Top positive review
"When I do find the Chameleon, I will hire him to be me ALL THE TIME."
Reviewed in the United States on December 22, 2009
Fred Van Lente takes time out from his very cool INCREDIBLE HERCULES stuff to write a three-part Spidey arc featuring the Chameleon, and that, plus the last issue included here, would've merited this trade full marks if only the damn thing weren't so short. AMAZING SPIDER-MAN: THE RED-HEADED STRANGER collects issues #602-605 of the ongoing series, a mere four issues which I finished way too quickly.
The main adversary is the Chameleon who is back to his typical shenanigans, using his uncanny knack for mimicry and applying that face putty gun thingee of his, to flawlessly assume other people's identities. Before this story, I've pretty much dismissed the Chameleon as a forgettable poor man's Mysterio, so Fred Van Lente does something which past writers hadn't been able to do, which is elevate Chammy to a formidable and serious player in my eyes. The opening scene reveals how he disposes of his victims once he's mastered their voices and captured their likeness, and, honestly, I'm not too clued in on past Chameleon stories, but I don't recall the guy being this menacing or cold-blooded.
Possible SPOILERS now.
If you're not caught up to recent Spidey happenings, Aunt May has just tied the knot to J. Jonah Jameson's father (making J. Jonah and Peter into bickering brothers-in-law) and J. Jonah himself was elected Mayor of New York City. And it shouldn't surprise anyone that the new mayor's pet agenda is deploying his official Anti-Spider Squad to nab the webhead. But even J. Jonah's fixation on Spidey isn't enough to keep the city machinery from functioning. Case in point, the Office of Emergency Management has just established a "Shadow" Command Center, of which location is kept purposely undisclosed in the event of a terrorist attack. The Chameleon means to unearth this location and teach New York a lesson. To do this, he targets a photographer newly hired to the mayoral inner circle. He targets Peter Parker. And then he captures Peter Parker and adopts his identity.
The biggest elephant in the room, of course, is will the Chameleon stumble onto Peter's alter ego. It's also interesting to see how the Chameleon infiltrates Peter's life and we check out his reactions, puzzled and scornful but then bemused when, as Peter, he keeps running into Peter's lovely lady friends. This happens in issue #603 and this story, marked with the absence of the real Peter Parker, is noteworthy in that it examines Peter's relationships as seen thru the Chameleon's eyes. As such, Van Lente writes a pretty compelling story. I won't mention what the Chameleon does, except to say that he turns out to be a pretty complex cat and he surprised me a bit with his actions and words and his insights. And, just when you start thinking "Man, just how much dooodoo can this guy land Peter in?" the Chameleon ends up doing stuff to which later on Peter - who, was there any doubt, has escaped Chammy's trap - reacts wonderingly with: "When I do find the Chameleon, I will hire him to be me ALL THE TIME." But then later, later on, it comes around and Peter wants to moiderize him again. Some of the Chameleon's actions as Peter, particularly what he says to Flash Thompson, are bound to have uncool repercussions. But, certainly, there's plenty of humor in Peter trying to pick up the pieces of his life what got trampled on by the no-face master of disguise.
The big news for me, though, is finally the return of Mary Jane and it looks like she's here to stay for the foreseeable future. Yeah, I know, she'd already shown up in an earlier issue, catching the bouquet at Aunt May's wedding, but this is the first time she and Peter have a real interaction. In the double-sized issue #605, we at last learn what went down between Peter and Mary Jane, what caused their break-up and what MJ's been up since then. We also learn that MJ still knows that Peter is Spider-Man. But, like Pete, she doesn't remember the One More Day fiasco. Nothing earth-shaking happens between these two; it's too soon for anything to happen, if anything even will. In fact, MJ believes that Peter is now with someone else. And, yeah, again, if you're behind on your Spidey soap opera, then know that Peter accidentally slept with his incredibly bossy roommate Michelle.
The last chapter in issue #605 (there are three chapters) has Peter exploring the wacky world of online dating. Brian Reed writes a fun short story. And, again, that sad sack Parker luck comes into play.
I'm liking Fred Van Lente more and more as a Spidey scribe. He's got it all down, character development, interesting story arcs, and an element of fun and funny. I also like that J. Jonah sort of gets his comeuppance with regards to the Anti-Spider Squad. But, guys, seriously, you're missing out if you haven't checked out THE INCREDIBLE HERCULES, a series which Van Lente co-writes. Back to this trade, my main beef, as I've said, is that there isn't enough content to warrant paying the asking price. Four issues, even if the last one is double-sized, don't cut it for me and I'm a little steamed I shelled out for this (because I do have the original issues). And I guess I'll also mention that the artwork comes and goes, the inconsistency being brought about by not having one artist handling the artistic chores. Other than that, this trade is really good.