Some personal history.
There were three distinguished moments in my Spider-Man comic book reading life in which I nearly gave up on his books for good:
- The short-lived Sensational Spider-Man, with Dan Jurgens helming the main title of a blonde Ben Reilly – ’nuff said;
- The Mackie-Byrne era, opening the 2000’s in desperate need of making the character relevant again for a new generation of readers, with lame attempts to bring back the old days excitement, by expanding the Stacy family and laying pointless secrets to each character of the supporting cast. As if Spider-Man Chapter One was not enough by making a Marvel comic sound and look like a DC’s, with its Year ones and Secret Origins;
- The Brand New Day era.
Though those aforementioned comics will not be read again in this lifetime, it frustrates me to acknowledge how much I remember them, due to the awful taste they left in my mind. To each his/her own, of course; and it’s up to one’s personal taste to enjoy such readings.
But to mine – after 30 years of Spider-Man continuous reading, Dan Slott has become one of the few Superhero comic book writers in the industry whom I have learned to accept, respect and enjoy.
In order to understand how he came to be the Spider-writer we deserve, some Spidey-history needs to be told. We return to charted territory – The Brand New Day storyline. After the One More Day story that rewrote Peter and Mary Jane’s relationship in a semi-Orwellian manner, the Brand New Day (BND) came to light, and what was old had become new again. It was as if the Peter Parker from the 80’s had been cloned to the new millennium: his secret identity was secret once more, he was single, living with Aunt May and unemployed. It felt like the clock had not only been reset for Peter, but also, for the long time readers such as myself. And for the first time in my life, without warning, I felt old by reading a Spider-Man comic book. As a fan, somehow cheated. How did that happen? From here onwards, it is important to stress the fact that Marvel’s flagship character and his book, is under editorial coordination and mandate – and therefore, it is a susceptible product to market demands and trends.
The Clone Saga is one of the best examples in the industry’s history of how much a book had to abide to management decisions (not creators’) in order to stay atop in the shelves.
As for Peter and MJ’s marriage, the then Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada promised us an unmarried Peter and he delivered it. With BND, it wasn’t different: enter Steve Wacker, fresh newcomer from DC Comics and the hands behind the wheel of the weekly published 52 series. Throughout a year without missing a beat, the book set up a newer, lighter and less gritty scenario for DC characters after the Infinite Crisis event. It is to my belief that he was drafted to Marvel to apply the same rule for the Webhead. After all, May Parker couldn’t stand the fact her quasi-son made a pact with the Devil to save her life.
Editorially-wise, a heavy page had to be turned. Nevertheless, a question lingered: had the page been turned back or forward? As the BND was spoonfed to us readers, I couldn’t shake the feeling that the Amazing Spider-Man comic was no longer that amazing. A team of rotating writers and artists doesn’t help at all with a monthly comic book’s feeling of stability; in fact, it compromises it.
Hence the lack of consistence in the title – even being published three times a month, even with Mark Waid in the writing team, and even bringing J.M. DeMatteis back on for the Grim Hunt storyline to write a background story to support the main one (sigh).
Aside from Aunt May’s wedding, a decomposing Otto Octavius and a legless Flash Thompson as the new Venom, what has changed for Peter Parker? Not much.
As for the new characters in the supporting cast, no one will shed tears for the Gonzales siblings, that’s for sure. Most of them gave us no eagerness to invest in them emotionally and no reason whatsoever for any kind of attachment.
Overall, The Brand New Day became (Joe) Quesada and Wacker’s experiment to see what would happen to a Marvel comic when given a TV series treatment. None of the aforementioned events in the title propelled an evolution in Peter Parker, and nothing marked a definite moment worth remembering in Spider-Man’s mythos besides BND’s own infamy: for being the phase made with the sole purpose to erase some writers’ past choices infused in the Spider-Man mythos.
And since Bob Harras (Marvel’s EiC in the 90’s) had eyes only for Wizard Magazine’s Fan Awards with the X-Men and the ultimate damage they ended up causing to the Marvel Universe through a thing named Onslaught – leading to something called Heroes Reborn -, Spider-Fans witnessed “The Osborn Reborn” event and the demise of the unsensational Ben Reilly through the Revelations storyline.
For new readers, I get that there’s this product – a comic book – not only made for readers in their late thirties, but also for the young ones who needed a starting point to enjoy Spider-Man beyond the movies and the drawings on their lunchboxes and pajamas. I get it. For any longtime-reader-fan who grows older, the product must be renewed and yet, retain the same old formula, so the new readers can feel comfortable whenever they decide to pick an ASM issue up. Hence the renumberings and so forth. They need to know where Spidey comes from.
