Stillanerd Reviews: Amazing Spider-Man (2015) #3

Spider-Man and The Human Torch have a friendly rivalry and brotherly camaraderie which goes all the way back to the original Amazing Spider-Man #1. They may hurl sarcastic remarks at one another as much as they do punches, but it’s never out of malice, and which ever one of them got themselves in trouble, you could be sure they’d have each others back. It’s a relationship writer Dan Slott has often revisited, the most notable being his Spider-Man/Human Torch: I’m With Stupid miniseries which many consider as one of his best Spider-Man stories. Given the changes to each character brought about by Marvel’s “All-New, All-Different” relaunch, it’s only natural for Amazing Spider-Man (2015) #3 to have another reunion between Peter Parker and Johnny Storm, though perhaps one not as memorable or iconic as Slott has done in the past.

The setup is basic: while nursing a drink in bar, Johnny sees on J. Jonah Jameson’s Fact Channel broadcast that Peter has brought the Baxter Building, the former headquarters of the Fantastic Four, as the headquarters for Parker Industries’ New York division. Johnny gets so mad at the news, he flies to the Baxter Building to teach Peter a lesson. Thus, in an evident role reversal of their very first encounter, it’s Spider-Man who tries to reason with a Human Torch looking for any excuse to have a fight. There’s also a few other development such as Clayton Cole (the reformed supervillain known as Clash) tempted to intervene in Spidey and Torch’s battle; the return of Harry Obsorn (or is now “Harry Lyman”) as one of Parker Industries’ junior executives; the Zodiac, lead by Scorpio, taking the fight to S.H.I.E.L.D.; and, finally, the apparent return of another classic Spider-Man villain as a cliffhanger. Yet, it’s the back-and-forth between Peter and Johnny, and the accompanying nostalgia from their past team-ups, which takes precedence.

Amazing Spider-Man (2015) #3, p. 6

Slott has an exceptional talent for seamlessly interweaving even the most obscure Spider-Man Easter Eggs into his stories…but acknowledging [his] and The Human Torch’s mutual history can only carry a comic so far.

Slott has an exceptional talent for seamlessly interweaving even the most obscure Spider-Man Easter Eggs into his stories, and Amazing Spider-Man (2015) #3 is no exception. Moreover, much of the humor in this comic is dependent upon readers having a passing familiarity with that every same continuity. Not only does Johnny wind up getting caught in the very same Plexiglass cage Spider-Man was also caught in back when they first met, we’re also reminded that it was Johnny who helped Peter build the original Spider-Mobile. What’s rather surprising is this comic also marks the very first time Johnny and Harry have officially met one another. It’s quite amusing seeing Johnny’s utter shock over learning not only is the son the Green Goblin now running Parker Industries’ New York office, but that he’s also Peter’s best friend. Also, seeing both Johnny and Harry hanging out with Peter and welcoming each another as family serves as a nice moment for long time readers, as is what Peter did to pay tribute to “Marvel’s First Family.”

But acknowledging Spider-Man and The Human Torch’s mutual history (along with the presumption that even the most cynical of fans will appreciate it) can only carry a comic so far, particularly since this one is also dependent upon readers knowing what really happened to the Fantastic Four. Which, of course, they can’t because Jonathan Hickman and Esad Ribic’s Secret Wars still isn’t unfinished, thanks to Marvel expanding the series to nine issues from its original eight which has resulted in constant delays. No hint whatsoever is given by Slott for why the Fantastic Four are disbanded (apart from them no longer having their own comic book series) and all the story can do is suggest that maybe they might return (as soon as 20th Century Fox returns those movie rights back to Marvel). So far, only member aside from Johnny anyone can account for is Ben Grimm, the ever lovin’ blue-eyed Thing, who is now a member of The Guardians of the Galaxy; and all we know about the fate of Reed Richards, Susan Storm and their two kids, Franklin and Valeria, is that they’re “gone.” Not dead or missing. Just generically, ambiguously gone. Which means readers are forced to just assume what happened as they patiently waiting for answers. Which also means whatever empathy readers would’ve had for Johnny in this story is all but blunted.

