And here we go–it’s time for Ends of the Earth. I have a feeling this story is going to be a particularly important part of Slott’s run, and this is going to be a long review. My head is racing with thoughts on this story, where it could be going, what Slott might be trying to accomplish and what he actually stands to. Be warned: everything I’ve ever called a flaw in his writing is given full representation here. But there’s a lot of tunnel yet to go, and I’m ready, waiting and hopeful that I’ll eventually see a light ahead.
The Amazing Spider-Man #682 – Ends of the Earth Part 1: My World On Fire
Words by Dan Slott
Art by Stefano Caselli
Colors by Frank Martin Jr.
Letters by Joe Caramagna
The first thing I did with this issue was stare at the cover for a little while. Not because of the art, although Caselli is in fact my favorite artist to have worked on ASM in a very long time. The art is actually largely obscured by the title, which is only barely translucent and takes up nearly a third of the page. Comparisons to Spider Island are inevitable, and the first one that should be made is the title. Go back and check Spider Island titles–they never dominated the cover this way, and in fact it’s very rare in my experience for the title of a specific storyline ever to take up this much real estate on the cover.
The wording of the title is also supposed to evoke what I can only think to adequately describe as “superimportantbighugeness.” Again considering Spider Island, that was about just what it says: an island. Ends of the Earth–or rather, Ends of the EARTH–is about considerably more. And, it was pretty clear before, but this issue provides confirmation that everything we’ve read at least as far back as the time travel story was buildup to this storyline (not to mention issue 676, which was literally nothing more than an advertisement for it). So does Slott consider this his magnum opus? I don’t know, but I’m reading it with the thought in mind that perhaps he does. At any rate what I do know is that he’s planned this stuff out pretty heavily. In the very first scene, Spidey tackles Equinox, a villain who controls fire and ice, using tech he’s copied from the Green Goblin (he’s literally flying around on a spider glider, to what end I’m not sure, but more importantly he has his own satchel of bombs filled with “thermoreactive foam.”) The point of this scene is obvious. It’s what Ends of the Earth is about in a nutshell. Peter Parker, the Horizon Labs super hero, with all his brains and all his tech and all his power, against the forces of extreme temperature.
What you have just experienced was a taste of the world to come.
Whether Slott feels he is executing his ultimate master plan or not, Doc Ock clearly does, and all the past few weeks of corny monologuing were nothing compared to the way he introduces it. Even by the standards of the classic Marvel stories that this writing is supposed to imitate, it’s painful to read Ock’s blathering as he sets things in motion. From his great underwater bad guy lair, he activates something (we don’t see how, but I like to think it’s by lifting a glass case off a big red button and slamming it down with his fist), and as an enormous structure begins to rise from the ocean, he provides it with some dramatic encouragement. I feel I have no choice but to provide a brief transcript here, because there is just no way on earth I can get across how mind-bogglingly ridiculous this speech is. But since this is so dramatic we might as well have some fun with it, and so I present you with what I like to imagine is a fragment recently discovered from a long-lost, ancient, epic, apocalyptic poem known as the Octoliad, and encourage you to read it out loud to yourself in as booming a voice as you can muster.
“Rise, my OCTAHEDRAL!
Through you, I shall conduct my ‘choir invisible.’
My host of angels, lying patiently in wait, dying to sing.
And with them I, Otto Octavius, will set heaven itself alight…
and purge this world with FIRE!
And the land shall tremble.
The beasts shall fall.
Crops will begin to wither and die.
And all mankind, thinking themselves cursed, will pray–
–pray to any god that can deliver them from this hell on earth.
And then–and ONLY then–in all of my infinite mercy, shall I answer them…”
I swear this is real. I couldn’t possibly make it up. (That’s why I like to pretend Slott got it from an archaeological dig–I want to believe he couldn’t either.) The above is stretched over several panels which demonstrate the plan in motion; it appears to involve something that Ock put in space during the last two-issue arc where Spidey and the Human Torch saved John Jameson and his crew from a space station that the villainous doctor had overtaken. A bunch of space thingamajigs, similar in appearance to octobots, are somehow able to blast heat beams or something at the earth which are super-heating its surface. Now, what exactly is going on here is a bit mysterious. Obviously the “octothedral” must have something to do with it, and I’m guessing it is some kind of focal point for whatever the space thingies are doing, because there’s a shot of the earth from space where you can clearly see all the deep orange heat is focused in one place. The pages that all this narrative explanation are set to are absolutely gorgeous. They give a worldwide view of the impact that Ock’s heat acceleration is having, and the orange hue laid over every clean-lined, well-aimed shot is so convincing I could almost feel the heat. Caselli’s skill at crafting facial expressions is particularly impressive in these scenes; you look at his desperate, helpless citizens and you can almost feel their sweat. He really knocks me out every time I have the pleasure of reading an issue he’s worked on, and it’s a shame that I have such a hard time taking the words seriously when the pictures are this pretty.
So as it turns out, according to Ock what’s actually happening is a speeding up of the already-occurring process of global warming via what he calls his “octavian lens.” He basically tells the whole earth, through whatever means it is that mad scientists are able to somehow hijack every broadcasting system they want and announce to the general populace what their nefarious plans are, that he was just giving them a little taste of the future they are creating for themselves and that he actually wants to give them the solution to it. Oh, and he asks what they’d give for that solution, too–I’m sure that’s going to be important.
And that is the setup. Naturally Peter is rushing into action, and he’s ready to bring out the big guns, the tech he’s been saving for this exact team of bad guys, and he’s going to get the Avengers on it, and amazingly enough Madame Web hasn’t even appeared to tell him he can’t. We’re set up for as much superimportantbighugeness as we can handle I suspect, and I won’t be surprised if it’s a bit more than that.
