Amazing Spider-Man #692 review

I've been away from Amazing Spider-Man for a few months - too many extended storylines, new costumes, the $3.99 price point ... but I do like an anniversary issue, and this one marks 50 years since Amazing Fantasy #15 saw Peter Parker gain his powers.

I like the main figure of Spidey on Humberto Ramos's cover, but the multi-image background isn't to my taste - it's too cluttered with all those temporary looks which didn't last because, well, they're not as attractive as the Steve Ditko original, which also features.

Ramos also draws the main strip this issue, which introduces a new character, Alpha, who looks set to be Spider-Man's sidekick for a while. And a pretty uppity one at that.

Unpopular Andy Maguire gains powers in a science experiment gone awry on a school trip to Horizon Labs. As Peter Parker was running the experiment, he feels responsible for what happened (he isn't), and takes Andy under his wing. Soon he's being tested by the Marvel Universe's top scientists, who learn that his raft of powers - strength, speed, force field, flight and energy projection - can be accessed just one at a time (a la Ultra Boy of the Legion of Super-Heroes). Powered by the newly discovered Parker Particles, he's only going to get stronger, and frighteningly so, meaning he'll need some fast lessons in superheroics. Soon Andy is working for Horizon Labs as super-powered spokesman Alpha, with Spider-Man keeping an eye on him. And frankly, Alpha is a bit of a jerk. By the end of the story Peter realises he has a challenge ahead. And if he only knew that someone else is taking an interest in Andy, he'd be even more worried.

This isn't a bad tale, with a strong spine, good gags and cameos that move things forward. Writer Dan Slott's use of the Spidey origin as the template for Alpha's makes sense within the story, as does Andy's quick descent into selfish lunkhead ... it's wrestler Spidey all over again. Hopefully Alpha won't have to lose one of his idiot parents to learn that 'with great power comes great responsibility'.

I'm not sure I'll pop back to see how Andy gets on, though Slott is a talented enough writer to not go for the obvious and have him quickly learn what it is to be a hero, or get killed. The simple fact is that Alpha doesn't grab me - every time he comes on panel, I'm wishing him away. What I want from a Spider-Man book are challenging villains, plenty of Peter Parker, and supporting characters charismatic enough to have their own subplots. I don't want an arrogant kid as a major player.

Maybe I need to see Alpha drawn by someone else - Ramos, inked by Victor Olazaba, depicts Andy as a mad-eyed loon with a chin you could use as a hole punch; it's one of those faces you'd never tire of slapping. Plus, his costume - designed by master seamstress Peter - is utterly nondescript.

The issue's second story takes place after ASM #50, after Peter dumps his costume in a trashcan. We see someone come along and use the outfit for nefarious purposes, and there's a twist harking back to one of the best-loved Spider-Man stories. For me, the ending is too saccharine, taking away from what comes before it. Still, it's an entertaining enough piece from writer/artist Dean Haspiel, and the colour choices of Giulia Brusco are a pleasing shout-out to the tones of the late Silver Age.

Finally, we have Peter struggling to get across New York to give a science lecture, and being thwarted at every turn by the old Parker luck. But the day isn't entirely bad, and the story ends in classic feelgood style with a message that manages not to rot the teeth. I, Vampire writer Joshua Hale Fialkov exercises different storytelling muscles here, capturing Peter's world, voice and attitude in fine style. I hope Marvel has more Spidey assignments for Fialkov. And while Nuno Plati's Spidey is a tad too stick-man for me, and he's overly fond of red/brown tones, his breezy, energetic style suits the story.

The issue is rounded out with - or more accurately, opened by - a one-page 'Who is Spider-Man?' recap by Fred Van Lente, John Romita Jr and Klaus Janson which is efficient and good-looking.

With 56pp of quality story and art for $5.99, Amazing Spider-Man #692 is great value, honouring Peter's past while looking to the future. Here's to 50 more years of webslinging.