ASM5 Zodiac

Dan Slott has admitted in his Twitter feed that he isn’t a religious guy, but he and Christos Gage stuffed the latest issue of The Amazing Spider-Man with “plot-presents” like a Christmas stocking. But did Santa Slott give fans what they wanted? As usual, it’s a mixed bag.

ASM Parker Industries

In many ways ASM5 seems to be the “beginning of the end” issue for Parker Industries. Peter figures out a somewhat-convoluted plan hatched by the terrorist network Zodiac, which demands “all”  of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s and Parker Industries’ surveillance assets be brought to bear on London. Before he and the other heroes are able to confront the group as it raids a museum, the young CEO realizes he has lost control of his company (Sajani announces that nanobots infiltrated the UK’s closed-circuit surveillance cameras), that he’s stretched himself too thin, and that being the head of a major company brings with it different responsibilities than being a superhero.

ASM

As usual, Giuseppe Camuncoli lifts the book up a few notches — his work is consistently gorgeous — but at the end of the day the payoff isn’t quite what it should be because of strange editorial decisions in the past.

For example, Sajani is pinned with the nanobot security breach and fired, even though she had nothing to do with it. Readers have no sympathy for her because the infraction she did commit not long ago was much worse: In Situation A she actively tried to make a deal with someone who was in the process of destroying the company and putting lives at risk; in Situation B — even if she were guilty — she would have been acting to save lives during a terror attack when every second counted.

Besides, if Peter were being intellectually honest, then he would admit that surveillance technology and tactics he and S.H.I.E.L.D. use under “normal” circumstances probably break countless local, state, federal and international laws.

In reality, the British government would not want to publicly rake Parker Industries over the coals for breaching its security apparatus because doing so would make the U.K. look inept. It would have been handled behind the scenes, and officials would have begged him to help identify their systems’ worst vulnerabilities.

ASM5

The whole security debate brings readers to the book’s climax, where Spider-Man must act quickly to save the lives of Zodiac “pawns” before poison pills inside their bodies kill them all. The group’s mastermind, Scorpio, escapes. He does this despite extensive S.H.I.E.L.D. agents in the area, other superheroes on site, and Parker Industries’ access to the U.K.’s CCTV cameras. Readers are left thinking, “Ummm, okay.”

In short, ASM5 is probably a book to have for those who are already invested in the series. It has plenty of action, the plot is moved forward on many fronts, and Doctor Octopus’ plans as The Living Brain appear to be rolling along. Not everything in the ASM stocking will thrill fans, but there are still plenty of “presents” for them to enjoy.

Exit Question: Dan Slott’s big lump of coal inside ASM5

During the Zodiac’s attack on the British museum families run for cover (see top image). One cop lies on the ground in a puddle of blood, which seems to have leaked out his ears. Another officer has been slammed so hard against the concrete by Taurus that it cracked. Others are clearly under some kind of mind-control. And yet, for some odd reason, Dan Slott chose to insert a British cop drolly making an anti-American crack.

“Americans. Lovely,” he says as carnage breaks out around him. Would any policeman react that way in the midst of a deadly terror attack?

It’s just one more instance of Slott needlessly pandering to progressive readers. He shoehorns the sentiment into the issue to weirdly win political points, which annoys those just looking for a good story.

ASM5 UK cop

My coverage of the writer’s response to the San Bernardino, California, terror attack on Dec. 2 can be found here.

Dan Slott bashes America

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About the Author Douglas Ernst

I'm a former Army guy who believes success comes through hard work, honesty, optimism, and perseverance. I believe seeing yourself as a victim creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. I believe in God. I'm a USC Trojan with an MA in Political Science from American University.

18 comments

  1. From the samples I’ve seen, I haven’t been as impressed with Giuseppe Camuncoli’s art as you have. It seems kinda stiff, not extremely emotive, and a lot of muted colors. I will concede that it might be better when presented in the actual comic and I will also concede that Mark Bagley being my favorite artist (to the extent that his version is what I think of when I think of “generic” Spider-Man) is a strong bias against other versions. However, Camuncoli’s doesn’t really say: “Hey, this’ll be a fun comic to look at!” (Case in point, the “Secret Wars” comic with the kid versions of the Marvel characters doesn’t sound like an interesting story, but the colorful artwork looks cool and energetic enough that I would probably give it a read if the opportunity presented itself.)

