After last issue's perfectly-executed shock twist, there was a danger that "Amazing Spider-Man" #699 would spin its wheels, relegated to explaining the mechanics of the big switch before #700 came along. Luckily, writer Dan Slott and artist Humberto Ramos manage to advance the story and give readers a satisfying explanation that only increases the tension as they sit and wait for the big finale.
The previous issue focused on Octavius in Peter's body, so there's a certain pleasing symmetry in this issue doing the inverse. Just as readers saw flashbacks to Peter's memories last issue, this time the creative team reveals Octavius' past. Sometimes it's familiar, sometimes it's funny and sometimes it's dark. It's a credit to Slott's sense of humor that he manages to wring some jokes out of a situation as dire as this.
Indeed, Slott's management of tone and steady drip-feed of information is key to the issue's success. Like Peter, readers have no idea what havoc Octavius might be wreaking in his body, because we don't get to see him at all -- a bold move, but one that pays off. Even though it's frustrating not to know, it helps will the story onwards. Slott is careful to develop the situation in lieu of cutting away so that it doesn't feel as though the story has stopped moving, which is always a danger in exposition-heavy issues.
There's also an understated psychological aspect to this story -- specifically, the implication underlying Peter's breakout, which invites us to wonder whether he's being influenced by Ock's memories or not. He seems horrified by his casual criminal behavior, using Octavius' super-villain cohorts as a rescue plan -- but not enough to actually stop it. If that's the case, then it's interesting to note the apparent implications of how Octavius might be similarly affected in future issues.
The return of Ramos to the title sees the artist refreshed, demonstrating the skills that make him a good choice for Spider-Man's world. The action, expressions and poses are exaggerated to the fullest reasonable extent, which makes everything seem as dramatic as possible. An appropriate look for Spider-Man, the quintessential ongoing superhero soap opera.
Similarly appropriate is how this story incorporates elements as far back into as issue #600, reminding readers how Peter's experiences influence one another. As well as the main story, a few unresolved subplots from Slott's run appear to be converging on issue #700, which suggests a knock-down, drag-out finale that'll lead us into the new era with a clean slate. If the stories that follow #700 are going to be as good as this one, it's hard not to be excited.