Comics : Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #678

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This story is part of an Arc: "I Killed Tomorrow"
     Part 1 / Part 2

This review was first published on: Apr 2012.

Background...

Spider-Island is over, so Amazing Spider-Man isn’t carrying any big events for the moment. And with the launch of Avenging Spider-Man, team-up shenanigans can be hived off to that book, or one of the many team books that feature Spider-Man. That gives ASM a chance to reconnect with its own premise, namely that when he’s not web-slinging, Peter Parker lives large at Horizon Labs. At Horizon, Peter is one of seven elite scientists and engineers, all of whom have complete freedom to work how and on what they like, provided they come up with a big invention every so often.

In Detail...

"Schrodinger's Catastrophe"
Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #678
Mar 2012 : SM Title
Summary: Cameos by Facade, Bambi Modica
Arc: Part 1 of "I Killed Tomorrow"
Editor:  Stephen Wacker
Assistant Editor:  Ellie Pyle
Writer:  Dan Slott
Pencils:  Humberto Ramos
Inker:  Victor Olazaba
Cover Art:  Mike Del Mundo
Lettering:  VC's Joe Caramagna
Colorist:  Edgar Delgado
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Articles: Bambi, Candi, and Randi, Facade

Happy, for once, with the direction of his life, Peter chooses to walk to work. As he passes through the South Street Seaport, he people-watches, enjoys some fruit, gives directions to tourists, and catches up with old friends (watch for the cameo appearance of Bambi Modica, who hasn’t been seen since Web of Spider-Man #38, i.e., 24 years prior to publication of this issue!). Arriving at the Labs, Peter checks in with colleague Grady Scraps, who’s developed a hot new property; to prevent anyone from pulling a “Victor Von Doom”, Peter has a responsibility to check Grady’s work and make sure no one’s face is going to be blown off.

That’s a refreshing story turn! I can’t remember the last time I saw anyone doing Big Science in a comic-book story engage in this sort of risk management.

So what has Grady built? Why, the doorway to tomorrow! Literally, in this case: he’s made a doorway that allows passage not only through space, but also time. Anyone who passes through the door moves into the Labs’ break room, but 24 hours into the future, as Grady demonstrates by retrieving tomorrow’s edition of the Daily Bugle, which is lying on the kitchen table. Peter, intrigued, passes through himself...

...and enters into a hellish landscape of destruction, rendered in a convincing two-page splash. Man, that must have been a chore to pencil and ink.

Peter, horrified, returns back to Horizon Labs, but it doesn’t return to its old view of the break room: the landscape beyond remains devastated. Grady explains: “When someone steps through, they skip ahead 24 hours. You didn’t go to the future. You went to a future where you weren’t here for a whole day. That’s why everything changed.” So why did it change when Peter went through but not Grady? “What’s so special about you that the world can’t go 24 hours without blowing up?”

Peter thinks he knows the answer to that. “I’m... uh... friends with Spider-Man. I must say something to him, or help him in some way, that prevents this from happening.”

“But, now you don’t,” says Grady, “or it would have changed back. This is an observed event. Now that you know about it...”

“...I do something different,” Peter continues, “and because of that, this is the future that’s coming.”

Luckily, the two scientists have some clues to help them get the future on track. The first is Max Modell’s broken watch, which Peter found in the rubble. It broke at ten after three, giving our heroes proof of what time the apocalypse is going to happen. The second is the copy of the Daily Bugle that Grady took from the first future. If Peter can ‘tell’ Spider-Man to behave today exactly like he did in the first timeline, then maybe the second won’t come to pass.

And so off Peter goes. This is a problem he’s going to have to deal with himself. As much as he’d like to call in the FF or the Avengers, he can’t do it: as per Madame Web, who drops by via astral projection, if he interferes with their lives, he’ll interrupt the flow of their destinies, and make the problem worse. For the same reason, he can’t warn his loved ones. He can’t burden anyone else with his foreknowledge.

And so, he’s off, hitting all of Spidey’s achievements from the paper like they’re a to-do list, while Grady feeds him data points via Bluetooth earpiece. There’s some good bits here, certainly. He stops a mugging, and when Grady protests that this is pretty small-time stuff, the wall-crawler answers “Trust me. A small-time thief can change someone’s whole world”. Later, Spider-Man stops a super-villain on a rampage: it’s none other than Facade, who hasn’t been seen since Web of Spider-Man #116, i.e., a mere 18 years prior to this issue’s publication. Facade’s real identity has never been revealed.

