The price and “value” of new comic books is typically a topic I steer clear from when attempting to critically analyze the contents of an individual issue on a monthly/weekly basis. But it’s completely unavoidable when Marvel decides to pump out an oversized $9.99 behemoth as it did for Amazing Spider-Man #25 (vol. 4). Think about it, for the price of a new Image trade paperback, you get a single issue of Amazing Spider-Man complete with a double-sized main story by Dan Slott and new artist Stuart Immonen, as well as an assortment of backups and inventory tales that range in consequence and importance. So, it’s hard to look at the entire package that is ASM #25 without determining whether or not the reader gets some bang for their (significant) bucks.
The good news is, the main story, the first installment of Slott’s newest “this changes everything” arc, dubbed “The Osborn Identity,” is a pretty solid opening chapter that bears more resemblance to some of ASM volume 4’s earlier issues. In other words, it’s a fast-paced, espionage-heavy tale that doesn’t linger too long on any particular element so as not to bog it down with exposition. Depending on how you want to look at it, it’s either a credit to Slott’s skillful determination to make the “Parker Industries” (aka, Iron Man 2.0) status quo work, or a discredit to the writer’s most recent foray into another 90s-ified Spider-epic (“Clone Conspiracy”), that I’m currently pining for the “good old days” of Peter/Bobbi Morse banter, as well as fun gadgetry in exotic international venues. But that’s where I am, folks, so drop some shades over my face and deal with it.
Beyond just a basic return to the general aesthetic and tone from the earlier “Parker Industries” issues, ASM #25 does a fine job of weaving together a number of dangling subplots and supporting characters that had been left on the back burner the past few months. It succinctly and effectively lets the reader know where Peter’s headspace is following the “trauma” of the “Clone Conspiracy,” and makes a rather compelling case as to why he’s all of a sudden interested in reigniting his old feud with his nemesis, Norman Osborn.
We also get plenty of richly crafted interactions between Peter and the likes of Aunt May, Harry Lyman and Betty Brant (though shame of master of continuity Slott for questioning Betty’s “spirituality” and clearly forgetting the very memorable Web of Spider-Man story where Betty joins a suicide cult). The reader even gets treated to some tangible chemistry between Peter and Bobbi Morse over the course of the issue, though the less said about the sequence where Spider-Man espouses “guilt” over the race of some goons he and Mockingbird are trashing, the better.
As for the two primary mysteries that drive the main narrative — the whereabouts of a Chameleon-esque Norman Osborn and the identity of a stealth sniper/bomber that is seemingly tailing Spider-Man and Mockingbird during their hunt for Norman — both featured enough intrigue and misdirection to presumably keep the reader engaged. Sadly, anyone who looked ahead at the solicitations for the next few issues likely had the sniper mystery spoiled for them, which is unfortunate since it was one of the better under the mask reveals ever done during the Slott-era, in terms of how the moment is artistically brought to life.
Which brings us to Immonen, who is the unquestioned star of this storyline. His arrival to the world of ASM was certainly quite hyped and ballyhooed, but he more than makes his distinct style presence known from jump street. With no disrespect meant to Giuseppe Camuncoli and Humberto Ramos, as well as some recent “star” imports like Jim Cheung and Olivier Coipel, the main story of ASM #25 is quite simply the best Spider-Man has looked in years. From the very first double-page spread of a crouched Spider-Man being backed up by Mockingbird and two other “spiders,” to the final scene at the Uncle Ben Foundation benefit, Immomen manages to capture all of the story’s dynamic drama and tension while Spidey was in costume.
Additionally, all of his scenes showing Peter just chit-chatting with Aunt May, Bobbi, Harry, etc. are filled with warmth and familiarity. I don’t know what Marvel’s plans on for art on this book following “The Osborn Identity,” but I suggest getting a GoFundMe campaign together pronto in order to keep Immomen on this book as long as possible because he brings the best out of Spidey visually. And I think his talent level also challenges Slott to craft a more cohesive, multi-faceted narrative that captures all sides of Spider-Man and Peter.
OK, so I just heaped some pretty considerable praise on the main story of this issue. Now it’s time for some bad news, especially as it pertains to that $9.99 price tag. Outside of the one Slott/Cammo “B” story that was recently hyped by Slott at a con and features the inevitable “return” of another significant Spider-Man rogue (as well as a tie-in to Marvel’s next summer event, Secret Empire), the bulk of the other backup stories in ASM #25 range from inconsequential to absolutely forgettable. I understand Marvel’s desire to get new voices and artists some burn on one of their major characters and obviously a great way to get these creators exposure is to give them a “B” story in one of the company’s top-selling superhero books. But I question the wisdom of doing this in the capacity of crossing what should otherwise be an uncrossable threshold for the cost of a single new comic.
As charming as “Mutts Ado About Nothing” might have been as the last story in an ASM Annual, I found myself getting frustrated by the fact that a story featuring a Tom Holland lookalike befriending a stray dog probably added another $1 to the overall cost of ASM #25 when I would have rather have spent $5.99 for the main double story and the Slott/Cammo backup. Or, as much as I liked the nuance Christos Gage brought to Clayton “Clash” Cole in the Amazing Spider-Man: Civil War II tie-in, I’m far more interested in seeing Gage script another, more well-developed story featuring the character, rather than a quick tease that has seemingly no ties or connection to ASM’s main narrative.
And just on a final note regarding that main narrative, as I’ve sad numerous times before, excellent opening chapters are nothing new for Dan Slott as he’s consistently kicked off plenty of Spidey stories over the years with verve and excitement. Now comes the hard part: staying focused in building his narrative and staying true to the core tenants of his characters rather than letting the needs of the story drive their actions. Hopefully, crafting a more straightforward, Spider-Man vs. the worst of his bad guys story will help Slott keep his eyes on the prize, as I tend to believe he frequently gets tripped up by reaching too high and focusing on scope instead of substance.