Stillanerd Reviews: Amazing Spider-Man (2015) #17

In a Spider-Man comic where Peter doesn’t even suit-up as Spider-Man, the latest issue reveals the many ways in which “Dead No More” really means “D.O.A.”

You may have noticed during Dan Slott’s tenure on Amazing Spider-Man (and Superior Spider-Man) that a lot of characters and concepts have, to pardon the pun, spun off into their own series. There was Flash Thompson as the new host for Venom, and Peter’s clone Kaine donning the mantle of the Scarlet Spider. We’ve had a new Sinister Six with only five members as The Superior Foes of Spider-Man, and a revival of Spider-Man 2099.  Two new “Spider-Women” appeared in the form of both Silk and Spider-Gwen, along with a whole team of Spider-people from alternate worlds as the Web Warriors. There’s even been a quasi-return of a married Peter and Mary Jane thanks to Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows.

Now, it’s Hobie Brown’s turn, as the second part of Slott’s “Before Dead No More,” which also takes place during the events of Amazing Spider-Man (2015) #16, serves as a prologue for Sean Ryan’s new Prowler series. One could even consider Amazing Spider-Man (2015) #17 as an unofficial Prowler #0. Unfortunately, what happens in this comic, and to Hobie in particular, may have single-handedly doomed Prowler into an early grave before it even begins. It may also have killed what little interest there may have been in the new Electro, who also makes her debut. Or return, I should say. Which is a shame because Amazing Spider-Man (2015) #17 starts off really well.

Credit: R.B. Silva (Marvel Comics); from Amazing Spider-Man (2015) #17
No wonder why Hobie has substituted for Spider-Man over the years; as Slott implies [in Amazing Spider-Man #17], the Prowler could’ve easily become Peter’s successor.

It can be argued that even before Miles Morales, Miguel O’Hara, Otto Octavious, or Ben Reilly, Hobie Brown was the first Spider-Man who wasn’t Peter Parker. When Stan Lee and John Romita Sr. created the Prowler in Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 1 #78, the many similarities between the character and Spider-Man were noticeable from the start. Hobie’s green and purple outfit is the inverse of Peter’s red and blues, and both wear similar masks. Like Peter, Hobie is a brilliant, scientifically minded young man who struggles to make ends meet, who is sometimes regarded with suspicion. Hobie even has wall-crawling abilities (albeit of a tech-based variety) and use wrist-mounted gadgets.  With Amazing Spider-Man (2015) #17, Slott takes these comparisons between Prowler and Spider-Man even further. Hobie is first seen once again disguised as Spider-Man swinging through the streets of San Francisco. Peter, a former photographer, then hires Hobie to sneak into the headquarters of the mysterious New U and take pictures. The caption boxes used for Hobie’s narration bear more than passing resemblance to Spider-Man’s. There even comes a point where Hobie uses his own web-shooters. No wonder then why Hobie has substituted for Spider-Man over the years; as Slott implies, the Prowler could’ve easily become Peter’s successor.

Slott also does a commendable job with his re-introduction of the woman who becomes the new Electro. As expected, she’s Francine, the super-villain groupie from Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 3 #2 who inadvertently killed herself when kissing Max Dillion, the original Electro. Or rather, she’s Francine’s clone. However, having been created from a sample taken from the original Francine’s cheek after the kiss, the DNA from Dillon’s saliva intermingled with hers. The result is Francine’s clone can now generate and absorb electricity just like Dillon. And it’s through her we learn more about what the Jackal is planning, the process by which he creates his latest batch of clones, and why, from his perspective, he and his group of villains see themselves as “the good guys.”

Now some of you are reading and thinking, “So why are you giving this comic a 2.5 out of five, Stillanerd? It sounds like you really like this comic.” And you would be right. I was ready to give this comic a 3.5 out of 5, or maybe even a 4 out of 5. That is until I got to the comic’s midpoint. Because that’s the precise moment where, after building a solid framework of a story, Slott decides to knock it all down with a wreaking ball, set fire to the rubble, soak down the ashes, and then tells his Marvel colleagues, “Can somebody fix this?” And the only way to explain how he did this is by getting into some heavy-duty SPOILERS. So apologizes in advance for what I’m about to reveal.

