Spencer’s Spidey, Part 3: 10 Things Nick Spencer Shouldn’t Do as Writer of The Amazing Spider-Man (10-6)
—by Nathan on June 22, 2018—
Having tackled what I believe Nick Spencer SHOULD do while he writes “Amazing Spider-Man,” I’m now going to take a couple of shots at what I believe he SHOULDN’T do during his time on the book. Admittedly, this is a bit easier to do. I’m not a fan of Spencer, so pointing out his faults and thinking he should correct them isn’t all that difficult. Hopefully, I will handle myself with grace and aplomb.
No writer is perfect. Errors will happen on the book: Spencer will write some dumb stuff, he’ll craft stories fans don’t enjoy, he’ll alter characters in ways readers may cringe a little at. Still, if he can manage to keep the bad elements to a minimum, maybe he’ll have a brighter chance than Slott did while writing the book.
And maybe some diehard critics of Spencer’s will change their tune. Who knows?
Number 10: Politics
This one should be obvious. Perhaps if the story of “Secret Empire” had been stronger, and the political side of it more subtle and maybe even metaphorical, the story would’ve done well. Sadly, this wasn’t the case. Spencer’s “Carry a big stick and use it whenever possible” methodology bred little in the way of happy results. His writing throughout both Captain America comics (with Steve Rogers and Sam Wilson) was a bit too direct, pointed, and antagonistic. It carried a “If you don’t agree with me, you’re an idiot” flavor to it that left a bad taste in one’s mouth.
Spider-Man has never been hugely political, but even stories that have been—like, for example, a mayoral election during the “Brand New Day” era—typically combined fun superheroics with some sort of a message; but…the message was never the main thrust. Undoubtedly, Spencer likes making it clear where his beliefs and preferences lie, and that’s all fine and dandy. He has the right to share his opinions. Still, some care and consideration could filter into his writing, and considering he’s handling a less-than-serious superhero, turning Spidey into a “talking head” of sorts would come across as awkward, stilted, and would really point to a lack of growth or change on Spencer’s part. If he irritates people with his writing, he isn’t so much getting his point across—I’m not sure any writer should see annoying their readers as a goal worth striving for—as he is hindering his own narrative.
Number 9: Romance
Lemme step on the brakes a bit. I’m not saying to pull out romance completely. If solicitations for his first issue are to be trusted, it looks like Spencer’s diving headfirst into this department with a new love interest. But here’s the thing: other writers have tried the same. Guess what? They don’t work. Since the 80s, Black Cat has never been a stable love interest; Slott’s attempts at giving Peter a girlfriend in Carlie Cooper ended in disaster (since Slott had them break up, but I don’t think it was working anyway), and his second romantic lead in Anna Maria Marconi has been undermined by underwhelming writing. The only women that ever worked with Peter were Gwen Stacy and Mary Jane. Problem there. The former is deceased, and the latter is no longer married to Pete thanks to a demonic pact.
I’m not a huge fan of the romance subplots myself, but here’s the issue I tend to have with them: they’re forced, they’re cheesy, and they hinge on physical attraction disguised as genuine interest to cover up bad writing. Straczynski, again, made MJ and Peter’s relationship work really well (until, you know, he didn’t), and a lot of this was based on the strength of their characters. Matt Fraction’s “To Have and To Hold” (Sensational Spider-Man Annual #1) is another absolutely wonderful story that explores such a deep relationship—it’s well-written and charming in a way that helps build upon the (former) marriage between MJ and Peter. Other writers just toss a girl in and hope that, maybe, her personality and charm are enough to carry her through the series. Again, it hasn’t worked. So, hey, if Spencer’s gonna go this route, he’ll hopefully develop an actual character instead of yet another placeholder. In this case, “don’t” do romance the way previous writers have.
Number 8: Plot Twists
Spencer’s last plot twist flubbed. Hard. And it seems like he could be going down the same route again. According to the official Marvel solicitation for his first issue: “a revelation from the past puts Peter Parker’s job, relationships, and whole life in jeopardy!” This seems indicative that’s Spencer is gonna retcon something (itself, quite the risk) and try, once again, to shock audiences into buying books. What it comes down to is this: will whatever “revelation” Spencer intends make sense? And will it pay off?
