[8 October 2012]
PopMatters Associate Comics Editor
The “brand new day” is coming to an end, at least that’s the prophesy coming out of Amazing Spider-Man over the last few issues. In Amazing Spider-Man #695, particularly, the prophesies are fast, furious and tied to a marketing campaign as Marvel tries to reset the clock by not actually resting anything, just shaking up their creative teams and direction. That the march to Amazing Spider-Man #700 coincides with the Marvel NOW campaign is probably coincidence, impeccable timing and good fortune. It, however, has the adverse effect of diminishing the dramatic build-up to the title’s milestone issue. And it’s not the only factor limiting the impact of the march to #700.
Many fans will be relieved that Alpha is behind us (not even mentioned in this issue) and that Amazing Spider-Man #695 picks up on the prior storyline of Hobgoblins, the Kingpin and spider-sense. When Spider-Man lost his spider-sense many issues ago, it was a logical sacrifice that seemed ripe to explore the man behind the powers. That happened to an extent, but the narrative thread took a backseat to the more pressing gadgets and tricks of Peter Parker’s current employment at Horizon Labs. Parker’s scientific knowledge was pushed front and center and he learned kung-fu so he didn’t need to rely on his innate spider abilities as much. While certainly an interesting development, it lacked the punch and consequences of a man operating without one his senses.
In Amazing Spider-Man #695, writers Dan Slott and Christos Gage take the idea of playing with Spider-Man’s powers and ratchet it up to 11. His spider-sense becomes overactive, consequently limiting his focus, just at a time when he needs to focus the most.
We all know that in five-issues-time this will all conclude and the status-quo will change again. It leads to the appearance of making this second attempt at messing with Spider-Man’s powers to be a momentary distraction. There is a classic element to this challenge to Spider-Man’s abilities (or any comic hero for that matter), as there has been a long tradition of taking away or adding faculties. It is curious to see how this latest attempt will play out, considering the previous effort was punch-less and buried the consequences in favor of a heavily repeated reminder that Peter Parker is a scientist.
If there is a theme of the last dozen issues of Amazing Spider-Man it’s not of hanging narrative threads, but rather a lack of maximizing potential. From manipulating spider-powers, to character relationships, to characterizations, to villain usage, Amazing Spider-Man has been the title with much to offer, but never completely capitalizing on any of it.
Slott and his editors have shown a desire to evolve the characterization of Peter Parker, but for each step forward, the creative team tends to stall their advancement by pulling out narrative tricks and gimmicks. One such trick is the use of Madame Web and her visions of the future. It’s a narrative shortcut to add tension without having to build any from the plot up. In Amazing Spider-Man #695, the Madame Web vision is thankfully used so that there is some consequence, yet it seems more suited to marketing Marvel NOW.
The visual presentation from penciler Giuseppe Camuncoli, inker Dan Green and colorist Antonio Fabela is not aided by the narrative lapses. Camuncoli’s sketchy style is dependent on a clear direction, and Green and Fabela’s work can only highlight and enhance panels so much. It’s not that artistic storytelling is so far off the mark, but that the scripted scenes, their placement and position within the whole doesn’t aid the execution of the art team.
It’s the execution of both the writing and art that on some pages looks brilliant and other pages looks sloppy. Take for example the bottom panel of page six; Spider-Man must be able to see through walls to notice Tiberius Stone on the roof above while he’s inside the bar fighting. The point of the revelation is obvious, but the placement of characters and narration is an example of not securing the story while it’s in flux.
We could spend a long time digging into the minutiae of problems facing Amazing Spider-Man #695, but that would ignore the larger picture. While there is much to admire about Slott’s work at plotting so many storylines and keeping them fairly coherent, it must be said how much potential is being left in the margins. Visions of the future are fine, but don’t let them handicap your efforts, especially on the march to a milestone issue.