Writer: J. Michael Stracynski
Artist: Mike Deodato jr. (p), Joe Pimentel (i)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Review: This issue thankfully plays down the cliffhanger ending of last issue (namely the tabloid speculation that Mary Jane could be having an affair with Tony Stark, after she was spotted returning home to the Avengers’ tower late at night) in favour of furthering the more interesting larger plot involving Hydra and their planned attack on the US. Peter shows some decent detective skills this issue, using information from Tony Stark’s convenient NYPD contacts and a Spider-Tracer to track the member of Hydra he ran into last issue. After he arrives at the bad guy’s apartment, he discovers an unexpectedly large Hydra operation being run beneath the soil, and after overhearing the tail end of a Hydra member’s rallying speech, uses his knowledge of US geography to pinpoint the likely location of their planned attack. However, as he attempts to rescue a Hydra soldier who realises he’s in way over his head, an army of faceless drones corners him and forces him to escape through a very dangerous exit, setting up an all-out slugfest next issue.
Whilst the central plot of this arc remains strong, showing far more promise than I originally expected, there are still a few holes to pick in this issue. One is the occasional overuse of humour which makes some sequences come off as more annoying than funny. It’s good that JMS understands Spidey’s humourous side as too many writers overlook it, and he manages to squeeze some good gags in here, but the tendency to always go for the joke can undercut some of the more powerful moments. A case in point is the big reveal of Hydra’s underground base. However arguable it is that Spidey’s reaction to such extreme situations is to use humour as a defence mechanism, its use here interrupts the flow of the story into a big-impact splash page and as such undermines an important plot point. There’s also an irritating overuse of a narrative device which sees Spider-Man talking to himself in his head, and although it seems as though this may be part of a larger subplot which could tie in with Marvel’s “Other” event later this year (coinciding as it does with a sequence which shows Peter’s wall-crawling powers beginning to fail), it just comes off as annoying here. There are also plot holes which only exist to perpetuate Spider-Man’s lone role in tackling Hydra (Why wouldn’t Peter go back to the Avengers with the new evidence of the terrorist’s plot, instead of leaving an answerphone message for Tony Stark and blundering in himself?), but this is just about excusable; it is Spider-Man’s book, after all.
However, for all the weaknesses of this issue, there are equal strengths to balance it. Some of Pete’s lines are genuinely funny (I enjoyed his “The Butler Did It!” line as much for the art as the gag itself, but hey, it’s a matter of taste). The characterisation is also generally spot-on, notably Pete’s constant protectiveness over Mary Jane to the point of hot-headedness and his selfless decision to reveal himself to Hydra at the issue’s close in order to prevent a single injustice being carried out on a younger, naïve member of Hydra. I also enjoyed the portentious lines of the Hydra soldiers who genuinely believe that the organisation looks after its own, hearking back to Pete’s thoughts about Hitler’s SA (who were used and then eradicated before being replaced by the SS) in an earlier issue. There’s another nice moment with Wolverine (JMS has shown an aptitude for writing some fun scenes at Logan’s expense in past issues, and this one’s no different) as well as a development of the Aunt May / Jarvis relationship, which is coming off as pleasingly respectful and dignified instead of tawdry and exploitative (and let’s face it, no-one wants to see that with Aunt May…). And Mike Deodato’s art remains as strong as ever, moving closer to a more classic Spider-Man look over the somewhat over-muscular figure that has graced the pages in past issues. Some of the shots of Spidey in costume even veer close to previous AS-M artist John Romita Jr.’s style, showing how far Deodato’s relatively different style has evolved since the beginning of his run on the title.
So, whilst this issue might be a bit of a mixed bag, there’s more bad than good. An interesting Hydra plot mixes with some good character work which incorporates the New Avengers without ever making it feel as though they’re running the show, and subtly introduces some unsettling new elements relating to Pete’s powers which look to be important past the end of this story arc.
The only major detraction to Amazing Spider-Man #522 which I haven’t yet mentioned is this issue’s ugly cover, which makes it look as though Spider-Man might be attempting to emulate real Spiders and shoot webs from somewhere other than his wrists.
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