Last week I wrote that “Ultimate Spider-Man” was consistently the best Spider-Man comic on the stands. But this current arc in “Amazing Spider-Man” is just as good, really. If anything, it has the advantage of a slightly superior art team, for as much as I like Stuart Immonen, the work of John Romita, Jr. and Klaus Janson is legendary stuff. Janson’s been at the top of his game for decades, but Romita, Jr. has really become a master comic book artist in the past dozen years; his blocky characters and bold compositions evoke a fever dream of Jack Kirby and Frank Miller. He’s good, and with Janson on inks, the comic looks appropriately amazing.
And out of all the “Spider-Man Brain Trust” foursome, Slott probably has the most natural affinity for Spider-Man. Zeb Wells has a great sense of humor, but Slott knows how to mix the humor with superhero action and iconic comic book moments. It’s not groundbreaking work, but if anyone knows how to write this incarnation of Spider-Man, right now, it’s Dan Slott.
This is quite an issue. We get the climax of the Venom/Anti-Venom confrontation. Anti-Venom, who appeared at the end of last issue, is Eddie Brock (the original Venom, of course) now a cancer survivor with some kind of super-healing DNA. So when the symbiote latched onto him in issue #569, it turned him into something very different than the Venom of old. It turned him into Anti-Venom, the man with the very specific power: he’s really good at defeating Venom. You wouldn’t think you could get much out of such a seemingly limited power, but Slott shows that the power isn’t all that limited in “Amazing Spider-Man” #570. His venomous super-healing can clean the symbiote away from current Venom Mac Gargan, but it can also clean the radiation from Spider-Man’s blood, whether Peter Parker wants him to or not. Will Spider-Man become powerless? Will he throw his costume into the trash can and walk away from superheroics forever? We’ll have to buy the next issue to find out.
But Slott doesn’t confine the action to this single three-way slugfest. We also see more of the New York mayoral candidates, since that stuff has been a running subplot for weeks now (and both candidates are clearly not what they would seem to be). Plus, we find out more about the mysterious Menace, that third-rate Hobgoblin who’s been ruining poor Peter Parker’s “Brand New Day.” Menace, it seems, is more of an act than a true threat, but we don’t know why quite yet. And Norman Osborn and his Thunderbolts run around in this issue too, doing pretty much what you’d expect them to do. But Slott knows how to write an effective Osborn, and the final page of the issue hinges not on Spider-Man’s potential loss of power, but on the confrontation between Osborn and Menace. Something is brewing, and there’s enough mystery to keep the story compelling.
Some readers might think it’s beyond silly that these new threats like Anti-Venom and Menace are just variation on classic Spider-Man villains. It doesn’t seem to indicate that much is “New” in the “Brand New Day.” But the tone of this comic is new. It’s not the mopey, lumbering pace of the Straczynski issues, and it’s nice to be able to see Romita Jr. get a chance to draw a Spider-Man story that doesn’t hinge on half a dozen pages of Peter Parker and Mary Jane holding each other in the shadows of their apartment. Eight months after this new direction began, I have no problem declaring it an aesthetic success. “Amazing Spider-Man” reads better and looks better than it did a year or two ago. And the near-weekly tempo helps keep the energy from issue to issue.
“Amazing Spider-Man” still isn’t a great comic. It’s a bit too simplistic, and some of the changes have been shoehorned in without much elegance (like Harry Osborn’s new status as a restaurateur, or Peter Parker’s one-note roommate, Vin) but I’m reading and enjoying “Amazing Spider-Man” several times a month, and this Anti-Venom arc looks to be one of the best so far. So while it isn’t a masterpiece of the genre, it’s a comic that’s far better than it’s been for years. It has certainly moved near the top of my stack each time it comes out.