Thursday, November 19, 2015

Amazing Spider-Man #1 (AGAIN) (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Of all the comics that I read, Slott has the dubious "honor" of delivering the first issue of the post-"Secret Wars" status quo.  It's a doozy.  It's hard to know where to begin, so let's just dive into it.

First, he skillfully manages to avoid the obvious problem:  "Secret Wars" hasn't actually ended yet.  (Details, details.)  He does so by focusing almost entirely on Peter.  Sure, Mockingbird and Nick Fury make appearances.  But, beyond learning that Parker Industries is designing tech for S.H.I.E.L.D., we don't really see anything new in terms of Peter's relationships with other characters.  It's not like we learn that Anna Maria is running HYDRA.  It's all about Peter.  Moreover, rather than showing us changes that "Secret Wars" inspired in Peter's life, Slott focuses on changes that happened in the eight-month gap since "Secret Wars" (eventually) ended.

The main difference is that Parker Industries is now firing on all cylinders.  I've always been a fan of Slott moving Peter more and more into a Tony Stark role, and he finally completes that transition here.  The multiple web cartridges with different types of webbing ("micro-coiled Z-metal!"), releasing gadgets as part of Parker Industries instead of Horizon Labs ("Webware from Parker Industries!"), a tricked-out Spider-Mobile that isn't embarrassing:  it's all here.  Moreover, Slott acknowledges and even embraces the comparison between Peter and Tony.  Spider-Man is now Peter's private bodyguard, and it prompts a reporter to ask if Peter is the "poor man's Tony Stark."  Peter focuses on the "poor" part of that phrase, noting that he capped his pay at the middle-management level.  He did so to compensate for the fact that his aggressive responsible business conduct commitment (green technologies, fair pay, etc.) will limit profits.  It's Slott's attempt to show that he doesn't intend to make Peter fully into Tony.  (He's not yet designing weapons systems.)

At this stage, the only problem I see with this approach is that Slott is making Peter almost too saintly.  I don't read "Superman" for a reason.  I get that Peter is committed to using his great power for responsibility, but he may also want to...I don't know...have sex again.  Instead, it's hard to see how he'd have time, between saving the world as Spider-Man and making it better through the "Uncle Ben Foundation."  He's almost stopped existing as a man.  He's got to have some foibles, other than possibly overconfidence in his ability to multitask.  (Slott is already setting up multitasking as his future downfall.) 

But, Slott is usually pretty good at anticipating these sorts of problems, so we'll see where he goes.  For the time being, Peter's saintliness has resulted in a not-happy Sajani, since she wants to dominate the world, not save it.  If Slott is going to turn Peter into Santa Claus, then he seems to know that Peter is going to have to pay for this generosity, to constantly struggle with the fact that he's limiting his power in an attempt to be the good guy.  After all, couldn't he just make the profit and donate his portion of it?  Wouldn't it be better to allow Parker Industries to act like other more-or-less ethical companies:  make money, donate some?  Probably not, but it's an interesting question for Slott to explore.

It's this argument with Sajani, though, that sets up his confrontation with her, telling her that he knows that she worked with the Black Cat and the Ghost to try to shape Parker Industries the way that she wants it.  It seems pretty clear that they're cruising for a bruising, particularly since Sajani doesn't deny working with the Zodiac when Peter asks her about it.  That said, building on the unbelievability of his multitasking, it seems a bit of a stretch that Peter had so much free time that he just randomly reviews security tapes.  He says that he actually reconstructed the security footage, so it seems like he had a hint that he should look for something.  But, who gave him the hint?  Or, just like we're supposed to believe he's a saint, we're supposed to buy that he's somehow become omnipotent?  Is he now God?

