Stillanerd Reviews: Amazing Spider-Man (2015) #19

Another Spider-Man supporting character knocks on Heaven’s door in Part 4 of “Before Dead No More.” So why do we care so little if they live or die?

“Before Dead No More Part Four: Change of Heart”
Written by Dan Slott
Penicls by Giuseppe Camuncoli
Inks by Cam Smith
Colors by Jason Keith
Lettering by VC’s Joe Caramagna

“King’s Ransom”
Written by Dan Slott
Art by Javier Garron
Colors by Frank D’Armata
Lettering by VC’s Joe Caramagna
Cover by Alex Ross
Published by Marvel Comics

Stillanerd’s Score:

2 out of 5

Spider-Man, for all his sunny demeanor, is someone surrounded by death. After all, it was the death of his Uncle Ben which motivated Peter Parker into using his powers to fight crime in the first place. Ever since then, various Spider-Man comics and stories often involve a plot in which the death of someone close to Peter takes center-stage. The current Amazing Spider-Man scribe, Dan Slott, has dipped into this very scenario several times already during his run, particularly with “No One Dies” (Amazing Spider-Man Vol. #655 – #656). With Amazing Spider-Man (2015) #19, Slott once again writes a story in which Peter must face the possible death of a loved one. But try as hard as he might, this is not another “And Death Shall Come” or “The Night Gwen Stacy Died” by any stretch. It’s not even as good as “No One Dies,” either. Though Part Four of “Before Dead No More” is also the closest thing to a more traditional Spider-Man story since the post-Secret Wars relaunch.

In this case, it’s another scenario rooted in “Parker Luck” tragic irony, in which Peter’s obligations as both himself and Spider-Man collide and get in his way. Jay Jameson, the father of J. Jonah Jameson, and the second husband of Peter’s Aunt May, lies hospitalized and dying from a still unnamed heredity disease. The only thing which could save Jay is New U’s experimental medical procedure, which involves the cloning of transplant organs from a recipient’s own DNA. Of course thanks to his spider-sense being triggered when he’s near a Parker Industries employee who underwent the same operation–as seen in Amazing Spider-Man (2015) #16–Peter is reluctant to sign off on it despite mounting pressure. These circumstances also force Peter to race against time not once but twice, one which even involves a literal ticking clock that’s also a Jameson family heirloom.

Credit: Giuseppe Camuncoli (Marvel Comics); from Amazing Spider-Man (2015) #19
…what was obviously and desperately intended as a heart-wrenching gut-punch has all the emotional impact of a wet, soapy, deteriorating sponge.

Slott also injects other common and familiar Spider-Man scenarios, as well. The public turns against Spider-Man after he foils a robbery because he webbed-up the wrong person. Peter can’t fully explain to his Aunt May or Jonah why he’s now objecting to New U’s treatment for fear of revealing his secret identity. Nor can he tell the truth for why he’s late getting to the hospital for the same reason. There’s even a reminder of how Spidey’s web-fluid only lasts for an hour, which ends up foreshadowing the events of the issue’s climax. What of this suggests is that, even though Peter is now a wealthy CEO of an international corporation, with more resources and technology than ever before, he’s still prone to the same pitfalls he’s always dealt with as Spider-Man. He still cannot escape the specter of death. If you haven’t already guessed who dies in this issue, it’s (SPOILERS)…

Jay Jameson.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise. From the moment Jay and Aunt May began their romance–and especially once they got married in Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 1 #600–it was only a matter of “when,” not “if,” Dan Slott would kill him off. After all, one of Peter Parker’s core responsibilities was providing for and taking care of his aged, widowed surrogate mother figure. But with Aunt May married to Jay, an independently wealthy novelist, Peter no longer had this responsibility. Which meant his life as both Peter and Spider-Man became easier, which also meant less dramatic conflict.  In addition, Jay Jameson was a textbook two-dimensional character. Oh sure, he had a tug-at-the-heartstrings backstory and an estranged relationship with his son, Jonah, but nothing resulted from any of this, and Jay never underwent further development. Other than making Peter and Jonah related-by-marriage and being the stereotypical “cool and hip senior citizen,” Jay offered next-to-nothing to the overall Spider-Man narrative.

