Monday, 17 August 2009

Astonishing Flashbacks: The Death of Jean DeWolff, by Tim

Way back in the first volume of AstonSpid, Peter David's arc 'The Death of Jean DeWolff' (originally run in Spectacular Spider-Man in the mid 80's) was featured in issues 26-29. I only started collecting AstonSpid at around issue 120, and so I was only just really getting in to Spider-Man in general. As such, I first came at this story 'blind'; I had read very little before it and was unaware of the story's reputation as one of the best arcs going.

Well, it turns out that Death of Jean DeWolff is... one of the best arcs going. Seriously, unlike The Kid Who Collects Spider-Man, this story genuinely deserves the praise given to it. Hit the jump to see what I mean.

First thing's first; the synopsis. A mysterious gunman named Sin-Eater begins a series of attacks, killing police Captain Jean DeWolff and other representatives of justice and order, including a friend of Matt Murdock (Daredevil). Spidey secures the co-operation of the detective in charge of the case, and starts to track down Sin-Eater. Meanwhile, one of Aunt May's friends is brutally mugged, and Peter is disgusted by Murdock's legal defense of the attackers. When a good friend of Murdock's gets killed, he begins his own investigation.

One of the things that really stands out about this arc is the tone it sets and maintains throughout. Here's an example; the first three pages of comic. Go on, click this and read it.

Reading those pages four years ago, I had no knowledge of who Jean DeWolff was or what she was like; I had never heard of her. Despite this, there's something about the way Peter David has this dying woman narrate her life, as it flashes before her eyes, that is arrestingly powerful. The tragic optimism, in DeWolff's last thoughts, stands out in particular. This dark tone is not cliched or over bearing, but rather engrossing.

The arc evolves into a meditation on justice, morality, anger and retribution. The conflict between Spider-Man and Daredevil is juxtaposed with the internal conflicts of each hero. Spidey has difficulty detaching himself from the case because of his grief for DeWolff's death, while Daredevil wrestles with his need to preserve his secret identity, which interferes with helping people.

Added to this is the Sin-Eater, a masked man with a shotgun who is on a mission to kill those that he perceives as having abused their power. Despite his fairly goofy outfit, he's actually an unusually realistic villain; rather than a giggling super-powered goon holding New York to ransom, he's just an insane serial killer, who shoots and runs. This villain could, without any major changes, exist in our world; and that makes him genuinly chilling.

This is an excellent arc and a very good story, with hardly a panel out of place. It's also readily available, having been collected as a trade. If you're a spidey fan who hasn't read it, seriously do, because rarely is Spider-Man done this well.

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