A year ago, I had been supremely excited by the notion of “Spider-Verse”; the idea of Spider-Men and Women from all realities, coming together for an epic story, guided by the imaginative pen of Dan Slott felt like it would be a dream come true that I didn’t know I’d wanted. It was an expansion, to paraphrase Slott’s words, of “Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions”, a video game I’d played and loved. I thought for sure this would be a gigantic hit.
It would be disingenuous to say that this wrap-up to the Spider-Verse mini-series is just as bad as the rest of the many-limbed “Spider-Verse” story from earlier, but there are definitely some noticeable and telling parallels that give readers the notion that this story is certainly cut from the same unflattering cloth as the former. In addition to some major unanswered questions (such as: “Why are these particular characters here?” “Where are the other Spider-Totems?” “How is the Web of Life related to what’s going on in Secret Wars?” among others), there’s also a lot that readers are simply expected to take at face value, such as Norman Osborn’s Web-of-Life-powered superweapon and the loss of Peter’s powers. It all adds up to a story that, again, feels like it owes its existence to editorial mandate than any actual merit it might actually contain.
With all that said, I will give a boatload of credit to Mike Costa for making the most of the story he was assigned. Costa, whose Scarlet Spiders miniseries was one of the few bright spots in the “Spider-Verse” arc, shows readers he knows enough about the characters in this story to have some fun with them. Be it Gwen’s sardonic inner monologues, Pavitr’s highly intelligent naivete, or Norman Osborn’s sudden break from sanity, these characters all feel a great deal more genuine than they did at the start of the series. As we would expect, Spider-Ham tends to steal the scenes he’s in with his unconcerned approach to everything happening, as well as his off the wall humor and remarks.
I’m disappointed but unsurprised at Norman Osborn’s ultimate role in this story, that of Ultimate Spider-Foe and power-hungry ruler seeking even more power that inevitably is trounced because of it. It’s a testament to who the character is, though I do stick to my original position that an alternate reality Norman Osborn as a genuine good guy would make for amazing storytelling opportunities. In any case, even with the fairly sudden turn he takes from helpful ally to insane taskmaster–and I’ll admit that’s not completely out of character for him–he still was one of the most interesting characters in this story.
There is, however, plenty to pull readers out of the story in this issue, and it contributes to the overall feel that Spider-Verse exists solely because the editors decided it could be the next “Coming Home”, or even “Maximum Carnage”. From a pacing standpoint, we’ve got one scene ending with Peter Parker jumping heroically at Norman Osborn, suggesting the start of a battle, and then the next scene we see of that conflict is Peter swinging away from Norman, who easily captures him. Even if there was no fight, there’s still a disconnect here that makes the reader wonder if something important is missing. Also, where is Electro at the end of this story? The last we see of him is when he tries to destroy Osborn’s Siege Perilous. Does he die? Does he get incarcerated with the other villains? We literally do not know what becomes of someone who plays a pivotal part during a final scene.
The overall wrap-up of this story also feels a little too glossed-over. Much like the final installment of Renew Your Vows, we’ve just seen a major ruling figure dispatched, but it’s handled like it’s no big deal. This wouldn’t be as big an issue with me if it hadn’t been called to attention in the story by one of the characters, who alludes to an imminent breakdown of infrastructure in this realm. It feels like the enormity of what everyone’s done is undercut by the need for everyone to strike a final victory pose for the last panel of the story.
Artistically, I will say Andre Araujo’s work in this issue has improved dramatically from what we saw in the first installment. I still have some issues with his detailing, but his interpretations of the characters have become more consistent, particularly with regard to faces. His action scenes, particularly the fight against the Thor Corp warrior, were certainly fun to behold, and he does have a knack for doing expressions of surprise, fear, and horror. If he can improve this much in the span of just a few issues, then I’m hopeful that we’ll start seeing consistently good work from this artist in the relatively near future.
At the end of the day, it’s hard for me to really put my full-throated support behind Spider-Verse. It managed to dig itself out from the hole in which it started, but in the context of Secret Wars, it’s a fairly non-essential story that doesn’t really show us anything new about the characters or Battleworld. On the other hand, when compared to the lackluster previous story from which it gets its name, there are far too many call-backs to the lazy, uneven storytelling and pacing that plagued it. There’s consistency, but not the good kind. Mike Costa does what he can with what he’s given, but in the end we’re left with a story arc that, while serviceable enough by itself, feels a little too unearned to really be worth the investment, financially or intellectually.