Amazing Spider-Man #17.1 Review: Stillanerd’s Take

AmazingSpider-Man#17.1--cover“Whoa. Someone’s a bit tetchy.”

It’s part two of Gerry Conway’s return to The Amazing Spider-Man comics (or least a series of “Point One” issues) and this time, he’s got Spidey and the Wraith matching up with one his own villains, Hammerhead. Oh, and they also fight Phil Urich, who was also created by Conway. Hey, when it comes to making original super-villains, even great comic book writers can have their off days.

EDIT: Scratch that, it was Terry Kavanaugh who created Phil Urich in Web of Spider-Man #125. All is forgiven, Mr. Conway.

“Spiral, Part Two”

WRITER: Gerry Conway
PENCILER: Carlo Barberi
INKER: Juan Vlasco
COLORS: Israel Silva
LETTERER: VC’s Joe Caramagna
COVER ARTISTS: Arthur Adams and Morry Hollowell
EDITOR: Nick Lowe

STORY: The comic opens with Hammerhead and Phil Urich’s “Goblin King” discussing who should get Tombstone’s territory since he’s been imprisoned. They agree to settle the matter by choosing the best fighter from their crews to battle it out in a no-holds barred, winner-take-all, fight to the death cage match on “neutral ground.” However, Spidey arrives and takes out the gangsters (including Hammerhead’s champion for the match), but Hammerhead and Goblin King escape. And while Spidey doesn’t know what Hammerhead and Goblin King were planning, he did hear their “venue” is taking place somewhere in Yuri Watanabee’s police district which was also part of Tombstone’s turf. Meanwhile, Yuri’s chief, Yarborough, is furious with her for arresting Judge Howell (the judge who threw out Tombstone’s case on a technicality and photographed purchasing drugs from one of Tombstone’s men last issue) without following proper procedure. Yuri defends herself by saying she got results, but the Chief tells her she just wanted revenge for the death of her former partner, Teddy. She also informs Yuri that Judge Howell requested to see her at Ryker’s Island. As Yuri drives to prison, she’s stopped by Spidey, who tells her about Hammerhead and Goblin King’s meeting. When he tries to caution Yuri about taking things too personal, that they’re supposed to “catch the bad guys and let the system do the rest,” Yuri shows Spidey the photo of Judge Howell buying drugs, calls the legal system a joke, and drives away.

At the prison, Judge Howell confesses to Yuri that he did buy the drugs from Tombstone, but explains they were painkillers for his wife, a cancer survivor, because her prescribed medication wasn’t effective. However, he insists he’s innocent of being on the take as he didn’t know the painkillers came from Tombstone until after the fact, and really did dismiss the case against him because of the defective warrant drafted by Teddy. Howell begs Yuri to drop the collusion charges as he fears Tombstone might have him killed, but Yuri refuses and leaves. As she heads to her car, she is met by Mr. Negative, who informs her about the cage match, including it’s time and place, thanks to the same informant who took the incriminating photos of Judge Howell.

Before the cage match starts, Goblin King thinks Hammerhead is going to give up, but is shocked when Hammerhead himself steps into the ring, then kills the Goblin King’s champion with a single headbutt to the chest. At that moment, Spidey and Yuri, as the Wraith, arrive, and start taking down the bad guys. Wraith declares the Third District is her territory, which takes Spidey aback. Hammerhead, however, manages to grab Spidey and haul him into the cage and starts giving him a viscous beating. Spidey, however, manages to stop Hammerhead and knocks him out with a single punch. Wraith tells Spidey the Goblin King escaped during the commotion, but believes everyone got the message. Spidey, however, berates Wraith over placing more value on protecting “turf” than protecting people; he also points out that the photo of the Judge could only have been taken by a mole within Tombstone’s organization, which means the whole thing reeks of a set-up. Wraith, however, doesn’t care, which makes Spidey even more worried about her. And again, secretly watching both Spidey and Wraith is Mr. Negative.

AmazingSpider-Man#17.1--p8THOUGHTS: With two chapters of “Spiral” now done, the story of Spider-Man and the Wraith taking on the criminal underworld as they fight over the scraps the Kingpin left behind becomes much more clear. Our heroes and villains’ motivations and respective goals are now firmly established, as are the dividing lines between them, thus setting the stage for a potential physical and climactic conflict between Peter and Yuri. It’s the recipe for a very good, well-structured, character-driven story. However, it also has one significant drawback: even though there are still three more issues left in this five-part mini-series, “Spiral” now runs the risk of having it’s plot become far too predictable.

