Edge of Spider-Verse #3 is a bold step into the “every Spider-Man ever” premise, in that it introduces a whole new character into the Spider-Man mythos. There’s no formerly established alt Spidey swinging around, nor is there one that even sports a familiar face. Dustin Weaver, who tackles both the writing and artistic duties on this installment, creates an entirely new character from scratch. That character is Doctor Aaron Aikman, a Spider-Man that is in some ways superficially more similar to Tony Stark in his origins and power sets than he is to Peter Parker. The idea is both riveting and a cause for some apprehension for many Spider-Man readers (myself included), but given the premise surrounding “Spider-Verse,” I was more than willing to give this story a chance.
We get a rather lengthy introduction to this universe, its characters, and how Dr. Aikman came to be Spider-Man. It’s a fairly standard exposition, with the added amusement of Weaver’s choice to have the two villain’s origins packaged on Marvel’s Fleer cards from the 1990s (I have a soft spot for those things, as I used to collect them). Aikman’s problems with Naamurah–a dark foe who seems to have connections to Morlun’s world, if not necessarily to Morlun himself–is the main plot of this story. We also see that there’s another connection involving Aikman’s former boss and lover, Doctor Kaori Ikegami, who had left him at some point prior to care for her comatose daughter Hannah. As the scope of Naamurah’s plot becomes apparent, we are left uncertain about Aikman’s fate, as simultaneous twists occur towards the end that make things look bleak indeed for both our hero and his world.
The good points of this story are many, and I’ll start by comparing Dustin Weaver to Todd McFarlane, another Spider-Man artist who at various points also tackled the writing duties on his own titles. It’s generally accepted that McFarlane, whose art is well-liked by most of the Spider-Man readers out there (I personally am indifferent to it, and don’t understand all the pomp around it), was a comparatively lackluster scribe, particularly in some of his earlier Spider-Man tales. I can only imagine this is simply due to McFarlane having to develop another set of skills (writing and scripting) in addition to the ones he was already wielding in such a formidable capacity (art and layout), and while there’s a similar setup here, I will say that Weaver suffers less for it so far. That’s not to say that there isn’t plenty to improve, but I’m more optimistic about Weaver’s chances of succeeding in both roles in the future than I am when looking back at Mr. McFarlane’s works.
Weaver has obviously put a lot of thought and detail into this character and this story, as evidenced by the sleek, imaginative design of Aikman’s Spider-suit, the intricate sequence of events that preface into this issue, and the concept behind Naamurah and her presumed successor Daarroh, who, as far as Spider-villains go, surprised me in how they were linked to Morlun (as these characters almost inevitably will be) in an apparently tangential way. It was very clever, and suggests that Weaver has a good grasp of how to conceptualize a compelling villain, an excellent tool for an artist-writer to have. His artwork itself is excellent, capturing both large-scale and more intimate scenes with excellent detail to action, mood, and overall flow. A lot is packed into this story, and while that presents some issues of its own, there’s no denying that Weaver portrays it all adeptly and memorably. It’s all the more impressive when you consider that Weaver has also undertaken the coloring duties (which are nicely done) in this installment as well.
With all that said, there is plenty to take issue with in this story. While I credit Weaver for his original take on the wall crawler, it’s difficult for me to really get invested in the story that unfolds under his pen. There are several problems that bog the story down. First, we have a densely-packed, drawn-out back-story that holds the main action hostage until the fifth page, as he explains in rather more detail than readers need or may want. Second, we have a story that feels like it’s trying to be too many things, and succeeds at being none of them. While there are definitely pronounced sci-fi and manga influences on this superhero story, there are also traces of horror, mystery, and other genres that pull the reader in different directions, pulling us out of the story at times. Finally, there are some technical flaws that I took issue with, most prominently the confusing panel layouts on pages 16-17. I had to read and re-read those two pages several times before I figured out the proper sequence in which to read them, which is not a good way to hold reader’s attention.
Taken all together, we’re left with a nicely conceptualized, beautifully rendered story with plenty of obvious flaws in the delivery. In Weaver’s case, I believe it comes down to a classic case of less being more. Less emphasis on the exposition and fewer characters driving or influencing the present action would have helped immensely, as would have picking fewer genre flavors and sticking with one or two moods. As a result, even with an abruptly compelling finish that leaves us curious about (and possibly somewhat haunted by) what has happened, we don’t get enough identification with Aikman and his world to be left truly invested in the outcome.
While this makes Edge of Spider-Verse #3 the weakest entry so far into this mini-series, it’s by no means a bad story. It has good artwork, an interesting plot, once you pare through the character dramas, and nice touches all around. It’s just not as good as it could have been, and clearly falls short of the very ambitious story it strives to tell. Still, if Weaver wants to write and illustrate another Spider-Man story, I think he easily has the artistic chops to get another shot and has a decent base from which to build his skills as a writer. I wouldn’t be averse to seeing another such story from this creator, as I think he has the potential to pull it off with more experience.