Over the past six issues, it’s been difficult to get a proper handle on the direction of Amazing Spider-Man. Sure, outgoing writer Dan Slott was certainly moving a number of chess pieces into place as part of his setup for his final ASM story, “Going Down Swinging,” but the overall quality has been so inconsistent that the larger intentions of the book’s narrative were seemingly muddied by equal parts aimless exposition and gracelessly executed plot twists.
Fortunately, Amazing Spider-Man #797 appears to steer this ship back onto its appropriate course. Slott, reunited again with artist Stuart Immonen, who just has this habit of bringing out the very best in this writer and this book, demonstrates renewed focus on his main character and supporting cast and kicks off his final arc with a very harrowing bang.
Those that have been following the series the past few months (or have been following Marvel’s solicitations) are aware that “Going Down Swinging” begins to chart the inevitable “showdown” between the unholy alliance of Norman Osborn and the Carnage symbiote and Spider-Man. But the way Slott sets the stage for the next several issues is ingeniously executed and marks some of the most suspenseful storytelling of this writer’s career. And unlike some of the more renowned Slott Spider-Man stories like “Spider-Verse”, “Dead No More” or even (one of my personal favorites) “Spider-Island“, the drama of this story moves organically and feels earned as each page is turned to a sound as ominous as the Jaws theme.
More succinctly, after spending the last few months telling readers how dangerous and terrifying Osborn/Carnage alliance (aka, the Red Goblin) was, Slott and Immonen finally SHOW us — and boy do they deliver. Slott set this up with a tried but true trope of having Norman threatening someone — an unknown hostage — off panel about “giving up” Spider-Man. The story then flashes back four hours and revisits all of the possible supporting cast members who have a history with both Norman and Spider-Man/Peter that may be the Red Goblin’s unfortunate victim. Slott continues to cut back and forth between past and present (sometimes a little too quickly and without warning) before pulling back the curtain behind the ultimate reveal — which in turn leads to a helluva double whammy for both the reader and poor, poor Spider-Man.
In addition to it being a well executed reveal within the context of this one issue of a comic, the plot twist also plays off a prior stunning development that occurred in one of Spider-Man’s “B” books (you see, it does pay to read all the ancillary series sometimes). But again, the writing in these sequences is so succinct and tactful, not one iota of Slott’s maniacal twist of the knife feels cheap and unfair. On a personal note, the last time I felt this gobsmacked by a Slott plot twist was 99 issues ago when a certain Ph.D. of evil medicine was slowly dying during an otherwise innocuous “day in the life of Spider-Man” comic, only to reveal that Doctor Octopus had switched brains and bodies with Peter Parker. Mwahahaha!
ASM #797’s tension is made doubly nefarious by Immonen’s masterful visual storytelling. We already know and take for granted just how dynamic Immonen’s action sequences are. Except in this issue, outside of a few panels of Spider-Man web-slinging (and one very amusing exchange with a petty thug who has done repeat business with Spidey) there’s very little “action” to be found in this issue. But Immonen absolutely nails the ominous nature of all of Norman’s shadowy moments. In one panel, he cleverly demonstrates the raw power and terror of the Red Goblin without having to resort to blood, guts or anything else extreme (as good as Mike Perkins was on the Carnage series, Immonen captures the force of nature menace of Carnage with such subtle horror better than anyone I’ve ever seen).
As wonderful as this comic’s primary story may be, it still suffers from some problematic sequences that mostly relate to some of the problematic ideas that Slott and Marvel put forward in some of ASM #797’s preceding issues. This comic demonstrates again that outside of a couple of choice panels in “Spider-Island” Slott still struggles to write a likeable Mary Jane Watson, and after ending the last issue on such an eyebrow raising moment, Slott’s resolution to that plot twist falls flat. And then there are still some troubling/incongruous character moments involving Flash Thompson, Liz Allan and Peter’s new job as the Daily Bugle science editor that don’t appear to be headed in a direction that has me geared up as a longtime reader of this series.
Still, with a main story as compelling as Spider-Man vs. Osborn, is easy to forgive and forget some of this other noise. As was the case during this book’s hot streak last summer and late last year, it seems that when Slott is focused on that specific relationship, he’s able to tap into some of his very best writing for Spider-Man. And with Immonen doing Immonen things, “Going Down Swinging” is posed to live up to its name and be grand finale for one of the most talked about creative runs in comic book history.