The story of Spider-Man has always been one of Peter Parker’s life being suddenly interrupted by the world’s need for Spider-Man to save the day. Whether he’s on a date with Mary Jane, studying for a final exam in grad school, or trying to snap that perfect picture, his enemies always find a way to rear their ugly mugs at exactly the wrong time. Next thing you know, Peter’s ducking into an alleyway, tearing open his shirt to reveal a big black spider, and swinging through the air, fists primed to punch some souped up octogenarian in the kisser.
The Dan Slott plotted and Christos Gage scripted Amazing Spider-Man (vol. 4) #29 sets out to tackle Peter’s flakiness head-on. Still reeling from the negative PR his company has received for their involvement in the overthrow of the Symkarian dictatorship, Peter is forced to face down some brazen reporters and leading questions about his company.
Anna Maria remains his the stern, yet reassuring, support from off-camera, and warns him beforehand that, “For the sake of our company, for the next twenty minutes, don’t be that guy.” Their interplay is wonderfully written and, though they’ve been strained in their relationship at times, their wordless exchanges convey a level of trust we’ve yet to see between the two.
Yet, for every step forward Peter takes as a CEO and social human being, he takes another huge step back. During his nearly disastrous interview, an alien invasion begins and New York becomes overrun by enhanced criminals. Peter manages to hold is composure before the cameras just long enough for the show to be cancelled. It is a short lived victory for Pete because just as soon as he’s let off the hook he reveals his carelessness as a friend to Anna Maria (even he can’t keep up with who she’s dating these days) and shortly thereafter discovers his company is overrun with Hydra goons.
Overseeing those goons is none other than Doctor Octopus (or is he now the Superior Spider-Man again?) appearing in his new Richard Spencer designed body and supersuit, and he has assumed control of Parker Industries in a play to win back the company he founded. It’s the first we’ve seen of the villain since Stuart Immonen took over on pencils, and he’s a chilling, if not particularly expressive, character in costume, but even more frightening and twisted in his civvies. Immonen wraps the character in a trench coat, to hide his extra arms, and one can’t help but imagine the menace implied within.
As per usual, Peter is continually distracted during each new, troubling scenario, bouncing from one to the other as soon as these new threats make themselves known. When he’s nearly done defeating the Hydra goons, the voice of Doctor Octopus over the loud speakers halts the fight, and Peter slowly makes his way towards the source. When Otto casts a ebon shield around New York City, threatening everyone Peter loves and his company, the Avengers call Spider-Man in to deal with the events of “Secret Empire” in Washington D.C. Suddenly, Spider-Man has ditched Otto and London for a Spider-Jet headed straight for the capital.
These sudden misdirections for Peter are certainly a part of his character, but as presented here they grow increasingly unbelievable. That the readers aren’t allowed to experience Peter’s thoughts on why he ditches Otto, makes his sudden heel turn an even bigger head-scratcher. Peter has his archnemesis right where he wants him and just decides to let him go to chase after a threat that was just called in. Huh? Couldn’t he have knocked him out, webbed him up, and called the authorities and then hopped in his Spider-Jet? I’d have loved to see that beat worked out from Peter’s conflicted perspective, but in the age of 21 page comics, these beats can be hard to find room for.
These strange moments are balanced out with some alternatively wonderful writing, particularly Peter’s awkward sense of humor, scripted by Gage, who has shown a noticeable talent for clever wordcraft. His Otto has always come across as more menacing than under other writers’ pens. So, while Otto is mainly delivering exposition here, there are little flourishes that make his speeches delicious to read.
The real star of the show on this book remains that of the ongoing art team of Stuart Immonen, inker Wade von Grawbadger, colorist Marte Gracia, and letterer Joe Caramagna. When all of Parker Industries simultaneously jumps to attack Spider-Man, with a “Hail Hydra”, von Grawbadger’s looser inks suddenly become as sharp as Spidey’s senses, and Gracia explodes the background into a yellow starburst. The fisticuffs between Spider-Man and Doctor Octopus take things to a whole different level, as coffee mugs, webs, chairs, and metal arms swing across the panels. Sometimes, it’s hard to believe that we’re getting a Spider-Man book a beautifully crafted as this.