This is going to be an all encompassing rant regarding Nick Spencer’s era of Amazing Spider-Man. Personally, I think of it as ranging from forgettable, to annoying to rage quit inducing. This is all strange for me, because most of the time I can at least read a story, shrug and say “It was ok.” I don’t like it when people ask me to review something because I’ll usually give such an unhelpful opinion but ASM volume 5 annoyed me from the first issue. In fairness, my irritation carried over from Dan Slott’s last two issues, published before the title was handed over to Spencer.
The Red Goblin had just killed Flash Thompson in front of Spider-Man. Spidey went after his hated enemy and mass chaos erupted in the battle that followed. The thing is, the fight between Spidey and Gobby had been raging for the whole issue and Thompson’s death changed nothing. Flash’s death wasn’t spoken of again for the rest of the issue, save for a small two page story at the end of the book. I thought more might said in Slott’s final issue, Amazing Spider-Man #801. I was wrong, Flash wasn’t mentioned at all.
So, Amazing Spider-Man (vol. 5) #1 was published in May 2018, and I was already unhappy that the title had been renumbered. On the first page, Spider-Man is swinging through the air talking about how he is in such a good place. Apparently some time had passed since Flash had been ripped open right in front of Peter but his happiness was jarring. The art was bright and colorful and Peter was glad to be back with Mary Jane. I’m not crazy about overly colorful and stylish art and Pete’s carefree attitude was irritating. I understood that Spencer had his own stories to tell and Flash’s death hadn’t been his story but the glossing over of a very long time character’s death rubbed me the wrong way.
As the new issues were published, my opinion didn’t improve. Flash had been swept under the rug (He had a more meaningful reaction from Eddie Brock in Venom #7 than in Amazing Spider-Man. Brock and Thompson were far from friends but at least Ed seemed shaken by his death.) and now we were getting corny stories about Peter and Spider-Man having two separate bodies, with Peter no longer having a sense of fun and the webhead lost his sense of responsibility. We had a new Big Man show up. I was sure that if ever there were a character that no one wanted to see more of, it was the Big Man. Who was the new face behind the mask? Frederick Foswell, Jr., the son of the first Big Man and brother of the second. Oy. The “family member out for revenge” story, again. The tropes of obsession, vendettas, and fate worked well after Harry Osborn became the second Green Goblin. Sadly, the Goblin story became so popular that it’s themes became cheap gimmicks.
Then I heard about “Hunted” and actually felt excited for the next storyline. It had only been eight years since Kraven the Hunter had been resurrected and he hadn’t even been mentioned in that time. Sergei Kravinoff”s return from death left me with mixed feelings, as it probably had with many readers. “Kraven’s Last Hunt” is one of the most popular Spider-Man stories written in the character’s nearly sixty year history so undoing the ending of that story was going to rub people the wrong way. No one was asking for Kraven to return but I couldn’t help being curious. Yes, I fell right into Marvel’s hands.
It started out strong, even if the idea of capturing and hunting animal themed criminals had already been done by Sergei’s son, Alyosha Kravinoff, in “Hunter/Hunted.” It made sense for Kraven to need the scientific help of Arcade to build the robots and the force field but I wished that any other mad scientist had been used. Arcade is an X-Men villain and I never cared for the X-Men, so for me he sucks by association. I had no idea that he had become such a popular character until coming across a YouTube video about him. I’m guessing Spencer had been told to include him in “Hunted” by the editors at Marvel. I would have preferred the Tinkerer or Robot Master be the mad scientist instead of Arcade but so be it.
I felt it when Gibbon was killed by one of the robots, even if it was obvious that he wasn’t going to be one of the survivors. Still, it really had to be that way, didn’t it? What better way to show Kraven’s callousness towards the hunted people than to include Martin Blank, the poor sap that he had made into a supervillain? Gibbon wasn’t even a criminal as much as a moron in a monkey costume. Vulture taking advantage of Gibbon’s murder to make himself leader of the hunted criminals was completely Adrian Toomes.
I’ve always liked Vulture, he has all of the makings of one of the top notch villains but he has always been overshadowed by bigger bad guys like Osborn or Octavius. Without them around, this was his time to shine. Actually, I’m not sure why Otto wasn’t included. Was he still the Superior Spider-Man? Anyway, we still had the second Doctor Octopus included, which I was glad to see. (Carolyn Trainer is called “Lady Octopus” now, which doesn’t sound as cool.) I was surprised that Lady Octopus was put into the background of the story and the White Rabbit got as much attention as she did. It seems backwards to me. If anything, I think Spencer missed an opportunity to have a battle of egos between Vulture and Lady Octopus over leadership of the prisoners, which would have jeopardized their survival and made for a better story. More on Lady Octopus later.
