Food for Thought: The Empty Calories of “Amazing Spider-Man #681”

There’s a difference between comfort food and good healthy eating. They don’t have to be mutual exclusive of each other, but that can often be the case. The same goes for comicbooks. The comfortable place we find ourselves flipping through the pretty illustrated pages may comfort us, but the resulting reward is invariably shallow and momentary.

Amazing Spider-Man is a title that can be both comfort food and good eating, but of late it has languished in a mental food category of neither being wholly satisfying nor a remarkable good for us. With Amazing Spider-Man #681 we are even spoon fed a set-up or interlude before the next big Spider-Man event.

Team ups are fun. They can be healthy and delicious, like having apples and cheese. They can be very sweet, like mixing chocolate and peanut butter. They can also be very salty, like wrapping bacon around a turkey leg. When the Human Torch and Spider-Man get together they are often like taking two of your favorite foods in one serving. With this team up, however, we’re given our favorite foods but they seem to be on the verge of expiring–still good, but not quite as delicious as we’d hoped.

Stakes are high for Spider-Man and Torch to save Col. John Jameson and the space station Apogee 1. Explosions, zombie-like crew members, depleting oxygen–there’s a lot going on.

There are two reasons for this plot: one-liners from Torch and Spider-Man and set-up for the upcoming “Ends of the Earth” storyline event. There is nothing particularly wrong with any of this, yet taken as whole with the previous issue there are too many wasted and empty calories.

Writers Dan Slott and Chris Yost have the witty banter and one-liners floating around us in a zero gravity narrative bubble. They’re nice to look at it in this environment, but nothing is holding them down to stick with us. Spider-Man’s witticisms are a hallmark of the character, but here, as with much of Slott’s recent stories, they are cheap unfilled filler like bargain hotdogs when we’d much rather have the all beef variety.

Slott has done an admirable job with Amazing Spider-Man over the last few years. There have been remarkable moments recently, specifically the “Spider Island” event and Amazing Spider-Man #655. But there have also been many average moments, not bad and not good. Certainly having to turn out two books a month could suggest a “too much of a good thing” situation, and if that is the case then Slott should be commended for his ability to keep turning out plot after plot.

Amazing Spider-Man #681’s visual feast from penciler Giuseppe Camuncoli, inker Klaus Janson and colorist Frank D’Armata is certainly quite the spread. From cover to final story page, the lines, inks and coloring are delicious, as these line cooks prep and deliver a satisfying meal. There is wonderful, kinetic movement in the meaty action panels and subdued reflection in the lean exposition panels. The storytelling that Camuncoli is able to convey with wrinkles of clothing and character expressions is highly complementary to the overall plot of the issue. But line cooks are only as good as the direction and recipes provided to them by the Chef and Sous-Chef.

The chefs of this brief Amazing Spider-Man interlude are serving a decent meal. There are hints of deliciousness and large chunks of advertising for the meal to come. Not every meal can be of the five star varieties, but with the upcoming dining event of “Ends of the Earth,” there should be something better coming from the oven.

The story beats of Amazing Spider-Man #681 are there like the ingredients of many superhero comics. The mixture however has an average finish, like getting a decent meal at a chain restaurant when we are really craving–and should be demanding–a higher caliber dining experience. Superhero comics are very much like chain restaurants. There’s nothing particularly wrong with them, but sometimes our dining dollars, much like our comics dollars, are not getting their full value. For its value, comfort food satisfies a craving for being soothed or placated. But good healthy eating does so much more: satisfying our craving while also rewarding our palettes. If this were a feast or famine situation, maybe a diet is in order.

RATING 5 / 10
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