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Groundhog Day: Douglas reads ASM

Douglas Wolk

I’m probably a pretty decent test case for AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #546, since I haven’t read a non-Ultimate series about Spider-Man regularly in many years, am fond of high-speed serialization in theory, enjoy Steve McNiven’s artwork (particularly for action scenes), and don’t have strong feelings about this particular continuity revision beyond my general distaste for it-was-all-a-dream soft reboots. (I should also note that the initial rumor I’d heard about the upshot of One More Day–about a year ago–was that it was going to reboot the entire 616 universe, the way Marv Wolfman intended to have Crisis on Infinite Earths reboot the DCU.) Jumping-on points? I’m all for ’em.

So I’ve jumped on, and… it’s Okay, but I don’t think this is the train for me. The tone of Dan Slott’s story is very much in the vein of what Spider-Man comics were like 30 years ago or so: there’s a new villain with a cute gimmick, a couple of new supporting-cast members, J. Jonah Jameson is a one-dimensional jerk instead of the hardass newsman Brian Michael Bendis has turned him into over the last few years, Peter Parker can’t catch a break, the storytelling is very straightforward despite the cute little temporal loop built into it, etc. In fact, the “this and that” page with the flashback to what Peter’s been up to looks like a homage to the Ross Andru era of Amazing Spider-Man. (Note that we’re seeing Hammerhead and the Rhino rather than, say, Venom.) And there are a couple of straight-up callbacks to Amazing Fantasy #15–Aunt May and her wheatcakes, the “I could have stopped the robber but I didn’t” routine, etc. It’s perfectly solidly executed, and Slott and McNiven are gratifyingly painstaking about the details: Jonah’s mad-dog face, the cooing pigeon on the phone, even the filler text in the newspaper ads and the chairs (!) in the scene where Peter’s interviewing for jobs. (I notice that the Ph.D. who interviews him is Stephen Wacker.) Everything that needs to be explained for someone who hasn’t read Spider-Man comics in a while is there. And that first page of next week’s issue that Wacker showed in his Newsarama interview yesterday is a fine little joke.

But there’s a nasty irony to the scene where Peter wakes up in his aunt’s house: he’s too old for things to be exactly the same way they were long ago–he’s still got his science-fair trophies in his bedroom, with the periodic table hanging over the bed–and it feels almost infantilizing, the same way this new direction for Amazing does. This issue is so thoroughly concerned with setting up the new ground rules for the series that it never quite gets to the exciting part: McNiven keeps drawing things from dramatically tilted angles to suggest a sense of chaos and drama (the entire final scene at the Bugle seems to represent the perspective of somebody overcompensating for a crick in their neck), but this is really mostly a talking-heads story, and not even very suspenseful.

Most frustratingly, there’s nothing particularly fresh going on here–nothing that opens up the Spider-Man concept to the 21st century, or finds new depths in the 45 years of stories that precede it. There doesn’t seem to be any subtext at all in this issue (what is it about? it’s about Spider-Man, duh!), and there’s barely any open space, either visually (the cover is almost the only image this issue that suggests Spider-Man’s sense of free motion through the city) or in the story; I can’t imagine the plot going anywhere unexpected or novel. I feel like this is an upgraded version of a story that was accidentally left out of Essential Spider-Man Vol. 7–sharper dialogue, prettier modeling for the artwork, but very much the opposite of brand new.

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