A new story for Spider-Man entitled “The Dark Kingdom” begins, but something about seems off. And not because Cloak and Dagger have become minions for a supervillain.
Written by Dan Slott
Art by Matteo Buffagni
Colors by Marte Gracia
Cover by Alex Ross
Lettering by VC’s Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
2 out of 5
Having completed the first arc of Amazing Spider-Man’s fourth volume with issues #1 through #5, writer Dan Slott begins a new arc by bringing back one of his own original villains, Mister Negative, along with the heroes, Cloak and Dagger, who are now in league with the ambitious crime boss. In addition, he returns Peter Parker to Shanghai, in which Parker Industries is in the midst of business deal with a Chinese company to mass produce green cars based off of Spider-Man new Spider-Mobile. Of course, this wouldn’t be Spider-Man without problems beyond Peter’s control getting in the way. The Shanghai police are investigating the break-in by Zodiac from the first issue, which could interfere with the business deal. Moreover, Mr. Negative and his inner-demons are now selling a new drug on the streets of Shanghai called “Shade” which mimics the effects of Mr. Negative’s corrupting touch, prompting Peter to use company resources to find a counter-agent, much to the annoyance of his head bio-tech engineer, Dr. Yao Wu.
As you can probably tell, Amazing Spider-Man (2015) #6 is all about setting the stage, along with a few more details about the inner operations of Parker Industries. All the tech, equipment and vehicles built for Peter as Spider-Man are later reversed-engineered and sold on the open market, just like what Peter did when he worked for Horizon Labs (though you’d think Peter would already know what a bad idea this is given what happened in Slott’s own “Ends of the Earth,” but I digress). Slott also introduces a common trope often associated with superheroes such as DC Comic’s Batman, that although Spider-Man, and by extension Parker Industries, is in Shanghai to help, their very presence makes their a city a target for supervillains. Naturally, this fits well with Peter’s own inflated sense of moral duty and obligation, putting even further pressure on him. There’s even a moment where Peter almost responds with how it’s his or his company’s problem that Mr. Negative is selling drugs in Shanghai when he then corrects himself with a more “grown-up” response. Just like in Amazing Spider-Man #5, the suggestion is the pressures of Peter’s job are starting to get to him.
The comic is also an opportunity for Slott to further develop the new supporting characters he introduced in Amazing Spider-Man (2015) #1, such as Peter’s new girlfriend and co-creator of the new Spider-Mobile, Lien Tang. Although “development” is a very loose term in this case. Putting aside Peter’s questionable business ethics of getting romantically involved with one his paid subordinates, we’re given no reason to care about Peter’s new relationship, and the reason we don’t is because we never really saw how it came about. We may have basic characteristics about Lien, mostly centered around her being an expect driver and automotive technician, but we don’t really know her as a person. We never saw how Peter met her, what attracted him to her and vise-versa, or the first time they went out on a date—the very things which would help make her a credible love interest for Spider-Man. We don’t care about them being together because everything about them becoming a couple happened entirely off-panel. At least with Carlie Cooper, Anna Maria Marconi and Cindy Moon/Silk, Slott tried to make some effort to convince readers to see them as potential romantic partners for Peter. With Lien, there’s practically none, and at this point, she might as well be the Asian Cissy Ironwood. And if you find yourself asking “who’s Cissy Ironwood?” after reading that last sentence (and not clicking on the hyperlink), that’s exactly the point.
