Spencer’s Spidey, Part 4: 10 Things Nick Spencer Shouldn’t Do as Writer of The Amazing Spider-Man (5-1)
—by Nathan on June 22, 2018—
I feel like I’ve covered a lot of bases already but, surprisingly, there’s still more than I can write about. You’ve seen what I think Spencer should do, and you’ve gotten a taste of the facets I believe he should steer clear of while penning ASM. So, without much more in the way of introduction, let’s hop on and take a final glimpse at the few remaining aspects that I feel Spencer should sail in the opposite direction of while writing.
Number 5: Events
This is kind of funny, because in a previous blog, I mentioned how some of Slott’s best stories, including both “Spider-Island” and “Spider-Verse,” are event-level tales spanning several issues and tie-in stories. I also mentioned that these premises are a bit ridiculous. While this is still true, Slott managed to take what was a goofy idea and stretch them into decent stories. He dodged some bullets. Spencer, given his recent dud with the mega-crossover “Secret Empire,” should probably stay away from such storytelling. Problem is, it looks like he won’t.
Marvel has teased an image for a Spidey story titled “Spidergeddon,” landing this fall. While it seems like Christos Gage is handling the writing duties for this one, I’m assuming Spencer will have a hand to play in it as well. Knowing that this is a nod to the biblical “Armageddon,” the doomsday to end all doomsdays, one might wonder if this is an attempt to kill off some beloved heroes. There are a lot of guys running around these days dressed as spiders—the original Spidey, Miles Morales, Spider Woman, Kaine, the Scarlet Spider—so will Spencer end some lives? Entertaining as speculation might be, I really don’t want to see Spencer go down this path often. And gutsy as starting an event as early as the fall is, Spencer really should try proving himself with several smaller tales before heading into big ones. He really, really managed to hype fans for “Secret Empire,” or at least draw their attention to it, even if it was for all the wrong reasons. And as entertaining or refreshing as fans might have found his pre-“Secret Empire” stories, the tales themselves gave way to a bitter climax. So, it seems, Spencer can build interest and suspense into a larger tapestry via several small threads and at least get it rolling towards the conclusion. But if he gets people interested in a large narrative and then completely trashes it like before, well, that might be one too many times the apple cart gets upset.
Number 4: Callbacks
I’ve already mentioned how it great it is for writers to tether back to continuity, either previous stories or characters they’ve crafted or to older elements fans haven’t seen for a while. Yet, there are times when this goes too far. Another Slott example, but here goes: Doc Ock played a huge role in his early stories, and his overarching narrative eventually led up to “Superior Spider-Man.” Slott had his fun, alienated his fans, and then brought the story to a close, seemingly with Ock’s death. But, joke’s on us, he brought Ock back as “Spider-Ock” for “Spider-Verse” and then later as good ole Doc Ock for “The Clone Conspiracy” and another story afterwards. Sure, everyone knew Ock was coming back, but to keep having him pop up—consistently referencing his time as Spidey, no less!—grew really stale and irritating really fast.
It felt like Slott couldn’t shut up about his most controversial work, a constant self-pat on the back. If anything, Spencer should avoid this. Referencing previous work is fine, but if Spencer piles and piles it on for no other reason than (a. he wants to remind us how awesome his particular story was or (b. why the heck not, it’s convenient?...it’s gonna get old. Clever references in comics help remind readers what happened before, show readers a writer has a healthy respect for history, and adds to the current story being written. But if it feels like a writer is just hyping himself up or congratulating himself, fans will notice. And they’ll complain online. Scary.
Number 3: Flashbacks
This is funny, because Spencer is already suffering from this problem. It seems like almost every writer—Every. Single. Writer.—has to, at some point, reference Spidey’s origin, including the spider-bite and dead Uncle Ben. In ASM #0, Spencer’s very first panel does this. Yes, yes, yes…Spidey’s origin is key to who he is, and I guess you want to get new readers up to speed with who this guy is, but the fact Spencer introduces this in the very first panel of the very first issue—or, heck, technically the issue before the first issue—feels problematic. It’s like he wasn’t quite sure how to start, decided “Well, I could repeat the origin story for the millionth time,” and went with it.
And the hilarious part about it? He even references in that panel that, yeah, everyone knows this story, but maybe not completely…which really doesn’t make it any less forgivable. Admittedly, one could applaud Spencer for trying to be a bit creative, but then again, the whole “You only think you know the whole story” trope has been done to death as well. Instead of clever, it comes across as cheesy. He could’ve waited a bit, or perhaps done it in a way that made it less obvious. I honestly prefer it when writers have someone, for example, ask Spidey a question like, “Haven’t you ever done anything stupid you regret?” leaving our hero to just go “Yeah” and letting readers infer what he means. That’s subtle and clever. I love it when a writer gets the readers to think back and reflect on the character to infer the meaning instead of shoving it in their face, completely ruining the metaphorical aspect of it. Slott did this with at least two separate dream sequences where Peter ran into various deceased characters, with some of the same ones showing up in both sequences. It felt a little rocky, a little lazy to bring it up a second time. Yeah, okay, we got it, Spidey has lost friends and needs to learn from his errors. There’s no need to spell it out, we’re not stupid. As all the writing books say: “Show, don’t tell.”
