Nick Spencer’s run on Amazing Spider-Man has gone on for a year now, with an anniversary issue in #25 serving as a milestone for the run so far. This fifth volume of his run is centered around this anniversary issue, as it recaps the past year of the Amazing Spider-Man while also setting up future plot threads. Unfortunately, this milestone also does not feel quite as monumental as it should, with a lackluster reveal serving as a progression of the overall plot. Some other elements keep the book enjoyable, but even the good issues have some unfortunate content.
The first two issues focus the most on the overarching plot of the run, with the mysterious bandaged villain who has been stalking Spider-Man confronting Mysterio to bring him into a new role. The first issue, #24, is very well done, with a recap of Mysterio’s history followed by an incredibly atmospheric horror sequence of the yet-to-be-named villain coming in and killing Mysterio after a very frightening talk. Thus this villain’s name is revealed: Kindred. After over 25 issues, though, this reveal feels very lackluster and underwhelming. Kindred has been skulking around since the first issue of this run, yet the readers don’t learn anything actionable about their identity or motivations – just a name.
Issue #25 is the second issue of the collection, and immediately reveals that Mysterio tricked his way out of being killed by Kindred, and is recruited into a scheme revealed at the end of the issue. The meat of this issue is Peter finding the Lizard and returning him to his family after the events of Hunted, while Mary Jane goes out with her friend and gets caught up in a situation without Spider-Man. This issue is especially enjoyable because it allows MJ to have her own agency, something that she has sometimes lacked in Spider-Man stories. Spencer gives her a good chance to shine, which leads into one of the endings to this issue – her being recruited to act in a movie written by Mysterio. This is an interesting hook that unfortunately is not explored for the rest of the volume, as it instead focuses on a different teaser from this issue: the new Sinister Syndicate.
The final three issues turn towards the new Beetle and her new all-female Sinister Syndicate, who she turns upon her former associate Boomerang. This story had the potential to be a fun return for the Superior Foes, but misses the mark almost entirely by turning into a way to poke fun at feminism and progressiveness. Beetle and her Syndicate begin by complaining about being mistreated and looked down upon by men, but the book almost immediately makes them look absurd rather than acknowledge any validity to their points. There are points where it seems like Spencer is saying that a group of all women wouldn’t be able to get along, and the entire team is undermined when it’s revealed that Beetle was just taking advantage of them and never intended to help them. A lot of the humor feels mean-spirited, and by the end of the arc it’s more frustrating than it is enjoyable.
There’s also two stories in the back that were backups to Amazing Spider-Man #25. Zeb Wells’ team-up story with Todd Nauck and Rachelle Rosenberg is fun, albeit fairly forgettable as a whole. Keaton Patti and Dan Hipp’s story, on the other hand, is hilarious from beginning to end. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable romp with absolutely stellar art, and is well worth reading.
Ryan Ottley and Kev Walker do the majority of the art for this volume, with Humberto Ramos and Patrick Gleason doing some additional work for the oversized #25. Ottley is the stronger of the two, as Walker’s rounder art doesn’t mix very well with the rest of their sharp styles. That’s not to say it isn’t good, it just clashes with the rest of them, most notably when he draws Spider-Man. Ottley works a lot of detail into his portions of the story, imbuing it with personality and style that feels lacking from the rest. Nathan Fairbairn and Laura Martin’s colors are a standout, with Fairbairn working with Ottley and Martin with Walker. The variety of inkers on the book also do a good job keeping the art consistent.
Overall, this volume feels like it doesn’t live up to its own expectations. The reveal of Kindred’s name feels very underwhelming, especially when they don’t appear after the beginning of the second issue of this collection. There’s so much left unanswered that answering a more mundane question about the character just draws attention to how slowly things are being revealed. The story about the Sinister Syndicate had the potential to be fun, but instead took potshots at feminists and progressives and felt insulting and mean-spirited. The art was good, if a bit inconsistent, but as a whole this volume feels like it had a lot more potential than it showed.