There are few current disparities in comics quite like Amazing Spider-Man #20.1 and Secret Wars #5 releasing on the same day. As one of the few lingering pre-“Secret Wars” comics it has become increasingly difficult to get invested in the gang war that fills the pages of Gerry Conway’s “Spiral” story. As readers know, the Marvel universe, particularly the city of New York, will be returning in October and the status quo of all their titles will be upended. This is all to say that the actions of a few rival gangs, their relative territories, and Yuri Watanabe’s ultimate moral decision seems like small potatoes against Peter Parker’s upcoming status as an international genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist (or so we are to believe).
As the conclusion to the story, Amazing Spider-Man #20.1 retreads many of the previous beats of the previous issues for an ending that is a bit to pat and unsatisfying. Conway’s story has mainly focused on the rapid descent of Yuri Watanabe into a merciless vigilante, eager to shed her role as a cop to get the job done. Last issue readers saw Yuri, as Wraith, murder Donald, one of Mister Negative’s Inner Demons, and in this issue we get the fallout of that decision. Turns out, Yuri relished the experience and the freedom it gave her in regards to enacting justice.
Not only does Peter Parker have to deal with the turn towards villainy that Yuri has taken but also a raging gang war that has enveloped the third precinct, including some gangsters battling against the Shocker and Kangaroo. If this all sounds familiar, outside of the little details, it’s because this narrative treads pretty much the same beats that readers have gotten with each issue of “Spiral.” Just like Spider-Man dispatched Hammerhead with a single punch in the first part of the story, so does he take down the Wraith and Mister Negative. Peter’s revelation that “darkness really does wait inside us all” is an interesting motivation for why he hits Yuri, a regular human, with his full force. However, I doubt that even with all of his anger powering his punch it would have been enough to knock out Mister Negative so easily; this is a character that punched Spider-Man through a city block of buildings in Amazing Spider-Man #621.
What’s strange about Amazing Spider-Man #20.1 is that it is such an awkward conclusion to this series. Spider-Man has had several other opportunities to knock out Negative, it that was always to be the end of his story, and Yuri’s path towards villainy has been telegraphed since the first issue. I was hoping to be surprised by the narrative taking another direction in its final pages or confronting Spider-Man with a new moral dilemma, or at least a challenge that would define this series as a story worth running alongside the main title. To have Yuri become a murderous vigilante is just too expected of a decision, especially considering that she becomes almost the same character as the Gerry Conway created Punisher.
There’s also just too much fat to this book that could have easily been trimmed. The Black Cat shows up just to mess around with Spider-Man but provides no real addition to the story other than to fill a page count, blame Spider-Man for the gang war, and insist that he no longer call her Felicia. For a character that’s been a major player in the gang war throughout this series, I had hoped that there would be more to come out of her inclusion in this story. The same is true of all of the gang war, which is resolved off-panel, as if it would inevitably have been halted.
I’m still having a hard time accepting Carlo Barberi’s artwork as paired with Gerry Conway’s story, particularly when colored by Israel Silva. The bright, rusty colors clash against each other and are a strange choice for a story that’s this grounded. Too many sequences have empty backgrounds that are filled with an orange shade that it stands out when every other panel features a bright blue summer sky. The most fun Barberi has is showcasing the Wraith’s takedown of Mister Negative and his Inner Demons (sans Donald), particularly the crazy patterns that her tendrils take as they snake through the scene.
Conversely, what works well in previous books continues to work for this chapter of the story. Peter’s voice inside the Spider-Man costume is as clear as ever and the allusions back to the Superior Spider-Man era on the book are welcomed additions to this story. All of the characters here speak with consistent voices and their narrative arcs and decisions make sense, even if they are a bit too simple and repetitive for an arc of this length.
In conclusion, “Spiral” has been a timely story that spun its wheels a little too long and delivered a conclusion that would have worked better as a midpoint of a larger story. The ending and the reveal of the spiral metaphor (from which the book draws its title) is poetic and in keeping with the many lessons delivered throughout the history of Spider-Man comics. It also operates as a nice pairing with Conway’s previous, thoughtful considerations about what makes an officer of the law go bad. If I have one takeaway from this story it will be those quiet ruminations of a thoughtful, mature Spider-Man who unfortunately failed to act early enough to save his friend.