I'm not a chess geek, but I do really enjoy a good game of chess. It's the same reason I enjoy playing real time strategy games against friends and family - you have to think like your opponent to have any chance of winning. That's the kind of conflict that has always made for my favorite comic books. I've said it before - comic book fights are my least favorite part of reading super hero comic books. I think fights are better suited to animation or live action and withouth a great artist, I can find it hard to follow what's going on. But a battle of wits is always great - and that's what Dan Slott has done for the current Spider-Man story arc "Ends of the Earth". This arc pits the intellects of Peter Parker and Otto Octavius against each other as Dr Octopus attempts one last great scheme before he dies. The main difference from their previous encounters is that Pete now has access to the tech from Horizon Labs. So, in a sense, it's mad scientist vs mad scientist. And, by leveling the technology playing field, both opponents have to up their game to compete.
At the end of the last issue Spider-Man donned a new suit based on his previous fights with the Sinister Six that would help him even better defeat his foes. It appears that Dan Slott may be setting us up for a Aesop about how tech isn't as important as brains because in a recent issue he showed Spidey on a hovercraft throwing Spider-Man versions of pumpkin bombs. Perhaps something about him losing some of his Spider-Man-ness from relying too much on technology? Also, the last few issues, including this one, have J. Jonah Jameson on a quest to close Horizon Labs. So the over-arching Super Arc of Big Time may be coming to an end for Spidey. Still, enough speculating about the future. He and The Avengers head off to try and convince world leaders that it would be a bad idea to listen to Doctor Octopus, who has promised to use his intellect to end global warming. It's hard to say too much more about this issue without giving it away because it essentially focuses on two confrontations between The Sinister Six and The Avengers. So there's a lot going on without much plot or story advancement. However, what's really great about this issue is how you see Peter and Otto's game of chess. Each one is trying to think ahead to what the other will do and plan for that. What happens when you plan for the fact that your oponnent is planning on what you're doing? It can get mind-numbingly complex and fun. They've both run into each other a lot of times and have a lot of assumptions about how the other will act. Who can be the most creative? And I wonder if the answer is to go crazy? I know I've been able to stump some of the best chess players I've known by playing randomly rather than trying to use strategy. The other person ends up getting too tangled up trying to see the brilliance in my moves and forgets to advance his own strategy. When I first jumped onto ASM after a decades-long hiatus, Dan Slott was in a bit of a funk, but I have been enjoying nearly every issue starting with Spider-Island. You can't go wrong picking up this issue and following this story arc.