Comics : Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 4) #1

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This review was first published on: 19 Oct 2015.

Background...

The Marvel Universe and the Ultimate Universe collided, and both were destroyed.

Then the Secret Wars happened.

And now everything’s back the way it used to be…?

Beats me, I didn’t read Secret Wars.

Anyway, before all of that happened, in the last issue of Amazing Spider-Man (vol. 3), Parker Industries had been destroyed by foul play, but Peter swore he would rebuild the company. Since then, months have passed. Let’s see what’s happened since.

In Detail...

"Worldwide"
Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 4) #1 (Story 1)
Dec 2015 : SM Title
Summary: New Parker Industries; Zodiac
Writer:  Dan Slott
Pencils:  Giuseppe Camuncoli
Inker:  Cam Smith
Cover Art:  Alex Ross
Colorist:  Marte Gracia
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Review

“With great power… comes greater speed, storage, and battery life.”

Apparently, Parker Industries is back with a vengeance, and it’s now in the mobile Internet game, providing “affordable Internet access with clear reception and unlimited data, anywhere on Earth”. P.I.’s ‘webware’ is being shilled by the company CEO, Peter Parker, as well as corporate mascot Spider-Man!

At first this took me aback, until I remembered that Spider-Man was originally a persona Peter developed in order to work as an entertainer. Shilling is built into the character’s DNA, whether in the comics, or especially outside of it, where Spider-Man’s image has been plastered on all sorts of merchandise for half a century now. It’s a nice meta-comment…

...but one we don’t have time to mull over right now, because we’re being dropped right into the action. Goons with energy weapons are driving a sports car at high speed through the streets of Shanghai, with Spider-Man and Mockingbird in hot pursuit. They’ve got slick wheels of their own: a brand new Spider-Mobile, one that looks like the bottom chassis of the Nolan Batmobile with the top chassis of the 1967 Batmobile, all with a hot red paint job.

As the pair of them kibitz,we readers can admire their new costumes. Mockingbird’s traded in her strapless blouse, jacket, and goggles for a full spandex top and domino mask; I don’t mind losing the sexist display of cleavage, but I miss the goggles. I mean, everyone knows who she is, so why bother concealing her identity? Goggles make more sense for super-spies anyways. Meanwhile, Spider-Man’s costume is only subtly different: his eyepieces, spider-insignia, and web-pits have a faint green glow to them. Hmm.

The kibitzing establishes a few facts. The bad guys are members of the Zodiac, the horoscope-themed criminal organization that’s not been seen much since Avengers in the 1970s. They’ve stolen the secure servers from Parker Industries, which is a real catch for them, because it offers blackmail opportunities on a global scale. Spidey’s determined to retrieve it for the benefit of Parker Industries, and when Nick Fury (who looks like Samuel L. Jackson - a post-Secret-Wars-tweak?) blusters about it, Spider-Man insists on having his way, or he’ll stop designing tech for SHIELD. Fury takes this threat seriously enough to back off.

So, Parker Industries is big and successful enough to have a Shanghai branch; its product is widespread enough to threaten the integrity of data worldwide; and Peter Parker is doing design for SHIELD, and is important enough to have leverage on them. Apparently Spider-Man really has hit the big time.

If, like me, you’d forgotten that Peter Parker didn’t know how to drive, writer Dan Slott hasn’t, and helpfully tells us that Peter has been taking lessons. Apparently spider-sense and spider-reflexes make you a natural stunt driver, if you bother to learn how. Seems legit.

As the Zodiac thugs try to destroy the road to slow the Spider-Mobile down, Spidey puts it into wall-crawling mode, and drives along the bottom of the highway bypass above, much to the crowd’s delight - they all have Spider-Man themed merchandise. So Spider-Man is a global darling now, eh? Must have been some good press to overcome the blackening his reputation got in the “Ends of the Earth” arc.

Mockingbird takes the wheel as Spider-Man webswings onto the Zodiac vehicle’s hood. A combination of electrified webbing - pardon me, “micro-coiled Z-metal” - and expanding web-foam stops the car and brings it to a safe stop. “More all-new innovations from Parker Industries! Field-tested on the world’s best test dummies. That’d be you, Lion-O.”

