Did someone say anthology series? As part of a push to expand toward digital distribution, Marvel has been releasing a few “digital first” series over the past few months, with A Year of Marvels perhaps being the most ambitious of the bunch. Launching as an ongoing, A Year of Marvels is a series of one-shots showcasing a different Marvel character each month, with the hook of the series being that every story takes place during the month the comic is published.
So With A Year of Marvels: The Amazing #1, we have a physical edition that collects the first two digital issues: Spider-Man’s story that takes place in February and then an Ant-Man story that takes place in March. The gimmick is a neat way to ground the superheroics into something much more readily relatable – the seasonality of our daily happenings.
The Spider-man story takes place on Valentine’s Day. Art is handled by Danilo Beyruth and the story is scribed by none other than Dinosaur Comic‘s Ryan North. Okay, so North’s been working at Marvel for a while now and is currently writing Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, but he’s always going to be the Dinosaur Comics guy to me, and I mean that in the best way possible. The story centers around the familiar set up of Peter flaking on a social event in order to answer to the higher Spider-Man calling.
The art for the story is about what I have come to expect from one of Marvel’s more “experimental” works. Nick Lowe stated in an interview that for the A Year of Marvels title, they’re casting a “wider net” looking for talent so some of the styles might not have your typical Big Two finish. Beyruth’s lines are expressive and detailed in his tighter panels and close-ups, but some of the wider shots have a more sketched aesthetic which makes the book look low-effort at times – the line pattern for Spider-Man’s armored costume often has crooked lines, for example. The paneling is surprisingly smooth for something that originated from a Marvel Infinite comic, a format which has more freedom to play with paneling and layouts which might not translate to the physical page.
One of the biggest benefits from the Infinite Comics formatis an increased control of timing, especially comedic timing. With that in mind, it’s a strange choice to put Ryan North on a book like this when he’s made a career out a strip that has used the exact same layout virtually every day since 2003. But North is a really funny guy and that comes across vibrantly in the comic. Here we see Spider-Man throwing out verbal barbs left and right at the Vulture, as well as a somethat point toward a few staples of the medium (namely, big sacks of money from the bank with dollar signs painted on the side), low hanging fruit that they are. While the setup is not entirely original, this kind of story lends itself to the observational/back-and-forth humor that North perfectedwith Dinosaur Comics. I don’t know how well he’d handle the more operatic bits of a Spider-Man on-going, but judging from this one-shot I’d love to see a Spider-Man mini-series penned by North.
The second story is an Ant-Man tale that takes place in Miami with spring break in full swing. Written by Amy Chu, a relative new-comer to Marvel, we get a neo-noir (or at least, as close to a neo-noir as you can get in fifteen pages) story following Ant-Man as he tries to retrieve a stolen cellphone loaded with, uh, well, spring break photos. Art is by Ryan Browne and his pencils are a little bit more polished than the February story. The neon and purple highlights (as well as the Patrick Nagel hiding a wall safe) really sell the Miami setting. As I said, the story is a neo-noir so it borrows from some of the conventions of the genre: a femme fatale, attempts to escape the sins of the past, a first person narration, and the inevitable double-cross. The connection is understated, but Amy Chu is definitely familiar with the structure of film noir and it’s interesting to see it done in a medium that normally only understands noir as dames, darkness and melancholy.
As someone who hasn’t really kept up with the Ant Man character/legacy since Avengers Academy ended, this story was extremely accessible thanks to that good ol’ movie synergy. The story beats aren’t a huge surprise if you’re familiar with “The Maltese Falcon” and can recognize the noir backdrop through the neon glare of spring break Miami, but it’s still a fun lighthearted tale with some good visual gags, including one-time Spider-Man villain the Grizzly being mistaken for a costumed party entertainer.
It’s a little strange to me that Marvel is printing the physical edition every other month as a collection rather than a typical one-story-a-month ongoing like they’re doing with the digital version of A Year of Marvels and literally every other book they put out. I don’t know if it is to give incentive to try out their digital distribution or if it really does take that long to move out a physical copy of something. Each story includes a calendar for that particular month, which seems to be pretty useless since we’re not getting the comic until April (Special No-Prize to whichever reader figures out how long it will be until the calendars included will be accurate again. Remember, this was a leap year!). This was a really enjoyable light comic, but I’m not sure what Marvel’s goal is by printing a physical copy in floppy form. Perhaps they’re trying to lure Luddites like me over to the digital side, but as long as they make physical copies of the good stories, I’ll always be picking those up instead.