Stillanerd Reviews: Amazing Spider-Man (2015) #4

Or how the “World’s Greatest Superhero” Green Goblin’s minions in an African village can be fun, but doesn’t feel like Spider-Man at all.

The current direction of The Amazing Spider-Man would have us believe that although Peter Parker is now the CEO of his own company, has more money than he knows what to do with, and now fights supervillains all over the world, he’s hasn’t really changed all that much. We’re supposed to believe that deep down, Peter’s still the same friendly neighborhood Spider-Man motivated by “with great power comes great responsibility,” who is still capable of losing even when he wins. He just has a much bigger neighborhood and therefore much bigger responsibilities. So then why is it that when reading Dan Slott and Giuseppe Camuncoli’s Amazing Spider-Man (2015) #4 does it feel like “Spider-Man in name only?”

On its surface, it does seem like a basic Spider-Man story only in a more exotic locale. Just as S.H.I.E.L.D. is about to make an all-out assault on Zodiac, Spider-Man, in direct defiance of Nick Fury’s orders, heads to African village Parker Industries is supplying with free electricity to rescue his Aunt May and step-uncle, Jay Jameson, from aerial bombardment by Norman Osborn’s “War Goblins.” After all, it just wouldn’t be Spider-Man if he didn’t go up against the Green Goblin or his facsimiles at some point, right? Moreover, the resolution is one of those “typical Parker luck” scenarios our hero tends to wind up in; even though he saves the day, the village leader still blames Spider-Man and Parker Industries for making them a target, suggesting that if Spider-Man really wanted to help, his company should have supplied the village with weapons to protect themselves instead of clean, cheap energy. Which, of course, plays right into Norman Osborn’s hands. Thus the overall message is that, despite having billions of dollars, not everything still goes Spider-Man’s way, and that even his best of intentions can often inadvertently makes things a lot worse.

Amazing Spider-Man (2015) #4, p. 8

If you take away anything associated with Spider-Man in this issue, it might as well be the plot from an Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode…That’s how generic Spider-Man in his role as James Bond meets Steve Jobs has become.

Problem is, what Amazing Spider-Man (2015) #4 attempts to get across doesn’t hold up very under scrutiny. Slott’s script tries to have it both ways in wanting to show Spider-Man is still the hard-luck, everyman superhero in spite of having more money, more high-tech gadgets and no longer being confined to New York City, while also claiming it’s “different” because Spider-Man has more money, more high-tech gadgets and no being longer confined to New York City. In addition, just as it was the case with Amazing Spider-Man (2015) #2, if you take away anything associated with Spider-Man in this issue, it might as well be the plot from an Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode, and not just because it has Phil Coulson, Melinda May and Bobbi Morse, a.k.a. Mockingbird, in it. Interactions with his Aunt May aside, Spider-Man could be almost substituted with any other superhero and it wouldn’t make a bit of difference to the overall story or its themes. That’s how generic Spider-Man in his role as James Bond meets Steve Jobs has become.

Yes, I know, Peter placing greater priority over protecting of his loved ones than stopping a larger threat the risk of angering his allies (even though Spider-Man is not a S.H.I.E.L.D. and therefore doesn’t have to take orders from them) is something he’s done before, most recently in Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows. I also believe that, if Peter did have a lot of money as he does now, he probably would spend a good part of it giving aid to impoverished and war-torn African countries, albeit fictional ones, because it would be the responsible thing to do. Why, he even gets to stop the bad guys with some so-called science, albeit with the help of a gifted little girl from the village who apparently learned everything she needed to know about solar panels and electromagnetic generators just by “asking the Parker people questions” and “looking up things on their internet.”

