It’s the second part of “The Dark Kingdom,” in which Spider-Man still patrols the streets of Shanghai and deludes himself into thinking he’s good at “delegating and multi-tasking.”
Written by Dan Slott
Art by Matteo Buffagni
Colors by Marte Gracia
Cover by Alex Ross; and Michael Cho
Lettering by VC’s Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
3 out of 5
One of the more common themes about Spider-Man, other than power and responsibility, is how difficult it can sometimes be to keep up a proper balance within one’s life. Peter Parker, after all, is someone who always in constant conflict with himself over what he needs to do and what he feels compelled to do, between fulfilling his promises as Spider-Man and his fulfilling his obligations the people around him. In the case of Amazing Spider-Man (2015) #7, it’s a àpropos theme for Dan Slott to explore for part two of “The Dark Kingdom,” as not only Spider-Man is once again to find their own sense of balance, harmony, and order, but so does every single character. It’s also a theme which proves ironic as Slott also finds himself struggling to weave together at least half-a-dozen narratives at once.
First, there’s the main plot in which Spider-Man seeks to thwart the plans of Mr. Negative, which picks up directly from where Amazing Spider-Man (2015) #6 ended. To Slott’s credit, he reminds readers that Mr. Negative’s corrupting touch doesn’t work on someone corrupted by him in the past. Because this already happened to him as Spider-Man during the Dark Reign: Mister Negative mini-series, and because Mr. Negative doesn’t know about his secret identity, Peter only pretends that he’s under the super-villain’s influence. So no, contrary to my initial guess from the last review, “The Dark Kingdom” did not become another “Spider-Man gets brainwashed by the bad guy” story. Thank goodness. In any case, Peter’s ruse allows him to learn about Mr. Negative’s real target, which, by mere coincidence, is Shen Quinghao, the Chinese philanthropist Parker Industries is on the verge of partnering themselves with; and, due to planting a micro spider-tracer, Spider-Man also finds Mr. Negative’s Shade drug making factory, leading to this issue’s climatic battle with the still inverted Cloak and Dagger.Credit: Matteo Buffagni and Marte Gracia (Marvel Comics); from Amazing Spider-Man (2015) #7
Yet as we see Peter into swing into action to thwart Mr. Negative’s schemes, it doesn’t take long to realize that, as a result of his newly acquired wealth, occupation, and authority, being Spider-Man has become the most important thing in his life above almost everyone and everything else. At Parker Industries, “helping Spider-Man” takes higher priority than even conducting cancer research. Peter brushes off talking with his girlfriend, Lien Tang, even though she’s in desperate need of his help. The superhero who once preferred web-slinging and going it alone has become over-dependent on his Spider-Mobile and calling for back-up. Even when he does check-in to his various offices and that there might be obvious causes for concern, he opts to deal with them later. Just as he did with Amazing Spider-Man (2015) #5, Slott re-establishes how Peter has become so preoccupied with fighting the bad guys and he doesn’t realize the real problems and threats are within his own company, and that he’s not as “in charge” as he believes. It may follow a consistent pattern for Spider-Man in that his life is house of cards waiting to collapse at any moment, but it’s also becoming tiresome and too telegraphed at this point. And in this case, instead of us rooting for Peter to succeed and figure out what’s really going on before it’s too late, we’re rooting for him to fail, if only for him to regain some much-needed humility. That’s not feeling any fan of Spider-Man should be having when reading a Spider-Man comic.
Slott also uses this issue to see how various supporting characters are doing, specifically Harry Osborn attempting to reconcile with his ex-wife, Liz Allan, and their son, Normie. And Normie, of course, is none too happy that his half-brother, Stanley, is getting more attention from his dad. Given how readers of Spider-Man 2099 know Liz is the CEO of the evil corporation, Alchemax, and is also Parker Industries’ business rival, one would have to question whether Harry is in danger of compromising Peter’s New York branch. This also allows for another appearance by The Regent, the villain from Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows, stopping a thief during a high-speed car chase. Never mind how that character was one of the weakest aspects about the otherwise enjoyable Secret Wars tie-in miniseries, you really have to wonder why anyone would trust such opposing figure who calls himself “The Regent.” It also highlights a larger problem, one which has persisted since the start of the new volume: why should we care about what happens with any of these characters?
