The 10 Best Amazing Spider-Man Stories by Dan Slott, Part 2 (5-1)
—by Nathan on June 2, 2018—
In my previous post, we looked at the first five stories of my ten story list, covering some of Dan Slott’s best Spider-Man stories of all time (or, well, the past decade anyway). Now, we’re all geared up for the next list of five. So what’s Slott’s greatest tales of the last ten years? Find out…
5. “Ends of the Earth” (Amazing Spider-Man 682-687)
Spider-Man gets his James Bond on in a story set soon after the culmination of “Spider-Island.” A new Sinister Six, teased by Slott for several issues, finally comes to light. Led by the dying Dr. Octopus, this tale unites Electro, Sandman, the Rhino, Mysterio, and Chameleon as they unleash Ock’s ultimate plan: tricking the world into thinking the madman can save it before plunging it into a literal hell of flame and death. Thus, good ole Spidey has to form a team of his own. Alongside Black Widow, Silver Sable, and several other partners, Spidey has to travel to, yes, the ends of the earth to stop one of his oldest foes. It’s an action-packed, globe-trotting yarn that sees the world against Spidey like never before and the stakes never higher for the hero. With huge panels provided by Stefano Caselli, the story truly feels epic and masterful in its execution.
Slott had Spidey save all New York previously, so why not the world this time around? It’s a challenge the hero rarely has to face without some Avengers-level help—indeed, the Avengers who do assist are easily beaten by Ock’s new squadron of villains. If you take Spidey at his core—a single hero trying to do the best he can against the insurmountable odds consistently plaguing him—this story checks all the boxes there.
Slott’s new version of the Sinister Six is daunting. He manages to take my favorite team of supervillains and craft an original roster full of villains—Electro, Sandman, Rhino, and Mysterio for sure—who all had received major story arcs prior to this one, thus continuing their tales in a very natural fashion. All six are core foes of Spidey’s, so seeing this particular bunch grouped together is a heck of a lot of fun. Plus, with various elements in this story that pop up in tales later down the line in unexpected ways, it’s a story that’s had a ripple effect for several years now and continues to impact Slott’s writing even to this day.
4. “Dead No More: The Clone Conspiracy” (Clone Conspiracy 1-5, Amazing Spider-Man 20-24)
Death has always played a grim, yet integral, part in Spider-Man’s story, but nowhere has it had as much impact as here. Delivered in both the regular “Amazing Spider-Man” series as well as the “Clone Conspiracy” miniseries, “Dead No More” delivers perhaps Slott’s most engaging post-“Superior Spider-Man” story to date. When a new corporation begins offering incredibly advanced medical treatments, Spidey investigates, discovering that the company’s process is so successful because they literally recreate human bodies, basically resurrecting people from the dead. Led by a new Jackal, this NewU corporation has resurrected the likes of Captain George Stacy, Madame Web, Jean DeWolff, and even Gwen Stacy, securing their help alongside villains such as Jack O’Lantern, the Tarantula, and the Big Man. Plus, this new Jackal has brought in both the Lizard and Rhino, offering them resurrected loved ones in return.
With so many characters resurrected by time travel or mysticism or some form of retconning, Slott’s method is fresh and new and terrifying, as it seems, not so much plausible, but at least realistic. It’s also not “resurrection” as much as “reanimation,” but Slott gives himself so much freedom that he’s capable of bringing back several lost characters, making so many unique cameos for the series. ASM issues offer further backstories for some of these characters, only adding depth to the “Clone Conspiracy” issues.
A terrifying villain reveal (which I won’t mention for sake of spoilers) made several fans upset, slinging words such as “character assassination” around. I, for one, enjoyed it. Bringing this particular character into a villainous role was dang scary and made the new Jackal a devious but very wary opponent for Spidey. This reveal, coupled with some excellent writing, kept the story fresh the whole way through. Admittedly, appearances by a recently revived Doc Ock brought about “Superior” flashes in yet another way I thought felt forced and hokey on Slott’s part; other than this minor grumble, however, we have a fantastically thought-out and executed tale by Slott. With Jim Cheung providing excellent, realistic artwork, the “Clone Conspiracy” is thoroughly engaging.
So, if I like it so much, why is it number four?
3. “No One Dies” (Amazing Spider-Man 655-656)
Taking place shortly before Slott’s “Spider-Island” tale, this two-parter served as what might be the writer’s most poignant tale to date. Following the death of J. Jonah Jameson’s ex-wife Marla—a mainstay in Spidey’s supporting cast for several years after the much-maligned “One More Day”—the tale begins with her funeral, a wordless occasion rendered masterfully by Marcos Martin. This leads into a dream sequence for Peter, as he is confronted with various individuals who have passed over the years.
Like “The Clone Conspiracy,” it’s a story that deals with death, but in a more philosophical manner. While Slott uses dream sequences a bit too often, in my opinion, this one enables him to confront Peter’s demons openly; a parade of deceased individuals certainly attests to Slott’s attention to detail and history. The sequence ends with Peter making his vow: “No One Dies.”
Interesting, because someone does on the next page, leading Slott to introduce Massacre, his most terrifying villain ever. Just a regular Joe who got into a terrible accident, Massacre lost all value for life and starting taking lives instead. He’s just a guy with a gun, and in a world full of planet-razing giants and literal demons, this guy is scarier than all of them because he comes across as real. His kind of evil can happen, and does happen, in our world as well…and Slott knows this, leading that to guide this character’s creation as Spidey confronts him twice.
