Spider-Man launched himself into space, survived a flaming re-entry, did battle on the streets of Paris, hitched a ride on the Chunnel, called upon his international team of genius scientists and spy friends, and declared a pledge to his responsibility, even if it meant losing it all, all in order to defeat the nefarious Scorpio and his Zodiac goons. Amazing Spider-Man (vol. 4) #11 finally brings that story to a close… right after Spider-Man decides that he’s hosed and has no chance to win.
After one of Dan Slott’s best issues of Amazing Spider-Man since the end of the Superior Spider-Man era, I hate to admit just how incredibly disappointed I was to open this comic and see that the characterizations and storytelling that I had championed in the previous issue may have just been a fluke, a moment where somehow the stars had aligned, much as they do in this issue, to give me, even for a fleeting moment, a recognizable Peter Parker. Yes, Peter starts this issue by insisting that he cannot win, in direct opposition to his previous declaration, but even more confusing is why he feels that way.
At the end of Amazing Spider-Man (vol. 4) #10, Spider-Man called upon his friends to aid him in his quest to locate Scorpio before he could do further damage to his international enterprise, Parker Industries. It was a wonderful, rallying moment that this story tells us is impossible now because the satellites Nick Fury Jr. and Spidey destroyed several issues ago are… well… gone. It makes sense but in retrospect it calls into question actions of the previous issue and implies that when Scorpio snapped (if you don’t know what I’m referring to, go check it out) in the previous issue he somehow isolated Peter’s feed from his friends’ connections.
It is these kinds of magical plot explanations and story vagaries that have done serious damage to the stakes of this book ever since its relaunch. Villains pull orreries out of historical artifacts, use masks to brainwash citizens, read the future at special and inconsistent times, and find secret underground time vaults that can see into the future, but with nary an explanation of why or how. Comics can get away with this kind of elevated fantasy in most cases, but when oddities continue to stack up on each other, issue after issue, it can be hard for readers to find any kind of grounding. That’s what made the previous issue of this title fun to read; everyone can imagine the real-world implications of trying to cling to the side of a Chunnel train. Less conceivable is reading morse code from a star/satellite that you spot randomly blinking.
When Peter does finally catch up with Scorpio, we get what the issue promised, a big brawl between Spider-Man and the Zodiac Key-wielding Vernon Jacob Fury, grand-nephew to the original Nicolas J. Fury.
What does that make him to Spider-Man? In the eternal words of Dark Helmet: “Absolutely nothing.”
The brawl is entertaining enough but not nearly as thrilling as the issue prior and only really gets interesting once Scorpio unlocks the Zodiac Door. There’s an interesting premise to what’s behind the door but the most frustrating thing about this issue is that this concept means another year of waiting for any kind of resolution. To that point, the ending to this story highlights an ongoing frustration that I’ve had with a great deal of Slott’s stories: They are all just teasers for other stories.
Yes, a certain degree of teasing and anticipation should be built into any serialized art form but when every single issue and every single story isn’t allowed to resolve itself in a satisfying way all in the favor of building up another later story that itself lacks a satisfying ending, how are readers supposed to be surprised when something actually happens? I wouldn’t be so hard on this point if Dan Slott hadn’t already proven that he knows the power of a good surprise in his fabulous Amazing Spider-Man #698, perhaps the best teaser-free reveal in the history of the series.
As the end of the “Scorpio Rising” story, I’m left wondering what I’m supposed to take away as a reader. I don’t come away any more knowledgeable about who Peter is as a person; I can’t figure out any moral lesson or question that I’m supposed to be pondering; and I have no idea how Scorpio’s sudden disappearance will affect Parker Industries, if it affects it at all. The only character moments that I got from Peter in this issue were him giving up and later having a sudden and surprised realization that Mockingbird might be romantically interested in him.
He has every reason to be surprised too because either I missed a very subtle courting between the two of them or someone flipped a switch and decided that was how the characters should behave. Equally baffling is Anna Maria’s reaction that sees her clinging to Peter’s arm in an attempt to make Mockingbird jealous. Wasn’t it just two issues ago that we learned that Anna Maria had made the healthy choice to move on from Peter/Otto and began dating another random young lad?
There’s so little rhyme or reason for why characters do the things they do or act the way they act in this book and many of the recently published issues of Amazing Spider-Man that it suggests that the editorial team is, like Scorpio, so focused on playing the “long game” and setting up stories for the future that in the meanwhile they’ve resorted to making things up as they go. When a major villain’s devious goal is to learn spoilers for upcoming stories, it suggests a marketing first, narrative later approach to storytelling that I think should be discouraged.
That this story is so limp is a shame to the reliable workmanship of Giuseppe Camuncoli‘s pencils. Camuncoli really delivers in a few stunning panels depicting Scorpio’s raw power and capability of destruction. However, even I, as a lover of his work, have to admit a growing comfortabilty with his work. I’ve often marveled at his speed and growth on the title but he’s never been the most iconographic penciller the book has seen and for all his time on the book I sense that I’ve seen his full range completely expressed. As much as I love the work of some of the all-time Spidey artists, there comes a time when the book needs a fresh and distinctive new look to pump some energy into the title. With Ramos working on the Extraordinary X-Men title, this series is hungering for a new and distinct artist to freshen things up a bit.