“Leo, you fool! One of the Lords of the Zodiac!” says the lead villain, who is indeed wearing a lion-themed mask.

“Whatever. Kraven’s nipples called. They want your face back.”

As Spider-Man goes to make sure the crowd of watching civilians was unhurt by the chase, Mockingbird easily subdues the Zodiac thugs. To escape interrogation, Leo bites down on a suicide pill hidden in a tooth, but Spider-Man nails him with a modified spider-tracer that delivers an antidote, which Spider-Man designed himself, apparently after watching several other Zodiac soldiers kill themselves this way.

“This again?” asks a skeptical Mockingbird. “More of your ‘when I’m around, no one dies’ crap?”

“No, that was… an impossible goal. I know that now. But I’ll never stop being who I am, Bobbi. And that means I save everyone I can. Everyone.”

Mockingbird is notably unmoved. In fact, she finds this laugh-out-loud corny.

With the action sequence over with, let’s meet our new supporting cast. At Parker Industries Shanghai, we’ve got Lian Tang, the beautiful and hot-blooded designer of the Spider-Mobile. She implies that she’s Peter’s new girlfriend, and pulls rank on Spider-Man, whom she regards as a bodyguard with delusions of grandeur. There’s also Yao Wu, biotech lead; Phillip Chang, renewable energy lead; and Min Wei, Peter Parker’s personal assistant. There’s not much to say about these, as they each appear in only one panel, which they share. Elsewhere in the Parker Industries empire, we’ve got Sajani Jaffrey and Anna-Maria Marconi heading up the London branch, Max Modell and the Horizon Gang heading up the San Francisco branch, and Hobie Brown, the former Prowler, impersonating Spider-Man at those times when Peter has to be in his civvies.

Parker Industries, as we can see, is a big deal; it’s a multi-national company complete with private jet, several product lines, and significant resources. It’s got a variety of non-profit arms, too: there’s Horizon University, which Max Modell is heading up (in addition to running west-coast operations?) and the ‘Uncle Ben Foundation’, a charitable arm dedicated to helping the less fortunate and raising the quality of life, using P.I. technology.

That’s a lot for Peter to handle, and it’s not coming at the expense of his swing time as Spider-Man, who’s the company mascot and Peter Parker’s supposed bodyguard. And also, I guess, a member of the Uncanny Avengers, though that’s not mentioned in this book. So Peter’s supposed to be a poor man’s Elon Musk, I guess? Or, as the book puts it, a poor man’s Tony Stark. And there’s some truth to the metaphor: Peter wants to make the world a better place, so he’s keeping his pay at junior-exec levels.

In a nod to the way the USA has changed in the two years since we last saw Max Modell and his lover Hector, their first reappearance is at their wedding ceremony. In the crowd are Peter, his bodyguard Hobie, his personal assistant Min, and the Horizon Gang: Uatu Jackson, Grady Scraps, Bella Fishbach, and Sajani Jaffrey. (No sign of Jurgen Muntz.) We readers have every reason to be surprised to see Peter and Sajani here, as during the Superior Spider-Man era, Otto-as-Peter and Sajani treated Max pretty shabbily, but apparently the hatchet has been buried.

The wedding is rudely interrupted by more Zodiac thugs, Pisces-themed ones this time, and they’re after Peter… or, rather, his personal webware, as it has “special privileges hardwired into it and access to restricted data caches”. That seems like bad design to me - we’ve already established that Peter is too busy doing top-level strategy for the company, plus his extracurriculars, to be doing the sort of operations work these privileges would require - but let’s not focus on that, let’s focus on the fact that Peter, trapped in Pisces’ spotlights, can’t change into his action uniform.

That’s why he has Hobie Brown on the payroll, of course. Hobie can sneak away and return in mufti. Unfortunately, he’s no substitute for the original; his jokes aren’t funny and he doesn’t have spider-sense, which means he doesn’t duck when he should. “Brown’s not used to this,” Peter frets. “His whole m.o. is striking from the shadows, not out in the open… They could kill him!”

Not seeing an alternative, Peter surrenders his webware to the Pisces leader, but not before giving it the voice command “Reilly. Room 30. Crusher Hogan.” (Count yourself a true Spider-Fan if you recognize all of those references, True Believer!) As the Zodiac troops retreat, Peter explains to an irate Brown that notwithstanding Zodiac’s victory, the webware is now encrypted. Now the original Spider-Man and the Prowler will have to go get it back.

