“Amazing Spider-Man Annual” #39 sees writer Brian Reed returning to the character, paired with British artist Lee Garbett. Annuals have become something of a rarity since Marvel decided to put out extra issues of their main series instead. Indeed, recent annuals have focused on providing interlinked mini-crossovers rather than the more traditional oversized one-shot story. However, this issue is an annual in a more conventional mold and it’s all the better for it: one story and plenty of space to tell it.
The story Reed tells is surprisingly well-integrated into the “Big Time” status quo, featuring the Horizon Labs characters and other elements of Peter’s life that aren’t what you’d call mainstays. It’s unusual to see someone other than Slott writing so deeply in Spider-Man’s world, but any oddness is quickly dispelled by a strong and well-constructed story.
Admittedly, it starts better than it ends, with a solid mystery let down by some fairly weakly-explained plot mechanics that see Spider-Man revisiting his past in a literal sense. The need to attach emotional resonance to the characters is understandable, but the story seems to stall towards the end, letting the emotional resonance take centre stage as Peter mainly rushes from one point to the next so the audience can nod nostalgically. Garbett’s style changes to match the earlier periods well, so that nostalgia is genuine — but there’s a problem.
Without wanting to spoiler the events too heavily, part of the story involves a meeting with a certain deceased Uncle, giving Peter a rare opportunity to talk to him, even if it’s a version of him that never knew Peter Parker.
Now, I say “rare.” There’s a danger with these kind of stories that the impact can be lessened by their sheer frequency. How many times have we seen Spider-Man get the approval of an Uncle Ben from an alternate universe or timeline? Whatever number you come up with, it’s too many. It’s understandably a tempting beat to use, but it also cheapens Peter’s genuine loss. It reminds us that in a world where death can be undone, there’s no reason a genius like Peter Parker couldn’t fix his mistake if he really wanted to.
That said, this is a well-executed, if increasingly thin story that relies on an emotional core that can only just support the necessary weight. There’s a decent concept at its heart, but the execution doesn’t quite work. Not bad, but not as good as it could have been.