(w) Nick Spencer (a) Ryan Ottley (i) Cliff Rathburn (c) Nathan Fairbairn, Dee Cunniffe
Here’s a hot take: Nick Spencer is doing for Spider-Man what Grant Morrison did for Batman. No, he’s not doing a fever-dream deconstruction and reconstruction of the beloved character. No he’s not zipping him through time and having him build a global brand (we saw enough of that at the end of the Slott run). What Nick Spencer is doing is pulling from some of the deepest cuts of Spider-Man’s history and giving them a polish that makes sense for today. Supporting characters that were thought of as a joke are the subject of Spencer’s best-written issues. With the concluding chapter of the “True Companions” arc, Spencer and artist Ryan Ottley will make readers tear up over the size-changing monster Gog.
This isn’t the first time Spencer has taken an obscure character from Spider-Man’s history and made readers care about him (Amazing Spider-Man #18.HU). Over the course of this three-issue arc, Spencer gave Gog a tragic backstory, turning the creature from dumb muscle to a being with a more nuanced history – and therefore more complex emotions and motivations. This comes to a head in Amazing Spider-Man #43, which structurally follows a fairly standard comic formula. There’s a big fight brought about by a misunderstanding, a reconciliation, and then a happy ending. However, this issue manages to pull away from other comics that follow a similar formula through excellent execution of both writing and art.
While the writing is undoubtedly crucial to this issue’s success – especially with a character as loquacious as Spidey – it is ultimately the efforts of the art team that makes this book so satisfying. Spider-Man has a rich artistic history, but Ryan Ottley is one of the few who seem to have been born to draw the character. Throughout the issue, he fills panels with dynamic, expressive characters and fluid motion. Spider-Man as a character lends himself to weird contortions that most people could never pull off, and Ottley does not shy away from that element. There are several big action sequences throughout this issue, which Ottley expertly lays out with clean paneling and bombastic visuals. However, as the issue winds down and becomes more emotionally driven, his knack for expressiveness gives weight to those sequences. Ottley is joined by Cliff Rathburn in inking the issue, which as usual is very clean and polished, especially when combined with Nathan Fairbairn and Dee Cunniffe’s vibrant colors. From start to finish, Amazing Spider-Man #43 is a great looking book.
This issue is good, but it isn’t perfect. Near the end of the issue, there is a single page where the linework is inexplicably sloppy compared to everything else in the issue. Whether it was an error on the artist’s part or a problem at the printer, it is oddly out of place compared to every other page. Also, Spencer has done a great job with these short story arcs that are just good Spider-Man stories, but he continues to seed in elements of a grander, overarching conflict which has had little payoff thus far.
In the end, these are just quibbles that do little to detract from the overall quality and enjoyment of this issue. Amazing Spider-Man #43 caps off a successful reintroduction of one of Spider-Man’s little-known foes with a conclusion that will make even the coldest of hearts melt. While this series has had its fair share of ups and downs, Spencer and Ottley are hitting their stride. Amazing Spider-Man may not be the best superhero book right now, but it is definitely one of the most enjoyable.