Usually by the third chapter of a comic’s story arc, I have a pretty good idea where things are headed. We’ve introduced the main players, gotten the exposition out of the way, and we’re moving headlong into what is hopefully either an action-packed romp or a well-constructed character study or drama. It’s very rare at this point, unless the story is just a huge epic, that I don’t have a good feel for what’s going on and how things are probably going to play out.
With this third act of Spider-Verse, however, it’s less about whether I can actually tell where we’re going than about whether or not I actually care. While I will say that the narrative has picked up slightly with an interesting twist here, or a witty piece of dialog there, there’s still not enough to really hold my interest as to how this trans-dimensional mystery is going to unfold. The artwork doesn’t help matters, and we’re left with a story that, though getting better than it started, still struggles to appeal to readers looking for a decent bang for their comic buck.
It’s not all bad news, though. I was pleased with several of the developments in this chapter, starting with Ham’s “treachery” when he admits to having called Osborn on the newly assembled half-dozen Spiders. That he’s eating a barbecue sandwich when he walks in after the fact was pure genius, one of the few times I’ve had any kind of genuine emotional reaction to this story (it was, for those wondering, a horrified but amused laugh). His banter with Gwen has always been fun to read, and for a brief, brilliant moment, Costa manages to channel it again in this scene.
I’m also liking how Osborn is continuing to play the good guy card, helping the Spiders out by giving them as much information as he (apparently) has. He and Gwen remain the most interesting characters, and while I’m hoping this seemingly benign Osborn will actually turn out to be just that (for a change), I’m too used to this character being brilliantly revealed as a ruthless con man the whole time to hold my breath. Other than Gwen, the rest of the Spiders are willing to trust him for now, which almost certainly means she’ll end up having to save them, because we can’t make our central hero wrong or mistaken, can we? Again, I hope I’m wrong, but we’ll see.
Gwen’s portrayal in this story is also strong, particularly when we get the opportunity to see things from her perspective. Costa is good at making readers identify with her, even as she storms out on the others when she realizes they won’t take her side against Osborn. Her passion and likability almost succeed in subsuming the fact that she’s acting impulsively and alienating her allies due to her feelings towards Osborn for “killing her.” Even while blowing off steam, her self-aware and self-deprecating manner of doing so make for an easy character to get behind, even with her flaws on full display.
With all of that said, though, there are still plenty of issues to take with the writing. The shift at the beginning to Spider UK’s perspective was surprising and a little jarring, much as it has been since the beginning. I get that we’re seeing one of the other Spiders’ inner thoughts along with Gwen’s each issue, but I have to say I’m not a fan of this arrangement. It seems Costa did a much better job with this device when he was breaking it down by one issue to each Spider-Clone’s perspective during the much better Scarlet Spiders. Having to jump from one person’s viewpoint to another’s in the same issue just takes me out of the story.
Then there’s the whole Web of Life angle, which by this point makes me roll my eyes whenever it gets brought up. Gwen doesn’t believe in its existence, Osborn and Pavitr do, and the other Spiders are willing to wait and see if it does. Between this puerile tug-of-war of faith and the forgettable role it played in the larger “Spider-Verse” saga from earlier this year and last, I find myself not caring about any of it. I can only hope something develops that changes my mind, but for the moment I just can’t bring myself to take this mystical macguffin seriously.
Finally, there’s the meeting of familiar faces: the Sinister Six (in Osborn’s employ) at the beginning, and Peter Parker at the end. It’s hard not to feel at this point that these characters, while interesting enough on their own, are being deployed to desperately snap up falling reader interest. Whether that’s true or not, it feels that way to me, and it all smacks of the familiar phrase, “Too little, too late.”
I’ve already lambasted the artwork in the last two reviews, so rather than take a crowbar to Aurajo’s efforts, I’m going to focus on where he’s improved over the last two issues. His depictions of Gwen’s face when she’s horrified, surprised, or mad are comically effective, and he’s doing a better job of drawing a Norman Osborn who doesn’t look obviously like a cartoon. I was mostly meh towards the renderings of the Sinister Six, but I did like how he visually reimagined Scorpion and Electro in places.
Spider-Verse seems to suffer from the same lack of strong execution that its previous, larger and more unwieldy progenitor did, which is sad when you consider that this mini could have been an effective way to redeem it. With lackluster art, inconsistent pacing and a plot that is only now starting to gain steam, there’s just not enough for me to give this story much more than a middling review. I hope this story picks up, but for now I have a hard time recommending it to Spider-Fans.