The prelude to Spider-Island has Peter Parker doing stuff, both as himself and Spidey! But a mysterious villain lurks in the shadows to jack up his day. Is this issue essential reading for this summer’s main event?
“Prologue: The One and Only”
Written by Dan Slott
Illustrated by Stefano Caselli
Colored by Marte Gracia
Lettered by VC’s Joe Caragmagna
THE PLOT: Peter does stuff, both in his civillain identity and as the Amazing Spider-Man.
LONG STORY SHORT: (see plot synopsis above)
MY THOUGHTS: Okay, despite the wise guy description I did enjoy this issue. It was very new-reader friendly, the art was good’n solid, and it set up the events priming to be played out in Spider-Island just fine. It wasn’t flawless, but my issues with the issue (lousy word repetition) weren’t deal breakers in such that they ruined all the good this had going for it. Let’s dive right in…
First off the bat, the best thing about #666 for me is Stefano Caselli’s art. After OMIT, I dropped ASM and went into an exile from Marvel Comics, so I missed much of Caselli’s work on the title up to this point. But it was looks great here, along with slick colors by Marte Gracia. What sticks out for me the most about the art is that it has a distinct manga feel to it, which I like. The characters all still look appropriately human and western, but the facial expression push towards the extreme without really becoming extreme. I know some people don’t want the East and West art styles to cross over too much, but there were instances in the issue where it worked very well with the moment. Specifically the panel where Peter is freaking out about nearly being run over by a bus. A lot of manga and anime art styles employ this effect whenever a character is meant to either be portrayed as evil or their emotions run high that their pupils shrink down to almost miniscule levels compared to the rest of their eyes. It’s meant to show how wide their eyes are becoming in order to sell the moment, and in Caselli’s case he manages to pull it off without the physics getting too ridiculous. Keeping with the manga style feel of the artwork, Phil Urich in this issue looks like he stepped out of a cross between Akira and Death note with his spiky hair and menacing facial expressions. Peter and Norah also look overtly stylized, but again I thought it kept itself in check.
As far as the writing goes, it was more of a mixed bag as it usually is with Dan Slott. It’s becoming more frequent that I mention this with each issue I read of his, but Dan Slott’s dialogue ranges from “fine” to “overextending” in terms of broadening the scope of what you can write without steeping into cliches and exposition dumps. For instance, I like that the overall plot of the issue is basically Peter taking in the fact that he has total control over his life in terms of what he can do with his powers and how he uses them as an output for helping people. I wasn’t crazy about Spidey thinking that up til now he’s been “stumbling” into his career as a crime fighter, but at the same time when you consider what kind of person he is, it does sound reasonable given his personal history. I don’t ever like Spider-Man acting or coming off as a rookie because he’s a serious pro in the super hero community by this point, nigh on 50 years in his publishing history. At the same time however, I can’t say I’ve read an era where everything is exactly how he wants it to be in terms of his life as Spider-Man. A lot of times, the writers of this new era will flaunt their ideas gaudily, brazenly stating that “THIS HAS NEVER HAPPENED BEFORE!” and it ends up being either flimsy semantics or a bold faced lie. But I’ve every ASM issue from #1-#230 straight, infrequent runs of other writers and titles and feel as though I have a generally safe sense of the character’s history. And…yeah, I can’t say he’s been like this before.
Conversely, there are always aspects of Peter’s portrayal in this new era that I simply can’t stand. For instance, talking to himself and being marveled at his own acrobatics in this day and age feels so wrong. Dialogue such as “Sweet! Check out that mid-air cartridge swap! Can’t believe nobody saw that. I’ve been practicing it for weeks! Ah well. I’m not doing this for praise, right? This is all about stepping up and being the best Spidey that I can be!”…it really gets on my nerves. Same feelings occur during his spar with Julia Carpenter, when he basically whines like a wuss that he’s fighting her in the first place. It feels like Marvel Adventures Spidey, or Spidey from the Spectacular Spider-Man cartoon. I.E. a young, green, fresh, teenage Spidey. The man is in his late 20s (or early 30s). He’s had at least ten years of life experience as Spider-Man. He has to have enough self esteem to where he’s not being surprised by what he can do or what he’s trying to do by this point in his life. It’s just annoying.
