There are many reasons why Peter Parker as Spider-Man is one of the greatest characters in popular fiction. A lot of the responsibility for his general popularity lies in his ability to represent us all. He’s the downtrodden hero who fights against all odds only just to fight again another day. Whether it be against a villain constructed out of radioactive sand or just to pay the bills to his miserly landlord, there is a common relatability to Peter Parker that one can’t help but commiserate with. He’s the “everyman” who just so happens to have super-powers.
However, over the years Peter has been put in situation after situation that stretches that relatability to an extreme and threatens to break the casual spell that he casts over all his readers. Deals with the devil, cloning, deaths of family members (only for them to be resurrected moments later), and brain-swapping have all stretched the character of Spider-Man and the stories that can be told with him pretty far. One minute he’s fighting his way out of a crumbling subway and the next he’s fighting zombies in space; Peter Parker is a pretty versatile character and he should be… the book is called The Amazing Spider-Man after all, he’s got to be a bit spectacular and silly to live up to a name like that.
There have been many changes to Spider-Man’s life that I have felt were mishandled and took the character and his story in a direction that I felt was not beneficial to the story of his character, a love of which is the reason anyone should read any Spider-Man book. One of the biggest mistakes that I think has been done to Peter Parker took place in Amazing Spider-Man Annual #5 where Peter’s parents were revealed to be U.S. agents who infiltrated the Red Skull’s inner ring.
The reason that I list this decision over many others that the character has had to go through is the permanence to it and how it, even in just a small way, makes Peter that much more “special” and unrelatable. Even if it helped sell that one issue, it added so much more contrivance in the already coincidental life of Peter Parker. Except this time it was different, this was a familial coincidence. It is hard to believe Peter Parker, the guy who got spider-powers from a radioactive spider, is all that relatable as an “everyman” when his parents are also CIA agents and borderline superheroes that saved the world several times from HYDRA.
This is a really long way of saying that Amazing Spider-Man: Family Business had a long way to go to sell me on its premise, one that reads like a love letter to Amazing Spider-Man Annual #5. As one of the first of Marvel’s Original Graphic Novels it asks readers to accept that Peter Parker’s parents not only hid the fact that Peter has a sister but also that they were the protectors of an enormous Nazi super-weapon and fortune. It is a story that throws away all the things that make up a conventional Spider-Man story: the New York setting, supporting cast, street-level villains, etc.
So it is a testament to Mark Waid and James Robinson, on writing, and Gabrielle Dell’Otto and Werther Dell’Edera, on artwork, that despite all of my reservations about one of my least favorite Spider-Man stories that I found Amazing Spider-Man: Family Business to be a success. The four creators work incredibly well together and really nail the core elements that make Spider-Man books such a joy to read in the first place, regardless of the events occurring in the story.
Waid and Robinson’s first smart decision, in writing a Spider-Man story where Peter Parker assumes the role of Jason Bourne, is to depict him as being completely incredulous to the events that are unfolding before him. His inner dialogue completely reflects the reader’s own disbelief of the situation that Peter finds himself in. When he suddenly learns that he may have a sister his mind quickly rushes through all of the villains he has faced that might be pulling one over on him. It wouldn’t be the first time that Peter’s family was caught up in his super-heroics, at one point the Chameleon even impersonated his parents with shape-shifting androids.
As Peter and his assumed sister, Teresa, are whisked from Manhattan to Monaco, Cairo, and Switzerland, the script remains exciting and mysterious throughout. The answers to who Teresa is and who is behind the forces that chase them all make sense but aren’t incredibly satisfying, as they are pretty much exactly as they appear to be. The plot features a number of plot contrivances that serve to move the narrative forward and to introduce visual elements from Spider-Man’s past that will be loved by Spider-Man faithful but don’t feel organic to the story. Most of these are easily overlooked but will hinder the story’s ability to live on as a truly classic Spider-Man story.
Despite these minor annoyances and the story’s genre mismatch with Spider-Man the writing finds its life in the moment-to-moment actions of the characters. This story clearly takes place post Superior Spider-Man, the Kingpin has been pushed out of New York and Peter is back, and it successfully captures the magic of the character of Peter Parker that audiences have loved so much over the years. It is so refreshing to hear his trademark banter and puns that he presents in the face of danger, no matter how corny they are. When confronted by a SWAT team Peter calmly asks, “Is this about the cable bill?”
Peter also gets to demonstrate his smarts during several wonderfully-scripted, expanded action sequences. Dell’Otto’s painted style and Dell’Edera’s layouts bring an incredibly beautiful and dynamic visual style to Amazing Spider-Man: Family Business. The images play loosely with their vantage points as Spider-Man is flung through the air. Dell’Otto’s oil paints become mesmerizing particularly when the book features rain or sand, with the reflection of Peter’s red and blues appearing on a rain-soaked windscreen. The panel sizes are masterfully designed and help reinforce the dramatics of this story. Before-too-long the proceedings take on a larger-than-life scope and Dell’Edera manages to match the books art to the story, stretching and skewing the action when appropriate.
The book becomes its most exciting in a sequence where Spider-Man fights Cyclone in the Monte Carlo casino. As the winds of his super-suit power up, poker chips and roulette wheels fly through the air and Dell’Otto’s paints blur behind them. The level of detail is nothing short of astonishing, with even Stephen Wacker and his characteristic jawline making a guest appearance. Peter even gets to use his classic science smarts to fight back against Cyclone’s unrelenting barrage of dangerous winds.
Amazing Spider-Man: Family Business seems like an odd story to tell about Peter Parker and his ongoing adventures as Spider-Man. It places the character in territory that is rarely visited by creators, mostly for a good reason, but also proves that a good story can be told if it focuses on what makes him a good character. It doesn’t hurt that the book also features incredibly beautiful artwork and wonderful production values (though it would have been nice to hear Mark Waid’s thoughts on the character rather than Dan Slott’s), with a great cover and interesting design elements.