The 10 Best Amazing Spider-Man Stories by Dan Slott, Part 1 (10-6)
—by Nathan on June 2, 2018—
For the past decade, Dan Slott has been helping guide the shape of Spider-Man stories in the “Amazing Spider-Man,” whether alongside a team of writers post-“One More Day” or on his own as solo scripter of the series post-“Brand New Day.” As a writer, he’s written almost 200 issues in total, with several storylines under his belt. Like most other writers, he’s helped create new characters, reintroduce old ones, kill certain characters off, resurrect a few, and has done a lot to participate in the craziness of Peter Parker’s life.
Yet, as the old saying goes, “All good things must come to an end.” In three weeks, after putting out ASM’s 801st issue, Slott is leaving the title, paving the way Nick “I turned Captain America into a Nazi and will never live it down” Spencer to come aboard. In commemoration of Slott’s upcoming departure, I’ve chosen to compile a list of what I believe to be Slott’s best stories (aka, “my favorites”) during his time on the book. Originally, I was intending to make two separate lists, one detailing his worst stories, one detailing his best. But aside from “Superior Spider-Man” and his often shoddy dialogue, Slott rarely comes up with stories that are inherently bad, so I decided to just focus on the good, the best that I feel he’s contributed to the book.
As noted in my blogs on his “Superior Spider-Man run,” Slott is a controversial guy. His writing isn’t the greatest at points (downright cringe-worthy at moments, if you ask me), some of his stories can be silly and/or infuriating (swapping Peter for Otto Octavius is a whole mess, naturally), and one gets the feeling he takes pride in shocking his audience rather than constructing the most well thought out tales (kinda like Nick Spencer…oh, man, this is not good…). Nevertheless, Slott has proven himself on numerous occasions to be a competent, serious, funny, and enjoyable writer. He’s crafted several fun stories, and I want the opportunity to relish in those.
What makes Slott engaging and intriguing as a writer—my personal dislike of certain storytelling choices aside—is his ability to craft a good tale. He’s written dozens of short stories, two-parters, three-part tales, and a handful of larger storylines, either by himself or aligned with other creators, and he’s maintained a consistent level of entertainment throughout. Perhaps more so than most other “Brand New Day” writers (save, perhaps, Mark Waid and Marc Guggenheim), Slott has a firm understanding of who Peter Parker is and what makes him tick, and he’s carried this idea with him into his solo years. There is no denying his characterization talent, his trademark humor, and his vast knowledge of Marvel lore, even if his dialogue has weakened over the years and his take on certain characters feels odd and conflicting when held up against different portrayals of these same characters under different pens. His run is completely different than, say, J. Michael Straczynski’s work on ASM, or Mark Millar on “Marvel Knights,” or even Paul Jenkins on “Spectacular Spider-Man” or Peter David on “Spider-Man 2099.” Slott’s run is less serious, less thought-provoking, less real (which, admittedly, is quite the criticism when you’re talking about comic books, especially when the last book in that aforementioned list takes place in a dystopian future). But though Slott’s work is “simpler” when compared to these other books, the longevity of his time on ASM and the pure enjoyment he wrings out of it belay any of those misgivings. JMS’ Spider-Man was both fun and deep; Slott’s Spidey may lack the depth, but it’s pure entertainment. You want wild plots, bonkers characters, crazy shenanigans, and wacky deaths? Look no further. Slott’s got you covered.
So, to celebrate his leaving…no, wait, that sounds wrong…to celebrate his accomplishments of being on the book for ten years and for reaching Amazing Spider-Man’s 800th issue, let’s take a glance at Slott’s best Spidey storylines from over the past decade in a two part list that will cover the ten best tales Slott gave readers.
10. “No Escape” (Superior Spider-Man #11-16)
“Superior Spider-Man” is a bit of an odd beast, storytelling wise. Unlike various “Amazing Spider-Man” stories, the Superior tales were not grouped in story arcs; some tales were told over the course of several issues, but you never saw a “[Insert Title Here], Part 1” kind of thing, much like Slott does in ASM. So I’ve grouped these tales by volume.
