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Dan Slott

Best Comic of 2013: Superior Spider-Man

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superiorspidermanOh, it WOULD be, wouldn’t it?

It’s probably not a huge surprise that Superior Spider-Man is getting this accolade from us. We’re both huge fans of the character and in previous years we’ve given nods to Amazing Spider-Man, Ultimate Comics Spider-Man and Spider-Men in our end of year lists. But when you consider that 12 months ago, Dan Slott killed Peter Parker and allowed the body of his greatest foe to usurp his life, shouldn’t we be upset? Shouldn’t we be angry? Shouldn’t we be joining those who think Dan Slott has gone too far and calling for his immediate removal?

Well, no. Because Superior Spider-Man is the most original, compelling and consistently brilliant storyline that the Spider-Man titles have seen in years. Whether rehabilitating forgotten 90s characters like Stunner, bringing back early ideas Lee/Ditko ideas like The Living Brain or finding a new and twisted take on existing foes like The Vulture, Slott has managed to create a Spider-Man comic that simultaneously revels in the character’s lore while forging a new one with every issue. The story of Octavius’ second chance is hugely compelling. We may hate him for what he’s done, but at the same time he’s trying to be better, and often facing people so much worse than him that it’s easy to know who to root for. It’s a superhero soap opera with all the classic tropes, and too few comics can do that in such a sincere manner without feeling dated or hokey.

And Peter Parker may not actually be appearing in the comic, but in very real a way this entire run is about him. In every decision Octavius makes that puts others at risk, in every victory he uses to further his image and agenda, in every moment where his confidence spills over into arrogance, you can’t help but think: Peter Parker would’ve done this differently. Where Peter felt he had to put the costume on to save lives, Octavius does it to prove a point: that he’s better than everyone else. He may be getting results now, but we know that it can’t last forever. Half of the fun of reading Superior Spider-Man is waiting for the slip-up that undoes him.

Of course, the entire run isn’t down to Slott alone. He’s had some top collaborators, too. Ryan Stegman has never been a bad artist, but his work on Superior Spider-Man is something else, cementing his place as one of the industry’s best. Chris Yost’s appearances as co-writer haven’t slowed the series down at all, and should the day come when Slott leaves the series, one can’t help but identify Yost as the natural successor. And, of course, editor Steve Wacker – now sadly outgoing following a promotion into Marvel’s animation – has had such a phenomenal output over the last few years that it’s impossible not to recognise his contribution. But ultimately, this is Slott’s baby. He masterminded the story and since its on his shoulders that the abuse inevitably comes to rest, so should the praise. In Superior Spider-Man, Slott has cemented himself as one of the character’s top writers, the equal of Roger Stern, J. M. DeMatteis and Gerry Conway.

You might argue that in a market where you’ve got books like Hawkeye, Daredevil and Young Avengers practically straining to out-innovate one another, Superior Spider-Man is just a little too traditional to be called the best book of the year. But here’s our take. It’s not the most surprising book. It’s not the most clever. It’s arguably not even the best-looking or best-written in a purely objective sense. But when it comes down to it, there’s no other superhero title we’d rather read each week, because through its combination of passion, plotting and execution, it’s managing to be the most difficult thing of all: impossible to put down.

Amazing Spider-Man #621

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amazingspiderman621At this point, any semblance of a “rotating” creative team structure for Amazing Spider-Man appears to have collapsed entirely, leading “whoever’s available” to take over, but actually it’s working out quite well in terms of getting top talent on the book, however briefly. In this issue, Slott wraps up his Mysterio arc with a single-issue coda featuring the Black Cat – but far more interesting than that is the presence of Michael Lark on pencils.

Lark has recently been seen pencilling Daredevil with Ed Brubaker, so it’s little suprise, given that title’s noir-ish and gritty tone, that this story is about Spidey and Felicia stealing something from Mr. Negative. What is surprising is that Lark’s pencils are considerably more polished, perhaps representing a more mainstream approach. Despite the textual connection to the previous issues, there’s absolutely no attempt to emulate Marcos Martin’s style (nor would you expect one) but as a version of itself, Lark’s work looks fantastic.

Writing-wise, Slott has never quite lived up to the boundless energy and humour he displayed in his first few arcs on the title, but it’s still well-plotted, well-paced and well-structured. Under Slott’s direction, Spidey is startlingly competent as a super-hero, and yet retains as put-upon by the world as ever. Sadly, the one area where the issue falters is in Aunt May’s “negatived” subplot, which has already stretched beyond believability after only a few weeks. If it doesn’t get wrapped up soon, it could get tedious fast – so far all we’ve seen is the same scene over and over, in which May chews out a member of the cast, who stand by the wayside looking stunned.

