Just like this year’s “X-Men” annual, the “Amazing Spider-Man” annual is the first of a three part story tying together several characters. In this case it’s Spider-Man, the Hulk, and Deadpool getting co-headline billing, although it quickly becomes clear that their stories aren’t going to be quite as inter-linked as it might seem.
Interestingly, like the “X-Men” annual, this story also involves a disparate group of characters being trapped in another universe. Instead of the Negative Zone, though, it’s a genuine parallel reality that the three heroes (or rather, one hero and two ambiguous hero-esque figures) find themselves in.
Once they’ve been transported to the alternate dimension, the three characters separate almost immediately. Deadpool runs off with his counterpart (Deathwish), Banner disappears on his own, and Peter Parker is forced to take the place of that universe’s Spider-Man (aka, ‘The Spider’) while looking for a way home.
In this universe, Peter Parker is actually a far more successful figure than in our own. Indeed, there are no other superheroes because he’s so good at what he does, and so much more powerful than our own Peter. The reason? He’s got help from some unexpected family members.
It’s a well-worn trope of alternate universe/time travel Spider-Man stories that he gets to see Uncle Ben alive one last time, so when this comic brought him back, it was easy to assume this was going to be yet another of those stories. Needless to say, I was well and truly wrong-footed in that assumption. I won’t give away the twist, but this story takes a considerably different approach. There are hints early on which make it clear the second time around but, like Peter, the readers are happy to forgive what initially seems like minor missteps the first time they’re encountered. It’s always nice to be genuinely surprised by a story direction, and Layman manages that here.
The alternate universe setting also allows for some decent jokes, even though the story itself is a little less upbeat than you might expect. And while the story teases the idea of seeing the similar-but-different versions of MJ and Gwen Stacy, it’s never actually followed up on, which makes me curious as to whether those characters will turn up in the next two annuals.
Combined with the hints we get at the Hulk and Deadpool’s stories, I can actually imagine wanting to see what’s contained within them anyway, especially if they’re as off-the-wall and unexpectedly fun as this one was.