Comics : Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #684

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This story is part of an Arc: "Ends of the Earth"
     Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3 / Part 4 / Part 5 / Part 6

This review was first published on: May 2012.

Background...

Doctor Octopus has only a short time to live, and wants to hatch one last scheme. As per ASM #676, he wants to conquer the planet. This scheme is now in motion! He’s built a network of satellites that can be used either to speed up global warming, or to slow it down. He insists that his goal is the latter, and that’s driven purely by altruism, and has asked for the world’s help to finish the creation he has begun.

Spider-Man ain’t buying it. With the help of his Avengers buddies, Spidey took the battle to Ock and the rest of the Sinister Six, who were rendezvousing at Mazarron on Spain’s Mediterranean coast. But Ock, having foreseen this outcome, outfitted his team with Avengers-specific weapons. Now the Avengers have been defeated and Spider-Man is at Octavius’ mercy...

In Detail...

"Sand Trap"
Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #684
Jun 2012 : SM Title
Summary: Black Widow and Silver Sable vs. Sandman
Arc: Part 3 of "Ends of the Earth"
Writer:  Dan Slott
Artist:  Humberto Ramos
Cover Art:  Stefano Caselli
Lettering:  VC's Joe Caramagna
Colorist:  Edgar Delgado
Executive Producer:  Alan Fine
Publisher:  Dan Buckley
Chief Creative Officer:  Joe Quesada
Editor In Chief:  Axel Alonso
Editor:  Stephen Wacker
Assistant Editor:  Ellie Pyle
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Articles: Doctor Octopus (Otto Octavius), Rhino, Sandman, Silver Sable

Well, maybe not all of the Avengers have been defeated. We readers saw the whole team taken down, except for the Black Widow, who was piloting the team’s Quinjet when Electro forced it out of the sky. At the crash site, the Widow is attempting to free herself from the wreckage when a mysterious figure appears. Like the Widow, this figure is clearly a super-spy: she (for it is a she, as the artwork makes curvily clear) has a stealth suit, a laser cutting torch, and an explosive charge. In short order, the figure has the Widow free and the Quinjet set to explode.

Attentive readers will have gathered from last issue’s foreshadowing that this mysterious ally must be Silver Sable. Less attentive readers will have worked that out from the issue’s cover, which features Spider-Man, the Widow, and Silver Sable in battle against the Sandman.

Cut to the Mazarron beach, where the Six are lording their victory over the incapacitated Avengers. Mysterio wants to kill them all now, but Ock demurs: he wants the Avengers taken into captivity, for he’s got plans for them.

“You heard the man,” says Spidey. “Chop chop.” Oops, that’s actually supposed to be Sandman talking, I think, but the word balloon was incorrectly placed. As Ock’s henchmen gather up the defeated Avengers, Ock prepares to execute Spider-Man, as a sort of amuse-bouche to his grand scheme. Spidey desperately stalls for time, but Ock won’t give him any.

Luckily for Spider-Man, that bomb we saw Sable set goes off at this precise moment, destroying the crashed Quinjet in a gigantic, quarter-page KA-CHOOM. Huh; the timer on the bomb said 30 seconds, but the caption said two minutes earlier. I guess the caption was mistaken. Anyhoo, Ock is distracted for a few seconds at most, but that still gives time for Sable to conceal him under a giant blanket that conceals them from view. Sable observes later that this is Symkarian stealth tech, but I prefer to believe she stole Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak. Whatever its provenance, the screen is good enough to fool the sophisticated sensors of Ock and Mysterio. Ock, frustrated, decides it’s more important to keep to his scheme’s timetable, and he and the rest of the Six depart.

How will Spidey and the girls follow? Why, Sable, that wonderful woman, has her own invisible jet, or “stealth ship”. As the team boards it, the Widow grouses that Sable should have rescued Captain America or one of the other Avengers, but Sable points out that Spider-Man is not only the Avenger with the most experience at opposing Doc Ock, but he’s also more resourceful than he’s usually given credit for.

Speaking of resources, cue the Horizon Labs gang, who contacts Spidey via his in-mask communicator. This was actually set up six issues back, when Grady was Spider-Man’s comm-link buddy in the “I Killed Tomorrow” arc that began in ASM #678. Last issue J. Jonah Jameson shut down Horizon’s New York facility on the grounds that it posed a threat to the city. Accordingly, Max Modell and the available members of the Horizon Big Science think-tank have relocated to the Zenith, “Horizon’s floating laboratory”, which presumably sails in international waters outside of Hizzoner’s jurisdiction.

(There are seven scientists in Horizon’s think-tank, but two are unavailable: Michael Morbius, who fled Horizon back in ASM #679.1, and Peter Parker, of whom Modell says “regrettably we couldn’t locate him in time”. Uh huh.)

Elsewhere, Doc Ock is making his final pitch to the United Nations, to which Spider-Man and the Horizon gang listen in via radio. Ock is willing to save the world from global warming, and the world’s delegates vote to permit him to do so. Now comes the catch: Ock wants $2 billion for each other member of the Sinister Six, plus expunged criminal records for them all. For himself, Ock wants a global contribution to the construction of “the Octavius Academy! A complex that would be both the greatest institute for technology and a shrine to my highest achievement - the day I saved you all!”

Oh, and he also wants the global community to distribute his micro-satellites by way of its missile silos. Instead of ICBMs, those silos are to launch the Ock’s payload, which are already being constructed at Ock’s network of manufacturing facilities, into orbit.