The problem with inflating everything to such levels of extremity is that they become difficult to control. There are a multitude of things in this issue that just aren’t making sense, aren’t adding up, or leave me feeling totally lost. A bullet-point list seems an appropriate means of getting this across.
- What the #&*!! is Ock actually doing? The pacing around how this plan starts to unfold is baffling. First, Jonah is at Horizon threatening to shut the place down (more on that soon), and then we switch to the Sinister Six’s hideout where Ock is putting his plan in motion, and then when we return to Pete he’s with MJ–presumably to get lunch, as he mentions is his intention earlier in the issue–and the unbearable, destructive heat is well under way. We see this after we’ve already gone around the western hemisphere and been shown birds falling to the ground, crops failing, and people collapsing on city streets in agony. How long did all this take? Why aren’t Pete and MJ on the ground like everyone else? And supposedly Ock is speeding up global warming to make this happen, I guess by concentrating more sun at the earth. But it’s made clear to us that only that portion of the world which faces the sun is being affected. That’s not how global warming is supposed to work, as the theory goes; the point is supposed to be that greenhouse gases trap heat in the atmosphere and thus heat the whole globe. We also see the polar ice caps melting in one panel. Shouldn’t New York be in imminent danger of being submerged if we’re accelerating the process this fast?
- What the #&*!! is Jonah actually doing? After the opening battle, the first major scene of this issue is an altercation between Max Modell and Spidey’s greatest nemesis. Jonah shows up personally to say he’s shutting the place down. So presumably if he bothered to go down there in the first place he’s already seen to it that the matter is legally taken care of. But no, Max’s lawyer starts telling him he can’t, and then he storms out in a huff. So with no legal basis, and having gone through no red tape, the mayor just kind of personally showed up and tried to tell the place they were shutting down by word alone? Even for Jonah that’s ridiculous. And he cites the time machine that “destroyed the city” as one of his reasons why Horizon needs to go. How did he know about that? Why would anyone know about that except Peter and Grady? But of course the real reason Jonah’s trying to shut the place down is because “two days ago you almost got my son killed.” This is a bad way to write Jonah. Does he blame everyone else for everything regardless of their actual guilt? Yes, of course. Is he so stupid that he thinks he can shut down a lab providing incredibly useful technology to the world over a personal vendetta? No, I don’t think so. And there’s also no excuse for the fact that he says, “I’ll see to it that none of you bargain-basement brainiacs brandish a bunsen burner again!” I’d really harp on this if its stupidity weren’t so utterly trounced by Ock’s raving a couple pages later.
- What’s up with Ock’s “solution”? Ock says he is sending out his global warming solution to the brilliant minds of the world, and it’s implied that there’s going to be a lot of conflict in this story based on the fact that it’s going to appear to really be a solution. But… if he already sent it out, what do they need him for now? What is the debate about? Either his science is legit or not. But even worse, if global warming is really such a huge problem in the Marvel universe (and we’re led to believe it is, since Iron Man asks, “What if he’s done it? What if he’s come up with a way to preserve the planet?”), have all of these super-scientists just been sitting around saying they’ll get around to it later? Given what Reed Richards is capable of it’s pretty hard to swallow that he didn’t come up with this “solution” while he was in the shower one morning. The point is that this whole global warming thing is coming out of left field, and this is one reason why I think it’s a really bad idea to try to bring an intense real world scientific debate into your Spider-Man comic.
- Did nobody care at all that Doc Ock had taken over a space station? Seriously, come on. Peter even says, “I knew he was up to something, but I never thought it’d be this big!” Uh, so you figured if it wasn’t a global catastrophe it didn’t matter? Why didn’t Pete maybe mention to Reed Richards that Doc Ock had been doing something up there, and they really needed to figure out what it was because obviously he didn’t take over a space station for no reason?
- When did Max suddenly become all about Pete and Spider-Man again? When Max catches Pete wheeling his tech out so he can get into his new anti-Six suit, he gets an immediate confession that it’s for Spider-Man. And he knowingly pats Pete on the back and tells him to wish Spider-Man luck. There’s a strong implication that Max has somehow caught onto the fact that Peter is Spider-Man, and that would be great because he damn well ought to have by now, but there was no build up at all. Last we knew Max was still furious at Pete for having given Spidey a way into Horizon. When did he figure it out and why does this suddenly make everything okay? I’m not saying there can’t be perfectly good reasons, but we need to see it happen first. Like almost everything else in the issue, this comes out nowhere.
And so it begins. Just as this first issue brings into focus all the threads that have been building up to it recently, all the things that I’ve been scratching my head over in Slott’s writing seem to have coagulated here in a mountain of terrible dialogue, messy pacing, outrageous plot and suspect characterization.
But I disliked most of Spider Island, and I wound up being extremely pleased with the way Slott wrapped that one up. For all the things I find totally incomprehensible about this issue, I can see how the story could potentially morph into what I like seeing Slott do, which is to celebrate all the great qualities Pete has.
And so far, every one of the past few issues that I believed was a precursor to Ends of the Earth in some way has proven to be. That leaves me hopeful, because as harsh as I’ve been on the guy’s writing, he does know a thing or two about who Peter Parker is, what he’s supposed to do, and where he’s supposed to be.
- Stefano Caselli delivers as usual. You could easily justify buying the issue for the art alone.
- So much in this issue is baffling and nonsensical regarding pace, characterization and timescale. It’s a symptom of how larger-than-life everything is made, I think.
- Cringe-inducing Slott-speak at its most egregious. Ock’s rant as he sets his plan in motion is ludicrously bad.