Last issue teased a return to normal for Spider-Man, after the never-ending and Peter Parker-free “Spider-Verse.” So I couldn’t be happier to announce that Amazing Spider-Man #16 not only features Peter and his supporting cast but also puts them front and center with hardly a reference to “Spider-Verse.” Normally I’d rebuke a comic for moving from one story to another with so few consequences for the protagonists, but with my antipathy for “Spider-Verse” growing with each new issue I’m excited to read something new and more in-line with what I want to see out of any given issue of Amazing Spider-Man, namely Peter Parker.
Not everything in Amazing Spider-Man #16 is entirely new or exciting, in fact most of it feels like a retread of plot beats and ideas that the editors felt needed to be summarized or recapped after the significant departure, in both time and place, from the series’ developing narrative. Peter remains a somewhat clueless and distracted CEO of Parker Industries, Sajani is still angry with him, Aunt May and J.J.J. Sr. are still nervous about their investment but supportive of Peter, Anna Maria still has yet to react to the death of her lover, Black Cat continues to be out for revenge, and something sinister is brewing at Alchemax.
The Black Cat story, which gets its own back-up, part one of three, continues Dan Slott and Christos Gage’s attempt to fill-out her motivations as a new crime-lord without really providing any new information. I sense that this small story might be setting her up for redemption but after the violence she’s perpetrated in this short story I’m not sure that I’d be willing to accept her back. That said, the new wrinkle about how her luck powers have been changing is pretty intriguing.
Most of Amazing Spider-Man #16 is focused on Parker Industries’ attempts to secure a prison contract to hold and rehabilitate supervillains. The idea has serious merit behind it and could provide a number of interesting stories and motivations for the series in the future, but I’ll admit that a story about negotiating contracts is only just more interesting than the story where Peter filed his taxes. I’m glad that the book is getting back to basics but I would have preferred to see Peter’s social relationships develop a bit more than his business ones, which will always be less interesting to me. “I’ve been gone long enough that everything I’ve neglected in my personal life is ready to come crashing down on me,” admits Peter and I couldn’t agree with him more.
While the social dynamics of this issue are both a welcoming change and a bit of a retread, what makes this issue special is the framing device of the first half the book. Here Peter is pitted against Iguana, a Lizard-wannabe who has taken after one of Connors’ earliest, most foolhardy plans: freeing the reptiles of the Central Park Zoo. From the splash page that opens Amazing Spider-Man #16 to the battle’s eventual conclusion, this book showcases Humberto Ramos operating at his absolute best. His layouts vary in size, direction, detail, movement, and angle and always in a way that best builds the dynamism of Peter’s battle. As the fight develops, Ramos moves Spider-Man through different animal habitats that help to escalate the fight, as if Spider-Man and Iguana were moving from stage to stage.
The lettering by Chris Eliopoulos and coloring by Edgar Delgado are as stunning as ever, with muted, rounded tones and all the “BRAKOWW”’s one could ever desire. Writers Dan Slott and Christos Gage humorously have Peter field phone calls with his supporting cast during the fight, which is both a classic move from Peter and a wonderful insult towards the Iguana who demands he be beaten with Spider-Man’s full attention. The reptile-man even asserts, “I have a legitimate grievance about the plight of the reptiles.” I haven’t seen Slott or Gage be this funny since the awkward humor of Otto Octavius in Superior Spider-Man. The standout moment of the book is Peter’s declaration that his enemies needed our “help,” “understanding,” and “compassion” all while senselessly beating Iguana over the head.
The fight culminates in a tremendously delivered half-page splash of Peter putting down the Iguana with a signature punch combined with Peter’s declaration that the energy he lost during the end of “Spider-Verse” is back. If the Amazing Spider-Man series can continue to build off of an issue like this, I’d be inclined to agree.