The last time that Gerry Conway penned a full issue of Amazing Spider-Man it was the year of the Watergate scandal, “Wheel of Fortune” made its television debut, and Bill Gates and Paul Allen founded Microsoft. At that time Spider-Man had just discovered that the villainous Jackal had cloned both him and his deceased girlfriend during the first first “Clone Saga.” It was an incredible way to end his notorious run on the title, a run that saw the death of Gwen Stacy, Norman Osborn, introduction of the Punisher, and Harry’s first flirtings with the Goblin costume.
I honeslty never thought we’d see him back on the title and yet here we are and I have Amazing Spider-Man #16.1 in my hands and it is everything that I remember loving about Gerry’s work on the title. The primary way that any of the writers on Spider-Man distinguish themselves is in how they write Peter Parker’s voice. The older scripters relied more heavily on Peter’s internal dialogue to invite readers into this thought process. Gerry’s Peter is smart, introspective, and witty, despite how frequently he bungles things in both his life as a regular person and as a superhero. Gone are the puns and back is the self-depricating, cynical, and snarky humor that’s been missing from the title. It’s the character that I loved as a kid, not the clowning Peter/Spider-Man that has begun to dominate so many of his modern appearances, see Amazing Spider-Man Special #1.
Conway balances the action, dialogue, and internal monologues perfectly, never allowing one to dominate the others. The only times that Peter’s voice feels off is in his expository statements that establish the status quo, “I feel different,” and the various cast’s relationships with each other. This is only the first issue of his “Spiral” story, so its easy to overlook introductions, if only to get them out of of the way, as they are the industry’s best tactics to bring in new readers.
Despite how well Conway’s Peter Parker reads on the page, much of Amazing Spider-Man #16.1 is shared with Captain Yuri Watanabe’s own story. After one of Tombstone’s henchmen kills one of her policemen mentors, Yuri has to deal with all the bureaucracy that she’s used to avoiding as her alter-ego, the Wraith. When she re-dons her costume and sets out on a one-woman mission of revenge and fact-finding, she and Spider-Man bump into each other and decide to team up to get the goods on Tombstone and his drug-dealing business, thanks to a tip off from the nefarious Mr. Negative.
Carlo Barberi illustrates the adventure in a style that mixes slightly stylized characters in ultra-realistic backgrounds. Israel Silva’s colors paint the book in heavy blues that contrast sharply with the brilliant reds of Spider-Man’s costume. While the work is all uniformly excellent, with wonderful visual pacing and varied framing techniques, I’m not sure that the style fits perfectly with Conway’s down-to-Earth tone. The colors and exaggerated expressions might fit with the exaggerated writing style of Dan Slott but a more muted palette of inks and colors would better serve Conway’s tale of Gotham-esque crime.
My reservations aside, Conway’s thematic questions about the arbitrary nature of rules are quite compelling. Peter has always established his own rules to his vigilantism, so it is interesting to see him partnered with Yuri who becomes a vigilante to break free of the rules that confine her in her job as a police captain. I can’t wait to explore the relationship more as the book continues and see how all these various players manipulate, deceive, and battle with each other.