It seems inevitable that a Superior story ends up here. As much as I disliked the premise at the time of its original publication (and as much as I still dislike it), there’s no denying Slott crafted some well-told individual tales within the wackily-constructed idea. “No Escape” is the best of them. It can really be divided into two stories: the fall of Alistair Smythe, aka “The Spider Slayer,” and the fall of the Hobgoblin, aka Phil Urich. Both characters had been prominently featured during Slott’s run on ASM prior to Superior; both had, in fact, debuted in their current forms in Slott’s first ASM issue during his story “Big Time.” To see a creator bring two of his characters through the fullness of their stories is great, and Slott provides fitting conclusions for both here. In Smythe’s case, he’s sentenced to death on the Raft and, in a final bid for freedom, traps Jonah Jameson, his friends, and Ock’s version of Spidey in the prison. Here, Spidey has various showdowns vs. Smythe and upgraded versions of Boomerang, the Scorpion, and the Vulture, whom the hero had recently bested and hurt pretty badly. It’s a couple great fights, it’s tense, and Giuseppe Camuncoli continued to prove he’s one of the best Spidey artists of today. The tale ends with Ock-Spidey murdering Smythe after the villain tries to hijack his mind, the same trick Ock had just performed on our friendly-neighborhood hero. It’s a brutal battle, and Slott’s bringing his character arc to an end is well done.
The same with the Hobgoblin. Ock-Spidey was a hunter, and so it seemed natural when he targeted the Hobgoblin after smashing the Kingpin’s headquarters (itself, a pretty epic scene). He takes down Hobgoblin, not through physical combat, but by exposing his identity to the public, causing him to lose his job and girlfriend and have him run to the Green Goblin for help. It’s a natural progression for the character and made for a nice change in a series so focused on shaking up the status quo. This more surveillance-prone Spidey was a neat addition, reflective of both Ock’s personality and, again, a more natural progression of Spidey’s usual “patrol” method. In a series based on such a ludicrous concept, having an interesting concept woven into it was a nicely placed injection by Slott.
9. “Big Time” (Amazing Spider-Man #648-651)
Slott’s first storyline as the series’ solo writer, “Big Time” saw him pick up where the previous creators had left off—Peter with his new girlfriend Carlie, Aunt May and J. Jonah Jameson’s dad recently married, Mary Jane Watson returned to New York—and rush headlong in his own direction. Slott quickly and easily planted his foot and introduced new elements to the story to make it fresh while inspired by the past at the same time. Peter’s shared apartment? Gone. Joblessness? Also gone, with a new occupation at Horizon Labs. Thrown into the mix were brand new characters as well as revamped versions of some older ones, such as former Green Goblin Phil Urich as the new Hobgoblin and literal Spider-Slayer Spencer Smythe getting a brand new look.
Any other writer would’ve done the same, making the book their own in a matter of issues, but Slott’s first tale really, really shows what his plans were, if not only short term. He knew which characters he wanted to grow, he knew which direction he wanted Peter’s life to head in, he understood the importance of conflict and adding original material without it feeling shoe-horned in just for the sake of having something “new.”
Alongside Humberto Ramos, Slott’s tale is refreshing in that he populates his new world with so much else that is familiar. Building on the backbones of others, he reintroduces characters like the Black Cat, the Avengers, the FF, the Kingpin, Norah Winters, and even Montana of the Enforcers. Again, it doesn’t come across as forced or in a “look at these cool characters” type of way. For readers who love comics because of the characters and cameos and how all these different worlds intersect, Slott’s “Big Time” tale brings that aplenty. He also manages to, very nicely, weave in subplots and ideas that will come to fruition later on in his stories, letting readers know he has a thought-out vision instead of just slapping together whatever comes to mind. While his dialogue often carries “fly by the seat of your pants”-levels of spontaneity, his action, conflict, and storytelling don’t.
8. “Last Legs” (Amazing Spider-Man #600)
Backpedaling a bit, we head deep into Slott’s days prior to his solo run, when he was a member of several “Web-Heads” tasked with chronicling Spidey’s tri-monthly stories. Slott was given the honor of penning the 600th issue, being the only Spidey writer with the distinction of writing three hundred-labeled issues (600, 700, and 800). With John Romita Jr. making one of his very rare appearances on the book following the end of J. Michael Straczynski’s run, Slott got to write on the wedding of aforementioned elderly couple, Aunt May and Jay Jameson (all together now: aww…). But first, Slott had to navigate Spidey through an entire mess caused by the last man May stood by on the altar. No, not Uncle Ben. Dr. Octopus. Yeah, it’s a thing. Go check it out.
Given an “X many months to live” decree by a medical doctor, this evil cephalopod-esque human puts his final days into action and goes to town…kinda literally, since his attempts to technologically alter New York City does nothing but cause mayhem in the streets. It’s a plan Spidey’s got to stop and, alongside BFF the Human Torch, they put an end to the evil villain’s scheme.
Oh, and the lovebirds get married. That happens, too.
