Searching for the new along with the familiar.
It didn’t new Amazing Spider-Man writer Nick Spencer long at all to prove he has the knack for telling classic Spidey stories. You know, the kind where Peter Parker is down on his luck and struggling to find enough time between battling villains to make ends meet and maintain a semi-stable relationship? the bigger challenge facing Spencer has been finding ways to push the character forward even as the new series embraces that “back to basics” mentality. After so many years of seeing Peter work his way up the ranks and become a billionaire industrialist, how do you move forward while simultaneously going back?
The good news is that Spencer, by and large, has proven up to that considerable challenge over the past year. As much as the series features all the hallmarks of the classic Amazing Spider-Man era, there’s enough new and different at work to keep things feeling fresh and exciting.
There’s a definite self-aware quality to the book, and one that becomes especially apparent in this issue. Through Peter, Spencer directly addresses the need to find some way of moving the character forward rather than replaying old hits. That’s the central struggle our heroes faces right now as he contemplates whether or not to rejoin Curt Connors at Empire State. Rather than try to bowl over readers with the highest possible stakes, Spencer is keeping the book grounded and focused on what’s most critical in Peter’s life right now.
This issue also serves as a strong showcase for Spidey’s rogues gallery. Even as Peter himself is trying to avoid regressing, many of his old foes have evolved in strange and endearing ways. That’s best exemplified by Connors and his unusual Lizard family dynamic. Dan Slott teed up that ball through The Clone Conspiracy, and Spencer is making the most of it now. Spencer also makes strong use of The Rhino in this issue. Ever since Joe Kelly’s excellent work with the character in the Brand New Day era, Rhino has tended to work better as a more ambiguous player rather than an outright villain. Spencer is able to continue that trend as he paves the way for the upcoming “Hunted” event.
On top of all that, Aunt May manages to steal the show for much of the latter half of issue #14. May’s scenes deliver an effective blend of humor and sadness, with Spencer exploring the fallout of JJJ Sr.’s death and the big development from Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #1. It’s nice to see the two Spider-Man titles playing so well together.
This issue’s one major flaw is that the art doesn’t always complement the writing. Chris Bachalo’s work is too heavily stylized for such a low-key story. It suits certain scenes well. The Connors family dinner scene certainly plays well to Bachalo’s strengths, boasting a black sense of humor throughout. Bachalo’s rendition of The Rhino also leaves a strong impression. But there are too many small scenes that flow well on the page and where the characters lack the emotional range needed. This issue serves as a major stylistic departure when none is actually called for.