BND was indeed a good starting point for a new generation of readers; the strategy worked. Still, it doesn’t deserve this writer’s praise for its chronological achievements, due to the lack of any.
Nothing changed much for the old readers: the constant imposed secrets and imminent threats from each of the supporting characters around Peter’s Life; the same in his battles – when the moment of truth came, he had no choice but hold himself back, because the enemy is somehow related to someone else he knows.
Such stories became part of Spider-Man’s history and during BND, these battles were more of the same. Surely there were exceptions, such as the ones scripted by Mark Waid. And while the art for most of them was great, The Amazing Spider-Man comic book felt like a different one almost every issue; slowly feeling less enjoyable and consistent. But as a fan, I soldiered on.
Then a coincidence worth noticing came up: though Dan Slott didn’t write many arcs for that phase, it was his the first one for BND and the #600th anniversary issue; he got to write milestones, and that caught my attention.
If he’s written such turnover stories, then supposedly, he was the one with a good plan under Wacker’s watch, and the chosen one to carry the torch on.
So I did my homework on him.
After an analytical rereading of his work in Arkham Asylum: Living Hell, She-Hulk, The Thing, Avengers: The Initiative, and all of his Spidey’s stories, the first conclusion drawn is that Dan Slott knows his comics – specially Marvel’s chronological history with great depth and respect. The Spider-Man and Human Torch mini-series is a beautiful hidden gem about the friendship of two young super-heroes developing their friendship along the years.
With that in mind, consider this: The Amazing Spider-Man might be the one super-hero title in the comic book market (and history) whose main character’s life has been growing and evolving ever since his first issue for more than fifty years now – continuously. It is the longest comic book soap opera ever made, disguised as a super-hero story.
Though not immune to a number of hiccups along its way, of course. Anyways – it is to my belief that an ASM writer has two choices: either come up with something unique and pave a new way for Peter Parker, or follow the book’s template established (if not carved in stone) by Ditko / Lee / Romita and enjoy the ride.
Few made the former and many followed the latter, and just a handful accomplished both; I’d place Slott in this category.
Here’s why: one of the things that made Peter Parker so relatable and attractive to many readers since his conception was the very context he lived in, from High School to college – which super-hero went through that before? This guy had actual bills to pay in order to put food on the table and not to be evicted. And Despite the ever-bickering relationship with Flash Thompson (as Peter) and JJJ (as Spider-Man), Parker could always rely on his science skills to infuse his creativity, and the hero persona to unleash his funny side or even his frustration. But before the Avengers and the BND era, few times he had peers to share his life, and communicate with others openly. Because that was the rule: Spider-Man was supposed to be the loner with or without the mask. Professionally, he didn’t have colleagues but rivals, such as Lance Bannon and Nick Katzenberg. Whenever he teamed-up with either the Avengers or X-Men, there was always an initial friction between them before the main battle.
His personal life couldn’t be fully shared, because Felicia Hardy didn’t want it and Aunt May would crack. He had friends and allies in different aspects of his life with Joe Robertson, Harry Osborn, Randy Robertson, Ben Urich, Johnny Storm, Matt Murdock, Jean DeWolff and Ezekiel – as the flawed spider totem/father figure who sacrificed his own life to save Peter after betraying him. But only Mary Jane to let himself be as the man and the hero altogether. Hence his sheer devotion for her. Nevertheless, he was still the hidden genius working as a freelance photographer and a teacher.
That was the established template for Spider-Man. Until the Civil War event.
Then, One More Day changed the rules of the game (or engagement) forever. Brand New Day threw the character back to the sixties in the 21st century. By its end, every single supporting character in Peter Parker’s life evolved, except him; even Aunt May moved on. The only real evolution in his life was – still – the Avenger status.
Slott absolutely knew where his was stepping into, and being this his dream gig, he did his homework on Spider-Man. And because of that, I placed my bet on him.
What I found was a pleasant and tight reading. Peter had the Horizon Labs and its coworkers – people he could be more friends with and intellectually engage on the same level through a natural aspect of his life: science.
He also took advantage of the hero’s affiliation with Earth’s Mightiest and Fantastic Heroes and think tank either with Tony Stark or Reed Richards; he learned Kung-Fu with Shang-Chi in order to enhance his combat skills.
Whatever he did, with or without the Spider-tights, he was no longer alone. By carefully establishing his new status in the Marvel Universe, Slott did not only recycle elements and characters, but renewed them. Thus, giving his cast of supporting characters a proper purpose, as opposed to only making his life difficult or hindering his actions.