That’s a lot to take in. The Sinister Six is happy, of course. Most of them just want a payday, but Sandman and Rhino have other goals in mind. Sandman is happy to go straight and take care of his daughter, Kemia, from whom he’s been separated. Rhino wants something else, something secret, but he’s sure that Ock will come through, the way he’s come through for the rest. Our heroes, however, are brimming with determination to take Ock down. The Widow thinks that Ock has tipped his hand: from the presentation he gave to the worlds’ leaders, she’s worked out that Ock is using an old AIM base in the Sahara as a facility. So the superheroes decide to head there to shut it down, in the hopes that if they delay Ock’s plan enough, he’ll be unable to implement it at all. Meanwhile, Spidey sets the Horizon Gang to work on an anti-Sandman threat, as he’s the obvious candidate to be guarding the Sahara base.

All that, and we’re only half-way through the issue! Dan Slott is the king of compressed storytelling. Arriving at the Sahara base, Spider-Man and his amazing friends waste no time in infiltration. Unfortunately for them, it’s all a ruse: there are no workers and no Octavian lenses here.

Enter Sandman!

Ahem. He’s grown to giant size, thanks to all of the sand available. Sandman explains gleefully that Ock deliberately tipped his hand, knowing that Spidey et al. would act on that false intel. And now Sandman will make them regret it.

“Sandman!” shouts Sable. “I order you to stand down!”

“Stow it, Sable,” snarls Sandman. “You ain’t my boss anymore.”

Spidey isn’t impressed. “You think I didn’t see this coming? You’re why I’m here! I’m gunning for you! Taking another one of Doc’s pieces off the board!”

Sandman is also unimpressed. “There ain’t enough water in the world to wash me away! Or fire to bake me into glass! Or any of your usual tricks!”

Time for an unusual trick, then. Spidey’s worked out that, though Sandman has always been able to gain or lose mass, there must be a part of him that remains constant: a grain of sand that is always present. This seems like faulty reasoning to me: there’s always traffic on my local highway, but no individual car is always present on that highway. Or as Heraclitus observed centuries ago, a river persists even though none of the water in that river remains constant.

But in this case, Spidey is right: there is a grain of sand that contains the Sandman’s essence, and he (thanks to the work of the Horizon Gang) can see it. But how to reach it?

Simple, thanks to the Pink Hippo attack. They begin peppering Sandman with words: sphere, pyramid, hoop. These words, through a method Spidey alludes to but doesn’t explain, are being transmitted not just to Sandman’s ears (does he have those?) but also his brain. “We’re putting pictures in your head. Try not thinking about them!” Spidey taunts.

Indeed, Sandy can’t. In quick succession, he changes shape to match the concept being pressed upon him. And the final concept is Keemia, that is, Sandman’s daughter.

And with that, Sandman loses control, so great is his rage. And the essential grain of sand bobs to the surface of his body. With a ‘thwip’, Spider-Man catches that grain in lead-lined webbing. “They’re now the Sinister Four,” exults Spidey. “Good work, team!”

Doc Ock’s counterstroke? He broadcasts to the world that “...terrorists are attacking my planetary defense factories...! The world must come together as one to hunt down the global menace called Spider-Man!”

In General...

There’s a lot to like about this issue. Firstly, it’s a fast-paced tale. I noted above that it takes two pages of plot recap just to get to halfway through this issue. Contrast this with other books at Marvel - including other Spider-titles - where a whole issue can be summed up in a paragraph. Decompression may be king of the comics world today, but Slott rebels against that tradition, and I’m grateful for it..

And what a story Slott provides! We’ve got villainous scheming, stealth and sneaking around, a major battle, revelations about the power set of a character introduced 680 issues ago, some soft-pedaled stuff about a major real-world policy challenge, continuity nods - remember when Sandman was part of Silver Sable’s Wild Pack?, face-time with our guest stars (Sable and Widow, natch), plus face-time with our supporting cast in the Horizon Gang.

All of which is to say, this is a comic that delivers $3.99 worth of story.

And the art is great too: Ramos delivers fantastic visuals, especially of the giant Sandman in Act Three. Spidey looks great, the villains look great, and Sable and the Widow look great too: they look powerful and dangerous, which is far sexier than stupid cheesecake poses. Ramos, to his credit, keeps these to a minimum. The zipper on Natasha’s catsuit dips suspiciously low in a few places - notably on Stefano Caselli's cover - but Ramos at least can’t be faulted for the pre-existing costume design.

I can’t conclude this issue without pointing out Slott’s love of parallelism. I’ve noted this before, in my review of ASM #649, but it’s on further display here. Last issue, we saw how Doc Ock has spent months preparing to fight the Avengers, using clever and imaginative tools against them. Here, we see the fruits of Spider-Man having spent months preparing to fight the Sinister Six. Each general is a smart man who’s fighting battles he’s prepared to fight. In this issue, we’ve got Ock inducing Spidey to go to the Sahara, so as to trap him with the Sandman; and Spidey accepting the bait because he wants to fight the Sandman. There’s more levels to this story than in a typical superhero brawl.

Slott loves setting up villains who are mirror images of Spider-Man: first it was Philgoblin, now it’s Doc Ock. It’s this attention to detail, the resonances it establishes, that sets up “Ends of the Earth” as a classic in the making.

Overall Rating...

My colleague Adam Rivett rated the first two installments of “Ends of the Earth” at four and four-and-a-half webs respectively. I’m ramping it up to five webs. Dan Slott, may you write Amazing Spider-Man forever.