Anti-Venoms, Wraiths and Mr. Negative, oh my!!
The road to the much-ballyhooed Spider Island arc heats up as Dan Slott begins tying up some of his loose ends. Amazing Spider-Man #664 is another check in the win column for Slott’s take on old web head. Originally, the idea for Spider Island didn’t grab me - it seemed like a silly gimmick. At this point, I don’t care if it is a gimmick, Slott’s grip on what makes Spider-Man so good is so solid he could scribe a story about Spider-Man and the three bears and I’d probably by screaming about an Eisner Award.
That’s why I can overlook a couple of easy outs in issue #664, outs that may have more to do with co-writer Christos Gage than Slott. Overall, the two writers knock the issue out of the park but you can tell some characters had to be put on hold while Slott brewed up Spider Island. When we last left Spider-Man, he was tied up with some of Anti-Venoms’ power draining webbing. Anti-Venom (Eddie Brock turned good guy) is gunning for Martin Li, a philanthropist and city-loved man of the people that’s secretly Mr. Negative, a cutthroat and psychopathic gangster. Adding to Spidey’s troubles is The Wraith, a vigilante who is the spitting image of the late Jean DeWolff, and is being investigated by Peter Parker’s new girlfriend Carlie.
Of the many things that work in issue #664, my favorite is how Slott and Cage manage to make Eddie Brock likeable, even charming. The banter between Spidey and Brock as Anti-Venom is some of the most spot on since Robert Kirkman’s work with Spider-Man and Wolverine on the Marvel Team Up series. Anybody can write a Spider-Man plot or architect decisive action scenes, but that’s never been the heart of Spider-Man.
What makes the web slinger endearing is the dialog, and the attitude - two things only a golden few have captured correctly. Slott has always been tuned to the rhythm of Spider-Man’s dialog, not just with Spidey but with the lesser characters. As for the attitude, the panel where Spider-Man finally gets to feel important by flashing his Avengers card is proof of Slott’s expertise. If you grew up with the character of Spider-Man, you’ll fully understand how wonderfully subtle that little scene is.
The easy outs here are a bit mystifying and, to be honest, don’t feel like Slott’s work. I won’t point a direct finger at Gage; it just doesn’t click the way Slott’s stuff normally does. For instance, the revelation of Captain Watanabe as The Wraith just ended the character in a way that felt anti-climactic. There was also a confusing bit with Mr. Negative. After being defeated by Spidey, Wraith and Anti-Venom, suddenly Mr. Negative’s alter ego Martin Li is chained in a dungeon begging to be let out. I can’t tell if this means Martin Li has no idea he becomes Mr. Negative or if there’s been a coup of some kind, it’s a rather shoddy and puzzling way to end the issue. Possibly it’s a way to keep readers curious about Mr. Negative until after Spider Island, at least I’m hoping so. Mr. Negative has the potential to be as solid a Spider-Man villain as Tombstone (who I love), and I’d hate for that to get wasted.
Giuseppe Camuncoli’s art is passable, not great. Granted, my love for Humberto Ramos is well documented, but that’s not the case here. When Camuncoli draws Spider-Man, Anti-Venom or Mr. Negative they look great, everybody else looks rushed and thin. There’s no definition to the lines, no weight to it. That really becomes an issue during the action panels, where the three heroes look great, the main villain looks solid, and everybody else hangs there like so much nothing. Even with the so-so art and the holes in the plot, issue 664 is still a win. I’m excited for Spider Island mainly because Dan Slott is writing it and Humberto Ramos is handling the art. I don’t think that team up can produce a bad issue of Spider-Man; they know the character too damn well.
CRAVEONLINE RATING 8/10