I’ve had a rather strange relationship with the first four issues of the all-new Amazing Spider-Man as my reviews of the series seemingly reflect a person who’s going way too far out of his way to cling tightly to some small kernels of positivity rather than thinking more critically about the book as a whole. Perhaps this phenomena can be chalked up to the books’ radically different status quo — I do find myself getting far too excited when I read through a sequence that feels like the “old Spider-Man.”
Regardless, from the very first page of Amazing Spider-Man #5, I sensed a major disturbance in the force, also known as my critical objectivity. There’s nothing about this specific comic book by Dan Slott and Giuseppe Camuncoli that’s inherently worse than its predecessors, and yet with every instance of contrived characterization, clunky dialogue and a meandering narrative, I couldn’t help but feel a simmering frustration start to boil over into something … more.
So, yeah, this is going to be one of *those* reviews. Folks looking for something super-happy-positive have been duly warned.
In all seriousness, what’s most troubling about Amazing Spider-Man #5 is how it manages to be both unfamiliar – as has been the case with every issue of volume four – and redundant to the point of being boring and predictable. Slott engaged John Byrne in internet warfare over the fact that his controversially different status quo was going to lead to some new and exciting situations for Spider-Man. And elements of the first few issues seemingly delivered on that promise. Sure it rang a bit too much like Tony Stark the Amazing Spider-Man for some people’s palates, but there was absolutely a hook and a reason to keep reading “to see what happens next.”
But after shooting so high in those opening few issues, debuting kitschy new technology that played to Camuncoli’s strengths an artists, and introducing brand new relationships for Spider-Man with characters like Mockingbird and Nick Fury Jr., the narrative has settled into a repetitive mantra of techno-babble and stakes-lacking superheroics. There is nothing daring or exciting about seeing Peter Parker in a Brooks Brothers suit, sitting next to Nick Fury Jr., ranting about the ethics of encrypting the closed circuit television system in the City of London, nor is there a hook to watching Spider-Man fight a crew of goofily-dressed red shirts that are chasing after macguffins for vague reasons.
As of right now, The Amazing Spider-Man is only recognizable as a Spider-Man comic because it says as much on the front of the comic. There’s nothing about ASM that dignifies it as a definitive story in Spider-Man’s illustrious canon. At the same time, the creative team is seemingly afraid to push the boundaries of this new status quo and do something truly controversial, making the series come across as a half-hearted spy book that can only muster the vaguest or most mundane elements the genre has to offer.
To the first point, we continue to get little to any of Peter’s inner-monologue, which renders him flavorless as a character, nor have we witnessed any tangible growth or intrigue regarding the scores of new relationships that have been introduced in this new status quo. There was potential to go to some interesting places with Spider-Man and Mockingbird after the events of ASM #4, but that was quickly squashed within the first few pages in a moment that has become a trademark of Slott’s Spider-Man run — one hero sucker-punching another. I realize that hero vs. hero is all the rage in comics right now and stands to become even rage-ier in a few months with the release of “Captain America: Civil War,” but is there any other way two people in tights and/or costumes can demonstrate their differences in opinion or is that just pie in the sky at this point?
Additionally, after teasing a Batman and Robin-esque dynamic in the first two issues of this series, the Spider-Man/Prowler team-up has been relegated to the sidelines, with Prowler being so marginalized, I initially mistook his purple mask in a throng of other faceless, non-descript characters as being Wraith’s.
Meanwhile Spider-Man continues to be the stupidest character in the room, getting outwitted at every turn by his partners, investors and deceased supervillains. Slott and others at Marvel have frequently compared Peter to being Charlie Brown trying to kick the football, but this new status quo was allegedly supposed to change all that – Peter had to do SOMETHING right to become such a successful titan of industry during that eight-month time jump (though Slott still fails to provide even modest table scraps to the reader indicating how the events we are currently reading about came to be). Watching Spider-Man try and save other villains at the risk of letting the issue’s big bad escape is a nice enough moment, but it’s far from enough to convince me to view this character has changed enough that he is now suddenly competent enough to run a Fortune 500 company. Plus, Camuncoli’s rendering of said sequence is cluttered and unclear, sapping it of any potential awe-inspiring impacts.
Ultimately, ASM continues to be a superhero story where the consequences of the hero’s failings are either unclear or uninspiring. Peter fears losing his London office, or worse, his entire company, when someone from his company hacks into London’s CCTV without permission, but the logistics of such a fallout are never explained (nor is there any follow-through and everything is resolved happily ever after except for one character). At the same time, Spider-Man is not afraid to crash into one of the most famous cultural institutions in the world and absently-mindedly tell worried bystanders that Parker Industries will foot the bill of all damages, making this also the second issue in row where Spider-Man has attempted to use his new-found wealth to make problems go away. If Peter was being portrayed as a cold-blooded businessman a la Tony Stark, then such statements would make sense, but the character oscillates between naïve do-gooder to mercenary from page to page.
Speaking of the Royal British Museum scene, ASM’s “international flair” has consistently been rendered moot by staid and uninteresting art. Granted, a lot of this criticism should also be directed to Slott’s script – what’s the point of having a world-seafaring hero when the creative team fails to integrate the setting in an interesting or visually stimulating way? ASM #5’s London-theme was marginally more distinct than the ambiguous plains of Africa — a splash page depicting Spider-Man swinging through the air with Big Ben and the London Eye adds some sense of location – but the scenes inside the museum were generic at best and lacked any interesting detail. Perhaps the creative team should go back to the Ross Andru-illustrated Bronze Age era of ASM to get a sense of how setting and place can be effectively integrated into a comic book story. Similar to my primary criticism regarding the one dimensional characters in this series, without the little location designators at the top of the page, there’s not much that actually signifies where this comic is taking place outside of a few groan-worthy Slott jokes about the way British people (don’t actually) speak, drink tea and drive on the other side of the road.
On a final note, it might be a bit predictable to once again criticize the Zodiac as the featured antagonists. Then again, when you’re dealing with villains that say such things as “like calls to like” and “if we succeed today we own tomorrow,” everything is fair game. I won’t say the Zodiac is the worst collective villain to ever be featured in a Spider-Man comic, but considering the fact that they are poised to hang around the pages of ASM for the foreseeable future, they stand to be in the running for such an honor very soon.
Amazing Spider-Man #5 demonstrates how the book's dramatic new status quo continues to lack any dynamism, personality or intrigue. Characters act one way without cause or consequence before changing their tune a few pages later and the book’s international flair is sabotaged by dull, non-descript visuals that fail to utilize these unique surroundings.