    When you say it looks like it could be the “‘beginning of the end’” for Parker Industries, does that mean that you think that the corporate part of the post-“One More Day” Amazing Spider-Man comics is on it’s way out or just that its perception by the rest of the Marvel world is going to change? Given how much trouble Slott and Marvel have gone to get here, I’m not sure that that the former scenario would either be a smart plan for them, and would render years of post-“One More Day” ASM moot for the readers who liked it. And I’m saying this as someone who doesn’t approve of the “All New, All Different” ASM and the twisty road that lead us there!

    (While any kind of return to the 196_ – 2007-style comics might be welcome in many fan circles, I think that too much damage has been done — not to mention too much trust broken with readers — to “fix” ASM. Even if Marvel did get back to basics, would we really trust them to keep it around? I think most of us would be cynically waiting for them to lock up the “toy box” again until it was financially beneficial for them tease us by holding the toys we really want just over our heads.

    At this point, I’m inclined to say that post-“One More Day” ASM should be written of as it’s own mutated thing that has little to do with “Spider-Man” beyond the name. Fans that want the Peter Parker who’s the working class superhero and/or married to/otherwise attached to Mary Jane would probably be best off with a new series that’s centers around that iteration, since the risk of retconning would be lessened. Back issues of stuff like pre-2007 ASM, “Ultimate Spider-Man,” “Spider-Girl,” etc. might also fit the bill: there’s some really good stuff there and it’d be a shame to let them go to waste just because their creators have no further use for them.)

    Question regarding the Doc Ock-as-robot fact: Has it been explicitly established if Doc Ock actually managed to stick his consciousness into the Living Brain (a la Mr. Spock giving Dr. McCoy his katra in “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan”), or did he just program an artificially intelligent robot that only thinks it’s Doc Ock? (I recall that the explanation for the brain switch in “Superior Spider-Man” got so complicated and backtracked that in the end, what we were told didn’t really make sense with what happened. It’d be nice if there wasn’t that confusion here.)

    On that note, what do you think of Doc Ock being back as a robot story so far? As an outside observer, I’m left wondering: doesn’t this basically negate everything that happened to Ock in “Superior Spider-Man”? Good writing would have Ock’s experiences in that series inform and shape whatever he does when he comes back (beyond the simple: “Hey, Spider-Man ruined my plans! Revenge!”).

    Anyway, Merry Christmas!

    1. Merry Christmas, Weblurker! I’ll try and answer your questions to the best of my ability.

      1. “When you say it looks like it could be the “‘beginning of the end’” for Parker Industries, does that mean that you think that the corporate part of the post-“One More Day” Amazing Spider-Man comics is on it’s way out or just that its perception by the rest of the Marvel world is going to change?”

      I really don’t see how this experiment in Parker-Stark-Wayne-Bond can sustain itself for the long haul. To me, this issue sort of highlights why Peter just isn’t suited for this role of billionaire tech-CEO. Peter having a stable relationship or marriage with MJ apparently made it hard for fans to relate to him, but turning him into Steve Jobs/Elon Musk with spider-powers does not…according to Marvel. You basically have to torque the character’s core in strange directions in order to get where we are now with ASM. When Parker Industries is over and done with I think this may be the point where ASM fans say, “Yeah, issue 5 was the turning point.” We’ll see.

      2. “Has it been explicitly established if Doc Ock actually managed to stick his consciousness into the Living Brain (a la Mr. Spock giving Dr. McCoy his katra in ‘Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan’), or did he just program an artificially intelligent robot that only thinks it’s Doc Ock?”

      No. As you rightly point out, the “brain switch” was never really explained well. That was a mess and the answer fans got boiled down to, “Don’t ask questions. Nothing to see here. Move along. Move along.”

      3. “On that note, what do you think of Doc Ock being back as a robot story so far? As an outside observer, I’m left wondering: doesn’t this basically negate everything that happened to Ock in ‘Superior Spider-Man’?”

      There really isn’t too much at the moment. I suppose one way to settle things would be to have Doc Ock take down Parker Industries in a way where it can only “survive” with completely new leadership — with Anna Maria Marconi in charge. With Sajani out of the way, Otto really just needs to find a way to have something go wrong where Peter’s reputation is tarnished beyond repair.

      Again, you point out a very legitimate question as it pertains to how Otto’s return is handled. If it is handled poorly, then it could negate whatever slim character growth Otto had during SSM. I never really felt like much, if anything that Peter “beamed” into his head about personal responsibility stuck from the beginning. It seemed to me over the course of SSM that Dan Slott sort of twisted the rationale for its existence depending on the criticism he was facing.

