With the conclusion of writers Dan Slott and Christos Gage and artist Giuseppe Camuncoli‘s story “Power Play,” there is no way to overlook the biggest flaw of this story: it is nearly a beat for beat retread of the recent, and well-regarded, Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows. That’s not to say that Amazing Spider-Man (vol. 4) #15 isn’t a somewhat satisfying conclusion to this ongoing story, but just how exciting and engaging could it be considering it is nearly identical to a story readers enjoyed less than a year ago?
Midway through this tale the three primary characters from both stories reflect that the events of this issue seem weirdly familiar, almost as if they’ve happened before. As has been an all-too-familiar trend with Slott’s Amazing Spider-Man series, the book takes time to acknowledge the writing, flaws and all, to let the reader know that the creatives behind it are aware of these similarities. “Yes, we know that Spider-Man has essentially become Iron Man.” “Yes, we know that this is essentially a retelling of Renew Your Vows.” “Yes, we know that this story plays out exactly like all other superhero team-up stories do.”
One wink at the audience in this way could be considered a clever breaking of the fourth wall, but when every single story does this it begins to sound like an excuse put forward to defend uninspired storytelling.
At the same time, the writers seem to be inventing storytelling wrinkles along the way in order for their characters to advance the plot, rather than to actually progress the story in a natural way. Not only do important story developments from previous issues disappear, specifically Regent’s overindulgence in his suit’s power and his rapid ascension towards maxing it out, but also brand new, never-before-seen solutions come out of nowhere to save our heroes. There’s a real difference between seeding a solution to the threat of Regent and suddenly introducing a Clash-inspired app that allows Harry to escape and sabotage Regent’s operations.
Still, the writers do present a feasible justification for why Mary Jane might suit up in the Iron Spider suit to save Peter and Tony by specifically referencing her experiences in “The Other” and “Spider-Island.” It may be bizarre that the Iron Spider suit is quickly found, stowed away in a wooden crate, covered in hay, but there is a certain joy to seeing Mary Jane return to the fray and contribute in a meaningful way to Spider-Man’s ongoing tales after being ignored by this creative team for so long. A clever reveal towards the end of the book, complete with unnecessary imagery of Mary Jane in her underwear, plays with reader’s desires, expectations, knowledge of Peter Parker, and comic storytelling to generate a genuine surprise and laugh about the direction Mary Jane will be taking in the Marvel Universe. Credit is also due to Camuncoli for portraying a splashy battle between Mary Jane and Regent without leaning heavily on her feminine attributes to distinguish her in the battle.
As was to be expected, Regent folds like a bad Poker hand when confronted by all of the previously-captured, A-list Marvel heroes he held in his prison. Despite some interesting characterization early on in this story, Regent remains exactly as one-note as he was during Renew Your Vows, except here we aren’t even privy to his off-panel defeat. The full-page spread by Camuncoli depicting the moment before his surrender fails to inspire because of a cramped design, cropped heroes, and a strange, forced perspective that muddies the spatial alignment of the various characters.
Following the arrest of Regent are pages and pages of expositional dialogue that address nearly all of the problems with this particular story and volume of Amazing Spider-Man, all while attempting to thematically tie together this tale with a moral lesson for Peter. Reading this epilogue alone would prove hugely satisfying if it wasn’t so totally unearned by the story that preceded it. Peter reflects on Regent’s vengeance-fueled descent into madness as a mirror to his own devotion to Parker Industries and decides to reconnect with his friends and family. The warmth and familiarity of Peter’s supporting cast is exactly what this sometimes foreign-feeling status quo needed and the shocking final page injects real stakes back into this book, but no matter the destination the events leading to this point continue to feel unearned.
Amazing Spider-Man (vol. 4) #15 is a step in the right direction for this flailing series, but still continues to not only repeat recent storylines but also previous mistakes. Peter continues to be a secondary character in his own title, the writing makes unearned leaps in logic and thematic resonance, and the villains' characterizations remain one-note and unable to support multiple-issue story arcs.