Continuing right where the previous issue left off, Amazing Spider-Man #653 is far more action-oriented compared to gradual build-up and character development of part 1, as Spidey, in order to stop Smytheâ€™s â€œInsect Armyâ€ is forced to call the New Avengers (Luke Cage, Iron Fist, Ms. Marvel, The Thing, Mockingbird, and Jessica Jones) for help. The other big difference is that, even though Dan Slott is credited with the plot, itâ€™s Fred Van Lante who does the scripting of this issue, and he does a capable and decent enough job of filling in for Slott here. His sense of humor is more subtle but effective, as evident when Spidey, in trying to call his teammates, and ends up getting in touch with Squirrel Girl, or when J. Jonah Jameson complains that Spidey didnâ€™t call â€œthe Real Avengers.â€
Once again, Stefano Caselliâ€™s art is terrific in this issue as it was in the last, as once again he displays such excellent skill of conveying facial expressions and body language, itâ€™s one of those rare instances were thought balloons do have to be used to understand what the characters are thinking and feeling. And since this time thereâ€™s more emphasis on action in the story, he has greater opportunity to show that he keep up with the quickened pace that this chapter requires. The only downside is that, in those same action panels, it still feels a bit cramped at times, and you think that, perhaps, Caselli could have used a splash page, but itâ€™s not that serious a detriment.
Thereâ€™s also plenty of tension and suspense involved, as Alistair Smythe ups the ante by revealing heâ€™s also sent divisions of his Insect Army after Aunt May and Jonahâ€™s wife, Marla, and also the offices of the Daily Bugle and Joe â€œRobbieâ€ Robertson, forcing the New Avengers to split up. Likewise, itâ€™s also revealed that the Insect Army, like what Smythe did to the Scorpion, have enhanced senses like Spideyâ€™s â€œspider senseâ€ as well, which makes them more dangerous and forces Spidey to leave to create a counter-measure (which you feel will very likely effect his own spider-sense as a consequence). You really do get the foreboding feeling that, in spite of Spidey and the New Avengers best efforts, one of the major supporting characters may wind up dying in this story and it keeps you guessing as who this might be (right now, Iâ€™m no longer concerned it will be Jonahâ€™s father but rather Robbie, with Marla being a close second. Just so long as it isnâ€˜t Jonah himself). It certainly helps up the stakes, even if Smythe is pretty hammy as a villain.
One of the big problems that can happen when characters from other comics make guest-appearances is that they risk crowding out the titular character to the point where he or she feels like a guest-star in their own comic. Thankfully, that is not the case here, as itâ€™s very clear that Spidey is the central focus and, to some degree, is the guy taking charge of the situation. At the same time, though, having the New Avengers arrive to bail Spidey out of what was a precarious situation does diminish his effectiveness as a solo hero.
However, this is trivial compared to deus ex machina that occurs to save the Vertex Shuttle and John Jameson. Rather than having Spidey save the day, Doctor Octopus--having secretly stored his â€œocto-botsâ€ aboard the shuttle for his own nefarious purposes--is the one who secretly overrides Symtheâ€™s protocols to separate the shuttle from the booster rockets from exploding. While itâ€™s understandable that Slott is using this to build-up the evitable clash between Spidey and the Sinister Six later on, it undercuts Spideyâ€™s resourcefulness (especially how earlier in the same issue Spidey actually has a possible solution for saving the shuttle himself), not to mention interrupts the main story.
Another instance in which a subplot appears problematic is the continuing saga of the triangle between Phil Urich, Norah Winters, and Randy Robertson. It makes sense that Randy would start to get jealous and suspicious of Phil spending time with Norah, but itâ€™s no wonder considering how thick Slott and Van Lente have Phil play the evil lothario. It almost seems too obvious that Randyâ€™s jealousy is going to drive Norah into the arms of Phil at this point, not suspecting his crush on her or that heâ€™s really the Hobgoblin (Either that or Randy winds being the one who dies next issue and thus Phil takes advantage of Norahâ€™s grief).
And then thereâ€™s the cliffhanger, in which Peter, having gone back to Horizon Labs to whip-up a â€œspider-sense jammer.â€ is confronted by his boss, Max Modell about Spider-Man. Itâ€™s designed to make us think that Max, due to noticing Peterâ€™s sudden disappearances during the Hobgoblin attack and in this story, that he and Spidey are one and the same. Unfortunately, anyone who has been reading the comic for very long knows that this is unlikely thanks to Peterâ€™s â€œpsychic blindspotâ€ which prevents anyone from making such a conclusion--even though Peter seemed to forget all about this in the last story arc when he was worried about people figuring out his identity. Either way, the cliffhanger isnâ€™t nearly as effective as Slott and Van Lente perhaps want it to be.
Fred Van Lente also concludes his back-up story along with artist Reilly Brown from last issue (I mistakenly thought this was going to be a three-part story, not two, but oh well) with Spider-Man and the new Power Man teaming up to stop one of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko less notable villains, The Looter. While this is certainly a promotion for the new Power Man and Iron Fist series (it basically says as much at the end), this is rather silly and amusing Marvel Team-Up tale which has echoes of National Treasure and H.P. Lovecraft with Van Lente revamping the Looter as some kind of super-powered and crooked Indiana Jones. Okay, itâ€™s still fluff, but itâ€™s certainly enjoyable and fun nevertheless.