Those who are not up to speed on their proverbial turns of phrase should note that a gordian knot references a highly complex tangling of rope that was deemed impossible to untie. When the legendary conqueror, Alexander the Great was faced with untying the knot, he initially struggled until he took a step back, grabbed his sword, and simply cut it in two: problem solved.
Dating back to the final Superior Spider-Man arc, “Goblin Nation,” it appeared as if lead writer Dan Slott was tying his Spider-Man narrative into a gordian knot — a convoluted tangle of high-minded mythology, broad scope, new ideas, and drastic character shifts. And with each subsequent arc or event, the knot got tighter and tighter to the point that untying it was not only unseemly, but near impossible.
While he still needs to ultimately stick the landing, “The Osborn Identity” is shaping up to be Slott’s cutting of the knot moment. Especially when compared with the story that preceded it — “The Clone Conspiracy/Dead No More/Whatever That Thing Was Called” — through three chapters, “The Osborn Identity” has been a breath of fresh air for Spider-Man’s flagship series, with the newest issue, Amazing Spider-Man #27, arguably being the breeziest installment yet.
Similar to what I said about ASM #26, there’s nothing profoundly ground-shaking, or status quo upheaving about ASM #27, but that’s precisely what’s so enjoyable about it. At its core, “The Osborn Identity” is a simple and straightforward story where the lines of good and evil are stark and easy to spot. Slott hits upon the usual themes of power/responsibility, and dresses up the whole thing with classic Spidey banter and team-up action. Meanwhile, there’s enough intrigue involving the likes of Nick Fury Jr. and S.H.I.E.L.D., Harry Lyman, Bobbi Morse, and of course, the main villain, Norman Osborn, to keep things interesting.
But beyond all of these elements, what makes this arc and this issue most enjoyable is the simple fact that the “Osborn Identity” continues to move forward and at a brisk pace. There’s ample exposition — we finally get a recap as to how Silver Sable survived her presumably fatal battle against Rhino during the “Ends of the Earth” arc — but it never slows the overall progression of the narrative down. There’s nary a wasted panel as Slott, and of course his all-star artist Stuart Immonen, bob and weave between sensible and solid characterization, and highly imaginative action.
The issue even brings some needed clarity to the age old question in superhero comics as to “why” — i.e., “why” are these character doing these things to each other. Stripped of his Goblin serum-induced madness, Osborn is driven by good old fashioned lust for power and hatred of Spider-Man. And Spider-Man, whose motivations were a bit muddier last issue, settles on a totally acceptable reason to seemingly risk everything (his business, reputation, etc.) to take down Osborn and liberate Symkaria: after letting Osborn off the hook countless times as Marvel’s token hard luck loser of a hero, Spidey now has the resources (financial and physical), to sink Norman once and for all (or so they say). Again this explanation is a cutting of the gordian knot moment for Slott and his narrative. No more “Spider-Man needs a win” or other overly complicated justifications but rather, Spider-Man is a hero and is going to do the right thing (even if it appears to be the wrong thing to the casual observer). The fact that Mockingbird says as much in this issue is all the validation that’s really needed when it comes to Spider-Man doing something that would get the more universally accepted members of Marvel hero-dom in trouble.
Lastly, while this was probably Immonen’s most straightforward issue of the series, he continues to deliver each time out, this time doing a wonderfully frightening job of transforming Osborn into a monstrous looking figure. If anything, ASM #27 sorta resembles the visual aesthetic of a Batman comic — with a Joker-esque darkly comic villain to boot — but with all the heart of the classic friendly neighborhood Spider-Man thanks to Slott’s script.
Amazing Spider-Man (vol. 4) #27 keeps things simple and keeps the engaging “Osborn Identity” storyline moving forward. This is the most consistently compelling this book has been in quite some time.