Welcome to Spider-Man Roulette! Shelfdust’s Patreon backers were asked to pick a number at random – and now I’m going to write about whichever corresponding issue of “Amazing Spider-Man” they chose! This issue was picked by Patreon backer Jeff Stephens, who chose number #591 for the roulette!
Last time round I wrote about issue #55 of Amazing Spider-Man, which came out decades before I was even born. That comic still works today, more or less, which is more than you can say for issue #591, which only came out ten years ago. There’s a timelessness in #55 which #591 can’t match: it’s dated far more than it’s predecessor, which is an incredible thing to think about.
What #591 has working against it is, well, most things, but particularly its a victim of its own context. This is within the earlier period of the “Brand New Day” era, which grouped up a bunch of writers and artists and had them rotate around stories for Spider-Man which follow the aftermath of the infamous “One More Day” storyline. That’d be the one where Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson magically sacrificed their marriage to Mephisto so Aunt May would survive getting shot. The comics wrote the marriage out of existence so it had never happened, and the Brand New Day storyline rebooted the Spider-Man line as if from scratch. Mary Jane was gone, Harry Osborn was alive again, and a bunch of confusing plot elements were all dropped into an abyss.
It… wasn’t a storyline people responded to positively, because it was essentially an editorial remit turned into a narrative: Marvel didn’t want Spider-Man to seem old and married, so they made him young and single again. With so many people furious about the decision, however, the new creative team for the “Brand New Day” run of the comics had to try and find ways to distract upset readers. They added several mysteries into the comic which would all eventually be revealed, as a way to keep people focused on other things rather than, y’know, where Mary Jane had gone. One of the most prominent mysteries was “why does nobody know Spider-Man’s secret identity?”
That’s the main thrust of this issue, which teams Spidey up with the Fantastic Four. They don’t know Spider-Man’s secret identity, which drives Johnny Storm particularly furious. He spends the entire page count yelling at Spider-Man, arguing that he should be allowed to know the name of the man he’s working alongside. It’s all part of the early-era BND narrative, which worked around the idea that if readers had enough mysteries to speculate on, they’d eventually forget about the storyline they all hated which reverted Spider-Man’s life back a decade or two.
Which is where the problem lies for current-day readers. I already know that everything has now moved on from One More Day – I’m pretty sure Mary Jane and Peter are event dating again. So when I read this issue my main thought is “why should I care about this?”. Even though I know that Doctor Octopus isn’t going to take over America in issue #55, there’s at least a storyline I can follow, and an adventure I can enjoy along the way. By contrast, this issue only has that mystery, and it’s one which has been solved. It’s like reading a murder mystery for a second time – you need the characters, dialogue and setting to be interesting if there’s any merit to the endeavour.
And even the characters admit that this is a particularly dull adventure for them to venture out into. There are several moments where Peter tells the Fantastic Four that he’s finding this whole mission pretty boring and rote, and… well, I can’t argue with him there. They’ve all gone to an alternate dimension, where they need save the… the man… from the… from the thing he’s trying to… solve…?
I can’t remember what the plot was, and I don’t care to read it again. The main point is that time passes differently, so when they arrive back in our dimension, two months have passed and all the secondary characters have changed (in ways which, conveniently, tend to write out the dead-end plots that the Brand New Day era started with). So the issue is telling us that the events in this story are a distraction so we’ll get to the actual changes we care about next issue. The plot is dull, the narrative function is to fill time, and the most annoying thing is that Dan Slott constantly tells us this. There’s no attempt to make this involving or engaging: come back next week instead if you want any of that.
If the character work was interesting it’d help us past this, but we’re working through this secret identity business and Slott characterises the Fantastic Four in one of two ways: they either don’t care about it or they’re arseholes about it. Peter, in turn, is an arsehole right back, yelling at anybody who talks to him and skulking around with a rage issue. Just to establish: the plot is boring, the narrative doesn’t matter, and the characters aren’t fun. We also know, as modern readers, that none of this actually matters or will really ever be referenced again. The issue hangs absolutely everything on the mystery of the secret identity, which means it can’t work outside of its particular time and place.
That’s not to say it worked within its particular time and place, of course. I’m not sure that the mystery “will Johnny Storm and Peter Parker be friends again” is something anybody particularly needed teasing about in 2010. None of the characters come out of this with any forward momentum, and when Peter does reveal his identity, all the Fantastic Four can do is say “hi Peter” and tussle his hair. If this whole thing was a chance for Dan Slott to write some of his favourite characters, that’s all well and good for him and the noticable legion of artists, colourists and letterers who put his script together – but it’s a absolute chore of an issue to read. Who cares about any of this, now or then?
Amazing Spider-Man #591: Face Front Part 2: Nuff Said!
Written by Dan Slott
Drawn by Barry Kitson and Dale Eaglesham
Inked by Barry Kitson and Jesse Delpergang
Coloured by Dean White, Andy Troy & Chris Chuckry
Lettered by Joe Caramagna
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