    2. SSM and SSMTU were also inconsistent with each other, as far as Doc Ock goes. SSMTU showed a more repentant Ock, who kept trying to do right things in all the wrong ways, and having it often turn out badly. At one point in SSMTU he was even ready to turn himself in to the Avengers, but Namor mocked him for his self-recriminations, and Ock (predictably) reacted to Namor’s jibes in a maladaptive way. In SSM, Ock was still a villain who was very nuts (which he shouldn’t have been, since Peter Parker’s brain, unlike Ock’s old, damaged brain, was healthy), and perpetrating major crimes as Spider-Man. ALSO, the end of SSM as much as said that Peter and Otto arrived at a bizarre mutual understanding of one another, since both of them had been forced to re-live the other’s life. For Slott to have Ock go back to being the exact same maniacal bad guy he used to be would be to undo the character changes that Slott himself wrote!

  2. Off-topic, we talked about that old Deadpool trailer a while back. The new one is much better, so go check that out if you haven’t seen it by now. I’m pretty interested now, actually, they really did a great job selling what’s interesting about the movie — and even the part where Weasel is talking about how ugly he looks has a much more impactful (and accurate) description.

    Basically everything I didn’t like about the previous trailer seems to be fixed. I’m really happy to see it looking so much better. Maybe that version was early to get people excited but the writing wasn’t finalized yet, as indicated by a replaced version of the same scene that’s better.

    1. Thanks for the opportunity to shamelessly plug my previous post on the Deadpool movie, Eidolon. 😉

      The good thing about the Deadpool movie, at least is it pertains to the main character, is they can change what he says from under the mask until very late in the game. They can experiment with one-liners in post production and then add in anything that’s funnier than the original cut.

      It seems to me that the creators put their heart and soul into this movie. At this point any reluctance to see the movie on my part comes down to personal tastes. I think my 20-year-old self would have been really psyched for this movie. The 36-year-old version…not as much. I’m not saying people who like Deadpool are immature. Please don’t take it that way. I honestly don’t mean that. I just mean that I’m a very different person than I was back then, and on some level this movie reminds me of that time in my life.

      I’ll probably see the movie, but it will be difficult to objectively write my review. I’ll do my best, though.

    2. I’m not overly familiar with Deadpool, but I’m wondering how well the new movie will play as part of the “X-Men” movie series. I understand that Deadpool’s first appearance in “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” was not very well received, the chief complaint being that the character wasn’t much like the comic book version.

      I can understand wanting to see fidelity to the character and know firsthand what it’s like when a character is altered into something completely different (I’m a Spider-Man fan, after all!). However, not everything translates well to another medium. While I think the first Wolverine movie was mediocre, at best, I don’t think their version of Deadpool was a bad thing about it, since the comics version wouldn’t have worked in the movies.

      The “X-Men” movies took themselves very seriously. There is some humor, but its very subtile and is generally realistic. Deadpool’s trademark humor is breaking the fourth wall and the inane conversations he has with himself in his head. The former wouldn’t fit with the tone the movies had set and the latter would be very difficult to represent in a movie. So, they were culled, leaving Deadpool’s joking to the comments he makes about himself and the situation, which, from what little material I’ve read, is pretty accurate.

      In the same way, his original costume would be out of place with the films’ more functional designs, so he wears clothing that looks more like real clothes, but echoes the comics. As a member of a black ops group, the “Deadpool” nickname would be hard to buy from a paid mercenary (esp. given how the use of names like that was used over the previous movies), hence why it’s given by Gen. Stryker after he’s been turned into Weapon XI. Even the fact that’s Deadpool is a mutant in the movie was a change for the better; why would a normal human be part of a mutant strike force?

      While the character was changed, the changes allowed the character to fit better into the larger world of the movies. It’s not like the comics, where you can give Deadpool his own series, where the tone can be completely different from the rest of the Marvel series.

      The point of this wall of text is that the new movie appears to be designed to basically make Wade Wilson a direct transfer from page to screen. Everyone seems to be assuming that that’s a good thing. I’m asking if it is. As I previously explained, I don’t think that the character as written would work in the “X-Men” film series (or even in a movie period) so making a movie where those elements are front and center seems like an unwise choice.

    3. The problem with X-Men Origins: Wolverine is that you can’t say to the fans, “Hey guys, we’ve got Deadpool!” and then have him be so far removed from their expectations that he might as well have been a new character. They literally sewed his mouth shut. I’m confident that his actual costume would have gone over just fine. Can you really imagine X-Men fans exiting the theater saying, “Wow, I wish they made Deadpool’s costume more functional. It was totally out of place in a universe where a guy can become a solid block of ice”? I can’t.