Another thing about this is that the issue hits all the characters of Peter’s life, whether it directly involves him or the people connected to him like Jameson. When it does so, it feels as though it’s just hitting character beats as opposed to forwarding the story. For instance, Jonah. We’re given one page of him yelling at Glory and another aide after being informed that his approval ratings are down because he doesn’t like Spider-Man. This scene establishes to anyone left on the planet not in the know that Jameson hates Spider-Man. For new readers? All well in good. But for loyal readers, it comes off as a tangential Jameson fan service bit. Going beyond necessity for old readers, how exactly does it service the story? Is it humorous to see Jameson blame all his troubles on Spider-Man? Well, to me no because I’m not a fan of the cartoony, zany, clinically insane Jameson that’s played for laughs and nothing more. This isn’t even Slott’s fault solely, as Stan began doing this way back in the day around the Romita Sr. era. Along with Jonah, we get appearances from Gravity, Firestar and Spider-Girl in awe over Spidey, which sort of contradicts how the Marvel Super Hero community has viewed him in the past few years as a dopey, whining butt monkey. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t like that. All the same, it’s manipulating the character’s sensibilities towards Spider-Man in a way that’s manipulative of the comic. It doesn’t follow a through-line of a natural, shared universe with consistent traits, it conforms to whatever the story demands from issue to issue. It’s not a huge problem, but that type of incongruity with past issues hearkens back to the 60s and 70s era of storytelling. And we are very much past that.
Interestingly enough, the scene I had the most quibbles with was the one page appearance of Betty Brant, recovering in the hospital from her attack in #665. I’m not trying to ride the Betty-Hate train and take over the wheel from Bertone, but it just goes to show how this girl can’t make one page’s worth of an appearance without being heinous. First off, Flash tells her to take a day off when she vehemently refuses to. In her very words, “Sweetie, this is what I do. A one-woman newsblog. If I don’t put up new content, if I take a day off–“.
This is funny, because taking a day off is exactly what she did in Venom #3 when she got kidnapped by Jack’O Lantern. Even further, she seems to delight at the scene of utter carnage and inhumanity as people are screaming in horror with the revelation that they all have Spider-Powers, as it provides her with a story for her blog. Slott could have kept the dialogue the exact same, and Caselli could have given her a surprised or shocked look on her face. But again, I don’t blame Slott or Caselli because this woman has an almost supernatural with being a bad person in 99% of her appearances. It’s just funny.
Ending with the scene with Jackal and Kaine, I liked how Jackal was basically written to be the same as he was in the 90s Clone Saga, but just wearing his 70s costume. I thought that was a fun mix up and respected continuity that didn’t scream out at the reader like earlier references did. (such as the cop reminding his partner that web fluid lasts an hour, or Peter telling the reader that he became Spider-Man when he was a high school sophomore, those instances were distracting in my opinion.) What’s more interesting than the mystery woman was the fact that Jackal seemingly still knows Peter is Spider-Man and has forgotten nothing. I like that a lot, although it is a bit of a cheat that Norman still doesn’t remember. As for the mystery lady, I don’t really know who she could be aside from Baby May come back to jerk us around in 616 continuity. People have thrown out Miss Arrow, the Spider-Queen and even clone Gwen Stacy, but I think Warren would interact differently with the latter.
Overall I had some nags, but this was a solid issue IMO. I’m interested to see what comes out of Spider Island, and hope it doesn’t necessarily “CHANGE THINGS FOREVER!!!” It doesn’t have to do that to be good. Just be fun.
Rating: 4/5 webs.