THE BACK ISSUES: Spider-Man: Reign — The Dark Spider Returns

Welcome all to the first installment of “THE BACK ISSUES.” This is going to be a semi-regular (at least when I get around to reading some good stuff) comic review column about independent, and lesser known comics. I’ll also be touching on some story arcs, titles you may have skipped, and graphic novels from the big two (DC and Marvel) as well. This all came out of me mentioning a comic series to Nix called “Irredeemable.” He basically said the idea of the comic was cool and that others should know about titles they may have just looked passed or hadn’t heard of. I personally think that some of these lesser known titles would make great films, and Hollywood apparently agrees, snatching them up right and left.

My first installment however is actually not an independent title, but a comic from Marvel, called “Spider-Man: Reign.” Published as a four issue mini-series and written and drawn by Kaare Andrews, “Reign” is best described as “The Dark Knight Returns” for Spiderman. The parallels are all there; an elderly Spiderman is forced out of retirement to face the corrupt regime, called “The Reign” that has taken control of New York City, the return of several of the hero’s adversaries, and the realization that no matter what happens in a hero’s life they can’t escape their destiny. Interspersed throughout the books are news reports about the Mayor and his ten year rule of the city and it’s lack of superpowered crime, featuring news anchor Janson Miller (named after Frank Miller and Klaus Janson who worked on “TDKR”. And there’s the political aspect as well, but where “TDKR” was a product of the Reagan Era, this is a product of post 9/11 terrorism. I mentioned the Mayor’s policy against super powered crime, though it is referred to as super terrorism in the book. The art is even similar but it is all done lovingly, and is a very well done homage, while telling it’s own story. In it we get a very personal, touching, and somewhat sad narrative by Peter Parker mostly, but joined by a few others towards the end. It sounds pretty straightforward but it’s in the execution that really puts this piece over the top for me, and had it been longer would stand on a level very close to the work that obviously inspired it.

Where “Reign” deviates from “TDKR” is simply in the story it has to tell. Where as Bruce Wayne’s story in “TDKR” was a personal one about him fighting the beast that is Batman within him, and never truly being happy let alone content with his life after giving up the cape and cowl, this is about Peter’s remembering that no matter what happens in life, “with great power comes great responsibility.” If you’re a fan of the character you know that no matter what Peter does the right thing, and here we’re presented with a grey bearded, bespectacled and bow tie wearing Peter Parker, who hasn’t donned the red and blues for a decade. He sits at home, alone in his house, talking to Mary Jane. Yes I said sits at home alone. Mary Jane is gone. I’m not saying how because it’s a major reveal and a heart wrenching one at that. And the city he lives in is in dire need of saving. J.Jonah Jameson is a crotchety old man that seems part crazy old coot, part prophet, and it seems like most of the other people in Peter’s life escaped the city while they still could. And yet the citizens still display hope, with kids spraying “Where did you go?” on walls in reference to their friendly neighborhood hero. Once Peter returns to web swinging the story ramps up considerably, but it still has some great touches. The inner dialogue of Spiderman is great and reminded me of “TDKR” again but instead of the “Baptism by rain” scene where Bruce says he feels a man of 20 again, we get an almost dual personality where Spidey is still the quipster, and Peter feels he’s watching from a far and commenting on things.

I won’t spoil things as it’s really a fun read, but I will say this: I had a few questions reading “Reign”. Much like I did with “TDKR” but at least they explained things. In “TDKR” it takes place in Gotham, of course, but there is still some mention as to what happened to some of the other heroes in the world. Marvel’s biggest issue with me has been that EVERYONE is in NYC or the area. So for me reading this and seeing NO OTHER heroes or not even having them mentioned is a little strange. Also missing, one Norman Osborne. I’m sorry but he really should’ve been a part of this story in some way. I’d love a sequel that takes place a bit later with Osborne trying to retake the city on both fronts, as Mayor and as The Green Goblin. But I digress. “Spider-Man: Reign” was my first pick for this column because it flew right under the radar, even for a comic fan such as myself. I had heard of it but forgot all about it until I read a review for it somewhere. And that brings us full circle to the opening of this review. “Reign” is a great story, published by one of the big two and yet it still went under appreciated. So I’m letting you all know that if you’re a fan of “TDKR” or of Spiderman or just plain old good storytelling and fun, you should check this out.

Buy Spider-Man: Reign on Trade Paperback