Amazing Spider-Man #794 marks the title’s first installment since the diversion known as “Venom Inc.” It marks the return of the Dan Slott and Stuart Immonen creative pairing as well as a return (sorta) of the book’s new status quo that was established a few months ago in “Fall of Parker.” However, the issue is also colored by some real-world news related to an upcoming change in ASM’s lead writer, which I think is relevant in ultimately judging the quality of the story found in this particular issue.
Last week, Marvel confirmed what has essentially been speculated for the past month that after 10 years writing Amazing Spider-Man, Slott would be leaving the book after issue #801 — a benchmark Slott has apparently been cognizant of since he finished up “Spider-Verse” in 2014. That means with these next seven issues, we are getting what is essentially Slott’s “end game” for the title. He’s either going to put “all the toys back in the box” as they say in the industry, or destroy all the game pieces and leave the wreckage for the next creator to clean up.
ASM #794 appears to be an attempt to do the former — resolving a story involving the imprisonment of the prognosticating Zodiac from a year ago in both real-world and comic book-world time. But a lack of any build whatsoever to this story (I can’t be the only one who needed the editor’s note reminder about Zodiac’s fate 30-something issues ago), combined with this story’s overly simplistic resolution made this entire endeavor seem (I hate to be so glib, but) pointless. In many ways, the comic reads like a tardily tacked-on PPS to a letter most of us had probably tucked away and forgotten about anyway. And considering the real meat and potatoes of the issue falls on the last page — a story beat that’s ultimately unrelated to the Zodiac arc but is very very relevant to what will be Slott’s final ASM storyline in a few months — and I think it’s fair to question if the creative team was just spinning its wheels with #794, keeping Spidey warm until bigger things travel down the pipeline.
In a vacuum, there’s nothing wrong with a one-and-done story like ASM #794, even if it’s state importance and urgency are undercut by the fact that the series has not made mention of the Zodiac and the importance of the one-year anniversary of his entrapment, since the original comic was published some time ago. The world of serial superhero storytelling is chock full of placeholder issues that function solely to move only a few chess pieces forward while saving the bigger plays for another day.
However, the way the story is presented tries to create the appearance that the events of this issue is so much more than just a placeholder. The comic effectively puts a final exclamation point on the Spider-Man/Zodiac feud, which first took place in a time where Peter Parker was a billionaire and thus a business-savvy, future-seeing adversary seemed so much more dangerous. And the fact that the threat-level of a macguffin-powered Zodiac is neutralized in such nondescript fashion, only makes Slott’s execution of this story even more questionable. Sure, in Slott’s mind he can now check the box of the “Zodiac” as being one of his dangling threads being tied-up, but I’d argue whether or not his original story was even truly dangling in the first place. And if you’re going to treat someone you once took 13 issues to build, like a chump who can be taken down by one well-timed punch from Mockingbird, then what was seriously the point of not only this issue, but the previous 13 issues involving the Zodiac?
Immonen does the best he can to add drama and urgency to the pages, rendering a number of dynamic explosions and action sequences. But unlike the last few Slott/Immonen collaborations, there doesn’t seem to be enough caffeination in the script to create that wonderful synergy between visual and story. In recent interviews, Slott curiously seemed intent on reaching ASM #801 in order to achieve a milestone of longevity on the book. Hopefully the next few issues capture the urgency of “every issue counting” from a storytelling purpose.