Stillanerd Reviews: Amazing Spider-Man (2015) #14

It’s Spider-Man vs. The Regent: Round Two! Only with the help of Iron Man. And with Mary Jane still mad at Peter for…reasons.

Although it has one more chapter left, I don’t believe it’s presumptuous of me to say that Dan Slott’s “Power Play” is a bit of a mess.  Part One (which in hindsight should have received a lower score than the one I originally gave it) was at least an entertaining, if not overly meta, Marvel Team-Up romp which also felt the closest to being a traditional Amazing Spider-Man story since the beginning of the current volume and Peter’s status as a wealthy CEO.  Part Two, however, turned Spider-Man into such an unsympathetic, ill-tempered man-child to poke fun at “hero vs hero” brawl that it wound up being just as infantile as the concept it intended to lampoon.  Now with Amazing Spider-Man (2015) #14, Slott must rely on his go-to substitute scribe, Christos Gage to complete Part 3, and while it does result in a somewhat better comic, it’s still bogged down by narrative and pacing problems.

For starters, it’s a comic in which far too many events occur off-panel. When we last saw Spider-Man and Iron Man, they just learned that Miles Morales has gone missing. This issue has Peter and Tony out of costume and accompanied by Mary Jane Watson looking for him.  Keep in mind Tony still doesn’t know Peter is Spider-Man. Wouldn’t he think it odd that Spidey suddenly left only for his “boss” to show up to help search for his “security guard’s” friend while having Tony’s personal assistant and Peter’s ex tag along? Also, the last issue ended with Betty Brant confronting Augustus Roman, the CEO of Empire Unlimited, if he was the Regent; this issue opens with the Regent taking down the remaining Avengers one-by-one, and we only learn later that the Regent, off-panel, imprisoned Betty in one of his containment cells to keep her from talking. One of the Avengers the Regent goes after is Thor, and when it looks as though an epic fight between them is about to begin, we later see the Regent has defeated and captured her, their entire battle having taken place off-panel. He defeats every single superhero and team off-panel, too, which, because of the order of events and dialogue as presented, also creates a gaping plot hole. There’s even a moment in which Spider-Man creates a web-parachute (you guessed it) off-panel and in the middle of a fight scene. While it isn’t necessary to see everything that happens as there’s only so much one can show in twenty pages of story, the comic’s pacing isn’t so much expedient as it is slapdash.

For the first time since “Power Play” began, Peter and Tony have a disagreement while managing to act like actual adults instead of…immature hotheads

Where there are improvements over the previous issues is in some of the dialogue. During the scene where Peter, Mary Jane, and Tony go to Miles’s so see if their son checked in with them, the reader understands Peter’s concerned for Miles’s safety, he also respects and has faith that he’s still okay. Plus, in light of Peter’s own experiences as Spider-Man, it make sense he’d also try to come up with a lame excuse to protect Miles’s secret identity. Likewise, it’s also in-character for Tony to berate Peter by pointing out “Being a Spider-Man and being his pal are two different things,” reminding Peter that Miles is still just a kid who could be in serious danger, and that he shouldn’t give false reassurance to his parents that “he’ll be home soon” when there’s no guarantee they’ll find him in time. For the first time since “Power Play” began, Peter and Tony have a disagreement while managing to act like actual adults instead of the immature hotheads from the previous two issues.

Another great bit of character interaction occurs when Harry Osborn/Lyman confronts Augustus Roman over Betty Brant’s disappearance, as she was the last person to have seen him.  Here, Slott and Gage remind readers that Harry, like Roman, is also a victim of a superhuman feud (the rivalry between Spider-Man and Harry’s father, Norman Osborn, the original Green Goblin) and lost someone he loved because of that feud (Gwen Stacy). Yet by having Harry, a former Green Goblin himself, say that villains can be rehabilitated, he acts as a fitting contrast against the Regent’s more ardent stance that all superhumans, heroes and villains alike, are threats which must be destroyed. The means in which Harry exposes Augustus Roman and his true intentions is also clever and effectively-written, showing that while he’s not on par with Peter’s intellect, Harry is much more intelligent and shrewd than other people give him credit for. And it almost makes up for, although doesn’t excuse, the absurd way in which he, along with Betty and MJ, uncovered Roman’s identity as the Regent during Part Two.

…what little conversations there are between Peter and Mary Jane, and what Peter describes as their “soap opera,” rings false.

