In the foreword to Amazing Spider-Man: Full Circle, Marvel Italia editor Massimiliano Brighel writes: “I have a feeling that Stan Lee would have liked this story”.
It’s easy to see where he’s coming from.
The concept is disarmingly fun: a telephone game where seven writers took turns to script a chapter before handing the story over.
With the handover, the next writer received the vaguest of instructions:
- Save Spider-Man from whatever cliffhanger the previous writer had left him in
- Move the tale forward
- Resolve at least one plot element
- End the plot on a cliffhanger for the next writer to resolve
The writing team then collaborated on the final eighth chapter.
Joining the fun was an art team of the highest calibre, giving the story both class and aesthetic variety.
It’s a grand experiment with comic book storytelling, which is always good to see. And are there any Marvel characters more suited to that than Spidey?
Well, Howard the Duck springs to mind.
But then that might just be due to the sheer amount of anthropomorphic animals that this story throws up…
I won’t go into a blow-by-blow account of the whole comic, as it’s a wild and unpredictable ride that you should enjoy first-hand if you can.
That said, the opening chapter (by current X-Men scribe/saviour Jonathan Hickman) gives us the basic recurring setup for the story.
Spider-Man wakes up on an AIM spaceship on a vague mission with Nick Fury. There’s an unspecifed-yet-powerful weapon on the loose, and it’s up to Spidey, Fury and SHIELD to stop it.
After a gory intel-gathering scene, the team heads for the hanger bay to try and stop the weapon before it leaves the spaceship.
On route, Spidey is distracted by someone calling to him from behind a closed cell door. After a brief back and forth Spidey frees the mystery person, but hightails it back to his mission before they can reveal themselves.
Things go wrong from there, and the plot both builds and unravels at the same time.
The story encompasses an AIM conspiracy at the heart of Ferretland (a Disney World stand-in), a plot to turn the human race into werewolves, several versions of Spider-Ham, the High Evolutionary and Aunt May’s birthday.
It’s a crazy back and forth thrill ride, and in many ways it’s an amazing feat that writers Gerry Duggan, Nick Spencer and Al Ewing are able to pull some semblance of a theme from the adventure for the final chapter.
And that’s because Amazing Spider-Man: Full Circle is a fascinating comparison of how different writers view Spidey.
The variety in voice comes across in every chapter, and so – depending on your interpretation of the webspinner – there are some chapters that work better than others.
On first reading, this disconnectedness felt jarring. But as I re-read the comic, certain parts felt more in keeping with the Spider-Man I “know”.
One such example, from Hickman’s opening chapter, is how inept Spidey is. On first reading, having Spider-Man release the mystery prisoner and leave before seeing the consequences of that decision just feels irresponsible.
Chapter eight resolves this, as the theme of responsibility for the here-and-now comes through in the closing panels. This theme is something of a post-script addition but it re-aligns this Spider-Man with a version of the character that we’re familiar with.
I don’t know whether Hickman had this resolution in mind when writing it, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. Yet there are no such doubts about some of the other writers.
Gerry Duggan’s second chapter both escalates the plot and provides some of the book’s biggest laughs.
Ferretland’s mascot shooting literal finger guns before being taken down by Nick Fury – all in front of a traumatised young girl – is dark but incredibly funny.
Kelly Thompson’s chapter four strikes a good balance between Spidey’s jovial humour and Peter’s internal angst at having to subdue werewolf versions of his nearest and dearest.
And chapter eight does a great job of pulling the disparate elements together into a cohesive story.
While credited to Duggan, Nick Spencer and Al Ewing, the conclusion of the book is actually down to the whole writing team. The collected edition contains back-and-forth emails as they hash out the ending.
It’s really something glorious to see that creative process in action. And it underlines how – at its best – Amazing Spider-Man: Full Circle is a great example of the creativity inherent in the comics medium.
However, there’s the occasional feeling that a writer is trying to get one-up on the previous chapter. And so what begins as something compelling and mysterious quickly becomes unhinged…
It’s an understandable outcome of the telephone game concept. It’s just not completely satisfying from a storytelling point of view.
One of the real pleasures of Amazing Spider-Man: Full Circle is getting to see so many talented artists tackle Spider-Man. The range of artwork is incredible. It’s like a sampler of contemporary comic pros.
Greg Smallwood and Valerio Schiti are my personal stand-out artists of the book.
Smallwood’s pencil-and-paint style suits Spider-Man to a tee. His layouts are superb, and his pacing and comic timing delivers on the dramatic and comedic beats. This is definitely an artist to watch.
Schiti draws a fluid, dynamic Spider-Man. The panel layouts are imaginative, with the cutaway sequence of Spidey battling werewolves through Aunt May’s house a particular highlight.
Chris Sprouse’s chapter is also excellent – he should definitely draw more Spider-Man.
I’ve already waxed lyrical enough about Mark Bagley’s artwork in the Spider-Man: Life Story review. Let’s just say – as understated as this is – that he was the perfect choice of artist to bring everything together.
Every chapter has solid artwork, with each artist bringing a defined personal style. Getting to see them all bring their best to Spidey is reason enough to buy the book.
Amazing Spider-Man: Full Circle ends up reading like a really competent version of what you might have expected: a scattering of high-concept ideas with no real theme – no singular vision – to pull everything together.
All things considered, the last issue does a really good job of uniting the threads into one story. But with every plot point being an escalation rather than an intertwining, that conclusion does feel a little too late.
The thing is, a second draft wouldn’t help.
Amazing Spider-Man: Full Circle is a bonkers story, with a big concept that would almost certainly be reduced in a re-write. And that’s before considering the need to maintain the purity of the initial concept.
So we’re left with what we’ve got: a fever dream of a story that reaches no more or less than the sum of its parts.
Amazing Spider-Man: Full Circle is a fun curiosa that provides a real insight into the creative process. If nothing else, it’ll help you appreciate the consistency of a singular creative vision behind our favourite funny books.
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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time
This epoch-spanning adventure only requires a basic understanding of IDW continuity to work for new readers. With different artists spilling ink in a variety of styles, it’s a great intro to the Turtles.
An anthology comic spearheaded by comics legend Alex Ross. Various creators tell stories from across the Marvel universe, with Ross writing and illustrating a final chapter to weave the tale together.