Review: The Amazing Spider-Man 696 (with sundry complaints about the series generally)

2 out of 5 stars
Marvel Comics
Writers- Dan Slott & Christos Gage
Art- Giuseppe Camuncoli
Inks- Dan Green
Colors- Antonio Fabela

I never thought I would say this (like, ever) but I am glad, nay, thoroughly satisfied, that The Amazing Spider-Man will be coming to an end in a mere four issues. I don’t say this out of some longstanding hatred of the series. In fact, ASM has always been my favorite comic book. I grew up reading Spider-Man. Many of my fondest memories as a Spidey fan were during what I consider the “Golden Age” of Spider-Man comics: the John Romita Jr. and J. Michael Straczynski run. Those comics were exactly what Spider-Man was supposed to be. Romita was an expert in kinetic, fun, evocative art with facial expressions that said ten times what was contained in thought bubbles, and fight scenes so beautifully and perfectly rendered, you could feel his ribs crack as Morlun pounded him or the thrill of success when Spider-Man finally found a way to physically overcome the vampire. There was glory and thrill and a feel of classic comic book storytelling in those books. As far as I’m concerned, that was Spider-Man. But those days are long gone, aren’t they? I think ASM’s “jumping the shark” moment came a long time ago, during the Brand New Day/One More Day line. And it has all been downhill from there.

Let me just come out and say it. Dan Slott is a shitty writer. Well, he’s a shitty writer if his work on ASM is indicative of his talent in general. There is nary a worthwhile line of dialogue in the issues I’ve seen from him. Take, for example, the scene in 696 when Max Modell has to break into Peter Parker’s locker at Horizon Labs to retrieve the mysterious case. Modell has a special “All Access” key he designed. And then Modell proceeds to explain, in his secret thoughts, exactly how it works, describing tachyons to “look into the past” and so on. What person in real life, inventor or whatever, would describe in precise detail how a tool works as they’re using it? This is blatant audience-only information; it’s borderline breaking the fourth-wall. And for what? Just so we can see how Max breaks into a locker? I understand that in such cases comics writers are limited in that the audience needs certain info and it can be hard to get it without someone for Max to explain it to. But this method used here is just lazy writing. We could have just as well been given a panel featuring a close-up of the tool doing a read-out or something with text on the tool saying something like, “Tachyon Analysis…” And then Max thinks something about how he doesn’t have much time etc. Then we could get another panel that would say something like, “PATTERN CODE: Blah blah blah.” I’m not saying this situation would be perfect; I’m not a comic book writer. But I’d argue it would certainly be better than Modell have to pointlessly explain exactly how something is working just for the sake of the audience’s FYI. It’s just lazy. This isn’t the first time Slott has committed this Creative Writing 101 faux-pas either. Last issue (695), the elder Hobgoblin spent his entire page literally talking to himself.

Here’s another problem with Slott’s writing. He writes dialogue the way a 14-year-old Spider-Man fanboy would write Spidey dialogue. Look at the dialogue between the two Hobgoblins fighting one another. We get dialogue like:

Phil Urich (Young Hobgoblin): Look at you. You’re like a cassette tape. Kinda fun in a nostalgic way…but useless!

Roderick Kingsley (Old Hobgoblin): Just ’cause you can’t appreciate something doesn’t make it usless. It makes you stupid and impatient, like your whole generation…Phil.

Phil Urich: You know!?

How old are these guys supposed to be? This kind of back-and-forth dialogue sounds like the jibes and insults of middle school kids on a playground. Two treacherous, murderous villains locked in combat for the prize of being the true Hobgoblin would not talk like this. Their method of insulting each other is corny and degraded to cliched “grumpy old man versus upstart kid” tropes. Again, it just comes off as lazy, or the mark of a writer who doesn’t think for two seconds how these characters would actually behave in this situation. And then a few panels later, Kingpin (fucking Kingpin) plays the daddy role by ordering these two cartoons to stop fighting. So often during the Slott run I have sighed in dismay at the poor quality of the narrative and dialogue. He simply does not know how to write Spider-Man. This writing may pass for a lower age level Spider-Man line if Marvel is interested in such a thing (Ultimate always seemed a little more kid friendly) but that is not the nature of ASM. Or at least it wasn’t supposed to be.

The one thing the last couple issues have going for them is the loss of Humberto Ramos on art and the gain of Giuseppe Camuncoli. I didn’t hate Ramos’s Giacometti-esque interpretation, but I certainly was no flag-waving supporter. I thought his attempt at originality sometimes hurt the book with its hyperbole. I consider Camuncoli’s work more thoughtful and true to the plot, whereas Ramos seemed to sacrifice art-representing-plot in order to show off his talent. However, Camuncoli’s work was better last issue than in this one, and I don’t think it was his fault necessarily, but the fault of the writer (damn you, Slott!) or the editors. Last issue, we had great display pieces of art, like on the cover page showing Spider-Man in various acrobatic poses as he advances toward the Hobgoblin ninjas, or that brilliant page in the center of the comic when Madame Web sees every moment of the future at the same time and covers two glorious pages in the process, or the hilarious and wildly original panel wherein Peter’s Spidey sense goes haywire and he stands looking out into the street and we see arrows pointing out dozens of potential threats of varying degrees of danger. That was some skillful art, and dare I say even some skillfull writing. But we don’t get clever or even that impressive art in 696. There are just far too many characters in the scene at once. When the old Hobgoblin makes his grand appearance and has that cheesy line about not knowing the difference between knockoffs and the real thing (where he once again sounds like a 15-year-old bully, not a psychotic villain), there are so many characters in that half-page panel. They’re all essentially doing the same thing (looking at Hobgoblin), but the panel feels overcrowded and claustrophobic. There’s just way too much going on in this scene in general, and that’s Slott’s fault, not Camuncoli’s. But on that very same page, at the bottom, we have a very well-rendered panel of old Hobgoblin pointing off-page. But even this panel is ruined by, pardon me, fucking shitty dialogue. Observe:

Hobgoblin: My name’s Roderick Kingsley. That was my brother you killed. Which, honestly, I’m fine with. He was an idiot. But then you went too far…you stole my brand…so you’re a dead man!

Are you fucking kidding me? The first two lines were pulled out of some cheap soap opera, clearly. And the next line would never occur in real life. Do you think in the moments just before a violent altercation, Hobgoblin would say a line like, “Which, honestly, I’m fine with. He was an idiot.” This joke is so bad I wasn’t even sure it was constructed to be funny. Such is Slott’s failure to write Spider-Man well: the man cannot write a funny line to save his life. There are plenty of unfunny jokes throughout Slott’s run (I can think of about a thousand from that unbearable “Alpha” story arc), but I won’t belabour you with repeating them here. You get the idea. I hate Slott’s writing.

So that leads me back to what I said at the outset. I am happy Spider-Man is ending. Yes, it is time to kill it. It has been dead for years. And Slott, the worst Spider-Man writer these eyes have seen, is the perfect executioner. In January we shall be graced with Superior Spider-Man; Marvel NOW!’s reboot of the character, which will supposedly not feature Peter Parker in the webbed costume. I used to be upset about this. I used to care. But you know what? Fuck it. The series is so far beyond saving at this point, I honestly don’t care anymore. Let them do what they will with it at this point. I will always have the old Romita Jr./Straczynski books to keep me warm at night.

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One thought on “Review: The Amazing Spider-Man 696 (with sundry complaints about the series generally)

  1. Pingback: Up in tentacled arms about The Amazing Spider-Man #699 | Secret Hideout

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