Today, Drew and Spencer are discussing The Amazing Spider-Man 28, originally released July 7th, 2017. As always, this article containers SPOILERS.
Drew: When we’re frustrated with superhero comics, we’ll sometimes blame the serialized format for robbing endings of any tension (or even mocking the very idea of “endings”) — as much as a given comic may try to convince you of the danger its hero is in, we all know they’ll be back to fight again next month. And actually, genre conventions are much more prescriptive than that, generally insisting that the villain also live to fight again (though maybe not until the hero has cycled through the rest of their rogues gallery). I added the caveat of “when we’re frustrated,” because I ultimately don’t think anyone’s assessment of a story comes down to how rote certain genre conventions are — predictable stories can be great, and unpredictable ones can be terrible — just that we might misidentify (or overemphasize) “predictability” as the reason for disliking a given story. Writer Dan Slott may be most famous for throwing those presumptions out the window, but Amazing Spider-Man 28 reveals just how adept he is at making even the most familiar genre conventions feel exciting.
Slott pulls out all of the stops to goose the tension in this issue, splitting Spidey’s assault on Symkaria into three different fronts: a duel between Silver Sable and Countess Karkov, a brawl between Spider-Man and Norman Osborn, and Mockingbird’s efforts to defuse a missile hurtling towards a populated area. That last one sets the stakes at a decidedly high pitch, but I’m more impressed at how small Slott keeps the other two. Sable and Karkov are battling over control of their country, sure, but it all comes down to two women in a room — there’s no superpowers or sci-fi nonsense enhancing the blows they’re dishing out. Indeed, Karkov’s untouchable status means that she doesn’t need to be killed or even seriously wounded; Sable wins the fight by landing “a scratch.”
What a perfect illustration of the difference between Sable’s stoic determination and Karkov’s effete elitism. Sable won’t rest until her people are free, but Karkov will give up the second the going gets tough.
The knock-down-drag-out between Peter and Osborn strikes a decidedly different tone, but Slott manages a similar feat in bringing the scope of the fight down to these two men (the title of this issue is, appropriately, “One-on-one”). Indeed, Slott details the lengths Osborn goes to to level the playing field, systematically hobbling Peter’s superpowers until they’re essentially two regular men, having out their long history together. Slott draws that process out just long enough to make us aware of exactly what he’s doing, making it crystal clear this isn’t a superhero fight. The tension here doesn’t come from ever bigger punches or blasts of energy, but from the emotional baggage of their decades of history.
Artist Stuart Immonen is pitch-perfect here, showcasing Osborn’s smug disregard before warping us into Peter’s brain for the one moment we know he’s thinking about, and then pulling back to see his rage. When we pick back up with the fight, Peter offhandedly suggests that he thought he was killing the both of them when he tackled Osborn there, but we don’t really need that line to understand the depths of Peter’s emotions in that moment — he doesn’t care what happens, he just wants Osborn to stop.
Of course, Osborn gets some good licks in, too. Here again, Immonen’s sense of pacing and flow lends weight to the fight.
That punch in panel two throws us into panel three, and Peter’s agonized posture as he lands in panel four creates a sense of motion, both as he’s flipped from panel three and as he presumably flips back to his feet in panel 5. There’s flow to it, but it’s a jagged flow, pulling us left and right and up and down in ways that emphasize the blows of this fight.
Peter is eventually able to turn the fight back in his favor, which he chalks up to his own determination, but it’s clear by the end of the issue that Osborn is just as determined for vengeance. That this particular battle didn’t conclude their saga isn’t disappointing in the least — the emotions and the blows were real, and sets up an even more personal fight the next time Osborn rears his head. However, if there is anything irksome about the ongoing nature of this series, it’s that the need to seed the next fight robs this one of even the illusion of a conclusion. Peter just helped liberate Symkaria, but rather than reveling in that victory, this issue ends on a foreboding note, detailing not only Osborn’s pledge to return, but touching on the toll this all has taken on poor Harry. Maybe it’s the old Parker luck that makes Peter’s wins feel like losses, but in a genre where losses feel like unfinished business, a hint of a win every once and a while sure would be satisfying.
