Today marks the release of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #648, kicking off the storyline known as "Big Time." Basically, after three years of a thrice-monthly Spider-Man title with rotating creative teams under the Brand New Day banner (which I thought yielded mixed results at best, since some teams were gold and some teams were decidedly not), ASM will be under the unified vision of Dan Slott and will have only three artists (Humberto Ramos, Marcos Martin, and Stefano Caselli), all of whom have unique styles that are conducive to emotion, expression, and action.
ASM #648 was drawn by Humberto Ramos. I can honestly say I've never been a fan of Ramos' artwork; it's very stylized and it does the job, but it's not something I'd try to copy or make a wallpaper out of. Stylistically, Ramos' work has never been for me. But I think he nailed this issue. The expressions on everyone's faces and body language - including Spider-Man's, who wears a full face mask - are so clear and really help to both move the story forward and impress upon the reader the emotions going through the character's minds.
On to the story. This issue is pretty much divided into two parts. The first half, if I may call it that, focuses on Spider-Man leading the Avengers (Captain America, Iron Man, the Mighty Thor, Wolverine, Hawkeye, and Spider-Woman) and the Fantastic Four in saving New York City from a bunch of robots (and a bomb) created by Dr. Octopus. It's a great start for newer readers. If it's a reader who's been reading the books these characters are the stars of, it's a primer about Spider-Man's place and importance in the Marvel Universe. If it's a completely new reader, then it's a fun ride where all the information can be gathered via osmosis - there's even a panel, just one, that sums up exactly what Spider-Man is all about. (On a side note, I just want to point out that Peachy recognized Thor without even knowing anything about Thor other than his name. That's how good these classic costumes are.) The resolution to this crisis rests on Spider-Man's oft-overlooked intelligence and establishes that he pretty much is a genius. (This is important.) It's also maddeningly and amusingly out of the box, so I'm not going to spoil it for you here. Go buy the book.
The second half of the issue is all about Peter Parker's individual life. Since this is the beginning of a new direction, there's a lot of streamlining and a setting up of the pieces. For example, some characters that may have previously been considered "fat" are now trimmed from the stories, making quick but logical exits. One of them, Michele Gonzales (a character I would have loved to see more of, since I think she was really potentially interesting), is Peter's roommate, who actually was the name on the lease. So, basically, Peter's out of a home. His search for a new one is an extremely convenient and clever way to get us to meet the rest of the supporting cast. We find out that some things have reverted to "classic" form (two exes have gotten back together), we find out an astonishing secret kept by Peter's girlfriend Carlie (Ramos nails this visual), and even a scene where Peter asks Mary Jane Watson if he could move in with her (Ramos nails this perfectly), which - no lie - had me laughing for a good minute. The characterization in these sequences is really compelling. If you've been reading for a long time, Dan Slott reminds you of why you fell in love in with this franchise in the first place. And if you're a new reader, Dan Slott will show you why you should.
Through it all, Peter is characterized as the guy who could make it big if he just happens to catch a lucky break. Ah, but catch a lucky break he does, because he ends up going for a job interview in the last part of the story, and - for the second time - he applies his brains to a situation, and I - a longtime Spider-Man reader - kept smiling through the whole thing, astounded at just how smart Peter was, and how I haven't seen him display this level of smartness in a long, long time.
Slott also simply excels at dialogue, specifically on Spider-Man's witty banter, which helps to keep you turning for page after page after page.
Sure, yes, there are subplots and more supervillains and schemes being hatched. The Sinister Six band together again for the first time, a mysterious figure is following Jonah Jameson around, and the Hobgoblin is back, but honestly? It all feels so secondary to the fact that Spider-Man - Peter Parker - is entertaining, amusing, and captivating all at the same time. Whatever comes his way, it's just exciting to see how he's going to handle it.
I had initial reservations about this comic book, mainly because of the artwork, but I've been proven wrong. The direction is exciting, the characterization is engrossing, and I'm reminded all over again of why I love the Spider-Man character and franchise so much. And I can only give this particular comic my highest praise: It makes me feel like reading it, putting it down, smiling about it, reading it again, wondering what's going to happen next, and eagerly awaiting the next issue.
In other words, it makes me feel like a kid again.
Check out more of Dan Slott's Spider-Man: