by Drew Baumgartner
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
It’s hard to separate a character from the types of stories they inhabit. Indeed, it’s an idea that doesn’t even really make sense in most media, where characters tend to inhabit just the one story, but it kind of runs amok in comics, where there are countless forces pushing characters into other types of stories. There’s crossovers and cameos, which will pull the guest-starring character into the (potentially very different) tonal world of the home series. There’s cross-media franchises, which will accentuate the parts of the character that best suit the medium, whether it’s an action movie, a video-game, or a kids cartoon. And, perhaps more than anything, there’s the monthly grind of telling yet another story with this character, inspiring creators to think outside the box to find something new and exciting to show us. Those forces compound over the decades, such that a given character is less defined by the type of stories they inhabit than the range of stories they could inhabit. Such is the case with Spider-Man, who is so famously versatile to have teamed up with basically everyone in the Marvel Universe, has appeared in countless film and television iterations, and often stars in multiple comics series at once. Even so, there seem to be a few types of stories that Spider-Man isn’t quite suited for, as The Amazing Spider-Man Annual 42 illustrates.
And I really do think that’s the problem with this issue. The story itself is interesting enough — reporter Betty Brant uncovers the story her husband was investigating before his untimely death — and Cory Smith’s artwork is propulsive and full of character (honestly, he’s a great match for Spider-Man), but it just doesn’t feel like Spider-Man belongs here. Writer Dan Slott is right to keep Peter out of the investigation as much as possible, having most major discoveries (and even the ultimate reveal of the villain’s sinister plot) discovered when he’s absent, but that only emphasizes how awkward Spider-Man feels in this story when he does arrive, sometimes literally busting through walls like the Kool-Aid Man.
This is inarguably Betty’s story, so it’s hard for Spider-Man not to feel like a deus ex machina here.
The backup by David Hein and Marcus To, meanwhile, is very sweet, painting Spider-Sense as hyper-sensitive anxiety, making Peter aware of every potential danger in his immediate vicinity. It’s a cute idea, built around a cute punchline, telling the kind of low-stakes, frivolous one-off that makes annuals so charming. Would that the feature could have gotten out of its own way enough to have as much fun.
The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?