Characters Appearing: Aunt May, Carlton Drake, Mary Jane Watson, Nova (Rich Rider), Spider-Man, Tri-Sentinel
Amazing Spider-Man #351-352
Issue(s): Amazing Spider-Man #351, Amazing Spider-Man #352
Both Erik Larsen and Todd McFarlane before him were very popular and had a huge impact on Spider-Man in terms of sales and visuals (you'll notice that Bagley is drawing the ropy webbing, for example). Bagley, although he was never as megapopular as McFarlane, is a great artist in his own right, and he has more of a classic sensibility that appeals more to me than Larsen or McFarlane. His characters' faces seem a lot more on model (or on the old model, anyway)...
...and, as we'll see, Bagley's layout choices tend towards many more panels per page, virtually no pin-ups, and more traditional panel shapes (no long vertical panels, for example). That's in stark contrast to both McFarlane and Larsen, and it's especially laudable in these two issues where the opponent is the Tri-Sentinel. If there's ever an excuse for having lots of splash pages, it's when you're drawing a giant robot.
This probably required some re-adjusting for writer David Michelinie. Over the course of his career, Michelinie has worked with more artists closer to Bagley's storytelling style than McFarlane's. But Michelinie adjusted his plotting when he worked with McFarlane. The average Michelinie/McFarlane story had a pretty simple basic plot, with only a page or two (and, to be a little hyperbolic, an equal number of panels) devoted to anything beyond the villain of the month, so the ongoing subplots and soap opera elements that have always been a big part of the Spider-Man formula were more or less nixed, or at least slowed to a crawl. And that continued with Erik Larsen, although Larsen was at least an incremental improvement in that area. With these first two issues with Bagley, it feels like Michelinie's plot might very well have been something intended for Larsen. There isn't a whole lot going on. The difference is that instead of a few splash pages of Spider-Man (and guest star Nova) fighting the Tri-Sentinel, there are what feels like hundreds and hundreds of panels of Spider-Man crawling around inside the robot fighting its internal defenses.
Spider-Man is webslinging around when he notices Nova whiz past him, and he follows to see what is up. Nova is on the trail of a suspicious truck driver, and his suspicions prove correct when the driver pulls up to the remnants of the building where the artificial vibranium from this year's Spider-Man Vibranium Vendetta annuals was created. Nova tries to stop people from loading vibranium on the truck, but he's stopped by someone armed with a non-lethal super-weapon who is worried about public relations.
Spider-Man steps into help, but both he and Nova are disabled by a sonic grenade. Spider-Man manages to shoot off some Spider-tracers before the truck drivers leave. One tracer gets stuck on Nova, the other hits the truck.
I think that's the first time i've seen it clearly depicted that Spider-Man shoots his tracers from his webshooter since that improvement was made back in Amazing Spider-Man #297.
Nova is embarrassed to appear powerless in front of Spider-Man (not that Spidey did much better), and the two don't part on good terms.
The truck with the spider-tracer quickly gets out of Spider-Man's range. Spider-Man is able to locate an ESU grad student that worked on the original Roxxon vibranium project, but all he's able to get is confirmation that the people who acquired the vibranium have a lot of money and that the vibranium that was taken was real Antarctic vibranium, not the highly volatile stuff that was used in the Vibranium Vendetta.
But later, Peter Parker figures out that if he can get Nova to fly him around, he could locate the spider-tracer on the truck that got out of range. You have to love the way he ditches Mary Jane ("Well, harm's already done"!).
Nova isn't willing to help at first, but Spider-Man, knowingly or not, plays on Nova's feelings of inadequacy.
One thing that i've observed over the years is that it's inconsistent how much Spider-Man reveals about his spider-sense. It would be smart for him to not give that information away. No reason to advertise the fact that you're able to dodge most attacks thanks to a psychic warning. And sometimes you'll see characters, friends and foes, wondering "How does he dodge these blows almost before they are thrown?", but other times you'll have Spider-Man blurting out that he has a spider-sense, either because it's convenient exposition or because it helps Spider-Man to get allies to listen to him.
This story is one of the cases where Spider-Man keeps his spider-sense power a secret. And you can see the value in that, it makes Spidey seem much cooler and lets us see him through the eyes of other characters.
