It's a good week for Spider-Man
Week in and week out, I read a lot of comics. Whether from Marvel, DC, Image, IDW, BOOM!, or any other publisher, my reading list tends to get pretty full. Most weeks have a surprise or two here and there, but generally speaking I know what I’m going to get with my usual reads.
This week? This week I’m all about Spider-Man.
Which is… kind of weird, because I like Spidey. I really do. But as I’ve said before, I’ve never really been into Spider-Man. He’s always been one of those characters that I know and like, but I respect him more than I love him. Besides a handful of stories here and there, I’ve never really gotten into Spider-Man comics. So when three separate Spider-Man books rise to the top of the pack in one week, I feel like that’s worth noting.
While it shouldn’t be a surprise, Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man from Tom Taylor, Juann Cabal, Douglas Franchin, Nolan Woodard, and Travis Lanham continues to be absolutely delightful. I decided to check the series out upon its launch based on Taylor’s name alone, and four issues in? I love this book. It has the buoyant energy and snappy dialogue you’d expect from a Spidey title, seeking to entertain above all.
I mean, this is a series where Spider-Man discovers there’s another New York City located underground that’s called Under York, and he heads there to save his neighbor while leaving her children in the card of Johnny Storm. So, yes: the Human Torch plays babysitter and it is great. And while there’s some drama regarding Aunt May’s health, the heavier moments are never undermined by the presence of levity, nor is the sense of adventure ever drowned in a morass of melodrama.
Shifting gears to a different Spider-Man, we’ve got Miles Morales: Spider-Man from Saladin Ahmed, Javier Garrón, David Curiel, and Cory Petit. While the writing is more character focused and can get a little more dense than Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man, this is another title that’s been strong out of the gate. The first three issues saw Miles team up with the Rhino and Captain America to save a bunch of abducted children, and Ahmed was pretty successful in balancing the social commentary with the superhero action.
This week’s issue #4 is a charming little one-and-done where… okay, let’s be real: it’s pretty much Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Miles and his friends fake an illness (except Ganke, who really is out with an… ear infection), take a trip to the museum, and are hounded by the school’s vice principal. There’s even an administrative assistant who’s one “righteous dude” away from being played by Edie McClurg. It’s light, frothy fun, and sometimes that’s all you need.
And then there’s Spider-Man: Life Story. By far the most ambitious of the three books, this may very well go down as one of the best Spider-Man stories ever written. Writer Chip Zdarsky and artist Mark Bagley imagine a world where Spider-Man’s life occurs in real time, starting when he’s bitten by a radioactive spider in 1962 and going forward.
The bulk of the issue occurs in 1966, with Peter having been Spider-Man for about four years now. Still in college, Parker balances his superheroics with his awkward social life, wanting to be a “normal guy” but needing to be a superhero. His struggle with want versus need is a recurring theme throughout the issue, to the point that he wonders if enlisting in the army and heading to Vietnam is something Spider-Man would (and should) do. It’s an interesting twist on the typical angst inherent in the character, and one that could have repercussions in future installments.
Zdarsky doesn’t write like Stan Lee, but this still feels like it could have been written fifty years ago and it still would have had the same impact. There isn’t any sense of irony or the benefit of hindsight with the then-contemporary world affairs. Characters react to situations like they would have in the Sixties, with the same amount of uncertainty that we do even now.
Props should go to artist Mark Bagley as well, who manages to channel a style that’s a little bit Ditko, a little bit Romita, and quite a bit of Buscema too. Along with inker John Dell and colorist Frank D’Armata, Bagley gives the book a retro look that isn’t hampered by modern techniques. There are some sweeping shots of the city and a brief but harrowing fight scene, but this is first and foremost a character-driven drama. There’s lots of dialogue and several scenes where either characters are talking to each other or Peter is having his internal monologue, but the panel placement and layout choices make the story move at a brisk pace. And seriously, some of these characters look so uncannily like Romita or Buscema drew them that it’s almost eerie. My jaw dropped more than once in regards to character likenesses, they’re so good.
Take it from a guy who is learning to appreciate Spider-Man more and more each day: whether you pick up one book or if you get them all, you’re in for some mighty fine comics.
Oh, and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is also available to own too. That movie is incredible, and the soundtrack goes so hard, so get it even if you haven’t seen it. After all, it’s a good week for Spider-Man.