By this point my feelings about the rapid descent in the quality of the “Spider-Verse” storyline have been well documented. I’ve criticized the book for lacking character, a clear protagonist, narrative progression, and even understandable rules. Comparisons to the bloated “Maximum Carnage” storyline have become more precise as the story continued. Both stories feature at least a dozen books, “Spider-Verse” nears two-dozen, to tell a story of heroes warring against an almost unstoppable force of killing machines.
After tens of books of characters punching each other, a storytelling trope that quickly grew tiresome and even boring, “Maximum Carnage” concluded with a wonderful page that asked Spider-Man to make a tough moral decision. As Venom pummeled Carnage to the point of death, Spider-Man sat back and watched. Would he save Carnage and risk his future escape, only to see countless numbers of innocent lives taken as a result of his inability to kill? Or would he compromise his morals and allow Venom to end the life of the psychopathic monster once and for all?
While this single question was not enough to make the fourteen books that comprised “Maximum Carnage” satisfying to read, it did ask an interesting question of Spider-Man. In many ways this moral question was an extreme extrapolation of Peter’s decision at the end of Amazing Fantasy #15. If he had stopped the burglar by sending him to jail, Uncle Ben would still be alive. If he allowed Venom to kill Carnage, how many Uncle Ben’s would he save?
Amazing Spider-Man #14 has no moral question for its protagonist. Yes, Spider-Man is far more proactive in this chapter of the book than he’s been for most of “Spider-Verse,” he even gets to give some orders and make a bold and heroic action against Morlun. This is all well and good but after six issues of core story and countless ancillary titles I expected that this story might have something to say about the character or even place him in a situation of moral dilemma that would test his resolve. Instead, all I’m left with is some kind of hazy memory of “Spider-Verse” and how it involved crystals, totems, life force, a mysical web-weaver, portals, and all other manner of mumbo-jumbo.
That’s not to say that all of that junk can’t be fun, it’s what the majority of superhero comics focus on. Who doesn’t love a giant laser pointed at the planet or Dr. Strange’s mutterings about the Eye of Agamotto? All of these mythologies are essentially nonsense; sure Spider-Man spins webs but only as a replacement for his lack of flight. What makes these stories work is the humanity and moral questions at the center of them. To that extent, Peter Parker is the most human superhero created and stories that ignore that or waste that potential do a great disservice to the character. “Spider-Verse” is one of those stories.
Amazing Spider-Man #14 has a number of moments in it that could have been cheer-worthy, especially if they weren’t so horribly predictable. Peter finally takes on his role as the leader of the Spider-Men and directs them at the Inheritors, as if that was his plan all along. His leadership and the triumphant defeat of the Inheritors is a fitting end to this series but it is totally unearned by the story that preceded it. In many ways Amazing Spider-Man #14 is the litmus test for the emotional success of the series as a whole. Did you pump your hand up in triumph at the end of this book? I know I didn’t but I also know a lot of people who did, just read any other comic book review site. To that point, I’m glad that they enjoyed the book but this isn’t the Spider-Man that I want to read.
There isn’t much for to say about this sloppy book that I haven’t already said in previous reviews or podcasts. “Spider-Verse” lacked a strong protagonist or moral challenge for him/her to overcome. After the surprise appearances of the more obscure Spider-Men wore out, I found little to enjoy about the book. I predicted that Slott was treading water with his story, what little of it there was, and would resolve it in some grand fashion complete with musings on the idea that all Spider-Men are created equal. I’m exhausted from disliking this book as much as I have over the past year since the conclusion of Superior Spider-Man and the relaunch of Amazing Spider-Man. I honestly would have dropped this title if I hadn’t already invested so much emotional, financial, and personal capital in it.
In order to conserve time and my waning lack of interest in this story I present to you a list of things I found preposterous or emotionally unsatisfying in this particular issue:
- Peter suddenly realizes that he’s a leader and stresses that this was his “plan” the entire time.
- When exactly was Silk captured? Between issues?
- Since when are the Inheritor’s souls captured in crystals?
- Karn reveals that he’s joining the fight against his family.
- May decides not to seek revenge for the death of her family.
- Otto decides to kill the Master Weaver.
- Spider-Ham reveals that he switched places with the baby.
- Leopardon returns to the action… to do what exactly?
- The sudden return of Silk’s pheromones and the romance between her and Spider-Man, especially after all the immaturity she’s shown in this story.
So there you have it, a lazy list of complaints about a lazy story. In the end, these are all just symptoms of a deeper problem with Amazing Spider-Man, a book I have loved off and on over the past several years under Slott’s pen. Dan Slott has had some incredible highs and some deep lows, but a pattern is emerging and it would be a lie for me to look the other way only to get hyped about whatever he has coming up next. To be frank, I’m not excited and Slott has a lot of work to do to prove to me that this is a book that I need to keep reading.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the art in this book and in “Spider-Verse” overall because it has been uniformly excellent. What’s baffling about Amazing Spider-Man #14 is that after advertising the issue as the return of Olivier Coipel we only get nine pages of his work. That said, both he and Camuncoli have been stellar throughout this series and really have softened my disappointment with the book. It is just hard to get so upset with a title when it looks this fabulous issue after issue. Camuncoli’s cover for Amazing Spider-Man #14 is stunningly framed, so that each layer of the battle is highlight in a particular way. His quick pencils that filled not only this book and the previous two showcase just how much of a team player he is.