‘Civil War II: Amazing Spider-Man #4’: Dan Slott’s ASM #17 haunts Christos Gage’s latest effort

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It’s hard not to feel sorry for Christos Gage. The guy was asked to write a Spider-Man story that stood on its own while also supporting Brian Michael Bendis’ Civil War II and Dan Slott’s run on The Amazing Spider-Man.

Question: How does the hero who a.) asked The Prowler to resort to corporate espionage on behalf of Parker Industries, and b.) teams up with Carol “Minority Report” Danvers have the moral authority to lecture a confused man like Clayton Cole?

Answer: He doesn’t.

Civil War II: Amazing Spider-Man #4 is a book that actually reads better the less one knows about the current Marvel universe. For people who just want to roll around a few philosophical questions about redemption and free will like marbles, Mr. Gage’s work satisfies. For people who love the character Peter Parker, however, the issue is just one more reminder of just how intellectually discombobulated he has become thanks (in large part) to writer Dan Slott.

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Here is what you need to know for CWII: ASM #4:

  • Spider-Man tries to talk Clayton Cole off a psychological ledge during the one-on-one battle predicted by Ulysses. Peter wants the scientist to give up his “Clash” technology and start a new life.
  • Robot Master reconstitutes himself and attacks the two men just as Peter seems as though he might have a breakthrough.
  • Clayton leaves Spider-Man to deal with the villain on his own, saying that he needs to go his own way.
  • Spider-Man defeats Robot Master, who vows to take Parker Industries to court for Cole’s attack.
  • Peter Parker and Ulysses discuss the Inhuman’s powers, whether they are appropriate to use, and how to channel them to save lives. Peter now says it would be wrong for Ulysses to work for Parker Industries because the company will be stronger by learning from its own from failures.
  • Spider-Man agrees to work with Carol Danvers to profile potential future criminals. He will fight for the cause if necessary, but says he will act like her personal Jiminy Cricket (It worked out so well with Doctor Octopus, right Pete?)
  • Clash steals a massive amount of off-the-books cash from Roxxon and announces that he will no longer work for other men. The villain begins to recruit for a criminal empire.

Fact: Clayton Cole wanted to “redefine” himself as a hero using Clash technology.

  • What then, we must ask, gave Spider-Man the moral authority to say that Clayton Cole should not do that, but Hobie Brown as the Prowler can?
  • Why is Dan Slott’s Peter Parker a stand-up guy for asking Mr. Brown to break into a business and steal technology for his own selfish reasons, but Mr. Cole is “ruining” his life for trying to turn over a new leaf as Clash — the superhero?
  • How can Peter Parker, a man who has been falsely convicted in the court of public opinion multiple times, endorse Captain “secret detention” Marvel?

In short, CWII: ASM #4 is filled with creative contradictions, which are not treated as such. As was stated in previous reviews, it is tough to discern how culpable Mr. Gage is for the story’s flaws when a strong argument can be made that he is doing the best he can with messes made by other men.

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If you have read the previous three issues of Civil War II: The Amazing Spider-Man, then you may as well buy the conclusion. If you have held off this long, then skip it and take note: The modern Spider-Man is like a boat without an anchor in a storm that shows no sign of breaking.

Again, I feel bad for Mr. Gage — but even more so for the writer who eventually replaces Mr. Slott. Where does a man begin with so much rubble to clear? I guess we’ll find out.

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Related:

‘Civil War II: Amazing Spider-Man #1’: Gage offers reprieve from Slott fare

‘Civil War II: Amazing Spider-Man #2’: Gage explores ‘self-fulfilling prophecy,’ recidivism, and redemption

‘Civil War II: Amazing Spider-Man #3’: Peter Parker turned into hypocritical jerk to keep story going

 

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‘Civil War II: Amazing Spider-Man #3’: Peter Parker turned into hypocritical jerk to keep story going

Robot Master

Marvel “events” have a weird habit of warping a character’s personality in order to arrive at an author’s desired outcome — superhero integrity be damned. Civil War II: Amazing Spider-Man #3 officially falls victim to this recurring annoyance. Writer Christos Gage takes Peter Parker’s penchant for getting on his high horse and (in keeping with the theme of the story), jacks up the amplitude to a bizarre level. By turning the character into a hypocritical jerk, the prognostications of the Inhuman known as Ulysses once again come true.

