SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW!
Posted not too long ago in Comics Frontline...
Reviewer's note: This review does contain some plot spoilers, which is partially why I waited a few days to write it. Please do not read it if you haven't read ASM 699 and don't want to be spoiled for the details. Thank you for taking heed.
My birthday was last Wednesday, so it was a fitting gift to get the next part of the Dying Wish story arc that will be the final story in Amazing Spider-Man before the title ceases publication. ASM 698 ended on a development that was both unsettling and a little depressing for me, as it was revealed that Doctor Octopus had successfully managed to swap bodies with Spider-Man, leaving Ock's consciousness in Peter Parker's young, able Spider-Man body and Peter's in Ock's withered and expiring body.
I couldn't deny the writing was top-notch, but wow, did it leave me in a funk for a while.
This issue sets up the finale due out in a few weeks (the day after Christmas, in fact... not that I'm feverishly watching my calendar or anything...) by showing off our hero's two greatest assets: his resourcefulness and his determination. But I'll get into that soon enough.
Paolo Rivera's cover artwork does a good job of conveying the story within, as we see Spider-Man entangled in the bands of Doc Ock's mechanical arms (by the way, Marvel, nice job of NOT listing him as the cover artist. I'm glad he signed the work!). Behind him, we see what appears to be a wadded up mass of Octavius's mechanical arms, wound and twisted into the shape of a brain. That the arms entangling Spidey are connected to that brain makes for a sinister implication, as we know Octavius is both driving Spider-Man's body and holding it hostage, with no intent of giving it up. It's an overall effective shot, though I did notice a bit of inconsistency as to the dimensionality of some of the arms. In sections, it looks like the tentacles are fairly flat, linked by two-sided pieces of metal, while in others, it looks like the metal is three-sided--sometimes on the same arm as a two-sided link.
It's a bit nitpicky, I know, but it is something I noticed. Overall, everything looks very well-drawn and atmospherically effective.
The issue begins and is told entirely from Peter's point of view, just after the events in 698. He starts to flatline, presumably from the shock of what Octavius said to him, that he's taken over Peter's body and memories, and that Peter will die in his own failing body very soon. Doctors manage to save him, giving Peter a little time to think about his situation. Theorizing that he has the same access to Octavius's memories as Octavius has of Peter's own, Peter sifts through them and discovers how Ock used his control helmet from previous storylines as well as a specially designed Octobot to hack Peter's brain and rewrite Ock's brain patterns into his own.
He manages to sync with the Octobot and send out a call to arms in Ock's name. Hydro-Man, the Trapster, and the Scorpion respond, and break into the Raft, retrieve "Ock," and spirit him away to one of the villain's safehouses, where they rig up life support for him. They agree to destroy Spider-Man for Ock, but Peter, in Ock's body, tells them that they need to bring Spider-Man to him alive.
I was wowed by 698 despite the horrifying twist at the end of the story. In this issue, I was similarly affected, but in a much more uplifting way. Dan Slott, being the mad genius he is, has managed to take away all of Spider-Man's powers and show us why, more than anything, it's Peter Parker who's truly amazing. How to do this? You highlight Peter's greatest traits: his refusal to give up, and his resourcefulness.
Against all reason, against all odds, Peter Parker never gives up. He takes a moment to freak out about all the implications of Ock being in his body, and then pushes it aside and figures out how to fight back. It's the same characteristic that has gotten Spider-Man some of his best moments, from the infamous trapped under the building wreckage scenario to the more recent stalling tactics he used on Colossus and Illyana during the AvX saga. More than anything else, this is what makes Spider-Man one of my very favorite superheroes, and Slott clearly knows how to showcase it in dramatic fashion.
Then we have Peter's resourcefulness to contend with. This is a man who, as a teenager, created his own web fluid for his superhero persona. As an adult, he's created gadget after gadget to augment his spider powers. He's already not someone you count out, but the fact that he's also a scientific and technological genius makes him a force to be reckoned with. He may be on unfamiliar and overwhelming footing for the looming finale, but we know by this point that the battle that comes will be one for the history books.
Artistically, I don't feel like there's a lot to say. While I might occasionally have an issue with some of Humberto Ramos's line work, there can really be no argument that he's done a stellar job of portraying Spider-Man and all the characters in his life. His slightly cartoony style has proven effective in a number of settings and situations, and ranges wide in covering the needs of expression, action, and mood very well. Fight scenes are dynamic and flow well, his characters look believable and interesting, and he knows how to frame things visually so that the artwork supports the story, and vice versa. I look forward to seeing more!
Overall, I'm very pleased with this issue, and can't wait for the next, final installment of Amazing Spider-Man. The writing is engaging and interesting, the artwork is good, and we're set up for a finale of epic proportions. Though I'll be sad to see Amazing Spider-Man end, and am approaching the follow-up title Superior Spider-Man with some trepidation, it's impossible to deny that this has been one hell of a fun ride. Hopefully, the best is yet to come!