Amazing Spider-Man (2015) #4, p. 4But when Spider-Man attempts to buy off the War Goblins–the same mercenaries who mere pages ago threatened the life of his Aunt and dozens of innocent people, including children–well, you pretty much lost me, enough to make me seriously question whether Dan Slott, after almost a decade of writing dozens and dozens of Spider-Man stories, even remembers who he’s writing about any more. Then again, this Spider-Man, despite all his talk in the past about “no one dies on my watch” and refusing to kill his villains no matter what the circumstances, now appears to have no problem whatsoever employing private military contractors à la Academi to act as his company’s security detail. So much for money not changing a person, right? And if Spider-Man’s attempt at paying off the War Goblins is just a means for the script to set up the sarcastic retorts made by Mockingbird when she comes to Spider-Man’s aid, then that’s even worse.

And while I’m still in a foul mood, why hasn’t Peter still not told Aunt May that he’s really Spider-Man at this point? It’s not because he’s worried that she’ll have another heart attack because the issue shows her being very active and spry for her advanced years. It’s not because she doesn’t like that “awful, icky Spider-Man” because here she’s totally okay with him just as everyone else in the Marvel Universe now does. There’s no reason either for Peter being worried about putting her in danger from his enemies because, by the mere fact he’s with Parker Industries who everyone knows “employs” Spider-Man as the CEO’s bodyguard, she’s already in danger from his enemies regardless. And Aunt May knowing wouldn’t prevent any more heartwarming scenes of Spider-Man telling Aunt May about how her nephew considers her his real mom because Slott has already had Peter tell her this multiple times before. When you get right down to it, there’s literally nothing to stop Peter from going up to her and saying, “Hey, Aunt May, I’m really Spider-Man, and yes, I know you knew before Tony Stark, Dr. Strange and Reed Richards wiped your memory along with everyone else in the entire universe, and you’re not the first person I’ve told my secret to even though you’re family, but it’s all good.”  In fact, his not telling her at this point is just cruel.

None of this isn’t to suggest Amazing Spider-Man (2015) #4 isn’t entertaining or fun to read, however. Being that the comic is heavy on the action, Slott is able deliver a fast-paced, easy-to-read narrative which, along with a lighthearted sense of humor, is never dull. That this comic, like Amazing Spider-Man (2015) #3, is also a self-contained story within a larger arc which also doesn’t detracted from it is a definite plus, especially in an age of decompressed comic book writing. Also in spite of my own misgivings about Spider-Man’s current direction, the subplots Slott continues to develop remain intriguing. For instance, what is Norman Osborn (if this really is Norman Osborn) planning by wanting to get his hands on Parker Industries tech, and is his son, Harry, somehow involved? What about the Zodiac who are also targeting Parker Industries? Why are they specifically going after Peter’s company? And then there’s the mystery man in the red suit recruiting Spider-Man’s villains? Is this person, whoever he might be, creating his own version of the Sinister Six? No matter what his storytelling flaws, the one thing Slott is definitely good at is creating and maintaining interest.

Amazing Spider-Man (2015) #4, p.10

Giuseppe Camuncoli discovered that sweet-spot of knowing how to create energetic, over-the-top sequences while still being able draw plausible-looking characters, settings and backdrops.

Also, Giuseppe Camuncoli continues to shine when it comes to being the regular penciler for the series. He has discovered that sweet-spot of knowing how to create energetic, over-the-top sequences while still being able draw plausible-looking characters, settings and backdrops. As usual, the facial expressions, while slightly exaggerated, are particularly good, but Camuncoli is also able to convey just as much emotion through the way he postures his figures. The scene where Spider-Man which Spider-Man comes out of the wreckage of his Web-Jet, or when he’s crawling under the solar panel are very impressive. That said, there are a few instances where the art does get wonky. People are regularly shown with thighs as wide their heads; being able to see Spider-Man’s ears under his mask just looks off stylistically; and during the scene where Spider-Man runs to rescue some children hiding under some solar panel, I have no idea why Camuncoli choose to draw the scene in a worm’s-eye view, because it makes Spidey look as though his legs have become larger and longer than the rest of his body. There’s also an awkward scene transition based on how Camuncoli laid out the panels on one page, but the comic’s overall composition is well put together.

