AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #20.1 Review: “Curl of the Burl!”

Concluding his five-part “Spiral” storyline, veteran Spider-scribe Gerry Conway takes the wall crawler on yet another run around the endless loop of power and responsibility. Plagued with a few logical disconnects and some murky depictions, it’s an entertaining enough ride but like any carnival loop-de-loop, it’s maybe best not to stare too closely into the gears of the machine.

Such a lowly ex move with the guilt!
Such a lowly ex move with the guilt!

Coming in cold, this final chapter actually does a pretty good job of upholding the spiel the “Previously” page puts out there. On paper, nothing sounds better than a classic Spider-Man “gang war” story- particularly when it’s done by the guy who created the Punisher. Conway even does a fantastic job of playing within Dan Slott’s modern-day Spidey status quo like he hasn’t missed a beat. The problem comes in that the story wraps up too easily, devolving what could’ve been a gritty epic into a fluff piece that doesn’t seem to “count” with the same impact.

You can almost hear the exploding heads of people trying to place this in their collections.
You can almost hear the exploding heads of people trying to place this in their collections.

On a publication front, Marvel probably doesn’t do this protracted special any favors by cramming it into such a weird numbering/ continuity space. Really, would it be so hard to just call it “Amazing Spider-Man: Spiral” and give it that showcasing? As it is, designating this “Issue 20.1” of a volume containing only eighteen whole-numbered issues doesn’t do anything to enrich the between-the-panels experience. If anything, it actually kind of confuses it and detracts entirely upon further explanation.

What the heist?!
What the heist?!

Another unfortunate detraction is artist Carlo Barberi. Perhaps best known for a string of Deadpool issues back during the Daniel Way era and a recent run on Amazing X-Men, Barberi possesses an expressive, kinetic style not far removed from either Humberto Ramos or Stefano Caselli. In this, the artist sounds like he should slide right into the friendly neighborhood wheelhouse but this is sadly not the case. While there isn’t anything inherently wrong with his figures, the actions he’s trying to convey don’t always come off. As such, there’s a lot of visual distraction on just about every page. Conway’s script straightforward says that something is happening but damn it if you don’t spend an extra couple of minutes trying to decipher what’s going down in some of the ancillary action. He even tries a couple of 90s-style layouts, accentuating Spidey as a framing piece for the larger page. It’s a nice “ooo, wow” effect for the foreground attention but again, the clarity in the panels behind seems secondary. In all, full marks for swinging for the fence even though the actual hit-miss ratio may leave something to be desired.

Even the guy tearing into the Wraith's costume with his teeth? He might be crossing some lines...
Even the guy tearing into the Wraith’s costume with his teeth? He might be crossing some lines…

“Spiral” is a passably enjoyable 21st Century Spider-tale told by one of Peter Parker’s definitive authors. Only as solid as the disbelief one is willing to suspend for it in places, it’s not exactly a highwater mark in either camp, per se. However, it’s also far from off-base, perhaps suffering most in its shoehorned scheduling and consequent placement. Indeed, the trade collection will be the true “tale of the tape”. Either way, the greatest achievement is just having a renewed and valid Conway-Spidey connection. Here’s hoping the next offering is slightly more hard-boiled and slightly less popcorn-y.

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