Here is what you need to know about Civil War II: Amazing Spider-Man # 3:

  • Clayton Cole, aka Clash, meets with Robot Master. The villain, whose real name is Mendel Stromm, discusses his plans to steal money from Parker Industries but is ambushed by Clash.
  • Peter Parker laments having fired Clayton. He sulks at table as Harry Osborn Lyman condescendingly pats him on the back and says, “Clayton’s a grown man too. He made his own choices, and he’s responsible for them. Now it’s on him. (Note: How sad is it that a former Green Goblin now must lecture Peter on what it means to take responsibility for one’s actions?)
  • Robot Master, having anticipated a double-cross by Clash, notes that his mechanical minions have been upgraded and are ready for a fight. A battle ensues on the streets of New York City.
  • Spider-Man shows up to save the day. After Robot Master’s technology forms into a giant robot (and Spidey jokes, “Always giant robots…”), the two eventually agree to divvy up the tasks. Spider-Man agrees to “trust” Clash and leave him with the giant robot while he chases down Stromm.
  • Both men defeat their respective opponents. Spider-Man then decides to lecture Clash on what a rotten person he is the moment the dust settles. The hero says that “Peter Parker” is going to let Clayton have his job back — provided he turn over all of his sonic technology.
  • Clayton gets an “angry Beavis” look in his eyes from the old Beavis and Butt-Head cartoons, and then attacks Spider-Man —just like Ulysses predicted.

This issue had so much potential. It is hard not to look at Robot Master’s lab, which appears to be something out of Tim Burton’s wildest dreams, and not anticipate a good read. Mr. Gage generally does an adequate job — and Spider-Man fans finally gets a decent fight scene — but it appears as though the constraints of Civil War constantly undermine the book.

ASM Civil War Clayton Cole

Consider this:

  • On one hand we have Peter Parker, a sulking mess who doesn’t understand basic responsibility. Harry recounts how Peter behaved like a stalking ex-boyfriend by sending Clayton “message after message” via “voice, text, email” to try and apologize … for firing a guy who probably deserved to be fired. At Parker Industries, it’s almost impossible to get terminated. (Does anyone know what happened to Lian Tang, the Parker Industries girlfriend who tried to kill him? I wouldn’t be surprised if she still has a job…)
  • On the other hand we have Clayton Cole, a guy who outwardly appears to be a nutcase (bulging eyes, screaming fits of rage, crying on the job, sweating, etc.), in addition to the issues raging beneath the surface. The audience is often encouraged by Mr. Cage to have sympathy for the man, but it is always negated by his actions.
  •  The question becomes: What the heck is the point of all of this?

As has been said before, Christos Gage handles issues of redemption and responsibility much better than the series’ regular writer, Dan Slott. The interactions between characters are more natural, which in turn give the action scenes added weight (i.e., Gage’s stories do not feel like a kid who mashes his action figures together and then expects you to care). It’s just a shame that Civil War makes it difficult to judge whether editorial mandates are the cause of The Amazing Über-Hypocrite, or if that is an mistake that rests solely on Gage’s shoulders.

Fact: Spider-Man is a vigilante. Vigilantes do not get to stand upon a giant moral pedestal and lecture other vigilantes about the collateral damage brought about by their actions.

Peter Parker of all people should know that Clayton Cole — a fellow man of science — sees his knack for sonic technology as his “great power,” which also comes with “great responsibility.”

Peter Parker of all people should also know that Clayton Cole would feel added pressure and guilt, given that he erred with his powers early on in life. Therefore, a well-written Spider-Man in this issue would not have behaved like a massive tool in the immediate aftermath of a street battle.

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Beavis and Butt-Head

In short, Civil War II:: Amazing Spider-Man #3 is worth checking out if you purchased the first two issues, but you can probably sit out the finale if you still haven’t coughed up any hard-earned cash.

