A review of the latest Amazing Spider-Man arc.
Dan Slott followed an interesting path to become the sole writer of Amazing Spider-Man. Starting as a writer of the popular Ren and Stimpy comic, Slott built up his reputation as a writer of kid-friendly, all-ages comics such as Scooby Doo and Batman Adventures. Eventually, Slott made the switch to mainstream heroics, beginning with 2004's Arkham Asylum: Living Hell and then on to poor-selling but critically acclaimed titles She-Hulk and The Thing. Slott then moved onto Avengers: The Initiative, a Civil War spin-off series that continues today (at least in spirit) through Avengers Academy.
One of Slott's biggest aspirations was to write Spider-Man, one of Marvel's most popular characters. While Slott had inserted the character into several of his miniseries, he finally got a chance to write the character full-time when he became one of Marvel's four "Webheads," along with Marc Guggenheim, Zeb Wells and Bob Gale. The four writers took turns guiding Spider-Man out of the disastrous One More Day arc and into a new, single status quo in Amazing Spider-Man. Once the Webheads had completed over 100 mostly enjoyable issues, Slott was given the tap to write Amazing Spider-Man on his own.
Slott set out to push Spider-Man into new and unexplored territories. Giving the character steady employment at a futuristic R&D laboratory, Slott focused on Spider-Man's ingenuity and had the character design a variety of suits and gadgets that he employed against various villains. He also expanded Peter Parker's supporting cast, gave Spider-Man a new motto of "No More Deaths," and temporarily robbed the character of his signature spider-sense. Slott's plan was to deliver an energetic, exciting and different take on the friendly neighborhood wall-crawler.
However, Slott's Amazing Spider-Man run has been mediocre at best. While his characterizations of secondary characters have typically been spot-on, Slott has often over-dramatized Spider-Man's dialogue to an extreme. Filled with contrived anguish and constant reassurances, it comes off as a pale imitation of Stan Lee's Spider-Man, whose internal dialogue was typical of the "describe everything on the page" style of narration used in the 1960s. In addition, every single character in Spider-Man seems intent on cluttering any available space with dialogue, often describing things that are presently occurring on the same page. Slott seems determined to blot out his artist's backgrounds with the immense amount of dialogue he throws in. Often the dialogue is designed to explain away plot holes or potential complaints, most of which simply don't need said.
Furthermore, Slott's plots have been spastic and without focus, especially in larger arcs. Perhaps due to Slott's belief that a comic should actually contain at least $2.99 worth of story, the writer often rushes his plot, flying through twists and revelations without a second glance and focusing on choppy, overly wordy fights. Even worse is Slott's need to insert deaths into every major arc he writes. From a Hobgoblin to Marla Jameson to the Vulture to the Kangaroo, his run on Amazing Spider-Man has been filled with pointless deaths that, with one exception, have no emotional resonance with Spider-Man or his audience. It's sloppy storytelling, one that leads me to wonder if Slott has written his story arcs simply to showcase the variety of outfits he's designed for the webslinger.
Slott's latest story arc, Ends of the Earth, is probably the weakest story he's written thus far. It's not that the premise isn't intriguing: Spider-Man's longtime foe Doctor Octopus is dying and has offered to fix the ozone layer as a gift for the world. Spider-Man intuitively guesses that something is amiss and confronts Octavius and a classic version of the Sinister Six before forced to go on the run with guest stars Black Widow and Silver Sable in a world-spanning adventure.
Despite the intriguing set up, Slott fails to execute on every single level. There's no real suspense or stakes in the story due to Octopus's over-the-top scheme. Spider-Man's villain borrows a plot out of the 1980s GI Joe episode and sets up a threat too large to be believed. Did anyone honestly believe that Spider-Man wasn't going to stop Octavius from setting the world on fire? Then there's the relative ease with which many of the villains are defeated. Of Octopus's Sinister Six, one switches sides after two lines of dialogue, two give up information as if they were video game mini-bosses, and one commits suicide to deliver on a vague goal of "hurting Spider-Man." Even Slott's twists are blasé at best. Slott ends the penultimate chapter of the arc with Spider-Man realizing that his enemies have been using Peter Parker designed tech. The following issue, the revelation is mentioned on the first page and then never spoken of again.
Slott also pointlessly includes Black Widow and Silver Sable, who contribute nothing to the plot besides giving Slott more heads from which wordy, exclamation-point-ridden dialogue can be spilled out to clutter panels. Sable is reduced to a vague, one-off love interest and a cheerleader reminding Spider-Man that he has powers, while Black Widow contributes nothing to the plot at all. Even the tragedy that accompanies all major Spider-Man story arcs falls flat. As Spider-Man crawls onto a boat on the last page of the story, he lowers his head noting that Dr. Octopus' scheme to destroy the world claimed exactly one victim, a friend whose body he couldn't even be bothered to obtain. It's almost disheartening to read such a flimsy, paper-thin story filled with plot holes and inexplicable twists.
The only real plus side to the arc is Stefano Caselli's art, which is a pleasure to look at. While Caselli's not perfect (there was one panel in Amazing Spider-Man #686 with horribly inaccurate proportions), he's certainly more deserving than the underwhelming, adolescent storyline he was paid to pencil.
Dan Slott won't be leaving Amazing Spider-Man any time soon. Marvel has confidence in his abilities and has constantly defended his work from criticism. However, he needs to learn that his strength lies not in writing the most implausibly large arc possible filled with dialogue and plot twists worthy of a C-list Super Nintendo game, but rather in small character moments and witty but restrained dialogue. I feel that Slott's time on Amazing Spider-Man has been filled with him swinging desperately for the fences and striking out constantly. Should he decide to stop trying so hard, his writing might return to the critically acclaimed and fun writing we've been waiting for.
Written or Contributed by: Spider-Buggy