Friday, April 14, 2006

"Power Prey!"
Amazing Spider-man #329 When: February 1990
Why: David Michelinie How: Erik Larsen

The story so far...
Displeased with the failure of his plan to shuffle villains in the Acts of Vengeance storyline, the Norse god of mischief, Loki, leaves the Earth a little something to remember him by.

For believing him dead; Loki magically alters a trio of newly designed Sentinels to merge them into one masterpiece of magic and machine - the Tri-Sentinel!

Lucky for Manhattan, Spider-man has been imbued with the mysterious uni-power thanks to the aptly named Enigma Force. Gaining the cosmic awareness that had been denied to him, Spider-man instantly learns of his foe, and leaps into action to avert nuclear disaster!

Tale of the tape...
You read right, true believers! The Enigma Force chose your friendly neighbourhood Spider-man as it's vehicle of universal justice!

Attempts to get a job writing solicitations aside - I just had to throw in a Captain Universe Spidey appearance when I was looking for his first official entry into Secret Wars on Infinite Earths record.
No doubt I would scoff the concept today, but like many other readers I hold a special place in my heart for this bizarre marriage of every-man and cosmic uber-entity.

Removing mystic meddling from the equation, I think I can fairly conclusively paint a picture where Spidey gets creamed by the three Sentinels until Wolverine and Cyclops show up to save him.
Past results may suggest otherwise, but I would have a difficult time imagining Spider-man applying his particular brand of strengths against the mechanical menace of these mutant hunting machinations.

Strength: 6 (Invincible)
Speed: 5 (Super Speed)
Stamina: 6 (Generator)
Energy Powers: 5 (Lasers)

Where Sentinels are concerned, generally the more pedestrian heroes find their edge in explosive weapons, cutting implements or super strength levels. While Spidey certainly rates highly in many respects, his particular brand of proportionate strength and agility doesn't lend itself to those vulnerabilities.

With the cosmic uni-power the fight evens up substantially.
Not only does he gain the added maneuverability that comes with flight, his spider-strength is also given a considerable boost, along with the ability to fire impressive cosmic energy blasts.

Against ordinary Sentinels, Cosmic Spider-man would no doubt be able to carve through their servos and circuitry with relative ease. However, this is no ordinary Sentinel!

Strength: 5 (Super Strength)
Intelligence: 4 (Tactician)
Stamina: 6 (Generator)
Energy Powers: 5 (Lasers)

Not only were these Sentinels merged by Loki's mystic spite, they were also specially designed for the purpose of tracking Spider-man, who had already begun manifesting the powers of Captain Universe.

Each of the prototype Sentinels, potentially part of the governments secret Nimrod project, was designed with unique abilities. Combined, the Tri-Sentinel is a six barreled living weapon, with lasers, shields, and all kinds of other stingy steel stuff!

If the Sentinel were able to overhwelm his target, and capitalie on Spider-man's relative inexperience with the Uni-Power, it might just have a chance of gaining victory.
However, I think it's a good bet on any day to bet on a cosmic spider. A) Because on paper his powers far outweigh many an opponent. B) Because the very nature of the Uni-Power is to overcome adversity. C) Spidey rarely changes costume without a victory.

What went down...
Cosmic Spidey swoops down from the sky to find the Tri-Sentinel looming over a shoreline Nuclear powerplant. The three headed Sentinel sees him coming and takes defensive action, firing off six seperate hand blasts in unison.
Spidey manages to weave between the blasts, and return fire with his own cosmic beam, but the Sentinel deflects it with an energy shield.

Going a more traditional route, Spider-man decides to try an old trick with a new spin, spinning a mass of webbing around the Sentinel before using his new power to transform it into steel. Alas, even the steel bonds of cosmic webbing were no match for the strength of the Tri-Sentinel.

The Tri-Sentinel strikes back, wildly throwing a flurry of six-fist punches which inadvertently crack one of the adjacent containment towers at the plant.
Spidey does his best to repair the damages, while dealing with the Sentinel's grapple coil attack.
Spider-man is ripped from the tower, but his cosmic power allows him to survive a blast of concussive gas, and snap free of the coils.

Spidey goes on the offensive once more, using his cosmic webbing to filter water from the ocean below and redirect it in a wave at the Tri-Sentinel. The evil machine is well equipped to deal with such a threat, using defensese to freeze the wave and smash it to tiny jagged shards.

Realising the folly of containment, Spider-man attempts a more direct tactic; going for the mechanics of the beast. Tear at the circuits and tubing beneath the hull, though he did, the Tri-Sentinel was unaffected and able to remove the "impending annoyance."

Sebastian Shaw, the man who commissioned the design of the Sentinels, watches on in horror as the Tri-Sentinel reveals a new directive programmed by Loki -- nuclear devestation.

With seconds to spear Shaw reveals his own hidden directive in the machine's logic programming. A command that forces the Sentinel to recognise it's own upgrades as mutant deviations from it's distant predecessors, the Sentinel Mark I models.

Though the Tri-Sentinel did not turn on itself as the individual machines would have - it pauses. Pausing long enough to allow the cosmic Spider-man to pool his enigmatic resources and focus them into a final attack.

When the crackling energy settles disaster is averted, and the Tri-Sentinel is reduced to so much as dust. Exhausted, Spider-man learns that he too was reduced, back to that of a man with the responsibility of proportionate size and strengths of a spider. Nothing more. Nothing less.

The hammer...
Yay! Cosmic Spider-man saves the day, of course.

As I understand it, this was Erik Larsen's first official issue as on-going artist on Amazing Spider-man. This gives an added significance to the issue, because for me, Erike Larsen is probably the Spider-man artist I hold most personally as a favourite.

I think it would be fair to say that if you asked me to think of my definitive Spidey artist I'd filter through the likes of John Romita, Sal Buscema and Mark Bagley - but Larsen is the one that I probably identify most fondly. Not because he was the first artist I read, or even because I'm a dedicated Larsen fan. There was just something special about those issues, and Larsen's rendition of the character.

Visually Spider-man has reverted back to his roots.
These days the eyes are quite small, the webbing is relatively low key, and the movements are probably generally on a more controlled scale. Certainly a far cry from the popular work of Todd McFarlane which introduced the 'spaghetti webbing', and the spine-bending poses that made us question whether Spidey could in fact kiss his own butt. [I think he could.]

What I think is so memorable about Larsen's Spider-man, for me, is that it took those established extremes from McFarlane's work - but tweaked them.
To me, Larsen's characters were asthetically a little cleaner while their proportions and expressions were just a little more grounded in reality.

Overall Larsen had a lot in common with his predecessor, but the minutia of those details made all the difference then, and now.
Certainly the issues don't contain the paced and relatively intelligent storytelling of many of todays writers, but what the stories lack in sophistication, they make up for with big superhero action, and exciting characters!

The Fight: 4 The Issue: 5.5

NEXT: Wolverine versus Lobo!

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