How do you become invested in the human condition? Perhaps there’s no better way than to experience what has become the pedestrian rituals of our world. Or you could just skim through the facets of popculture.
Can a pop song save your soul? It’s a question we could imagine popculture sage Rob Gordon asking in the pages of High Fidelity, or Don McLean espousing on in the song “American Pie,” but it usually isn’t the type of question posed in the pages of a superhero comicbook.
Popculture provides us with various insights into human experiences, and the excesses of mass culture, whether in the form of pop music, videogames or junk food, give us as much a window to the heights of human experience as anything we’ve created. Is pop culture what makes life worth living? That’s essentially the question writer Dan Slott is asking in Amazing Spider-Man #690.
Call it corporate synergy. Call it good timing. Just as in the movie “The Amazing Spider-Man,” Curt Connors’ The Lizard is back in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man. But this isn’t The Lizard we saw on the big screen this summer. This Lizard has put down stakes in the brain of Curt Connors even though he’s turned back to human physical form. He wants to be a reptile again, but that’s going to take time and experimentation to make it happen.
And in the time it takes to perfect his monster formula, The Lizard is subjected to three different pieces of human experience. While the heights of our culture certainly are not pop music, videogames and junk food, they certainly illustrate the mundane pleasures of a culture obsessed with consumption and momentary joy. Set aside the argument of whether these three points best represent humanity and concentrate on their accessibility. For the purposes of this story, and really if we think it through, Connors experiences some of the most immediate, universally shared and best understood facets of popculture.
As Slott has done from time to time, Spider-Man takes a backseat for an issue so the story can concentrate on The Lizard finding the smallest shard of humanity buried within his twisted mind. That his humanity is somehow awakened by the pleasures and comforts of excess could be a larger metaphor about what we deem essential to life; it only opens the debate further then closes it completely. There’s still a choice to be made, but that’s for another issue.
The remainder of issue 690 ruminates in the conventions of superhero comics. The gimmick of Madame Web predicting doom and gloom is just that, a narrative gimmick to add importance to future installments of the story. It has its place in furthering the possibilities of what’s to come, but it’s also a story shortcut. It doesn’t undermine the story, and while it does potentially enhance it, it is still an overused convention of the medium, adding extra importance where there normally would be none. It would be something special if it wasn’t overused, but the diluting of the gimmick has the effect of watering down the plot advancement.
There is a longer narrative at play, and Amazing Spider-Man 690 is just one installment in the long game as we approach issue 700. This is the broader perspective of why this issue spends the amount of time it does with what seems like side stories.
The art team, consisting of penciler Giuseppe Camuncoli, inkers Klaus Janson and Daniel Green, and colorist Frank D’Armata, does an admirable job with the material, but the result is workable. The artwork doesn’t take away from the story by any means, but it does very little to enhance the storytelling, instead relying heavily on reader imaginations. The pages are nice to look at, but in a story that brings human experiences to the forefront, it’s the dialogue that drives the point home rather than the visuals… and it should be the visual representation that emphasizes the point.
What’s also fascinating about Amazing Spider-Man is that instead of leaning on the movie adaption, Slott works to revitalize and retool The Lizard character. It’s a bold move. That’s a larger point about the last several issues. Here in issue #690, the main point is Kurt Connors rediscovering his humanity through the experiences most of us see as rudimentary. Can a pop song or junk food or videogames save your soul? Given our culture and the stakes in Amazing Spider-Man, let’s hope so.