I don’t ask for much in my Spider-Man comics. Ultimately, all I want is a reason to keep coming back, month after month – to get something out of a story that makes me look forward to what comes next. I think one of the main reasons I’ve been so undeniably cranky about the state of Spider-Man since the series rebooted in April is I realized that I was checking in on this book solely out of obligation. I found myself so disenchanted with things, if it was any other comic beyond the one I’ve been collected for the past 27 years, I probably would have taken a break for a few months.
For the first time in what feels like a very long time – too long probably – an Amazing Spider-Man comic has given me a sense of joy and anticipation for the very next issue. Amazing Spider-Man #9, the first part of the highly teased and ballyhooed “Spider-Verse” arc, something that Dan Slott has reportedly been planning for years, was pretty much everything I could ask for in the opening chapter of a major storyline. I hesitate to heap any more praise on this issue out of fear that the rug will be pulled out from me again, but as of this very moment, there is hope for Amazing Spider-Man again.
ASM #9 does so many things effectively in terms of setting a tone, creating unique characters and establishing an engaging central conflict, it almost felt completely disconnected from the previous eight issues of ASM. In fact, if it wasn’t for some references from issues like ASM #4 and the Edge of Spider-Verse mini/prologues, I almost would have reasoned that ASM #9 was written by an entirely new creative team, similar to what transpired in 2001 when J. Michael Straczynski and John Romita Jr. jumped on the book with a bang (with a Morlun story no less).
What’s funny about this feeling is the fact that I’ve been quietly speculating that maybe part of the reason this book has been in a rut for so long is that both the ending of Superior Spider-Man and the first eight issues of ASM were thrust upon Slott via the always nefarious “editorial mandate.” I wondered if Slott had his own long-game in mind and that with the new The Amazing Spider-Man movie coming out when it did, his flow was disrupted. Because all of the forced jokes and poor character work from the past few months is nowhere to be found in ASM #9. This comic marks Slott at his most comfortable and confident. It’s full steam ahead, and the net result is something that’s very joyful.
Slott has fun with the parallel world concept from the very first page, opening with a classic image of Peter Parker in bed being awoken from a phone call by Jolly Jonah Jameson. But of course this isn’t actually OUR Peter. And like a terrible, awful horror movie, the big bad monster/serial killer in Morlun, jumps out of the closet (not actually, it’s just an analogy) and wipes out another spider. In some of my recent write-ups, I complained that the repetitive nature of the Inheritors’ “hit list” was cheapening the impact of some of these deaths, but there was just something different about how things started out here in ASM #9. Again, it’s a matter of confidence. Slott is being far more playful in his sadism here, setting the reader up only to hoodwink them but in a way that doesn’t feel insulting or trollish.
The issue packs a LOT of characters into the confines of a singular comic book, which in the past has become treacherous ground for Slott to traverse. Like his main character, Slott sometimes gets easily distracted when there are too many toys in a room, and lets his best attributes as a writer get lost in the shuffle. Not the case here. While not EVERY single Spider-Man character has a personality, Slott goes a long way in establishing most of them. And the hypothetical “science” of how certain characters like Cosmic Spider-Man and Ben Reilly can appear in this story is clearly and concisely explained. Over on the villain side, Slott is defining Morlun from his crazy brothers and sisters. And boy, between the main story and the backup tale, Slott is doing a wonderful job in making me want to see the Inheritors get crushed under the weight of their villainy and hubris.
But for all the darkness and evil, there’s also a shocking amount of warmth in this comic. There are some emotionally devastating sequences that are balanced with levity and humanity. Like when Kaine is found amid the wreckage of Mount Wundagore, blaming himself for not protecting the “children.” Or when the usually ridiculous Spider-Ham tells Mayday Parker that she has a “family” now with all the other Spider-characters. These moments of sincerity just naturally pulse throughout this book. Not a single character beat feels ham-fisted or out of place. If nothing else, it’s abundantly clear that Slott put a painstaking amount of effort into scripting this comic.
There is also very obviously a larger theme at play, something I’ve wanted to see Slott explore since he started to accelerate towards his finish in Superior earlier this year. For the past few months, I’ve been harping on the decision to cast Peter out of his own book and not make him smarter or wiser upon his return. I said over and over during the peak of Superior that the book was a referendum of what it meant to be Spider-Man – that Otto Octavius did things his way only as means to demonstrate how Peter may not be perfect, but he’s the one TRUE Spider-Man. But that story was resolved in a fashion where Otto uncharacteristically ceded control to Peter, taking away any chance of cementing ownership of any claims.
In ASM #9, Peter is clearly overwhelmed by the war between his Spider-brethren and the Inheritors. He doesn’t understand why all of these analogues and iterations of himself are drawn to him and seeking him out. But as any long-time Spider-Man fan will tell you, it’s because Peter is special. He’s a truly wonderful hero who has become a pop culture icon for a reason. People who love Peter should not be ashamed for their fandom of the character. And maybe, just maybe, through “Spider-Verse,” Slott and Marvel are about to tell us that it’s okay for us to publicly love this character again.
I’ve gone through all of this and I haven’t once mentioned the book’s artist, Oliver Coipel. I’m a huge fan of Coipel’s and his involvement has had me excited since “Spider-Verse” was first announced. But even with all that anticipation, I still thought this was one of the best looking Spider-Man comics in years. No disrespect to the cadre of great artists that have worked on ASM the past few months, but Coipel is a legit all-star in this industry. I have no illusions of him lasting on this comic beyond the duration of “Spider-Verse.” I’m sure he was brought on for the big event and nothing more. But one issue in and I know if all else fails, I’m going to love “Spider-Verse” for Coipel’s artwork.