THIS REVIEW OF ‘FRIENDLY NEIGHBORHOOD SPIDER-MAN’ #1 CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS.
by Jarrod Jones. Your favorite web-zipping superhero has been flying high for dang-near sixty years. It can feel like he’s more brand than man these days, a self-perpetuating cross-media juggernaut who thrives just as much (if not more) in the various licensed products and films and animated series that feature him as he does in the arena of the printed page.
Heck, even in Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #1, the latest in a long line of spin-offs to feature Marvel’s wall-crawling Peter Parker, the character seems to be inadvertently hawking his own wares with an advertisement for something called a “Ready Go Spider-Man Toothbrush”. (It’s electric, and features a sticker of Spider-Man as he appeared in last year’s Avengers: Infinity War.) I had to stop writing this review to watch a new trailer for the hero’s eighth feature-length film, Spider-Man: Far From Home, which has already raked in millions of views. Spider-Man flexes so much strength as an IP that he has his own multiverse, as seen in mega-events as Spider-Geddon and this past winter’s ludicrously great Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, a film that features a paunchy Parker be-knighting a younger Spider-Man named Miles Morales—who, it must be noted, has already been swinging around in his own comic books for nearly a decade.
All this begs the question: Does the world really need another Peter Parker book?
The answer is no, but also yes. Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man is at the very least aware of the ceaseless glut of Spider-tie-ins and such—the series’ editor, Nick Lowe, makes a point of bringing it up in his introductory missive towards the end of the issue, which I appreciated. Must there be another Peter Parker book? Did you read the first paragraph? Of course there must. What matters is the quality of the book, and Friendly has been put together by a team that has every intention of furthering this brand but also, and this is important, impressing upon us the integrity of its leading man.
Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man stands apart from the flagship Amazing title by zeroing in on the character’s pleasant environs, and it spends more time with the character out-of-mask than in. It’s obvious, really—”friendly neighborhood” is as much a part of the brand as Spidey is a part of Parker, and now here’s a book about the character between swings and the people that make up his daily New York life. The issue is filled with lovely bits where Spidey bops around street-level: he averts a disaster that’s directly related to the city’s ineffectual bridge repair; he helps an older neighbor with their groceries (and gets a sack of apples for his trouble); he shares a hot dog with the area’s homeless at the “best” cart in the burg. It’s all good stuff.
In Amazing, Peter shares living quarters with Randy Robertson and crummy supervillain Fred “Boomerang” Myers. That remains the case here, which makes Peter’s slipping in and out of his apartment problematic. Fred’s not here to make Peter’s like a living heck—he already did that in Amazing, kind of—but the issue includes a cheeky burst of comedy that involves couch potato Fred and Peter’s rather interesting choice in undergarments. It’s the funniest part of an issue packed with several other instances of humor and heart. (The show-stopper, though? When little girl Jordie tries to squish the spider on our hero’s chest. Good lord, I nearly died.)
That’s the thing. Friendly is so gosh-darn sweet. The series is written by Tom Taylor, who has a knack for approaching legend-status characters and imbuing them with a newfound energy (read his improbably good video game tie-in, Injustice, for another example). His skill at staging one surprise after another engages Friendly, gives it a dramatic agility that matches its star. Then there’s Taylor’s wit, which is more grounded than the meta-Spidey of Chip Zdarsky’s Spectacular run; this Parker has a level of humility and humanity that’s reminiscent of the era of Lee & Romita, Sr.
Which makes the Romita-esque spitcurl that series artist Juann Cabal slaps on Parker’s forehead all the more wonderful. In terms of character and tone Cabal nails this debut issue; his razor-thin lines capture expression in his cast that runs the gamut of emotion, and Cabal’s ability to stay on-model rivals that of Mikel Janín. His backgrounds lack the idiosyncrasies that a quirky book like Friendly might call for, but they’re sharp, and filled with compelling Easter eggs that don’t detract from the particulars of the moment. (I’m still deciphering that chalkboard in Ms. Marnie’s apartment.)
Nolan Woodard takes advantage of the open spaces Cabal leaves him by filling them with warm tones for interior scenes and gloriously bright blue hues for the issue’s day-time setting. When Spidey takes a flying leap into the open void of page one, Woodard’s brilliant blues make you want to jump, too. So Travis Lanham gets in on all this optimism, because how could he not, by cranking up Spider-Man’s blue/red monologue boxes enough to make this one complete, gloriously constructed package. It’s A+ quality in a format (the floppy) that often glosses over such things.
So, yeah. Here’s another Peter Parker book. And there will doubtless be more in the years to come. I’ve added Friendly to my pull list, not because Amazing Spider-Man doesn’t provide me the thrills I demand in my Spidey tales—it does. But I have a feeling Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man is going to be the book that lets us get to know Peter Parker even more than we already do, somehow, by letting the guy be a person instead of an icon.
Written by Tom Taylor.
Art by Juann Cabal.
Colors by Nolan Woodard.
Letters by Travis Lanham.
9 out of 10
Check out this four-page preview of ‘Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man’ #1, courtesy of Marvel!