Friday, November 12, 2010

"Big Time" Thoughts on Amazing Spider-Man #648

The first Spider-Man comic I ever bought was Amazing Spider-Man #147, which I wrote about last week.  Between the summer of 1976, when I made that purchase, and last Wednesday, when I picked up the most recent issue of Amazing Spider-Man, #648, more than thirty-four years and 500 issues of ASM have come and gone.  Now, that doesn't make me feel old at all.
It was a preview of the first five pages of the most recent issue in a free flyer called Marvel Sneak Peeks, featuring glimpses of ASM #648 and other November releases from Marvel, that persuaded me to pick it up.  In those pages, Spidey is leading the Avengers against a squadron of giant robotic octopi unleashed upon Manhattan by, as you must have guessed, Dr. Octopus.  While I've always preferred Spider-Man as a loner and never really liked the idea of him in the Avengers, it was actually kind of cool to see him take charge the way he does.  The preview ends with a classic Spidey bit as a man he's just saved from being crushed to death by one of the octupus robots shows his gratitude by accusing the wallcrawler of stealing his wallet.  Thus we are assured that some things, at least, will never change for our hero.  This was enough for me to decide to see if the rest of the issue was as good. 
Peter Parker/Spider-Man is a genius.  His intellect is on a par with such Marvel Universe big brains as Tony Stark and Reed Richards.  This, it would appear, is the message that new writer Dan Slott wants the reader to take away from this issue's story.  From Dr. Octopus to Aunt May to Flash Thompson, there's hardly a character in the book who at some point doesn't remark on how smart Parker is.  We also get to see just how smart he is as he first, as Spider-Man, figures out a way to stop the giant octopus robots from self-destructing and destroying all of Manhattan when Richards and Stark are stumped, then, in his civilian identity, saves a roomful of scientists from an experiment gone out of control.
The main purpose of the issue is to establish the new direction Slott wants to take the series in and to tease a number of future plotlines, including Dr. Octopus' mysterious master plan, for which the giant octopus robots were merely a diversionary tactic to keep the Avengers occupied, an enigmatic figure who appears to have a familial tie to J. Jonah Jameson and is stalking the former Daily Bugle publisher turned current mayor of New York City, and the return of the Kingpin, Venom, and the Hobgoblin. Meanwhile, Peter gets a new job at high tech firm Horizon Labs, meets his new co-workers and saves them from the aforementioned experiment gone haywire.  This part of the issue gave me a powerful sense of deja vu.  It strongly echoed a similar sequence in Amazing Spider-Man (volume 2) #1, in which Peter showed up for his first day of work at another high tech company, met his co-workers, and was attacked, if I'm remembering correctly, by the Scorpion.  
All in all, "Big Time," is a pretty solid Spider-Man story and an indication that the book seems to be on the right track.  I might just stick around for a couple of more issues to see what grows from some of the seeds Slott planted here.  
The only thing that bugs me about the issue doesn't really have anything to do with the story itself, but appears on the letters page and springs from the recent resetting of Spidey's history in "One More Day" and "Brand New Day", the story lines that, among other things, erased Peter's marriage to Mary Jane and brought Harry Osborn back to life.  I'd read that Marvel actually considered using the reboot to revive Gwen Stacy, but I'm glad they backed off on that.  Gwen's death is as much a defining moment in Spider-Man's life as the death of his Uncle Ben and should be left as it is.  
Anyway, in an editorial by Dan Slott,  the writer addresses the issue of who now is aware of Spider-Man's secret identity in the wake of the recent retcons.  Missing from the list is Aunt May.  The last issue of Amazing Spider-Man that I bought prior to the current one was ASM (volume 2) #38.  The story was called "The Conversation" and dealt with the aftermath of May learning that her "frail" nephew Peter was actually Spider-Man.  I felt that it was a good idea to have May find out the truth, and, in fact, was long over due.  It was also very well handled. "The Conversation" is one of my favorite issues of any Spider-Man comic.  So, I'm kind of sorry to see that development swept under the rug and hope that someday the powers that be at Marvel decide to bring it back.
By the way, speaking of the letters column, just the fact that there was one, in an era when most publishers, including DC, have abandoned them, was a pleasant surprise. 

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