Amazing Spider-Man #698, Amazing Spider-Man #700, Brian Michael Bendis, Chris Samnee, Dan Slott, Daredevil, Dark Avengers, Dr. Octopus, Indestructible Hulk, Leinil Francis Yu, Mark Waid, Marvel, Marvel NOW!, Paolo Rivera, Richard Elson, Superior Spider-Man, Superman, The Avengers, The Sixth Sense, Ultimate Spider-Man
Scott Carney: Yet another pretty big week here at – hey, li’l buddy, what’s wrong?
Derek Mainhart: (grumble)
SC: Holiday blues?
SC: That thing flaring up again?
DM: What? No! Shut up!
SC: oh, I think I know what this is about…
DM: I don’t wanna talk about it.
SC: It’s ok. We’ll get through this. Baby steps. Want me to start?
SC: O-kay. How about we start with Daredevil #20?
DM: …yeah…that’s fine…that’s been good for a long time…ok…
SC: You’re right: DD‘s been head and, well, head above the rest of the Marvel lot since Mark Waid took over. Despite a dodgy bit with the Omega Drive, this title’s been a consistent treat; and this purposely spotty issue is no different, with its unexpected pregnant-belly drug pipeline and hellish haul of hungry heads. Delightful! I mean, how great is it that DD’s headless body makes its way to the rescue–using the billy-club cane, no less! Divine! Chris Samnee, of course, delivers the goods: he flaunts his skill, page after page, marrying mirth and danger with peerless precision. Dig it! The terrific tone that’s been set by the boys on this book clearly has been the unofficial blueprint of the company-wide non-reboot. With that in mind, moving on to–
SC: –a Marvel NOW! book–
DM: (choking sound)
SC: —Indestructible Hulk #1.
DM: That…that’s OK…still Waid…still acceptable…baby steps…
SC: Acceptable, indeed! I’ve tried several of the NOW! books and I haven’t liked a single one–until this one. As I mentioned, the other books seemed to try on something Daredevilish, but, doubtless, each was Waid off the mark.
DM: Dear Lord…
SC: No, seriously. Is it any surprise that the first book of the bunch to seem like it isn’t trying so hard to be Waid-ian is the one written by the trendsetter himself? From the get-go, the flavor is unmistakable: the chicken-fried banter–served up with a sprig of perfect time–is well done. It’s so well done that the conversation between Director Hill and Banner is the highlight here. It certainly outshines the fight scene between the Hulk and the arrogantly armored Mad Thinker, which is, disappointingly, a bit muddled in its execution. Don’t get me wrong: I love Leinil Yu, and his work here is strong; in fact, his Hulk is incalculably strong. (See the double-page spread on pages 14 and 15 if you don’t believe me.) But there’s a lot going on in some of the pugnacious panels; and a few, unfortunately, just flat out fail. Overall, however, the book does not. As it stands, I want to see how the Banner/S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Waid/Yu relationships play out. We all know that the Hulk’s not an easy character to handle, but I’m thinkin’ that he may be in the right hands at the right time; and, doin’ my math, that’s, finally, right NOW! I am not a man without fear, though. This does have the potential to turn into Ultimate Spider-Man, where Bendis just cannot seem to find the balance between his brilliant take on the boy and the rather bland–and sometimes plain bad–approach to the very same boy in the bug suit. Still, I’m on board for #2.
So, umm, that’s all I wanted to discuss. Do you have anything to add?
SC: Are you sure?
DM: NO! Wait – I mean, YES!
SC: Come on….
DM: Don’t make me!
SC: It’ll only hurt for a second….
DM: (resigned sigh) …fine.
SC:...like Superman taking a Kryptonite suppository….
DM: What’re you mumbling? Whatever. So…a couple of weeks ago I posted an extended rant about the deplorable state of the Marvel Universe, including my low expectations for their current, sort-of reboot, Marvel NOW!. And I still stand behind 99% of what I wrote –
SC: That high? 97% maybe?…
DM: Shut up! One of the new directions I distinguished for abuse was Dan Slott’s announced introduction of a new, darker Spider-Man (I believe my exact quote was “oy vey”). I had no intention of picking it up. But then I saw Paolo Rivera’s cover to Amazing Spider-Man #698 and something about it just grabbed me.
SC: Was it the large, metal tentacles?
DM: Quiet you! So I flipped through it…something about the death of Dr. Octopus…Richard Elson’s clean, pleasing art…and, like many comic book fans, I have a mental condition that causes me to get weak-kneed for big, round numbers; so with this leading up to issue 700, I picked it up. What the hell, I figured. No one need ever know. And I read it. And damned if it wasn’t good. Really good.
SC: Your eye’s twitching.
DM: Shut up. My determination to avoid Marvel Now! left me blissfully ignorant of the hype surrounding this issue. The secret’s out now of course, but in case you haven’t read it yet, and live in a cave inside of another cave, SPOILERS AHOY! The issue begins with Doc Ock on his death bed, requesting Peter Parker. Woah, you think, How does he know Spidey’s secret identity? But that, it turns out, is just Mr. Slott being cute. We proceed with a day in the life of Spidey, full of Peter’s trademark soliloquizing about the state of his life. He’s being a little snarkier than usual tho’. But never mind that, here’s a scene promising his long-awaited re-entanglement to one Mary Jane Watson, an exciting development to many a Spidey fan ever since the god-awful story where Peter sold their marriage to the devil. Redemption at last? No, again, it’s Slott exquisitely messing with you, you craven fan-boy you. We proceed to the climax where Peter learns of Doc Ock’s death-bed request for his presence. And, then, with long time hero and villain alone together, the twist: Doc Ock has switched bodies with Peter. He somehow has access to all of Peter’s memories. And neither the good doctor nor Slott is telling how he did it. And for the coup-de-grace? Peter, trapped in Doc Ock’s enfeebled body, has a heart attack and flatlines to close the issue, as Doc Ock strides off triumphant. Now there’s a twist on par with the end of The Sixth Sense. Well done, Mr. Slott.
SC: See, was that so –
DM: This is particularly satisfying for a couple of reasons. A couple of years ago, a similar conceit was used in a book called Dark Avengers, which featured a group of craven villains, led by Norman Osborn, parading around as Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. Brimming with deceit, backstabbing (sometimes of the literal variety) and Osborn’s slow descent into madness, the book had a compelling Shakespearean air of tragicomedy about it and was, hands down, the best (and best-selling) Avengers book in years. Alas, poor Norman, due to the requirements of the master narrative of the Marvel U, the book was brought to a premature end. Slott has now taken this concept and applied it to the company’s flagship character. Even the jaded observer –
SC: Like you.
DM: -will have to admit this is a bold move. Furthermore (and the second reason this is satisfying) this seems a tacit admission that Peter Parker, as he exists now, is a debased character. In fact, with his character-defying Faustian dealings, he may be no longer even be viable in his current incarnation. Ending his run at ASM# 700 and beginning Doc Ock’s with Superior Spider-Man #1 suddenly seems downright inspired. This could work nicely as the status quo for some time. Lord help me…I think I may be back on Spider-Man. If Slott plays it right, this concept could have legs.
SC: Eight legs?
DM: oh dear…
SC: Or should it be tentacles?
DM: Are you finished?
SC: ….maybe they could re-introduce the Black Cat and change her name to…
DM: Please don’t.
DM: I’m so very sorry.
SC: I’m not!
Scott & Derek