I’m always fearful of reading stories specifically billed as the prelude to any major event story in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man, though perhaps my apprehension is a bit misguided. Sure, the repetition of the various deaths of alternate universe Spider-Men grew a bit stale in the lead-up to “Spider-Verse,” but the Dan Slott-written prelude chapters to both “Spider-Island” and Superior Spider-Man were excellent, albeit short, ramps towards the impending change that would dominate the title.
The teases towards “Dead No More” (or is it “The Clone Conspiracy”?) definitely lean more towards the repetitive and rather exhausting variety that led up to “Spider-Verse,” with the stories constantly revealing newly resurrected characters with every cliff-hanging, final page. When I learned that we’d be reading a “Before Dead No More” story arc, starting with Amazing Spider-Man (vol. 4) #16, I imagined that this story would be a lot more of the same and felt my Spider-Senses begin to sound.
Surprisingly enough, Amazing Spider-Man #16 is a moderately thrilling and effectively tantalizing prelude to the “Dead No More” story. Yes, a few of the repeated beats that dominated earlier teases of this story appear here, specifically the continued attempt to shock/surprise the reader with yet another character’s return from the dead, but the few, new wrinkles provide just enough character-based intrigue to overlook the rest.
The story picks up moments after the end of the previous issue, with J. Jonah Jameson Sr. resting comfortably in a hospital bed. Turns out he’s been in a long protracted battle with an unnamed hereditary disease that has been creeping under the surface for some time. If there have been clues to this being true, I’ve certainly not seen them, but apparently Aunt May has suspected all along, as she admits here (without revealing that despite the disease being “hereditary,” she is suffering from it as well or that the previous scene with her coughing was visually ambiguous on purpose).
That writer Dan Slott dodges naming the disease or filling out any details about what it actually is makes this sequence of events rather awkward. The cast of the book seems to take the news with a strange stride, not asking any details about the doctor’s caginess, the disease itself, or the sudden appearance of an experimental medical research group named New U Technologies, who appropriately conduct experiments to create new living tissue, from — you guessed it — clones! So either Slott couldn’t come up with a specific disease that Jonah has that fit his story or he’s rather unsubtly punting for a later reveal. Either way this strange lack of details constantly nagged me throughout the sequence.
Slott quickly diverts attention away from the Jameson’s and their struggles by introducing readers to the newest branch of Parker Industries, their Chemical Plant in Edmond, Oklahoma. Unfortunately, the plant isn’t long for this world and for some unclear reason the whole thing goes kablooey, or more accurately, “Shhrakoooom.” This triggers a wonderful rescue sequence, as Peter dons his Spider-Man costume and hops on a brand new Spider-Cycle to save his employees.
This isn’t the first attack we’ve seen on a Parker Industries building (it seems to happen every other issue) but this might be the most fun one to look at. Penciller Giuseppe Camuncoli’s wonderful design for the transforming Spider-Cycle embraces the multi-limbed attributes of an arachnid as it scampers up, down, inside, and out of the exploding building. Colorist Marte Gracia paints the building and its inhabitants in dulled grays that allow the vibrant yellows and reds of the spreading fire and red and blues of Spider-Man and his cycle to punctuate the scene. This is the kind exciting technological whimsy that made the first issue of this volume so exciting and while this issue doesn’t quite reach those heights, as it relies on all-to-common visual callbacks to the now exhaustively referenced Amazing Spider-Man #33 (even the cover gets in an homage), the sequence is a reminder that this new status quo has worked best during its heightened moments of action.
Lurking behind the scenes of New U is Miles Warren, The Jackal, whose reveal as the Man in Red is unceremoniously revealed here through a scene title and a brief moment of dialogue. For those readers who don’t read the solicits, this reveal must have come across as strangely downplayed, considering the book had gone out of its way previously to obscure his identity. Slott and Camuncoli still haven’t revealed the man’s face and famous mustache, so this could be a red-herring meant to set up a future twist or its just another in a long line of unsurprising reveals from the writer (remember the reveal that the Green Goblin was Norman Osborn?).
The most intriguing development on the road to “Dead No More” comes towards the end of this title, as Peter’s guilt over the near death of one of his employees sends him scrambling to The Jackal’s New U Technology company to quickly replace the employee’s organs with genetically superior ones. Peter hasn’t classically been such a slave to his guilt, enough that he would rush to trust a company he knows nothing about, but in the pages of Slott’s Amazing Spider-Man this characterization is consistent and sets the character up to suffer a potential tragedy triggered by his complete subservience to his incredible guilt complex. Immediately the new organs, administered by “doctors” in black shirts and red ties, begin to trigger Pete’s Spider-Sense and hopefully an investigation into who is behind this New U company. It is classic Spider-Man after all that the path towards a better tomorrow is littered with touch and possibly dangerous decisions.