By contrast, what little conversations there are between Peter and Mary Jane, and what Peter describes as their “soap opera,” rings totally false. The issue would have it’s readers believe that the main reason behind Peter and MJ’s current separation was all due to Peter’s dishonesty when it came to maintaining his secret identity as Spider-Man. Except even the most causal Spider-Man fan knows that MJ has been aware of Peter’s double life almost from the beginning, and is someone who maintains a “secret identity” of sorts herself by pretending she’s just a vapid “party girl.” Her comment about being “glad [that] all this ‘secret identity’ nonsense out of her life” is also untrue considering how the issue itself shows her going through just as much “verbal gymnastics” as Peter to protecting his secret identity, even from her current employer who’s also a superhero. Likewise, her claim that Tony Stark, unlike Peter, puts “everything out in the open” is utterly ridiculous. Never mind how there’s been multiple–and much crueler–instances of Tony deceiving his friends, lovers, and allies, including the most recent issue of Invincible Iron Man, it conveniently ignores how Peter revealing his secret identity during Civil War is what lead to their relationship ending in the first place (deals with Mephisto notwithstanding), which made MJ an even bigger target for his enemies. If anything, she’s in more danger now working for a superhero with a public identity like Iron Man than she is still hanging around her ex.

This becomes all the more annoying when, once again, Slott and Gage remind the readers of how Peter and Mary Jane once lived at Stark Tower. The gag, of course, is that Tony has no recollection of any of this, either because of Dr. Strange’s spell to erase everyone’s knowledge of Spider-Man’s secret identity as seen in “One Moment in Time” (Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 1 #638 – #641), or because Tony “rebooted” his brain conveniently without his memories of Civil War during the Dark Reign crossover and “Stark: Disassembled” (Invincible Iron Man Vol. 1 #20-24). Which means if Slott and Gage were aware of this period in Spider-Man’s history, then they should also be very aware of the real circumstances for why Peter and MJ are no longer together–circumstances they created with Superior Spider-Man.  The result is an issue which gives the impression that Slott and Gage are scrambling for any excuse in justifying keeping Peter And MJ apart, whether it’s because they need them apart to make the story “work,” because MJ is now a supporting character in the current volume of Invincible Iron Man, or because the reasons they gave MJ for leaving Peter in back in Superior Spider-Man #31 (that she wanted to have an ordinary life on her own terms) are now proven as complete hogwash.

The issue’s other major drawback is that no matter how fleshed-out his character and motivations are, the Regent is still remains an extremely dull villain. That the comic openly compares him to the Avengers villain, the Super-Adaptoid, also means he’s a derivative one, as well. Once again, he’s doing the same scheme he did in Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows by capturing superhumans and siphoning their powers to make himself stronger. And once again, by having the Regent defeat every single superhero no matter how powerful they are, Slott once again made him so ridiculously overpowered that it’s all but inevitable that his defeat will be the result of sheer plot contrivance. No doubt it will have something to do with how the Regent’s overuse of his suit risks endangering his vital signs, as the story constantly reminds us every time he’s engaged in battle. Not to mention the issue’s cliffhanger guarantees yet another scenario where an otherwise ordinary person, in this case Mary Jane, will have to rescue Spider-Man from the big bad in the very next issue. Just another instance of Slott, along with Gage, recycling and retelling the very same story beats, tropes, and now plots from his earlier stories.

Giuseppe Camuncoli’s art has the same strengths and weaknesses…Whenever we see costumed characters in action, his penciling comes alive…But once again, [he] stumbles whenever he draws a non-costumed person.

Speaking of repeating oneself, Giuseppe Camuncoli’s art has the same strengths and weaknesses in this issue as it did during the previous chapters of “Power Play.” Whenever we see costumed characters in action, his penciling comes alive. While there are minor inconsistencies with perspective and scale here and there, but it’s evident Camuncoli takes his time when drawing Spider-Man, Iron Man, and especially The Regent, making sure to depict even the most complex inner-workings and circuitry of the super villain’s armor.  He also makes good of Cam Smith and Marte Gracia’s lighting and coloring effects, such as when he shows the rain gradually disappear in subsequent panels as a subtle sign of Thor’s defeat.  But once again, Camuncoli stumbles whenever he draws a non-costumed person. Characters such as Harry and Aunt May are given distinctive features during close-ups, but any time the panels are mid to wide angle shots, they become nondescript.  Mary Jane, as in the last two issues, suffers the worst, as there’s nothing which suggests her as the stunning beauty which once captured Peter’s heart and is still “tripping every third word” over.  He also runs into trouble when it comes to panel arrangement, as a two-page spread which makes up part of the issue’s climatic fight scene makes it difficult to get a sense of place, and literally boxes in what should otherwise be large, bold movements.

As the penultimate chapter to “Power Play,” Amazing Spider-Man (2015) #14 does progress it’s story forward, only it does so in such a way that’s its outcome seems predictable.  Anyone who read Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows  and who has seen the cover for Amazing Spider-Man (2015) #15 already has a good guess how the Regent will be defeated.  And if it does end the way we’re led to believe on the basis of this issue, then it will turn “Power Play” into another bit of glorified, obligatory filler to pass the time until Slott’s main event with “Dead No More,” only one with lots of fan-service and nods to other Marvel works to satisfy the appetites. Even if what they’re eating amounts to stale cotton candy.