Then there’s Dr. Wu, who like Sajani Jaffrey, has a huge chip on his shoulder when it comes to his scientific skills, and who doesn’t appreciate Peter’s leadership. The main difference is that Dr. Wu is a such extreme nationalist, even his fellow compatriots think he should “lighten up,” hence why he alerts the Shangai police about the Zodiac robbery, even though Peter tells him S.H.I.E.L.D. is already on the case. Thing is, while we’re meant to see Dr. Wu as a jerk, he’s absolutely correct when he says Peter has no say in the matter; as a CEO of a company based on another country’s sovereign soil, Peter should know it’s the local authorities who have jurisdiction when it comes to criminal matters, and that he must comply with whatever laws that country has if he wants to continue doing business there. Of course, the immediate question that come to mind is if Wu is so prejudiced towards foreigners, then why is working for a Western-based company that’s also directly run and operated by an American? The comic doesn’t offer any explanation as for why someone such as Wu, given his dislike of foreigners, would swallow his pride and work for a foreign company, which means he’s only in the story just to be another antagonistic co-worker for Peter to put up with and nothing more.
Characterization and motives are also problematic when it comes to Slott’s portrayal of Cloak and Dagger which the plot for this issue is utterly dependent upon. On the surface, their being minions for Mr. Negative, and ironically going against their own anti-drug stance, makes sense; Mr. Negative inverted their powers during Nick Spencer and Emma Rios’ Spider-Island: Cloak and Dagger miniseries, so the natural assumption would be he changed their moral compass has as well. Except that’s not what actually happened. Not only does did the tie-in end with both Tandy and Tyrone still being good, it’s implied their altered powers are the ones they should have had all along. Moreover, we still see them as superheroes in Superior Spider-Man Team-Up #1, a comic which was written by Slott’s frequent co-writer on Amazing Spider-Man, Christos Gage. (EDITORS NOTE: Correction, Chris Yost was the writer for Superior Spider-Man Team-Up #1) So why then are Cloak and Dagger evil? If the answer is they became more corrupted over the course of the “eight month gap,” there’s nothing to suggest this in the narrative, and, if true, contradicts this since both Cloak and Dagger say Mr. Negative’s corrupting touch will eventually wear off, hence why they’re taking Shade to stay loyal to him. The other possibilities are that Slott forgot Cloak and Dagger were still good despite having their powers flipped, or that he took advantage of the length of time since their last appearance to rewrite them as villains just to make the story “work.”
And speaking of Shade, what’s the supposed sales pitch behind this new designer drug? “Hey kids! Try this yin-yang nicotine patch and you’ll become an evil psychopath.” Or is it, “You want to get the ultimate high? Then slap this on your skin and have all your inhibitions removed”? Far be for me to question the logic, or lack thereof, behind recreational drug-use, but who in their right mind would want to take this, let alone pay money for it? No one, not even drug addicts, deliberately set-out to make themselves evil and insane. I suppose Mr. Negative and the Inner-Demons are lying to their customers about Shade and its effects, but again, we can only make assumptions about this since the comic given no proper context. As far as plot-devices go, it’s incredibly weak.
Even the pacing, which Slott is usually very good at, feels off in this issue. The story opens “three weeks earlier,” in which Cloak and Dagger, along with the Inner Demons, stage a prison break for Mr. Negative on the high seas, a sequence which goes on for seven pages. It not reintroduces readers to these characters, it makes for an exciting action set-piece. Unfortunately, it’s only when you continue reading that it occurs to you the page count for the prologue could have been reduced by half if not jettisoned altogether. There’s even a few awkward scene transitions, such as when Peter’s informed he should contact Spider-Man to stop a Shade-infected crane operator reeking havoc at a construction site while talking with the Shanghai police, and almost immediately, we see Peter as Spider-Man at said construction site. Given the panel composition and placement of dialogue balloons and captions, it’s a jarring effect.
Substituting for Giuseppe Camuncoli is artist Matteo Buffagni, and while he does a capable job, and draws an excellent looking Spider-Man besides, there are moments were his pencil work looks sketchy. Sure, the figures are well-rendered, but even with Marte Gracia’s coloring, Buffangni’s line work and inking make them seem as though they’re unfinished, with the exception of the action sequences. There’s also a few times where it’s difficult to get a true sense of scale when it comes to the characters and their surroundings, especially during Spider-Man’s attempt to stop the crane operator. The wrecking ball, in proportion to Spider-Man, seems to change size in each panel, often on the same page. Other times, there are areas shown in panels which seem large and vast, while in others those very same areas seem much smaller. One panel in particular, a wide-angle view from inside Parker Industries where we see an explosion in the distance, with no one else in the scene, seems like a waste of space. Still, these drawbacks are relatively minor, as Buffagni does have a natural grace to it that’s pleasing to the eye, and keeps your attention as you flip through the pages.