      I agree with you that certain aspects of the comics are harder to translate to film, and that at times fans need to give the writers and directors creative leeway. With Deadpool in X-Men Origins, however, the producers went off the deep end. That ending was ridiculous. It was like someone said, “Soooo it’s a superhero movie, which means we have to needlessly use 90% of our budget on the climax, right?” Wrong.

    4. You should check Doug and my discussion from that earlier post! I was talking about how I wasn’t sure that Deadpool could translate well, much as you were saying.

      There tend to be two versions of Deadpool: tragic anti-hero and troll. Troll Deadpool shows up in stuff other people are doing and acts inappropriate. Tragic anti-hero Deadpool reflects on how his ugliness means he’ll always be alone, fears that all he’s good for in life is murdering people, and wonders if he can ever be redeemed, using humor to leaven the deep pain of his situation. The former doesn’t work well as a star, because if he’s the one driving the mission he’s on, then he can’t really act inappropriate to his own mission. The latter could be the lead, but nobody wants to go to a Deadpool movie to leave feeling depressed.

      The trailer seems to indicate that they’re using a bit of tragic Deadpool to set things up, and they’re including some X-Men later on so it’s more possible for troll Deadpool to make inappropriate comments about what other people are doing. I’m not completely confident it’ll work, but looking at what they want to do, I think it may be the best possible approach for a standalone movie.

      I’m very pleased that they really punched up the quips from the first trailer — the first trailer just had a lot of pointless vulgarity, whereas the new one has actual funny lines (“That guy was up there when I got here!”). I’m hopeful now. We’ll see — I’d love for it to be really good.

  3. P.S. How often do Slott’s stories absolutely depend on someone who isn’t stupid being stupid? I don’t look for responses like, “Oh yah, rawr, Slott writes stupid people…” I mean, really, I’m curious if that thread can be picked out in his stories.

    1. SSM’s run was probably the most glaring example of having a whole host of characters whose intelligence had to be temporarily drained for the story to continue as long as it did.

      I think what compounds the problem is the lack of common sense that often afflicts characters under Slott, along with his tendency to try and imbue the characters with his own politics.

      Look at how Dan Slott treats Peter as CEO. Apparently CEOs have endless supplies of money that they pull out of the ether. Peter can destroy his own building in a play-fight with The Human Torch. Spider-Man tells the British Museum he’ll pay for any damage an international terrorist organization is responsible for — and buy a new wing. He gives “free” technology (and infrastructure, one has to assume) to developing countries around the world. If you look at Dan Slott’s political tweets, you will see why he erroneously portrays CEOs this way. Short or acting like CEO-Peter, they’re essentially the “1%” … “greedy…money-hoarders” who have enough time to take on a second job.

      In this case Slott’s ideology (and refusal to research basic business basics/economics) creates a ripe environment for the character to display stupidity — or to act without common sense.

      This brings us to Peter’s refusal to fire Sajani after he found out she was actively trying to strike a deal to destroy his corporation. What does justice tempered by mercy dictate Peter do? We know that just having a 5-second “talk” at a wedding and telling her never to do that again is the wrong answer. But, again, in Dan Slott’s world, firing a minority at a billion-dollar company — even if said character was involved in corporate espionage — somehow would make Peter Parker a Trump-ian racist…so Slott keeps Sajani around so she can be erroneously pinned with a follow-up breach of trust.

    2. It’s a case of severe OOC writing, I also think of now. Peter Parker ought to be a guy who squeezes pennies so hard they cry. Peter grew up lower-middle-class poor, had to count his cash to make the rent, was homeless himself at one point. He’s a guy who would live by the old maxim, “Don’t forget, the poor-house is just around the corner.” I can see Peter being over-generous toward his friends and (secretly) people in need, but absurdly frugal with himself. Like, he ought to want to re-build MJ’s wrecked night-club, but he himself would still be driving around in a 1996 Camry.

      Also: traditional Peter didn’t cause his own problems. He didn’t cause the burglar to shoot his uncle, it was a freak coincidence that things happened as they did. He didn’t cause the chimney to fall on Captain Stacy, that was Ock’s fault. He didn’t accidentally set up Gwen Stacy to get murdered, that was all on Norman Osborn. He didn’t end up with the black symbiote because of being inattentive, he misunderstood what he’d been told and activated the wrong machine.