Stillanerd’s Nerdy Nitpicks (spoilers ahead)

  • I guess Brian Michael Bendis is no longer holds the monopoly when making Miles’s “venom blast” too powerful. Which of course raises the question that if the Regent is able to use it to take down various heroes, why didn’t Miles use it to take down the Regent last issue?
  • “That’s meme worthy…” How long have you been asleep, ya blue-haired Rip Van Winkle? The phrase “Go home [insert name, place, or thing]. You’re drunk,” has been an internet meme since 2008.
  • Hey, how come only Thor gets to have her name written as it is on the title of her comic? That’s not being fair to the other Avengers.
  • I suppose Tony’s “scholarship” excuse was so full-proof in Captain America: Civil War that he, along with Peter and MJ, decided to use this very same excuse to explain why they’ve waltz into the Davis/Morales home. Also, don’t forget Miles’s dad knows his son is another Spider-Man. Which is probably why, unlike his wife, he doesn’t act so suspicious towards his guests.
  • “I’ve been covering for my Spider-Man since he was Mile’s age.” No, Peter. Your protege’s name is Miles, not Mile. Even when a noun ends with the letter “s,” you still show the possessive singular with an apostrophe s. So the correct possessive singular form of Miles is “Miles’s.” (Although, I’ve been guilty of depicting the possessive singular form of Miles as “Miles'” in the past.) Looks like the Marvel editors need to brush up on the their Strunk and White.
  • “Feel like I’m in college again. Tripping over every third word with MJ.” Really? Cause those dialogue balloons sure didn’t read as though you were “tripping over every third word,” Mr. Parker. Also, what is your obsession with your “glory days.” First you compare running a business with being a high school, and now you’re saying it feels like you’re back in college? Gee, somebody is going through a mid-life crisis early.
  • Inscribed on Thor’s hammer, Mjlonir, are the words, “Whosoever holds this hammer, if they be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor.”  The Regent agrees with Dr. Stillwell that he’s not worthy to lift Mjlonir, hence the reason they keep its strap wrapped around Jane Foster/Thor’s hand. And yet somehow, the Regent obtains all of Thor’s powers, even though the only way for that to happen is for him to physically wield Mjlonir, which he just acknowledged he’s not worthy enough to lift. Even more baffling? The actual words on Mjlonir now read “Whosoever holds this hammer, if she be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor.” And last I checked, Regent is not a “she.”
  • “It won’t do for me to be spotted here with an Avenger as my prisoner.” So just use Miles’s “camouflage abilities” like when you carted off Nova to the Cellar, Regent. Problem solved!
  • “Back in ASM #12, true believers!” Yeah, thanks for reminding us about something that just happened two issues ago, caption box. Why not cite which issues Peter and MJ were living in Stark Tower, what with this being the 10th Anniversary of Civil War and all. Which reminds me…
  • “…Even courted Master Parker’s charming aunt for a time.” Actually, Jarvis, that may not have been you. That may have been a Skrull sleeper agent impersonating you, as revealed in Secret Invasion #1. As a proper gentlemen’s gentlemen, you should know it’s bad manners to take credit for something you never did, including seducing sweet old ladies. And speaking of Aunt May…
  • Seriously? Aunt May could be on death door again? And what is this, the 666th time that has been a major subplot for a Spider-Man comic? And how much you want to bet she’s sick because she didn’t get the proper vaccinations before going on her humanitarian trip to give poor African villagers cheap solar panels from Parker Industries, which means more “It’s all my fault” lamentations from Peter?  Yeah, Spider-Man making a deal with the devil to save his dying aunt at the cost of his marriage was soooo worth it.
  • Okay, although I praised Harry exposing Augustus Roman as the Regent, I still have to ask why he didn’t send his recorded Webware message to Spider-Man before going to Empire Unlimited to look for Betty? Oh right, because the Slott-plot demands it.
  • On a related note, why is MJ only telling Peter and Tony about Augustus Roman being the Regent after several of their friends have gone missing? And no, her sarcastic “I thought secret identities were sacred” rebuttal to Peter doesn’t cut it. Nor does Spider-Man’s “point taken” admission of defeat as if he just got schooled by MJ’s faulty logic.
  • If the Regent captured Rogue, then that means he has her powers. And if he has her powers, then that means he can absorb other heroes else’s powers through physical contact. And if he can absorb other heroes powers through physical contact, then isn’t him continuing to capture and imprison the remaining heroes to absorb their powers a bit redundant?