It’s the start of a new story arc, in which Spider-Man takes a ride on a rocket to space…again. But wait until you see how he gets back to Earth.
There’s a reason the phrase “because comics” has become a meme. Readers of comic books are often told they shouldn’t take what they read so seriously even while also being told that what happens in those same comics is serious business. One moment it’s, “Comics are fun, lighthearted entertainment with plots and situations you shouldn’t think too hard about,” and then in the next breath it’s, “issue number whatever is so important that after you read it, nothing will be the same ever again!” Such is the paradox of the superhero genre; it asks for your emotional investment in the high-stakes drama of people in tight, colorful costumes punching one another…so long as you don’t scrutinize too much. Such is also the paradox for Dan Slott and Giuseppe Camuncoli’s Amazing Spider-Man (2015) #9 and part one of “Scorpio Rising,” in which Peter Parker and S.H.I.E.L.D. resume their hunt for the international terrorist organization, The Zodiac, and their mysterious leader, Scorpio.
The comic wastes no time jumping right into the main plot as Spider-Man comes up with a spur-of-the-moment plan to locate Scorpio and his secret base by using the very search program used by the Zodiac to hack into S.H.I.E.L.D.’s satellite network when locating an ancient artifact from the British Museum (called “The Orrery,” as we learn in this issue) as seen in Amazing Spider-Man (2015) #5. However, because the satellites are (still?) under the Zodiac’s control, Spider-Man has to reactivate program manually; which means Spider-Man, along with Nick Fury Jr., must head off into space in Spidey’s very own rocket ship, the “Arachno-Rocket.”But of course, despite a rare moment of being caught off guard, Scorpio attempts to stop our heroes by using the rest of the rogue satellites to attack them.
As you no doubt already have guessed, we’re meant to read this issue of Amazing Spider-Man as a mad cap thrill ride, to just relax and eat our popcorn as we look at the pretty pictures. If it were a James Bond film, it would be closer to Moonraker (1979) than it would be Skyfall (2012), and not just because it evolves a secret agent in space. In other words, it’s supposed to be absurd. After all, it has Spider-Man in his very own rocket ship blasting off from downtown Manhattan while listing to Elton John’s “Rocket Man,” Blue Swede’s “Hooked on a Feeling,” (gotta to have that Guardians of the Galaxy reference, after all) and the late David Bowie’s “Space Odyssey.” And leave it to Slott to have come up a mode of transportation which makes the original Spider-Mobile look less silly by comparison. Like Spider-Man in this story, we supposed to just roll with whatever happens and have ourselves a good, fun, crazy, time. Also, to Slott’s credit, it’s refreshing to see Spider-Man be proactive in going after the bad guys instead of the other way around.
Too bad this is also the second time during Slott’s tenure on Amazing Spider-Man that he’s had Spider-Man in outer space, the first being the two-part, and appropriately titled, “Spidey in Space!” (Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 1 #680 – #681). While the circumstances behind this space adventure are different, it also creates the impression Slott is recycling his own ideas. Also, to go back to the Moonraker comparison, just as 007 looked completely out-of-place in a scenario intended to capitalize on the Star Wars craze, so too does Spider-Man. As I’ve said in other reviews, Peter Parker as a character works better when in more down-to-earth circumstances, yet Slott keeps putting him in these larger-than-life scenarios just to underscore how Spider-Man has literally become “the World’s Greatest Superhero.” Even when attempting to lampshade Peter’s current status quo by having him outright say to himself “you’re no Iron Man,” you still can’t escape the notion that if Slott did replace Peter with Tony Stark, almost nothing crucial to the story would be lost.
Another potential weakness, as they have been since the start of the new volume, are the Zodiac themselves. Even with issue #5 revealing that Scorpio is secretly one of Parker Industries’ major shareholders, neither he nor his organization have come across as compelling adversaries for Spider-Man. With this issue, however, Slott attempts to convince readers just how formidable a threat the Zodiac really are by revealing Scorpio can replace captured or killed members of the Zodiac’s inner circle with new members, and that the Gemini twins have the power to see 24 hours into the future. The only reason we’re told that Spider-Man is able to surprise Scorpio at all is because he just so happened to come up with his plan at the precise second the Gemini were “resetting” themselves for the next day. It’s a clever way of showing how Spider-Man is up against someone who can not only afford to sacrifice his own followers, but can anticipate every move he makes literally before it happens. Except Slott also shows that Scorpio with all the temperance and patience of a spoiled brat. True, this is uncommon for a super-villain, as even the greatest of them have temper-tantrums now and again. Yet it’s pretty hard to see Scorpio as a credible threat when he’s also whining about how unfair things are going, or when he tells the Gemini during their precognitive trance, “Stop that. You’re creeping me out” as though were a teenager instead of a middle-aged man.