I haven't mentioned the Zodiac?  Right!  It says a lot that I haven't even gotten to the plot of the issue yet!  The issue begins with Mockingbird and Spidey chasing a pair of Leos through the streets of Shanghai, after they stole Parker Industries' secure servers.  The servers link up every private Webware (essentially iCloud) account in the world, and Peter and S.H.I.E.L.D. don't want it falling into Zodiac's hands.  (Have I mentioned that I effing love the Zodiac?  I have ever since their epic run in "West Coast Avengers."  I can't explain how excited that I am that they're the first "Big Bad" of this new run.)  Peter eventually uses his new Web-Shooter tools (like the aforementioned "micro-coiled Z metal") to stop the Leos and even delivers a LOL quip, calling one of the Leos "Lion-O."  (Heh.)  "Lion-O" attempts to commit suicide to keep the mission secret, but Peter foils the attempt with an antidote that he prepared to counteract the poison.  We learn that S.H.I.E.L.D. and Spidey have been after the Zodiac "for months," and he got sick of seeing these guys kill themselves.  (Mockingbird teases him for his "no one dies" mantra, though we've learned that he's realized that it was an impossible bar.  He's now on "I save everyone I can.")

It's interesting to learn that they've been after the Zodiac for months, because they're so committed to getting inside Parker Industries' servers.  But, we still don't know why.  We don't get any closer to the truth when they attack Max's wedding to Hector in San Francisco, demanding that Peter surrender his personal Webware device given its "special privileges."  (It's the fact that Pisces knew that tidbit that led Peter to suspect that Sajani is working with them.)

First, let's talk about Horizon.  I'm thrilled that the Horizon people have returned.  As Peter himself acknowledges, it's another sign that the havoc that Otto wrecked on his life has ended.  This series has been worse for the wear without their presence, particularly Max's paternal influence on Peter.  It would be welcome for that relationship to resume; I'm as eager for that to happen as Peter is.  Peter buying back the Horizon name from Liz (if not it's intellectual property) and re-naming the "Parker Institute of Technology" as "Horizon University" was a lovely (if slightly unbelievable) touch.  (I also loved Max announcing that they were Horizon again because Pisces attacked them.)

Now, let's talk about the other development in this issue:  Hobie serving as Peter's Jim Rhodes.  We saw earlier in the issue that Hobie often acts as Spider-Man to make sure that Peter is seen beside him, and he jumps into action here as Spider-Man.  I loved all of it, particularly the fact that Hobie struggled to deliver the quips.  For a moment, I found myself even wondering if Slott was going to turn Hobie into Spider-Man.  It's exactly what Slott wanted me to think, because it meant that we're as surprised as Hobie is when Pisces almost kills him.  Suddenly, reality hits, and you realize that he doesn't have Peter's Spider-Sense.  Plus, as Peter notes, Hobie usually strikes from the shadows; he has no skills to engage in a frontal attack.  Peter realizes the trouble that Hobie faces, and it's why he surrenders the personal device after encrypting it.

All the more exciting, Peter asks Hobie to change into the Prowler, because they have 24 hours to track down the device before the Zodiac is likely to successfully hack it.  Slott really has down their banter, and not in a generic "hero/sidekick" way.  It's really their personalities playing off each other in a fun way.  It sounds like Hobie is going to serve as Peter's partner-in-crime, and I have to say that I'm possibly the most excited about that development.

In other words, True Believers, we have a mystery on our hands.  Why does the Zodiac so desperately want access to Webware?  I guess we'll see.  Slott also seems to bringing the issue with Sajani to a head, as she orders Anna Maria to move up the release of their nanotech program.  Is it so that she can leave Parker Industries with a successful project of her own?  Or, is it part of a grand scheme with the Zodiac? 

Finally, I'll say that the back-up stories aren't particularly note-worthy, except for the brilliant revelation that Regent exists and that he's running the new super-villain prison that neither Alchemax nor Parker Industries wound up building so he can use the villains' powers.  (I honestly can't remember why Alchemax didn't wind up building it.  I remember that Parker Industries' attempt was foiled by the Black Cat and Electro, but I can't remember what happened in "Spider-Man 2099" to foil Alchemax's efforts.)

As happy as I was with this issue, I'm sticking with three stars because of some of these lingering concerns over how "perfect" Peter is (e.g., capping himself at middle-management salary, knowing Sajani was scheming against him, etc.).  That said, though, I'm also pretty confident that Slott may have something up his sleeve, so we'll see where we go from here.  Given how difficult it is to pull off a first issue this ambitious, I do really applaud Slott for it.  If we can maybe ground the stories a little bit more realistically, we're looking at a really great run.

*** (three of five stars)

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