Written by Dan Slott
Illustrated by Ryan Stegman
Inked by Michael Babinski
Colored by John Rauch
Lettered by VC’s Joe Caramagna
“I’ll Never Let You Go”
Written by Dan Slott
Illustrated by Giuseppe Camuncoli
Colored by Marte Gracia
Lettered by VC’s Joe Caramagna
THE PLOT(s): While heading to the subway following a movie in “Little Chechnya”, “Ace Reporter” Betty Brant is mugged in an alley and severely injured. The supporting cast waits in the emergency room while Peter seeks to avenge her as Spider-Man.
LONG STORY SHORT: After learning that Peter has yet to arrive to the hospital, Aunt May calls him on the phone and guilts him into giving up Betty’s assailant to spend time with her watching a monster movie. Later, Jay and May leave New York for Boston.
MY THOUGHTS: Stop me if you’ve heard this before.
When reviewing things for the internet, one of the easiest things to do is to give into blind emotion and go for the gut if what you’re reviewing happens to not be very good. Hyperbole is your gun, swear words or violent imagery is your ammunition, and all you can do is lambast whatever it is you’re reviewing to get across the sense of utter incredulity, anger, and feelings of being wronged you felt while reading, watching or playing whatever is the thing in question.
But it’s never that simple. Actions have consequences, and no matter what your state of mind is during the execution of your review, it’ll rarely go over the exact same with whoever should read it. Fans will be upset, creators will be offended, and your personal viewpoint may brand you as forever biased.
So the best way I find to write reviews concerning things one feels strongly about is to pretend that it’s a live performance. Imagine that you’re in front of an auditorium, presenting your thoughts to fans and creators alike. You only have one chance to get your point across, so say what you have to say as best as you can and leave everything else with that one presentation/review after you finish.
That’s what I’m trying to do now, because no matter what else is said about this issue of Amazing Spider-Man, once this review is finished I’ll have had my say and move on to the next one. So to anyone out there in internet-land interested, the following represents my thoughts on #665 as curtly and concisely as I could manage.
This issue is horrible.
First of all I don’t give a crap about Betty Brant. Granted for those of you not in the know, I have been drinking the Bertone brand of haterade that is his public deconstruction/destruction of the Betty Brant character in his recent articles. A lot of that baggage has severely fixed my opinion of the character from indifference to pure despisement. If anyone reading this is wondering what could possibly be bad about Betty Brant, stop right now and follow the link to have to your eyes opened and your mind blown. But besides all that, Betty really hasn’t been featured as a main supporting character in ASM of late as the opening scene suggests here. Not a bad thing initially, but it’s what sets up this whole melodrama about how sweet and innocent she is. The issue is predicated on the fact that the reader is familiar with her and Peter’s BBF relationship, with having Peter refer to her as “The Big Sister I never had” in order to elicit an emotional response and investment in her after she’s brutally attacked. First of all, Betty’s younger than Peter by a few months. Microscopic fact, but fact nonetheless. Second of all, like I said she’s not really been featured in the books that much, or at least not as heavily as other characters have. If this was Carlie, this issue would make more sense, and would be more engaging because Carlie’s a new character who’s had plenty of face time. She’s more vulnerable as a target than Betty, who is a Ditko-created character, is. Third, it’s Betty Brant. Again I defer to the articles for reasons as to why she’s not really worthy of sympathy.
And that’s not to suggest that I felt she deserved what happened to her here. Granted, she’s an emotional time bomb who has a history of leaving town and the responsibilities towards her job at a moment’s notice, cheating on whoever she’s in a relationship at the time, and frequent hypocrisy. The concern the characters display for her well being in this issue (especially Glory IMO) is certainly warranted. Their specific expressions of their grief and the overall feel is what really sunk this issue.
Lemme ask you this, what do you think was the purpose of this main story? Steve Wacker says in the letters page that this issue explored the relationship between Peter and Betty. Exactly how? We see them in brief scenes watching movies together at the beginning and end. Nothing is made mention of the fact that they even dated, nor the fact that Betty cheated on her late husband Ned with Peter during her honeymoon. Those things don’t exactly beg to be explored in this issue, but if the intent or idea of this was to explore Peter and Betty’s relationship, then it did need to be addressed.
Asking me, I don’t have a clue as to what the point was. Longtime readers know why Peter’s so distraught over her attack and even new readers can gleam that she’s an old friend of his. But so what? If Aunt May or Jameson were attacked, and Spider-Man spent the issue hunting down the mugger before having a moment with the victim at the end, would that make the story even better? If the characters were switched around but the general story outline was the same, then no. Much of what could have been a good story is nonexistent here, and while reading this I did think of several different scenarios that could have made this better.
But enough talk. Let’s really dive into it.