On the plus side, Carlie Cooper finally gets to do something other than hang around looking a bit glum. It’s good to see a prominent new member of the cast come into her own, and her scenes with Peter finally suggest some chemistry between them that’s actually interested to read about. If this trend rapidly develops, she might actually start to stand alongside the former favourites – probably not Gwen or MJ, but it’s possible she could be at least a Brant. Let’s just hope no-one’s out there thinking “right, the readers are finally interested, let’s kill her off entirely.”

All in all, Amazing Spider-Man remains consistently good. If every issue was this brilliant, the series would be considered unmissable – as it is, it’s merely a reliably decent diversion from week to week.

James Hunt | 23rd February, 2010

Amazing Spider-Man #620

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amazing620You know, I’m not sure if this “Gauntlet” branding on the current issues of Amazing is as necessary as Marvel seem to reckon it is. While there’s clearly going to be an eventual storyline in which assorted classic Spidey villains are gathered together to beat the stuffing out of him en masse, it’s not really a story at all at the moment – rather, we’ve got a series of relatively standalone (although the standard continuity plot threads – Carlie, the DB, Harry, Aunt May and so on – that have been running since Brand New Day continue to do so; indeed, Spider-Man hasn’t been so entertainingly “soap”y for a while) stories that just happen to feature classic villains, at the end of which they each seem to be recruited by the Kravenette (as I’m now insisting on calling her, and seeing if it sticks). The thing is, those scenes add little to nothing to the story that’s gone before – and all they do is falsely inflate anticipation of the upcoming climax that it’s going to have to be pretty special to live up to it. If the presence of all of these villains – thought “off the board” after their respective defeats – turned out to be a surprise a few months down the line, then that’d probably have more impact.

Basically, the Spider-team need to have more faith in the quality of their current set of stories without feeling the need to attract attention by constantly branding them under an “event” header. Because at the moment, those stories are generally very good – and this one, in particular, has been excellent. The plotting has perhaps proven a little unnecessarily convoluted – as it often tends to, in just about any story or medium, whenever opposing gangsters are involved – but that’s actually kind of appropriate here, considering the primary villain is the wilfully-obfuscating Mysterio. Regular readers of this site will know already of my affection for Ol’ Fish-Bowl Head, and he’s absolutely the perfect villain for Slott to write – relying as he does on that mixture of humour and seriousness, of gravitas of ambition (his plans do involve murderous mobsters and faking of deaths, after all) and inherent lameness.

The whole thing is helped, too, by the presence of Marcos Martin. I didn’t go wild for Martin the first time he showed up on this book, but he’s gradually worked his way up my important opinion rankings (which are, of course, all important) and gives us a truly stellar turn, here. I think it’s partly that, like Slott, he just works so well with Mysterio – because he mixes that beautifully retro and often slightly simplistic style of his with a quite cool and understated “modernising” design of the classic outfit. And does the bowl-head haircut and nose properly when we see Beck out of costume later, too. While he may not be a bravura storyteller of the same level, he’s still one of a few artists who’ve ever enabled you to squint at the page and think that Ditko might be drawing Spidey again – and that’s no mean feat.

It all adds up to a book that (three) week(s) in, week out, is on the whole pretty consistently delivering a strong mixture of the old-school Spider-Man tone and aesthetic, with pleasingly modern twists here and there. It’d be nice if some of the stories themselves were truly gripping, “Can’t wait for next issue” masterpieces, but that aside, it’s basically giving me a Spidey book that’s almost exactly how I’d want it. The current writers are (generally) people who just get the character – and how he should interact with his surrounding cast, and vice versa – and long may they continue to do so.

Seb Patrick | 16th February, 2010

Dark Reign – The List: Amazing Spider-Man

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darkreignthelistspidermanA few months ago, Adam Kubert drew half an issue of Wolverine in which the titular character teamed up with Spider-Man. At the time, even as I was raving about how great it was to see Kubert drawing Wolvey again, I couldn’t help but notice that he did a brilliant Spider-Man as well. “If anyone at Marvel has any sense,” I said, “They’ll get Kubert to draw a Spider-Man issue as soon as possible.”

Well, evidently they do have sense. Here, Kubert teams up with Dan Slott, the man who was born to write Spider-Man, and the results are nothing short of fantastically entertaining. The thing that pleases me most is that for the first time since the Avengers “List” special, the plot actually deals, directly, with the Dark Reign meta-arc rather than the ongoing plot of the star’s book. We know Osborn can’t stay where he is forever – and this issue actually sows a fairly convincing seed towards his downfall.

