No Turning Back wraps up with a generally satisfying issue. There’s finally some answer to the question of who is the Lizard and who is Connors, and there are enough legitimate surprises to keep things interesting. Typical pacing issues and Madame Web work against it, but this arc has definitely been cemented in my mind as one of the strangest, most memorable, and overall best of Slott’s run on the book to date.
The Amazing Spider-Man #691: No Turning Back Part 4 – Human Error
Words by Dan Slott
Pencils by Giuseppe Camuncoli & Mario Del Pennino
Inks by Klaus Janson & Daniel Green
Colors by Frank D’Armata
Letters by Chris Eliopoulos
Dan Slott is the Mysterio of Spider-Man writers: his biggest threats always turn out to be illusions. He regularly resolves cliffhangers by simply waving away the threat he left you with and telling you that you’ve been had: in this issue’s case, the Lizard’s “army” of converted horizon employees turn out to be benign. Sajani claims that is because “lizards and humans get along fine.” While I haven’t met that many lizards, I can’t honestly say I’ve ever felt like I “got along” with one — certainly, none have ever tried to eat me, either, but then again they’ve always been pretty small. Either way, this get out of jail free card is particularly hard to buy after Camuncoli went out of his way last issue to draw all the lizards in unmistakably threatening poses, roaring and hissing aggressively.
But despite it being a lame twist, it also leads to the most interesting development in Slott’s exploration of the Connors Lizard. “All this time I thought it was the Lizard who was twisted,” Spider-Man observes. “But what if it was you?” And it’s a very good question. Up until this point, the basic dilemma presented by the Lizard was whether there was any of Connors left in him, as was implied by his seeing Billy in Uatu, or whether he’d wholly taken on a new personality. But the obvious problem with this set of choices was that that Lizard never possessed Connors or manipulated him. The Lizard was always Connors, and that’s a fact that it’s taken nearly fifty years for a writer to own up to. It’s a theme that ties in nicely with Spidey’s current exhaustion at having to deal with the same enemies who never change their ways despite his efforts to do the right thing; like Morbius, the Lizard was always an ordinary person being influenced by an artificial change to his biology, but that’s exactly what Spidey himself is. After all this time, perhaps Peter is starting to ask himself whether things aren’t so complicated as he thought when it comes to these good men turned bad by science accidents. Maybe they really just didn’t have an Uncle Ben. The issue’s penultimate scene really drives this point home, as the Lizard’s mind seems to be “cured,” but not his body — and yet, ironically, restoring his mind has only made him feel responsibility for the things he’s done.
ASM has rarely had this much actual substance to it for years, and for all I know it may not have even been intentional. But this is the primary reason why I think No Turning Back is the best arc of the “Big Time” era: finally, we’re not just getting a story about Spider-Man. This is really a Spider-Man story.
Slott also managed to keep his built-in previews to the back of the book this time, which is how it should be done. Madame Web does pointlessly intrude in the final fight scene, but only for dramatic effect; she doesn’t predict anything until the penultimate scene. Still, both appearances could have simply been left out completely. The Kingpin’s acquisition of spider sense dampeners thanks to Tiberius, and the long-awaited acknowledgement that a fan favorite villain is both not dead and very much returning, were quite enough to tell us that times are about to get even tougher. That’s really the essence of what makes Web such a horrible character: you could delete her from every story she’s in, and not a single thing would be lost. The writing would never suffer except in the cases where she’s used as a plot convenience to tell Spider-Man where to go or what to do, and that’s something that could easily be replaced by a good old fashioned clue. So I’ll just do my best to wipe her from my mind and imagine the stories proceeding without her, because Slott’s managed to catch enough of my interest that I’m eager to see where this goes. I’ve still got my reservations, of course, but I won’t let them spoil the significance of the fact that I’m truly not just interested, but legitimately invested in a developing ASM storyline. That hasn’t happened since before One More Day.
Pros: Finally, Slott writes a significant contribution to Spidey’s universe. No Turning Back has turned out to be a meaningful Spider-Man story, and without falling back on cliches. The teaser at the end is legitimately exciting and has given fans something to really look forward to.
Cons: A very lame and abrupt resolution to last issue’s cliffhanger, more cheesy Madame Web interjections for no apparent reason. Oh, and implications of lizard sex. It seems they’re inescapable, intentional or not. Fortunately this one’s no worse than juvenile.