Spider-Man faces the end of the world.
This issue marks the first of two big numbering milestones the Spider-Man franchise will be celebrating this spring. Unfortunately, take away the #300 ob the cover and the only thing truly noteworthy about this comic is its length. In terms of dramatic stakes and emotional investment, this storyline is falling disappointingly flat.
It’s not even a problem of scope. Writer Chip Zdarsky introduces a truly world-ending threat as Spidey and his fellow heroes find their own tech wiped out even as an army of Tinkerer-boosted villains swoop in for the kill. That in turn fuels a larger doomsday scenario later in the story. Some might argue this is all too big for a Spider-Man comic, dragging the hero out of his comfort zone to deal with challenges above his pay grade. I don’t put much stock in that criticism, as Dan Slott’s Spider-Man run has regularly proven that it’s possible to push the character in strange, unlikely new directions and still maintain the core of Spider-Man.
The trick is in the execution, which is where Zdarsky’s story is stumbling. The scope is vast, but this issue does a poor job of actually making the reader care about the events within. There’s too much bland exposition and too little of the whimsical charm and character-focused storytelling that defines Zdarsky’s best work. There’s a reason Spectacular Spider-Man #6 has outshone the rest of Zdarsky’s run so readily. That issue was all about exploring the heated relationship between Peter and J. Jonah Jameson. This issue includes a few memorable, character-driven scenes, but not enough to balance out the clunky, unmemorable plot.
Nor does the muddled artwork do much to inject extra life into the story. This issue is divided between Adam Kubert and Juan Frigeri. Their pages move the narrative along at a decent clip, but the figures rarely display the energy or emotional range needed. The lifeless facial work really becomes a problem during a key moment between Johnny Storm and JJJ. What should have been a hilarious exchange between reluctant allies is instead drained of humor.
Too often, it feels as though Spectacular is trying to compete with Amazing Spider-Man on its own turf when the book would be far better-served carving out a different niche for itself. The backup story in this issue offers a far better showcase for the type of book Spectacular could be. Here, Zdarsky and artist Goran Parlov craft an amusing and sweet tribute to the relationship between Spidey and Black Cat (one that even directly parodies Tom King’s Batman work in the process). Zdarsky delivers that character-first approach the book needs, and Parlov’s elegant line-work brings a vitality to the page that’s lacking in the main story.