By Don Alsafi. For the past decade, it’s been hard to be a casual Spider-fan. From 2008 to 2010, Marvel upped The Amazing Spider-Man from its traditional monthly frequency to three times a month: a huge commitment that only its most hardcore fans could justify keeping pace with. The next several years then brought regular crossovers like “Spider-Island”, “Spider-Verse” and “The Clone Conspiracy”.
Recently, Peter Parker has gone through one of the oddest changes of all. Despite the character’s storied depiction as the well-intentioned Everyman who can never catch a break, for the past two years he’s been the globe-trotting inventor, entrepreneur and CEO of tech company Parker Industries. (So, a new Tony Stark.) It’s entirely possible this new setup led to some interesting adventures! But the sales numbers might indicate that, for many readers, these massive changes meant that the character was no longer someone they recognized or responded to. Perhaps the comic was telling a story they had no interest in.
To that end, it’s tempting to view Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man as Marvel’s attempt to address having gone so far off-model. Rather than showcasing the jet-setting corporate leader found in ASM, this new comic aims to give readers the street-level Spider-Man they’ve been missing. (In a design choice that is both subtle and explicit, the cover shows Spidey a bit grimier, and considerably less glamorous.)
Let’s break down Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man. Needless to say, major spoilers ahead.
Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man #1
Written by Chip Zdarsky.
Illustrated by Adam Kubert and Goran Parlov.
Colors by Jordie Bellaire and Nathan Fairbairn.
Letters by Travis Lanham.
The Perfect Mix of Old and New. The comic is written by Chip Zdarsky, who’s known, amongst other things, for writing Howard the Duck, Jughead and Kaptara, his art on Sex Criminals, and his bizarre relationship with Applebee’s. By contrast, artist Adam Kubert has been working in comics for over thirty years, with notable runs on Wolverine, Ultimate X-Men and Action Comics. Kubert’s long history with the medium, combined with Zdarsky’s natural irreverence, might just make them the perfect creators to launch a new Spider-Man comic that’s unabashedly fun, without ever once feeling pointless or lightweight.
Surprisingly, this mixture of old and new, silly yet serious, can be seen in microcosm in the first few pages alone. The opening page is six panels recapping the Spider-Man origin we’ve all seen a thousand times, but the particular focus here makes this ever-rehashed story surprisingly affecting. Yet the following scene hilariously undercuts the emotional weight of that first page, as we see Peter Parker and Johnny Storm hanging out atop a tall building, eating lunch, and affectionately trading jabs. (“—Why are you telling me your origin again?! This is, like, the millionth time I’ve heard it!“)
Back to basics. Peter Parker is a comic that deliberately aims to recreate many of the elements present in its more successful days. One of the more surprising examples of this is the comic’s copious use of footnotes: From the beginnings of the Marvel Universe in the early 1960s, Stan Lee would often have his superheroes refer in conversation to their previous adventures, with little editorial footnotes directing readers to the issues in question. This practice lasted through the next four decades, until editorial decided in the early 2000s that footnotes were passé, and broke the immersion of the story. (In practice, it proved far more disruptive for the reader to come across an unfamiliar mention of recent or past history, and have to put the comic down to pull up Wikipedia!)
On a more substantial note, this is a consistently funny comic. Peter Parker is a character whose origins are rooted in tragedy, but who has always dealt with his pain through humor and deflection. When focusing on the dramatic potential of Spidey’s stories, it can be easy to lean into the darkness and angst too much – and yet that’s not the tone that’s made him the breakout superhero he’s been for over fifty years. Chip Zdarsky is clearly a very funny writer, and Marvel could do with this sort of light-heartedness in many more of their books.
🎶We’ve only just begun…🎶 One of the pleasant surprises in this comic is that it’s not content to demarcate a territory that is solely concerned with Spider-Man, but instead wholly embraces the wider Marvel Universe. After hanging with the Human Torch, Spidey is led by Ant-Man to the laboratory belonging to a man called Mason. This new character is not only the brother of a well-known Spider-villain, but he’s truly that character’s foil, as he aims to use his inventions and technological genius to help heroes solve crimes, rather than committing them. It’s far too early to make any predictions, but one senses that this could be the introduction of a secondary setting and supporting cast, one that’s naturally connected to the rest of the Marvel U. (Historically, this twining of previously unconnected strands was one of the strengths of the 1970s/80s Spider-Man title, Marvel Team-Up.)
There really is an impressive amount of story packed into the lead story’s 20 pages, and it ends in one heck of a cliffhanger reveal. It’s the kind of twist that, were it written by anyone else, you’d likely roll your eyes and wait until it’s (eventually) long forgotten. Given how stellar the rest of the issue is, though, I’m willing to trust Chip and Adam – even if it is a considerably radical change to the canon!
Finally, there’s an 8-page backup story illustrated by Goran Parlov. In opposition to the lighthearted tone of the lead story, this second tale starts out humorous but quickly turns tense and sinister. Zdarsky knows how to craft a first issue that’s incredibly satisfying in its own right, but he’s also clearly planting seeds for numerous future stories.
Add it to the Thwip-list. In Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man, readers are given what is perhaps the most classic in-continuity Spidey story in years – yet in a way that feels timeless and iconic, as opposed to dated or nostalgic. The comic largely focuses on the elements that have always worked for the character, and embraces the aspects and situations which mass audiences have always known (whether through comic books, TV shows, or movies).
More to the point, this is a Spidey comic set to come out once a month, and – with any luck – one that will stay clear of any Spider-crossovers or other events. In other words, it’s the debut of not just a second Spider-Man comic, but specifically a low-commitment one. It’s the kind of comic that any Spider-fan, old or new, would do well to pick up.
And maybe, right now, that’s exactly the kind of comic Marvel could use more of.
9 out of 10
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