Inside the facility that the truck is found at, Spider-Man finds the Tri-Sentinel. And yes, that initial reveal does get a splash panel (which honestly isn't that great and i'm not going to include a scan; plenty of pics of Tri-Sentinel coming up).
While Spider-Man finds the Tri-Sentinel, Nova investigates another part of the facility. He finds a computer disc that can be used as evidence against the company that smuggled the vibranium, but he also trips another alarm just like the one that Spider-Man warned him about. Nova is very concerned about not looking like Spider-Man's sidekick, but at the same time Michelinie wants to set him up as someone that makes rookie mistakes.
I think anyone (that doesn't have a spider-sense) can be excused for tripping a silent alarm, and i am dealing with a little cognitive dissonance over the idea of Nova being a rookie, since he's been around since the 70s and evolved during his solo series, even though i know that thanks to the Sliding Timescale he's supposed to still be relatively young. But i can rationalize it by remembering that Nova has been inactive for a long time until his powers were recently restored in the New Warriors series. So if i can't accept him as a rookie, i can accept him as being rusty.
Nova winds up getting caught by armored goons, and Spider-Man learns that the guy responsible for all this is Carlton Drake.
My first thought is, "Oh come on! Who?!". But that's not really fair. David Michelinie has as much a right to try to make Drake happen as, say, Roger Stern did with Belladonna or somebody. Drake hasn't left much of an impression on me in a large part because this kind of high powered corporate executive villain, a staple of Michelinie, didn't mesh well with Todd McFarlane's flashy art. So the guy always just seemed kind of incidental even in his own stories. But if you need a refresher, his main deal is selling high end survivalist facilities and supplies to paranoid wealthy people that think the end of the world is nigh. In this story, his goal is to secure the Tri-Sentinel to use as a guard for the post-apocalyptic community he's putting together. I think a guy with his resources could buy a couple of regular sentinels rather then get involved in an illegal operation to acquire a robot known only for going on an out-of-control rampage, but that's why he's the entrepreneur and not me.
The purpose of the vibranium is as a failsafe in case the robot does go out of control again. It's installed in the sentinel's head, and if it goes out of control, the shielding around the vibranium will be opened up and the vibranium will cause the robot to melt. Except that won't work because, as Spider-Man notes, it's been altered by magic and doesn't play by our rules. So the sentinel immediately goes out of control when it's activated (actually, it's following the previous orders set by Loki, to destroy a nuclear power plant), and the failsafe doesn't work. So it's up to Spider-Man and Nova to stop it.
After fighting the Tri-Sentinel the first time (when he had his Captain Universe powers), Spider-Man did some research on Sentinels in the Avengers' computer files. So as i mentioned above, the fight involves a lot of Spider-Man crawling around inside the robot.
At least we have Nova to actually fight the robot from the outside, which is less important to the outcome but much more interesting to look at.
Hey, some positive press for Jersey!
Drake's Life Foundation send a high tech ship into the fight. It's not to help against the Tri-Sentinel. They want to erase the data on the disc that Nova took.
They do hit Nova with a beam that erases the disc, but Nova makes them use their tractor beam to hold the Tri-Sentinel for a while. And that gives Spider-Man enough time to open up the case that the vibranium is stored in. The Tri-Sentinel has regenerating abilities, so it fights with the vibranium for a while, trying to reform itself, but eventually it melts. The story ends with Spider-Man not giving Nova a hard time over triggering the alarm or losing the disc data, and Nova says that he needs to apply the lessons about teamwork that he's been learning with the New Warriors to the rest of his life, and he and Spidey part as friends.
It's fun story, and with Bagley's art coming on the heels of Erik Larsen, it feels like a return to an earlier era (i could even get specific and note the similarities to Avengers #198-199). Still, Spider-Man spends too much time inside the Tri-Sentinel, who has an implausible amount of internal defenses, and i am hoping that Michelinie puts Bagley's storytelling style to better use in future issues and takes advantage of the opportunity to provide us with a little more content. We'll have to wait a bit to see if that happens, though, because after these issues we go into the bi-weekly Round Robin event, which is drawn by Bagley but written by Al Milgrom, and then Bagley takes two issues to recoup from the bi-weekly schedule, so Michelinie and Bagley aren't back together again until issue #361.
