Amazing Spider-Man #797 review: Norman's back and he means business
I haven't read all that much Spider-Man. My first comic was Spider-Man versus Wolverine—a gift from a cousin—but in the years since, I've only picked up a handful of issues. I enjoy the character (I'm not a monster), but I always prioritized my favorite DC heroes above Spidey. With the launch of Comics Now, the announcement that Dan Slott will soon conclude his ten-year run with the wall-crawler, and the start of his final arc landing this week, it seemed like the perfect time to pick up Amazing Spider-Man.
Getting our bearings straight
If, like me, you haven't been following along, here are some relevant preliminaries: Norman Osborn, having been stripped of his abilities and become quite desperate, has joined himself to the Carnage symbiote. Meanwhile, Peter and old flame Mary Jane Watson have reconnected, and it looks like they may pick things up where they left off.
That Norman Osborn is one creepy creep
Our story opens with Osborn posturing in front of some unknown captive. We later learn the identity of this unfortunate prisoner, but for the bulk of the issue, it remains a secret. This sort of setup is well-used in storytelling, but it is especially effective here because of how frightening a villain we're encountering. Osborn's vicious insanity is scary enough, but when—at several points—he indulges the baser urges of the symbiote, his menace multiplies. The reveal of his captive feels late—and therefore a little less effective than Slott perhaps intends—but he is still a very effective evil, and a gripping introduction to this arc.
The last time I checked in with Spider-Man was at the start of Amazing post-Secret Wars. I enjoyed what I read then well-enough, but Peter's quipping maybe went a bit overboard for my tastes. It was all funny, and enjoyable while I read it, but it distracted from any emotional depth that might draw me back in. I think Slott balances #797 much better. There's an excellent sequence in which Spidey apprehends a repeat offender, and the banter between the two of them (and the citizen whose purse was snatched) is very entertaining. But there is also Mary Jane drama and other relational angst that weighs on Peter and makes it easier for me to identify with him. The humor here feels more like a part of a normal personality, rather than the zanier, almost fourth-wall-breaking stuff that I remember from a year or so ago.
I think it also helps that there are several threads moving along at once. Norman waits menacingly in the shadows, and Peter has Mary Jane on the mind, but there are scenes at the Bugle and between Liz Allan and Flash Thompson (Anti-Venom) that will no doubt funnel towards the Goblin problem by the end of it all, and tracking these various subplots and seeing them come ever closer has the potential to make for some good reading.
Stuart Immonen covers a lot of ground in this issue, from the horrifying stage of Norman's hideout, to an intimate moment between Pete and MJ, to the requisite web-slinging and beyond. His New York looks fantastic, and I like a lot of the perspectives that he uses as Spidey swings through the city. His characters are expressive, and his aesthetic is in something of a sweet spot between realistic proportion and stylistic liberty. Immonen is inked very cleanly and consistently by Wade Von Grawbadger, who has a lot of work to do in those Osborn scenes, which he handles very nicely. The look is, overall, one of fairly clean lines, so there isn't as much room for Von Grawbadger to experiment as he might have working with a "messier" artist, but the final product looks excellent regardless.
Colorist Marte Gracia does a beautiful job here, as well. It seems to me that a number of prominent Marvel titles aim for a particular approach to coloring—one with lots of lighting, tonal diversity, and shine. I prefer somewhat flatter colors myself, but I have to acknowledge that Marvel's artists tend to handle this shinier style with greater skill than those at DC aiming for a similar look. While there are occasional scenes with solid—or at least, more abstract—backgrounds, most of the time the colors make the reading experience very immersive. The lighting for various times of day comes off convincingly, and I feel changes of place and the passage of time more intuitively than I would just by reading the captions.
Letterer Joe Caramagna handles most of the book with ease, even when working with the detail-rich background in Norman's lair. If I have a complaint, it's that—for the most part—there isn't any effective visual distinction between Osborn's balloons and those of his unseen captive. The captive's don't have any tails, of course, but particularly when they're in close proximity to Osborn's, it takes just a little bit more mental processing power to separate the two. It's not a huge deal, so don't mistakenly correlate the numbers of words I'm using to explain myself with the impact of the problem; but it is there, and I would have preferred something that made it just a smidge more obvious.
Beyond that, I really appreciate those instances where Caramagna takes the opportunity to arrange balloons in reference to the artwork, rather than in avoidance of it. When we first see Spidey, swinging away from MJ's apartment, the blocks of narration follow the line of the street, which itself is squared with Spidey's shoulders, implying his path of motion. Really, it's a fantastic panel all-around, but it's just that much better because of Caramagna's unity with the rest of the layout. There's another panel later, where Norman's captive tells him why he'll never win. There are three stacked balloons, but they are roughly the same width and alignment. Norman is also perfectly straight in this panel, and while I don't think the uniformity of the balloons makes it read easier, there's a visual congruence that I find pleasing.
All-in-all, this is a splendid book, and now I feel like I have to finish the journey with Slott in Amazing, and then follow him over to when he starts playing in Tony Stark's world.
Out with a bang
The best thing Dan Slott can do to sell his upcoming run on Iron Man is to remind us why Marvel let him spend so long with Spidey. Amazing Spider-Man #797 is written very well, but Slott's teammates hold up their end of the bargain, too, with rich, deep artwork and excellent lettering. Nick Spencer, Ryan Ottley, and the rest of the Fresh Start Spidey team have a tough act to follow.