If you scoffed at Peter Parker’s rather immediate adoption of the mysterious, villainous-looking, cloned organ-making company New U in the previous issue of Amazing Spider-Man, then writer Dan Slott and fill-in penciller R.B. Silva have got a story for you. In the early pages of Amazing Spider-Man (vol. 4) #17 it is revealed that prior to utilizing New U’s technology Peter sent Hobie Brown, The Prowler, on a reconnaissance mission deep inside the New U headquarters in San Francisco. It didn’t work out exactly as planned.
Amazing Spider-Man #17 is a simultaneous story to the events of Amazing Spider-Man (vol. 4) #16 which means it rehashes a fair amount of content from the previous story. Generally, this isn’t to the issue’s detriment, as seeing these events play out from a different perspective does provide an intriguing peak behind the curtain (this is a setup issue after all). That said, Prowler’s involvement in last week’s events is nearly negligible, he observes the goings-on at New U the same way the reader did last week, so there’s no real joy of discovery to be had regarding how this new viewpoint allows readers to learn more about last issue’s proceedings. If anything, one wonders if excluding these sequences from last week’s issue would have made this issue’s reveals all the more shocking and immediate.
Because Amazing Spider-Man #17 focuses entirely on Hobie Brown as its protagonist, it is wonderful that’s he so charmingly written and expressively drawn. The story starts with Hobie swinging around town as Peter’s decoy Spider-Man, intended to throw off the scent of those seeking to link Peter to his costumed mascot. “You’re the worst boss I’ve ever had,” Hobie banters to Peter. “Before me, you were self-employed,” Peter responds, setting Hobie up for a layup: “Yep. Now there was a great boss. Generous and handsome.” It’s the playful dynamic that made Amazing Spider-Man (vol. 4) #2 such a charming and funny issue and a nice reminder that Hobie continues to be a part of this new status quo, considering he’s been absent in recent issues.
When Peter asks Hobie to commit corporate espionage, Hobie throws on the brakes, challenging Peter’s ethics in a way that successfully illuminates how Peter’s morals may have changed alongside his new position as head of Parker Industries. Hobie’s break-in to New U as the Prowler is both humorous (complete with all the pop culture nods one expects from a Dan Slott Spider-Man story) and thrilling. Whereas Spider-Man would likely have burst his way into New U, fists flying, Hobie utilizes his agility and technical wizardry to distinguish himself from the other wall-crawler. With a shocking twist for Hobie by the story’s end, this well-defined characterization and dramatic shift in status quo certainly makes for an exciting setup to his standalone series when it launches this fall.
What Hobie does find at New U is exactly what Peter feared and what we the audience knew/suspected from the beginning, the company is stuffed full of villains, clones, and a yet to be unmasked and wholly redesigned Jackal. Slott does a good job of fleshing out the details surrounding the Jackal’s resurrection process, while maintaining some mysteries, and even finds a way to make these clones sympathetic through their collective confusion. The Jackal has been given a refreshing update that poses even more questions about who he is and what he’s up to. No longer the cackling maniac he was in several of Slott’s other stories, this Jackal seems to believe that he’s not only doing what is right but that in this instance he is the “good guy.”
Without giving away too many of the story twists in Amazing Spider-Man #17 that aren’t on the cover, this issue sees the creation of a new, female Electro. The identity of the character is a clever callback to a previous story and a refreshing update on an old villain without the stale rehashing or reinvention tropes that typically correspond to a classic villain’s return. The Jackal’s orders that she not kill the Prowler, after he’s discovered snooping, add a further wrinkle to the villain’s cloning endeavors and suggest that perhaps even the Jackal knows that there’s a strange new twist on his previously unlimited cloning techniques; this concept is further underlined by a last-page tease that the Jackal has something truly unique up his red sleeves.
The real draw to this story is the welcomed addition of R.B. Silva on penciling duties for this title. While previous penciller Giuseppe Camuncoli should be applauded for his consistency and reliability as an artist, his shortcomings are made apparent by Silva’s far more expressive and detailed work in this issue. His stockier character renderings always find the most dramatic pose possible in each frame, befitting their super-powered roles, particularly the sneaky Prowler, whose Spider-Man inspired costume and fighting style retains a classic flourish. Silva plays with his use of foreground and background to heighten the storytelling and visual intrigue, particularly regarding the final image we see of Max Dillon’s Electro.
Silva is aided by the thin-line inks of Adriano di Benedetto whose work helps retain the detailed nature of the previous penciling. There are moments where a thicker brush could have added some depth to Silva’s work, however that’s where the nuanced work of colorist Marte Gracia powerfully launches these both other artists’ work into outer space. The artwork in this series has always been at its best during depictions of technologic action, particularly due to Gracia’s beautiful gradients and their haunting reproduction of the glow of electricity and touch-screens. The same is true here.
Amazing Spider-Man (vol. 4) #17 is a wonderful bridge story that introduces a number of exciting new elements while relying on the classic, old characters and stories to support them. Dan Slott artfully dodges (for the time being) criticisms regarding the overuse of clone reveals by humanizing the clones and suggesting that not only is there a catch but that these genetic copies are just the tip of the iceberg of the Jackal’s plans. Just as in the “Dark Forces” arc, Dan Slott’s writing works best when it is at its slowest and most metered, allowing his often crazy ideas to settle in and his characters to shine.
While Amazing Spider-Man (vol. 4) #17 does rehash a good deal of the events of the previous issue, it does provide an even more intriguing look behind the scenes of the Jackal's clone-inspired plans. While the wait for "Clone Conspiracy" is all the more painful, readers should delight in the wonderful addition of R.B. Silva's expressive artwork.