Thus far “Threat Level: Red” has not delivered the epic ending to Dan Slott’s long run on Amazing Spider-Man. The one-shot nature of the first two parts of “Threat Level: Red” have read as more wrap-up of loose threads rather than establishing the threat of Norman Osborn and setting up what Peter Parker’s status quo will be after Slott leaves. And the brief development from Norman Osborn’s part in “Threat Level: Red” has left a lot to be desired as Slott has the villain become the new host of the Carnage symbiote. That said, can Slott turn the Norman-Carnage plotline around to make “Threat Level: Red” something the will close out his run on Amazing Spider-Man strongly? Let’s find out with Amazing Spider-Man #796.
Writers: Dan Slott and Christos Gage
Artist: Mike Hawthorne
Inkers: Terry Pallot and Cam Smith
Colorist: Erick Arciniega
Story Rating: 2 Night Girls out of 10
Art Rating: 5 Night Girls out of 10
Overall Rating: 3.5 Night Girls out of 10
Synopsis: In the Financial District Spider-Man finds Agent Anti-Venom already saving a cop and webbing up Boomerang before he got away with some money he stole. Everyone compliments Agent Anti-Venom and Boomerang mentions he is better than Spider-Man.
While swinging through to the Daily Bugle J. Jonah Jameson calls Spider-Man (who learned that Peter Parker is Spider-Man in Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man #6) to make fun of how Agent Anti-Venom made him look like an ameteur.
Over at a cafe Flash meets up with Liz and reveals she knows he is Agent Anti-Venom. She goes on to say that she needs Flash to work in her Alchemax security team to protect the new tech her company is working on.
At the Daily Bugle Peter tells his co-workers about how they should look further into the technology backing the new power source Alchemax is creating. Everyone agrees since the power source could be used to create weapons and one of the journalist, Rubylyn, decides to join Peter.
Betty mentions she is going to look into her own sources on Alchemax since she won’t let her friendship with Liz get in the way of a good story.
At the Alchemax testing facility while waiting to get in MJ finds Peter standing in line. Rubylyn is surprised to learn Peter used to date MJ (who currently is running Stark Industries). MJ says she is glad that Peter recovered quickly. Peter mentions he is impressed MJ is running Stark Industries on her own.
Flash then shows up and reveals to Peter he is working security for Alchemax.
Before they can talk more Liz starts her presentation where she reveals that Alchemax is planning to turning the highly dangerous Tritium into a new energy source.
Just as Liz has her guard start the test Hobgoblin and his Goblin Army appear. MJ creates a distraction which both Peter and Flash use to switch into their Spider-Man and Agent Anti-Venom identities.
While they are still changing Hobgoblin is able to cut off the guard’s arm to open Alchemax’s device.
Over at Norman Osborn’s place the guards outside Norman’s office hear an odd noise coming from the room. When they check inside Norman attacks them both using the Carnage symbiote’s powers.
Back at the Alchemax testing facility Spider-Man and Agent Anti-Venom team-up to take down the Goblin Army. At that same time Hobgoblin reaches Achemax’s supply of Tritium. Agent Anti-Venom is able to retrieve the guard’s arm Hobgoblin ripped off and leaves Spider-Man to handle Hobgoblin while he heals the guard.
Hobgoblin is able to bring Spider-Man to his knees with his sonic scream. Jameson, listening in, helps Spider-Man by playing music in Spider-Man’s communicator to create a voice wall against Hobgoblin’s sonic scream. Spider-Man is able to destroy Hobgoblin’s sonic scream device. Hobgoblin, seeing that he is corned, steals the Tritium and flies off as Spider-Man is still recovering.
Nearby Agent Anti-Venom is able to re-attach the guards arm.
Liz tells everyone at the demonstration to go home. Rubylyn wonders where Peter ran off to. MJ says she will give Peter a ride back whenever he shows back up. Spider-Man is silently happy to see MJ still has his back.
Later that night Peter visits MJ at her apartment. Peter thanks MJ for having his back today. MJ says it was just a reflex. Peter offers to take MJ out for dinner but MJ would rather stay in. MJ then invites Peter in.
At Osborn’s place Norman has killed his two guards. Norman then tells the Carnage symbiote that he will show it a new level of destruction under the condition that he remains in control. The Carnage symbiote agrees. It then uses its powers to heal Norman’s face and force the nanites Spider-Man infected Norman with out of his body. Norman then takes out the Goblin formula excited to find out what it’ll be like to merge Green Goblin and Carnage into one monster. End of issue.
The Good: Amazing Spider-Man #796 is the first issue in this “Threat Level: Red” arc that isn’t just about wrapping up lingering plot points. Dan Slott and Christos Gage are now setting up more than just Norman Osborn as the villain with the introduction of Hobgoblin into the mix. But even with another player in the game Amazing Spider-Man #796 leaves a lot to be desired. That’s an unfortunate thing to say because you can see the potential in “Threat Level: Red” is there but never fully grasped.
The one positive I will give Amazing Spider-Man #796 is that Slott and Gage are doing a good job laying the groundwork for Peter Parker’s personal life moving forward. Slott and Gage are treating Peter’s new career as a science and tech reporter at the Daily Bugle as something that is serious. Not having his co-workers completely blow Peter off on what he believes is a big story shows that. It makes the environment in the Daily Bugle feel like it is real adults trying to do their job and not be blind to things because a rookie is pitching stories. In the long run this will help Peter’s personal and professional development as he gets more integrated into the reporter life at the Daily Bugle.
