When it comes to the newly rebooted Amazing Spider-Man series, I sometimes feel like someone in the midst of the “five stages of grief” – trying to work my way through each stage until I finally (inevitably) hit upon “acceptance” and understand that eight issues in, this book continues to disappoint me.
I’m personally stuck in the bargaining phase right now. After being so excited about the return of Peter Parker in April only to find myself getting increasingly more frustrated by the book’s inconsistent tone and characterization, and its overall ambivalence in trying to do something new and exciting with Spidey, I latched on to some mild improvements in ASM #7 under the belief that maybe the last few months have all been some kind of cool down period for the true “main event,” “Spider-Verse.” Perhaps if I just continue to sit and wait things out, all will be rewarded come “Spider-Verse.”
And maybe that will still happen (still bargaining). But Amazing Spider-Man #8 was just another lackluster effort, specifically in the writing department from Dan Slott – someone whose work I once found myself defending against some of his most vile critics. Someone whose talents are still clearly on display in Silver Surfer. But month after month (or every two weeks, after every two weeks) since April, I find myself getting to the end of ASM and saying to myself, “and … ???” What is it going to take to get a story out of this book that leaves me smiling and excited to be reading Amazing Spider-Man?
ASM’s current lack of soul and heart is made even more apparent after the release of the Edge of Spider-Verse mini which saw five lesser-known creative teams throw everything they could at readers in their one shot to sell a brand new Spider-Man from across the multiverse. Or in Superior Foes of Spider-Man, where the creative team is ending the series in spectacular fashion. These are books that are making ASM eat its lunch right now and there’s no legitimate reason for that to happen. ASM is a book with an “A” list writer in Slott and a great cadre of artists in Humberto Ramos and Giuseppe Camuncoli (who continues to get better and better every issue out). This book should be stellar and it’s far from it.
My biggest critique with ASM #8 was its meandering narrative which inevitably led to one of the more tepid reveals in a series that seems to be specializing them lately. In a continuation of last issue’s Spider-Man/Ms. Marvel team-up, the book committed two cardinal sins in superhero comic storytelling: it was light on plot and light on action. Certain character beats were repeated from an issue ago (like Ms. Marvel’s awestruck-ness around Spider-Man), while the more progressive plot advancements were saved for characters not named Peter Parker like Silk’s new costume (which was essentially spoiled a few weeks/months ago for the advanced solicits for the new Spider-Woman and solo Silk series).
Such ho-humness is acceptable if the story ends in a fashion that is compelling/shocking/outrageous/all of the above, but instead the seemingly big build-up was to unveil one of Dr. Minerva’s henchmen as Clayton Cowles, aka “Clash,” who was first introduced a few months ago as part of the very disappointing “Learning to Crawl” miniseries.
Putting aside the fact that I was non-plussed by how the character was developed by Slott during “Learning to Crawl,” his “re-introduction” after what was supposed to be more than a decade in comic book time, was far from ideal. After he unmasks himself and proves that he’s not some kind of monster to Ms. Marvel, Spidey basically goes up to him an says “hey I recognize you. You’re Clash.” Kitty Pryde stumbling upon Colossus in the laboratory during Josh Wheedon’s Astonishing X-Men this ain’t.
We do get a bit of exposition that explains that Spider-Man made the connection from the sonic blaster Clayton used during their battle, but it’s still a fairly flaccid way to bring a long-absent character back into the storyline. Peter wanting to give him a second chance at Parker Industries is a nice sentiment, but considering the story Slott just finished telling barley a month ago, one would think that a reunion between these two characters would be far more emotionally charged then the “hey, what’s up?” exchange we ultimately got. But that’s been Amazing Spider-Man in a nutshell these past few months.
ASM #8’s “B” story, which is all but guaranteed to rile up a certain segment of the fan base, didn’t leave me outraged as much as it left me feeling apathetic. I know that Spider-Girl has a very passionate and protective fan base, but similar to the big Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends reveal last issue, the recurring violent destruction of all of these alternative Spider-Men registers less and less each time out. Which is a shame because based on the cult popularity of the Spider-Girl universe, ASM #8 could have really landed an emotional wallop if the whole thing wasn’t so telegraphed. I will, at least, admit that I look forward to seeing whether or not Spider-Girl gets her revenge on Morlun, as this is a character I am rooting for to succeed.
But wanting to see a happy ending for Mayday Parker might just be another instance of me bargaining with the comic book gods to give me something – anything – to latch on to and be excited about. I was recently asked what my favorite comic on my pull list currently is, and based on the fact that Superior Foes is ending, I shockingly found myself say Batman. That’s right, I think one of the few “Distinguish Competition” books that I read is better than Spider-Man right now (or really any Marvel book, though Surfer, Daredevil and Rocket Raccoon are all great right now). What I would give to have a different answer, but maybe I just have to accept that’s the case right now.