Comics : Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #652

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This story is part of an Arc: "Revenge Of The Spider Slayer"
     Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3

This review was first published on: Feb 2011.

Background...

With the help of Marla Jameson (wife of Mayor J. Jonah Jameson), Peter Parker has recently secured a prestigous scientific research job at Max Modell's Horizon Labs. With the added benefits of flexible hours, the job allows Peter to whip up whatever he needs in his lab to aid him as Spider-man.

Also, with Mary Jane's blessing, Peter is free to become boyfriend to love interest / police forensics investigater Carlie Cooper.

So he's got the job, he's got the girl, and he's even got the respect as a superhero for thwarting Doc Ock's recent attack on the city in Big Time's introductory arc in Amazing Spider-man #648. Just how long will the ever-vaunted "Parker-luck" let all this stand?

In Detail...

"Army Of Insects"
Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #652 (Story 1)
Mar 2011 : SM Title
Summary: Alistar Smythe return, Mac Gargan again as Scorpion
Arc: Part 1 of "Revenge Of The Spider Slayer"
Senior Editor:  Stephen Wacker
Associate Editor:  Tom Brennan
Writer:  Dan Slott
Artist:  Stefano Caselli
Lettering:  Joe Caramagna
Colorist:  Edgar Delgardo
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Articles: Smythe, Alistaire

Peter has come out to support Carlie at her roller derby competition. In tow are Aunt May and husband Jay Jameson Sr., Flash Thompson and Betty Brant, who are now a couple, and Mary Jane. MJ watches as Peter cheers Carlie on--thinking he's finally pulled his life together, but has done it without her. After a few moments of reflexive self-pity, Carlie herself ends up hurtled into the stands, landing right on Mary Jane's lap and snapping her out her thoughts. MJ gives her a supportive "go get'em tiger". A few seats away, Jay is asking Aunt May if she's sure she doesn't want to accompany him to an event the next day, Aunt May says it's her spa day and that "you'll survive one day without me."

Cut to the Andru Air Force base in Jersey, where "the new Vertex Shuttle" is set to launch. Alistaire Smythe and his brigade of armored bugs are creeping around the perimeter. Scorpion notes the Mayor's motorcade in the distance, but Smythe is lost in reverie admiring the clean lines of the space shuttle, and how his father and he used to build rockets as a boy. Gargan has to snap him out of it. Smythe says J Jonah Jameson is to be left alive.

Jameson and his security detail, with Glory Grant, arrive at the launch site, where JJJ meets with his son, John Jameson, who's piloting the space craft which will intercept with Horizon Lab's Space Station. There to assist with the launch is Max Modell. When JJJ finds out the engines on the spacecraft are deemed "experimental", he freaks, and to placate him, Modell offers to bring in his "new top man" Peter Parker. Glory tells JJJ that he knows Peter is a total genius, to which JJJ reluctantly agrees, but that if she tells Parker he said it, she's fired.

Back at the roller derby match, which has ended, Jay sr. tells Peter he just got a text from his Grandson John, that Max Modell wants Peter there to help with the shuttle lunch (Sic). As the rest of the crowd files out, Carlie offers to give Peter a skating lesson. To help conceal his Spider-man powers, Peter has to play up his clumsiness in front of Carlie, which he does well. She leaves to shower, and Peter goes to town on the skates, showing off his real agility. Someone watching claps--Mary Jane. She observes that Peter and Carlie seem to be getting serious, and asks if he's revealed his dual identity to her yet. Peter says no, and explains that he wants Carlie to know the real him. MJ retorts that Spider-man is the real Peter. Carlie emerges, and Mary Jane makes her exit. On the way out, Carlie says that Spider-man and MJ would make a cute couple, and that maybe they should set the two up. This leads Peter to smack his face into the door of the sports center, bashing his nose.