Mike Hawthorne provided some solid artwork in Amazing Spider-Man #796. It wasn’t art that will blow you away but Hawthorne gave the issue a consistency it needed. Hawthorne was at his best when drawing all the Spider-Man and Agent Anti-Venom action. This is where he looked most comfortable in the issue.
The Bad: As someone that has actually enjoyed the majority of Dan Slott’s run on Amazing Spider-Man it is extremely disappointing that I am finding very little to be excited about “Threat Level: Red.” The slow pace of the main story surrounding the development of Norman Osborn has made it hard to connect to what he is doing. It’s something that is incredibly frustrating because it does feel like we are in the same spot we were in the first issue.
The biggest disconnect is the fact that everything we are seeing Spider-Man go through with fighting various villains is not tied to Norman’s plan. And after three issues of “Threat Level: Red” any connection Slott and Gage may draw to Scorpio, Loki or Hobgoblin will look forced. Which is a complete missed opportunity given that Norman has been shown to be connected to these stories in the passed. For Slott and Gage not to show how this is all part of Norman’s chess game against Spider-Man makes it feel like we are in store for a long story. That is not the feeling one should have when it comes to a story arc that should provide some sense of finality, especially with how long Slott has been writing Amazing Spider-Man.
Hurting the Norman Osborn story even more is the fact that we literally see the villain stay in one place for three issue. There has been very little physical movement by Norman. This in turn makes it look like everything Norman is doing is taking place during the same day, even though we are seeing Spider-Man go on adventures that have spanned several weeks in comic time. This is misstep in the execution of Norman’s development since it makes everything look extremely easy for Norman even when that is not Slott and Gage’s intention.
And in the end rather than spending time with Spider-Man having random adventures we should’ve seen Peter and Norman’s time in the spotlight flipped. Rather than continuing to tell Spider-Man stories we should’ve seen Peter’s spotlight just focus on his personal and professional life. In turn that would’ve given more pages to get over the story of Norman becoming the new Carnage and being healed of his previous ailments that held him back as Green Goblin. But since we have only seen Norman on screen for about 6 pages total in three issues his change to Carnage Goblin fails to hit with the terrifying impact it should have.
Adding in to the lack of interest built for the Carnage-Goblin arc was the inclusion of Agent Anti-Venom. As I mentioned before, Agent Anti-Venom is just a by the numbers hero. Slott and Gage don’t do anything to make the character look better in the eyes of Spider-Man fans with how they went by the numbers when it came to Agent Anti-Venom’s portrayal. Even the way Flash acted out of costume gave very little indication he is more than just another squared jawed hero.
Hurting the overall portrayal was the fact that Agent Anti-Venom just leaves Spider-Man hanging when they could’ve probably taken Hobgoblin down quickly together and still have time to save the guards arm. This is made worse by the fact that Slott and Gage did show that Agent Anti-Venom patched up the guard before going after his arm. Seeing as the Anti-Venom symbiote has strong healing abilities this should’ve given him and Spider-Man time to take out Hobgoblin. But for Agent Anti-Venom not to see this made him look like a short sighted rookie hero, even though Flash has been the character for several years now.
Liz Allen’s character isn’t helped much in this issue as well. As the CEO of Alchemax you would expect that Liz would have more contingencies in place than just having Agent Anti-Venom and one guard to protect a dangerous experiment. But by not having a greater plan you do have to wonder how she is even allowed to control such a big company when her plan was to draw out Hobgoblin. It makes you instead hope that she is replaced with someone that is more competent and who can create an actual plan to stop her company’s major project from being stolen.
Slott and Gage also do very little to create interest in what Hobgoblin’s long-term plans are. All we know is that he randomly shows up to be the villain of the week. There is never a clear indicator of what Hobgoblin may be planning or if he is working with Norman. Making it worse is the fact that the way Liz talks about Achemax’s project being stolen Slott and Gage seem to expect readers to know why Hobgoblin would do this. But for readers who did not read Amazing Spider-Man Annual #42 that assumption is a horrible one since that issue was not marketed to be connected to “Threat Level: Red.” And to expect readers to spend an extra $5 on a supplementary story only makes it harder to get into the Hobgoblin and Liz Allen’s part of the story.
It was also a bit odd to see Slott and Gage use the fact that J. Jonah Jameson knows Peter is Spider-Man in this series when the story of that hasn’t wrapped up in Spectacular Spider-Man. The execution of using this status quo changer will definitely come off as odd for those not reading Spectacular Spider-Man since it hasn’t been widely known that this event happened. Furthermore, Slott and Gage’s integration of Jonah knowing Peter is Spider-Man was made to look like a deus ex machina in since Jonah magically knew Peter was in trouble. The way Jonah helped Spider-Man just came off as lazy storytelling in order to force Hobgoblin to run away. That is a major missed opportunity because there is a lot more potential in Peter and Jonah’s relationship change than just being treated for jokes.
While Hawthorne’s artwork was solid when it came to the Spider-Man segments it was odd to see how he drew Peter Parker to look so young compared to MJ, Liz and Flash. Peter looked like he was barely out of high school while everyone around him were drawn to look like adults. This made the out of costume segments of Amazing Spider-Man #796 harder to get behind as the character designs were all over the place.
Overall: Amazing Spider-Man #796 does nothing to create excitement for the “Threat Level: Red” story arc. With each issue that passes the less interesting Norman Osborn’s endgame is becoming. There is a major disconnect between Norman’s plot and everything else going on in “Threat Level: Red” that only adds to the how hard it is to stay excited about Dan Slott’s final story arc. If things continue as they have, rather than providing fans with a memorable ending, Slott could potentially end his time on Amazing Spider-Man on a disappointing note. That is not something I am hoping for but am starting to fear will be a reality.