Vol. 1: Free Comic Book Day 2007 (Dan Slott & Phil Jimenez) & Amazing Spider-Man #546–551 (#546–548 Slott & Steve McNiven + Marc Guggenheim & Greg Land, Bob Gale + Phil Winslade, Zeb Wells & Mike Deodato; #549–551 Guggenheim & Salvador Larroca)
Vol. 2: Amazing Spider-Man #552–558 (#552–554 Gale & Jimenez; #555–557 Wells & Chris Bachalo; #558 Gale & Barry Kitson)
There are times I wish I could enjoy stories of Spider-Man but I can’t – whenever I read the book, it seems to be the same thing: Peter Parker has a horrible life (no money, job always in trouble, doing the right thing that always leads to his life getting even worse) and the writers seem to enjoy piling on the misery, as if he was responsible for all the hazing they received as a high schoolers. It’s the only thing that prevents me from watching the excellent first two Sam Raimi Spider-Man films – let’s treat Spidey like shit. I just don’t understand it, and I can’t get past it when reading Spider-Man comics.
The world of Spider-Man was recently turned upside-down by the One More Day storyline, where the happy and normal(ish) marriage between Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson is dismantled by Mephisto so that Joe Quesada could have his wish to return Spider-Man back to the way he was originally: the hard-luck hero who could be the reader. Now, I didn’t read that story, and have no interest in doing so, but I wanted to see what the new-look Spidey for the new millennium was like. No ties to continuity, no more public identity due to Civil War, no more marriage to a hot supermodel to annoy the Editor-in-Chief. Because I don’t let my prejudices get in the way of good comics.
Marvel have got together an interesting team of writers (called the ‘Brain Trust’: Slott the Marvel man, Guggenheim the TV writer, Gale the film writer and Wells the – I’m not too sure about Wells) to bring cohesion to the series, and have proved the seriousness of the reboot with big name artists: Jimenez, McNiven, Larroca, Bachalo and Kitson are in the big leagues and known for their superhero work. There is now only the one Spider-Man comic, although it is now coming out more frequently, with a concerted effort to make it a major mover in the Marvel universe, but what about the stories themselves?
From what I can see, it seems to be a case of doing the old-style Spidey stories but with a modern sheen. Peter is back to being a single chap with money and job worries who tries to balance normal life with his secret identity – just like it was in the old days – but it’s set now and the art looks better. After talking about Jimenez’s art recently, it’s nice to see it again and he makes for a good fit for Spidey: lithe, dynamic, not excessively muscular, detailed, expressive. McNiven does his usual solid job, taking to Spidey well after his big job on Civil War. Larocca isn’t quite as smooth – it seems slightly off, not as fluid, as if he’s been working on the mutant books so long that he hasn’t found his Spidey legs yet. The most interesting is Bachalo – he brings his usual warped perspective to a snow-bound tale that is not what you would expect from a Spider-Man book, but it works really well for the story, with lots of odd angles and skewed characters surrounding the thin Spider-Man he draws.
Writing-wise, there are different feels for each arc – Slott brings a lot of humour, as expected based on his previous work, and which is very important for Spidey: he has to be the funniest guy in the fight or you’re missing the point. Guggenheim brings his TV work to the job, writing good dialogue and juggling the different strands. Gale, although a good writer, isn’t funny – his Spidey quips are mundane and ordinary. Wells, despite my initial hesitance, provides the most interesting and different adventure – the mystical influences are not something I associate with the character nor with the direction this new take displays in the previous issues. It might feel more like a Claremont X-Men tale, perhaps, but it’s the one that sticks out in the mind compared with the others.
Surveying the two books as a whole, there is evidence of new – Mister Negative (an interesting-looking villain, until we find out that his civilian identity knows Aunt May, which is a throwback), Menace, giving J Jonah Jameson a heart attack, a new editor of the Daily Bugle – but it still harks back to the way things used to be done. Keeping the status quo, doing the same things (Spidey does his best but always comes out worst), even the jaunty narration boxes (‘Glad ya made it back, Spidey-fans!’, ‘There’s clearly no way Spidey can get out of this, right?’), which feel like Stan Lee-isms for the Noughties, give the overall impression of ‘having your cake and eating it too’: everything is exactly the same as you remember, nothing is different, come back to Spider-Man as it was and always should have been, everything is just fine. The phrase ‘the illusion of change’ never seemed more appropriate. In the first collection, there is a manifesto outlining the ‘new’ approach to Spider-Man, which basically states it: keep Peter Parker downtrodden, keep him miserable, nothing good ever happens. That’s not aspirational, that’s depressing and disheartening. I don’t want to read that – it’s sadistic. Maybe we get the Spider-Man we deserve, but it’s the Spider-Man you deserve because I won’t be back for more (even though the story finishes on a cliffhanger, something I’m not used to seeing in a collection).