Not that Gerry Conway doesn’t offer some nice flourishes and interesting twists when it comes to Yuri Watanabee’s overall arc. As I mentioned in the review for Amazing Spider-Man #16.1, Yuri’s narrative journey follows the common path seen in many path an action film, in that after the death of her former partner, she’s out to get her own brand of justice by any means necessary. Usually, the type of protagonists in such stories are always portrayed as being in the right, and for good reason. We, as an audience, love it when we see actors like Clint Eastwood, Bruce Willis, Keither Sutherland, and Liam Neeson shoot-up, torture, or just plain beat the crap out of bad guys, psychos, and scumbags because it feels good seeing evil getting a taste of their own medicine. It’s one of the reasons why, as comic book readers, we are such fans of anti-heroes like Batman, Green Arrow, Wolverine, Ghost Rider, and Conway’s own creation, the Punisher because they’re able to cut through the red tape.

But in this instance, Conway is very much showing us not only is Yuri letting her need for vengeance cloud her judgment, he also suggests the bureaucracy within the justice system exists for a reason. The revelation that the judge who threw out Tombstone’s case wasn’t corrupt, that he was a somewhat innocent pawn in Mr. Negative’s scheme to take control of New York’s criminal empire, and that Yuri is still willing to let him rot or potentially be murdered in jail regardless is proof we should not be rooting for her one-woman quest for vengeance. In the previous issue, Yuri refused to touch Mr. Negative due to his powers being able to bring out the worst in others, only for him to assure her he wasn’t trying to corrupt her. Only now, it seems the irony is Mr. Negative has done exactly that and didn’t even need to use his powers to do so. (Or is he? After all, every time he meets with Yuri they’re always blanketed by darkness and mist.) Furthermore, not only is Mr. Negative using Yuri to take down his competitors, the ending of this issue heavily implies that he knows Yuri is the Wraith. After all this is twice now he’s appeared at the same location where Spidey and the Wraith have taking down a crime boss after he’s previously tipped off Yuri, so there can’t be any coincidence at this point.

AmazingSpider-Man#17.1--p17It also provides a better contrast between herself and Spider-Man. Long time readers know there have been many instances where Peter, due to the loss of someone he cared about, nearly crosses the line, and Conway reminds us of this. There’s a very nice monologue were Peter ruminates on the nature of guilt, how we blame ourselves when someone close to us is taken away, and how we keep looking for someone to lash out and blame to bury that guilt. This, of course, is to show us Spidey sympathizes and understands where Yuri is coming from—until he realizes Yuri isn’t bothered a (somewhat) innocent man is being framed to imprison Tombstone. This is not only a more introspective Spider-Man compared to recent depictions, this is someone who regards disagreements between how to fight crime as a battle for someone’s soul.

Where Spidey’s concerns over Yuri heading down a much darker path become a problem, however, is when he realizes her sincerity over her telling Hammerhead and the Goblin King that Tombstone’s territory now belongs to her. It’s a bit of a leap for Spidey to see this as a major sign that Yuri is well on the path to becoming just as bad, if not worse, than the criminals she’s putting behind bars. Furthermore, the ending of the issue repeats the same plot point almost beat-by-beat as last time: Spidey lecturing Yuri over how she’s taking things too far, her refusal to listen as she takes off, followed by Spidey’s internal monologue full of unease and foreboding, with Mr. Negative watching them from out of sight. The only difference is who Spidey and Wraith take down, where they take them down, and how they take them down. If this winds up being the same pattern as how the other crime bosses are stopped in next issues, then “Spiral” is going to get really dull, really quick.

And for me personally, Carlo Barberi’s penciling continues to be a mixed bag. While his figures are distinctive and (for the most part) consistent in their proportions, there are moments where they also look stiff even while action is happening on panel. Perhaps it has to do to the light inking by Juan Vlasco, but they also occasionally look flat, especially when it comes to showing perspective angles, as if they were cut and pasted on the scenes after the fact. And while it’s not as prevalent as it was last time, Barberi has a habit of drawing too many panels with wide angle views when it would be far better to see what’s happening up-close, if only to not make the figures look so microscopic. Giving readers a sense of scale if you barely tell what the people on panel are doing because they look so small. However, Israel Silva’s coloring is vibrant and really gives Barberi’s work an added pop.

