One of my sticking points with Marvel Comics over the last decade has been the directions it’s taken Spider-Man in. Between the Civil War unmasking, the whole One More Day fiasco, or how the character since then seems to have either been lobotomized or suffered some sort of psychotic episode and everything is just a fever dream. It’s the only way to explain the baffling celebration of torture in Ends of the Earth (which also celebrated global warming denial), or the sputtering man-child catchphrase “No one dies!”, which Dan Slott would have Peter Parker loudly exclaim in virtually every life-or-death situation. Slott’s Peter Parker, which is really the Peter Parker shepherded by Joe Quesada and Steve Wacker post-One More Day, is such spastic, unlikable tool who is always taking away life lessons that are at best delusional. This would be fine, except the underriding theme is “Spider-Man is awesome, too bad most of the world is stupid and doesn’t realize it.” The whole thing is a pale imitation of comics written when these people were children, and made precisely for the kind of folks who never exposed themselves to anything but the things they loved from their childhood.
Which brings me to Amazing Spider-Man #695, the first part of Danger Zone (co-written by Slott and Christos Gage), and the run-up to the title’s end with #700, with the darker, grittier Spider-Man of the Marvel Now reboot coming next. Frankly, there isn’t much to say: Spider-Man fights Hobgoblin–who is now Phil Urich, though the original, Roderick Kingsley, returns this issue–during which his spider sense is set to go haywire by some device or other. There’s a tease that Urich may have figured out Peter Parker is Spider-Man, but does anyone honestly care? Marvel pulled so many teases like this post-One More Day (which was itself undoing Peter revealing to the world he’s Spider-Man) that mostly were just that. This issue isn’t as putrid as the acid-boarding of Sandman in Ends of the Earth, but it’s just as much the innocuous, dull retread of the character’s golden years (the 60s to the 80s) as the rest of Slott’s run that it hardly matters.
The best thing that can be said about the issue is the artwork. There’s a clever gag where Parker’s spider-sense starts highlighting even the most minor of threats (“Static shock,” “High fructose corn syrup,” and “texting while walking”), turning into a sort of information overload. It would be like what would happen if someone suddenly, randomly developed the most acute case of obsessive-compulsive disorder ever. It’s a brief moment of genuine inspiration in an otherwise pointless comic.
The rest of the issue is devoted to melodrama. In trying to recapture the writing of Lee, Conway, Stern, et al, Slott resorts to overwrought narration for Peter (highlighting words in red for maximum emphasis) and daring us to give more than begrudging acceptance of Peter’s struggle, which is not wanting to be publicly associated with Spider-Man (lest anyone, gasp, find out his secret identity, and forcing him to resort to whatever deus ex machina to undo it again). There’s even a scene where the new Madame Web, Julia Carpenter, calls 911 and dramatically tells them “There is a woman in dire need of medical attention…” When asked about her relationship to the victim, she responds “I’m her,” which is such a Hollywood style of writing (for lack of a better term). You can practically hear the soundtrack cue to let you know you’re supposed to be shocked.
I guess what gets me about Brand New Big Time Spider-Man, soon to be “Superior” Spider-Man, is that it’s invested in being less interested in Spider-Man as a character and more interested in him as an IP with a specific checklist to tick off, most of which are derived from other IPs. Okay, it’s been like that for a while, but it’s not like the character is immune from individual, rather than formulaic, writing. So many great comic writers have left a unique stamp on the character, from Lee and Conway to Micheline and DeMatteis. Hell, just a decade ago, Paul Jenkins ended a big, movie tie-in Green Goblin arc by having Parker and Osborn sit down and talk about their issues, which is kind of daring for a genre that almost by law demands every story be wrapped up with a climactic fight sequence, where hero triumphs over the villain. It’s also an incredibly humanizing moment, to have Spider-Man win not by pummeling a baddie with his fists, but just by having empathy (that dirty, socialist notion) for the monster that tormented him practically his entire life, who turns out to be a human being after all. Compare that with Ends of the Earth, which does everything it can to make Dr. Octopus comically, irredeemably evil, and reinforce how wonderful Spider-Man is (even when he commits torture). Slott’s Dr. Octopus apparently wants to go down as “a mass murderer worse than Hitler, Pol Pot, and Genghis Khan combined!”, an actual line written into an actual comic book.
The current Spider-Man, the one that exists in Ends of the Earth and Danger Zone, is pretty much there to placate the reactionary: overly nostalgic for old comics and accepting, without hint of irony, the might-makes-right of the super-book (it’s doubtful you’d ever see Slott write an ending like the one to Jenkins and Ramos’ Death in the Family). As regressive as this sort of thing is, politically and socially, it also makes for dull and uninspired art, since it’s clear no one is actually committed to advancing the story (because status quo is god) so much as pumping out more content, least of all the creators.