Better yet, editorial seem to have remembered that despite the suit Osborn is wearing, he’s not actually Iron Man’s arch-enemy- he’s Spider-Man’s. Here, the two square off physically and mentally, offering the most satisfying Spider-Man/Osborn meeting in months after the overwrought, Bond-villain theatrics of American Son. As ever, Slott’s dialogue is immediately at home with Spider-Man’s wisecracks, but the rest of the issue is cleverly constructed too, from the brilliantly executed twist as to who actually scores the point against Osborn at the end, to the perfectly constructed plot mechanics, all of which prove that just because a comic is about superheroes, it doesn’t have to be dumb as well.

To round the issue out, there’s a reprint The Pulse #5, where comic where Osborn was finally outed as the Green Goblin and arrested. With Bendis writing and Bagley pencilling, it’s a fun issue in its own right, though its presentation here undoubtedly suffers from being part 5 of a multi-part arc without the previous 4 issues included. Yet another annoying side-effect of trade-focussed decompression. Even so, it’s nigh-impossible not to enjoy a Bendis & Bagley comic, and the Osborn-focussed story makes an enjoyable companion piece to the lead tale. It’s just a pity that I come away from it thinking not about how good that issue was, but about how much potential was wasted when The Pulse got canned 14 issues in, before the concepts had truly taken root. Still – its inclusion makes this a remarkably high-quality comic that’s astonishing value for the cover price – and it’s increasingly rare you can say that about a comic these days.

James Hunt | 20th November, 2009

Amazing Spider-Man #600

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amazingspiderman600Amazing Spider-Man #600 might just be one of the best value books Marvel has released in a decade. In a time when everyone connected to the industry is justifiably wringing its hands at the prospect of individual issues costing $3.99 a pop, 104 pages of entirely new content for $5 makes this issue worth buying just because it’s such amazing value. With a lead story as long as some arcs, and backup strips by an array of talent, it’s definitely an anniversary package that Marvel can be proud of.

Whether it works as a story in its own right, however, is something I’m still not sure about.

Cramming something like 4 issue’s worth of story into one book makes it a long read – but it’s not a story that makes particular use of that space. The lead story feels rather plodding at times, and although peripheral characters make the odd appearance, so much of the pagecount is given to conventional superheroics that their presence seems almost token. Even Romita’s artwork feels a bit rushed. And, let’s be honest, this isn’t the first time most of us have read about a dying villain enacting his final, greatest scheme, and it’s not even the first time we’ve read such a story about Doc Ock. And, call me a curmudgeon if you will, but if we’re going to do a Doc Ock story at all, why take the character so far from his roots such that he’s basically someone else entirely?

There are a few moments of brilliance – the opening sequence featuring Octavius speaking to a physician highlights an oft-ignored but intriguing part of the character – namely, that he’s not really a superhuman – and the final page can’t fail to elicit a smile – but on the whole, it’s not very eventful, which is a problem for what is ostensibly an event book.

The backup stories are a great idea, but in practise most of them feel a bit flat – with the notable exception of Marcos Martin and Stan Lee’s, featuring fantastic art and some classic “his mind is no longer in mint condition” moments from Lee. The bonus “Spider-Man Covers You’ll Never See” pin-ups are mostly poor, again, with the notable exception of the last one, which is a joke so laugh-out-loud funny that I won’t spoil it.

Overall, it’s hard to know what to make of Amazing #600. I want to like it. At times, I actually do. But more often than not, I feel like the reality has fallen short of the promise. Perhaps that’s a failure of my expectation more than the book itself, but as a regular reader of the series, I was hoping for something a bit more exciting than usual – and this, if anything, went in the other direction.

James Hunt | 23rd July, 2009

Amazing Spider-Man #591

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If Marvel are looking to ditch the thrice-monthly, rotating-writers setup of Amazing Spider-Man any time soon, then it should be pretty clear to them that Dan Slott has given by far the most convincing audition to get the job full-time. While other writers have impressed in flashes – or, in some cases, not at all – Slott has proven pretty consistently that he has an absolute handle on the tone, style and wit of a good Spidey book, as well as a knack for getting the character. And while the first part of this two-part story featuring the Fantastic Four felt a little by-the-numbers, the second part manages to make itself one of the most important issues of the “Brand New Day” (are we still calling it that?) continuity so far.

In tackling the whole mindwipe fiasco properly for the first time, Slott sets himself up for something of a fall, but at least manages to come up with some form of logic for the whole thing – even if it still leaves as many questions as answers, particularly concerning how Peter knows how it all works in the first place. Nevertheless, it’s about time the issue came up, and considering Spidey’s own history, it makes sense that the Fantastic Four should be involved somehow. We don’t necessarily want him unmasking to all and sundry a la Ultimate, of course, but dealing with the story elements that could be hampered by the mindwipe one by one (see also recent issues of New Avengers) feels like a step in the right direction, and the eventual resolution is a pleasantly-played scene.