Which leads us to Amazing Spider-Man #9’s climatic action set-piece, a scene which, even by comic book standards, is so monumentally ridiculous and so completely undoes the suspension of disbelief that you wonder how the story can ever recover afterwards. Having used his Archno-Rocket to destroy the last rogue satellite and thus having no ride back to Earth, Spider-Man sends Nick Fury Jr. to the International Space Station while he heads to Paris—by free-falling into the Earth’s atmosphere! Yes, somehow Spider-Man is able to survive reentry without a space craft thanks to wearing “spider-armor” under his space suit and using his webbing, first to create “balloons” to slow his decent and later creating a “web-foam ball” around himself. Never mind the precise mathematical calculations Spider-Man would have to do “in his head” as he says to make a precise pinpoint landing on the Earth’s surface from orbit; or somehow survive temperatures up to 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit; or somehow not suffocate from oxygen deprivation after his space suit disintegrates; or somehow not passing out from the tremendous g-forces being pushed against his body as he accelerates to terminal velocity; even after all that, Spider-Man is hitting the ground from a height of at least 300 km—more than 186 miles—above sea level and, based on previous free fall records, is potentially approaching speeds of up to Mach 1 or above. Web-foam or no, Spidey would explode into jelly from the hitting the ground alone. Not to mention create an impact crater big enough to level several city blocks, causing hundreds of millions of Euros worth of property damage, and killing or injuring dozens of innocent French citizens in the process. You don’t even need to bring back Mythbusters in order to explain what Spider-Man did was several pounds of baloney packed in several tons of bullcrap. Oops! There I go thinking too hard about something that’s “only a comic book.”
There are, however, some silver linings. Once again, this is another issue of Amazing Spider-Man which one of its ongoing and developing subplots is far more engaging and suspenseful than the main plot itself. Here we learn Anna Maria Marconi has a new boyfriend in her life, who also works at the London Parker Industries office–which sends Doctor Octopus (whose mind is still inside the Living Brain) into a self-contained, jealous rage. I’ve been curious as to what Slott would do to potentially send Otto Octavius down the path of evil again, so seeing Doc Ock feel betrayed by the woman he loves, even though she thinks he’s still dead and thus has every right to move on with her life, makes perfect sense. It also reiterates an ongoing theme about the current run: that the greatest danger to Peter Parker, his friends, and the world are within his own company right under his very nose.
It’s also great to see Camuncoli back as the comic’s illustrator after a three-issue hiatus. No matter how implausible or ludicrous the story gets, the artwork in this issue, aided by Cam Smith’s coloring, is a treat to behold after the dour, grainy style of Matteo Buffagni. Also, no matter how over-the-top the action on panel is, Camuncoli doesn’t neglect in instilling verisimilitude into the proceedings. Even the imagery of Spider-Man’s absurd free fall to Earth looks stunning, especially the space splash in which Peter begins his decent, the heat starting to envelop him while the spider constellation shines behind him. That’s what Camuncoli has made tremendous improvements upon as an artist over the years: making the most implausible sequences and scenarios look plausible, and its a style well-suited for the kinds of stories Slott is telling with Spider-Man.
Nevertheless, Amazing Spider-Man (2015) #9 is a sign that Slott may want to scale things back a bit. It’s the kind of story you’d come up with when you were a little kid playing with action figures, where you just made stuff up off the fly and didn’t really care about consistency, logic, rules, or any of that other grown-up stuff. So what if it didn’t make any sense? You were too busy having fun. These were your heroes, now, and you could do whatever you wanted with them, and no one could tell you otherwise. Still there comes a point where you have put your childish exuberance in check. Because you’re not just playing by yourself in your room anymore; you’re sharing your toys with others. Which means playing by a set of “rules,” one’s that make sense for everybody, least you get accused of “cheating” or not “playing fair.” It’s more fun for everyone that way. Because having a good time playing with your toys doesn’t mean doing whatever you feel like, or hiding behind the phrase “it’s only a game” when the other kids call you out. Much less hiding behind the phrase “because comics.”
