Spider-Man is more divided than ever.
It’s easy to picture Marvel’s latest Amazing Spider-Man relaunch turning out poorly. Writer Dan Slott was a near-impossible act to follow, given the huge mark he left on the franchise. Yet over the course of this opening storyline, Nick Spencer and Ryan Ottley have managed to make the series their own even as they continue very naturally from where Slott left off. The result is a comic that manages to bring Spidey back to basics even as it continues to push him forward and challenge him in unexpected ways.
Issue #5 caps off the series first major story arc, with Peter Parker and Spider-Man still occupying separate bodies and a fleet of Tri-Sentinels putting New York in danger. It’s a great premise that really speaks to the unique blend of high-concept storytelling and goofball humor the creators are going for here. The Tri-Sentinel threat gives this issue ample scope and drama, but Spencer’s script rarely wavers from its focus on the Peter/Spidey dynamic. What happens when the two halves of his life become physically separated? And can Peter impart that lesson about power and responsibility to a Spider-Man who has no memory of Uncle Ben? It’s a fascinating dilemma that proves Spencer has no trouble thinking outside the box.
This series’ biggest advantage over Spencer’s previous major Marvel project, Secret Empire, is that it never takes itself very seriously, even in those darker and more dramatic moments. The final confrontation between Peter and Spidey is surprisingly humorous given the nature of the scene. As a result, that humor winds up adding to the poignancy of that particular scene. This issue also makes terrific use of Boomerang, addressing one of the bigger sticking points with the previous couple chapters. Spencer is able to channel that screwball charm that made Superior Foes of Spider-Man such a treat, even if this book happens to emphasize a more mainstream set of characters.
All of these successes only come because Spencer and Ottley make such an effective team. The quirky, sometimes dark humor shines through because Ottley has a knack for highlighting the absurd qualities of his stories. In many ways, his style has a very clean, powerful, classically superheroic look, but he brings enough quirks and flourishes to the page to ensure his work feels unique. It’s especially impressive to see how much life and expression Ottley is able to inject into Spider-Man’s in-costume scenes. The Peter/Spidey interaction doesn’t suffer one bit for having only one character with visible facial expressions.
Ultimately, this first arc winds up serving as setup for numerous stories to come. The Peter/Spidey split doesn’t wind up having the major, far-reaching ramifications for our hero it might have had in a different context. But as far as building a solid platform on which the series can grow, this arc more than accomplished what it set out to do. If Spencer and Ottley can bring this level of energy and imagination to the table now, who’s to say where this book might end up a year or two from now?