Avenging Spider-Man #21: An End is Near … And Necessary?

Avenging21coverOne of the great things that I’ve learned through my new “Blind Spots” feature, is the fact that at many times in my comic book collecting lifetime, I’ve had an unfair prejudice against some of Spidey’s “B” titles at the expense of missing some pretty great storylines. But it’s not like these prejudices developed in a vacuum. Unfortunately during certain periods of Spider-Man’s history, my “B” title bias was justified because these series weren’t crafted with the same level of precision as the main Amazing Spider-Man series (though to be fair, the certain periods of ASM were downright awful too, and yet that’s the book I’m still chasing to this day).

Avenging Spider-Man #21 is a reminder of some of the things that frustrate me about a “B” title. It’s not that there’s anything abjectly bad about the comic – it’s an entertaining enough story about Spider Ock using more deceit and sleight of hand to rescues one of his old villainous colleagues, Chameleon, from a S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier  – but I can’t say I walked away from reading the issue, or the entire two-part arc for that matter, feeling anything warm and fuzzy. Instead, it’s just a pale comparison to the “main” Spidey title, Superior Spider-Man, which Dan Slott has been knocking out of the park for about 6 issues in a row now (I still think the series’ biggest clunker thus far has been the second issue).

As I mentioned in my post about Deadpool #10 last week, there’s been some major consistency problems between how Slott writes Spider Ock and how a host of other writers have tackled the character. And since I’ve been a bigger fan of Slott’s work thus far, I’ve come to accept his as the definitive take on the character. Chris Yost has done an admirable job on Avenging since taking over early in the year, but things have seemingly lost focus since the status quo was switched up again in Superior #9. After reading this two part Avenging arc and Superior #10, I would think I was reading about two totally different Spider-Mans if I didn’t know any better.

Slott’s Spider Ock is manically egotistical, which has creating a running storyline through the series about how Otto truly sees himself as the “superior” Spider-Man to Peter. Yost’s character care less about Peter and sees himself more as a superior to the rest of the heroes and villains that make up the Marvel universe.

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And I understand that the entire premise of the Avenging series is a team-up story about Spider-Man interacting with the rest of the Marvel universe. But even during Slott’s more serious stories, there has been an undercurrent of fun and joy in watching Otto try to best Parker. I’ve said before that Slott’s Spider Ock is a jerk, but he’s OUR jerk, which keeps me invested. Yost’s Spider Ock, the past two issues at least, is akin to reading about a very dry and drab supervillain trying to cook up some kind of devious master plan – which I guess if you strip away all the fun and kinetic energy from Slott’s Superior work, is what you’re left with in Spider Ock.

Yost isn’t necessarily reluctant to squeeze some fun into the story. But in Avenging #21, all of the best moments belong to S.H.I.E.L.D. agents Caulson and Hill, whether it’s them cracking jokes on each other, or reacting to the surprise return of the Hulk on the helicarrier. Spider Ock is by nature, a humorless character, but in Avenging #21, it’s not even like we’re laughing at how he’s not getting the joke, like I’m often doing when I read Superior.

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Even Spider Ock’s eventual confrontation with the issue’s bad guy, the Chameleon, maintains a somber tone. Otto confronts his old ally and he immediately gets a shiv in the neck for his trouble. Chameleon then launches into another one of his soliloquies about being a nobody before Spider Ock is able to overtake him. Granted the Chameleon has never been one of Spider-Man’s more imposing villains – in fact I’ve said on previous occasions that his vanilla-ness has often made me dismiss him as a C/D-level villain – but I was hoping the confrontation could have captured a little more drama. Was Otto sorry to KO his old ally? Was he trying to establish himself as his superior? Was he just putting on a show for S.H.I.E.L.D.? I can’t honestly answer those questions based on the text of the comic.

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The Chameleon fight sets up the same vague ending we’ve seen twice before in Avenging: Spider Ock captures one of his old Sinister Six allies and holds them in eerie looking tanks for … a reason we don’t just know yet. With the Avenging series set to end this month in favor of a “Superior” team-up title, I don’t see how Yost can tie-up this one loose thread in a satisfying enough way that makes months of vague teasers worth my attention. I realize that a writer has every right not to spoil his own story, but there was something about the ending to Avenging #22 that resembled the “just tell me already or I’m changing the channel” category of mystery theater.

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I’m not going to bother to speculate why this series lost its way the past two issues though I hope with Avenging ending and Superior Team-Up kicking off in July, Yost has some renewed energy to tell stories that compliment what Slott’s doing in Superior – much in the way that he did in Avenging #16-19. I can certainly justify how different writers may have different takes on the same character and his universe, but it just can’t be done in a way that seemingly establishes two starkly different continuities. Because if personal history has any say in the matter, I’m going to eventually classify the “B” title as the inferior one and develop another “blind spot” that I’ll have to contend with years from now.



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