Let me get this out of the way first, I really want to like writer Jose Molina, artist Simone Bianchi, and fill-in artist Andrea Broccardo’s “Amazing Grace” story as it heads into its fourth chapter, or rather Amazing Spider-Man (vol. 4) #1.4. When I force myself to look beyond all of the confusing plotlines, strange editorial choices, and often-confusing, visual storytelling, revealed is a captivating, if not controversial, idea at the center of the story.
Since the first issue of the series, Peter Parker has sought out the secret behind the post-mortem return of Julio Manuel Rodriguez, believing it to be more than just a miracle. Since its debut, “Amazing Grace” has taken some truly bizarre detours but Amazing Spider-Man #1.4 finally begins to get readers and this story back on course while landing Peter in a intellectually gray situation. Peter is presented here as a skeptic of religion-oriented miracles, perhaps influenced by the tragic events that have defined his life and his daily dalliances with all manner of “gods,” and he is put into confrontation with believers who immediately trust that Julio is exactly that, a pure-hearted miracle from God. Peter might have facts that state that Julio isn’t human anymore, but it’s hard for him to take action when he’s facing what appear to be genuine miracles, such as Julio curing a blind girl in an instant.
I can honestly say that this is a unique dilemma for Peter to wrestle with specifically because the topic of Peter’s spiritual beliefs has been hugely underexplored in the pages of the comics. I find myself appreciating the parallels that this characterization of Peter has to my own life as a stubborn atheist where I often find myself having trouble appreciating religious beliefs as anything more than nonsensical conclusions, especially when, like Peter, I have a handful of facts to back up my apprehension.
Confronting a convincing false-prophet like Julio is fraught with complications and ramifications, especially when his flock is so willing and needing to believe in something greater. And what if Julio is exactly who he says he is? Does that mean that Peter hasn’t been doing all the he can to bring back his Uncle Ben?
These are interesting philosophical questions but I’m not sure what the ramifications would be for Peter to act on his intelligence, other than just being mistaken. Spider-Man has never been a character that has sought out popularity amongst the people of the city, opting instead to do what he believes is right and often finding himself in deeper trouble than he realized at the outset. So it is strange to see Peter spending so much time around Julio and not acting, despite knowing with near certainty that he’s not what he claims to be. Even when Peter finally confronts Julio as Spider-Man, during a beautifully drawn nighttime aerial kidnapping, he’s quick to give up the chase even when Julio admits that he’s murdered his own father.
Unfortunately, as with the previous issues, these central questions and ideas are buried under a ton of inconsequential side-stories and strange characterizations. This includes Spider-Man randomly kidnapping and dangling over the side of a building a shifty-looking person merely for glancing at Peter in a funny way; even Batman might hesitate before so recklessly endangering a passerby’s life.
The biggest problem with this story remains the totally forgettable Santerians, who are rapidly headed towards forced retirement. These guys are the superhero equivalent of a professional baseball team calling a retired minor leaguer to fill in a key spot on their team only for him to be beaned by the pitcher, back into permanent retirement, and then hit by the team bus on his drive home. Every time they show up in the comic I need to remind myself that they are the Santerians and not new characters. In one especially baffling scene, they meet Spider-Man in frozen Central Park (for no apparent reason), complain about it and then witness Spider-Man slide on his butt in a fanciful fashion right before declaring that their friend is a murderer.
The art is just as inconsistent. Simone Bianchi has some wonderful spreads (particularly any one where Spider-Man is swinging) that are aided heavily by the dramatic coloring of David Curiel. However, Andrea Broccardo’s distinctly different pencils intermittently take over for several pages for no particular reason. At first they seem to signify that a dream sequence or flashback is occurring but when they appear again later, not in flashback, it breaks the mold and reveals her to be a fill-in artist. Her work is actually quite strong, with thin lines reminiscent to regular Spider-artist Guiseppe Camuncoli’s, but again, the random inclusion of her art breaks the consistent artistic style established by the series up to this point.