With the start of “House of M,” Marvel initiated a series of intermittent, but loosely connected “event” stories that have more or less fed into one another for the last decade. Because of this, we have links to “Spider-Verse,” “Avengers vs. X-Men,” “Civil War,” “Secret Invasion,” and “Dark Reign,” among others, appearing in these event stories, up to the present “Secret Wars” event. It’s an era of storytelling that has made for some interesting and intriguing stories, as well as more than a few not-so-good tales.
But it’s also done an arguably disastrous number on comics as well, at least as far as Marvel is concerned. These events, with their status quo resets and consistently wide-ranging storytelling methods, have given sharp rise to the phenomenon of event fatigue to many readers and collectors. It becomes a pain for readers to choose between either keeping up with a large number of titles — spending lots of cash on comics and becoming oversaturated by “having” to read in order to keep up — or not keeping up, in which case they run the risk of missing significant developments and characters.
“Spider-Verse” was an excellent example of this. It was by and large a forgettable story that went on for far too long and suffered from a range of inconsistent writing, plotting missteps, and terrible characterization. On the other hand, it did give us Spider-Gwen, one of the most exciting characters to come out of Spider-lore in quite some time.
Unfortunately, her inclusion in this installment of the Spider-Verse mini-series under the new status quo of “Secret Wars,” isn’t enough to keep things from seeming repetitive, bland, and overall ho-hum. The setup for this mini, in which we have half a dozen Spiders from the previous “Spider-Verse” story meeting one another and working together to figure out what has become of the world around them, feels uninspired and inconsistent with the events that so recently happened between them. This is not the Mike Costa I remember, whose Scarlet Spiders story was one of the very few bright spots during “Spider-Verse.”
It’s not that Gwen doesn’t have anything interesting to do — heck, the premise of her waking up in a reality where “she” has actually died certainly grabbed my attention, at least at first — or that I don’t like Spider-Man India or any of the other characters he works with. Based on past readings, a team-up between Spider-Gwen and Spider-Ham is a hilarious and exciting prospect. But the execution leaves a lot to be desired, raising basic questions that, I feel, can’t help but pull me out of the story.
Why don’t these people remember each other from “Spider-Verse,” just a few months ago, for one? I know someone could argue that the whole multiverse dying and resetting under Doom-as-God could cause this, but knowing what’s going on with Marvel and their push for yet another event, it just feels too soon and too contrived to seem like an organic explanation.
Another issue I have is with the whole deja vue premise, and these Spider-totems slowly coming together to solve this problem. This simply feels like a story that’s not only been done before, but one that’s not even put together in a particularly interesting way. The realities in the Web of Life are not the only ones that have been destroyed, but these particular survivors are only concerned with those universes. And they’ve all been plunked into the same geographic area on Battleworld (I’m assuming Manhattan? I can’t be sure at this point–yet another issue I have with the overall writing). It all just seems a little too convenient.
I do see one interesting opportunity for this story right now, and of course, it centers around Norman Osborn. Having usually been the quintessential Spider-villain over the decades, it’s pretty easy to make the argument that his characterization really fell off the rails at the end of Superior Spider-Man. By putting him possibly at the center of whatever’s going on with these Spiders, this could be a way to bring the character back as a genuine, definite threat. It will depend on how things go from here, of course, but so far I’m intrigued by his actions in this story. He’s possibly just as interesting as Gwen at this point, which makes sense, given the shared history between them.
But overall, I had a difficult time getting into this story. It was just a little too easy to point to the characters and see them starting to assemble, almost like a color-by-numbers. That’s not a problem in and of itself, but it’s an undertaking you want to infuse with personality, fun, or at least an interesting point of view, and unfortunately I felt none of these things were present in this installment.
I also wasn’t terribly impressed by the artwork. André Araujo’s facial depictions are noticeably inconsistent, and many of the expressions come off as just strange or vague. It’s a style that seems similar to that of Sal Buscema, a Spider-Man artist to whom I’m not particularly attached, but whose style I will credit with eliciting the occasional visceral response from me. Even so, there’s a long way to go in terms of consistency. The action scenes are at least serviceable, and things are well enough supported by Rachelle Rosenberg’s versatile and eye-catching color palette, but I’m sorry to say that I’m just not terribly impressed by the line work in this issue.
It is therefore with some sadness that I must say that this bit of Spider-lore is hardly worth checking out at present. I’m hoping the writing and the artwork improve, but with the marketing blitz (as opposed to an actual, all-encompassing, coherent story arc) “Secret Wars” seems obsessed with being, I’m not going to hold my breath for too long. With a $4.99 price tag, it seems an awful lot more joy can be extracted from something else at that price.