Even though I consider Amazing Spider-Man #17.1 to be somewhat weaker and slower paced than it’s predecessor, this is still a very enjoyable read. It’s always good to show why Spidey is the hero that he is by pairing him up with someone who doesn’t follow his moral code, especially when there’s the possibility when there’s the hope that person can be redeemed. And again, it’s great to see Spidey tackling the more Earth-bound, urban, and seedier underbelly of the Marvel Universe without becoming a dark and grittier hero in the process. Considering how the next issue features Spidey and Wraith up against the Black Cat, I’m interested in seeing how Conway handles Felicia Hardy’s current status quo in light of what Dan Slott making her into a more straight-up villain. So I’m keeping my fingers crossed that Conway will continue the great characterization and won’t succumb to making “Spiral” be so by-the-numbers.


AmazingSpider-Man#17.1--p2NERDY NITPICKS:

  • So Phil Urich is seated on the table’s left, Hammerhead is seated on the table’s right, and blood-spatter on the table cloth is in the shape of a frowny face. But then in the next panel, we see the scene from a reverse angle, and the blood-spatter is in the shape a smiley face. Except shouldn’t the blood-spatter look like a “u” with two “dots” under it?
  • Speaking of Hammerhead, what’s with his sticking a piece of Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit gum halfway in his mouth and bending it? I guess he needed some other idiosyncrasy after Marvel did away with his talking like a stereotypical 1930s Hollywood gangster.
  • Am I to understand that we have two major scenes in a Spider-Man comic involving a caged fighting arena, and not one appearance of someone look like “Macho Man” Randy Savage saying “Bone Saw is ready?” For shame!
  • You may not be supposedly as crazy as Norman Osborn, Phil, but at least the original Green Goblin would stick around to put up a fight. Then again, maybe the only reason you managed to escape both times is because you’re not much of a super-villain any way. Also, how is Phil Urich even still around after Roderick Kingsley humiliated and beat his ass? Or did the events of AXIS happen after “Spider-Verse?”
  • Hold on a minute…is that a coloring mistake I see, or did Phil Urich make his second escape by changing himself to look like the Hobgoblin? Because I can just make out in that upper-right panel what looks like Hobby’s trademark orange and blue outfit.  Phil’s lucky Kingsley doesn’t sue him for copyright infringement.
  • How exactly did Spidey know Yuri was heading towards Ryker’s Island? And don’t say it was his “spider-sense” because, as inconsistent as it’s been portrayed, it’s never worked that way. Also, methinks it would have been a little safer for Spidey to meet up with Yuri outside her police station instead of while she was driving her car on a busy road.
  • Jeez, Yuri! Are you trying to seduce Spidey by showing off your tush, or you practicing for a photo-shoot? Cause I can think of better ways to get those photographs out of your car that potentially breaking your own spine.
  • “Always wanted to get you somewhere nice n’ tight where you couldn’t jump around.” Except for little problem, Hammerhead. The cage doesn’t have a covering on top of it, so theoretically, Spidey could still “jump around” and escape from you rather easily.
  • Also, Spidey, for all your talk about Wraith being too rough on bad guys, you sure socked Hammerhead pretty darn hard into the bars of that cage, enough that you actually drew some blood. Guess you were counting on him being fine what with the metal plate in his head, right? Right?!