      But Slott depicts Peter as a person who deserves our contempt, because Peter causes most of his own problems. Slott’s Peter is a bungler. This is why I didn’t submit a sample, when another website recently advertised that they were looking for volunteer reviewers. Slott’s version of Peter stinks, and I couldn’t see how I could write multiple variations of “Slott’s work stinks” over and over.

    3. As usual, you raise very good points. Whenever I read comments from guys like you or Stillanerd, I can’t help but think, “Why doesn’t Marvel get it?” I suppose I answer my own question regularly when I point out how much of the payroll is filled with political activists…but it still is bizarre to see people in positions of power who are so clueless about these characters’ core traits.

      I saw Spider-Man Crawlspace’s request awhile back for new reviewers. You may not have been the right fit for them, but I think you’d do a great job reviewing other books.

      I know that my history with Slott would have many Crawlspace editors saying, “Nooooooo!” if I ever sent in my resume, but I guarantee you that I would do one heck of a job. Personally, I’d rather get involved in podcasting. I really enjoyed speaking with The Henchmens Lounge. I think a year or two down the line I may look into starting my own podcast. We’ll see. I already have a lot of pots on the stove to begin with, so we’ll see.

  4. What I don’t entirely understand is how/why Slott’s ASM sells as well as it does. I remind myself that the pre-Superior ASM numbers were mediocre at best and sinking (even Slott recently acknowledged this, which shocked me). I also have a theory that ASM, due to the character’s huge fame and rock-solid fan base, has a sales cushion that other Marvel series never have. A Ghost Rider or Nova series wouldn’t come with a built-in 20K or 30K sales base, for example. Silver Surfer illustrates the contrasting sales power of ASM, in that Silver Surfer has Slott’s name prominently promoted but it rarely breaks through 25K (which in my opinion is cancellation territory). So, if Marvel ships, say, 90K of ASM one month, I am guessing that the reality is that stores buy 40K of it because they’re confident they will consistently sell at least that much of ASM, regardless, because they have in the past. Then 50K more was purchased because of Marvel’s sales incentives, avalanches of variant covers, the latest #1 issue, and because particular, local sales indicators justified the store buying more. Even if digital sales represented doubling, the ratios would still hold up so that the hard-copy sales would be a reliable indicator of popularity (though I know it would take the actual digital-sales data to form firm conclusions). I don’t think hard copies are so out of vogue that their sales stats tell us nothing, especially since digital isn’t collectible and comics are still a collectible hobby. The big disparity between Silver Surfer sales and ASM sales suggests to me that ASM carries Slott as much as he carries it. Silver Surfer barely sells, in spite of the fact that reviews of Slott’s Silver Surfer stories have been uniformly positive. If Slott’s ASM stories were terrible in every conceivable way, the sales would crater and he would have been gone a long time ago. He knows how to crank out plot machines and keep them fizzing along (despite character distortions, story illogic, and the absence of humane feeling).

    1. Years ago, before Marvel scrapped its message boards, I made similar points about ASM having a built-in fan base. Heck, I think I may have done the same in the comments section of this blog at some point, so I’m glad you brought it up! 🙂

      Dan Slott’s laser-like focus on sales when cornered on editorial decisions is understandable but laughable. Yes, it is possible for someone to write Batman or Spider-Man so horribly that the title tanks…but in general there is a ready-made audience that is immune to “eh” and even bad writing. For years I purchased ASM and held my nose out of sheer loyalty to the character. I stopped after OMD and disappeared for a long time. The thing that got me “back” was the realization that industry websites are so tight with the creators that they cannot be trusted to give honest reviews.

      People can like or hate my reviews, but the one thing they can never say is that I’m trying to gain access to the creators or to get into good graces with Marvel. Can anyone credibly say this review is a “hater” review? I think it’s pretty darn fair. I call it like I see it, unlike other websites, which call it as Marvel sees it.

    2. Yes, ASM would need to become absolute rubbish for many months in a row, before any writer could sink this series. And as much as critics criticize his writing, Slott is not a technically-terrible writer. He comes up with classically zany plot devices that attract attention (like “Spider Island” or “Spider-Verse”), his pacing zips right along, he does lots of foreshadowing, the comedy aspects of the series can be pretty funny, and every once in a while, rarely, sporadically, he can do heartfelt (e.g., the funeral of Marla Jameson issue). All that, combined with the rock-solid fan base, sells issues, in spite of Slott changing the main character into a self-sabotaging buffoon.

  5. Thanks for the plug! We would love to have you join us for another chat sometime, it was a fun experience and a good discussion.

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