Writers throw random plot twists into books all the time, usually in the form of a retcon—like the fact Norman really killed Gwen because of their (ewww) children, or the fact that Peter’s powers are more mystical instead of scientific—basically hoping to add a new layer to the mythos and make their mark. And then the fanbase gets mad and said randomness is never mentioned again or only briefly or gets retconned itself. It’s hard to have a good twist in comics (read Tom King’s version of Kite Man in his Batman series for a fantastic example of this), and it usually comes down to not enough preparation, teasing, foreshadowing, or just plain common sense on the part of the writer. I’ve been there, I get how easy it is to turn the tables and hope audiences react in kind. But it doesn’t always happen like that. So Spencer has to tread carefully and hope he thinks his ideas through before acting willy-nilly on his intuition.
Number 7: New Villains
Admittedly, this is gonna sound like a cheap shot—what Spidey writer hasn’t added their own flair of supervillainy to the mix over the years? Straczkynski gave us Morlun, Marc Guggenheim introduced both Menace and Kraven’s daughter Ana, and Slott delivered Massacre (which might be the best thing he’s ever done during his run, btw). On the occasion, new villains like these actually work well and make for compelling stories. But then, you get the villains who you feel only came about because the writer wanted to add something “fresh” to the series; it comes across as hokey and a boring attempt to make a “classic” new foe of Spidey’s. Case in point: some idiot named Blindside who Guggenheim introduced in an annual and brought back in maybe one other issue. No staying power with the guy.
As mentioned in a previous post, I love Spidey’s villains, so when writers can use the classic foes well, I enjoy it a lot. Going for depth instead of width works really nicely in these cases. If Spencer can focus on classic adversaries instead of creating “the next BIG THING!” he’ll do himself a favor. Now, some writers have tried interesting new twists on old foes—Millar made Mac Gargan the new Venom in “Marvel Knights,” Waid created a new, red version of the Vulture, and Slott used the female Electro, made Alistair Smythe an actual Spider-Slayer, and turned Phil Urich into a new Hobgoblin. These have all worked, primarily because they haven’t been a one-and-done deal. These characters have stuck around for a few years now, continuing to make waves in Spidey’s world. If Spencer can bring that about, good for him. Just don’t jump the gun.
Number 6: Bad Writing
This might sound obvious, but I feel like comic book writers can’t seem to get the memo: don’t just vomit up whatever pops into your head first. I’m not entirely sure what effort goes into crafting a script, but if readers going over these stories get the feeling the writer jotted down the first words that entered their brain and left it at, they’ll complain about it. The dialogue will come across as stilted and wonky, the jokes won’t be funny, and the narrative will feel forced and stuffed to the gills with lengthy exposition, deus ex machina moments, and sudden realizations that seem totally out of place. If Spidey sees that, hey, Doc Ock’s wearing body armor and then, suddenly, remembers that he, as Peter Parker, developed a motorcycle helmet using similar properties—a fact which, need I say, has not been mentioned in several issues after an offhand comment at the beginning of this story arc—leading him to cry “This is all my fault!” and thus end the issue overwhelmed with needless guilt…no. That doesn’t work. An “offhand comment” does little justice to explain the newly discovered existence of a plot point; it does not justify a sudden development in story.
Sadly, this happens all the time in comics—and the above example is from an actual Slott story. Unless you read the tale again, you really wouldn’t catch the smaller details that are boringly, rather than ingeniously, laid in there to establish a twist. Simply put, the writer expects too much from the reader. Not that Spencer needs to dumb down his writing. Rather, he has to elevate it to a standard that escapes being cringeworthy, lazy, and downright dull. We need another Straczynski, not another Dan Slott. Personally, I want to see writing that feels natural, is funny, and shows some forethought on the part of the writer.
And that’s just the beginning of the end. Read on if you’d like to find out more “no-no”s and “boo-boo”s Spencer can hopefully avoid.