Review: The Red Circle: The Web One-Shot

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Continuing the series of one-shots introducing the MLJ/Archie Comics characters into the DCU that starting with   The Hangman and continuing in  Inferno, this week we have THE WEB.

thewebcover.jpgJohn Raymond belongs to a world that most of us never even get a chance to come in contact with. He has the good-looks of a movie star and the body of a professional athlete. He has the ability to take his personal jet to any location in the world, and never has to ask the cost. He is the executor of a multi-billion dollar estate that he inherited from his father. He is also not happy with his life.

At a family reunion we find that no thinks that he is a worthy successor to his father. He has an uncle who thinks that John’s father was a fool to leave the bulk of the estate to his wife and son when he helped him build an empire. Never mind the ten million dollars he embezzled, he should have been the one to get the money. His mother is beset on all sides by leeches and hanger-on’s, and people who want to be part of her circle. And then there is his brother, David Raymond. David is probably the worst of all. While John was living up to his birthright with parties and women, David was volunteering to feed the homeless and take care of his fellow man. While John struggled in college, David was a star student. When they got their college graduation bonuses, a measly one million each, John headed to Europe and lived. David refused his money and spent his time setting up free legal aid groups and clinics and such.

The worst indignity came when his father was on his death bed. Declaring that he was changing is will, John’s father left his mother enough money to sustain her in the manner which she had become accustom to. To John, he left the rest of the estate, five billion dollars. He told John that for the rest of his life he would have to justify his money and forever have people trying to take it from him; but he knew that John was a good business man and would be able to handle it.  Then his father dropped the bombshell; John may have been getting the money because he as the better business man, but he made it clear that he thought his brother David was the better man.

After an angry encounter with his uncle, who was asking for “investment” money again, John leaves the reunion. High above the city atop a lone building, he checks on the final preparations for his master plan. Using a huge amount of money, he has prepared himself a secret lair, complete with a hotline located at summontheweb.com, and a super suit. Taking the name The Web, he intends to offer his services to the needy of the city. Through a series of television spots and advertisements, he puts the word out: If you are in trouble, go to summontheweb.com and request my assistance, I’ll be there. His plan is simple, be a hero and prove himself for a year, and then reveal his own identity to his family. He would show them who was worthy.

So he sets out doing just that.  Answering request from everyone from shopkeepers to school kids terrorized by bullies, the Web begins to make a name for himself. He even brings a reporter into his lair to show her that he is on the level, and he does not cherry pick the requests for help.  And then one night, the world changes. While visiting his mother, he discovers that the rest of his family love the Web, but is mother is not a fan. Then, he gets the phone call. His brother David has been kidnapped, and the kidnapper is demanding five million dollars in unmarked bills.  If he hangs the phone up, David dies, if he tells anyone, David dies. After verifying that the kidnappers did have his brother, John does what every superhero for hire would do, he suits up and flies off to rescue his brother.  Tracing his brother’s phone, David bursts in on the kidnappers, only to find a “differently-abled” man is the mastermind behind the kidnapping, and he has super powered back-up in the form of an armored figure who is called Deadly Force. Quickly dispatching the hired-hand, Web begins to confront his brother’s kidnapper. Unfortunately for John, the kidnapper was serious about not calling anyone, and he does not know that John is in reality the Web! With no remorse, he activates a button which begins to fill David’s cell with poisonous gas, forcing John to take immediate action to save his brother; but it is too late. Davis received a lethal dose of the gas and is dying. He explains to the Web that he had a gambling problem and had borrowed large amounts of money to cover his debts. He would not let the family know, especially after he had turned down his million dollars years ago. David begs the Web not to let the truth out because of the damage it would do to his family. He especially never wants his brother to find out, since John hated people who asked for money and hated weakness. He dies, never knowing that the hero who saved him was that same brother.

Of course the Web keeps his brothers promise and doesn’t let the truth slip. Standing over his brother’s grave, he wonders what hope he has. If someone as good as his brother David could fall, what did that signify for his future? From that point on, he decides to change the focus of his secret identity. No longer will he help those who can help themselves, but only those who have real problems.  In a broadcast to the masses, he tells viewers, “If your problems can be easily solved, if you have your own money or your own resources or your own fame…don’t use the website. Use it if your situation is hopeless. If there is something so awful, so terrible that you cant even tell your own…family. If you’re afraid in the dark, if the shadows are closing in on you and there is nowhere to turn…go the Web. I’ll be waiting.” The final image we are left with is young Lt. Joseph Higgins, stationed in Afghanistan, e-mailing the Web asking for help in finding his father who vanished five year prior. He thinks someone may have murdered him.  This is the lead-in for next weeks The Shield one-shot.

Over the past two weeks, I have written two other reviews of these Red Circle titles from DC.   The Hangman was a good read that suffered form a clichéd origin and lacking feeling of history, while I found  Inferno to be a muddy mess that falls short of being recommendable due to blurry artwork and plot holes that just kept taking me out of the story.  Neither of them got very high ratings by me, but I did note that they needed to be taken as part of a larger story.  That said, I did not have very high expectations for this weeks entry, The Web. Fortunately, you do get the occasional curve thrown.

Of the three Red Circle titles now out, The Web is by far the strongest of the set.  When I read the last page of the Inferno and the blurbs about it this book, I was immediately turned off by the obvious Booster Gold tribute. But after reading this issue, I feel that this version of The Web owes more to Spider-Man than to any other hero. You start the issue really disliking John Raymond; it’s not hard to do. He is a self-centered brat who sees the world in terms of what it can do for him.  But when you find out his history, you actually start to feel sorry for him. He is a product of his environment, and it takes a great personal tragedy to make him realize that the Earth does not revolve around John Raymond. You know, having wrote that, I think that The Web may actually owe more to Iron Man than Spider-Man. I think that there is even a sprinkle of the A-Team tossed in for good measure.

J. Michael Straczynski really seemed to hit his stride with this title. He found all the needed beats, and still manages to turn the arrogant main character into someone the reader feels sympathetic for.  The art for this issue is also much better and fits the superhero story well,  Roger Robinson (pencils) and Hilary Bara (inker) reach a level of art that makes you feel like you are reading an actually superhero comic and not some throwback character with a muddy past or eighties independent title.  This book gives me hope for the ongoing series, since The Web (with a Hangman back up) is one of the two monthlies to spin out of the Red Circle one-shots, the other being The Shield with an Inferno back-up.

I think that JMS as managed to catch me in his “web” with this book. While I still think that the other two Red Circle titles deserve the scores I gave them, this book hits the mark. I really opened this one up not expecting much, but I was pleasantly surprised. I thought long and hard about the score for this title, and after much deliberation, have decided to go for a 3.5 out of 5 Stars. It is a little late coming, but it is worth it.

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