(16) Comments

  1. Stillanerd - Post author

    @#1 Realspideyfan -- Thank you, good sir. And I agree, it's great to see Spidey, while still being his joke-telling self, attempting to tell Yuri that he knows what she's going through because he's been where she's been numerous times. That, and get a Spidey back down into fighting street-level crime as he's one of the few superheroes who can without coming across as dark and gritty. @#2 &amp; #3 Jack -- <blockquote> Hammerhead isn’t super-strong, right? (except for his titanium cranium). So the whole fight should have lasted two seconds.</blockquote> Well, as Ryan said, Jack, Mr. Negative, with the aid of Dr. Trauma, upgraded Hammerhead so that he became physically stronger. And speaking of Dr. Trauma, she was also the one who brought back Black Cat's "bad luck powers." And as it just so happens, Black Cat is going to be in the next issue. Hmm... <blockquote>It is interesting that Conway seems to be doing meta-commentary his own creation (Punisher) and that ilk, while highlighting what makes Peter better.</blockquote> Exactly! And that's what I find so great about it. <blockquote>Also, lol about the Yuri pose. Add a word-balloon: “By the way, behold my bottom?”</blockquote> LOL! That or Spidey and Yuri could start singing a duet of Black Eyed Peas' "My Humps." :p @#4 &amp; #6 Evan -- <blockquote> Did Spidey’s spider-sense go off in response to Mister Negative’s presence as in last issue?</blockquote> You know, now I recall, you're right, Evan. So why didn't it go off in this issue? I think someone out did me when it came to spotting a Nerdy Nitpick! :) <blockquote>And the name “Goblin King” always makes me think of David Bowie in Labyrinth.</blockquote> LOL! If only Phil Urich would starts fiddling around with glass balls while singing "Magic Dance." @#5 Hobo-Goblin -- Don't worry. Secret Wars I'm sure will take care of Phil Urich right quick. @#7 Jason -- Two words, Jason: "Secret Wars." @#8 Arrow -- Thanks, Arrow. And yeah, I've been enjoying "Spiral" as well. @#9 ryan3178 -- Also, correct me if I'm wrong, Ryan, but doesn't Mr. Negative also know it was the Black Cat who helped Spidey steal back his blood during "Brand New Day" as well? Not to mention, Black Cat kind of showed him up when she took over The Eel's casino. @#10 Frontier -- Thanks, Frontier. And you also makes some very excellent points about the distinctions between what Batman does and what Yuri is doing. Batman, as you point out, may work outside the law and bend it as he sees fit, and is motivated to avenge his parents death, but he also has a very strict moral code. He doesn't murder criminals (and to be far Yuri hasn't done so yet), he allows mitigating circumstances (you're quite right he'd never let that judge rot in jail) and, because he's a detective (which unfortunately a lot of today's comic book writers seem to forget about) he's a perfectionist when it comes to investigating and gethering evidence. He'd also bluntly tell Yuri that she's letting her emotions cloud her judgement. And I also agree that, even though there are a few problems with this issue as I've mentioned, I'm still enjoying Conway's "Spiral" far more than what we've been getting in the pages <i>Amazing Spider-Man</i> proper, especially compared to the last several months. @#11 Fisk and #15 Cheesdique -- Well, as you can see from my edit, I was mistaken about Conway being the creator of Phil Urich. Phil Urich, as it turns out, was created by Terry Cavanaugh. You know, the same guy who thought it would be a great idea for Peter's clone to return and then have it be that Peter was really the clone all along? @#12 Gruntok -- And thank you, Gruntok. :) @#13 PeterParkerfan -- Absolutely! Not to mention Conway is also able to show Spidey as a much more mature hero without sacrificing Spidey trademark sense of humor. Even though most of the attention has been given to Yuri, Spidey's depiction has indeed been very strong.

  2. Cheesedique

    @11--I believe it was Tom DeFalco that created Phil--after that Web issue, Phil appeared in the (holodisc cover) Spectacular issue, then on into his own series, both DeFalco-penned. They really do need to de-goblin Phil. Him being a murderous psycho never really worked, in my opinion, and he's a terrible Hobgoblin. Kingsley thrashing him was certainly one of the high points of the Axis mini for me.

  3. Daddypool

    @13 - Yuri was a part of the Superior Spider-man book, working with Carly to expose SpOck for who he really was.

  4. PeterParkerfan

    The SPIRAL storyline continues to be better than Slott's badly-written 'main' ASM issues. It's been a long time since we've got a Spider-Man story where he actually acts like a mature person and not a manchild like he does in Slott's ASM issues. Before ASM #16.1, I've never read a single issue with Yuri.... so I didn't know about her. But after reading #16.1 and #17.1, I like her so far.

  5. Fisk

    Did Conway really write Phil Urich's first appearance? According to wiki, it was in Web Of #125, which is -as memory serves - a godawful clone saga issue about a Miles Warren clone living together with a Gwen Stacy clone written by Kavanagh. It lies peacefully around somewhere in a box in my parents' flat several miles away so I cannot check it out right now. Conway has left Marvel long before issue #100, after that we got Mackie and Kavanagh competing to beat each other in godawfulness.

