29 Jul 2011

Cover To Cover: AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #666

Writer: Dan Slott
Art: Stefano Caselli & Marte Garcia
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: I had two periods of heavy UK comic exposure to Spider-Man in the 1990s. The first was the Exploits Of Spider-Man which cemented my love for the web-slinger with terrific adventures, foes of old and team-ups with heroes I hadn’t been exposed to before like Nova and Moon Knight. Good times! The second period was The Astonishing Spider-Man which, at the time I jumped on board was in the midst of the reprinted 2nd Clone Saga which made me want to pile the pages of the entire script, with all that retarded, mutated, cloned DNA and multiple Peter Parker rubbish into a big heap, light a match and keep warm for a few hours. I persisted with the comics through and beyond that arc but to this day I still hold that period as one of the weakest that I have ever read. So, Dan Slott’s only gone and bought the Jackal bloomin’ back hasn’t he?!

Spider Island has been building for almost a dozen issues now as we’ve had the odd glimpse of denizens of New York city developing Spider-like powers at moments when they most need them while Peter has continued to struggle with his powers having permanently (well ‘comic version permanent’ at least) lost his Spider-Sense. Following on from the fantastic arc that was Big Time things have gone off the boil a little and it seems that a lot of the positivity to the new direction that Slott was taking things in has dissipated. Well the big event that has been months in the making is now staring us in the face and I have to say that this prelude has me as excited as I was for Big Time.

From the great cover that offers up that iconic image altered to reflect the strange and dark period coming New York’s way, through the somewhat light and colourful web-slinging antics that take place within, this is a big, fun read. Slott jumps us from pillar to post, failed robberies to escaped super-villains, science labs to smokey poker games - oh yes, the infamous heroes’ card game makes another welcome appearance - from martial arts training to ghastly genetic experiments. There’s an awful lot going on here but it’s all held together nicely because Slott has done the groundwork and kept every cast member involved in some way over the past few months. He’s also a master of character work, giving everyone a unique ‘voice’ yet letting the majority of the weight of this title rest upon his lead character’s shoulders.

Yes, okay, it’s a little unfortunate that he feels the need to give everyone an update on how busy Peter Parker’s life has become, what’s going on with Aunt May’s move to Boston and reinforcing once again that the spider-sense has gone once and for all. It’s a little boggling that Marvel still believe that thousands of potential new and fresh-faced readers are going to flock to their titles for the start of an event and tend to ‘bloat’ lead in issues at the detriment of the tens of thousands of readers who already know what is going on and could probably do without the incessant need for exposition. In any other writer’s hands I may well have docked a few points for the constant reiteration but Slott manages to fold everything in to an engrossing and expanding tale and his love for Spider-Man is certainly shining through. While crippling Peter with one hand by removing the sixth sense that had served him well for years he’s enhanced him with the other, providing the Spider-Man we know and love with new fighting skills and an inclination to use his intellect to find solutions where his fists and speed won’t be enough; it’s pure evolution of the character and it adds so, so much to this continuing story of one of the all-time greatest comic book heroes.

Along with the writer’s well measured script Marvel have to be applauded for locking two of their most vibrant artists in for this event. Humberto Ramos will pick up the majority of the heavy-lifting from next issue but this prelude is ably handled by Stefano Caselli and I dare say that he’s produced possibly his best work for this week’s read. The action is frenetic, the line style simple and effective and his ever-so-slightly cartoon-like style lends very well for all of the emotion and character driven scenes that Slott throws into the mix. Just check out that one crazy panel depicting the problem that the hospital staff are having with newly-empowered patients for proof of the man’s versatility with facial expressions.

All in all this is the terrific payoff that the slow build had promised it could be and considering that it’s only the ‘Prelude’ I’d say there are some fun and fraught Spider-Man adventures to come through Spider Island. Now I just have to keep my fingers crossed that Slott manages to convince me that the Jackal is worth the ink and my money! 8/10

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