Archive for January, 2013

The End of Amazing Spider-Man (Comic Review)

(Based on issues #674-700, along with the “Ends of the Earth” special and issues #679.1 and 699.1.)

cover to Amazing Spider-Man #700

Amazing Spider-Man

Like a moving target, serialized stories can be difficult to review. I wrote a draft review of recent Amazing Spider-Man issues a couple months ago, but never got around to finishing it. At the time, I was frustrated with the way Dan Slott’s run seemed to be slowly losing steam, and very disappointed by the recent “Ends of the Earth” event. But with issue #700, Amazing ended its fifty-year run with a much more conclusive story than most heroes ever get. Now that I have a finished story to look at, it feels much stronger.

This isn’t supposed to be a review of the entire “Big Time” era of Spider-Man (I looked at issues starting with #648 here, and the following “Spider-Island” event next), nor is it supposed to be a review just of the ending. However, due to the nature of long-running stories, both of those weigh heavily over the selection I actually am reviewing here. Dan Slott’s slightly-over-fifty-issue solo run (coming on the heels of “Brand New Day”, his hundred-issue collaboration) was written with the confidence that he would have time to plan out and develop a long-running story. In an era where most creative teams get shuffled around within a year, this is a rare thing. And while most of these comics were structured as two-to-six-issue arcs, in retrospect it’s easy to see one long story winding through them. The half of “Big Time” being looked at here is pretty clearly “cleaning up” many of the changes that Slott had implemented, but also sets up the final act of an epic Doctor Octopus story after which “nothing will ever be the same”.

This truly may be the rare case in which changes stick. Slott has always shown a strong appreciation of the things that made Spider-Man great, and he caps off the Amazing era with the same humanity, melodrama, and colorful supporting characters as ever. It’s an appropriate conclusion, and those last few issues were exciting (and a little scary) with the reader knowing only that something important was about to change.

(I do worry that the new status quo may be difficult to keep going for long, and if it falls apart it threatens to undo the solid closing of this story. However, I will refrain from reviewing comics that haven’t come out yet.)

That’s not to say that there weren’t missteps, though. I already mentioned that “Ends of the Earth” was a disappointment: Spider-Man is thrown in to a world-wide crisis with no buildup or sense of scale, so it never feels more important than his usual races across New York. He stays awake for days trying to keep up with the bad guys, but the story jumps so quickly that none of that sacrifice is seen. And despite its alleged significance, the resolution hinges on a few standard battles with his usual foes. The “Ends of the Earth Special” released alongside this is a mostly plot-free story of C-list heroes rushing into battle at his side, and usually dying without accomplishing anything. It’s depressing and cynical, especially since one plot point has Spider-Man threatening to torture a prisoner for information.  (He says afterwards he was bluffing, but Peter should know that threatening prisoners with torture is a form of psychological torture.)

Mostly, though, these were fun stories. Classic villains like the Vulture update themselves again, mind-controlling robots infest a space station, and so on. One of the strongest stories was “No Turning Back”, which brought a somewhat decisive (and tragic) conclusion to long-simmering plots about The Lizard and Morbius. Humberto Ramos pencilled as much of this as the bimonthly schedule would allow, and I’ve finally come to accept his slightly exaggerated style as appropriate to the action-packed soap opera that is Spider-Man. It’s the little character threads that developed throughout these mostly stand-alone stories that make Spider-Man work.

Spider-Man internal

After such a long time on the character, there were signs that Slott was slowing down. The past year was spent much more in wrap-up mode than presenting new ideas. (The only recent new character introduced recently, the super-powerful but irresponsible “Alpha”, was uninteresting. As with the lack of drama in “Ends of the Earth”, the comic simply told us that Alpha was powerful and important without ever demonstrating it believably.) However, this still closed on a very strong note: While juggling many plots smoothly, Slott ended with true surprises that slid under the media’s radar, and gave us all the impression that he was wrapping it up on his terms.

Grade: B

 
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2012 Stats

2012 was a crazy year for me. I started out blogging regularly, but then my wife’s pregnancy and an insane work project (complete with all-nighters and eighty-hour weeks) hit at once. I hardly blogged at all through the summer months, and it was difficult to get back into the habit once I stopped. I made up for that all in December, though, with 31 posts containing 59 reviews! Those daily posts were the only things to give my days structure during the initial sleepless weeks with my new daughter.

Where will I go from here, though? I’m enjoying this writing a lot, but I know that my life will get busy once I have to juggle work and fatherhood. I’m going to try switching to an every-other-day schedule, and I plan to build up a little buffer during my last days at home in the hopes that I can keep it going. Honestly, though, I’ll be pretty amazed if I can stay on pace for even a couple months.

Anyway, I like to take the first day of the year to look back at my reviews in aggregate. Though 2012 was inconsistent from month to month, its total numbers were surprisingly close to 2011’s: 109 posts containing 185 letter grades:

Grades

You can see last year’s wrap-up for more details on what I counted. The only thing that I’ll add here is that I don’t even start gathering these stats until the last few days of the year, so it’s a relief to realize that my grading curve held steady. I do think I can be a little too generous sometimes: When I went back through all this year’s grades, about 90% of them still felt right to me, but the ones that surprised me consistently seemed too high. I still think of myself as someone who averages a B- review, and that is true, but only because I was so stingy with the As this past year. Will it continue? I’m not sure – I still definitely intend to give grades item-by-item instead of trying to massage my stats over the course of the year.

If you’re curious, I have more detailed breakdowns by category below the fold. (Don’t feel obligated to keep reading; I do this summary mostly for my own sake.)

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