Two things I liked about this issue. One was the art by Ryan Stegman, which I thought was an amped up version of Reilly Brown’s art when comparing this to the Avenger’s Academy two-parter a few issues back. I loved his Spider-Man as he made him look very strong and fierce. Too many times in recent stories has Spider-Man resembled the Ultimate version by looking scrawny and childlike. This is much more my preference for the character visually, in the mold of Mark Bagely’s ASM work and Mike Deodato Jr’s stuff back around 2004-2005. I also liked the scene of Peter going into action by learning of Betty’s mugging and conversing with Glory on the phone while changing into his costume at the same time. It was a cool storytelling visual to see how this guy almost transformed into someone completely different. I do wish the AF #15 flashback was just a single panel without any of the dialogue, but you figure Dan Slott wanted to show off that he knew the exact dialogue from the original scene.
But much of my problems stem from the hospital scenes. Again, the supporting cast being there for Betty was cool to see. My problem is how incredibly cardboard and one-dimensional they all came off. It was as if none of these people had any semblance of lives outside of the scene. Once again, Slott’s dialogue seriously makes me groan. Robbie says that Betty’s “Stood her ground against The Vulture, Doc Ock, and J. Jonah Jameson himself. This? This is nothing.” Okay, one can take that as Robbie trying to reassure himself that Betty will pull through, but is it seriously justification for making a cranky Jameson joke? Betty has brain swelling, head trauma and broken ribs. I’m not sure if that warrants a “She’s tough cuz she’s worked for J. Jonah Jameson! Haw Haw haw!” gag. It’s just useless. Carlie’s explanation on why she’s there came off as too ex-positional to me, although I will admit that it may’ve just been me.
Then we get Jameson rampaging like the freaking Rhino and going off on a cartoony yellathon.
“I want an update on her status right now! And every ten minutes till she’s back on her feet! Or you’re fired! You’re all fired!”
I know Jonah’s close to Betty and they’ve been through a lot together. But this scene is meant to portray Jonah as a loveable ole blowhard who’s irrational tirades are intended to send us into hysterics about how wacky he is.
This is a hospital room. The emergency room. The woman has brain swelling.
That’s not funny. That’s not charming. That’s not endearing. That’s not amusing. That’s not entertaining.
Whatever happened to the Jonah Jameson who took things seriously when his workers and friends were involved? In the 90s show after Robbie was framed and sent to prison, Jonah told Martha and Randy Robertson that they would be well taken care of. In Spectacular Spider-Man: the animated series when he learned that Aunt May had a heart attack, he somberly insisted to notify Peter personally which was the first instance of him showing any consideration towards him. Or even during Hobgoblin Lives, when the truth about Ned Leeds not being the Hobgoblin came out. He didn’t go on a blustering tirade, he firmly and assertively sought to learn the truth behind the murder of one of his employees. Or even during #654 and #655. You’re telling me that that very same man is perfectly willing to act like a jackass in an emergency room while one of his friends is dying? It’s ridiculous. It’s uncalled for, and it’s stupid. What’s worse is that Robbie for no reason at all asks Jonah what all his yelling is REALLY about. Why? His former secretary/reporter gets mugged, and he’s upset. What else is there to it? Why ask that? And no points for figuring out that it’s too soon after Marla’s death, like that wasn’t obvious. But it’s not as though Jonah demands that the mugger be executed. He’s demanding that everyone around him be fired if he doesn’t receive a status update every ten minutes. What kind of moron goes around and does this?
It illustrates the point that Jonah being mayor hasn’t served a purpose aside from reminding everyone that he is the mayor and he can do whatever he wants. This would be interesting if it were going somewhere, like if he became drunk with power. But by this point, speculating that as a possibility is giving the writer too much credit.
What follows is Spider-Man given free reign by Slott to act like a lunatic in search for Betty’s mugger. It’s emotionally exploitative, with scenes like Spidey finding Betty’s pendant, recognizing it by sight and apparently awful smell, then connecting that smell to Betty. Look, we know Betty’s in serious danger. We know Peter loves her (not like that) and we know he wants to avenge her. But how about having Peter find the locket, then yelling at the guy? Why the pointless panel of him recognizing the smell, what did that establish? He says it smells bad, so is he saying that Betty perpetually stinks? No? Then why point it out or say any more than you needed to? Somewhere along the line, ASM got rated T+ instead of A for all ages by Marvel. That’s all well and good, but why is this being written as though the readers can’t follow certain patterns? Betty’s locket was very prominent in the beginning, so we get that it’s hers. Peter sees that it’s hers, the rest following that bit was needless and irrelevant. Again I ask, if the perfume it smelled like was bad, yet it reminds him of Betty, exactly how does that service the story? Another instance of bad exposition is when Flash arrives. We know he’s Venom. He knows he’s Venom. The title knows he’s Venom. So when there’s a panel of him looking grim and saying “I should have been there!” with the image of Venom behind him, would we be totally lost if the accompanying thought balloon “Instead of running off on another mission as Venom.” weren’t there? Is subtlety too much to ask for? Maybe I’m nitpicking the hell out of this thing, but I am so tired of ASM reading as though it were written for four year olds.
