Thanks, in large part, to the modern era “Image Revolution,” the comic book industry has seemingly unilaterally adopted a “writing for the trade paperback” mindset when it comes to the pacing and length of most story arcs. As a result, almost every major comic book franchise produces storylines in five-to-six issue clumps, which can then be repackaged a few months later as self-contained trade paperback collections.
The issue with this approach is that no two comic book franchises are alike — nor are any two creative teams alike. “Waiting for the trade,” is great for a dynamic, yet, character-centric series like Scott Snyder/Greg Capullo’s Batman or a long-form epic like Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’s Saga, but for a series like Amazing Spider-Man and a creator like Dan Slott, who are both more closely affiliated with the Stan Lee-esque, Silver Age era of storytelling, the narrative loses its pop and energy the longer it is stretched out.
For example, compare the energy and overall fun-factor of the first three issues of the current volume 4 of Amazing Spider-Man with last year’s six-part opening arc to volume 3 — which was fairly criticized on this site and on the Amazing Spider-Talk podcast for its lack of consistency and uneven narrative. The most recent issue, Amazing Spider-Man #3, by Slott and artist Giuseppe Camuncoli plays more to the strengths of the creators — especially Slott — primarily because the main thrust of the story is self-contained, which allows longer-term subplots to unfurl themselves at a more measured pace in the background. This comic will undoubtedly be collected as part of a volume 4 paperback at some point in the near future, but it also follows the old “Stan the Man” adage of “every comic is somebody’s first comic” by being highly accessible on its own.
The overall effectiveness of this comic is a true-to-form demonstration of how keeping things simple is sometimes the best approach. With the first two issues of exposition out of the way, Slott and Camuncoli are now able to turn their attention to just telling a superhero story that uses elements of the dramatic new status quo more for window dressing than anything else. Certainly, the synopsis of this comic centers around Peter purchasing the Baxter Building to serve as the new New York headquarters for Parker Industries, but the issue’s story is really about Peter and Johnny Storm, aka, the Human Torch, having another one of their infamous big brother/little brother spats that they then need to resolve.
As was discussed at length over the summer during this site’s Greatest Spider-Man/Fantastic Four Storyline retrospective, the Spider-Man/Human Torch character dynamic is almost always gold. And given how the current status quos for both characters in the Marvel Universe is a reversal from what readers are traditionally accustomed to (Spider-Man is successful while the Fantastic Four are down and out), ASM #3 provides a lot of latitude for Slott and Cammo to tell a different kind of story. Despite some clumsy set-up from Slott in terms of Spidey and Johnny’s characterization — Torch’s motivations specifically lack context which made his irrational behavior come across more irritating than dramatic — the comic works because it never tries to do too much with its narrative. Camuncoli also gets plenty of moments to shine as he gets to illustrate a red-hot raging Human Torch — unquestionably the most visually dynamic way to represent ‘Ol Matchstick Head.
The self-contained quality of ASM #3 also allows the creative team to reintroduce members of the supporting cast in a fashion that’s not too overwhelming or unwieldly. We get the first volume 4 appearance of J. Jonah Jameson, who continues to be the same blowhard (though he gets a funny moment in the beginning when he takes credit for Peter’s newfound success by declaring himself a father figure), along with some fun moments from one of Slott’s newer creations to the Spider-family, Clayton “Clash” Cole. And obviously the most important character reintroduction of the new volume thus far comes courtesy of Harry Osborn — errr, Lyman — who hasn’t been seen since he was doing his best Walter White imitation during the final days of Amazing Spider-Man volume 2. While it’s always great for old-time fans to see Harry’s trademark tootsie-roll hairdo, his utilization in this specific story is very well done as it serves as the perfect juxtaposition to how Peter manages his relationships in both his civilian and superhero forms.
Meanwhile, as Spider-Man contends with Johnny and Harry, the Zodiac continues to plan its assault on Parker Industries and S.H.I.E.L.D. in the background. It’s the one subplot that ties the first three issues together, but never becomes such an overbearing point of focus so as to detract from the overall Spider-Man tone and aesthetic. In fact, after raising the question “is volume 4 truly a Spider-Man comic” after the first two issues, it can be argued that ASM #3 is the most true-to-form Spidey book of the new status quo. The Zodiac — for all Cammo’s quirky renderings — still fail to move the needle as threatening villains, and after three consecutive similarly staged cliffhangers involving the return of some of Spidey’s top rogues it would be nice to see Slott mix things up with how he’s structure these stories, but overall, this is as solid of a run of Spider-Man stories we’ve had since the first six months of Superior Spider-Man in 2013.