Spidey goes up against Lizard again, and shares a nice heart to heart with MJ about his feelings on the events of the last six issues. Despite forcing readers to remember Shed, one of the worst Spidey stories in recent history, this is actually a very well-rounded, well-told Spider-Man issue.
The Amazing Spider-Man #688
Words by Dan Slott
Pencils by Giuseppe Camuncoli
Inks by Klaus Janson
Colors by Frank D’Armata
Letters by Joe Caramagna
One of the things that I dislike about Slott’s “event” writing is that he always seems to switch gears in a completely haphazard fashion, but in 688 he handles the pacing of time and place transitions very well. The issue opens with a battle between Spidey and the Lizard in the sewers, which creates a nice sense of curiosity as to how the fight began. The story goes back and forth between the events eight hours before that led up to the fight at a very even pace, creating a nice cohesive story line that finds its way at the end. I actually would have liked to see this kind of pacing continue over all four issues of No Turning Back, but I won’t get too greedy here.
There is a bit of time spent on cleaning up the aftermath of Ends of the Earth to an extent, which is something I’m not crazy about, but I suppose was a necessary evil given how sharply that storyline fell off. The most notable one is that the mayor’s office has retracted its threat to shut down Horizon and restored their power, apparently with an apology extended on account of the lab’s role in averting Dr. Octopus’s devious earth-roasting plans. It still escapes me what exactly Horizon actually did, and even moreso how anyone would know about it if they did in fact do anything, but I’m ready to let the past lie on this one.
Carlie Cooper’s second post-break up appearance in the book is also handled fairly well. Like in the recent Vulture two-parter, she’s operating here as a police connection for Peter’s super hero work, which is a role that actually justifies her presence and allows us to take a look at her personality on her own terms — without the book screaming in our faces about how much we need to love her. In this case, she contacts Peter in the middle of MJ’s celebration at her new club, alerting him that Billy Connors’s corpse has been dug up by no less than Michael Morbius. The plot develops quickly and enjoyably from there, gradually leading back to the confrontation between Spidey and Lizard in the sewers and tying the whole issue up very nicely. As usual, Camuncoli’s pencils are so-so during chit chat, but he shines when crafting dynamic action scenes.
There is, of course, Shed. It would be impossible to completely review this title without discussing it, even though I still find it unpleasant to do so. I think that story lives on in a lot of people’s minds as one of the low points of the post-OMD Spider universe, and possibly even of Amazing Spider-Man. It went out of its way to strip Dr. Connors of his humanity for no apparent reason; it didn’t utilize the Lizard’s shocking behavior to say anything profound about any of the characters, about the Marvel world or anything else, and as a result it had the uncomfortable feeling of some kind of bizarre pornography you didn’t intend to see — and I’m saying that giving Marvel the benefit of the doubt about the whole rape controversy.
That story killed Dr. Connors in a way that ordinary comic book deaths can’t, because the character can never appear again without readers instantly thinking, “he ate his son, the scared kid from ASM #6.” In fact, when you compare Shed to the original Lizard issue, it really makes you wonder what Stan Lee would have thought as he was penning that story if someone had hopped out of a time machine (a chubby blonde guy, maybe?) and told him that in 2011 the loving father he’d created would turn into the Lizard again and eat Billy. (Maybe he would have thought nothing if Grady also told him how much money Spider-Man would be worth in 2011, but let’s stay focused here.)
Given the nature of Shed, I don’t envy Slott the task of following it up, despite the fact that he’s claimed he liked it and it influenced where he’s going with No Turning Back. That’s why I’m surprised to say that even beyond its more basic strengths — the well-executed in medias res opening, the engaging fight scenes and the strong characterization — I actually like where Slott is going with the Lizard in this story. I’m not saying for a moment I think this can repair the damage that was done, but the questions raised by the end of this issue, and its bold approach to facing those questions, are intriguing enough to get me genuinely looking forward to the next installment. I don’t know if it was Zeb Wells’s intention to kill Connors as thoroughly as he did, but what’s done is done, and I’ll be damned if Slott didn’t do a much better job of running with a broken character than I was expecting.
And then there is Mary Jane. MJ now has MJ’s, the nightclub she bought during Ends of the Earth when the future of real estate wasn’t exactly certain. I like this development a lot. I think it has potential as a hang out spot for future storylines, which doubles as a great way to give MJ a little more face time in the book, which we all want, right?
I’ve consistently enjoyed all of Mary Jane’s appearances during Slott’s run. This is another memorable one. While I think the pro-marriage fan base generally sees Slott as being on the other side of things, I find it fascinating that MJ is quite possibly the one thing about the book I truly believe he has never failed to get spot on. At times I’m half tempted to think he’s using her as a mouthpiece for the things he knows some of us are thinking. In this case, she’s explaining what should be obvious to Peter: that he can’t reasonably expect to save every last person every single time, and what he does accomplish is incredible. Obviously Peter will be upset every time he’s unable to save someone, but the amount of emphasis that recent storylines have put on this “nobody dies” mantra Slott’s trying to push feels a bit excessive for a super hero who is very far into his career and should be used to this stuff by now even if it is still upsetting. It’s nice to see that MJ is always the voice of reason in this book, not least because it reminds us that this writer knows her and respects her.
And on that note, I think it’s important to remember that we are fast approaching the monumental issue #700 of Amazing Spider-Man. No Turning Back is leading us down the path to what the folks at Marvel seem to be implying is the next big turning point for the book. Personally, I can honestly say I’m more curious than apprehensive; I’ve disliked the book’s status quo for so long that I’m ready for whatever may come at this point. If you’re the sort of person who usually skips the letters pages at the end — and believe me, I wouldn’t blame you, especially these days — you might want to start taking a look leading up to 700. They’re increasingly being used to drop hints. Nothing major, but a notion of where the title might be going has been building in me for a long time and these pages are helping to solidify it.
At the risk of sounding like a hired goon, I honestly think this is looking like a good time to be reading ASM. The current arc is off to a strong start, and I don’t think it can hurt for us to let Marvel know we like seeing MJ in the book.
Pros: Perfectly timed cuts between the present and the events leading up to it make for an engaging read the whole way through, keeping just enough tension going at all times. A beautifully rendered tussle between Spidey and Lizard, well written interactions with MJ and even Carlie, and a surprisingly interesting outcome for the post-Shed Lizard all help make this one of the stronger issues of Slott’s run.
Cons: A little of EotE’s antics creep into one page, but I really see no major flaws to speak of with this issue.