(Cross-posted from Goodreads!)
What a fitting title: the Graveyard Shift trade paperback collects what would be the final issues of Amazing Spider-Man before Marvel decided to revamp their entire canon with Secret Wars, the event that collapsed the Marvel Multiverse into a single continuity (which is why the previous Spidey arc, Spider-Verse, was a now-or-never kind of deal) that takes from various side-continuities (long story). So how does Spidey’s last gasp in the ‘traditional’ Marvel canon go? Does he go out with a bang? Does it foreshadow the upcoming multiversal collapse, as with Miles Morales’ final issue in the Ultimate universe?
Mmm…nope, it’s not touched on at all. So what’s here?
What we get instead is a fairly slight (four issues) trade paperback that deals with two concurrent arcs: a transient entity called The Ghost, with a hate-on for corporations and a series of anti-tech tools at his disposal, has invaded Parker Industries (the venture that Otto Octavius made when he had planted his mind in Peter Parker’s body during Superior Spider-Man, and when Peter got his body back he found he owned his own company and…just go with it) and threatens to bring it all to the ground – both ideologically, and the old-fashioned way.
Meanwhile, you’ve got the Black Cat continuing her no-holds-barred crime spree, this time re-stealing the parts of her priceless collection that were recently sold at public auction after her incarceration.
Let’s talk about the Black Cat thing.
Great stories invoke an unbroken chain of cause-and-effect. Actions have logical reactions which spiral into consequences. To me, the master of cause-and-effect is the TV series Breaking Bad: it’s all about a slow burn of decisions and deceptions causing unforeseen (but logical) consequences (one whole season even revolved around the complex constellation of interconnected events that leads to a disaster that I won’t spoil for those of you who haven’t yet marathonned the show). So when Walter White transforms from Ned Flanders into Fat Tony, it feels organic, not forced.
Black Cat’s transformation from goodish-hearted cat burglar who acts on occasion as an uninhibited temptress for Spider-Man, to a ruthless sociopath who always picks the renegade option regardless, isn’t justified by what little cause-and-effect it’s given. To wit – when Doc Ock was in Spidey’s body, he clocked the Black Cat and left her for the police. Now, in fairness, while she languished in prison, she did think it was actually Peter who did that. But she breaks out, and then we get this ‘thing’ about how she has to be ruthless and cruel, and gain her street cred back by being uncompromising, because ‘The Spider’ disrespected her.
Now, in the trade paperback The Parker Luck, when the Black Cat confronts Spidey as he’s responding to a fire, he does the correct and logical thing and tells her straight-up that it wasn’t him, it was Doc Ock in his body. Her response isn’t that she doesn’t believe him. It’s – and I quote – “I don’t care!”
And with that, the cause-and-effect chain just shatters, because the character’s motivations become completely invalid, an “evil for evil’s sake” caricature. All of a sudden, she is evil because the plot wants her to be evil, not because her character development calls for it.
Some have called this character assassination. I call it a great teachable moment in how not to write. And the reason I’m talking about all this in a review for Graveyard Shift is, the Cat’s arc would be otherwise enjoyable if not for the specter of this badly-written plot point hanging over it. (Then again, there are people – a not-insignificant number of people – who can’t stand anything beyond the infamous One More Day arc because everything that follows is necessarily a by-product of One More Day’s enforced status quo – so that’s a larger-scale example of stories having a pall cast over them by what came before.) There’s a mention that maybe her bad-luck powers are affecting her mind; please let it be something like that, because it’s an easy escape-clause that explains away her out-of-character nature here (and to be honest, when a character acts in a way that is utterly unjustified by cause-and-effect, calling them OOC is fair game) and lets me, and other readers to be sure, invest emotionally in what would otherwise be a nice “character turning darkside” arc.
That said, don’t get me wrong – I do like Graveyard Shift. The art is helmed by Humberto Ramos, and while some people don’t much like his style (his grasp on human anatomy can sometimes generously be called ‘interpretive’), I like him: his style works well for the kinetic, highly animate nature of the genre. And with the number of action scenes per capita in Graveyard Shift, Ramos pulls it off like a dream.
And speaking of action scenes, that first scene – where Spidey is fighting an army of reptiles led by obscure villain Iguana, and trying to Bluetooth his way through several conversations at the same time, causing the villain to be downright baffled at his surreal multitasking – is terrific. I laughed out loud as Pete tried to give a rousing speech to his co-worker Sajani about the importance of prison as a source of rehabilitation while beating the snot out of Iguana. This is exactly the scene that we needed to get grounded back in classic Spidey-land after the oftentimes crowded nature of Spider-Verse.
Once The Ghost attacks Parker Industries, it’s quite a fun arc: not only does the antagonist character just have a cool aesthetic to my eyes, but the action-heavy segments make full use of Ramos’s vivid art and feature Pete, Anna Maroni and Sajani working to their own ends to try and avert the catastrophe.
I do have to talk about Sajani, though: back before Horizon Labs became (Spoiler spoiler) Alchemax, she was a stubborn, blunt, but ultimately human character, whereas ever since Pete got his body back, it seems like it’s been decided that Sajani should attempt to negate everything Peter says or does, like a reverse echo chamber. (At the very least, she does have an excuse in that she wanted to focus Parker Industries on cybernetics, which was Ock’s field of expertise, while Peter wants to fund and design a rehabilitory prison for super-criminals.) I was tentatively okay with that until Graveyard Shift, when Sajani attempts to actively partner with the super-terrorist to wreck Pete’s plans. The Ghost’s reaction (It doesn’t go as she hoped) could very well be considered a logical redress to Sajani’s hubris and the fact that she just crossed a moral Rubicon by trying to side with a super-villain, but nothing is made of it. Come on, anything to surprise us: maybe while trying to negotiate with The Ghost, she could see a more human side of him for a moment and realizes that maybe Peter’s idea of reforming villains has merit. Something, anything that counts as character development beyond “alpha bitch”.
While Dan Slott’s era of Spider-Man has its highs and lows, I will happily state that I enjoy his fast-paced stories (I Killed Tomorrow, in the Trouble On The Horizon hardback/TPB, being a personal favourite that plays to the man’s strengths as a creator) and the way he invests so much energy into his stories – you can tell he’s excited to be writing these and some of that excitement inevitably transfers to the reader, even when that same reader is scratching their head over plot contrivances or other literary booboos. But I’ll always remain guardedly optimistic that he can, at the very least, turn in an entertaining story.
This arc, though, is a mixed bag: in Spidey terms, we’ve got pumpkin bombs and jackpots. In terms of fun action and ‘that good ol’ Spidey feel’, it hits the jackpot, but dig deeper into the character motivations and cause-and-effect chains, and there are some low-ordinance pumpkin bombs waiting to go boom.
The metaphor got away from me a bit, yeah, but I think three out of five stars is fair for this one. It’s an entertaining read.