“The more things change, the more they stay the same” is an age-old adage applicable to comic books. Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 3 embodies that very concept. Readers approach Spider-Man with a unique level of comfort, despite the many changes and new plot threads countless writers have imbued into canon throughout the years. Granted, new status quos, love interests, and story arcs add much-needed variety to the story, but at its core, Spider-Man has several points of interest that keep readers coming back: the antics of being a superhero, the focus on Peter Parker’s civilian life as much as his alter ego, and a potent combination of villains old and new from Spider-Man’s rogues gallery. Volume 3 may not move the needle too far in any direction, but the stories are the type of fun escapism the title is known for.
This volume consists of two significant arcs: Lifetime Achievement and Family Matters. Each plot focuses on different characters with extremely varied relationships to Peter Parker, J. Jonah Jameson and Aunt May. Writer Nick Spencer attempts to tie the criminal threats facing Spider-Man to the links Jameson and Aunt May have with Peter, it works with varied success.
Lifetime Achievement explores the new angle on J. Jonah Jameson’s rapport with Peter. Jameson has seen the light and is now pro-Spider-Man! Jonah knows Spider-Man’s identity, throwing a monkey wrench into an already tumultuous situation. With a new role as a “shock-jock,” Jameson is hell-bent on lifting Spidey’s status from the mud, with all the crass and bile Jameson is known for.
When Mayor Wilson Fisk (yes, Kingpin is Mayor now) invites Jameson to receive a lifetime achievement award, one villain who drank the “Spider-menace” Kool-Aid still has an axe to grind. Jameson and Spidey are kidnapped and wake up to find themselves in a death trap, care of Arcade’s Services. Spider-Man must now find a way to save Jameson while battling foes and putting up with Jonah’s mouth at the same time.
Lifetime Achievement is a throwback to classic Spider-Man stories, hearkening back to the days of Stan Lee. Unfortunately, the dated feel of the story is both a boon and a detriment. The story benefits by bringing back classic villains from Peter’s formative years — specifically, The Enforcers make an appearance. Their arrival is a welcome change from more contemporary villains.
The death trap becomes more of a “This is Your Life” for J. Jonah Jameson, with holographic projections replaying intimate moments throughout Jameson’s lifetime, the loss of his wife, raising John Jameson alone, and even his hand in creating the Spider-Slayers. Once the mysterious figure reveals himself, the flashbacks make more sense. Appropriately, the ties between the villain and Jonah date back literally decades in Spider-Man lore, which caters to the older Spider-Man fans.
The throwback storytelling shows its age. The antagonist’s motivations are simplistic. It requires readers to overlook some apparent flaws in his logic, how he came to these conclusions feels like something from an issue written in the 1970s. It was a time where the impetuses for villainy made little to no sense, yet here we are in 2019 with aged storytelling. Everything is paced awkwardly, it feels abrupt and rushed: quick status update, setup, villain reveal (along with exposition), and a fast finish from the web-head. It isn’t that the plot is outright terrible, but at no point did it capture the reader’s attention or feel like a game-changer.
There is one standout for the issue: the relationship between JJJ and Peter Parker. With Peter’s identity known to Jameson, things have changed, only slightly. Yes, Jonah now defends Spider-Man publicly, but he is still the pompous blowhard fans have come to know. Peter and Jameson bicker, even amid dire situations, with Jonah’s strong personality affecting everyone around him. It works well to present this new state of affairs; JJJ may be on Peter’s side, but that isn’t always a good thing. By the closing pages of the story, Jonah shows real signs of redemption, proving that Peter has had some effect on him over these long years.
One bastion in Peter Parker’s life is Aunt May. Family Matters taps into the family dynamic by giving May, and oddly enough the Connors family, focus. Unfortunately, the story is unfinished, leaving readers on a cliffhanger. Aside from the prominent themes of family, the connection between Kurt Connors and Aunt May is unclear for audiences not keeping up with the monthlies.
Kurt Connors (or is it Lizard? Both?) is a changed man having gained control of his predatorial side. He can change forms at will, but his son and wife cannot. To save his family’s life, Connors was forced to inject them with the serum responsible for the Lizard. The tension between Connors and his son are apparent. Billy longs for a healthy life outside of the sewers they dwell in, Kurt knows all too well how cruel the world can be to people to the unknown.
Aunt May is a widow after losing John Jameson. It appears the “Parker luck” may extend beyond Peter. While meeting with her lawyer, Rhino crashes through the restaurant. As is turns out, Task Master and Black Ant are in hot pursuit. It seems anyone with an animal moniker in their name is being hunted for a greater purpose. Rhino and Spider-Man come to terms, for the time being, forming an impromptu alliance. Spider-Man agrees to help Rhino for the time being, but how often do things go smoothly for Spider-Man?
Only two issues from Family Matters storyline are included in Vol. 3, but writer Nick Spencer manages to infuse plenty of drama into the narrative while setting up the proceeding issues nicely. Spider-Man is undoubtedly the hero of these books, but in a change of pace, Aunt May showcases her fortitude as well. In a beautiful twist, Spider-Man finds May beneath the rubble directing survivors on how to handle the situation. Peter has always given Uncle Ben credit for influencing his morality and heroism, but the sudden realization that May has been equally as influential is reflective. The single scene speaks volumes — superpowers and a fancy costume aren’t the only measures for heroism.
More so than Lifetime Achievement, Family Matters has more points of interest to capture the reader’s attention. The villains have a deeper history with Spider-Man, the plot isn’t easily dissected, and approaching the B-storyline through the lens of Aunt May works well. Without closure on the story it would be difficult to weigh in on the arc thoroughly.
Chris Bachalo takes the reins for the art. His style is detailed, yet simplistic. A quality Bachalo brings to the table is his inclination to take chances on page layouts. For example, one scene has Black Ant throwing a plethora of kicks and punches at Rhino, never making any kind of impact. Bachalo uses the chunk of a page to showcase Rhino’s unmoving head in the center, with a series of punches and kicks attacking him from all angles. One picture effectively captures a large portion of a fight as concisely as possible.
Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 3 is a patchwork of old and new approaches to Spider-Man. The narrative works in certain aspects but will feel dated to well-read fans. The artwork feels well suited for their respective stories as well. The volume is a medley of long-standing tropes and novel ideas, but in the end, Nick Spencer whips up the classic Spider-Man fun we’ve all come to know.
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