What really makes this issue stand out, however, is its – quite literal – advancement of the continuity in other areas. I’m sure there will be those who will quibble over the fact that the “Brain Trust” have seemingly come up with new positions they’d like to place various characters in and decided to simply fast-forward rather than build up to them organically – but to be honest, with the franchise having felt a little stale in recent months, and overly rooted in the aftermath of the Spider-Tracer-Killer/Menace storylines, it’s a nice way of freshening things up; and what can’t be denied is the cleverness of the way Slott rattles through the changing events of the “real world” in parallel with Spidey and the FF’s adventures in the Macroverse. He even finds time for some decent character progression (and introduction, even), and gets some decent humour (including one laugh-out-loud moment) out of J. Jonah Jameson. I can’t say it’s a storytelling device I’d like to see used all the time, but here, it’s entertaining enough to be effective in achieving its goal – although again, I can’t help but quibble with a bit of the issue’s internal logic (if time moves faster in the regular world than in the Macroverse, then why has “a lifetime” passed there since they visited two years ago? I’ve a sneaking feeling Slott completely misused the word “exponential” in his attempt to explain the contradiction).

Rarely for a present-day comic, it feels like there’s a heck of a lot of story in the pages of this – and in these financial times, it’s always nice to have a sense of value for money. It’s true that the Macroverse stuff isn’t the most compelling adventure the character’s ever had, but nevertheless, there’s essentially two issues’ worth of content in here, and that’s no bad thing – helped by the style of Barry Kitson, who’s not exactly George Perez or anything, but still has a relatively “old school” feel that allows for a decent amount of imagery, panels and dialogue to be packed onto a single page.

And it all leads up to a twist that, while guessable from advance publicity, is nevertheless an intriguing new situation for the Spider-verse (well… Spider-city, I guess) to find itself in. While the realism around it happening at this point in time is possibly dubious, it’s such an obvious idea that I’m surprised it hasn’t been done before – and it’s rich in story potential. So long as Slott is telling as many of those stories as possible, the Spidey books feel like a genuinely interesting place to spend some time.

Seb Patrick | 16th April, 2009

Amazing Spider-Man #590

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One of the questions that arose following the continuity change-up of Brand New Day centered on exactly how Spider-Man’s secret identity got put back under wraps, and who knew it – with particular emphasis on Spidey’s friends, such as Daredevil and Johnny Storm. Readers found out about Daredevil fairly early on, but despite editorial insistance that no-one knows his identity, the degree to which Spider-Man and Torch’s friendship was altered has remained a mystery – until now. The answer isn’t quite as straightforward as it might seem.

Dan Slott has been – at least if you ask Comics Daily writers – the most consistent Spider-Man writer since the move to thrice-monthly shipping was completed, and having previously written a Spider-Man/Human Torch miniseries, it’s fitting that he handles this 2-issue story focusing on the characters. Having proven he can write a good Spidey, Slott now auditions himself for Fantastic Four, opting to pen a classic F4 tale of adventure and exploration that simply happens to have Spider-Man in.

While the character interplay and dialogue are Slott’s strong points (never more evident than in his Torch/Spidey banter) he also shows he’s not above some old-school Stan Lee-style plotting as the 5 heroes hop in Reed’s latest experimental craft and visit the “Macroverse”. Complementing Slott’s writing, Kitson’s art has a clean, classic look well-suited to both the F4 and Spider-Man, and that itself makes the flashback portions of the story (which reference a previously unseen team-up) fit just that extra little bit better.

If there’s any problem with the issue, it’s in the structure, which ends on not one, but two cliffhangers – both of which are immediately predictable. Now, in fairness, it’s difficult to end every issue on something that’ll excite jaded, grown-up fans, but it’s a brave writer indeed who ends on two cliffhangers that anyone over the age of 12 could predict the resolution for. There’s the chance Slott will throw a curveball and bring something unexpected to the next issue, but more likely he’s just going to pick up the story seamlessly, so that it reads fine without a break when it gets collected. That, at least, is forgivable, and thankfully the issue isn’t too marred overall.

