Set in a distant future, New York City has traded its freedom for security. Mayor Waters has turned the city into a dictatorship, and his enforcers are a police unit called the Reign, who brutally carries out the Mayor's laws. His plan is to completely isolate the city inside of a laser powered barrier called the WEBB. Most of the public are in favor of it, while one man senses something amiss, former Daily Bugle owner J. Jonah Jameson. He vows Spider-man will return some day to free them from the demons who now control the city and their fates. -summary
Spider-Man: Reign written by Kaare Andrews was released in a four part issue series beginning in 2006 - 2007. The story is part of Marvel's The End line, which are stories that take place in possible futures but outside of main Marvel continuity; they are very similar to DC's Elseworlds. They tell the tale of certain superheroes or groups at the end of their careers.
While reading the story, it's pretty obvious that the core concept was heavily influenced by Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns. Marvel has tried in the past to imitate Batman through Spider-Man which really isn't an easy thing; two stories that come to mind are Kraven's Last Hunt and Torment. The former succeeded because Spider-Man took a backseat to Kraven, who was completely driven mad by obsession. The latter was a failure because it was far too moody and very dark to be a Spider-Man story, with the focus being solely on him. Batman is much darker and that type of setting doesn't fit with the wall-crawler. I'm not sure if it was intentional, but Andrews was able to find some kind of balance here.
This story is pretty well written all around with very few flaws. Andrews did a very good job developing the city. Mayor Waters rules with an iron fist and The Reign are his sword of justice. The rogue police group have full authority to carry out their orders by any means necessary; brutally beating the elderly and homeless children is not beneath them at all, some of the sentries gleefully describe their atrocities towards the innocent.
There are some themes being used here, with the most notable being the completely forsaking of a higher power, by removing church bells and crosses from the public. This does play into the plot later on, but Andrews was definitely saying something here. In the case of the characters, some of them are very well developed while others are meant to further drive home the themes as simple plot devices. Peter Parker and Jameson are the stand outs here; in the case of the former, you realize how much Mary Jane meant to him, as he sinks very deep into his depression to the point where he believes she's having dinner with him, and even ignoring him during his time of need. As a long time fan of the character, it really wasn't easy seeing him in this way feeling so hopeless and trapped in the body of a decrepit old man. And Jameson, being pro Spider-Man and having full faith in his arch-wallcrawling-nemesis is something for the record books.
I thought the multiple plot twists came out of left field but in a good way though. I remember being constantly surprised with this one, from how Peter survived his savage beating at the hands of the newly formed Sinister Six, referred to as the Sinner Six here, to the reasoning behind Mary Jane's death. Some people feel that this story lacks the depth of The Dark Knight Returns, and this may be true, but I think this story has its own share of brilliance though. Bruce Wayne quit being Batman because of age, while Peter Parker's reason for quitting runs far deeper than that.
In the same vain as DKR, the city is a character here, and the artwork assists in the development. The entire story appears to take place at night in a rain-filled backdrop. The use of the darker colors works in developing the sense of despair and hopelessness. There was a good amount of effort put into the backgrounds even during the fights, with the buildings giving off this eerie look as if they all have been abandoned. I also feel that the character designs have an authentic feel; Spider-Man, Electro, and even Scorpion, really do look like old men in their costumes. They appear very thin and frail. I really like this approach, because we get to see that even superheroes and villains can't forever escape the clock. As for the action panels, they can be very brutal, and watching the elderly Spider-Man taking such a savage pummeling gave me a bit of a squeamish feel.
The only issue I have with this mini-series is the under-developed back story. NYC was able to get rid of all the costume crime fighters and villains. But how exactly? Although the fate of the villains was hinted, I still find the setting hard to buy into. Some background on how they were able to rid the city of superheroes would have been very nice. This is a flaw that really isn't too damaging since the rest of the story contained absolutely no filler.
So is Spider-Man: Reign a rip off of DKR? I don't think so, since it doesn't try to be anything more than a superhero vs. super villain story. Did this story have the same impact on the Spider-Man mythos like DKR did for Batman? As a faithful follower of the wall-crawler, not at all. The Spider-Man universe never seemed really effected to me and this story really didn't break any new ground, and I seriously doubt it's going to have the lasting effect of DKR. That story is talked about even after 25 years, while this one, sadly, will probably be brushed to the side later as just another Spider-Man story, but that's no reason not to give it a shot. This story will no doubt appeal to Spider-Man fans, and I also think it will prove to be a good read for casual readers. Recommended.
-Character development, artwork, effective plot twists
-Some back story would have been great
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