But if Slott killed off Jay Jameson, and did so in a way which makes Peter indirectly responsible for it, then we have a ready-made recipe for easy-to-cook drama. Aunt May would lose yet another husband because of Peter’s failure, Jonah would have an even greater reason for disliking him, and Peter would also lose one more father figure whose death he’d forever blame himself for. Sure enough, this is exactly what starts happening, proving that Jay Jameson was nothing but a plot device pickling for the last seven years. And because Jay’s death was so telegraphed, what was obviously and desperately intended as a heart-wrenching gut-punch has all the emotional impact of a wet, soapy, deteriorating sponge.

But let’s for the sake of argument say that a reader was emotionally invested in Jay Jameson, that they did empathize with him, and did feel the pain of his loss as Peter, May, and Jonah did in this issue. There’s just one slight problem: all the drama and conflict surrounding Jay’s death is completely and utterly false.

Credit: Giuseppe Camuncoli (Marvel Comics); from Amazing Spider-Man (2015) #19
For Dan Slott to place all the burden of Jay’s survival on Peter…not only contradicts his own story within a span of a few pages, it’s an insult to the reader’s intelligence.

In the first place, Peter is not Jay’s next of kin. He’s not even a blood relative. All he can do with regards to Jay, and all he’s ever shown doing, is to simply offer his opinion on what he thinks the doctors should or should not do. Other than that, Peter has absolutely no legal say in the matter whatsoever.  Nor do Aunt May or Jonah have to agree with what he says, especially since he’s not a medical doctor. Not that this makes any difference because Slott shows a still-conscious Jay agreeing with Peter about going with the “conventional procedure” over the New U treatment. Since Jay is the patient being operated on–one who still of sound mind and who can still verbally communicate to others–only he can the final say about what procedure he wants. Which means legally, the attending physicians cannot go against Jay’s expressed wishes no matter what Peter, Aunt May, or Jonah say otherwise! Slott even has Jay say, “It’s my decision. So that’s final.” For Slott to then still place all the burden of Jay’s survival on Peter, to still use this as the main source of drama, not only contradicts his own story within a span of a few pages, it’s an insult to the reader’s intelligence.

Of course, it’s very easy to overlook these rather crucial details. From a technical standpoint, Slott’s first story appears solid. There is a clear and concise narrative thread from beginning to end. The characters react in ways consistent with who they are and how you expect them to react. Even the dialogue, which isn’t even littered with Slott’s usual penchant for corny one-liners and unsubtle pop-culture references, is well-constructed with a proper rhythm. And with Giuseppe Camuncoli back on penciling, the art looks decent, too.  There’s still hiccups here and there, such as some wonky foreshortening when Spider-Man swings, or the over-rendering of Aunt May’s face, but it’s still clear what is happening in each panel, and you can follow from one to the next. In addition, Camuncoli has the opportunity in showing how effective he is in drawing silent panels. The concluding page of the first story alone is a masterful example in conveying a scene without words, sound effects, or narration. By itself, it’s one of the best single comic book pages Camuncoli has ever done.

Credit: Giuseppe Camuncoli (Marvel Comics); from Amazing Spider-Man (2015) #19

But none of this matters if this story, no matter how well-crafted, fails to incite the desired emotions. None of this matters if a reader feels nothing for a dying character because the writer didn’t do an adequate job in getting readers to care about that character beforehand. None of this matters if that same writer, instead of retooling their story, blatantly violates and chooses to ignore their very own established reason and logic within that same story for sole purpose of obtaining the desired resolution and outcome they want. All of which the first story of this comic does.

As for the second story (also written by Slott with Javier Garron on art) it has problems of its own. “King’s Ransom” is essentially the Clone Conspiracy back-up story from the Free Comic Book Day edition of Steve Rogers: Captain America, this time told from Wilson Fisk’s, a.k.a the Kingpin’s, point-of-view. Which means one needs to read that same back-up story in order to get the full context of what is happening. While it does offer some revelations with regards to the Jackal, it’s an eight-page chunk of a regular-sized issue. Or would’ve been if the editors at the Spider-Man editorial office apparently hadn’t decided on chopping in two, and publish those parts separately in two different comics several months apart.

