This article was originally published at Comics Bulletin on July 4, 2016.
When you talk about Marvel Comics, you often talk about franchises. You don’t just discuss the Avengers or X-Menbook, but the Avengers or X-Men line as a whole. It’s how the publisher has organized their IP in order to better manage and sell it. This year, Comics Bulletin Co-Managing Editor Chase Magnett has been diving down the rabbit hole of these franchises in review series. So far he has tackled classic teams like The Avengers and X-Men as well as Marvel’s push to make the Inhumans happen. Now he’s looking at a franchise based not on a team, but a single character: Spider-Man. Is the massive proliferation of Spider-books resulting in quality or just quantity? Let’s find out.
Amazing Spider-Man #14
Written by Dan Slott and Christos Gage
Art by Giuseppe Camuncoli and Cam Smith
Colors by Marte Gracia
Letters by Joe Caramagna
I previously discussed the use of Silver Age-style pacing in a review of Black Panther #1. In that example the inspiration is clear, but its execution was lacking. Amazing Spider-Man #14 shows how this choice of storytelling can be used to great effect. Writer Dan Slott was brought up at Marvel Comics and has worked there for more than two decades. He wears his influences and dreams on his shoulder, and his dedication to the men who created this model of storytelling pays off here.
The essence of this style and the plotting in Amazing Spider-Man #14 is to layer three or more plots in order of immediate relevance with each subsequent layer receiving less space. The A-plot to the issue is the confrontation of Spider-Man and Iron Man with power stealing anti-hero Regent, while the Z-plot is the introduction of Aunt May’s illness. Slott and co-writer Christos Gage connect both of these and many other threads seamlessly. He does not give Aunt May’s cough even a single page, allowing readers to worry, but not slow the search for Mile Morales (kidnapped by Regent). The thrust of the confrontation with Regent is so immediate that consistently returning to it means other items can bubble under the surface. Even as a middle chapter in a larger arc, this issue shows how expertly Slott and Gage pace their superhero stories.
There are cracks within the individual scenes however. Slott and Gage use expository dialogue and C-level Spider-Man jokes as if he were writing in the 1970s or 80s, and both of these elements show themselves to be things best left as writing artifacts. The need to recap information from throughout the past 100 issues may be useful to a new reader, but drags the pacing of the story to a point where it may become a chore for anyone to read. There are multiple big action sequences, but the connecting moments are often a slog. Tedious leaps in logic are placed in ways that defy even the rules of the superhero genre. Peter Parker and Tony Stark tell Miles Morales’ parents they have kidnapped him for a science experiment in an excuse that is so ill-conceived it is impossible to believe either man has an IQ greater than 80.
Silliness aside, Amazing Spider-Man generally functions with a consistent tone and rhythm that makes these speed bumps feel like minor obstacles in a generally well paved road. The epic scope they provide, with Regent having imprisoned most of the heroes in the Marvel universe, reveals how a “big” story can be effectively told without tie-ins or crossovers. That scale is not well maintained by the layouts of Giuseppe Camuncoli, however. One panel is meant to act as a significant reveal of just how far Regent’s plans have advanced. The lack of detail, poor choice of characters, and limited depth of the movement fail to make it as shocking or comprehensive as intended though. It is only through the dialogue between Spider-Man and Iron Man that readers become aware of how many heroes are gone. Their battle with Regent also feels small with a close focus on the characters, all of whom are relatively close to human in size. Nothing about these moments feels particularly big like they should.
The action sequences, which function as the fuel for the issue giving readers something to anticipate between bouts of dialogue and explanations, are staid. Camuncoli and inker Cam Smith regularly fail to provide any sense of momentum within their panels. The fastest moments come from the blurred coloring of Marte Gracia. Many instances of combat, such as when Regent and Thor clash, reveal a lack of perspective with Regent’s lower half twisting to fit in the panel.
Amazing Spider-Man #14 is a comic that fits well within the parameters and expectations of its storytelling influences. It reads much like an issue of Amazing Spider-Man from decades ago with an excellent grasp on tone and pacing. However, it is dated in some regards and lacks the panache of many artists who told those stories. Those aspects prevent the best elements of this issue from setting a standard for serialized, corporate superhero comics.