It’s the penultimate volume of Dan Slott’s run on “Amazing Spider-Man” and how does it start? With a bit of filler in “Annual #42” as Peter Parker helps Betty Brant investigate an old case that her deceased flame, Ned Leeds, was working on. It involves a statue in the middle of town memorializing a battle that may not have existed and it’s got both the Enforcers and the Maggia mixed up in it together. Cory Smith delivers some nice art throughout the story, but it’s a pretty disposable affair that left me feeling like the only reason for its existence was that Slott wanted to give Betty a win before he left and bring another character back into play. The stories that were published along with it were better. Christos Gage and Todd Nauck have Spidey facing off against newly unreformed villain Clayton Clash in “Police & Thieves” only to find out that maybe Clash isn’t as unreformed as he first seems. David Hein and Marcus To’s “Spider-Sense and Sensibility” takes an interesting look at one of the title character’s defining abilities and all the headaches it causes him when it isn’t busy letting him know he’s about to be punched in the face.
The stories from the monthly title, co-written by Slott and Gage, are a good deal more entertaining. Even though they’re ostensibly an arc called “Threat Level: Red,” they’re mostly stand-alone stories as Spidey mixes it up with Zodiac after punching him into next year back in vol. 2, has a consultation with new “Sorcerer Supreme” Loki, and tries to foil the Goblin King’s latest scheme along with Anti-Venom. They’re all enjoyable even if Stuart Immonen’s work elevates the Zodiac story, and Mike Hawthorne’s pencils on the two that follow are just perfectly serviceable. What’s (loosely) tying them together are the subplot bits in each that show us how Norman Osborne has managed a team-up with one of Spider-Man’s deadliest foes. If you don’t know who it is already, then the title of the arc will give you a clue. It’s a very promising setup for the final volume as seeing what these two psychos can do together actually feels a little dangerous. No wonder the final arc is called “Go Down Swinging.”