Moving right along in our post-Secret War Marvel universe, here comes Amazing Spider-Man #2. Already! Appropriately, it feels like it’s a direct sequel to the first issue, extending the expository set-up of the new status quo for Peter Parker/Spidey while giving an opportunity for more action and more of a definitive wrap-up between the confrontation with the Zodiac, while still leaving more to come.
The battle takes place in a villain’s giant underwater base, which right away celebrates a classic adventure story trope and allows for all the playfulness of Spider-Man and the Prowler’s infiltration. And it’s okay that there’s not much more than just classic adventure story tropes on display here— the real point is to keep the focus on Spider-Man’s competance, to give rise to the Prowler as a main character, and to show the extent of the threat of the Zodiac. Spider-Man losing a battle to win a war (or at least, to allow SHIELD to take significant steps to win the war) makes for a satisfying ending, precisely because it allows Spider-Man to be heroic while also being the underdog. A very Spidey thing.
It’s too bad that the artwork, as wonderfully rendered as it is, fails to really juggle between all the shifts that it’s required to do. As an example, when the Spider-Sub (for lack of a better term) dives, the page turn reveals the giant underwater base, and it’s a beautiful double-page spread. However, the narration has shifted to Jerry, an extra in a random Aquari-Sub (again, no better term), who displays the same banter that Spider-Man was enjoying, confusing the sequence of events. Other examples become repetitive, as Spider-Man flashes back to explaining his technical gadgets to SHIELD or his company. These interrupt the flow but do provide some narrative exposition. They also set up a neat little pay-off, as the last flashback offers a twist on the pattern by showing Spider-Man keeps some special tech just for himself and for appropriately-timed save-the-day moments.
When those flashbacks are visually separated by blurred panel outlines and starkly different color palettes, it works well. Which makes it weird when not all flashbacks receive that same treatment. A particularly emotional flashback falls really flat, when Spider-Man looks back on a time he had to leave someone behind. The art must completely tell the story, as no dialogue nor caption nor footnote helps to explain the sudden panel shift, and it’s a story most readers are unlikely to recall so immediately. (The scene is likely to be important, too, as the ending sequene features the character in question.) It’s a feature of modern comicbook storytelling, and it rewards readers for following a title for over five years, but it’s hard to take it with the gravitas it’s meant to elicit when you’re distracted by first trying to clearly read the page and second to have to recall the story.
Also, there’s a bit of a shift in location, ignoring the set-up in Shanghai for a board meeting in San Francisco. The supporting cast seemed to be established for some long-term stories, but they’re largely missing here. Instead, SHIELD is shown flying a helicarrier in front of Shanghai’s iconic skyline (I repeat that it’s one of my favorites, but I’m biased) although I have to wonder exactly what the Chinese government would think of that.
Another great aspect is the positioning of The Zodiac for more prominince not just in Spider-Man’s world but in the world overall. Originally established to be Avengers villains, it’s a natural progression from their roots. However, their initial appearances only had token acknowledgement of how powerful they were, as an organization I mean. They were more or less costumed twelve villains teamed up to fight a collection of costumed heroes, but behind the scenes they were fueled by corporate money and headed criminal organizations. This latest incarnation is brings that to the fore, making The Zodiac truly a James Bond-type evil organization. Maybe what tripped up the previous Zodiacs was their reliance on that whole Zodiac Key thing and some extradimensional worshippers stuff. We’ll wait and see if that aspect rears its head as we continue, which may or may not be a step backwards.
The art is solid and appropriately adventure-y, except for a few missteps when it shifts gears to flash back with mixed results, but overall, seeing Spider-Man and the Prowler in action feels both fresh and classic at the same time, thanks to the Zodiac’s interpretation as a sprawling evil spy-like organization. As with the first issue, it’s still in the mode of establishing a new status quo, so there’s a lot that feels like “a Spider-Man story” but it’s all on a different level. For now, it remains fun, humor-filled, and intriguing, although I’ll admit to still wondering if there’s some missing ingredient of “hard luck” to really be Spider-Man in the long run.