From Big Time onwards, as each story arc progressed, Spider-Man (ad)ventured in many corners of the Marvel Universe, reaching new heights – from being a member of the Future Foundation, an Avenger and a scientist; regardless of the moment, Peter ceased to curse his life with and without the Spider-mask. Slott made us feel comfortable with such status making us believe that this hero couldn’t lose anymore. But the Parker luck is more powerful than any infinity stone – and somehow we knew this couldn’t last forever.
The writer’s second shift meant business: since the Marvel Universe was still recovering from an Osborn hangover (Dark Reign), Otto Octavius was the next in line to make Peter Parker suffer a defeat like never before: he dies.
The Superior Spider-Man title showed how DC’s Jean Paul-Valley as Batman in the Knightquest storyline should have been done: an unbounded Spider-Man unleashed into Peter Parker’s world with huge post-repercussions in the character’s life. The ultimate What if…? story taking place in the actual chronology, showing us this the hero’s descent from protagonist to antagonist. A story well conceived and executed to its very end. Issue #19 proved Slott’s skill and knowledge by creating Alchemax in the current Marvelverse, securing the very existence of the Marvel 2099 timeline and still developing a great cliffhanger to the Spider-Verse storyline. The title ended with the return of the real Peter Parker (obviously) during the Goblin Nation storyline – full of twists and turns and devoid of Norman Osborn’s face. The end of Superior showed that heroes like Peter Parker are made of harder stuff. And Octavius, despite having high-tech gadgets and spider-minions couldn’t handle Spider-Man’s greatest enemy: The Green Goblin. The brief dialogue between Osborn and Octavius at opposite sides of a chess table deserves praise for showing both Spider-Man’s nemesis clashing their madness disguised as egoes against each other.
Renew Your Vows is the writer’s Love letter to the time when Peter and Mary Jane were married, proving once more that good Spidey stories can be told, despite the situation he’s in. Once more, Slott shows his respect for Spider-Man’s chronology.
To a certain degree, his passion for the character’s mirrors Geoff Johns’ work for DC – who also has an extensive background knowledge of the characters, using specific ideas and concepts from the past, reintroducing and expanding them to craziest and unimaginable level.
Here’s a writer with a great sense of humor infused into his work, well versed in pacing and in-sync with his visual collaborators’ strengths to make all the elements of their story come together.
Kudos to Humberto Ramos with Victor Olazaba, Giuseppe Camuncoli with John Dell and Marcos Martin – who displayed perfect depictions of Spider-action, drama, structure and depth. Mind you, this is a visual medium with words written on it, and not many writers and artists are able to provide a unique speech pattern with specific psychological and emotional traits for each character in every panel. Especially for Peter, whose logical decisions and conscious responses made sense, thus evolving the character. Slott knows how to use concepts, characters, ideas and details from the past and apply them into the story – not as a clutch disguised as a trigger, but with purpose.
Of course, not every great idea of his is well-executed: sometimes villains shouting their masterplan in full detail verges embarrassement, or having Spider-Man literally explaining to his antagonist, in mid-battle no less, the very existence and functionality of his Spider-Sense.
We know that every comic book is someone’s first – not to mention that The Amazing Spider-Man is also meant for kids; because my 8-year old Godson reads and collects Spider-Man; and he loves Slott’s stories. Though I admit but sometimes a self-explainable story can be tiring for the old reader (me) as well.
From Big Time, Spider-Island, Ends of The Earth, Superior Spider-Man, the creation of Silk, Spider-Verse, The Clone Conspiracy, Superior (Hydra) Octopus to the current fall of Parker industries, one must admit it – there have been consistent shifts and events along this ride.
His take on the hero’s post-origin story with Learning to Crawl: an immediate sequel to Amazing Fantasy #15, depicting the first 60 days of Peter Parker right after Uncle Ben’s demise. Though the story overlaps Kurt Busiek’s same pitch with his Amazing Fantasy #16, 17 & 18 story, Slott left the origin story by Lee and Ditko untarnished, which is a great sign of respect.
Learning to Crawl is a great read and an exercise of what happens to a young man filled with great power without responsibility in the 21st century – featuring great art from Ramon Perez and covers by Alex Ross.
And by consistency I also mean that such things can only happen if a writer sticks to the book for the long haul. With that being said, Dan Slott joins the ranks of Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Chris Claremont, Dave Sim, Todd McFarlane, Brian Michael Bendis, Geoff Johns, Jason Aaron and Robert Kirkman as one of the writers who stick to the title for a long time, infusing new ideas and dynamics (with passion) to the title helmed, therefore raising the bar of how The Amazing Spider-Man comic book should be, shaping Peter Parker for the 21st century, without ignoring his core.
Because undeniably, Dan Slott is making Spider-history.
This is how a super-hero comic books for all ages should aspire to be. That’s why I’ll keep betting on the Slott Machine.