Some of you reading this review may believe I’m being unkind and unfair to Amazing Spider-Man (2015) #19, and you’re entitled to that opinion. But what I think is unkind and unfair is using cheap, fast-and-loose manipulative tactics to convince you a story has heart when it really has none. Make no mistake, there was great love and care taken in this comic’s creation, but it’s used to hide an awful truth: that the death of Jay Jameson was a death without pathos. It was a death which, unlike those of Gwen Stacy, Captain Stacy, Ben Reilly, the “Kid Who Collected Spider-Man,” Uncle Ben and so many other supporting characters, was akin to Jay Jameson himself–something which was full of nothing but empty, trite sentimentalism, whose impact on Spider-Man will be forgotten in less than a decade, and condemned for eternity as an obscure Wikipedia entry. And that is this comic’s real tragedy.

Stillanerd’s Nerdy Nitpicks (spoilers ahead)

Credit: Giuseppe Camuncoli (Marvel Comics); from Amazing Spider-Man (2015) #19
  • “Talk is cheap. When do we see the proof?” I realize Jonah is hiding the fact that New U “resurrected” his wife, but wouldn’t the Fact Channel already know about the Parker Industries employee New U already operated on, the same person whom Jonah later acknowledges in this issue? Considering how publicized that industrial accident was, hasn’t the world already seen “proof” that New U’s organ cloning procedure “works?”
  • Why is it that everyone in this issue uses Parker Industries’ WebWare to make phone calls…except for the Jackal? He, with his iPhone 7, looks up-to-date while everyone else looks like they’re stuck in the 1950s and 60s with their glorified Dick Tracy 2-way wrist radio.
  • You know, Spidey, I seem to recall that among your new array of gadgets, you have a web-dissolver invented by Doctor Octopus at your disposal (as seen in Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 3 #6). Which means, you could free the bodega owner’s kid without having to wait an hour, and with plenty of time to make it to the hospital. But I guess the plot made you leave it at home or some such, huh?
  • “Parker! How many times have a I told you? The room’s this way.” Well, considering how this is the only time we’ve ever seen Jonah tell Peter where Jay’s room is, I’m guessing…once?
  • So any time Peter is around Mr. Saltries, the Parker Industries employee who received New U’s treatment, his spider-sense goes off. Yet any time he’s around Dr. Clarkson, the woman who performed the operation and who works directly for the Jackal, there’s not even a tingle? That’s quite a conveniently selective power Peter has.
  • “Doctor! Please! Somebody help my husband!” More like “Oh my god! Somebody took a sip from what they mistook for the Holy Grail! Oh wait, it’s only Aunt May.”
  • Methinks there’s some all-too obvious symbolism going on with Jonah appearing he’s praying the hospital chapel in one panel when he’s really asking “Marla” for advice in the other. Such as “science is Jonah’s new religion and he’s praying to a false god!”
  • Now that I think about it, what’s Jonah worried about? As far as he knows, his dad doesn’t even need New U’s experimental organ transplant procedure at all.  He’s already seen that New U is capable of “bringing back the dead.” So if his father dies, New U could just “resurrect” him like they did his “wife.”
  • So the Jackal claims he’s not cloning any one, then describes to Kingpin the “reanimation” process…which sounds exactly like an enhanced version of New U’s organ harvesting treatment in which they grow organs from a recipient’s DNA. Which, by their own admission, is a form of cloning. So yeah, Jackal, no matter what you call it, it’s still cloning.
  • Stillanerd’s Speculation #1: This issue is quick to point out Peter’s five o’clock shadow. Which artistically makes Peter’s lower jaw look identical to the Jackal’s. Which means we may have either an evil Peter Parker clone claiming to be Miles Warren, or Miles Warren’s mind inside a Peter Parker clone. Of course, this doesn’t fit with the fact that Amazing Spider-Man (2015) #10 shows the unmasked Jackal (whose face we cannot see) wears glasses and has a different hairstyle than Peter’s.
  • Stillanerd’s Speculation #2: How much you want to bet the Jackal’s current cloning processes is the same one the Inheritors used during “Spider-Verse” to keep themselves immortal, i.e. every time one of them died, their consciousness are downloaded into their very own clones. That could be why this Jackal claims what he’s doing is “reanimation” instead of “cloning” even though it’s still cloning.