Quality Rating: B-
Chronological Placement Considerations: Nova is in his blue and yellow costume, placing this after New Warriors #14.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Bagley's art is THE major redeeming factor in Michelinie's run from here on out.
Posted by: TCP | October 29, 2015 12:55 PM
Heck, Bagley is the only redeeming factor of ASM for the 90's in general, really.
Posted by: MegaSpiderMan | October 29, 2015 1:38 PM
Bagley is very good indeed! Even though his MJ still looks like a Jean Grey clone...
Posted by: Piotr W | October 29, 2015 3:56 PM
The Tri-Sentinel's "implausible amount of internal defenses" could be explained by Loki's manipulation (as the Tri-Sentinel's existence is a product of Loki's magic).
Posted by: mikrolik | October 29, 2015 4:24 PM
Mark Bagley's art is GREAT.
I don't have a problem with dufus Carlton Drake showing up as a recurring villain--not every bad guy in the Marvel universe has to be distinctive or impressive.
Posted by: MikeCheyne | October 29, 2015 4:51 PM
At the time I wasn't a big fan of Bagley's art, I think I was too used to the house style of the early 80s, which I still think is brilliant but looking at those scans, Bagley's pencils are refreshing compared to McFarlane and Larsen.
Posted by: JSfan | October 29, 2015 6:16 PM
Bagley's an excellent super-hero action artist who keeps the action understandable while keeping it dynamic. This is why he's always been a perfect artist for Spider-man both regular and Ultimate.
Since the original Tri-Sentinel issue was my first Spider-man comic I was hyped for this two-parter since Spidey didn't have the Captain Universe powers this time. It paid off when I was a kid and even in hindsight I still think it's a great story.
It also does good work setting up Nova's connection to Spider-man as a younger hero being mentored by an older one. Makes the surprisingly frequent Spider-man/New Warriors team-ups of the early 90s mean more.
Also, when I had these original issues it seemed like issue #352 had a considerably cheaper print job done on it than #351. The paper also seemed like a worse quality newsprint.
Posted by: Red Comet | October 29, 2015 7:08 PM
His women tend to look the same and are fairly unattractive. They got this hard Rene Russo look about them. His art is honest but pedestrian. I do like his fight scenes. I prefer his work on New Warriors to be honest and I definitely prefer McFarlane/Larsen on Spiderman.
Posted by: Grom | October 29, 2015 7:09 PM
If the 50th anniversary issue was the turning point in Gruenwald's Cap run, then the Tri-Sentinel rehash was the moment Michelinie's run, which I never really was a huge fan of to begin with, really went off the tracks and ran out of ideas.
Posted by: Bob | October 29, 2015 9:42 PM
I like Mark Bagley's art on Spider-Man better than in any of his team books.
Posted by: Steven | October 30, 2015 12:28 PM
I always like it when Spidey, the original young super hero, gets to be the experienced one in a team up with someone from a new generation of heroes.
Posted by: Berend | October 30, 2015 1:41 PM
"In this story, his goal is to secure the Tri-Sentinel to use as a guard for the post-apocalyptic community he's putting together. I think a guy with his resources could buy a couple of regular sentinels rather then get involved in an illegal operation to acquire a robot known only for going on an out-of-control rampage, but that's why he's the entrepreneur and not me."
It does make a certain amount of sense. The Life Foundation's mission statement is kind of resigned to the idea that the world is essentially going to get destroyed anyway. While the Tri-Sentinel might not manage to cause worldwide harm, it was going to set off a nuclear disaster at the very least. It'd make a decent preview, making existing affiliates glad they have their shelter and potential affiliates wishing they did.
Posted by: Max_Spider | October 31, 2015 2:41 PM
I never loved Bagley as much as everyone else. Everyone looks the same and it's just not very dynamic.
Posted by: MindlessOne | June 22, 2017 12:06 PM
Erik Larsen was my favourite as a kid. Still not a fan of Bagley.
Posted by: Adam Dale | June 22, 2017 4:02 PM
Comments are now closed.
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