A new day dawns on Spider-Man, hopefully to be better than the last. With writer Nick Spencer exiting Marvel after writing the series since 2018, Marvel’s The Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 5) will be embarking on a new adventure, under a new writer or set of writers. Given the lukewarm reception the core series has received in recent years, one thing that is imperative for this new era of the iconic web-slinger will be a back-the-basics approach that, for the first time in years, brings something new to the character.
Ending his run on issue #74, Spencer leaves a complicated legacy for the flagship hero of Marvel, with many fans critical of the often elaborate and frenetic storytelling style that veered into decadence at times and resulted in ceaselessly climactic pacing, an overuse of retcons, and a reliance on the audience’s familiarity with certain ‘90s/’00s-era story-arcs. Most glaring has been the introduction of the controversial demonically-powered Kindred, a being of unimaginable power whose origins have spiraled into demon-magic territory. Despite his encyclopedic knowledge of Spider-Man history on display, with his titles frequently chock-full of obscure villains and references, Spencer has in some ways brought the wall-crawler too far away from his humble origins.
As this new era in The Amazing Spider-Man begins, what will allow for a strong foundation on which future Spider-Man stories can be told will likely be an editorial overhaul away from the overall style Spencer developed. While Spencer enjoyed his anime-style epics, building up long, gratuitously brutal story-arcs that take multiple years and dozens of issues (and a miniseries or two) to tell to completion, it is counterintuitively a less grand strategy that a character like Spider-Man tends to thrive upon. Once known as a friendly, neighborhood hero, a good Spider-Man run by a qualified creative team should be more episodic in nature and less concerned about telling an overarching epic. Bagley and Brian Michael Bendis’ Ultimate Spider-Man used this formula, and was hailed as a refreshing new take on the character’s mythos.
One quality Spencer exhibited in his writing similar to Bendis, and to other classic Spidey writers like Stan Lee, Gerry Conway and David Michelinie, was a psychologically personal and appropriately nuanced approach to Peter Parker’s point-of-view. Spencer did excel at this quality in particular, imbuing the character with a bracingly human perspective. However, trying to showcase Peter’s everyman qualities is a difficult task when his life is an unending and escalating series of magic-borne, bloody beat-downs at the hands of a villain whose origins are so retconned it requires fans to have a twenty-year backlog of history to understand. This, combined with a tendency to routinely use dozens of characters across multiple story-arcs when building his narratives, sometimes made it difficult to make sense of his stories.
Taking the experientially personal approach Spencer used going forward isn’t a terrible idea, but simple, more street-level storytelling would at this point likely be a welcome change. Magical vampires, kaiju, demonic liaisons and spider-gods have become standard fare, and at this point even the mega-villain team-ups have lost their novelty. A truly special Spider-Man story has traditionally been one that highlighted Peter’s unbending will and determination or the personal sacrifices he must make to be a hero. When all of the extraneous elements of his 60-year history are thrown in piecemeal, the humble roots of the character can get lost.
The key to reinvigorating the character shouldn’t necessarily be seen as a visual issue. Artists like Chris Bachalo, Humberto Ramos and Mark Bagley have provided and continue to provide intricate and action-packed artwork in the tradition of the character. What serves best moving forward in The Amazing Spider-Man is a more down-to-Earth approach to the storytelling, while keeping Nick Spencer’s prevalent focus on the character’s stream-of-consciousness psychology.