Stillanerd Reviews: Amazing Spider-Man (2015) #12

Mary Jane returns to Amazing Spider-Man along with her new boss, Tony Stark. Because what’s a Spider-Man Team-Up without Peter getting jealous, right?

“Power Play Part 1: The Stark Contrast”
Written by Dan Slott
Penicls by Giuseppe Camuncoli
Inks by Cam Smith
Colors by Marte Gracia
Lettering by VC’s Chris Eliopoulos
Cover by Alex Ross
Published by Marvel Comics

Stillanerd’s Score:

3.5 out of 5

Amazing Spider-Man (2015) #12 has what I believe is an almost perfect comic book page. To set up the scene, Peter Parker is giving a speech at a charity dinner for his Uncle Ben Foundation, and doing badly because he’s flustered over having found out that his ex, Mary Jane Watson, is not only attending but is working for Tony Stark, a.k.a. Iron Man (apparently Mary Jane changed her mind about working for Stark Industries as she declined his offer in Invincible Iron Man #8, which means this comic takes place well after the events from that issue). Suddenly, long time Iron Man villain, The Ghost, attacks, and that’s both Peter and Tony’s cue to go off and change into their respective costumed identities. And as the two suit up, we then see two rows of six panels juxtaposing each other, showing how Peter and Tony’s costumes solidify over themselves and concluding with both heroes saying all but the same phrase. Not only is this single page effective in comparing and contrasting both heroes, it confirms that Peter has become far more like Stark than he would admit to others and especially to himself. It also confirms that, contrary to what Dan Slott would have you believe, Spider-Man really has become a second-rate Iron Man, and perhaps by design.

You wouldn’t think so at first given how Slott starts things off by insisting that Peter, despite being a wealthy CEO, is still a hard luck, neurotic, nerdy nice guy, the type of person who chooses to rent a tuxedo instead of buying one because he’s embarrassed about showing off his wealth. Also, along with Mary Jane, we have other appearances from long time, classic supporting characters. Harry Osborn (or rather “Harry Lyman” as he now wishes to call himself) plays a significant part, as does his ex-wife and CEO of Alchemax, Liz Allen. Even Betty Brant makes a cameo in doing a report for the Daily Bugle. The story also takes place in New York, which the recap page makes a specific point about this being Peter’s “home.” Take away all the references to Parker Industries, and Amazing Spider-Man (2015) #12 reads more like a traditional Spider-Man comic than anything we’ve seen during the past eleven issues. It’s also your typical Marvel Team-Up story featuring Spider-Man, one which hits all the usual beats which are even pointed out by Spider-Man himself.

…to borrow Dan Slott’s own Looney Tunes’ “Rabbit Fire” reference in [Amazing Spider-Man #12], Spider-Man has become the Daffy Duck to Iron Man’s Bugs Buggy.

Yet by having Tony Stark in this issue while also placing Peter back into more familiar surroundings among familiar faces, we’re only reminded how unlike himself Peter has been since becoming the Steve Jobs of the Marvel Universe. Early on, Tony advises Peter to “flaunt” his wealth while he’s “still on top,” to which Peter insists he’s not someone who just “throws money around.” It’s then that Tony points out how Peter’s funding of Spider-Man is costing his company billions of dollars, a none too subtle accusation that Peter’s pretense towards humility is a sign of hypocrisy. Moreover, Peter’s jealousy towards Tony becomes all too clear as he not only accuses him of “taking away” Mary Jane and the Ghost as “his bad guy,” but also stealing his spotlight, thanks to Tony stepping on one of Peter’s one liners. And how does Slott have Peter deal with this? By having him make an unsuccessful attempt to hire Tony’s former personal assistant and love interest, Pepper Pots, another an attractive redhead just like Mary Jane. It’s as close to an admission by Slott that those who have criticized him over turning Spider-Man into a “poor man’s Tony Stark” are one-hundred percent correct, that instead of Peter achieving his full potential, what he really did was overcompensate for his own deep-rooted feelings of inadequacy. Or, to borrow Dan Slott’s own Looney Tunes‘ “Rabbit Fire” reference in this issue, Spider-Man has become the Daffy Duck to Iron Man’s Bugs Bunny.

