Before we go any further, I must warn you: READ AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #698. DO IT NOW.
Done it? No?
GO AND READ IT NOW, DAMMIT!
I can’t really go into any detail about the plot of this issue without giving away last issue’s fabulous ending, so consider yourself warned. If you haven’t read ASM #698 and you don’t want to be spoiled, stop reading and go and read the last issue NOW.
OK, now let’s talk some Spidey. Dan Slott has been doing great things with this book for a while now. It seems like the book has gone from strength to strength since Slott took over and the book went fortnightly. And now we’re one issue (two if you count 699.1, but why would you even do that? That’s silly…) away from the end of Amazing Spider-Man.
The first thing to say is that this book packs an emotional wallop. I’ve always found Spidey to be a character whose adventures can get you in the heart more than any other superhero. It’s his dedication to doing the right thing above all odds despite the risks to his life that I really admire. He’s faced down impossible odds with nothing more than determination, heart and the proportional strength of a spider and prevailed time and time again. But now we see Peter in a seemingly impossible situation, and his predicament is heartbreaking. In fact, we don’t see Peter at all, but rather the dying body that his mind is trapped in. The bulk of this issue focuses inwards on Peter’s internal monologue as he desperately searches for a way out. And Peter’s internal monologue is an area of the character that Dan Slott excels at. Slott just gets Peter, and every word that he writes either going through Peter’s head or coming out of his mouth rings 100% true. The truly special runs on a book come when the writer can so completely inhabit a character like this.
But character is not Slott’s only strength on display here: he’s a master plotter, and here he reaps story threads sown as far as back as Doc Ock’s reappearance in ASM #600, and ties them all up in neat little bow of sorrow for Peter and his imprisonment in the failing husk that was once Otto Octavius. One of the standout pages is a simply a series of 6 panels showing the passage of time in Ock’s cell. Simple, sparse text, and subtle detail in the art that really showcases Slott and Humberto Ramos as a storytelling team.
And speaking of Humberto Ramos, he’s been the true star of Slott’s Spider-Man run for me. Not to take away from the other artists that have contributed, but there’s just something so exciting and kinetic about Ramos’ pencils. Even when characters are static (and a lot of this issue is static), his exaggeration of character’s physical appearances makes everyone unique and says so much about those characters. His Spidey is so pleasingly athletic and spindly, although we don’t see much of that here, the focus being in the cadaverous, almost fossilized Octavius. And the look of the character is stunning, all dull metal and cracked, leathery flesh. Despite his loose approach to anatomy, and more expressive feel, Ramos’ pencils give a great sense of texture to people and objects that give a real weight to his thin, jagged lines. His layouts tell Slott’s twisted story perfectly, and when the book’s action beats hit in the closing pages, he kicks into high gear effortlessly and brings his explosive sense of motion to proceedings, particularly the appearance of Hydro-Man. He’s aided in this by Edgar Delgado’s vivid explosions of blue and orange, whose muted colours earlier in the issue give a somber almost funereal tone to the pages.
This is a book in it’s prime, produced by a team of top-shelf talent firing on cylinders. I’m genuinely sad that this series will be drawing to close on December the 26th with #700, but knowing that the team are sticking around for Superior Spider-Man (as well as being joined by Ryan Stegman) I’m confident that Spider-Man is safe hands. No matter who’s under the mask.