I find myself in a strange place reviewing the latest issue of writer Jose Molina and artists Simone Bianchi and Andrea Broccardo’s “Amazing Grace” miniseries. The pages within are of a standard comic book fare, with all the typical mystical gobbledygook and superhero nonsense that fans of the genre have grown accustomed to and simultaneously cringe at. However, it is nearly impossible to continue writing about this series without acknowledging that in the previous chapter the writer fundamentally changed Spider-Man’s origin story for the services of his story.
So while Amazing Spider-Man (vol. 4) #1.5 is a totally inoffensive comic book, it comes on the heals of a hugely bloated story that has had trouble finding footing and a cohesive narrative, but also has almost completely ignored key facets of Spider-Man’s history as a character. It is hard to take any of the contents contained within this book with any level of seriousness, considering the author’s misunderstanding of the character and his basic history.
Still, Jose Molina has attempted to explore Peter’s beliefs, challenging both him and his supporting cast to deal with a character that seems to be both a villain and some sort of miracle-worker, which is an admirable goal for a Spider-Man story. Molina dials back on the thematic resonance for this issue to provide clarity regarding exactly what is up with Julio while still managing to add even more wrinkles to an already complicated story. With any story there is a limit on how many various storylines any reader can follow at any point in time and “Amazing Grace” has gone well past the point of no return.
While the story is finally given a much needed goal, stopping whatever false-god is masquerading as Julio, we get additional complications, in this case “Celestial Scars,” a giant man-eating, man-regurgitating snake, and an aborted bathroom confrontation which only pad the narrative and delay whatever confrontation should have happened several issues ago.
These additional scenes waste valuable pages on characters briefly interacting with no dramatic development or conclusion occurring; instead the story punts the ball down the field hoping to come back to it later. This storytelling method makes it increasingly difficult for readers to track any kind of consistency in the narrative. At the center of this confusion is the character of Julio whose characterization changes panel to panel and whose motivations remain hugely unclear. Does an evil god possess him or is he just a fanatical believer with otherworldly powers? Ferreting out all the clues and details would take a corkboard and more flash cards than I currently own.
Still, as a standalone issue, Amazing Spider-Man #1.5 presents a compelling narrative, specifically regarding Julio’s manipulation of belief to turn his villainous actions into opportunities to present himself as a savior. It is his toppling of a public bus that draws Spider-Man and the Santerians to team up, even recruiting Tony Stark, to take down this madman.
The dual artists on this book both do a serviceable job, even if the transition from one artist to another remains jarring. Broccardo’s pencils are a bit more traditional, with thin line-work and standard layouts. Bianchi unique style is hard to ignore, from his unique ink washes to his irregular line width when rendering minute details (of particular note in this issue is his bizarre rending of Spider-Man’s eyes). Still, his layouts and framing are uniquely dramatic and unusual, while still being easy to read thanks to some well-placed word-balloons and smart visual guides.
With only one chapter remaining, “Amazing Grace” continues to be a huge missed opportunity to explore an overlooked aspect of Spider-Man’s character. In many ways it feels like a rough draft of a potentially interesting story about faith and false prophets that was pushed forward to coincide with the launch of a Spider-Man’s new status quo, especially considering that just a handful of issues in the art team is having to share duties.
Amazing Spider-Man #1.5 provides some much-needed clarity regarding Spider-Man's newest villain, but it comes far too late to save this misguided and rushed miniseries.