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Amazing Spider-Man #801 – REVIEW

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I’ve been a fan, reader and collector of Spider-Man comic books for more than 30 years, having consumed stories by all the greats: Lee, Ditko, Romita, Conway, DeFalco, Frenz etc. etc. etc. And yet, I feel that a certain part of me is intrinsically linked to the work of Dan Slott. Slott, who first came onto the “main” title, Amazing Spider-Man, in 2008 as part of the rotating “Brand New Day” crew, had just been named the sole-scripter of the book in 2010 as I was launching a little blog called Chasing Amazing. At that point in history, Slott had already established himself as a polarizing figure in the world of internet Spider-Man fandom. But just as I was finding my voice as a blogger and a critic, Slott was pumping out some of the best Spider-Man stories I had ever read like “No One Dies,” and “Spider-Island.” I was firmly in the pro-Slott camp.

My position on Team Slott was further emboldened with the dramatic status quo shift of Superior Spider-Man, which directly led to another pivotal moment in my relationship with the character: the launching of the podcast, Superior (now Amazing) Spider-Talk, with my dynamic co-host Dan Gvozden (you’ve probably heard of him). Not to speak on behalf of Dan, but there were times during those early episodes of SST where we thought we were taking crazy pills: here was a legitimately audacious, but well-crafted version of Spider-Man comics that we sincerely enjoyed, and was a smash hit (in relative, 2013 comic book industry terms), and yet in other corners of the internet, Superior and Slott were getting savagely taken down.

But that’s not say that when the time came, Dan and I were not ready to throw down some criticism of our own. Superior Spider-Man ended with a bit of a thud (and a rare mea culpa from me from me who defended the penultimate issue of the series because I thought something bigger and better was coming in the final issue and that never came to pass). Then there was volume 3, and the messy “Spider-Verse” storyline, which also seemed to be beloved by many fans, but I thought was poorly executed and thematically muddied. As Slott’s run progressed into another inevitable “reboot” and a volume 4, it wasn’t so much an issue of me not “liking” Amazing Spider-Man anymore, but wondering if the stories Slott was crafting were truly geared toward fans like me anymore. I guess that’s the comic book fandom equivalent of “it’s not you, it’s me.” It also didn’t help that it had been nearly 10 years since Dan Slott had started writing Spider-Man regularly, and I was admittedly getting a little burnt out on the same voice week after week, month after month, regardless of the overall quality of the stories and whether or not they scratched a certain itch of mine.

However, the one thing I consistently believed over the years, and always dismissed when I heard the contrary from critics, was that Slott truly “cared” about the character he was writing. Slott always promoted himself as a first class Spider-Man fan, and that writing ASM was a gig he dreamed about since he was a kid. And there was not a single story he ever wrote that made me believe he ever betrayed those ideals. The guy lived and breathed Spider-Man. Just because I didn’t always love it when he wrote a story about clones, or about Spider-Men from throughout the multiverse, didn’t mean that Slott didn’t “understand” Spider-Man, or was inherently trying to “change” the character of Spider-Man. I think above everything else, Slott understood that the only true constant in this industry is change and that if he only wrote stories akin to Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, then the mythology of Spider-Man would be stunted and too predictable.

With these rambling thoughts in mind, I’ll dovetail into a semi “review” of Amazing Spider-Man #801, by Slott and Marcos Martin; the last time Slott will script an issue of ASM (for now, at least). Because of the sometimes inconsistent nature of the arc of my fandom for Slott’s work, I had no idea how I would emotionally respond to his final issue — especially in light of the emotional punch ASM #800 packed. Regardless of whether you loved Slott’s work or not, he has inarguably had a profound impact on Spider-Man and comics as a whole, so anytime someone who has had such an imprint on a character steps away from said character, it undeniably carries a weight and burden along with it. Perhaps, a burden on the level of holding tons of steel above one’s head in order to escape certain death.

When ASM #801 kicked off with Martin’s lusciously distinct artwork (I always come back to the fact that he pencils the way my dreams look), at first I thought Slott was going to deliver a flashback “untold tale” of Spider-Man — which I honestly would have been just fine with. The splash page is straight out of the Grant Morrison/Frank Quitely All-Star Superman playbook in terms of how to succinctly tell an origin story in one page, and then we are introduced to Kenneth Kincaid Jr., a character I needed to Google just to make sure Slott wasn’t pulling a reference from some deep reservoir of Spider-Man obscurity as he is wont to do. Apparently, Ken is indeed, a new character.

As the pages turn and Ken — who is having the “worst day” of his life — inevitably crosses path with Spider-Man, I found myself in the most quiet ways, becoming more and more emotionally engaged with this narrative. Contrary to almost 99 percent of Slott’s run, this was a story that felt very much at home in a different time and a different place (further aided by Martin’s work, which was equal parts Ditko-vintage, and Dali-surrealistic). If it was printed in any other context, I almost would have believed it was an inventory story in an ASM annual.

But that’s the thing: context, time and place are all important in the art of storytelling. This was not a story in an annual. This was not the backup tale in a jumbo-sized edition of Amazing Spider-Man. This was Slott’s swan song after 10 years, and as the reality of that set in — that this creator, one I have associated a very significant portion of my fandom for Spider-Man with, was stepping away, many of his “misfires” seemed to be less relevant and the larger theme of the past 10 years became abundantly clear. Ultimately, Spider-Man is an enduring character — Marvel’s flagship character (on days when Iron Man isn’t considered the “mascot”) — and while one creator may have held the reins for a long-time, that doesn’t mean the beat doesn’t go on once a new person steps on and pushes the narrative in his or her’s own direction. Just as the beat went on when Slott took over ASM full-time, and the beat went on the rotating cast of “Brand New Day” took over for J. Michael Straczynski, et al.

What we’re left with in ASM #801 is Slott’s most emotionally subtle story yet, an almost ironic farewell for a creator who tended to err on the side of bombast and loud, even in instances that were marked by the traumatic deaths of significant characters. It’s also a demonstration yet again, that Slott most certainly understands this character and his universe, even when he deliberately chose to take Spider-Man into uncharted territory. Only someone who loves a character like Spider-Man can use a Spider-Man story to convey the fact that the mythology is eternal. That there are new stories to come, and the old ones are always a longbox or a digital archive/reading service away from being enjoyed again. A creator who has worked on a character as significant as Spider-Man never truly “leaves” the book, but rather just stops writing it.

I’m eager to see what new adventures a new voice will bring to the world of Spider-Man. But even with an eye toward the future, I think Slott warrants a round of applause for never being afraid to try something new, for being true to his convictions, and for reminding us why he’s such a huge fan of this character time and time again.

Editor’s Note: Over the past year, there have been a great deal of changes to SuperiorSpiderTalk.com as we shift our format to lean more heavily into our popular podcasting content. For the past five years, Mark and I have been writing reviews of Amazing Spider-Man, crafted by Dan Slott and his collaborators. We’ve loved writing our reviews, as it is truly a reflection of two of our favorite hobbies and passions, reading Spider-Man comics and writing long pieces about them. However, as we’ve moved to producing more audio material it has become increasingly difficult to find the time to write these timely pieces. We also found that we are largely covering the same material and thoughts during our podcast shows.

So, it is sad to say that for the time being this will be our final review of Amazing Spider-Man on our site. The good news is that you can get our reviews of these books on our Patreon page, where Mark and I discuss every issue of Amazing Spider-Man in deep detail (just like these reviews) for the price of a new comic every month. If you have ever enjoyed anything we’ve written on this site or podcasted about, or even find yourself returning here each week to find out our thoughts on Spider-Man, I hope you’ll join us there.

 

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