As a critic and a fan of comic books, I find it hard to read a story about my favorite character only to find that I dislike it, then have to write a review and ultimately give that book a negative grade. It is something that I wrestle with every time I sit down at my computer to pen my thoughts on an issue of Amazing Spider-Man that I’m not enamored with. I have to admit to myself that at the end of the day I’m predisposed to look for the positives whenever it comes to Amazing Spider-Man, but also that I’m very sensitive to the character being written in a way that I perceive to be consistent with previous characterizations.
My criticisms of writer Dan Slott’s interpretation of Peter Parker/Spider-Man came to a head last issue, where I found the character to be almost unrecognizable to the point that it made me distasteful of the book and dubious about the future of not only this storyline but of Slott’s tenure going forward. It’s not that the issue was even particularly awful but that I couldn’t fathom why a writer would elect to intentionally portray his characters in such an unflattering and ludicrous light.
And yet, here I am with Amazing Spider-Man (vol. 4) #14 sitting in front of me and I’m here to praise the virtues of this individual issue as a solid tale that mainly acts as a continual set-up to a final battle against the overpowered Regent. In this new volume, Amazing Spider-Man has mainly operated as grand, popcorny fluff and this issue is no different: simple in structure, unambitious in design, but stuffed with all the punching and kicking that one might desire from a tale like this. Amazing Spider-Man #14 seems to have steered this story back onto the right path, if only by moving the focus of the writing away from Spider-Man and onto the threat of Regent. Still, there is a definitely hint of deja vu here that left me wondering, “Didn’t we get this story just 14 issues ago?”
The primary story of this particular issue, written by Dan Slott and Christos Gage, is of Regent’s acquisition of powers through the systematic takedown of the various remaining Avengers. One-by-one, Regent clashes with these heroes and one-by-one they fall, some with more speed than others. Regent remains compelled to take down anyone with superpowers, acting as his own one-man version of the Superhuman Registration Act, but it remains unclear what his plans are after he is successful.
There’s an innate hypocrisy and shortsightedness to his actions that makes him an interesting, if flawed, villain. I suspect that it is only time before Regent’s superheroism/villainy results in the death of a civilian. If last issue’s focus on the innocent bystanders to Spider-Man and Iron Man’s fight is any indication, writer Dan Slott is interested in exploring both the valid points in Regent’s quest and the egoism inherent in demanding complete control over all vigilante justice in the Marvel Universe. Unfortunately this good/evil characterization is tipped, less intriguingly, towards evil by Regent’s lack of nuance when it comes to silencing his critics (by kidnapping them) and an arbitrary power-level limit that he’s racing to meet. Such are the undefinable limits to villainy in superhero comics…
On another topic altogether, it is curious that in the aftermath of the Orlando shooting we are getting a story like this from a pro-gun control writer like Dan Slott. While I might be reading too much into the themes of this story, the original Civil War story was popularly regarded as a thinly veiled commentary on the Patriot Act and the gun control debate in America. Here Slott portrays the hero’s powers as unregulated weapons that are out of control, potentially leading to civilian death when Spider-Man and Iron Man slug it out in Central Park.
Now we’ve got Regent, a crusader whose own family was killed in the crossfire of a superhuman battle, and he’s seeking to disarm these heroes of their powers so that he can utilize them in the best way possible. The metaphor may not be directly applicable to government-regulated gun control but the themes are definitely inherent in a discussion of vigilante justice. I’m curious and excited to see how this story ends and whether or not Slott’s own views on how best to regulate weaponry find their way into the story, as I am when any writer’s real-world feelings find their way into their work.
Either way, Amazing Spider-Man #14 succeeds in establishing Regent as a credible threat with no real solution in sight (unless you look at the cover to Amazing Spider-Man #15). Just as in previous issues, Harry Osborn – I mean, Lyman – continues to be the most intriguing member of the book’s supporting cast. Here he takes readers for a loop by suggesting that he initially might be looking to work for Regent before turning the tables on him and alerting Spider-Man to his presence. The scene plays out wonderfully, eliciting real tension while also exploring Harry’s complex history of super villainy and his belief that true reform is possible.
Sequences depicting Peter and Tony’s relationship and travels to Miles Morales’ home are a bit less engaging as they repeat similar jokes and relationships that the previous two issues already explored. The battle between Iron Man, Spider-Man, and Regent is splashy fun but bares far too similar a resemblance to the excellent battle with Earth-65 Cindy Moon that just played out in Spider-Women: Omega just a few weeks prior to be anything truly unique or memorable.
Penciler Giuseppe Camuncoli delivers another solid issue, even if this particular story plays a bit heavily into his inconsistencies with out-of-costume characters. The most prominent artistic difference between this issue and its forebears is colorist Marte Gracia’s wide variety of colors, influenced by the change in weather and time of day throughout this issue. For a series that had been plagued with so many nighttime issues, this variety really standouts and allows Amazing Spider-Man #14 to remain visually fresh, page after page.