BOOK REVIEWS

Spider-Man: Life in the Mad Dog Ward Reviews

UPDATE TIME: 2019-08-18 
Review Score: 2 out of 5 star From 3 user ratings
ISBN:0785185038
LANGUAGE:English

" I loved this when I read it as a kid, but it's one of those books the Suck Fairy visited. " said.

"I do not have fond memories of reading Mad Dog Ward the first time around, but found the main story this time to be much more enjoyable than I remembered. Despite the glaringly enormous plot hole regarding Spidey's secret identity, it's a decent story if possibly stretched a bit thin for three issues. The Return to the Mad Dog Ward arc is just poor however, revisiting plot points from the first story and turning them into something pedestrian and unremarkable, with artwork that falls apart under any scrutiny. 4 stars for the lead story, 2 for the secondary one, so 3 overall, I think." said.

"I borrowed this book from the library for a relatively obscure and personal reason. My Spider-Man fandom has been lost to history, but when I first started reading comics in early 1993, I was a huge, huge Spider-Man fan - going back to the Spider-Man shorts on The Electric Company and Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends. So when I decided to start getting into comics, of course, I went straight for the Spider-books - I'd bought Amazing Spider-Man: Soul of the Hunter (a bookshelf one-shot by DeMatteis and Zeck that followed up on Kraven's Last Hunt) a few months before, during a school trip. My first trip to a shop with the intent of being a regular customer netted me the Death of Superman trade (the book that motivated me to finally check out comics, after years of total fascination with any comic book plots that friends who read the books would tell me about) and Amazing Spider-Man 374, by Michelinie and Bagley (Venom kidnapped Peter's then-returned-from-the-dead parents). The next trip, I picked up the other Spider-Man titles: Spectacular Spider-Man 297 (DeMatteis and Sal Buscema; Spidey & the original X-Men vs. Professor Power), Web of Spider-Man 100 (Terry Kavanagh & Alex Saviuk; Spider-armor and a gangwar piece) and the adjective-free Spider-Man 31 - the book itself featured rotating creative teams at that point, and this issue was the conclusion of the three-part "Return to the Mad Dog Ward" by Ann Nocenti and Chris Marrinan. I never tracked down the rest of the arc, nor was I ever interested in tracking down the previous arc suggested by the "Return" title. But then I saw this trade, and I thought it might be interesting (upsetting, appalling, hilarious) to revisit this formative comic in my comic book reading life.

The original arc is ... well, it reads like Nocenti was still figuring out how to use the comic book form. The pacing is clumsy and Martin's artwork on the original arc is unfinished and generic. It's frequently difficult to guess who characters are. And the plot is ... problematic. A troubled wife is committed by her husband, a Kingpin stooge, and Peter gets involved for no reason at all. Then he's captured and doped up, and it's kind of dull. Then the husband decides to save his wife, and Peter shakes off the drugs, and ... anyway, the husband, wife and two kids - despite the husband's massive dickery - all drive off to start a new (and hopefully hidden) life.

The return is tangential at best. The genetically modified villain from the first is upgraded, and a well-meaning but not-bright and now free inmate of the ward called Zero wants to be a hero. Spider-Man wants to keep Zero from getting hurt or hurting himself. And he's concerned about all the lies he tells to keep his secret identity. And MJ thinks he's cheating on her and she feels she needs a life outside of him (man - this book fails the Bechdel test HUGE - MJ thinks about Peter on every single page, nearly every single panel!) It all builds to a totally nondescript and generic climax. Marrinan's artwork isn't inspired, but is competent, which is an upgrade over the first arc. And there is a fairly compelling multi-page sequence in the third and final issue where Spider-Man (ala lifting the massive machinery in that classic early issue) digs his way out from being buried in a concrete building foundation.

All this confirms a thought I have sometimes. I sometimes wish I still had all my old comics and consider buying digitals or cheap back issues or something. But I quickly come to my senses and this book is an excellent reminder that my instinct to avoid these personally formative comics is right.
" said.

" The idea is better than the delivery. " said.

" Some good moments in this story arc, especially the question over whether Peter Parker is a liar or not. However, some of the writing was a bit too heavy-handed for my taste, including Spider-Man's encounter with an aspiring super-hero, and also Mary-Jane's inner monologue about her capacity to trust Peter Parker. " said.

"“Life in the Mad Dog Ward” collects two Spider-Man stories in one book, the “Mad Dog Ward” storyline from the 1980s, which immediately followed the classic, “Kraven's Last Hunt”, and it's 1990s sequel by the same writer, Ann Nocenti, “Return to the Mad Dog Ward”. Although the original story is generally fondly remembered, I never even knew that a sequel existed until this came through the post, and it's clear to see why. Although the original is a fascinating and slightly eerie drama, quite unlike any other Spider-Man you'll have ever read, the sequel goes off in a completely different direction, presenting an unmemorable generic superhero action comic that does no justice to the original. Quite what Nocenti, a generally highly praised writer, was thinking when she wrote “Return to the Mad Dog Ward” is anybody's guess, and the end result is an uneven collection that I would be hard pressed to recommend to anybody.

The original isn't a perfect story. By itself, I'd probably give it a very solid three stars. That isn't to say that it isn't worthwhile at all, but rather it's a good story that doesn't quite live up to its potential. Ignoring the fact that the dialogue has dated, I find that this story suffers from an over-reliance on things just happening at the right place at the right time, and some plot points that are just incredibly poorly thought out (like how, for instance, Ann Nocenti seems to have forgotten what the concept of a “secret identity” is). Living, as we now do, in an era of decompressed stories written to be collected in TPBs, old time fans like myself often look back fondly at stories like this which weren't padded out into five or six issues. However, in the case of the original “Mad Dog Ward” story, I think an extra two or three issues would have been beneficial, as we could have had some more character development and progression showing our hero's descent into seeming madness. Furthermore, had there been an extra two or three issues, Marvel's collections department wouldn't have felt the need to include the three part sequel...

As bad as it is, “Return to the Mad Dog Ward” isn't a pointless sequel. The plot holes and unresolved issues that abounded in the original story were practically crying out for a sequel, but this isn't what it should have been. But what's interesting about it is that, where the original was very much a reflection of the “grim 'n' gritty” 1980s superhero comics scene, “Return to the Mad Dog Ward” just as equally epitomises the shallow and dynamic world of 1990s superhero comics. Both stories are very much products of their time and, as a result, “Return”'s inclusion makes for interesting reading. Although “Return” isn't as bad as many of the 1990s superhero comics out there, it's still an unmistakable one star storyline in my opinion, and so I have no choice but to drag this otherwise promising TPB's score down to two stars.
" said.

" I loved this when I read it as a kid, but it's one of those books the Suck Fairy visited. " said.

"I do not have fond memories of reading Mad Dog Ward the first time around, but found the main story this time to be much more enjoyable than I remembered. Despite the glaringly enormous plot hole regarding Spidey's secret identity, it's a decent story if possibly stretched a bit thin for three issues. The Return to the Mad Dog Ward arc is just poor however, revisiting plot points from the first story and turning them into something pedestrian and unremarkable, with artwork that falls apart under any scrutiny. 4 stars for the lead story, 2 for the secondary one, so 3 overall, I think." said.

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