The burning question that has seemingly stalked this new volume of Amazing Spider-Man since its launch in October is can a story about a wildly successful Peter Parker be considered a “true” Spider-Man story. And while we’ve witnessed elements of the old, power and responsibility-driven Peter in ASM’s previous three issues, Amazing Spider-Man #4, by Dan Slott and Giuseppe Camuncoli, is arguably the volume four’s first indisputable “true” Spidey story reminiscent of days of yore.
In many ways, that makes ASM #4 the most thematically satisfying single issue of this new status quo, which continues to enthuse as many readers as it confounds. Old and new Spider-Man readers alike are well-versed in the potential pratfalls that accompany a character that has an unyielding obligation to use his powers responsibly, and ASM #4 delivers on this premise in spades.
We witness Peter risk the cushy comforts of his quid pro quo arrangement with S.H.I.E.L.D. by choosing to abandon a mission that also has major implications for the future of his company, Parker Industries, in favor of an independent rescue of his Aunt May and her husband Jay while the couple is volunteering at a solar panel construction site in Africa. Peter’s drive is further emblemized when he discovers that the cretins attacking his family are utilizing weapons of his arch-nemesis (and the source for so much personal pain and tragedy) the Green Goblin.
It’s actually refreshing to read a Slott-scripted comic and see a Peter acting instinctively rather than impulsively. When he opts to skip out on S.H.I.E.L.D. in order to fly over to Africa, Slott does a fine job in establishing how Peter is aware of the consequences for his actions. But because Peter is who he is, he of course feels more responsible for the safety of May and Jay since they were only put in the path of danger when they agreed to volunteer at a Parker Industries’ construction site — especially when the other option is supporting a S.H.I.E.L.D. mission that may be bigger in scope and impact, but is more difficult for the “everyman” hero to wrap his head around.
But for all of its thematic familiarity, ASM #4 also raises a number of questions about the specificities of this new status quo, while also featuring many logistical plot holes that seem to be popping up with more frequency in the Spider-books these days. For example, when we last left things with May vis a vis Spider-Man, she was imploring her nephew to sever all ties with the masked vigilante. Granted, a lot of these inconsistencies can be explained away with the eight-month time jump, but still, here, May is entirely nonplussed by Spidey coming to her rescue, even engaging the hero in a conversation once the Goblin-bomb tossing criminals have been apprehended.
On that note, Spidey’s in-costume candor with May was a bit alarming with its straight-forwardness, all but begging the elderly woman to figure out that the man under the mask is actually her nephew (and considering that the mystical “mental block” has been removed from the Marvel Universe, there’s no stopping May from figuring out/remembering that Peter is really Spider-Man). The exchange between the two characters was clearly designed to be a heartwarming moment with Peter admitting that May is essentially a mother to him, but it felt out of place and ham-fisted within this new status quo.
Then there are such logistical conundrums as to how presumably impoverished children in an African town lacking adequate power resources would have internet access. These are the kinds of details Slott has shown a tendency to overlook when the “real-world” alternative disrupts the larger point he’s trying to make. Taking issue with these throwaway scenes in a review such as this might come across as being petty, but when there are one or two similarly conceived sequences every issue, it is fair game.
Slott also continues to follow the same narrative template when it comes to how he ends each of these ASM issues. Once again, we get a reveal involving a classic Spider-Man villain and a mysterious man in a red suit. While credit must be given to the fact that Slott is clearly trying to build long-term drama in a book — as sure a sign as any that ASM volume 4 is likely to last more than 17 issues (despite the mainstream market’s insistence to reboot every year or so) — by returning to the same well again and again, the series is fast becoming predictable. Plus, the last time a Slott-scripted Spider-Man book put this much effort into a mystery villain, we ended up with the catastrophic Mason Banks is Norman Osborn with reconstructive surgery reveal of the Superior Spider-Man era.
Visually, ASM #4 might be Camuncoli’s weakest effort to date. Large portions of the story focused on out-of-costume characters, specifically May and Jay, which have never been Cammo’s strong suit as an artist. While he still had a few opportunities to render some cool-looking PI tech, between the comic’s heavy focus on May and Jay, and the overall barren aesthetic of the middle-of-nowhere, Africa, ASM #4 was just missing *something* when compared to the three prior installments of the series.
Amazing Spider-Man #4 might feature the most true-to-form Peter Parker tale of the new status quo, but the repetitive nature of the narrative is becoming wearisome and the book lacks some of the tech-inspired visual appeal of its predecessors.