Number 2: Resurrections
The comics do it. The movies do it. From Bucky Barnes, to Norman Osborn, to even Ben Reilly, comic book characters can’t stay dead. Spidey’s had his share of resurrected characters, villains and friends alike; while some, such as Kraven the Hunter and (in my opinion) Ben Reilly, have been done to interesting effect, others like Ned Leeds and Harry Osborn have felt pointless at the moment. Again, for shock value more than anything else. Just a writer doing something crazy because he’s the writer, dang it, and has some creative control. Heck, even Spidey’s died and come back a few times, to more or less divided results.
It’s tricky, bringing back the dead. Fans rather disliked Dan Slott returning Ben Reilly to life because it felt done mainly for shock and, to them, ruined the character for fans of the 90s. If you do it for only shock purposes, you’re going to have a hard time convincing anyone this tactic is actually legitimate and has some serious bearing on future stories. If Spencer goes this route, he has to be really careful. While a character like Harry Osborn has been used really well in the time since his resurrection, his initial return felt a little forced and lessened the impact of his earlier passing. Spencer, then, has to resurrect someone whose legacy won’t be tarnished by his actions. So someone like Uncle Ben is off-limits. And a character like Flash Thompson should stay gone for a while as well, less a sudden return to life harm the impact of his recent, heroic, sacrificial passing. Of course, Spencer really should do it for the sake of the story, not just as a surprise to jolt a narrative or get people to buy comics. Cause he’s done that…yeah, and that worked great…
Number 1: Death
Well, you can’t resurrect someone if they aren’t dead first, right? In comics, death has become as ridiculous a notion as resurrection. Fans rarely expect deceased characters to stay gone for long—look at Black Widow and Wolverine for recent examples—so killing off someone usually comes with a few shrugs of the shoulder and a couple irritating months or years of waiting. Unless the death is done well, and unless the character in question really doesn’t carry the importance of a resurrection, fans will most likely scoff.
Slott actually has a few decent deaths under his belt. The deaths of both Marla Jameson in ASM and Dr. Lamaze in “Superior” came as surprising and useful for the narratives. Fans had gotten to know Marla over more recent issues as she crafted a complicated relationship with ex-husband Jonah before becoming the victim of a foe of his. This led to several nuanced tales—following change and growth on Jonah’s part as well as her killer’s—that had threads for quite a while. Her death wasn’t just dropped in and forgotten about; it lingered. Dr. Lamaze, for me, was a truly shocking death. A minor character introduced in “Superior,” he wasn’t an important figure or even a likeable guy. He was just a professor who was, as they say, in the wrong place at the wrong time. A victim of circumstance, a truly innocent dude killed over matters he was pretty much uninvolved in. If Slott had killed anyone else, it would not have carried the kind of weight it actually did. It hasn’t been referenced since, but it made for a great moment. If Spencer can construct both heart-wrenching moments and lingering subplots that carry emotional and narrative weight to them, he should be able to utilize death well, allowing for some ends to jumpstart new beginnings.
One more note here: these examples are about strictly human characters. What about superhuman characters? That’s trickier. Big name heroes and villains rarely stay dead for long—the Hulk apparently recently killed Alpha Flight member Sasquatch, and I don’t expect him to be gone forever. Even Bucky Barnes and Jason Todd, sidekicks dead for several decades each, were eventually revived. It is, admittedly, easier to kill human characters over heroes, since they typically have no powers or tech that would enable to them to come back or “fake” their demises in the first place. If Spencer kills anyone, I’d argue for it to be a supporting cast member, a normal human. Or, y’know, just don’t let anyone die at all. Simple.
So those are my ideas, my two-cents’ worth of suggestions concerning Spencer’s run on “The Amazing Spider-Man.” I love the comic, and I love the character. As much as I dislike Spencer and his writing, I hope he does well. If he flubs it, then he flubs it, and hopefully a better writer will be brought in to do what he can’t. But if he actually proves himself and does well with this gig for a while…it might be worth collecting and reading. I’ve got most of Slott’s stuff, and I rag on him all the time. For the sake of the character, I’ll back Spencer for now, whether or not his stories consist (or don’t consist) of any of the elements written about in these four posts. If anything, Spencer is joining a community of writers that include Stan Lee, Gerry Conway, Roy Thomas, J.M. DeMatteis, Roger Stern, J. Michael Straczynski, Mark Waid, Joe Kelly, Mark Millar, and yes, Dan Slott. It’s quite the legacy to be a part of, and Spencer is going to add his signature one way or another.