The Black Cat and Billy “Snake Boy” Connors had a great story of their own buried inside of “Hunted.” They stayed out of the action of the story, for the most part, but had the most character development overall. Maybe Felicia learning to take care of Billy despite blaming him for her situation wasn’t original but it is in character for her. She’s the badass with the reluctant heart, going back to “Maximum Carnage.” Billy, meanwhile, was still terrified of his father after the events of “Shed,” as he should be. He was still struggling if he was more afraid of the robots or the Lizard.
The problem with the story was Kraven himself. He was a side note. As Arcade said, “he’s busy brooding and being mysterious.” That sums it up. After waiting for eight years, all he did during his big return was stare out a window while wearing a tuxedo. It also bothered his new “son,” who was a clone of himself. The unnamed clone had trained for that moment for his whole life, yet it was passing him. He called his father a coward and left him. Maybe doing nothing was all that was left for Sergei to do. He had committed suicide years ago and his resurrection had been against his wishes. Gone was the introspection, the philosophizing about life, the mourning for Russia he showed prior to his death. Maybe there was nothing to say and there was nothing else for him besides wait for Spider-Man to kill him. Retreading prior territory may be pointless, and maybe there really was nothing more for him but waiting but it was still frustrating.
That takes me back to Arcade. I still see him as a guest villain in this book and he had far more exposure focused on him than the character that the story is named after. For some reason, Kraven called on Arcade to explain the point of the situation to Spider-Man when Spidey was standing right in front of him. When the Vulture was given the device to override the robots, it was given to him by Arcade. When Taskmaster arrived with the Lizard, he turned it over to Arcade.
The end of the story is what made me give up on buying Amazing Spider-Man for over a year. Naturally, despite everything Spider-Man had been put through, he refused to kill Kraven. This was a serious problem for Kravinoff because he had been cursed by his resurrection and the only thing that could kill him was Spider-Man. So he pulled a loophole out of his loincloth and “let the spirit of the ‘Spyder”’ enter him and dressed as Spider-Man, fooling his clone into killing him. The clone unmasked him and was stunned to see his “father’s” face. In a mourning rage, he tore apart Sergei’s study, where he found a note made out to him. In it, Sergei told him that everything he was, his son is now. He is now Kraven the Hunter. The Chameleon, Sergei’s half-brother and shape changing spy, also showed up to thank his dead brother for sparing him from the hunt and promised revenge.
So, it was all for nothing. Kraven committed suicide to be resurrected and cursed with immortality. He then had a clone of himself made, effectively killed himself again and Chameleon swore vengeance. It was all a repeat of “Kraven’s Last Hunt” and it’s sequels. Kraven already had sons (Vladimir and Alyosha) take up his moniker and Chameleon has already promised revenge while at his grave. This time he didn’t have a son replace him but a clone, so how is this as if anything happened at all? That was the end of it.
I didn’t touch another Amazing comic until this year, after getting trades for Christmas. I was eager to see what I’d missed and was glad to see that Doctor Octopus (I mean, Lady Octopus) had shown up. She was another character that, like Flash, had been written out of the series and forgotten. She had joined the Sinister Syndicate in an all female team (the new Electro, Lady Octopus, Beetle, White Rabbit, Scorpia, and Trapster.) It’s an interesting idea but I wondered how picky and choosy Beetle could be in putting a team together to intentionally only pick women. How many female supervillains are there, anyway? The fact that Beetle is the leader was my first warning. Trainer is too narcissistic to take orders, especially without an ulterior motive. Throughout the story, Carolyn seemed very...mellow. Even quirky. It seemed like very odd characterization to have her go from dangerously temperamental to complaining about dairy being in their hideout's refrigerator. (She was planning on organic vegan cheeseburger night that Friday.) Beetle ended the dairy vs vegan argument between Octopus and White Rabbit to explain the team's goal: killing Boomerang.
After they captured him and brought him to the hideout, Electro explained that she was lucky to have found the group, because no one had taken her seriously beforehand. They all had stories like that, including Trainer who shared that Alistaire Smythe had once corrected her about the theory of inherited clone memory, when she was the one that wrote about the theory. I liked that Smythe was the one to mansplain to her, because they had had a rivalry in her early days as a supervillain, so that was some nice attention to continuity. I don't know if Spencer was trying to make the all female gang sympathetic by having them have so much history being kept down by male criminals or if he was doing satire but it was all kind of cringe worthy. Its hard to take the group seriously when they bicker with each other and share sad stories. Not a great image for an all female group. Eventually the gang was captured and Boomerang was rescued after their hideout was attacked by Mayor Fisk's paramilitary troops and Spider-Man.
There is a lot to say about the big over-reaching Kindred story that has spanned Nick Spencer's run, but that should be it's own rant. I've had a lot to say in this novel anyway.