Civil War II ASM4 preview

Editor’s Note: Just to keep the sound motif going, what is with the Amazing Spider-Man #15 “echo”? Clayton asks Peter Parker to trust him in battle, which is what Mary Jane did during her battle with Regent. Oddly enough, Peter had legitimate reasons to not trust either of them…

Related:

‘Civil War II: Amazing Spider-Man #1’: Gage offers reprieve from Slott fare

‘Civil War II: Amazing Spider-Man #2’: Gage explores ‘self-fulfilling prophecy,’ recidivism, and redemption

Amazing Spider-Man #15: Dan Slott’s Regent took down a god, then falls to … Mary Jane

‘Civil War II: Amazing Spider-Man #2’: Gage explores ‘self-fulfilling prophecy,’ recidivism, and redemption

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Marvel’s Civil War II has been a mixed bag of good ideas and poor execution, but writer Christos Gage’s work on the project has generally been a notch above his peers. Civil War II: Amazing Spider-Man #2, like the issue before it, highlights just how much potential he has as a writer, even if some elements of the book are rough around the edges.

Here is what you need to know for CWII: ASM 2:

  • Spider-Man, tipped off by Ulysses, defeats a “quintronic man.” (The aftermath features a nice nod to Amazing Fantasy #15.)
  • Clayton Cole (aka, Clash) runs into an old henchman he knows, but rebuffs an offer to talk about working with the Owl.
  • Clayton eats a meal with his parents, who are seemingly rotten people. They tell their son Peter Parker is exploiting his genius, liken Clayton’s beard to a something a homeless man would sport, and say his girlfriend Donna (a single mother who works at Parker Industries as an administrative assistant), is only interested in him for his future earnings.
  • Donna breaks up with Clayton just before he asks her to marry him. She is worried about what will happen when her son learns about his criminal past.
  • Clayton explodes on a coworker and later becomes paranoid (with good reason) when Ulysses and Spider-Man act like gossipy high-school kids around him.
  • Spider-Man catches Clayton using an experimental device that can retroactively track and record sound waves. The two have an argument and Clayton storms off.
  • Mendel Stromm (aka, Robot Master), pitches a heist of Parker Industries to Clayton in a bar for henchmen. The plan is to frame Harry Osborn Lyman.
  • Peter tells Harry in a private meeting that he wants to make amends with Clayton, never realizing that the Tinkerer has been given a request to upgrade Mr. Cole’s “Clash” costume.

I mentioned in my first review that Mr. Gage added more intrigue to ASM in one issue than Dan Slott has in months. The good news is that Mr. Gage continues to creatively cross his ‘t’s’ and dot his ‘i’s’ in ways the head ASM scribe shows no interest in duplicating. The bad news is that as a reader it’s hard to witness Clayton’s behavior and not think, “Is Peter Parker the worst judge of character of all time?”

Consider this: Peter Parker’s ‘very close’ girlfriend tried to kill him, his inner circle lies to him and tries to work with corporate saboteurs, and his biggest investor (and secret santa) was the head of an international terrorist organization. He might want to have Doctor Strange check out that spider-sense one of these days, because it certainly doesn’t work during job interviews…

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Overall, CWII: ASM #2 does a good job of getting readers to think about how hard it must be for an ex-convict to escape the long shadow of sins past. There is a nuance to Mr. Gage’s message about second chances and redemption that has always been absent from Mr. Slott’s work, and for that he should be commended.

At the end of the day, however, Mr. Cole largely comes across as an unsympathetic character due to his actions and the way artist Travel Foreman depicts his hair-trigger rage (an apology by the character afterwards does little to endear him to readers.)

Mendel Stromm

The best-case scenario for Mr. Cole is that he is using inside knowledge of Mendel Stromm’s attack to his advantage — as a hero. Perhaps he will set-up the villain to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt to Spider-Man and Ulysses that he is a good man. There will likely be confusion along the way  — a brief fight with Spider-Man, which technically will prove Ulysses was correct — but in the end Spider-Man and “Clash” will work together to take down Robot Master.

