This is it. This is what so many people have been waiting for. After almost ten years, there is a second main continuity Spider-Man solo book, written by Chip Zdarsky with art by Adam Kubert and colors by Jordie Bellaire. I could go through the fanfare and introduce the new series by going over the history of Spectacular and how it historically was the title that focused more on the support cast surrounding Peter Parker, or we could just jump straight into the issue because there is a whole lot happening.
Before I dive into the details of the writing, I want to take a quick detour to talk about the art. The inks for Kubert’s figures are scratchy, giving some panels a sloppy, almost sketched look. This might not be for everyone, but careful inspection will see the inks for his backgrounds are clean, neat, and precise. Take a look at the spread with Spider-Man and Ant-Man walking down into Mason’s lab for the best example of this. This is a stylistic choice for sure, and one that lends a blurred sense of motion to the characters as well as added contrast to burst forth from the background. Bellaire’s colors strike a balance between cartoony and bright, and life-like and moody. Honestly, she is one of Marvel’s finest artists and this issue is a testament to that opinion. All these elements come together and make something that looks like a Spider-Man comic – high energy, high talent.
Zdarsky wrote a monster of an issue. It’s been a while since a story so densely packed has been published by Marvel. Follwing the beats of the story, we have a revisitation of the Spider-Man/Human Torch friendship, a team-up, a new love interest introduced, a plot that takes Spider-Man to Chicago, the brother of the Tinkerer is introduced, Riri Williams/Iron Heart shows up for the shock ending, and then Zdarsky hits us with a second shock ending by digging deep and bringing back Peter Parker’s sister from the 2014’s “Family Business” Amazing Spider-Man OGN. None of this feels particularly rushed due to the highly compressed nature of this issue’s storytelling. Then you have a short eight page backup story that launches yet another plot point for this book to travel down. It is very clear that Marvel intends this to be a long-standing ongoing.
Those who might have had issue with the tone of the Free Comic Book Day Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man, there’s good news and bad news. If Zdarsky’s class-clown Spider-Man rubs you the wrong way, then it’s going to be a rough ride. The book is definitely dripping with Zdarsky’s specific brand of humor; his supposed hots for Aunt May even comes into play via Peter’s “Pretty Woman” ringtone (granted, a welcome change from the go-to teen pop songs from Slott’s run). The silver lining is that while, yes, there’s going to be absurdist jokes here and there, they’re certainly less frequent than the Free Comic Book Day issue. Personally, I think it strikes just the right balance. A Spider-Man book, like an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, should be funny, but not a comedy, and Zdarsky reigned it in enough (with this issue) so that the humor did not overshadow the other elements of the story.
Rebecca London is the new side character, who is hip (you can tell because her hair is dyed) and sassy. She and Spider-Man share a meet cute and she quickly takes the dominant role in the relationship. Other than general first impressions, not much is on the table. Her job as stand-up comedian isn’t the most out-there for a Spider-Man side character (that award goes to country-western singer and neighbor to Peter Parker in the ‘80s, Lonesome Pincus), but it certainly is strangely more grounded and pedestrian than the usual ace reporters/detectives/super models/cat burglars that Peter finds himself entangled with. There’s promise for an interesting dynamic here since London doesn’t know who is behind the Spider-Man mask.
Hophni Mason, brother to the Tinkerer, plays an interesting role that eases some of the tech-heavy burden off of Spider-Man that has been added to the character since his Horizon days in “Big Time.” While Tony Stark getting stumped and passing the ball to another inventor seems to be a bit of a stretch, introducing a character that is so clearly above Peter’s own tech skills allows an easy-out for why Spider-Man wouldn’t handle these issues himself; he can outsource it now. It’s a way of having your cake and eating it too, or I guess, having a high-tech Spider-Man while not turning him into Iron Man 2.
Speaking of Iron Man 2, the issue ends with a surprise appearance by new Iron Man (or rather, Ironheart?) Riri Williams. The process leading up to this is perhaps the weakest element of the book. Spider-Man lifts a phone from a crook that has evidence of tampering, despite being tamper-proof, and he finds that there’s a similar phone in Chicago. Sensing something afoot, he goes to investigate. It’s a strange beat to take, as it is extraordinarily common to have groups of people regularly attempting to hack their phones and load custom software on their phone. If anything, it’s the “tinkering with a chemistry set after school” of the current generation, something Peter should be able to identify with. Regardless, this is the foot the story is taking us on and I’m sure it will lead to some large bad guy that requires a knuckle sandwich to see the error of his ways.
The final page reveals Theresa, a character that perhaps 8 people have read about. She originated in a graphic novel from 2014 that I have only been able to find in Clearance bins and shelves. A short recap: the Parkers had a second, younger child that was separated from Peter. Later through machinations of the Kingpin, she and Peter became reconnected, but her memories of the later events in the graphic novel (particularly, where she learned he was Spider-Man) have been erased. The book ends with one of those “supposed to be ambiguous, but really isn’t” endings that more-or-less confirms that she is actually Peter’s sister. How much of this will be retconned is really up to Zdarsky as I do not think there is much legacy attached to this story.
As far as first issues go, there’s nothing ground breaking or monumental. Even if London takes off, there’s no “face it tiger” moment, though there’s plenty of room for that in the future. For those looking for something special that really makes this issue feel like a milestone, you might be a little disappointed, but it does deliver exactly what was advertised: a back-to-basics Spider-Man book with an expanded cast and old-school feel.