If you were to look up the term “transitory comic book issue” in the dictionary, you would probably get a picture of Amazing Spider-Man #16 – which is not necessarily a bad thing, especially after the past six months of exhausting, Multiverse-spanning stories that were the bread and butter of “Spider-Verse.”
Just based on the fact that the issue has been co-scripted/plotted by Dan Slott and Christos Gage – which historically has been a telltale that Slott has a number of irons in the fire (i.e. “Renew Your Vows” and some big stuff with Silver Surfer) and needs a bit of assistance from Gage – ASM #16 has all the makings of a set-up story. The issue circles back to some subplots that took a backseat during the theatrics of “Spider-Verse,” like Parker Industries and its pursuit of a super prison contract, the rise of Alechemax, and the Black Cat’s ascension in the underworld, while also introducing a few new ideas that aren’t anything revelatory or earth-shattering (the Ghost doesn’t strike me as the kind of villain that would be featured in a game-changing Spider-Man arc, but maybe I’m just being narrow-minded). In other words, if you weren’t able to pick this issue up at the store this week and for some reason you don’t have an internet connection and can’t buy a digital copy, I would say you didn’t miss all that much and you could probably catch up from Amazing Spider-Man #17’s recap page when that’s published down the road.
With all that said, it’s actually refreshing to get a comic like this that pumps the brakes a bit and seems willing to look at its cast of characters with more than just a passing glance. ASM #16 still features it’s fair share of forced moments and beats – I don’t view Peter as some kind of emboldened leader post-“Spider-Verse” like this creative team so desperately wants me to, and as many times as the Spider-office keeps trying to convince me that Felicia Hardy’s heel turn is anything but over-the-top and unjustified, I do not buy it – but the comic also does a somewhat admirable job of reconnecting me to Peter, the person who has a life and responsibilities that extend beyond his time in tights and a mask.
ASM #16’s opening fight between Spidey and Lizard-knockoff D-lister Iguana is the kind of stuff Slott did very well when he first became the regular writer of Amazing Spider-Man and later on Superior Spider-Man. It’s not necessarily an epically memorable fight, but that’s exactly the point. The narrative’s tongue is firmly in cheek with every punch and kick that’s thrown around. Spider-Man, who is still apparently battling some fatigue and weakness from his showdown with Morlun in ASM #14, is struggling to put Iguana away, but he still has the time and wherewithal to take some phone calls, first from his Aunt May, and later from Anna Maria and Sanjani at Parker Industries.
Peter Parker … the man who’s life is so harried and chaotic, that he has to take a phone call from his aunt in the middle of a fistfight with a villain that’s promising to kill him for his lack of awareness of certain reptilian issues. It’s the kind of lightweight, self-aware story that ASM as a series so desperately needs at the moment. Sure, I don’t want every single Spider-Man story to be quite so carefree and irreverent, but even going back to the very earliest days of Spider-Man, for every “Master Planner Trilogy” there’s a storyline that features Spider-Man’s costume falling apart because it’s a cheap knockoff.
By the time Peter finally manages to take care of business with the Iguana, we find him rushing to the scene of a big presentation Parker Industries needs to give regarding a contract for a super prison – my goodness it’s been so long since this subplot was mentioned, I plum forgot about it. I still don’t find myself caring all that much about Peter trying to enter the correctional facility design market sector, but the sequence does give us a short but lovely character moment between Peter and old high schoolmate Liz Allan; a scene made all the more sincere and authentic by the way Liz adjusts Peter’s shirt and tie as he stumbles through the door. You will never hear me complain when a Spider-Man comic book acknowledges its own history and how those past events inherently influence current character relationships.
As I mentioned during the first six-issue arc of the ASM reboot last year, I’ve more or less given up on expecting Felicia/Black Cat to be portrayed any differently by the current ASM regime, so I’m not going to harp on it anymore and will instead just judge the subplot based on its current execution and consistency. Still, I don’t exactly see the value of cutting the main narrative short and repeating some of the same character beats in ASM #16’s backup issue that were hit a handful of issues earlier by Slott and co. Felicia is look to rebuild and regain all of the credibility/morale that she believes was taken from her when she was sold out by the (Superior) Spider-Man some time ago. Say no more. Got it. Unless the sequence was supposed to serve as some kind of prologue to Gerry Conway’s “Spiral,” which if it was, it wasn’t explicit enough, then I really don’t need to hear it again.
Either way, I’m at least a little bit optimistic by the fact that now that Slott has gotten another one of his huge storylines out of the way, we might be able to get something that’s a little more focused and grounded. Here’s to hope.