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What did you think of CWII: ASM #2? Do you think “Clash” will be back to his villainous ways, or will he redeem himself by double-crossing Robot Master? Let me know in the comments section below.

Editor’s Note: Check out the YouTube page and subscribe if you’re into video reviews and podcasts. I plan on doing a lot more of that in the years ahead.

‘Civil War II: Amazing Spider-Man #1’: Gage offers reprieve from Slott fare

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Civil War II: Amazing Spider-Man #1 came out on Wednesday, which gave Marvel fans an opportunity to see how everyone’s favorite wall crawler reacted to the Inhuman prognosticator at its core.  It is safe to say that writer Christos Gage offered more intrigue in a single issue than ASM writer Dan Slott in months.

Here is what you need to know for Civil War II: Amazing Spider-Man #1:

  • Peter Parker lands in New York City after a long flight from Shanghai. He crawls into bed at Parker Industries headquarters to take a quick nap and is shocked to find Johnny Storm — naked. He tells Johnny to put some clothes on or “flame on” so he can turn around. The Human Torch reminds Peter that he is scheduled to spend time with Ulysses, the Inhuman who can see and “experience” possible futures.
  • Spider-Man takes down the Vulture and the “Vulturions” over New York City. Ulysses is with the hero.
  • The two men make their way to Chinatown and stop a rage-filled man who was going to murder his ex-girlfriend.
  • Spider-Man tells Ulysses that if he hones his power, then he can help Parker Industries narrow down projects that will make it through the research and development phase — and therefore help a greater number of people.
  • Ulysses takes a tour of Parker Industries and meets Harry Osborn  **cough**Lyman**cough** and Clayton Cole.
  • Ulysses tells Spider-Man that Clayton Cole, aka Clash, will likely revert to his old ways. The Inhuman tells Spider-Man to prepare for an attack.

As I mentioned in the comments section of my review for Civil War II #1, there is incredible danger in fully embracing a man who only sees possible futures. Ulysses actually admits in the issue that his predictions “almost” always come true, but not 100 percent of the time.

What if, simply by allowing doubt to creep into his mind over his employee’s integrity, Peter Parker inadvertently plants the seeds for Mr. Cole’s recidivism?

What if Ulysses is unknowingly a harbinger of doom that can only transpire if heroes alter the “future-dominos” for him?

These are all very interesting questions, the kind of which are sorely lacking in The Amazingly Immature Spider-Man these days.

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Perhaps the only odd note the issue hits is the opportunistic way that Peter latches onto Ulysses and his ability. He rightly tells the young man that he can probably use his powers to affect more lives than he realizes, but the moment is ruined with a hasty job offer at Parker Industries. Readers want to believe Peter is not exploiting the situation, but it’s hard not to wonder given how petty and immature the character is under Slott’s direction.

Overall, if you’re looking for a book that gets the Civil War II ball rolling, then check out Christos Gage’s work. His effort also serves as a good audition for the role of lead ASM scribe. For the first time in many months I have not felt embarrassed for the title, and that is a good thing. I look forward to buying Civil War II: Amazing Spider-Man 2.

Civil War II ASM 1 Spider-Man

Exit Question: Is it me, or did this issue highlight how Peter Parker filled his entire inner circle at the company — courtesy of Dan Slott — with back-stabbers, criminals, and super villains?

  • Anna Maria Marconi: Doc Ock’s girlfriend. She went behind Peter’s back with Sanjani on Doc Ock’s nano-technology project.
  • Sanjani: She tried to strike a deal with The Ghost — a corporate saboteur — to destroy Parker Industries.
  • Lien Tang: Peter’s girlfriend tried to murder Spider-Man and traded company secrets to a terrorist organization.
  • Jacob Fury, aka Vernon Jacobs: Parker Industries’ biggest shareholder — and Peter’s “secret Santa” at the company Christmas party — ended up being the terrorist mastermind Scorpio.
  • Clayton Cole: Mr. Cole was formerly the villain known as Clash.
  • Harry Osborn: It’s really only a matter of time before Harry falls off the Green Goblin wagon. We might as well get it over with.
  • Living Brain: The robot is Doctor Octopus.