It is the rare book that manages to overcome an absolutely dismal start to develop into a narrative with a compelling hook, interesting characters, and stunning art. Spider-Verse had a long way to go towards becoming a “must buy” title, particularly due to the seemingly arbitrary nature of the “Secret Wars” titles, and while I don’t think it has overcome all of its shortcomings it has slowly developed into a book worthy of notice.
That’s not to say that the shortcomings that have dogged the book from the start have all disappeared in Spider-Verse #4. It is still unclear how the Spider-Verse region of Battleworld operates, particularly in regards to the role of the story’s protagonists. All of them seem to have come from nowhere and have no connection to the world around them, despite the assertions in Secret Wars that this universe has existed for years. Four issues in and the status quo has yet to become any clearer, making it hard to invest in the characters and a world that remain so mysterious and inessential. The cover of the book teases the involvement of the Jackal, suggesting that perhaps the Spider-team is comprised of clones, but the villain remains to be seen in the interior pages.
Last issue saw Spider-Gwen abandoning her team due to her suspicions about Norman Osborn only to run into this region of Battleworld’s Peter Parker. Spider-Verse #4 only briefly explains who this Peter Parker is before pitting him and Gwen against the classic Eddie Brock occupied Venom. The interplay between Peter and Gwen showcases writer Mike Costa’s solid understanding the character’s different voices and allows artist Andre Araujo to take over when necessary. These moments are where the book works best, with some solid visual and verbal humor, dynamic action, terrifying character designs, and interesting character development all combined.
There is also a playfulness to the proceedings at Oscorp, as Norman and Pavitr try and crack the mysteries of the Web of Life (man, I hate saying that), that was missing in early issues of the book and takes the forefront here. It’s a welcome spirit of fun that acknowledges its relationship to the rest of the “Secret Wars”’s Battleworld but also doesn’t take itself too seriously. A refocusing on characters over action really helps to sell the appeal of a team-up title like this and as per usual Spider-Ham easily steals the show with his casual attitude towards the whole affair.
What was most surprising about Spider-Verse #4 is just how much the artwork of Andre Araujo has improved since the initial issue. Araujo previously struggled to consistently portray characters with accurate proportions and now he’s delivering flashy street fights and hilarious character portraits with ease. There’s still a lack of detail in his backgrounds but I cannot stress enough how fun it is to see his style finally come together to deliver a cohesive vision of these characters. Araujo still has room to grow as an artist if he intends to keep working on Marvel’s superhero projects but I’ve come to appreciate his approach after previously outright rejecting his interpretations of my favorite characters.
With only one chapter in Spider-Verse remaining, Mike Costa has a lot of work to do answer all the dangling questions and wrap up each character’s storyline in a satisfying way, but with the degree this series has improved with each issue I’m eagerly awaiting his conclusion. I’m not sure that backloading a story in the way Costa has is a successful way to tell this story, particulary in regards to selling audiences on its world or characters, but I’m glad that we are finally getting some answers, even if that means retreading familiar storybeats and struggling through a padded story written for trade.