Amazing Spider-Man #654

Slott strolls up and down Spider-Man continuity, plucking the prime pieces that can be blended to his advantage like a master winemaker plucking only the best grapes to be used in this year's vintage. In doing so, Slott gives us a comic filled with delectable samples from Spider-Man's world: his relationship with Ben Grimm, Phil Urich's jealousy over Randy Robertson's relationship with Norah Winters, Colonel John Jameson stuck in space, and Mac Gargan bearing the stinging tail of the Scorpion once again.

Van Lente gives Slott an assist in this issue, but it's not noticeable where one's work ends and the other's begins. The characters all ring true, regardless of your frame of reference as a Spider-fan that led up to this point. I've been following Spider-Man since early in the "Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man" run and have a set of expectations for my webhead books. This run is hitting closer to home on those expectations than I've experienced in quite some time.

That is, in no small part, due to the art. The greatest move of the comic book industry for 2011 (yes, I know the year is young) is putting Stefano Caselli on this book. He brings a Silver Age sensibility to this book in his compositions and character acting, dropping out backgrounds for emphasis and punching up the details to delight. Caselli even goes so far as to have the Hobgoblin mask appear over half of Phil Urich's face like Romita, Andru, and Buscema did back in the day.

Caselli's art is adaptive to the story, and serves the characters - all of them, from Spider-Slayer to Spider-Man - nicely. Each of the characters has a distinct look, and though there are a lot of them, they maintain their individuality throughout this book. I would like to see Caselli given more chances to explore the wider Marvel Universe like he does in this book.

Anyone who has read comics by Dan Slott over the past decade knows that Slott loves him some Benjamin J. Grimm. That shines through in this issue, even though Ben is simply here as a supporting member of the cast. The guest appearances in this issue - called into action by Spider-Man - set me to thinking that it would neat to see a return of "Marvel Team-Up," especially if it could carry the sense of wonderment and passion for adventure that this title currently enjoys.

This issue is backed up with the premiere of the new Venom. This is the Venom you've seen teased in the back of some of the Marvel comics lately, the one with the knee and elbow pads and utility belt and gun. It's a Venom who is more like Snake Eyes than Venom, but in this case, it works. I was surprised by the character selected to merge with the symbiote, as nothing good will ever come out of such a union, but it's a surprise that has a great deal of promise to it.

Siqueira's art is stunning, filled to the very edges of the pages with detail and drama. The scene depicting the symbiote's first merging with the new host is revelatory and exciting, oozing with big screen potential and comic book wonder. I've never been a Venom fan, especially after I encountered the "I want to eat your brains!" action figure in the 1990s, but this Venom has an appeal that will get me to come back and check out the next appearance. Slott quickly establishes a nice microcosm for this character that will undoubtedly return with the character.

All in all, Marvel has made this a fun title once again. The costumes might be goosed up, the coloring brighter, but this is definitely the high-flying, fun-loving, strong-willed Spider-Man I became enamored with as a kid. It feels like a classic Spider-Man story from yesteryear. This issue in particular has me itching for more "Amazing Spider-Man," especially if Caselli's bringing the art.

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