In my review of the previous issue of Amazing Spider-Man, I offered criticism of Peter Parker’s sudden nervousness around Mary Jane, juvenile fighting with Iron Man, and the title’s seemingly desperate attempts to point out when it was making a joke. At the same time I praised the story’s desire to continue to push its character’s forward, specifically Peter’s supporting cast, and its attempt to flesh out Regent’s backstory in a meaningful, if cliche, way.
Strangely enough, with the release of Amazing Spider-Man (vol. 4) #13 my feelings remain nearly unchanged and also more polarized because in many ways this issue plays out exactly like the previous one. Yes, there are a few additional wrinkles but like the previous issue it falters whenever it comes to defining the emotional maturity of Peter Parker and his interaction with Iron Man but is hugely successful when it brings in his supporting cast and Regent.
As per usual, Peter Parker’s role as the head of Parker Industries remains clouded in mystery, even after the reveal that Scorpio manipulated the stock market to push the company to worldwide success. After Peter dodges dozens of his own employees, including one who wants to settle a billion dollar deal, he takes to his webs to swing around town. It is exactly the kind of behavior that saw Peter’s dreams of becoming a scientist crumble around him as his costumed heroics forced him to make a choice between Spider-Man and an advanced degree. He knows he’s disappointing his corporation but at the same time laments, “Some days, I have no idea how I got here.” It is about time that the readers got an answer to that question or saw some consequences for Peter’s errant leadership.
The bulk of this issue is a retread fight between Spider-Man and Tony Stark, this time instigated by Tony’s interference in Peter and Miles’ hangout time and his casual suggestion that Spider-Man shouldn’t work for an incompetent boss like Peter Parker. Peter instigates the fight by punching Tony, who seems to be giving him sound financial advice especially considering he doesn’t know that Peter Parker and Spider-Man are one and the same. Like I said in my review of the previous issue, I just don’t believe that after all these years, “One More Day”’s confusing chronology or not, that these two characters would throw down in such a petulant, violent and public way. That’s not to say that both characters aren’t flawed, Tony has always been arrogant and in his early days Spidey was definitely a brash fighter, but given their histories and oaths to maintaining the public safety, this makes even less sense than when it was previously instigated by Peter’s in-the-moment jealousy over Mary Jane.
The only hero who walks away from this fight with any modicum of respect is the most juvenile of the bunch, Miles Morales, who literally walks away out of embarrassment. As a reader who is supposed to feel some resemblance of emotional sympathy towards the titular character, this book gives me no reason to desire checking in with Peter again. Instead, I want to see what’s going on in Miles’ book, which is great considering it has relaunched as a far more wonderful series that is befitting of the Spider-Man title. Even worse Peter expresses ownership over Mary Jane, a comment sexist enough that even Tony Stark, the Marvel universe’s primary lothario, makes a comment that “Watson’s not anybody’s ‘girl.’ That’s none of your business.”
One of the comments that internet trolls and quickly-upset fans have been quick to lobby at writer Dan Slott, especially during the Superior era, was that he was intentionally setting out to make people dislike Peter Parker. While I don’t believe this to be true, that he gives Miles and Tony the foresight to see and comment that Peter is acting like a total jerk means that Slott is also aware of this and the characterization is intentional. As the writer he’s totally allowed to take the character this direction, but personally it gives me little incentive to come back for more and it plays against all the growth that I’ve interpreted Peter to have made, even in Slott’s own comics.
On the other hand, Amazing Spider-Man (vol. 4) #13 does a fantastic job of not only returning to the Spider-Man supporting cast but also in clearing up a lot of their current attitudes towards each other and giving them smart and interesting things to do. It is also of note that this is the first issue of Amazing Spider-Man in as far as I can remember that passes the Bechdel Test.
The story opens with an absolutely stunning several pages of art from penciller Giuseppe Camuncoli, inker Cam Smith, and colorist Marte Gracia (all of whom deliver top notch work in this issue) as Regent battles Orka under a crumbling Roxxon tanker. The plotting is a clever reverse on a standard Spider-Man story, with Regent taking the place that would normally be reserved for our friendly neighborhood hero. At the same time Camuncoli pulls imagery from the Superman comics and films to bring Regent to life on the page and the results are stunning, enough to allow me to completely buy into this character. The end of the sequence sees Regent stating his ethos as a superpowered “hero,” which also reflect back on previous declarations made by Spider-Man. If Slott is setting up for this story to reflect on the folly of trying to live up to impossible promises, this would be an interesting way to kick it off.
Even better than all the strong character work being done with Regent are two isolated pages smack dab in the middle of this issue that feature Harry, Mary Jane, and Betty having lunch in Midtown Manhattan. The three are intentionally avoiding Peter Parker (and why not? He certainly hasn’t included them in any of his recent adventures) and take the time to catch up with each other. There’s some clever humor here regarding Flash Thompson’s disappearance and their new high-level jobs, but more importantly this scene is full of heart and reintroduces a dynamic that used to be the cornerstone of any good Spider-Man comic: his constant supporting cast.
Amazing Spider-Man (vol. 4) #13 is one of the most attractive looking issues of the series since the relaunch, with some truly wonderful characterization and world-building moments. However, writer Dan Slott’s most inconsistent and least-enjoyable character to read remains Peter Parker as Spider-Man. While it seems somewhat intentional, it is an approach to writing superhero comics that has me completely baffled and makes me wonder how long casual readers will want to return for more adventures with the titular character.