It’s difficult to judge issues such as this one considering it is only the first chapter in a longer story, and on the surface, it does seem as though “The Dark Kingdom” will be appropriately smaller in scale and scope. Yet as far as beginnings go, Amazing Spider-Man (2015) #6 is short of the mark. Also, if the cliffhanger to this issue is any indication, and that this is another “Spider-Man get brainwashed into bad guy” story, and thus damages Parker Industries’ reputation in China in the process, then it also runs the risk of being predictable as well. And why should we care about Parker Industries Shanghai or any of its employees? We don’t really know them as characters at this point, which means there’s very little at stake, and so there’s little reason given to have any emotional investment in the story whatsoever. At least this issue could serve as a compelling argument for why a consistent cast of well-rounded supporting characters is so important by showing what could happen if you don’t really have one.
Stillanerd’s Nerdy Nitpicks (spoilers ahead)
- Okay, I understand Martin Li (Mr. Negative’s “good” alter ego) has to have his hands covered and manacled to prevent him from corrupting anyone, but it does raise a few questions. First, how is he supposed to eat the food the guard is bringing him if he can’t use his hands? Is he supposed to lean over and eat it like a dog? And what about going to bathroom? Or bathing? Somebody would have to help with this, wouldn’t they? Seems to me the Department of Justice is guilty of some serious rights violations when it comes to this particular prisoner they’re extraditing.
- “That can’t be the moon. It’s on the wrong side of the ship!” Which implies there’s already a full moon in the sky. Which also means that not only did the one guard not only mistake Cloak for a really bright full moon, but that neither guard notice that, in a clear night sky, there were “two moons” instead of one.
- Apparently, Peter has anachronistic views on gender roles based on his assumption that Lien Tang’s mom made the dumplings instead of her dad. Of course, given how Lien is the one who built the new Spider-Mobile, shouldn’t he already know that women are capable of being auto mechanics? Not to mention since Lien is the one who made these particular dumplings, albeit based on her dad’s recipe, isn’t she herself reinforcing female stereotypes when it comes to cooking?
- It’s a good thing everyone in China, including working class construction workers, can speak fluent English so Peter can better understand them. Wait a minute? Doesn’t Peter speak fluent Mandarin now thanks to Lien? Heck, if a caption can refer us to Amazing Spider-Man (2015) #1, it could have the time to tell us whether or not the conversations are translated from Mandarin Chinese, just like it did in the issue which was referenced.
- So when looking at a wrecking ball, Spider-Man thinks of…“Wrecking Ball” by Miley Cyrus? Not only does this confirm Spider-Man psychological state is rather odd when it comes to word association, but that he also has an awful taste in music—particularly for pop songs sung by former teen-idols turned sex-symbols which already seem dated after more than a year on the charts.
- You know, Pete? For a guy who is so protective about his secret identity to the point where you don’t even tell your aunt or your girlfriend, you’re pretty careless about it when it being attacked by heroes-turned-villains. Not only do you call Cloak and Dagger by their real names—which only “Spider-Man” would know—but you’re also showing off your enhanced spider strength, speed and agility while avoiding Dagger’s attacks. It’s not as if you have Doctor Strange’s “physic blindspot” to back you up anymore, dude.
- Considering how Peter, as Spider-Man,was already corrupted by Mr. Negative back in the Dark Reign: Mister Negative miniseries, then Mr. Negative’s touch shouldn’t actually work this time around since it’s also been established he can only corrupt a person once. At least in theory, anyway.