James Hunt | 6th April, 2009

Amazing Spider-Man Extra #2

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You may recall that the function of Amazing Spider-Man Extra #1 was to plug some continuity gaps in a rather half-arsed way – indeed, one of the stories from #1 takes place at a point in continuity that, six months since it was published, still hasn’t yet arrived for readers. The series itself is now about the become the de facto “second” spider-title on a bi-monthly release schedule, so if it wants fans to actually buy it, we need two things from this issue: good stories, and a compelling reason why they couldn’t be told in the main series, neither of which we got with the first issue’s page-filling offcuts.

Shockingly, this issue manages to turn that around and provide both.

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The opening piece is an Anti-Venom solo story by Dan Slott and Chris Bachalo. Although it doesn’t feature Spider-Man at all, it maintains a strong focus on a recently-developed corner of the spider-verse: the FEAST shelter, and new villain Mr. Negative. While the material attempts to concentrate mostly on Brock’s new status quo as a kind of homeless-rescuing Venom-like hero/monster, it’s not half as interesting as the few scenes we get that show what Martin “Mr. Negative” Li might actually be up to, and his plans for all those refugees that Oscorp was experimenting on. It’s a nice trick, delivering this valuable (if non-essential) information to readers in a side-story, and whether or not you particularly enjoy the way Brock’s lot has been recast, it’s hard to argue that this isn’t a well-constructed short with something to offer both regular and infrequent readers.

By contrast, the second feature, showing Wolverine and Spider-Man heading out to a bar, is utterly throwaway in terms of continuity, instead offering a fantastic character piece that neatly defines the relationship between the two heroes. Surprisingly, Wells even manages to out-perform Slott in the humour department, offering some decent comedy of the kind that Wolverine and Spider-Man together can’t help but generate. Even better, Wells also contrasts that with some genuine emotion that manages to cast Wolverine in a sympathetic light. It’s better than any of the multitudinous Wolverine one-shots that Marvel has flooded the shelves with over the last year, and it’s one of the best things I’ve read from Wells in ages to boot. Paulo Rivera’s artwork certainly doesn’t hurt either.

It’s unexpected, but Amazing Spider-Man Extra #2 actually convinces me that the series might be worth sticking with after all. Neither story would work in the main title – the former because it doesn’t feature Peter at all, and the latter because it’s not a 22-page story, however you stretch it. Strangely, by jamming the two together in this special, Marvel have ensured that they both complement Peter’s world perfectly. If future issues stick to the formula set down by this one, well, I’ll be glad to buy it.

Amazing Spider-Man #581

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Ever since Brand New Day was first released, with its associated mangling of continuity, fans have been asking that the details to get cleared up. Marvel, eager to look to the future, has spent very little time trying to fill in the gaps, promising only that concerns will be addressed – eventually. With this issue, one of the major continuity wrinkles is finally bashed flat as we finally discover what led to the the return of Harry Osborn.

Whether Mephisto was actually involved in Harry’s return is kept wisely quiet. No part of his resurrection requires a break from continuity as established, and mirrors his father’s return almost exactly – the goblin formula kept him alive, and he hid (though not voluntarily) in Europe until returning to the US and having his status re-established. Upon reading this, it’s hard not to think that the solution offered displays a lack of imagination. Even the telling of it is relegated to a quick, recap-style flashback, and the feeling readers are left with is one of begrudging placation rather than the year-long payoff that they were rightly expecting. The intention seems to be that Marvel want readers to understand that this is the status quo, and that they’re not going to waste too much effort connecting it with the past.

Of course, whatever you think of the manner in which the continuity plugging has been done, the issue is still one of Slott’s weakest. While there are some good scenes between Peter, Harry, Carlie and Lily early in the issue, the latter half of the issue is largely built around Harry’s under-established former family, neither of whom have been members of the supporting cast any major capacity for some time. The ingredients for this issue all seem correct – a heavy focus on Peter’s personal relationship with his cast, a look at events that occurred during the Brand New Day “missing time”, and the return of a classic villain – but somehow Slott doesn’t quite manage to pull it all together.

Slott’s dialogue, at least, is on fine form (particularly Aunt May, recalling an villainous encounter from the past: “I don’t want you taking this lightly, Peter, Molten men are dangerous!”). McKone’s artwork is as reliable as ever, though Cox’s colours give the issue a slightly muted feel that makes even the scenes featuring Mysterio and Molten Man feel a bit more subdued than you’d expect from such larger-than-life villains. It’s not a bad issue by normal standards, but judged against Slott’s previous work, well, it’s hard not to be just a little disappointed.

James Hunt | 18th December, 2008

The Sunday Pages #31

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This week: the usual selection of capsule reviews, including Amazing Spider-Man #573, Captain Britain and MI:13 #6, DC Universe Decisions #3, Titans #6, Ghost Rider #28 and Uncanny X-Men #503. Enjoy!

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