None of this, of course, is Slott’s fault as he has no control over Secret Wars‘ ever-changing schedule. What he can control, however, is the actual narrative for his particular comic, and unfortunately, while Spider-Man and The Human Torch’s latest squabble is amusing, the entire basis for it is the definition of contrived. Peter calling the Baxter Building a “fixer upper” doesn’t read like something he would really say but rather something scripted just to give Johnny an excuse to get riled up in order for there to be some semblance of a plot. All Peter had to do to avoid any confrontation and misunderstanding was to say on the news broadcast he bought the Baxter Building as a means to honor the Fantastic Four’s legacy and show they still have a home no matter what, precisely what Peter ends up explaining to Johnny anyway after their fight. Moreover, Johnny’s frequent outbursts over what he perceives to be insults by Peter comes off as repetitive as it does childish. Granted, Johnny has always been (no pun intended) a hothead, but here, his propensity to lash out at even the slightest provocation comes across as though this were his sole personality trait.

Amazing Spider-Man (2015) #3, p. 10

While Spider-Man and The Human Torch’s latest squabble is amusing, the entire basis for it is the definition of contrived.

Even taking into account the Fantastic Four being disbanded, there’s still no legitimate reason given for why Johnny should be upset with Peter for purchasing the Baxter Building at all. As a former member of The Fantastic Four, Peter is—as Johnny himself later points out—practically family in all but name. Moreover, why would the Baxter Building even be up for sale? As Reed and Susan’s Richard’s next-of-kin, Johnny is the building’s legal owner, which means anyone who’d want to buy the property would have to go directly to him. Wouldn’t this have made for a much more believable conflict between Peter and Johnny in this issue, in that while Peter wants the Baxter Building for his company, Johnny wants to keep it because, with his family gone, its the only thing he has left of them as a reminder?

And that’s not even getting into the fact how Spider-Man fighting a guy who can literally burst into flames potentially endangers everyone in the building, something which the story itself acknowledges, only to then shrug it off as it were no more dangerous than “boys just being boys.” Either way, Johnny having a fit over Peter setting up shop in his old home is a very flimsy excuse to have the two of them fight, banter and reminiscence about the good ‘ol days.

Yet if the plotting for this issue is thin, the art team of Giuseppe Camuncoli, Cam Smith and Marte Gracia are still giving it their all. Camuncoli’s rendering of facial expressions and postures remain in fine form, in particular whenever he shows Clayton and his reactions towards Spider-Man and The Human Torch’s battle and a very effective usage of half the mask appearing on half the face as pioneered by Steve Ditko. Same for the scenes showing Harry, as everything about his body language shows him to be one easy-going guy, or trying a little too hard to be one. Moreover, the way Camuncoli depicts Johnny whenever he “flames on” makes it seem as though his skin has literally burning away, and thus visually communicates just how intense Johnny’s rage really by also showing the intensity of the fire covering his body. The only real downside is that, for an issue which is supposed to be about Spider-Man and The Human Torch duking it out, those scenes don’t appear as dynamic and fluid as they otherwise should be, nor do many of the action sequences for that matter. It’s still wonderful to look at, but it doesn’t have the same energetic quality that the first issue had.

Overall, Amazing Spider-Man (2015) #3 is just okay. It doesn’t advance the overall story much, as it’s more or less a placeholder designed to appeal to those readers who enjoy Spider-Man and The Human Torch mixing it up a bit. And as far as reunions go, Slott has done much better even in recent years whenever he’s brought these two heroes together, as the end result feels a bit silly. Then again, so are most fights between good friends who are also as close as brothers.

