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Spider-Man #234 Review: Continuity (Legacy!) Done Right
Spider-Man #234 is a great example of how to maintain continuity without losing character in the process. Oh, and lucky you, it's the second time Josh Davison and I have reviewed the same book.
Before I get into it, I thought I'd note the oddity that the only two Marvel issues I've reviewed (I tend to avoid Marvel comics due to the price) have been transitory ones more about setup than endgame. It's not so much that I'm grousing that these can't be decent books (both are, but aren't outstanding — All-New Wolverine #23 less amazing than this) which sometimes even overtake their more bombastic, "literal" (more in the comments), action-packed cousins. It's more that since we've been spoiled by the improvements in comic storytelling in the past 30 years, you can feel a little cheated when you don't get a standpoint "OMG" comic — meaning that sometimes conventional dramatic ticks can sometimes just not be enough. So the creative team's handling on this book is key due to the standing that — especially since we're talking Legacy here — Ultimate Spider-Man has always held.
Despite what the cover, bookends (first of which is below), and spoilers might state, this actually a progression issue for Miles, Ganke, Fabio, and Barbara. Here, Brian Michael Bendis shows how well exposition and character work can actually be the same thing. Bendis is also bringing in the soapy elements that are traditionally a part of Spidey's legacy, with love triangles, costumes cast aside (OK that was before, but it's referenced), and even numbers of villains teaming up. I guess the thing that helps is the "BMB pull."
Spider-Man #234 preview pages
Bendis can basically choose who to work with, and with Oscar Bazaldua and Justin Ponsor, the "pull" is in full effect. Bendis characters need to be decent actors, and sure, that could be down to over reliance on talking heads. That said, I've not seen the scripts here — but more than anything, because of that dependence, said faces must animate well.
I think there might be the one fault on this particular tack that actually stands out a little, and that's the switch during Lana's family reunion (while otherwise well positioned from a storytelling perspective). Lana looks happy and relieved at her mother's release, but there's not even a hint at the reservations that her life of fighting crime have lead to her feeling about mum's past.
You might hate me for saying this, but it's possible that this part hasn't been decompressed enough to allow more of Lana's feelings to show. Equally, though, everything into the lead-up to the (definitely dramatic) emotional about-turn is zoomed out, which entirely negates the kind of subtlety of emotion that the principle cast show elsewhere. Perhaps I'm over-analysing this bit, and it just needs to be as blunt as it is to allow the "betrayal" to stick the landing, but I feel that if that's the case, it's kind of out of place in this series.
Otherwise, Spider-Man continues as one of the premier books on the shelves, even in a journeyman issue like this. You can partly see this because Bendis buries exposition so expertly in the relational woes of Miles.
He weaves Fabio's recent absence back in with minimal affair, folds Lana's revelatory feelings into into pure teen angst, and provides just enough dialogue in Ceres's introduction (above) that it's not just a wall of text. "Wall of text-ing" is another cardinal crime in funny books, since it can vitally detach one from the emotional beats of a book. I felt America drop away in the last two issues because of a little bit of this (but it was just generally too hard to parse overall) and one of the recent (otherwise amazing) Sam Wilson issues had similar problems. So this is a fine example of nailing that dialogue.
Basically, Spider-Man #234 (apart from having a great number) is no dip in a continuing great run, which takes on the very literal legacy of Ultimate Spider-Man yet again. As much as I may like Amazing, Ultimate is the perfect modern telling of Spider-Man, and (as much as they can) they've continued that feel into the 616 without skipping a beat.
So my journey on this issue goes from being initially annoyed at the lack of resolution to seeing that true-to-form Bendis character work performing where it always should do, making us feel the right emotions at the right times. Despite my briefly mentioned issues with comic prices (happy to discuss in comments), essentially, if you're buying Marvel comics now, I truly believe that Miles should always be on your pull list.