With the Marvel publishing line-up deeply entrenched in the universe shattering Secret Wars event, where both Spider-Men seem poised to play large roles, and an alternate Peter Parker fighting to protect his Mary Jane and his daughter Annie, I’m sorry to say that Gerry Conway’s “Spiral” story is fighting for attention in an already crowded Spider-Man-filled marketplace. Despite the cluttered release schedule, Conway’s story remains a wonderful, character-focused counterbalance to the “blockbuster” stories being told across all of Marvel’s books.
I know it sounds strange that I’m considering a Spider-Man, gang-war story small and intimate when in the history of the character’s comics they’ve typically been anything but. However, Conway is sure to put the focus of his story where it counts: on the characters. Any complaints that I’ve had about the characterizations of Spider-Man, Black Cat, or Anna Maria Marconi disappear when told through Conway’s smart dialogue, introspective thought-blocks, and reasoned narrative pacing. In Amazing Spider-Man #18.1, Conway wisely considers Spider-Man’s relationships with the two costumed women in his life, Black Cat and the Wraith, both of whom he considers good people who’ve made seriously bad decisions.
I’ve largely criticized Amazing Spider-Man proper for failing to address Peter’s growth and reflection on the events of Superior Spider-Man, so I continue to be overjoyed by Conway’s clever incorporation of Peter’s history with Otto Octavius in his “Spiral” story. Here Conway allows Anna Maria to frame Otto’s downfall and lack of hubris against both the Black Cat and the Wraith’s similar trajectories. In doing so, Conway’s tale is able to do many things at once: reflect on Superior Spider-Man, reveal Anna Maria’s feelings about Otto’s true nature, and establish stakes for all the characters in his story. Not only does Spider-Man have to save his city but he also has to save the souls of two women he cares deeply about.
By Amazing Spider-Man #18.1’s ending, Spider-Man is faced with one of his friends crossing a line that he considers out of the bounds of superheroism. Conway’s “Spiral” is all about that line and how we as individuals establish our own moral code and set of ethics. Spider-Man takes the law into his own hands to deliver vigilante justice and to apprehend criminals in a way that clearly establishes that he believes he is above the law. That he has established a no-kill clause has less to do with his respect for the law than it does his own guilty conscience.
For others, like the Wraith and Black Cat, that line has become blurrier as time has gone on. It is an interesting dilemma that Conway spells out as “self-confidence curdling into self-justification.” That this book operates in these shades of gray makes it all the stronger and more relatable to modern real-world struggles and events, as cops across the country have been making the news after appointing themselves judge, jury, and executioner. Spider-Man is sure to suggest that, “for any cop, doubt can be deadly” and that “a second’s hesitation can cost you your life – or the life of your partner,” but also that these thoughts can quickly become corrupted. It’s an interesting insight not only about how Peter has established his own moral code but also to the rationalizations that the Wraith, Black Cat, and real-world figures make to justify their actions.
The art by Carlo Barberi (pencils), Juan Vlasco (inks), and Israel Silva (colors) does a serviceable job depicting Conway’s story but does little to heighten the themes or ideas. Barberi’s visual geography is far easier to understand in Amazing Spider-Man #18.1 then it was in previous issues, due in large part to some stunning two-page spreads that are jam-packed with juicy details and action. When the fists are flying Barberi knows what he’s doing and how to guide the reader’s eye through the page, but when characters are out of costume his work is empty and expressionless. This puts colorist Israel Silva in a tough spot as to how to texture the images and fill them with some life. His choice of metallic color gradients continues to baffle me, but I’m not sure he’s had much of an alternative given Barberi’s vacant backgrounds.
While the release timing on Amazing Spider-Man #18.1 might not be the best, particularly considering that Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows #1 released on the same day, I’m excited to see where Conway takes the story next and how he continues to challenge Peter’s moral code. Conway has effortlessly slipped back into the Spider-Man writer’s roster to tell a story that reflects the modern and Silver Age sensibilities that made Spider-Man such a popular character.