“After all this time,” the armored villain says, “you’ve finally defeated me. And now, once and for all, you will know... that I am really --”

“Later!” snaps Spidey. “I’m on the clock!”

Hilarious!

But a little humour only spices the tension. Elsewhere in the city, Silver Sable is preparing to lead the annual Symkarian Pride parade, and the Flag-Smasher and his band of ULTIMATUM terrorists are preparing to disrupt it. For what it’s worth, Flag-Smasher was last seen in Spider-Island: The Avengers, where he was captured... jails in the Marvel Universe must be made of tissue paper. “Begin the countdown,” says Flag-Smasher ominously. And as the clock ticks to 3:10, Grady and Spider-Man rack their brains, trying to figure out what they have to do. But no solution is in sight!

In General...

What a great issue! We readers haven’t gotten to spend enough time at Horizon Labs, largely because Spider-Man’s extracurricular activities with the Avengers and Fantastic Four have gotten in the way. And this issue shows what we’ve been missing. It contains the shiny fun of Big Science, like doors into the future, but with the human element that keeps the story grounded, namely Spider-Man struggling to help regular New Yorkers bedeviled by quotidian troubles like muggings or childbirth. This story shows why Slott is such a good writer, especially for this title: he can spin a yarn that leaves you eager to turn the page, while also hitting the beats on the character we love to have hit: his sense of responsibility, his decency, and his bad luck.

Along these lines, this issue also shows how wonderful Slott is at deploying continuity. He uses it to enhance scenes that would work even in its absence. Peter could have run into any old friend on the street at the Seaport. Obvious choices would be members of the supporting cast that Peter doesn’t see often, like Randy Robertson, Norah Winters, or Glory Grant. But using Bambi Modica is a delightful tip of the cap to long-time readers. If you’re not a long-time reader, though, it’s fine. For this scene, all you would see is what you need to see, namely that Peter has reconnected with an old friend. Similarly the encounter with Facade works even if you don’t know who he is, because he’s obviously an old, lame supervillain whose personal drama Spidey can’t be bothered to get involved in. If you know the history, though, you get the joke, and it’s a funny one. But even if you don’t recognize that a joke is being told here, the story still works.

On the other side of the ledger, this issue also demonstrates the burden of continuity that Amazing Spider-Man has to bear now. Slott, as observed, is a good writer, and that means, in any situation, he has to answer the question of why, when faced with a serious challenge, Spider-Man doesn’t rely on his superhero buddies for help. Two pages of the story are spent on this, with Madame Web explaining just why it is that the Avengers and Fantastic Four are off-limits. Forty years ago, that wouldn’t have been necessary: readers would understand that Spidey is a lone wolf, and only relies on other superheroes when absolutely necessary. And even if he does need them, one thought balloon - “the FF are off world right now!” would suffice. But these days, with Spider-Man as a member of all of these teams, that old explanation won’t cut it any more. And so every solo adventure in Amazing Spider-Man needs to be positioned as Spidey’s affair alone.

It works here, but it’s going to become more and more contrived in future, I think. Ah well; with Bendis leaving the Avengers titles, perhaps Spidey (and Daredevil, for that matter) can get back to being solo artists before too long.

Overall Rating...

A great work by Slott and Ramos, with lots of wonderful bits and no missteps. I hold back a fifth web only because I want to save those for truly landmark achievements, like ASM #648. This issue is just a solid double, not a home run... but of course, if you hit solid doubles regularly, as Slott does, that typically makes you the best player on your team.

Footnote...

I hope that Slott isn’t just using Bambi as a one-off cameo. She flirted with him in the past, and he’s single now. Why not bring her back into the book as a possible love interest? I’d be interested in seeing how that developed.

And in the same vein, as funny as the Facade cameo was, let me remind the world that Lance Bannon was a friend of mine, and Facade killed him. I know I’m in the minority on this - especially among SpiderFan.org staffers - but I want to see justice done. Facade must be captured, tried, and punished for his crime!