At the risk of being overly topical, the concept of a “red line” — a figurative point of no return or a “line in the sand” (to use another turn of phrase) — has recently been at the forefront of our consciousness with the current political debate over the U.S.’s role in deterring the atrocities of Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria. I’ll spare you all any personal insight into this situation (“stick to comics, Mark”), but I did think it was appropriate to bring up vis a vis the central conflict currently unfurling in Dan Slott and Stuart Immonen’s Amazing Spider-Man #26 — namely when it comes to Peter Parker’s deep set desire to take down Norman Osborn once and for all, what exactly is the “red line” that has been crossed to justify Peter’s obsession with this cause? Because, through the first two installments of “The Osborn Identity,” a lack of clarity on this point is honestly all that’s keeping this story from crossing the threshold from “very good” to “great.”
And before any of you chime in and say the creative team established Peter’s motivation to lock horns with Osborn last issue — the simple but effective, “I need a win” line from Spidey — let me just counter by saying the stakes for Peter’s conflict with the chameleon-esque Osborn were ratcheted up tenfold in this most recent issue. In fact, by issue’s end, Peter has seemingly poured gasoline all over his multibillion dollar company and lit a match, all in the name of defeating Osborn. It’s not that there’s nothing in the very epic history between these two characters that suggests that Peter is incapable of reaching a point of no return, but within the context of “The Osborn Identity,” saying that Peter just “needs a win” is frankly not enough to justify such drastic measures from a character who may be impetuous and spontaneous, but has rarely, if ever been quite so reckless when there are still other, more rational solutions to a problem.
This is a story beat that should really be quite easy to address — Slott just completed a story where a bunch of characters Peter failed in one way or another (including many that Osborn killed) came back from the dead only to be returned to ash and dust by arc’s end. Surely there’s no rule against getting a little more insight into Peter’s current psyche and mindset to help paint a more vivid picture of why the recent reemergence of Osborn would elicit such a strong reaction from our titular hero. But instead, the creators seem to be bypassing this beat and diving straight into the story.
Fortunately, “The Osborn Identity” is about as entertaining of a story (through its first two chapters) as we’ve gotten in recent years in Amazing Spider-Man. It’s not that there’s anything all that revelatory about it, but the lack of new for newness sake is exactly why it’s so compelling. ASM #26 demonstrates how when Slott and his artistic collaborators “play the hits,” they can take any status quo, whether it involves clones or Peter Parker being a billionaire, and make it work in a way that makes the whole thing feel fresh and exciting. Seemingly one of the biggest struggles with the whole “Parker Industries” motif since ASM vol. 4 launched two Octobers ago was putting Peter in a very unusual and foreign situation (aka, transforming a lifelong loser based in the “friendly neighborhood” of New York City and making him a jet-setting billionaire) and still crafting Spider-Man comics that felt “true” to the character (and weren’t just Iron Man redux).
With ASM #26, there’s still something inherently off-putting about watching Spider-Man fighting evil giant robots in international locales, though Immonen’s artistic brilliance, brings such life and dynamism to these sequences, that if softens the blow for even the crustiest old cynic inside of me. But beyond geography, “The Osborn Identity” has leveraged Peter’s new situation quite well in that it provides the character the resources and platform to really zero in on some of his most troublesome characteristics in a fashion that elevates the drama to a fever pitch. Putting aside all of Marvel’s recent attempts to rewrite history (like New Avengers and FF), Spider-Man has always been a hero that’s at best working at odds with the rest of the world’s superhero population. And even when he’s teaming up with someone, like Silver Sable in this issue, it’s traditionally depicted as being a fraught partnership on the cusp of breaking.
Regardless of the lack of a “red line,” ASM #26 does establish that Peter feels inherently responsible for whatever Osborn does next, meaning he can’t just stop what he’s doing and suddenly go “by the book.” Sure, the character turn for Nick Fury Jr. and S.H.I.E.L.D. does seem a bit extreme and melodramatic, but it’s also refreshing to see Spider-Man rebuff the Marvel U’s premiere spy outfit all in the name of doing what he personally believes is right and true. His collaboration with Sable, meanwhile, is light on pleasantries, and is instead depicted of being one of mutual gain and convenience (and thereby could seemingly shatter at a moment’s notice).
Then there’s good ol’ Norman Osborn, who even with a new identity every other issue, is still hanging on to that purple and green motif the way I still can’t drop my old Long Island phone exchange (despite moving to NYC more than a decade ago). But more importantly, through just a couple of issues, Osborn has shown more menace than he did throughout Slott’s (more celebrated) Superior Spider-Man run a few years ago. ASM #26 certainly presents a new take on the legendary villain (you could even say Osborn is acting more like a Justin Hammer-esque corporate Iron Man villain), but like most of this issue, the otherwise discordant thematic pieces seem to fall into place when it comes to this this current storyline because there’s still ample familiarity and fun to be found between Slott’s snappy writing and Immonen’s stunning artwork.