For the relaunch of the Amazing Spider-Man franchise last month, one of the story’s many themes was how Peter had found a “new lease on life” after returning from having his mind and body occupied by Doctor Octopus. While that’s a somewhat expected plot-point for a character that has essentially been “dead” for the last year-and-a-half, writer Dan Slott is finding new and wonderful ways to demonstrate the ways Peter’s is willing to be a better Spider-Man this time around.
Over the course of nearly every page of Amazing Spider-Man #2, Peter and his supporting cast are forced to deal with some inconvenient truths and revelations about what exactly was going on during the “Superior” era. After touching upon these ideas briefly in the opening issue of this series, a more concerted effort is made to demonstrate just how consequential Doc Ock’s time as Spider-Man is going to be for Peter, Anna Maria, the Avengers and others.
Unlike past Spider-Man stories that dealt with “revelations,” where the truth is only distribute to shock the character (and reader) into submission, there’s a high level of honesty and maturity in how Slott addresses all of the lies and secrets that were told in Peter’s absence. The end result is an excellent, character-driven story that leaves me liking ALL of the Amazing Spider-Man’s characters for the first time in a very long time.
I was admittedly cynical about where things ended between Peter and Anna Maria in ASM #1, as I was concerned that the situation between two mature adults was about to devolve into a sitcom-esque “misunderstanding” about sex and romance. Instead, at the start of ASM #2, Slott delivers one of the strongest conversations between two characters I have ever read in one of his comics.
It’s not quite on the level of the iconic J. Michael Straczynski penned “The Conversation” between Peter and Aunt May – Peter obviously doesn’t have the history with Anna Maria to achieve that level of emotional resonance – but these quiet, dialogue-heavy moments that manage to reveal a lot about the characters are the moments that I live for as a comic book enthusiast. Yes, superhero action is great too, but that Peter/Anna Maria segment was as good as any well-illustrated/choreographed battle sequence between two costumed characters. It just hits on every single level – crisp and strong dialogue, expressive pencils and inks from Humerto Ramos and Victor Olazaba, and realistic character interactions.
It’s also a refreshing change of pace, not only from the lies and subterfuge of the Superior Spider-Man and Doc Ock’s masquerade as Spidey, but also from Spider-Man comics overall. Beyond “The Conversation” and a few other J. Michael Straczynski stories, when was the last time we saw Peter talk so frankly and directly to another character, especially as it pertains to his secret identity? Anna Maria clearly had him cornered at the end of last issue, but rather than just come up with more lies, Peter tells her everything. And he tells her with great sensitivity and empathy.
Anna Maria’s response to this rare act of honesty is just as astonishing. She hears Peter out, but rather than doubting him, running away in a huff, smacking him or doing something else that’s either corny and clichéd, she reacts like any other human being who has just received shockingly bizarre news. She internalizes things by whipping together a batch of cookies as a means to distract her from the potential trauma, and then goes out for a walk to process this new information. The comic book medium prides itself on how it heightens regular human emotion, but occasionally, something as grounded and real as Anna Maria’s reaction to Peter is even better than something that’s over-the-top and outrageous.
This unexpected level of candor can also be found in some of Spider-Man’s interactions with Captain America and Johnny Storm. Both can relate to Spidey being a “man out of time” of sorts since returning from the dead. Spider-Man’s conversation with Johnny is especially straightforward and relateable. Characters dying and coming back is quite common, but typically when a series gets meta and actually acknowledges the trope, it is done with a bit of derision and finger-wagging. But in ASM #2, Johnny and Peter talk about that weird feeling of being back from the dead, like it’s just a part of the job. There’s no tortured anguish being dealt with here, despite the fact that it would be understandable if Peter and Johnny both wanted to curl up in the fetal position and suck their thumbs for the rest of their lives after what they’ve been through. Instead, these are two mature adults talking about death and resurrection the way I would talk to my friend about something I experienced in my life.
In between these two very excellent character scenes, Slott continues to line his new status quo with strong characters who have more specific motivations and incentives for doing the things that they do. Electro, a character long devoid of actual characterization beyond “bad guy gets powers, robs banks,” is evolving into a tragic figure of sorts under Slott’s watch. The scene where he inadvertently fries his groupie was both shocking and sad for its suddenness and brutality.
The actual battle between Spider-Man and Electro could have had a little more heft and consequence to it, but there are layers being added to this villain that I refuse to begrudge. Electro has legitimately personal reasons to hate and kill Spider-Man, and like everything else that Doc Ock mussed up while Peter was away, this is something that is going to have to be dealt with in a mature and honest fashion.
And it’s through that prism of idealism and ingenuity that Peter develops his master plan to solve the Electro problem and to make amends for Doc Ock’s reign of terror as Spider-Man. Despite renouncing his corporate ties to Spider-Man, Peter tells his employees that they’re going to find a way to capture and contain Electro, while also developing a brand new way to hold super-powered prisoners.
I think there’s a lot of potential in this subplot for Slott and look forward to seeing how it evolves. With Peter trying to turn over a brand new leaf, having him contribute to society in a such a way as building a new prison is an excellent demonstration of the character’s sincerity (not to mention is a choice that stands to help Spider-Man in the long run).
Two issues in and Slott is writing with such ease and confidence right now, I think I’m open-minded to nearly any kind of status quo shift Slott can come up with right now. Even the second reference to the mysterious recipient of a second radioactive spider bite, Silk, gets a fun little scene as she digs out a video of a fight between Spidey and Electro (direct from this issue of ASM #82).