One thing before they do that, though. Peter takes Sajani aside and asks her “are you working with Zodiac? Did you have anything to do with this?” It seems Peter’s reconstructed the security footage from the old P.I. offices, and has discovered that Sajani threw her lot in with the Black Cat, and later the Ghost, to sabotage Peter’s projects in favour of her own.

“That is not happening again. Understood?” he asks grimly.

“Y-yes.”

“I’m glad we had this talk.”

Me, I’d have just fired her. That soft streak of Peter’s is going to get him into trouble someday.

Or maybe it will get him into trouble now, as Sajani has - of course - still got private schemes brewing. At the London office, she, Anna Maria, and the Living Brain take a meeting, and Sajani orders the nanotech project moved ahead of schedule. The nanotech project, readers may recall, was sufficiently advanced to provide for an upgrade of the Living Brain back in Amazing Spider-Man (vol. 3) #18. And what an upgrade it was… somehow, lurking in the Living Brain’s circuits, Otto Octavius lives!

In General...

So Amazing Spider-Man is now a book about a glamourous, jet-setting playboy with limitless wealth, cool toys, and a willingness to tackle global crime. In other words, Peter Parker has become Tony Stark. Or, if you prefer, he’s become James Bond, or even the Bronze Age Bruce Wayne. It’s familiar territory for genre-fiction fans; the only new thing here is that it’s Spider-Man occupying it.

Is it comfortable territory for him?

I’m going to say that yes, it is. It’s sufficiently familiar that it satisfies this reader’s genre cravings, but sufficiently aligned with the character’s DNA that it doesn’t feel like a mismatch. And it’s novel enough to hold my attention.

Let’s unpack all of this a bit. Yes, we’ve seen this sort of thing before. The glamourous jet-setter who enjoys a life of luxury, amazing technology, the company of extraordinary people, fighting bad guys in (what to American eyes are) exotic locales, has been a genre staple for decades, as it hits all of the escapist notes. Iron Man has been mining this territory for years in both the comics pages and on the silver screen; to a lesser extent, so has Batman, both in Christopher Nolan’s film trilogy and - less successfully - in the 1970s comics. (And perhaps as well in more recent comics work like Batman Incorporated, but I haven’t ready any of that, so I can’t comment.) So we’re doing something for which there’s ample precedent, which should enough to quell any fears that this is just an ego trip by a creator at the expense of the fans, like, say, Megalomaniacal Spider-Man #1, or Spider-Man: Reign.

Now just because the super-spy schtick is well-established territory doesn’t mean it’s right for Spider-Man. Some genre approaches are simply too orthogonal to an existing character for the two to accommodate each other. Take, for instance, swords and savagery, which takes a hero and plunks him down, without companions, in a savage, alien, Conan-style world. This worked all right for the Hulk in “Planet Hulk” or Wolverine in Savage Wolverine; less well for Captain America when Rick Remender had him do it last year (2014); and not at all in Sword of the Atom when DC tried it in the early 1980s. The Hulk and Wolverine are already wild, so putting them in dangerous, wild settings worked. Cap isn’t wild, but he is a freedom fighter and a soldier, so putting him in a violent, warlike, oppressed setting is a decent fit. But Ray Palmer was a mild-mannered scientist who solved mysteries; Conan-type antics didn’t fit him at all.

So how well does Spider-Man fit in with custom suits, cool gadgets and cars, private jets, and non-American locations? Pretty well, I think. For most of his career, he’s been a gadget-maker fighting other technologically-empowered superfolk. Although strongly associated with New York, as Marvel’s most popular character, he’s traveled all across the world, as well as parts beyond - space, the Microverse, etc. So far, there’s no mismatch. In fact, arguably the 'Ends of the Earth' event from earlier in Slott's tenure was planted firmly in this territory. The big change to the status quo is not so much to Spider-Man but to Peter Parker. As the song put it: “Wealth and fame? He’s ignored. Action is his reward”. These days he’s all about the wealth and fame. Moreover, he’s also about the respect. Traditionally, Spider-Man was the hard-luck superhero, who did the right thing but was still hated by J. Jonah Jameson and lots of New Yorkers, and held in disdain by the superhero community as a lightweight. And Peter Parker was the nice guy who couldn’t hold a steady job, disappointed his friends, etc. He was the guy for whom things usually didn’t go well, the Hero Who Could Be You.