  6. Frontier

    Was this actually Phil Urich as Goblin King? His design looks a little different and it's a little weird seeing him back after Axis Hobgoblin. Didn't really sound like him either. I was honestly disappointed by the Hammerhead fight. I was hoping it would be just a little longer, and by the end of it I felt Spidey had taken him out just a little too easily. Just like how in the last issue he managed to beat Tombstone with one punch. I mean, it's great to see a strong and competent Spidey under Conway's pen, especially considering how he's usually portrayed in normal Amazing, but it takes away from the fights in my opinion. It also makes his street-level rogues seem like almost nothing when squared against him, which takes away from the tension of the fights and their status as Spidey villains in my opinion. I guess it makes sense when someone actually takes into account that Pete is a seasoned hero with a lot of experience against these guys, but still. The way I see it, most Superheroes do take the law into their own hands as vigilantes and try and take down the criminals and villains that the ordinary police can't. But in doing so, they don't just put themselves entirely above the law and give them free rein to do whatever they want to criminals, and ultimately always work towards stopping them and then letting the legal system sort things out from there. Batman's skirted the line a few times, but when written correctly he never outright tortures criminals, probably wouldn't let someone like Mr. Negative steer him in a direction when in all likelihood Negative would be playing him, and is often concerned with rehabilitating criminals rather than outright vilifying them and can understand their motivations when they're justifiable. He wouldn't have just thrown that judge under the bus and be in a situation where he would likely get killed like Yuri did. Batman is motivated by vengeance but isn't consumed by it like Yuri is becoming, which coupled with her frustration over the perceived ineffectualness of the legal system is making her open to the idea of being completely above the law and willing to do whatever she feels is necessary to stop criminals. Which is what would separate her from traditional Superheroes and Spider-Man. Even heroes like Green Arrow and Wolverine, who have killed before, have often been shown in stories where they struggle to subdue their killer instinct and find a way not to kill. People who completely give into it like Punisher has, and Wraith seems to be on her way to do, aren't Superheroes or accepted by the hero community. It's really nice to be reading a book starring Peter that has him competent, introspective, and tackling tough issues like this in a mature way that you'd probably never expect from Slott's pen. I agree the art could use some work, Stillanerd, but I think it's serviceable if nothing else. Just having a good, enjoyable, Peter/Spider-Man book is a refreshing change, and feels long-overdue. The .1 Amazing issues having a better Peter than in the properly numbered issues is ironic, and a little sad though. Looking forward to seeing what Conway does with Felicia, though I can't imagine it will be much considering she still has to have a big presence in Silk later down the line. And we've still got the Circus of Crime, Negative, and Goblin King to worry about. Another interesting, well-thought out, well-written, and enjoyable to read review Stillanerd!

  7. ryan3178

    Yeah, Hammerhead had a major upgrade thanks to Mr. Negative and he took over Negative's empire after he was outed by Yuri. So, I can see how he is playing all his pieces. Things with Phil do make me scratch my head, they really just need to give him the goblin cure and have the character deal with the aftermath of all the crazy stuff he has done the last few years. Its a bit painful but Conway plays it up nicely.

  8. Arrow

    @#2 - Actually, if I remember right then Hammerhead went trough some surgery (courtesy of Mr. Negative) in the beginning of Brand New Day era which gave him a big power-up Anyway, great review, I think this is the first time I enjoyed reading Spidey this much since BND.

  9. Jason

    I don't get why Marvel needs to do .1 issues in order to tell another story in the same month. Why couldn't they just do one and then the other and keep the whole numbers on each issue?

  10. Hobo-Goblin

    Man, poor Phil. I wish someone would just put him out of his misery now. He's not even a compelling bad guy anymore, and "Goblin King" is only slightly above "Grey Goblin" for a Goblin-themed persona.

  11. Evan

    Did Spidey's spider-sense go off in response to Mister Negative's presence as in last issue?

  12. Jack

    Hammerhead isn't super-strong, right? (except for his titanium cranium). So the whole fight should have lasted two seconds. It is interesting that Conway seems to be doing meta-commentary his own creation (Punisher) and that ilk, while highlighting what makes Peter better.

  13. Realspideyfan

    Great review!!! I'm really enjoying this story so far mostly for how spidey is being portrayed. Here he seems confident sure of himself and a pro. I know hes no teacher to Watanabe but I enjoy how he's trying his best with his years of experience to guide her in the world of vigilantism. From the way he's characterized in amazing proper it's almost not even the same person it's kind of jarring. And I have to say I'm feeling extremely nostalgic for the crime underworld kind of story it brings me back to all the silvermane and tombstone stories which were awesome.

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