Yet four issues into this fourth volume of The Amazing Spider-Man, I cannot shake the impression that the series, or at least the Web Head’s portrayal, is undergoing a kind of identity crisis. It doesn’t want to retread the same old ground of Peter Parker struggling when it comes to making money or earning a living, yet still wants readers to see him as “one of us” instead of the one-percent. It wants to show that Spider-Man has grown into a competent professional, even while he still acts like a jackass who still needs others bailing him out. It wants to show us a Spider-Man who doesn’t tolerate threats made to innocent people, but who’s willing to toss principles aside if he thinks he can bribe the bad guys with his checkbook. It wants a Spider-Man who doesn’t kill and who uses “non-lethal” web-bullets, but who doesn’t have a problem hiring those who fire real guns with real bullets. Sooner or later, Marvel and their readers, in their mutual quest for something “All-New” and “All-Different,” will have to start figuring out what sort of Spider-Man they really and truly want before they can no longer recognize him.

Stillanerd’s Nerdy Nitpicks (spoilers ahead)

  • Amazing Spider-Man (2015) #4, p.11-12According to this issue’s recap page, Peter’s personal Webware device contained information revealing his secret identity as Spider-Man. Which makes me wonder: A) Why would Peter be so stupid to put such sensitive data on his glorified iPhone, and B) Why are we only learning about this very major plot point from a recap page instead of inside the actual story?
  • Again, Scorpio, just because your terrorist organization named itself after astrological signs, doesn’t mean you actually have to base all your plans and actions on astrology.
  • Oh, look, another gag involving Spider-Man having a pop song (Katy Perry’s “Firework”) as a personalized ringtone which will likely date the comic in a few years time. Although, why Peter would associate this particular song with Aunt May, I have no idea.
  • Spidey, if you’re traveling in your Web-Jet over Madagasgar and can make it to Nadua in thirty minutes at “full throttle,” then Nadua cannot be “hours away” from your present location. What kind of science major are you if you cannot do simple math?
  • You know, between all the explosions, gunfire and jet engines during the War Goblin’s attack, how can Aunt May hear and respond to what the Goblins are even saying? How can Spider-Man? I guess only in comics does the human voice have a higher decibel range than anything going on in a war zone.
  • It’s Aries, not “Ares.” One is the astrological sign in which the Zodiac member takes his name from. The other is the Greek god of war. Just because they sound the same, doesn’t mean they are the same, much less spelled the same.
  • Just how fast can Mockingbird fly with her new Parker Industries wings? Because she sure got there in short amount of time considering how Spidey was flying a supersonic jet at top speed and it took him “thirty minutes.”
  • So Parker Industries’ solar panels “cool down the magnets in the converters” by sticking them under the shade of the solar panels? Even though the shade during the daytime in African countries (including fictitious ones) is probably not all that cold to begin with. Um…hooray for science?
  • Despite Spider-Man making an EMP via overloading solar-powered electromagnetic generators with his “z-metal webbing” and his “suit’s bug zappers” to knock out the War Goblin’s tech (and accidentally Mockingbird’s), the tech in his suit is perfectly fine, as is the village chieftain’s Webware he uses to get in touch with Norman Osborn cosplaying as Hush. Um…hooray for science yet again?
  • Wait a minute? When Spider-Man, Mockingbird, Aunt May, Jay, and the Parker Industries security team leave the Nadua village, why they leave all their damaged equipment behind? I guess the Eco-conscious Peter Parker or his company don’t believe in cleaning up after themselves.
  • Okay, my new theory on who the man in the red suit is? I’m guessing it’s Mysterio. After all, he’s familiar with both the Rhino and the Lizard, and would have the capabilities of making it look as though he brought back their respective loved ones from the dead. Not to mention, there’s something theatrical about the way the red-suited man snaps his fingers to make “Martha” and “Billy” show themselves.