Thru its first three issues, Gerry Conway and Carlos Barberi’s The Amazing Spider-Man “Spiral” miniseries has offered readers a refreshing character-centric story that harkens back to an older era of Spidey comics. But the comic has also suffered from the lack of a central conflict beyond the obvious “gang war” provocations and everything that accompanies such discord in the criminal underworld. It’s still an inherently readable and enjoyable miniseries, but it just lacks a certain *something,* which is ultimately preventing it from shifting into a higher, more compelling narrative gear.
Amazing Spider-Man #19.1 does its best to address some of these concerns, first by clearly establishing a central villain in Mister Negative, but also by ending on a huge cliffhanger involving the status of cop-turned-vigilante Yuri Watanabe/Wraith. And yet, some of the things “Spiral” has done best – mainly the way Conway has his fingers on the pulse of his two main characters in Spider-Man and Yuri – feel like they’re also working against the mini and preventing it from becoming an all-time great story.
In a style that’s interestingly reminiscent of an older Conway tale from the 1980s, The Amazing Spider-Man: Parallel Lives, ASM #19.1 opens by demonstrating some of the similarities shared by Peter Parker and Yuri. Both have lives that were marred by tragedies involving their paternal figures, but each has let that tragedy define them differently. Peter of course swears to uphold the mantra, “with great power, there must also come, responsibility,” by becoming a vigilante superhero who operates outside the law, while Yuri is driven into civil servitude by following the path of her grandfather and becoming a police officer.
The flashback sequence is a dramatic and effective segue into the present day, where Wraith is standing in the center of a cell block, gun in hand, in front of an injured Tombstone. That’s when the realization sinks in that she’s been played by Negative and his goons this whole time (as Spider-Man has been warning her since the first issue of “Spiral”) and that the woman who attempted to right the wrongs of her predecessors by becoming a cop and going by the book, has lost total control of her life and circumstances. And she has nobody to blame for her mistakes but herself. With great power …
These are the kinds of life lessons once should expect to find within the confines of a Spider-Man comic book. The problem here is that ASM #19.1 and “Spiral” as a whole has slowly but surely transitioned into a Yuri-centric story, pushing Spider-Man into more of an observer role than one should reasonably expect in one of his core books.
That’s not to mistake “Spiral” with some other recent Spider-Man comics where the character has shockingly been rendered incompetent or worse in favor of newer characters. When Conway and Barberi’s Spider-Man is on the page, he embodies everything fans have long loved about the character – funny, witty, charismatic, noble and heroic.
The fight involving Spidey and Wraith vs. the Circus of Crime is more dynamic and old-school fun than a battle centered around such D-listers as the Ringmaster and Bruto the Strong Man has any right to be in the year 2015 (remember, these guys were once beaten up by Howard the Duck). Plus, when else are you going to see a rogue get taken down by a falling anvil disguised as a woman who is roughly the size of the Blob? It’s such a well-paced and humor-filled action sequence, I’m almost ready to buy the potential threat of the Ringmaster as the last man standing in the fracas. That is until another well-crafted (and funny) Spidey quip and a right hook.
But as quickly and wonderfully as these sequences come together, the story shifts its attention back to Yuri and her internal struggle to take back control of her life. It’s actually a very interesting subplot (albeit one that is hitting some similar emotional beats from issue-to-issue), but it feels like Conway is trying to have it both ways with his script – writing an old-school “street level” Spider-Man tale while also thoroughly exploring the psyche of one of his supporting characters. Perhaps if “Spiral” was marketed specifically as a miniseries starring the Wraith (with a guest appearance from Spider-Man), I would be praising Conway for taking such a huge risk in spotlighting a tertiary character like Yuri. But as a Wraith series probably wouldn’t sell, “Spiral” earns The Amazing Spider-Man designation, thereby making the structure of this comic problematic.