This article contains SIGNIFICANT spoilers for this week’s Amazing Spider-Man #74.
After three years at the helm, writer Nick Spencer’s Amazing Spider-Man tenure has come to a close. The mystery of Kindred has been solved, and the next era of the wall-crawler’s life can begin. But as Amazing #74 (LGY #875) ties off all the remaining plot threads, readers are left to wonder:
Haven’t we read this before?
Spencer certainly isn’t shy with tipping his hat to his influences, and hasn’t been throughout his run. He goes so far as to have this immortal page from 1993’s Spectacular Spider-Man #200 front and center when the book is opened:
For those of you perhaps too young to know or remember, the above page is the grand finale of writer J.M. DeMatteis’ two-year run on Spectacular, which was his official follow-up to “Kraven’s Last Hunt,” published just a few years earlier. DeMatteis’ run (with the inimitable Sal Buscema on art, pulling off the best work of his career) was a dramatic, melodramatic psychodrama that focused on the strained friendship between Peter Parker and Harry Osborn after the latter regained his memories, re-assumed his father’s mantle as the Green Goblin, and proceeded to torment Peter, Mary Jane, and pretty much everyone else around them with an ever-present Sword of Damocles in that Harry knew Peter was Spidey, and could potentially tell the world at any time. As the tension ratcheted up, Peter and Harry collided in final battle, ending with Harry redeeming himself amid a momentary burst of sanity, saving Mary Jane’s life, then ultimately succumbing to a Goblin serum-induced heart attack. After everything, Harry quietly, poignantly died as Peter’s friend once more. Spectacular Spider-Man #200 was (and still is) a master class in character-driven sequential storytelling.
By contrast, Nick Spencer’s dispatch of Harry in Amazing #74 rings false, and even somewhat desperate. This isn’t the first time Spencer redid something that DeMatteis did first, and better (“Hunted” was a reworking of “Kraven’s Last Hunt” to the point that it even ends with the titular villain committing suicide a second time). But unlike “Hunted,” which at least featured some outstanding character beats throughout (seriously, that Gibbon tie-in issue is flawless), the finale of both the Kindred saga and Spencer’s entire run is a sheer, empty-calorie exercise in playing the hits; remixing the familiar just enough to fool the unassuming but without taking the care to understand why the original worked as well as it did. When DeMatteis laid Harry Osborn to rest, it was the culmination of a saga that was marked with heartache, betrayal, and psychological desperation previously unseen in a Spider-Man comic – and, ultimately, Harry’s salvation despite it all.
Spencer kills him with a giant centipede.
There’s a definite attempt at gravitas, but it falls flat due to a massive amount of convolution and the shoehorning of Mephisto into the tale. Spencer even plays Lucy-with-the-football with Harry’s well-documented mental health struggles over the years, giving him an easy excuse that the Devil literally made him do it instead of ascribing anything resembling a tragedy, like DeMatteis did. Spencer contrives that Norman Osborn sold his son’s soul to Mephisto as a child in exchange for power, which “explains” Harry’s lifelong streak of poor decision-making and struggles. That’s a pretty major slap in the face to anybody struggling with their mental health who might have identified with Harry’s struggles, but narratively speaking, it utterly dilutes any potency to be had from Harry’s final stand. A stand which, just like DeMatteis twenty-eight years earlier, culminates with Harry overcoming the worst parts of himself to help his friend Peter.
Except there are no worst parts of Harry in Spencer’s rendering. He’s sad. His daddy is a mean man. But he finds the power to persevere. That’s it.
Spider-Man is one of the most important characters in comics history, and one of the foundational pieces of the entire Marvel Universe. He was the first everyman hero. He was the first teenager to be given star treatment and not be a childish sidekick. He has nearly six decades of rich, sometimes tangled history that a writer can work with to build something new. So it’s baffling that Nick Spencer, and by extension, Marvel editorial, would be content to so baldly rewrite another creator’s story and try to pass it off as their own. It didn’t work with “Hunted,” and it certainly didn’t work here. Was he or editorial simply not confident in his abilities to bring everything together? Were they bereft of ideas? Or was it just the sort of thing that seemed like a good idea at the time – “Hey, it worked once before…!” That may not be a fair read on Spencer’s authorial skills, especially considering the amount of good comics he’s written over his career, both for Marvel and independently (seriously, I cannot recommend The Fix enough, even if it remains unfinished).
And that’s not to say that Spencer’s run has been all bad, either. Far from it. He corrected some pretty major missteps from recent years, including getting Peter and Mary Jane permanently back together. They’re not married like they should be, but at least they’re in love and not playing will they/won’t they. He also continued his ongoing love-to-hate affair with Boomerang (a stylistic extension of Steve Lieber’s and his immortal Superior Foes of Spider-Man), continuing to write him as the $#!+heel who can’t seem to stop himself from being a $#!+heel even though he knows he shouldn’t. He went all-in with Spidey’s deep bench of villains, giving C-listers such as Gog and Mr. Negative ample room to shine. And thank the gods, he retconned the icky, beyond-ill-advised Norman Osborn/Gwen Stacy tryst and revealed their “children” were rapidly-degenerating clones. Good riddance. Finally, something good came out of Spider-Man and clones! [Insert grumpy old ‘90s fan rant about The Clone Saga here.]
Nick Spencer’s tenure as Spider-Man’s shepherd has ultimately been a mixed bag. Bloated at times, missing the mark at others, and occasionally really knocking it out of the park. It’s a shame then, that he didn’t trust himself enough to do his own thing for his crescendo… or was told to keep it familiar by editorial. Either way, Amazing Spider-Man #74 represents a frustrating end to his run, because you can’t help but read it and wonder what more he could have done if he’d been shooting for originality instead of nostalgia. How will future generations of readers embrace Spencer’s run? Will they at all? Or will it be viewed as a relic from an era when recycling past glories was considered a virtue?