Peter manages to meet up with the gang at the launch the next day. His spider-sense goes off furiously, indicating "danger..everywhere!" He runs off, but not before telling Modell that something's off and to stall the launch. The launch engineer takes Peter for a flake, but Modell trusts Pete and his instincts. THe engineer says if anything were out of place, he'd notice. In the background, Scorpion is unseen scuttling up the side of the shuttle.

Modell informs JJJ that Peter has asked to postpone the launch, after spotting an unknown irregularity. JJJ is rather upset at this news.

Meanwhile, Smythe has infiltrated Ground Control, killing off many of the crew with his "jumping spiders", or robotic slayers that take over human forms. Smythe gets in on John Jameson's radio frequency, claiming him as the first prize of war. John tries to abort the launch sequence, but finds Smythe has locked it in. Smythe informs everyone over the loudspeaker that the booster rockets have been rigged to explode. At that moment, Smythe's Insect Army descends to attack J Jonah Jameson and his security detail.

Spider-man intercepts, fighting off the insect humanoids. JJJ stops him, ordering him to help John, as Spidey is the only one who can help him. Reluctantly having to choose between the lives of Glory, Jay Sr. and Jonah, and the astronauts Spidey catches a webline to the departing rocket. He's barely able to pull himself clear of the takeoff blast, and begin to climb his way up the side against the g-force. He thinks the hard part is over, but he's wrong. He finds Scorpion clinging to the side of the shuttle, who tells him that he's been instructed to keep JJJ alive, but that Spider-man can die.

In General...

While I'm not as crazy (so far) about Slott's sole run as many seem to be, this issue has all the ingredients for greatness. Stefano Caselli's artwork is outright jaw-dropping this issue. The shots of Spidey catching a ride on the rocket really express physical anguish, and the short action scenes here look great and should be even better next issue. THe story is genuinely funny in parts (JJJ's reaction to Peter delaying the launch had me smiling), there's plenty of foreshadowing with room left for misdirection, and this issue ends on one hell of a cliffhanger.

And yet, and yet---there's seemingly something missing.

It's the characterization of the villains thus far that has me bothered, in the beginning of this arc. Would Smythe really be this hammy and start wistfully talking about building rockets with his father? (And can I add that I find Smythe's new look itself a bit lame, as well as the look of his insect army?) I understand that such dialogue served to establish the link to Spencer Smythe and Alistaire's vendetta against the Jamesons--I get that, but it just read as clunky.

I do admire how Smythe took over the base along with his creepy "jumping spiders", and had his ace in the hole in Scorpion being ready for Spider-man. But would Scorpion really decide to join up with this guy after just getting busted out of the Raft, even if it meant surviving being seperated from the Venom symbiote and a belated revenge on Jameson (especially since he's just had a massive and powerful new suit grafted onto him--of course, as Smythe told him in last month's back up story, the suit's the only thing keeping Gargan alive)? This is a guy that rolled with the Sinister Twelve and Norman Osborne's Thunderbolts. Is Gargan now that much of a stooge? The easy answer is, it's Slott's story, so yes. One shouldn't care, it could be argued, as long as Peter/Spidey and the supporting cast are this well-represented and written. And of course, going by the last page, I shouldn't care that Gargan's back in an abomitable-looking Scorpion suit already--he's facing off against Spidey on the side of a blasting-off rocket! Pretty cool, Slott.

Is the Carlie / MJ / Peter triangle being played to the hilt this issue even worth addressing? Does Carlie really think it's a good or even feasible idea that she hook MJ up with Spider-man? Do MJ's thoughts of "Peter looks happy, for the first time in years--why couldn't that be with me?" ring false after setting him free in recent storylines? I suppose it really doesn't matter--having this stuff in keeps the Archie Comics element that Marvel seems to really think is important to the world of Spider-man comics.

Overall Rating...

Great blend of the new and old cast, and Mr. Slott is mining the "Big Time" premise for all it's worth--it looks like he may win me over yet. It'd all be so much better if I cared what the villains were up to--we'll see what the next issue brings in that department. Everything else here is rather grand.