As editor Steve Wacker points out in the text page, it's only April and we've already seen twelve issues of "Amazing Spider-Man" this year. I've said it before and I'll say it again: I like the pace of this series. I like getting a full, three-issue story within a month. I like the rotating team of artists and writers, each giving their own take on this Brand New Day of Peter Parker's. Even when some of the arcs have been underwhelming, the frequency of the release schedule makes those aberrations less significant. "Amazing Spider-Man" is racing down the highway in 2008, and it zooms right over even the ugliest Bob Gale-shaped potholes. You barely even notice them at the speed this thing's going. Especially when you have something really pretty to look at, like we do in this issue with the art of Chris Bachalo.
Writer Zeb Wells does a decent enough job with the story. He tries to get a bit Morrisonesque (not that Grant Morrison has a monopoly on religio-scientific madness, but we all know he's pretty good at that sort of thing) with the Mayan gods and the math professor with delusions of grandeur, and he doesn't quite pull it off. Dr. Rabin tends toward History Channel monologues and it's just the old sacrificial cult for the crazy gods kind of plot, really. "Amazing Spider-Man" #557 certainly has its story moments, like the neat use of space/time fighting from the Mayan god, and the bit with the exploding web cartridges, but it's really Bachalo's art that makes this story worth reading.
Bachalo begins the issue with a sequence of three vertical panels, each to create a different effect. The first quickly establishes the potential victims of the insane Dr. Rabin as Spider-Man helps to free them, the second shows an unusually elongated Spider-Man head nearly covered by an oppressive shadow, and the third is an almost abstract shape of something looming over the heads of Spider-Man and one of Rabin's colleagues. Each panel is individually well-composed, but their cumulative affect is one of acceleration, leading to the splash page where we get an over-Spider-Man's-shoulder shot of the hyper-detailed Mayan skeleton god. Even when Bachalo fusses with the small details, like the bits of skull and straps around the Mayan god's headpiece, he doesn't overwhelm the eye. His use of detail is balanced by large swathes of black, giving his characters (whether it be a bizarre god monster or an arachnid hero) the appropriate amount of mystery and physical weight. And that's just the first two pages.
Nearly every page of this comic is a masterful example of how to balance storytelling with rendering, of how to use shapes to propel a comic forward and manipulate narrative time to best serve the story. Bachalo's work here is astonishing.
This final installment of Zeb Wells's three-part story may not have any long-lasting affect on the Spider-Man franchise. Dr. Rabin and his Mayan menaces may never be seen again. None of that really matters. What matters is that for three weeks in a row, we got to see Chris Bachalo's Spider-Man. And it was a treat.