Credit: R.B. Silva (Marvel Comics); from Amazing Spider-Man (2015) #17
No matter much you dress it up, it’s just the Jackal making clones. And if the Jackal really isn’t bringing dead people back to life, then who cares?

Francine kills Electro the same way he killed her. Then against the Jackal’s orders, she murders the Prowler, who the Jackal then later resurrects…as a clone. That’s right: two long-time, classic Spider-Man characters are killed off and replaced within the span of a single issue.

Granted, Electro, as a super villain, wasn’t of the same caliber like the Green Goblin or Doctor Octopus. But as an original member of the Sinister Six, he was definitely in the top-tier. And I imagine after Jamie Foxx’s misguided “Don’t you know, I’m Electro!” portrayal in the lackluster The Amazing Spider-Man 2, perhaps Slott and Marvel wish to place as much distance as possible between that movie and the comics. However, taking an original super villain created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko and replacing him with someone who ends up being second-rate version of the Supergirl villain, Livewire, already feels like a poor trade-off.  If you’re going to replace a notable villain with another version, that new villain better have something other than “they’re just like the original, only they’re [blank].” Just ask the folks working at Marvel during the Clone Saga when they tried replacing Doc Ock with Carolyn Trainer, and seriously believed she’d be a viable, permanent replacement.

Credit: R.B. Silva (Marvel Comics); from Amazing Spider-Man (2015) #17

With the Prowler, it’s even worse. Over the course of this new volume of Amazing Spider-Man, Slott has revived interest in Hobie Brown, turning him into an essential part of the narrative and the supporting cast. And after all that time and effort in building him up, in getting readers wanting to know more about Hobie, Slott decides to kill him, clone him, and then have said clone work with Spider-Man’s villains. Thus an ongoing series about the Prowler–already a tough sell given how obscure the character is–becomes an even tougher sell now that it’s a series about a superhero’s clone passing themselves off as the original. Has Marvel learned nothing since the 1990s? It’s bait-and-switch tactics like this which not only alienate long-time readers, but also drives potential new readers away from comics altogether. If Prowler is cancelled after less than twelve issues, and if Marvel starts blaming their customers for not giving this new series a chance, they may want to examine this comic first once they start conducting Prowler‘s inevitable autopsy.

This also leads to a fundamental problem with “Before Dead No More” and The Clone Conspiracy in general, other than the Jackal being the antagonist, of course. If there’s any lingering doubt that the people the Jackal “brought back from the dead” are really clones, then this comic dispels those doubts. Which also means no one has been resurrected, and the dead are still dead. Like it or not, multiple Spider-Man comics establish that although clones share identical DNA and even identical memories of the people they’re cloned from, they aren’t perfect copies. Like real-life identical twins, they’re distinct individuals with some minor genetic differences. Moreover, they gradually degenerate over time; why else would Miles Warren be feeding pills to those he “brought back to life” on a daily basis? It’s the same reason Gwen Stacy’s still officially deceased despite her being cloned many times over. But this story tries having it both ways. It equates a dead person being cloned being the same as bringing that dead person back to life. The Jackal has recruited villains and others to his cause solely the basis of this, believing he’s found a way to conquer death. Except he hasn’t. All the Jackal is doing is what he’s always done–the only thing he ever does. No matter much you dress it up, it’s just the Jackal making clones. And if the Jackal really isn’t bringing dead people back to life, then who cares?

Credit: R.B. Silva (Marvel Comics); from Amazing Spider-Man (2015) #17
R.B. Silva’s art-style…works very well for a comic like The Amazing Spider-Man, managing an ideal balance between realism and exaggeration.

As long as we’re on the topis of substitutes, one who doesn’t disappoint though is R.B. Silva, filling-in for Giuseppe Camuncoli on penciling. His is an art-style which works very well for a comic like The Amazing Spider-Man, managing an ideal balance between realism and exaggeration. Silva’s illustrations are reminiscent of  Japanese manga and anime, especially the way he enlarges characters’ eyes to make their emotional states that much more expressive. The opening flashback of Francine’s death from Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 3 #2, in particular the very first panel, is gorgeous to look at, thanks in no small part due to Marte Gracia’s always vibrant colors. But Garcia’s coloring also has the side-effect of making Adriano Di Bendetto’s inking isn’t as strong or consistent. That’s because this is a comic with an overdependence on its usage of digital coloring effects. The result is that every other panel is under-rendered and lack sufficient depth, making Silva’s figures look like they’re cut-and-pasted on the backgrounds. Nevertheless, Silva shows that he knows how to grab the reader’s attention, draw their eye across the scene, thus making the transitions from panel-to-panel comprehensible and easy to follow.