It seems like your average jaunt, and it some ways it is. However, what makes it one of Slott’s best stories is that it contains all the elements of a great Spidey story: team-ups with buddies like the Human Torch and Daredevil; glimpses at the larger universe by referencing Spidey’s membership in the Avengers; crazy technological warfare courtesy of a madman; kidnapped civvies in need of rescue. Perhaps what makes it great is its simplicity. Other than Ock threatening more schemes down the line—in essence, kicking off the narrative that would warp up 100 issues later—it’s really a standalone story not trying to push further stories down the line unnecessarily. And in a series where filler or single issue tales normally go from shruggingly okay to laughably bad, Slott proves he doesn’t always have to lay big arcs end to end to create something enjoyable.
7. “Spider-Verse” (Amazing Spider-Man 9-15)
After bringing Spidey back after Doc Ock’s time as the hero, it seemed there was little Slott could do to raise the stakes higher. He’d just killed Spider-Man! What more could you do? Well, uh, how about killing several Spider-Man! Brilliant! So Slott does just that, creating a rollicking saga across several dimensions that brings in every spider-related hero from Spider-Man 2099, to Kaine Parker, Spider-Gwen, Spider-Noir, Spider-Ham, and even the version from the 1960s animated cartoon. Hunted by energy vampires, the team jumps from dimension to dimension to save themselves from oncoming slaughter. The story reintroduces Morlun—a character created by J. Michael Stracsynski several years ago—but tethers him to a larger family of villainous carnivores who wish to feed upon the spiders (read: eww…).
It’s a crazy idea, one that shouldn’t work anywhere other than on paper. But it does, it really surprisingly does. Instead of a story that feels stuffed to exploding, we get a tale that almost naturally explores several characters, several Spideys. It’s a celebration of the character’s many versions over the years and pulls them together in a way that makes me go “This is actually really fun” other than “This is stupid.” Which is what I kinda thought when I first read it a while ago, but a recent rereading made me realize how enjoyable it really was. Plus, bringing in reoccurring “Amazing/Superior Spider-Man” artist Guiseppe Camuncoli is an absolute treat; the guy’s a great artist.
It’s also kinda written well by Slott, which nicely surprises me somewhat. Perhaps my only complaint is that Ock’s version of Spidey gets dragged in, seemingly unnecessarily; while it does add something to the story, you just get the feeling that Slott largely did it as an excuse to bring the character back and toot his own horn, like “remember this guy? This guy was awesome!” when, in fact, several fans would disagree with you on that sentiment, Dan. But other than that, it’s a terrifically executed idea and one of the rare times where Slott’s writing and ideas go hand-in-hand most of the time. Who’da thunk it.
6. “Spider-Island” (Amazing Spider-Man 666-673)
In a genre that overflows with massive, epic storylines and crossovers that tend to get mediocre to poor reactions from fans (such as “Secret Invasion,” “Fear Itself,” “Secret Wars,” “Civil War II,” and most recently, “Secret Empire”), it’s pretty great that some of Slott’s best work happens when he’s crafting these huge stories. Case in point: his first mega story as solo writer of ASM. Having teased and then wrapped up a few smaller tales before this one, Slott ramped up to “Spider-Island” quickly. Bringing in Spidey’s old foe the Jackal, Slott had the villain infect several New Yorkers with a virus that slowly turned them into spider-like monsters, under the thrall of another old enemy, the Queen. Originally used by Paul Jenkins years earlier, the Queen was a welcome return and a unique adversary for Spidey to tackle.
The idea is a highly original one that shows how deftly Slott can handle such a crazy concept. Mixing in various Avengers and supporting characters into the story, Slott really offers a fantastic scope and really makes Spidey’s world of New York City clear. Dependent as the story is on cityscape environments and mayoral politics, “Spider-Island” also manages to bring a slice of reality into the mix, honing in on the world as we the reader may view it, entangled as it is in supervillain plots and mysterious powers and poisons.
As usual, Slott is not without his trademark “toying” with previously constructed material. Peter’s clone Ben Reilly comes back from the dead after being killed at the end of storyline “The Gauntlet”; Miles Warren’s the Jackal becomes a villain to be reckoned with after years of languishing in obscurity following the ill-conceived “Clone Saga”; the Queen makes her dramatic and triumphant return after seeming like a one-off character from several years before; and Peter and Carlie’s relationship is (thankfully) killed off. As a plus, the story also manages to stay fairly standalone, with only a few epilogues carrying on narrative threads shown here. All in all, it’s a bombastic epic for Slott.
But we’re only getting started. We’ve only just covered the first half of Slott’s capabilities If you want to see where we head next, you’re gonna have to read Part 2 of this blog!