he is on the verge of turning on the Webb, a laser-shield* that will cut the city off from the rest of the country.  And Jonah suspects that there’s more to the mayor’s plan that anyone lets on.

Reign is a lot bleaker than I normally look for in my comics—especially Spider-Man books.  But that’s personal preference, and I knew what I was in for.  Andrews trades in some heavy ideas: authoritarianism and its costs to society; the ways monsters hide in the shadows and multiply when they can’t win outright; how grief can break a person.  Peter spends most of the story in mourning and denial, and only once he accepts his losses and failures can he move on, for instance.  Jonah seems to start the story having just come through the same process.  But the most interesting story beat to me—one which surprised me—belongs to Sandman.  In a story about the weight of grief, he finds the opposite:  something to make him stand up and fight.

Andrews takes the lead on art duty for Reign as well, with Jose Villarrubia backing him up.  As tends to be he case when Andrews draws for his own scripts, layout and pacing shine brightest.  He brings a filmic quality to the table—not simply in terms of individual, cinematic images, but in the ways that his panels, no matter how simple, flow from one to the next in a careful rhythm.

This is a tough book to recommend.  It’s an interesting read, and potentially a rewarding one.  But it’s also a drastic departure from what tends to make a Spider-Man story work.  In some ways, it’s an inversion of that; but in others, it’s something else entirely—this might be the shadow of TDKR looming over the story.  It has a lot of ideas; some develop more than others, and not all come to any specific conclusion.  Instead, you have to chew on them.  That might feel jumbled to some—I certainly feel jumbled in trying to break down its ideas in a concise way.  It seems easiest to suggest checking it out as a curiosity; that’s certainly how I came to it, and I appreciate it as such.  

* Michel Foucault, eat your heart out.

Collected in

  • Spider-Man: Reign (#1-4)

Writer: Kaare Andrews | Artist: Kaare Andrews with Jose Villarrubia | Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos | Assistant Editor: Michael O’Connor | Editor: Axel Alonso

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