Mary Jane’s presence and the effect she has on Peter also highlights how, in spite of his money, he’s lost the one person from his life who really mattered. Aside from exacerbating his natural social awkwardness to point he tells bad jokes during a speech, Slott makes it all too plain that Peter hasn’t gotten over MJ in the slightest. It’s especially telling that, at one point, Spider-Man still references MJ as “his girl” even though they’re no longer in a relationship. What we don’t get is MJ’s side of things. Save for wanting Harry to tell her the “embarrassing bits” about Peter since her absence, a remark about Peter’s tux, and a wisecrack in response to her still being around during Spider-Man, Iron Man and Ghost’s skirmish, Slott doesn’t offer any hint about what she’s really feeling on seeing Peter again, or what she thinks about him being the head of a very successful company. Granted, this isn’t her comic, and Slott may dwell into her point-of-view in a later issue, but it would’ve been nice to see her side of things. In addition, while Slott references her arrival at Aunt May’s wedding in Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 1 #600, her nightclub burning down in Superior Spider-Man #10, and a feeling of déjà vu upon seeing Augustus Roman, a.k.a. The Regent from Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows, he never reminds readers why she and Peter are no longer together, other than Peter saying he’s “screwed up everything between [them]” during one of his inner monologues. Never mind how this assertion of his is completely untrue in light of the events of Superior Spider-Man, it also contradicts Slott’s own Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 3 #3 where Peter resigned himself over MJ moving on in life without him. Though given how ham-handed Peter and MJ’s separation really was, it’s no wonder Slott would choose to ignore the circumstances behind it.

As for the return of the Regent, I’ve never hid the fact that I didn’t care for him as a villain in Renew Your Vows or that he was brought over into the Marvel Universe proper. Yet to his credit, Slott makes a valiant effort in fleshing out the Regent’s character, even making more than one suggestion this is not the same person from Renew Your Vows. While this version of the Regent still believes he’s saving the world, only this time it’s not from Doctor Doom, but all super humans, heroes and villains alike, blaming them for the death of his family when they got caught in the crossfire during the events of Roger Stern’s Avengers epic, “Under Siege.” As a motive for capturing and absorbing the powers of heroes and villains go, it’s far more personal and understandable than his original reasons, although it does make me wonder why Roman has chosen the name “Regent” as his alias? That name made sense within the context of Battleworld and Secret Wars, but it’s a name which doesn’t fit within the context as he’s presented here. Perhaps, given how he runs a super-villain prison, Slott should’ve called him “The Warden” instead; then again, maybe he believed he couldn’t since there’s already a character called “The Warden” who runs a high-tech prison in the cartoon series, Superjail!

Yet if Slott’s characterizations are one thing, his dialogue is another matter. Subtlety has never been one of Slott’s strong suits when it comes to storytelling, and it’s definitely not the case here. Both Peter and Tony at one point say, “Sometimes it hard to keep track of it all” when going over (in comic book time) recent history. When Spider-Man and Iron Man bicker back-and-forth over whose villain the Ghost is, it isn’t enough to have the villain they’re fighting over has to ask “Are you two for real?” but Roman has to add how “pathetic” that “so-called ‘super heroes’ are squabbling like children” with MJ adding “tell me about it.” Or when Roman tells Betty about the inner-workings of his super villain prison, the Cellar, he sums up the reasoning behind his work by saying how “with unlimited powers must come unlimited responsibility” to which Betty responds by saying, “I’ve heard something like that before.” But at least Slott also manages some half-way decent jokes and one-liners, like the Ghost’s comment on how fighting Spider-Man and Iron Man, because they’re “corporate mascots,” is like being attacked by the Michelin Man and ht Geico Geeko; or how Spidey says in reaction to their fight how it seems “more like a tech demo.” Of course in a Dan Slott Spider-Man penned, it’s not just Peter Parker who tries their hand at playing a comedian.

[Giuseppe] Camucoli gives Spider-Man, Iron Man, and Ghost such care and detail that they stand out in every single panel…Everyone else however…not so much.

Once again Giuseppe Camuncoli, Cam Smith, and Marte Gracia create images of colorful, eye-catching splendor. I’ve already mentioned the page where Peter and Tony suit up as Spider-Man and Iron Man respectively, and both heroes, along with the Ghost, look fantastic.  Camuncoli gives them all such care and detail that they stand out in every single panel, as well they should since they are the comic’s central players.  Everyone else however…not so much. Oh sure, all the major characters do have their own distinctive appearance, and you can still tell who’s who even without the dialogue balloons.  It’s just they also look so generic.  Keep in mind that Mary Jane, aside from being one of the more recognizable Spider-Man characters, is also someone who’s described as drop-dead gorgeous, a former model and actress no less, and thus someone who should not only be attractive but radiate her natural effervescence every time she appears on panel. Yet under Camuncoli, this is one of the blandest, nondescript looking depictions of MJ I have ever seen. Come to think of it, all the women in this comic seem to have as much life and expressiveness as a department store mannequin.  Compare this to male characters in which every slightest facial twitch is the stuff of melodrama. Certainly Camuncoli has grown as an artist during his tenure on Amazing Spider-Man over the years, yet it seems this development is stalling since becoming the regular, ongoing penciler for this series.