Part of this, I think, has to do with Slott being a more plot-centric writer instead of a character-driven one. Yes, the story and its various subplots “fit” together into something cohesive, moves at an appropriate pace, and builds upon each scene. There’s even a twist involving Mr. Negative and his benevolent alter-ego, Martin Li, that’s not only clever, but also puts his motives into a new light while also building upon his background. Yet no matter how hard the comic tries, there’s no emotional connection to what’s happening on the page. Instead, it feels as though Slott is just checking off items on a list and presumes the readers will automatically be invested in these characters because they’re already “familiar” with them. This assumption even applies to the new characters, as well. Which is also why the true identity of Scorpio’s mole inside Parker Industries winds up being a complete bust. I won’t spoil it if there are those who still wish to read the comic for themselves (though I’ll hint at in the Nerdy Nitpicks), so all I will say is that this revelation would’ve been more impactful if we actually spent a lot more time getting acquainted with this person over these last couple of issues. Perhaps it would’ve been alleviated even more if Marvel editorial hadn’t insisted on having the “All-New, All-Different Marvel” relaunch set “eight months later” after Secret Wars. It also, once again, makes Peter look like a clueless idiot who only has himself to blame and deserves what’s coming to him.Credit: Matteo Buffagni and Marte Gracia (Marvel Comics); from Amazing Spider-Man (2015) #7
Matteo Buffagni’s art looks a little better this time, but it’s only a slight improvement. It has better detail and doesn’t appear so roughly sketched as did in the last issue; unfortunately, his characters look far too stiff and over-posed. There’s also more than a few instances where the figure’s body proportions look a bit wonky, and, particularly in the of the predominately white-garbed Mister Negative, they even look flat. This, and a tendency to put too tight a focus within certain panels and relying on too many eye-level perspectives, also give should otherwise be a dynamic, action-packed sequences, such as Spider-Man being up against the still-corrupted Cloak and Dagger at the Shade-drug plant, a sense of claustrophobic and rigid. Even Marte Gracia’s coloring doesn’t help much, and much of the comic is done with varying gradations of dull grays and browns.
And while I realize I’m using “dull” too much to describe the current volume of Amazing Spider-Man, it’s the best term I can come up with for this comic. Even though this is an issue in which he’s advancing certain story-lines forward, I get the sense that Slott is in another of one his periods where he’s spinning his wheels until he get to the next big event. In the meantime, I guess will have to endure some of Peter dealing with another “betrayal” within Parker Industries and yet still failing to recognize that doesn’t have his house in order. Or that really needs to overhaul his company’s hiring policies.
Stillanerd’s Nerdy Nitpicks (spoilers ahead)
- Credit: Matteo Buffagni and Marte Gracia (Marvel Comics); from Amazing Spider-Man (2015) #7
Far it for me to have a full understanding of how Mr. Negative’s power work, but shouldn’t he have realized something wasn’t quite right with his “corruption” of Peter? Because it’s not just a person’s moral compass which gets inverted, but so does the color scheme of the clothes they wear. Which happened not just with Spdier-Man but with Eddie Brock, Cloak and Dagger, and, of course, Mr. Negative himself every time he turns back into Martin Li.
- Once again, Peter has a handy-dandy gadget to save the day, although this time it’s not a new kind of webbing. Also, it seems he also took page out of Ben Reilly’s playbook because Spider-Man’s clone was the first to technically come up with “micro spider tracers,” which were a form of “Micro-Dots,” during the infamous Clone Saga of the 1990s.
- Again, why is Dr. Wu, if he’s such a committed nationalist and resents having to “drop everything” to help Spider-Man, working for a company like Parker Industries? Also, given how he’s putting cancer research on hold because of it, it’s no wonder he thinks Peter is a terrible CEO who doesn’t know what he’s doing.
- Wow! That kid helping Philip Chang plant the tree sure is tiny.
- “I’m kind of outmatched here. And most of my backup…are spread out across the world.” Good! This is your comic book, Spider-Man, not Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s.
- Hold on a sec? The reason it seemed as though everyone in China was speaking perfect English, with editorial notes telling readers that the dialogue’s been translated, is because Spider-Man has speaking Mandarin Chinese all along? Well if that’s the case, then how are Cloak and Dagger understanding Spider-Man enough to tell him how bad his sense of humor is? Is did Mr. Negative’s corrupting touch also make them multi-lingual, too?
- “Gentlemen. Enjoy the Shade” (As Cloak uses his teleportation powers to fling hundreds of Shade patches at the Chinese SPU). Tyrone? Didn’t you just get through telling Spider-Man that he wasn’t funny? With such awful pun as that one, you’re not exactly one the talk about having a sense of humor, either.
- Martin? You do know you’re watching a recorded message and Mr. Negative can’t actually hear or respond to what you’re saying, right?
- And the moral of this comic is: if you’re the CEO of multi-billion dollar company who spends their off hours as a crime-fighter, never, ever, ever date one of your own employees. Especially one who has designed, built, and knows how to drive all your vehicles.