Me, I’ve always thought this latter part was overblown. That’s certainly who Spider-Man was in the Lee-Ditko years. But since then, Peter Parker has also been the guy who hung around with rich folks like the Osborns; who dated knockouts and was married for twenty years, real time, to a supermodel; who published books of his photography and did Big Science; whose crime-fighting alter ego was a member of two Avengers teams and the Fantastic Four. For Peter to break big like he has isn’t unprecedented. It fits in just fine with the range of characteristics already established for him - for more on this, see my discussion of character sliders in the review of ASM #648.

So yes, I’m happy to see Spider-Man try his hand at super-spydom. It’s not my favourite genre by any means, but seeing Peter Parker knock up against the tropes of the genre should be interesting: Tony Stark, for instance, would never have given a press conference with his fly open, as happened here. It’s touches like that which should make this interesting. I’m sure there are haters who think Spider-Man should only be beating up muggers and bank robbers in New York alleys, but I’m equally sure there were haters in the 1970s who thought the same thing about Batman, but if he hadn’t become a globetrotting hero, we’d never have had R’as al-Ghul and the League of Shadows. So much for the haters. As for me, I’m happy to read a book that doesn’t feel like a tribute band covering ASM #1 through #38.

With all that out of the way, let’s indulge in a few quick hits:

  • It’s nice to see the Horizon Gang again! I missed them, so much so that my biggest hope upon hearing about the new direction for ASM was that Slott would bring them back. Still, Otto and Sajani hurt Max pretty badly; I’m sorry that we didn’t see how that was patched up. It’s a missing story I’d like to see one day.
  • So when exactly did Peter get over ‘no one dies’? At the end of ‘Ends of the Earth’? When he tried to kill Doc Ock in ASM #700? I’d have liked an editorial reminder on this point.
  • The brief discussion of Parker Industries’ finances at the press conference was interesting. Is PI a private company or a publicly-held one? Initially it was privately owned, with Peter, Aunt May, and Jay Jameson holding the stock, but that may have changed. If it’s still privately owned, then all of this jazz about Peter’s salary is a sideshow, because his stock holdings should make him part of the 1%. (Remember that the next time you hear politicians gassing on about income tax rates; capital gains taxes are what we should really care about. Wake up, sheeple!) But if PI is a public company, then Peter’s decisions to pursue long-term growth, avoid environmental externalities, and invest in the company’s human capital, at the expense of short-term stock-price increases, should lead to restive shareholders. This is probably not fruitful territory for an action mag like Amazing Spider-Man to pursue, but I at least would enjoy some exploration of it.
  • Really, Marvel? You’re going to charge us an extra buck to read extended ads for other Spider-titles? Speaking of exploitation in the service of short-term stock bumps…
  • While this is, I think, a stronger issue than the Amazing Spider-Man (vol. 3) #1 that came out last year, one thing that issue did that this one doesn’t was to include a brief primer on Spider-Man’s powers, gadgets, and stuff. That’s always a good thing to include in a book that might be someone’s first issue of Spider-Man. Given how stuffed this book is, I think they should have found room for it.

Overall Rating...

This should be a fun ride through territory we haven’t seen explored before in this title. I’ll say four webs (the too-fast-to-breathe tour of the supporting cast holds it back a little).

Footnote...

With the conclusion of Amazing Spider-Man (vol. 3), is there anything we can say about that title? I’m afraid not. Like I said about Spider-Woman (vol. 5) that just wrapped up, this volume doesn’t cohere as a body of work: the intrusion of “Spider-Verse” in the middle sucked out all of the oxygen, leaving the first and last parts, where Peter first tries his hand at tech-company CEO, without momentum or depth. Plus, given how much time we spent on the Black Cat’s development as Queen of Crime, her sudden absence from ASM is disappointing. At least, I figure she’s not going to be appearing here in any significant way; if she was, there should have been room for her in this issue, at the expense of some of the other stuff going on. I guess she’ll be over in Silk now? Pity.