Yet overall, I’d have to say Amazing Spider-Man (2015) #12 is the best issue of the current volume to date. Of course after so many months enduring the tortuous anticlimactic drudgery of the Zodiac, anything would be better at this point. It just so happens this comic also comes the closest in making one feel they are reading an honest to goodness Spider-Man comic again. Or it could just be Slott is taking the opportunity to respond to the naysayers about the current direction. After all, you know he’s very much aware of the online chatter when there’s a panel in which a YouTube comment reads, “I don’t understand why [Spider-Man’s] chest spider glows. Lame.” It’s as though Slott has read my mind. Or at least these reviews.

Stillanerd’s Nerdy Nitpicks (spoilers ahead)

  • Okay, as great as Alex Ross’ cover for this issue is (as have all his covers for Amazing Spider-Man) I have to ask what happened to the “All-New, All-Different Avengers?”  Because other than Iron Man, not a single one of them show up. Well, technically they still do, but only on the Regent’s television monitors, and only Iron Man teams up with Spidey. Oh, and this isn’t the Regent’s “destructive debut,” either. That would be Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows #1. It’s not even his debut in Amazing Spider-Man, as he made his first appearance in the series in a back-up story from the first issue. Talk about a cover that outright lies to you.
  • “Harry, my last girlfriend wound up being a corporate mole…” Yeah, about that, Mr. Parker. Why didn’t you fire Lian (or Lien) Tang or have her arrested, especially since you also remind yourself how she tried to kill you? Oh, that’s right because you needed her help in taking down the Zodiac. Even though we never saw you actually using her help once all throughout the last story arc. Way to follow things through there, Pete!
  • “There was a lot of drama that night.” I’ll say! Like the fact you had a drunken hook up with your then roommate, Michele Gonzales, only for you to later learn what you thought was champagne was really sparkling apple cider because Michele switched glasses on you? Good thing you neglected to mention that when Mary Jane walked up behind you, Pete.
  • What’s the real reason Tony Stark doesn’t remember that Peter and Mary Jane lived together in Stark Tower, you might ask? It’s all thanks to the “psychic blindspot” which erased everyone’s knowledge that Peter was Spider-Man as depicted in One Moment in Time, in which Tony ironically had a hand in helping to create. He also, during the events of “Dark Reign,” has his memories erased and rebooted from it’s last safe point, which just so happened to not contain any memories from any of the events from Civil War onwards. However, this doesn’t explain how Tony doesn’t remember that Mary Jane already told him that she knew Peter as seen in Invincible Iron Man #7.
  • Harry? If you’re using your mother’s maiden name instead of your real surname, how is that not “hiding” the fact that you’re related to Norman Osborn?
  • “Do you even know how Parker Luck works?” Actually, Peter, I don’t think even you know how Parker Luck works anymore, and haven’t since the start of “Brand New Day” in 2008. Because the way it’s supposed to work is that when things start going right for you as Spider-Man, your life as Peter Parker goes wrong and vice versa.
  • “You’re not funny.” Oh, Harry. If you only knew Peter was really Spider-Man, one of the funniest superheroes alive. Actually, Peter is only as funny as the writer’s sense of humor, so maybe Peter really isn’t all that funny now. Of course I have no sense of humor whatsoever, so what do I know?
  • So Liz Allan and Tiberius Stone once again hired the Ghost to literally eliminate their competition in the lucrative super villain prison development market.  First, they do realize how suspicious it’s going to look in having Ghost once again go after someone creating a super villain prison except for Alchemax, right? Second, didn’t Empire Unlimited already get the exclusive building contract from the state of New York to build the Cellar, and thus there’s nothing to gain from assassinating Roman? Third, doesn’t Alchemax already have a contract with the National Security Agency to develop a federal penitentiary for super-powered terrorists, and thus don’t have to worry about any competitors any more? Or has everyone at Marvel forgotten all about that subplot from Spider-Man 2099?
  • “One, I don’t understand that reference.” Seriously, Spider-Man? You’ve never heard of the “Your got your peanut butter in my chocolate/you got chocolate in my peanut butter” ad campaign for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups? Then again, thanks to Marvel’s sliding timescale, you may really not be old enough to remember watching that commercial on TV during the 1980s.
  • Okay, I know MJ calling someone “tiger” is kind of her thing, but why is she calling Augustus Roman “tiger?” Every Spider-Man fan knows why she calls Peter “tiger” and that it’s her special pet name for him, but what reason does she have in calling a complete and total stranger that?
  • Gee, if only Ghost had stepped off to the side after Spider-Man shot a line of z-metal webbing through him and before Tony could run his “multi-vibrational blast along the webbing. Sure it would mean Spidey and Tony’s “crossing the streams” plan wouldn’t have worked, but then Spidey wouldn’t be so sore over Tony stepping all over Spidey’s attempt at a corny Ghostbusters joke.