For a comic in which Peter never dons the webs, the first eleven pages of Amazing Spider-Man (2015) #17 are top-notch, advancing the plot for the upcoming Clone Conspiracy in great, confident strides. But once Slott starts killing off characters–all to enhance the new Electro’s credibility, mind you–what ever good will one may have had for this issue, for the Prowler series, and for The Clone Conspiracy gets burnt to a crisp along with Max and Hobie. Not long ago, Slott described this latest Spider-Man event as “subverting” the “age of comics where you’re always seeing another important death” by “bringing people back.” Funny how he couldn’t help himself subverting the supposed subversion.

Stillanerd’s Nerdy Nitpicks (spoilers ahead)

  • Hold on? Francine Frye? You’re telling me the new Electro’s real last name, the same woman who electrocuted herself when she kissed Max Dillon, is literally Frye?! ROFL!
  • By the way, why do those pills the Jackal wants his clones to take (obviously taken prevent or slow down clone degeneration) remind me of Morpheus’ offer to Neo in The Matrix? Though I imagine some of you were having Left 4 Dead flashbacks.
  • “I’m not asking you to steal anything…I need pictures.” Um, Pete? I don’t think you understand what industrial espionage actually means. Because it isn’t just limited to stealing company secrets out of their building. It also includes taking photographs of those company secret from inside their building. Not to mention, he’s still breaking and entering. So yeah, Pete. Hobie’s 100% correct in that you’re asking him to commit a felony. Multiple ones, in fact.
  • So New U’s corporate logo is a stylized DNA double helix? Could this company make it any more obvious that they’re cloning people other than saying “We’re cloning people?”
  • I’m a little confused. Based on the dialogue and events, Prowler’s infiltration of New U takes place during the Parker Industries chemical plant accident in Edmond, Oklahoma. But that would also mean Peter was already suspicious of New U before talking to Anna Maria. But as we read in Amazing Spider-Man (2015) #16, Peter seemed all in favor of investing into New U’s “revolutionary medical procedure” during that very same conversation. Moreover, it’s clearly early evening in San Francisco, which would also make night over wherever Peter is flying from east to west. But last issue shows Peter ordering his pilot to turn the plane around in broad daylight.
  • Years from now, if not months, people who read this comic will ask themselves, “What is Pokemon Go! And why was it such a thing? And why was a water-based pokemon like Vaporeon hanging around an office building that’s not close any water? Wasn’t it more often found near Marina Green anyway?
  • Here’s something for you science majors out there. Earlier, we see Hobie lower the temperature settings in his suit to mask his heat signature, so much so that you can see his breath. Then, to incapacitate the Lizard, he lowers even further to “sub-zero temperature.” How is it that Hobie isn’t going into shock from hypothermia?
  • “Can you–um–bring him back?” Yeah Warren, why aren’t you bringing Max “back to life?” After all, if Francine’s clone has his powers because the real Francine and Max “swapped spit,” then surely Max’s clone would have the real Max’s powers because Francine’s clone kissed Max. Then you’d have two Electros. But nope! I guess there’s only room for one electricity-based super villain in your organization.
  • “Can I have a costume?” But Francine. You’re powers have already given you Electro-style costume lines…somehow? And speaking of outfits…
  • How do the Jackal’s clone pods create tank tops and shorts for the clones? Shouldn’t the clones be…you know…naked? Then again, the comic is rated “T,” which means any clone must look modest, I guess. Also…
  • How does Hobie’s Prowler costume still work? Wouldn’t the suit have been shorted-out when it, along with Hobie, turned into charcoal? Not to mention smell really bad?
  • Oh, if anyone’s still not convinced cloning isn’t involved, just check out all the Miles Warren clones the Jackal has as his personal entourage on the last page.