Dan Slott’s writing in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man has been both lauded and criticized for reading akin to older Silver Age tales, as if he were trying to recapture the voice and spirit of Stan Lee’s more whimsical stories. Personally, its these kinds of stories, like Spider-Man/Human Torch, that have worked the best for me out of his long run on the character. But recent volumes of the title have seen him embrace more modern comic sensibilities: leaning into giant-sized event stories, decompressed story arcs that lasted months, if not years, and the constant releasing of new characters meant to electrify the book.
For me, that meant a rapidly declining interest in the title to the point of near cancellation. I went from loving Dan Slott’s Amazing Spider-Man and Superior Spider-Man, anxiously awaiting the day a new issue released, to dreading each new chapter, while silently cursing the editors who I suspected were behind this change. Meanwhile, the more classically-oriented, Slott-penned Silver Surfer captured my imagination in ways Spider-Man used to. Now, in the pre-“Legacy” era, Slott’s Silver Surfer has ended and Amazing Spider-Man has returned to a more classically thrilling format and to its former heights.
This is perhaps best expressed in this latest, done-in-one issue, entitled “Personal Demon”. This story, Amazing Spider-Man (vol. 4) #32, might barely feature Spider-Man, but it is the perfect example of how Slott’s sometimes classical, Silver-Agey tales can make for the best kind of comics. It tells a surprising and character-oriented tale that both provides the illusion of change for a character while reaffirming the characteristics that made him so captivating in the first place, without the need to tease any larger, overarching narrative or event.
In this case, the featured character is that of Norman Osborn. Readers who have witnessed dramatic changes in the character over the years will likely reflect his sentiments in this book, as he begins a journey to reawaken the Green Goblin within himself and regain his rightful place (if you agree) at the top of Spider-Man’s rogues gallery. The form his quest takes in this issue will come as a surprise to many; for when science again fails Norman he decides to take a uniquely different approach: setting out on a Doctor Strange-like quest into the mountains, hoping that perhaps magic will provide the answer.
Some readers may scoff in disbelief at this strange and overnight change for the character, but anyone who has read Dan Slott’s writing (especially Amazing Spider-Man #698) should know that one should never place too much trust in the old adage that “seeing is believing” when it comes to the best Slott tales. When the book makes its final turn it, the twist does not only serve as a surprise but an excellent underlining of what makes Norman such a great character, worthy of our fear. And just like in any of the best Spider-Man stories, defeat and victory are often partners that work hand in hand.
It’s hard to undersell the joys of reading this comic as a done-in-one tale, especially with Slott’s writing operating on this level again. There’s no feeling quite like reading a solidly told comic story in a single issue, an experience that is increasingly rare these days. Slott smartly keeps his writing to the point and doesn’t waste a single panel. The characters’ desires are uncomplicated, purposeful, direct, and cleanly spoken and presented. It is hard to believe this comic was written by the same person who overwrote the talking-heads disasterpiece that was “Spider-Verse.”
This recent change in writing doesn’t only coincide with Slott’s end of Silver Surfer, but also a change in publishing schedule to accommodate for the best artwork these series has seen in years. Artist Stuart Immonen takes a break for this issue, but Greg Smallwood more than covers for his absence. Fresh off his trippy run on Moon Knight, Smallwood’s uncluttered, textured, large-paneled artwork sells an epic journey and momentarily convinces that Norman may have turned the corner and embraced a quieter life. Colorist Jordie Bellaire’s muted color palette sells the solemn affairs of this issue, punctuating them with the frightening greens we all associate with the infamous villain. I get the sense that Slott knew how attractive this issue was and smartly gave letterer Joe Caramagna less work to do than normal, lest his word balloons cover any of it up.
But we all know that Norman isn’t likely to be one to embrace a holistic lifestyle and before you know it Smallwood pulls out all the tricks to return Norman to his grinning, twisted, and weird Ditko days: his mask grinning, arms pumping, and ears reaching to the heavens. The Goblin has rarely been so frighteningly depicted in recent memory and for a moment the consequences seem enormous.
I had almost lost all hope in Slott’s ability to craft an exciting Spider-Man tale that would leave me screaming for more, but I’ll be the first to say that I’m happy to be proven wrong. All my hope in this title has returned. If the upcoming issues remain as enthralling as the past several months have been we may be entering a new golden age of Spider-Man comics. I’m eager to be a True Believer in the webhead and Slott again instead of allowing them to become my own personal demon.
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A twist-turny done-in-one was exactly the kind of story the pages of Amazing Spider-Man needed right now as writer Dan Slott charts a course back towards greatness for this wayward series. Guest artist Greg Smallwood and his art team are the perfect fit for this mystical Green Goblin tale that makes a great case for why he’s been such a captivating character for so long.