Review by Frank Plowright
The material collected in this volume present a transitional period in J. Michael Straczynski’s Spider-Man tenure. The first half consists of possibly his best story of the run, and pencil artist John Romita Jr’s last work, and the second half presents his most controversial story.
From the earliest Spider-Man material he wrote Straczynski consistently alluded to Spider-Man’s origin, to whether there was something more than random chance that it was Peter Parker who became Spider-Man. Constantly prodding Parker, informing him there was a bigger picture, was the previously unknown Ezekiel, seemingly possessing similar spider-related abilities. That story comes to fruition in spectacular fashion amid a thought-provoking series of revelations uncharacteristic for generally light-hearted tone of Spider-Man. Before departure Romita Jr also draws a self-contained story about a child on the verge of making a life-changing mistake, and Spider-Man having to deal with a manifestation of chaos on Earth that he helped bring about. That also involves Asgardian God Loki, given a plausible nobility and concerns however unlikely a team-up with Spider-Man may seem. This is all excellent stuff.
The same could be said for the ‘Sins Past’ story were it not for the fundamental flaw at the heart of it. Once revealed, the flaw shatters what until that point had been a page-turning thriller about someone messing with Peter Parker to great effect, starting with the revelation that his long-dead former girlfriend Gwen Stacy may not be so dead after all. Straczynski isn’t entirely responsible. His original plot made sense while courting controversy, but it was blocked editorially, and the version that saw print is based on unconvincing logic. At least new penciller Mike Deodato holds his end up. A man of many styles, his naturalistic choice contrasts the previous art, but is equally appealing.
These stories can also be found in the individual collections The Book of Ezekiel and Sins Past, and along with other material spread over the second and third bulky paperback volumes collecting J. Michael Straczynski’s Spider-Man work.