Stillanerd’s Nerdy Nitpicks (spoilers ahead)

  • Amazing Spider-Man (2015) #3, p. 12When Scorpio addresses Gemini as “Sarah,” which one is he talking to? Because Gemini in this latest incarnation of the Zodiac is a pair of identical twins. Unless both their real names are Sarah. Also, just because they name themselves after astrological signs doesn’t mean they also have to give themselves their own horoscopes. Although nice call by Scorpio saying Gemini sounded too much like a fortune cookie.
  • Great to see that J. Jonah Jameson is still the lovable hypocrite, as he once again tries to take full credit for teaching Peter “everything he knows” and how he’s “like a father to the boy,” completely ignoring the fact he’s the one responsible for having Peter blacklisted from photojournalism. Then again, that whole incident (as seen in Amazing Spider-Man #623) really was Peter’s own fault.
  • At last, we finally learn that the Nick Fury Spider-Man’s been working with since issue #1 is Nick Fury Jr. Which also means we still have his convoluted backstory to deal with, along with his dad—the original Nick Fury—still taking Uatu the Watcher’s place as “The Unseen.” Guess that’s one more thing Secret Wars didn’t get around to fixing.
  • I guess all of Johnny Storm’s wardrobe is made of unstable molecules. And has the same color scheme as the new costume he wears over in Uncanny Inhumans and Uncanny Avengers.
  • One little problem with you legally changing your last name to “Lyman,” Harry. You still look like your dad with those cornrows. At least before, the worst which could have happened was someone going up to you and saying “Hey, aren’t you what’s-his-name from Breaking Bad?”
  • Now along with the Spider-Mobile and the “Hydro-Spider,” Peter also has a “Spider-Skimmer,” a “Spider-Copter,” and (just like the Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon) a “Spider-Cycle.” Or as Marvel probably likes to call them, new vehicles for Spider-Man’s toy line.
  • Hold on? Is Clayton Cole having an interior monologue with actual thought balloons? When was the last time those were ever used in a modern day comic book?
  • Let’s see if I have this right—after completely disabling all the Parker Industries tech the hellicarrier, Scorpio leads the Zodiac in an all-out assault against S.H.I.E.L.D. just so he can kill Leo over failing to take his own life after failing his mission, something which he was foretold he had to do and kept on insisting that “sacrifices must be made.” And after doing all that and with total victory over S.H.I.E.L.D. within their grasp, what does Scorpio decide to do next? Why up and leave them to “lick their wounds,” of course. It’s not like the Zodiac could just, you know, kill them all? Not when by leaving, the Zodiac can allow for S.H.I.E.L.D. to regroup and mobilize a full-scale assault on all their bases. Why, it’s a strategy right out of Sun-Tzu’s Art of War, I tell you.
  • I wouldn’t worry too much about losing your job, Clayton, just because you tried to stop Spider-Man and Human Torch’s fight from getting out of hand. After all, Sajani intentionally sabotaged company projects and collaborated with wanted criminals and she’s still an executive with the company.
  • So Peter learns from Mockingbird not just about the attack on the hellicarrier, but that the Zodiac may have successfully deciphered the “secure” data from his personal not-Apple Watch—which, if you recall has his personal data cache. But is Peter worried like he was the last two issues about it? Nah, he’ll just do it tomorrow after having a couple on non-alcoholic beers with his buds. Because “with great power comes great responsibility.”
  • Wait…back up there a minute, nameless military dictator from a fictitious African nation. You’re telling us that Parker Industries, run by a man who’s very much opposed to taking another person’s life, not only makes tech for S.H.I.E.L.D. but weapons for them? Wow! If that’s true, then Peter is either just as much a hypocrite as Jonah, or he’s the most clueless industrialist of all time. Oh, and I’m sure it’s not a coincidence, given Peter being called a “Poor man’s Tony Stark,” that “The African Nation of Nadua” first appeared in an issue of Iron Man, right?
  • Okay, the guy with the bandaged face at the end being “Mr. Osborn?” Him being Norman Osborn seems way too obvious, doesn’t it? Unless he has his face all bandaged up because he’s had plastic surgery to change his face yet again. Only this time, maybe he’s made himself look like Peter Parker. You know, just like that other supervillain who wears bandages on his face did in that one storyline over at the Distinguished Competition? Either that, or it’s Gabriel Osborn. Noooooo!