Putting the final pieces in place.
This issue serves as the final stop before writer Dan Slott reaches the end of his massive Spider-Man saga. As with the other chapters of “Threat Level: Red” this issue is devoted to arranging a few pieces and generally setting the stage for what’s coming. The key difference, however, is that while previous chapters toward engrossing stories in their own right, issue #796 struggles to deliver a very memorable Spider-Man adventure. It’s a surprisingly unremarkable comic given how close to the end we are.
With this tale, Slott and co-writer Christos Gage deliver a loose follow-up to last week’s Amazing Spider-Man Annual. This issue fails to build on that foundation in a meaningful way, unfortunately. For the most part, this script cycles through a lot of familiar tropes. You have the scientific demonstration interrupted by opportunistic villains and Peter forced to put his professional life in jeopardy in order to protect innocent civilians. The script does introduce a couple key plot points in advance of “Go Down Swinging” (click here for more on one of those), but neither really hinges on the core plot points. With the previous couple issues, there was a sense of frustration in that Slott and Gage were telling good stories that really deserved more room in which to breathe. Seeing this arc wrap up on such a bland, formulaic note only exacerbates that sense of frustration.
Even outside the context of what’s come before in this arc, issue #796 reads very much like a case of wasted potential. This issue features Flash Thompson in a major supporting role as the new Anti-Venom, but it never feels like Flash’s presence actually adds much to the story. The writers initially focus on Peter’s jealousy at being outshone on his home turf before dropping that particular subplot. The renewed focus on Mary Jane is nice, but this late in the game her presence comes across as forced and abrupt rather than MJ being a fitting addition to the book’s supporting cast.
Even visually, this issue falls short of the mark set by the rest of “Threat Level: Red.” That’s all the more perplexing given that Mike Hawthorne turned in such solid work in issue #795. It may simply be a case of Hawthorne being more rushed in this follow-up chapter. His work has a looser and less refined quality this time around. Having two inkers doesn’t help matters, as there’s a marked shift in tone and line weight over the course of the issue. The storytelling in this issue still functions well enough, but there’s an uncharacteristic lack of energy to many pages.