The third volume of Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man has so far, been all over the place. After what I thought was a strong first issue, the second issue came around and wiped out pretty much all good-will I had for the series. As I mentioned during the Free Comic Book Day PP:SSM, your enjoyment of the series is going to hinge on how you take to writer Chip Zdarksy’s particular brand of humor and these past two issues have only cemented that concept as law.
While not nearly as bad as #2’s Ironheart fawning, the Peter Parker/Spider-Man we see here in #3 is still gratingly glib. It seems like almost every piece of dialogue is a set up for some kind of comedic beat, and after a while it begins to become overwhelming – like a cake that is too sweet. Zdarsky (by way of Spider-Man) also felt the need to point out that insulting the Kingpin’s size is not polite and no better than insulting anyone else of generous frame. This echos a similar aside Dan Slott had in a recent issue of Amazing where Peter felt uneasy only fighting Asians in Shanghai. Not to take sides on the “PC” issue (that’s what Twitter’s for, right?!), but it seems inorganic as presented here. Where did this change of heart come from? It seems like the comedic beat is supposed to come from the unexpected “woke” comment, but the shallow implementation does nothing but belittle the message Zdarsky is trying to put across – in short, it’s cheap and ineffective both as a joke and a call-out.
This issue is mostly exposition, inching the plot with Theresa forward while putting a messy, not-quite-done bow on the whole Starkphone debacle.The first half of the issue is mostly close ups of talking heads, a place where Adam Kubert can really shine with his scratchy, expressive lines. There are times during wide shots where he pencils in overly-simplified figures, and I could do with less of that, but the brawl in the Kingpin’s penthouse room is rendered wonderfully. Letterer Travis Lanham running siren sound effects in the gutters is a nice touch, and combined with the long “splash panels,” gives a cinematic feel to the fight that really captures the scale of the kerfuffle.
As for what actually works on a narrative standpoint in this comic, I think Zdarsky put together a competently done Kingpin story. He’s clearly working on some sort of scheme but maintains plausible deniability and shifts the blame on the meddling heroes as the aggressing party. Unfortunately, it’s a little difficult to believe that Peter would stumble into this trap. Spider-Man and the Kingpin have been getting into tussles for almost the entirety of Peter’s life as Spider-Man, yet it’s Johnny Storm who expresses hesitance and calls for a better plan? Johnny “Set Fire Fist, Ask Questions Never” Storm?! Zdarsky himself seems to wrestle with the “why” to this story, as Peter and Johnny’s conversation about the nature of the untracable Starkphones goes pretty much nowhere, a place that would have behooved the story to highlight a specific reason why this warrants a four/five (the solicits aren’t clear) issue arc.
Last, we get a small look at J. Jonah Jameson serving as bookends to the issue. Jameson has been through the ringer. He resigned in disgrace from his position of mayor of New York, he was fired from the Fact Channel after pushing them to support New U during The Clone Conspiracy, and now he seems to be running a Spider-Man hate-blog out of his home, once again on his crusade against the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. It feels like a giant leap backwards for the character (and Zdarsky seems to be writing him like a gullible loser), but I suppose it makes sense for a “back to basics” approach to have Jameson taking up the old crusade. I just hope that some of Jameson’s good qualities could shine through so we don’t have such a one dimensional character.
While Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man #3 was a step above #2, it still hasn’t really lived up to the level of quality that I saw in the first issue. Maybe this arc is just a misstep for Zdarsky. In a recent interview with SyFy, Zdarsky said that Spectacular is going to forge through Legacy more or less the same since this is already an attempt from Marvel to have a more old school Spider-Man book. So while we’re not going to see a big shake up in either plot or creative vision, I hope the next few issues bring both a little more restraint as well a plot that’s more baked than this smartphone thing we have here. While I wouldn’t call what we’ve been given so far truly bad, it’s hard for me to get excited over this book.
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