Stillanerd’s Nerdy Nitpicks (spoilers ahead)
- “…it feels like you’re winking at me.” “Ditto.” Okay, not gonna lie: the winking under the mask and/or eye patch banter was cute…in a platonic, bromance sort of way.
- So how come Spider-Man doesn’t have Peter Schilling’s “Major Tom (Coming Home)” on the Archno-Rocket’s playlist? Or Styx’s “Come Sail Away?” What about “Mr. Spaceman” by the Byrds? “Space Truckin'” by Deep Purple? “Supersonic Rocket Ship” by the Kinks?! Then again, nothing beats the late Mr. Ziggy Stardust himself since Spider-Man has two of his songs on the playlist.
- Okay, now that Scorpio has recruited new Gemini twins, I’m really starting to see the comparisons to Cobra from G.I. Joe. Because if Scorpio is the Cobra Commander, then the way Gemini talk over each and at the same time makes them the Tomax and Xamot of the group.
- “How the hell are they targeting us?!” Because as you just explained to Spider-Man minutes ago, Nick Jr., that Zodiac still has control of your satellite network. Guess one of the side effects of space travel is short-term memory loss.
- “These [satellites] cost $26 million a pop.” Oh, so that’s where all the United Nations aid relief is going. Or are those U.S. tax dollars? Never can be too sure which governing body S.H.I.E.L.D. works for these days.
- “I got a blaster, not a bazooka!” And why would the size of the last rogue satellite make any difference to your blaster, Nick? Based on how you’ve blown up all the other satellites with one shot, your little blaster appears to already have as much firepower as a bazooka, if not more.
- I assume the “Archno-Rocket,” while it heads towards the last satellite, plays David Bowie’s “Starman” through the internal speakers of Spider-Man and Nick Fury Jr.’s helmets. Because otherwise they wouldn’t hear due to, you know, the vacuum of space.
- Um, Pete? Did you actually watch the movie, Gravity? Because if you did, you’d know that Sandra Bullock’s character had to be helped to the ISS by George Clooney during her spacewalk. So to use your analogy, maybe you should’ve helped Nick get to the ISS first before you decided to make the plunge to Earth.
- “This is Spider-Man we’re talking about, not Thor!” Yeah, but who need a magic hammer when you’ve got an “armored suit” that shoots foam webbing out the back, Scorpio?
- “There’s a new constellation in the sky! A thirteenth sign! The sign of the Spider!” And at this point, Scropio should seriously question how valid Gemini’s prophecies really are since 1) constellations are arbitrary patterns of stars that already exist, 2)there’s already a 13th sign of the Zodiac called Ophiuchus, and 3) there’s already a constellation, albeit a former one, called “The Spider.”
- Hold on…so the rogue S.H.I.E.L.D. satellites Nick Jr. had to blow up with his blaster was also providing other countries with Parker Industries’ “Webware” network? In other words, a private company was providing internet access around the world using satellites provided by a top-secret paramilitary organization with the word “espionage” as part of their acronym? If President Dwight D. Eisenhower wasn’t spinning his grave over PI and S.H.I.E.L.D. being an indication of the “military-industrial complex,” he sure is now.
- Spider-Man, I’m sure you activating your “emergency beacon” is quite unnecessary when the people of Paris can literally see you as a flaming meteor of death about to crash into their city! Besides, how can anyone on the ground even hear your beacon over the roaring flames from your decent as you travel at supersonic speeds, several thousands of feet above the Earth, while encased inside your insulated web-ball? If it’s louder than all that, I’m surprised you’re not bleeding from your ears at this point. And why do you even have a siren on your suit? You just went, “Never know when I’m going to free-fall from outer space, so might as well put one in the costume just in case?”
- I just realized? How is your web-foam enveloping your body, Spider-Man? Wouldn’t it be shooting behind you like streamers due to, you know, you traveling at terminal velocity? So yeah, one more reason you should be dead multiple times over. “Because comics,” right?
- You know, in keeping with the whole David Bowie motif this comic has, I guess we can now call Peter Parker “The Man Who Fell To Earth?”