It is amazing what a difference nine days can make in the quality of a title. Yes, thanks to a shipping error, Amazing Spider-Man #6 has been hastily released to usher in the New Year, not more than two days after the release of the previous issue. Readers of the site will know that we’ve been growing increasingly disillusioned by the All-New All-Different relaunch of Amazing Spider-Man, citing a lingering lack of stakes, character motivations, world-building, and bold changes that would justify and anchor such a dramatic shake-up of Spider-Man’s status quo.
After Spider-Man’s apprehension of most of the Zodiac gang, it seems that writer Dan Slott is content to move the story away from the threat that Scorpio poses to reintroduce one of his own villainous creations, the bipolar gang-leader Mr. Negative. It’s a harsh shift in narrative, but a welcomed one as the intense focus on the rather uninteresting Zodiac villains had been growing stale.
This first chapter in “The Dark Kingdom” storyline starts with a bang by introducing new artist Matteo Buffagni as he depicts the violent breakout of Martin Li from Department of Justice’s custody in a wonderfully dramatic fashion. Buffagni’s artwork is wonderfully detailed and smoothly inked, both in the shadowy darkness of the nighttime jailbreak and during the daytime action and dialogue sequences. His refined renderings are a wonderful match with the upper-crust dealings of Parker Industries and the quick, controlled ninjitsu fighting styles of both Mr. Negative’s Inner Demons and Spider-Man.
Working in the Marvel Style (plotting first, artwork second, dialogue third), Buffagni’s wide imagery and metered pacing is a fine compliment to Dan Slott’s stuffed plotting, and the teamwork results in a book that reads as if written by a completely different author. The return to Parker Industries Shanghai allows Slott to further develop relationships hinted at in the series debut issue and really build out an interesting, if Batman-esque, supporting cast for Peter. Smartly written dialogue manages to avoid pure exposition to gently hint at deep relationships between characters that are further reinforced by Buffagni’s incredible attention to body language and detailed facial reactions, though some of those details are lost when characters become small in the frame.
Slott also moves that threat away from the nebulous scare that Peter might lose his company and rightfully places both Peter and the reader’s concerns squarely on Peter’s own wellbeing, the lives of the people of Shanghai, and — in an interesting development that’s unique to this new status quo – the public health of the Chinese People. The infected Cloak and Dagger are an interesting twist on the characters’ histories, specifically that the two anti-drug crusaders are utilizing drugs to stay in their negative states. Mr. Negative’s own characterization returns to its intriguing origins, with a befuddled Martin Li remaining helplessly unaware of his dangerous alter-ego, instead of continuing the somewhat inconsistent characterizations of his powers that have been adopted since his debut. Together the three are an intimidating threat and one that poses an interesting, and personal, challenge to Peter’s new status quo.
This is also the first issue in this new status quo that gives readers a sense of who Peter is outside of his Spider-Man persona. A brief moment of hesitation to help the police deal with the growing threat of Mr. Negative, told in this volume’s first appearance of thought-boxes (finally!), does a lot to give readers an idea of how Peter’s priorities have changed now that he’s a business magnate on the level of Donald Trump. This focus on character is even more prevalent in a wonderful action sequence involving a crazed construction worker and an out of control wrecking ball.
For what seems like the first time in forever, Spider-Man is shown swinging through the city, shooting webs, and slinging huge weights away from helpless citizens (all with a running commentary and thoughtful consideration of his abilities) in a way only Spider-Man can. At first, the scene seems rather arbitrary and low-stakes, but this sequence was a welcome break from the high-tech, instant-solution action that has dominated this series and a return to the type of superheroics that used to define Spider-Man comics. That said, it is well past time that Dan Slott retired his reoccurring joke wherein Peter Parker sings modern, female-led, pop songs.
Amazing Spider-Man #6 continues to ask a lot from readers, specifically that we still have no hints as to how Peter managed to build Parker Industries into the successful company it is today, all while expanding his supporting cast to unprecedented levels. It is a lot to take in, a “who’s who” character page might be helpful, but thankfully this new story by Slott focuses on one singular location while Matteo Buffagni’s easy-to-follow visuals breathe life and character into both the locales and cast. There’s just enough foreign flair, interpersonal dramatics, splashy web-related fun, and looming stakes for Peter to make Amazing Spider-Man #6 a big step back in the right direction for this series.
Amazing Spider-Man #6 is a solid introductory issue to this series' second storyline, featuring the return of Mr. Negative and Cloak & Dagger. It is also a huge improvement on previous issues of this series as it personalizes the conflicts, grounds readers in Peter's new status quo, and settles down in a singular location. Plus, this is the dramatic debut of new artist Matteo Buffagni, whose pencils go a far way to bring the characters of this book to life.