But by far the all-time WORST moment of this book was when Aunt May yelled at Peter for not being “responsible”. It’s a classic conflict of two identities. Peter has been searching the whole night for Betty’s assailant as Spider-Man, but no one save for Mary Jane knows it. It’s not that May is disgusted with him not being there, it’s her despicable guilting of Peter by saying he ” dissappointed” her by running off the night Ben Parker was shot. Apparently, being a 15 year old orphan who just lost his only father figure is not cause to run away when you’re overcome with grief and emotion. But you’re saying to me that this has never come up before until now? That this unforgettable night was never brought up by the two of them if she had such a problem with it? She also mentions for no reason that the cops were looking for him because he was a minor, which was inverted in Ultimate Spider-Man when the police let him run off saying that teenagers need to work out such tragedy their own way. Ultimate Spider-Man, you know, the book that was meant to take the concept of Spider-Man and apply it realistically? Ultimate Peter Parker must be spinning in his grave right now. (Spoilers)
This is what I would have liked to see. Peter hanging up on May, catching the mugger, and returning to the hospital to face the public bashing the supporting cast was sure to give him. It would cause tension with Carlie, everyone would question his character and Mary Jane would be in the book more because she’s the only one who knows where he was. But that’s not what happened. Instead the book tells us that Peter returned to Betty (who despite suffering brain damage is somehow awake hours later) and sat on her hospital bed to watch 1950s monster movies, and that it was the right thing to do. Even Mary Jane thinks to herself that “He finally turned off his Spider-Side for one of us.”, gimmie a break. Isn’t the whole mantra, the entire point of Spider-Man, the reason why we’re all buying this comic that Peter learns to use his powers responsibly? And wow, after the story ends, he manages to catch the mugger the next night. AWWWW. That’s mighty convenient for Marvel, the company where the heroes are so down to earth and believable that they could exist in our world. Joe Quesada repeatedly derides DC on its contrivance in rebooting the universe and such. If this was supposed to engage us, why not let the guy get away? Peter would wonder if he did the right thing by letting the guy go, and it could be a plot point or character development. Instead he has to worry about what everyone else thinks about him by showing up to Betty’s side. And by the way, why isn’t Flash the least concerned about Peter staying with Betty the night? Not to suggest that they’ll try anything illicit while she’s laid up, but he says at the beginning that she treats Peter as more of a boyfriend than she treats Flash, her actual boyfriend. Add that with the history of cheating Betty has with everyone she’s been with, plus the fact that she’s admitted to having some leftover feelings for Peter and…seriously, why is he allowed to stay with her? No doctor is going to tell him to leave so she can recover from head trauma? Oh, and before I forget, more screaming by Jonah played for laughs in a hospital.
This story sucked, but it’s not over yet. The backup by Slott and Camuncoli has Jay and May announce that they’re leaving New York until they’re needed again, d’yah, uh, I mean forever. Not before a flashback that takes place on the day that Ben and May legally became Peter’s guardians. Again, the emotional impact is nonexistant with the ridiculous dialogue from child-Peter. It ranges from an awkward “I hate you!” to a weirdly contemplative “Grown-Ups say always but they don’t mean it. Sometime people go away and they never come back.” Okay, Chuckie Finster. But the emotion remains as stable as an earthquake with the decision for Jay and May to move to Boston seen as an unthinkable one because it’s Boston…whatever, and Peter showing Mary Jane various parts of the house where supervillain fights took place. Because in the years they’ve lived together, why would he ever tell her before?
May leaving the house itself, who cares? Seriously. She moved out of it when Peter moved in with Harry in the Lee/Romita run, it was burned down in the JMS run, and anyway it’s like the Daily Bugle. It has more lives than a cat, it’ll be back. So will Aunt May, because you really can’t expect her to live and be away from Perter too long can you?
Lemme try to make this clear. These scenes in themselves are not horrible. It’s nice to see Peter and May spend time together without any super powers being thrown around. But it’s all played for nostalgia and emotion and it comes off as flat because nothing stays permanent in the Marvel Universe, ESPECIALLY Spider-Man. Peter will lose the job at Horizon Labs, he’ll lose Carlie, and his Spider-Sense is returning sooner or later. I know you have to take these stories by themselves, but in the long running history we can’t ignore the nature of the medium or the title. You want to go for emotion? Please do something unexpected and impactful.
So that’s it, I really disliked this issue. Worst ever? No because it’s not OMIT, but this was annoying as all get out, cheaply written and basically aside from Carlie’s one scene of webshooting ripped off from the first Spider-Man film, had nothing of impact in the main title. Aunt May moving IMO is not impactful because she’s still alive and Peter can always see her should the story warrant it. And really, what good did she do in the books anyway? Worse for Jameson Sr., what all did he accomplish?
I’m cranky now. Sorry if this puts you off, but like I said at the beginning, I’m leaving this at the table. Thanks for reading.