Spencer, I’m not totally sure what that criticism mounts to, but it might be that Slott is too good at pushing the series ever forward. But, like, that’s not a real complaint — I loved this issue, and the way Slott managed to propel us through it without resorting to ever-harder superhero punches is truly something to behold. Maybe years of Slott doing this month-in and month-out has just left me spoiled? I don’t know. How did you feel about this issue?
Spencer: I liked this one quite a bit, Drew, and while I understand where you’re coming from in terms of the ending, I guess I’ve come to learn that stories never really “end” in Amazing Spider-Man. Dan Slott is a writer who thinks long-term, seeding plots years in advance and tracking the fallout of those plots for years afterwards (such as the continued focus on Otto Octavius’ evolution since the end of Superior Spider-Man), and he’s writing a character who’s been in continuous publication since 1960 — so there’s just a continuous sense of forward momentum to these stories. It’s also just the nature of the medium; superhero comics always have to tease what’s coming next. A clean break at the end of a storyline provides an opportunity for readers to drop the book that Marvel absolutely doesn’t want, after all.
That said, as much as we may went to revel in Silver Sable’s victory, the tone of the ending really does fit Peter’s role in this storyline. Slott weaves the history of Peter and Osborn — Spider-Man and Green Goblin — throughout this story, reminding readers of the fierce feud that’s inextricably intertwined the lives of these two men for decades. There’s, of course, obvious beats like the infamous death of Gwen Stacy, but we also get an explicit reference to Amazing Spider-Man 98 (remember, with the original numbering this issue would be well beyond #700) and even an accusation that Spidey’s entire sense of humor was born from his battles with Goblin.
Osborn’s no doubt giving himself too much credit — I’m sure Slott is correct in implying that was the time Peter’s sense of humor began to be emphasized, but Osborn’s still full of himself — but it does help to emphasize the vast depth of the history these two share. Outside of death, I don’t think there was ever any way this confrontation was going to end cleanly. It doesn’t matter which man lost — they’d just be more determined than ever to get their revenge.
In a sense, Peter and Osborn’s dark, dirty history has infected Sable’s otherwise clean victory. Now I don’t want anyone to get me wrong here — I think Spider-Man absolutely did the right thing by helping to free Symkaria from Osborn and Karkov. He has the moral high ground, without a doubt. But remember, way back in this storyline’s opening chapter Silver Sable was seconds away from killing Osborn before Peter barged in and screwed her mission up. The fact that Osborn and Karkov’s plan got this far in the first place is partially Peter’s fault, and as great as it is that Peter offers to help from that point forward (and that Sable accepts his help), there’s still a sense throughout this issue that Peter doesn’t really belong in Symkaria.
The Peter we see here is a marked contrast to the one we later see confronting Osborn; he’s a quip-cracking Greek chorus, and if you removed him from the page, it wouldn’t change the scene in the slightest. Immonen gets in on the game here too in the last panel, drawing a Spidey who’s trying his hardest to edge his way into the frame despite it having very little room for him. Sable’s all too eager to send him off after Osborn.
What I’m saying is that, while freeing Symkaria is certainly a victory that Peter played a part in, it’s not his victory. Peter’s prime objective was taking down Osborn, a mission he ultimately failed at. It would feel strange to do too much celebrating while Peter’s stewing over Osborn’s escape.
In a greater sense, a good, clean victory and happy ending wouldn’t be all that true to The Amazing Spider-Man anyway. Spider-Man’s always been the hero who would be trashed by the press even after saving the entire city; Parker Industries’ loss of the S.H.I.E.L.D. contract is simply an escalation of that principal, fitting for the more global stakes Slott’s established for this volume of AMS.
Man, that’s a long-winded way to say that a non-ending in a Spider-Man book doesn’t bother me in the way it might from another other series. I do hope Peter catches a break soon — this book would become a chore if he was just never happy again — but it’s fitting that even Peter’s victories come with caveats. Actually, that’s truer now than ever. Thanks to Parker Industries Peter’s power and influence has soared, which means that he has a greater responsibility to others than ever, but also that all his actions carry greater risk as well. That’s something Peter still hasn’t adjusted to, but it’s certainly been fascinating watching him try.
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