By Jarrod Jones. Time in the Marvel Universe is… well, it’s a helluva thing. Kicking off in 1961 and beset by all kinds of cosmic and temporal tomfoolery in the decades that followed, trying to make heads or tails out of time and its function in the 616 — or whatever this universe is supposed to be called after Secret Wars — is madness. Better to just sit back and let it all wash over you. Try to have some fun. (After all, fun rules.)
Case in point, Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man #301, the first part of its “Amazing Fantasy” storyarc. Here, the Peter Parker of today meets the Peter Parker of the Lee/Ditko era. Not a dream, not an imaginary tale… etc., etc. Considering all Parker’s been through in the ensuing years since Amazing Fantasy #15 (wayyy back in 1962), you’d think this pairing would be devastating, or cathartic, in some way. Well, it is, and it isn’t.
Consider the company present-day Peter is keeping: J. Jonah Jameson (from today) is along for the ride, likewise Teresa Durand, a former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who is clearly — dramatic pause — more than what she seems. Between present-day Peter — who’s conspicuously chipper, considering he’s venturing into his own past — Jameson, and Durand, there’s potentially a lot of baggage here. But, as the recap page so kindly reminds us, there’s Today to rescue. So leave the baggage at the door.
That attitude is quite possibly the strongest asset Spectacular Spidey has. This book, launched in June of last year, has become the go-to for Spider-Man readers who like a bit more irreverence in their Petey Parker books. But the way writer Chip Zdarsky has balanced this book’s inherent zaniness with pathos is deliriously effective, and that skill is on full display here. While we swoon over artist Joe Quinones’ attention to Ditko detail, Zdarsky and his Howard the Duck collaborator sneak in other bits that stick just as effectively to our hearts as the eponymous web-head himself.
The opening sequence finds the rookie Wall-Crawler sneaking into his Aunt May’s tract house in Queens, like he’d done so many times in the past. It elicits fond recollections of Parker’s halcyon days, done deliberately for effect but also with reverence. Once met by this time-hopping motley crew, young Parker takes off his mask to reveal an acne-havin’ skinny kid, which jars Jameson into remembering all the horrible things he did to our hero during his formative years. (Jameson even asks forgiveness from the kid, which put me back in the emotionally crippling headspace of last November’s Spectacular Spider-Man #6. Ditto a Jameson/Jameson sequence that occurs later on and needs to be read to be properly appreciated.)
For those who’ve read (and re-read) the Lee/Ditko/Romita era of Amazing Spider-Man, there’s plenty to pore over in this issue. There are little hints and polite nods to what is arguably one of the most influential runs on Zdarsky’s Marvel career. And while some creators would let the apparent results of their homework be enough, Zdarsky and Quinones utilize them to pluck at heartstrings, particularly during a sequence where Today-Pete and Past-Pete put a stop to Green Goblin before he even begins. (Back in the early double-digit Amazing days, when he was still pushing around the Enforcers.)
“Who’s that?” Past-Pete asks when the Goblin is revealed to be Norman Osborn. “Oh man, blissful ignorance!” Today-Pete sighs.
And before you go “what about the butterfly effect” on me, know that Doom sent Spider-Man and his amazing friends to an alternate timeline for “Amazing Fantasy”. Don’t expect your Amazing issues to change in your hot little hands like a snapshot in Back to the Future or anything. Yet, on that front, what will be interesting to see in future issues is the ramifications of Today-Pete’s whimsical approach to changing a future that doesn’t entirely belong to him. (The aforementioned Mr. Osborn makes a point to show us how quickly things can go off the rails before the issue comes to an end.)
In the meantime, Today-Pete isn’t the only one enjoying the freedom this alternate timeline provides. Quinones is paired up with inker Joe Rivera and colorist Jordan Gibson, who acquit themselves magnificently in this debut issue. Their Spider-Men emote through masks (their Spider-lenses perform some genuinely Herculean feats), and the action has a dynamic poise (particularly a Doc Ock prison break sequence). The world they render is recognizably Marvel Age, yet it feels immediate. Not to mention fun.
What’s more, their panel work is about as classical as comics get today. Twin close-ups of Spidey socking Green Goblin in the gob look primed for a plucking by Lichtenstein himself, and Gibson’s colors give the book a retro panache that sets this series apart from most other Marvel books out there. Think Eduardo Paolozzi, imbued with a Romita flair. (Or maybe it’s the other way around.) Behold Joe, Joe, and Jordan’s Spider-Men — exuberant, limber, and absolutely full of life. That’s what they did. They nudged Spidey just a little closer towards the annals of pop art.
Written by Chip Zdarsky.
Pencils by Joe Quinones.
Inks by Joe Rivera.
Colors by Jordan Gibson.
Letters by Travis Lanham.
9 out of 10