Writer: Dan Slott
Art: Richard Elson & Antonio Fabela
Stewart R: You hear things. Odd rumblings, the occasional tweet, an article on a popular website. Then things start to pick up. The writer stipulates that there's an upcoming issue that simply cannot be missed, the whirlwind machine of promotion begins to churn, the buzz rises, the people begin to chatter excitedly and the spoilers begin to ooze from the collective woodwork as the day of launch arrives. And then it's here. You've steeled yourself, kept away from the temptation and ruination of the spoilers and the people who simply could not help but jump early and you find yourself with that comic in your possession, in your hands, that may just hesitate at turning the cover, unsure as to whether you're truly ready for what is within. And then in the blink of an eye you're done, the ritual mental dance of the 20-page illustrated read is complete and you know you've just experienced something special, something that you simply cannot unread and something that quite possibly you're not entirely comfortable with.
That, dear friends, is how I felt upon my first read through of Dan Slott's much talked about Amazing Spider-Man #698.
I read it late last Thursday night and my attempts to get to sleep afterwards were slightly more troubled than usual as I digested what I had just experienced and my emotions ran somewhat wild. Dan Slott has delivered a Spider-Man story for the ages, something that long term fans, occasional readers, perhaps just watchers of the previous live action films or maybe even those with only the loosest of grasps of who Peter Parker is should really read if they get opportunity.
To go into the details in any real depth could threaten to tarnish or water down the effect of the entire issue as a single story, but suffice to say it takes a hard look at who Peter Parker is, where he's come from, and just where his life sits at the present time. He's achieved great things, used his powers for the benefit of others whenever he could, and often sacrificed himself in one way or other to ensure that good wins through. But there are moments when Peter's doubted himself, or sacrificed too much, and the question could be asked if choices could have been made differently or other paths taken to lead to possible 'better' conclusions. In #698 it is those questions that begin to get addressed and in an effective yet very subtle manner.
Dan Slott has shown time and time again that he is THE Spider-Man writer for the moment, being the scribe who managed to pull our hero's life out of the quagmire it had become lodged in for several years; the rarity of sightings of hope or a chance at happiness nearly rivalling that of Matt Murdock for far too long. Peter's been on the up-and-up, both in his private life as a super-scientist working on the cutting edge as well as being appreciated and recognised by his superhero peers for the part that he plays in keeping New York and the world safe from ne'er-do-wellers and dangerous villains. In this issue, one of Spider-Man's greatest foes gets some time in the spotlight to help Slott weave his story and help put the life of his hero into perspective.
In a comic book world where ageing doesn't often appear evident and death can be the most temporary of conditions it has been really interesting to see Slott deal with and progress Doc Ock's failing physical condition over the course of the past few years to the point where a very final end may be at hand. At various stages his degeneration and slow journey towards a tragic finale has provoked sympathy for arguably a most insidious man, yet someone who at the beginning of his career had only wanted to use his mastery of science for mostly benevolent ends and it's this sympathy that comes into play at Slott's hands once again to add an extra element to this tale.
As a visual piece of storytelling I dare say that the decision to bring Elson on board makes a great deal of sense considering Humberto Ramos' busy schedule with getting #699 and #700 both in the can for December releases, and the new guy does a fine job indeed, sticking with a similar aesthetic that we've been used to over the past 100 issues or so. He gets opportunity to capture the acrobatic skills of Spider-Man as well as the day-to-day trials of Peter Parker's life and his no frills style is a fine fit for such an important episode of the Webbed Wonder's life.
It'll no doubt be an issue that gets discussed for months, possibly years to come – though that may depend upon the impact of the following instalments of ASM and what Superior potentially brings to the table – and as a single issue, which I believe it can simply be taken as, it's a masterclass of storytelling over a simple limit of 20 effective and efficient pages. It has and will no doubt continue to court a level of controversy as such ideas as those seen here, in an established and highly successful comic book series have a tendency to do, and I may have to offer my thoughts on the actual specifics and implications in the near future, but for now I will just state that this is a comic that should be read by as many fans of this character and as many fans of comics as possible; such experiences delivered with such emotional weight like this don't come along that often. 10/10