Some fans believe that Spidey’s “No one dies” mantra is naïve and indicative of Slott’s poor writing: no one could live up to such a promise. Honestly, I question if Slott’s intention was for Spidey to really take this promise as serious as fans believe, or if even just his attempt at fulfilling it was enough for the writer. Heck, later in the series, another characters berates him for making such a promise, but I don’t know if this is Slott’s response to the fan backlash or something just dropping truth on Spidey’s head. Nevertheless, as impossible as the mantra is, it’s still a phrase that has continued playing throughout the rest of the Slott’s run. It’s become a theme for everything he has written ever since then. To see a writer so dedicated to his art that he grafts in such a strong theme for years is admirable. Plus, Massacre’s introduction makes for a great villain who only pops up one more time afterwards in an equally chilling appearance. He’s Slott’s best character yet.
2. “Mysterioso” (Amazing Spider-Man 618-620)
Going back again to before Slott’s time as solo writer, we head into the midst of the epic known only as “The Gauntlet.” A story centered around several villains crafted by several writers over the course of many months, “The Gauntlet” beat Spidey senseless, both physically and emotionally. Slott’s contribution brought in Mysterio, a villain believed to be dead ever since Kevin Smith killed him off years before in a fairly decent Daredevil story. Once again, Slott gives us his take on a classic character that will become a larger part of his plans moving forward.
Other than a two-part tale about the Rhino, this trilogy of tales with Mysterio is the best storyline in “The Gauntlet.” I read it a few times before connecting that Slott was the current ASM writer, and that fact surprisingly didn’t make me like the tale any less. Slott’s narrative prowess is on fire here—his narration for the opening is wonderfully written, the jokes are some of his best throughout the series, and his characterization is great. It’s, perhaps, the most perfect story he’s ever written. Pitting Spidey against Mysterio’s schemes just adds layer after layer of emotional punch to the overarching story’s already dire impact on the hero—characters thought dead seemingly return (quite a theme with this guy, huh?), a gang war erupts, and a Carlie Cooper subplot is actually quite intriguing. Slott shows his capability at nicely intertwining narrative threads together to make a fast-paced tale that still covers a lot of ground. Plus, having semi-frequent collaborator Marcos Martin at his side is a lot of fun.
What’s so great about this story is that it’s completely fleshed out in every way—the dialogue is great, the art is great, the execution is great, the various threads are handled nicely, and never once does the momentum slow down. Normally, Slott (and, typically, other comic book writers) manage to checkmark only a few of these items. Within a span of three issues, Slott combines all the elements of a great comic and delivers well. Having it be a great story in a series of similarly great stories is just icing on the cake.
1. “New Ways to Die” (Amazing Spider-Man 568-573)
After my lavishing of praise with the previous story, it seems like anything topping that would be pretty darn difficult. Well, we’re in luck, because Slott manages to do just that.
A quick note: I’m being unnaturally nice to this guy. Writing this is really weird, because I normally enjoy ranting about Slott. However, as I said before, the guy can craft an excellent tale…and, heck, other pieces sometimes fall into place as well. This is one of those tales.
This story takes place, again, during the “Brand New Day” era, where single Spidey thwipped across New York City. Marking John Romita Jr.’s triumphant return to the pages of ASM following his departure from the book during J. Michael Straczynski’s run, this tale is a six-issue extravaganza of non-stop action. Unlike “No One Dies,” it’s not all that poignant; unlike “Spider-Verse” or “Spider-Island,” it’s not all that epic. It is, however, a fantastic example of what a Spider-Man story should be. You want Spidey going up against fiendish foes and protecting his city while struggling with his life as Peter Parker? This tale does just that. Pitting Spidey against the Thunderbolts led by Norman Osborn, this story brought the two arch-foes together for the first time since “Brand New Day” began, and it’s quite the clash. Fists fly, powers go crazy…and a brand new anti-hero is born in the form of Anti-Venom, giving Eddie Brock a brand new symbiotic persona.
As I’ve already said, the layers to Slott’s narrative work really well, and the themes running throughout are great. Conflict abounds—Spidey vs. Norman, Harry Osborn vs. his father, Venom vs. Anti-Venom. Various subplots—the mystery of new villain Menace, the duel life of the villainous Martin Li/Mr. Negative, the birth of Anti-Venom—have their start or continuation here, subplots we see firmly entrenched in Slott’s solo run later on. This storyline really serves as the foundation for much of what Slott does later on, and while I’m certain he did not know he would be writing the book on his own at that time, kudos to him for crafting threads he was able to very easily pick up later down the line.
Have I read better Spidey stories? Sure. But have I read anything better by Slott? No, not yet. This is him in his prime, before the confounding concepts and overly dramatic dialogue set it. This is, to be honest, the Dan Slott we should have been given for his solo run. You look at this story in particular and set it up against his more recent work, I think the differences would shock you. There’s a maturity here, and in other “Brand New Day” stuff of his, that is largely lacking in his solo run. I read this story and, while I highly enjoy it, I also think of what could’ve (and maybe should’ve) been.
And maybe guys like Marcos Martin, Humberto Ramos, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Stefano Caselli, Jim Cheung, and Ryan Stegman have provided Slott with some absolutely fantastic art over the years, but I gotta face it…there may be no better Spidey artist in the biz than Romita Jr.
Okay, Terry Dodson is waaayy up there…but Romita Jr. is probably the best.
So those are the tales that, when it comes down to it, really shine as the epitome of what Slott’s brought to the table over the decade. Sure, there are a lot of other fun ones that Slott’s done during his time as a writer, but if I seriously think through which tales of his I’m going to remember, these are the ten stories that stand out. These are the ones I’ll probably read several times over.
In another ten years, I could be writing one of these for Nick Spencer. Don’t hold your breath, but until then, at least I’ve got these stories to reflect on.