If you've read my review of this week's Fantastic Four #588 you'll know I'm not a great fan of silent 'comic' stories. So when I opened Amazing Spider-Man, featuring the funeral of Marla Jameson, and noted the lack of dialogue and narrative, I wasn't too hopeful. There's no denying that the art is gorgeous, Marcos Martin produces elegant, interesting pages, and the little moments writer Dan Slott had ordered up were just right - Peter leaving his costume at home, Robbie Robertson being supported by his former wife, J Jonah Jameson standing before Marla's coffin.
But surrounding these vignettes, panel after panel of grieving men and women. I've been to enough funerals that I don't want to be staring at them when I'm looking to be entertained. I get the 'there are no words' bit, but twice in one week?
And then ...
... the funeral is over, Peter is asleep, and a dream comes. Uncle Ben welcomes Peter into an afterlife populated with everyone he's ever known who has passed over: his parents, school pal Sally Avril, Jean DeWolff, the Kid Who Collects Spider-Man, villains by the dozen. And they're all very keen to talk to him.
Except the one he'd really like to talk to him, sweet, lost Gwen Stacey. She's always one step ahead, until she appears with the Green Goblin, broken neck cocked, for a re-enactment of her tragic death.
And that's not the end of the hallucination, but I urge you to take a look at this issue for yourself. Not simply for Slott's seminal script, but for the art.
Oh, the art. Yes, Martin is great at the start of the issue. In the dream sequence, though, his illustrations are - and this is a word I try to avoid - awesome. He's known for being able to channel a Steve Ditko vibe, he's revered for imaginative layouts, and both aspects of Martin's approach are present here, not least in a simply brilliant spread. What's new are echoes of 20th-century imagery that has entered our consciousness. Disturbing imagery - a spiralling panel layout that evokes Hitchcock's work with Saul Bass; faceless parents reminiscent of Salvador Dali; a cityscape by way of Escher; Kraven and co as encroaching zombies.
Despite having followed his Marvel work, I'm not sure I've seen pure Marcos Martin yet, so adept is he at re-purposing references from his artistic forebears - a huge talent in itself. All I really know is that he never fails to deliver striking, refreshing artwork, he brings something new to the page each time and I'm relishing every panel of his Spider-Man assignment (click to enlarge the Parkers).
Aiding the dream mood is colourist Muntsa Vicente, abandoning the naturalistic palette of the funeral for a DayGlo world whose vibrancy adds to the already fascinating art, draws us in further. And as the vision progresses, the colours darken, become more sinister, as the Goblin appears with Gwen. Then the mood changes again. And again.
It's a rollercoaster ride, but one I didn't want to get off, even when one of Marvel's least-popular characters appears. Slott and company take Peter's dream to a horrific extreme, but rather than awaken a quaking mess, he's a man with new resolve. I didn't like seeing Marla die, but her passing is proving a tipping point towards the future.
From the starkly beautiful cover, to an ending filled with forboding, this is one of the best Spider-Man books I've ever read. Don't miss it.