It’s the new Spider-Man era, same as the old Spider-Man era … which is fine by me. Brand New Day gave us the most consistently high-quality run of Spidey stories in a decade, and the latest sequence, tagged Big Time, looks set to continue in a similar vein.
That’s similar, not the same, for the many-legged team of script webheads has been eaten by Dan Slott, who survives as sole writer of Peter Parker, his friends and foes. The plotlines continue directly from recent stories, with one big difference – the legendary Parker luck is changing. People have remembered that Pete’s a science whiz who doesn’t have to laguish on the unemployment lines.
So it is that we meet billionaire tech guru Max Modell, who’s delighted to give Pete a job with his science think tank after he saves the day from an experiment gone wrong. Said project, to artificially recreate Marvel Universe wonder-metal Vibranium, links into the return of an old Spidey villain at issue’s end. Well, three actually, but only one gets a surprise entrance out-splash (sorry, just made that term up, move right along).
Before that, Big Time starts with a big scene as Spidey leads the Avengers on a mission to save New York, with his team-mates bowing to him because the threat is Dr Octopus, and they expect him to have some ideas on strategy. What many of them don’t see coming is the Spidey smarts, with Peter out-thinking Tony Stark and Mr Fantastic. Yes, the FF are here too- one thing I like about Slott is how his scripts recall Silver Age Marvel books, when any hero could meet any other without it having to be trumpeted on the cover.
Slott writes a great FF, with the Human Torch given rare characterisation here, showing how much faith he has in Spider-Man, his oldest rival – and pal – in the hero community.
And I like Slott’s way with the Avengers a lot – he choreographs the action well and even has one member, Spider-Woman, remind Peter how serious the situation is when he makes perhaps one quip too many – not a moment you’d find in a hardy-har-har Avengers book. The heroes save the city from Doc Ock’s ‘octobots’ and Spidey gets to feel good about himself for once.
There’s more good news the following day as New York mayor and former Daily Bugle publisher J Jonah Jameson gifts the newspaper name to online service Frontline. He’s in a good mood because he’s getting back with estranged wife Marla (‘I used to build Spider-Slayers’) Madison. It’s she who introduces Peter to Max, having heard from Peter’s Aunt May – her stepmother-in-law via May’s recent marriage to JJJ’s father, Jay – that Peter needs work, and is a bit of a genius on the quiet.
Convoluted sentence that, but Slott presents the web of Spider-relationships in a gradual, straightforward way that won’t confuse anybody. He’s highlighting connections and backstories previously ignored or neglected in order to chart a new path for Spider-Man. Slott is one of the best jugglers in comics, and this extra-length issue also gives us business involving JJJ’s pilot son John, Pete’s new girlfriend Carlie Cooper, good Green Goblin Phil Urich … there’s a revived romance for two classic supporting characters, Mary Jane and Pete share a surprising, refreshing moment and – don’t let it happen! – the imminent departure from the book of Michele Gonzales, the best new cast member in years.
The new-ish Sinister Six is in here, Nineties holdout Venom (bleurggh) shows up, the Black Cat wants to join the Avengers – this comic balances superhero action and everyday characters in a way that would make Spidey creators Stan Lee and Steve Ditko proud.
No one would ever mistake Ditko’s art for anyone else’s, and this first storyline has its own stylist in penciller Humberto Ramos. I’ve never been a fan of Ramos – his exaggerated faces and bodies, the physical contortions, simply aren’t my cup of tea – yet I found myself rather liking his work this issue. Usually I can appreciate his characterisations, but here I was enjoying them enormously – there’s a good-naturedness to his regular folk that makes them interesting to follow. And his action scenes have a lot of life, aided by the inks of Carlos Cuevas.
Even his Spider-Man, whom I’ve previously disliked a lot, looks better here. I think if Ramos tones down the thick black border around Spidey’s eyes, and de-Hulks a few heroes, we might even make friends. I already love his quirky Peter Parker.
I’d give this first issue a rave, it’s a diverting, fun, rich read. Of all the good things, the best is seeing Peter take a job that will stretch him, one with very flexible hours – I’d be happy for him to hang around Mad Scientist Inc for a few years. While I appreciate that Spidey is Marvel’s hard-luck hero, the gloom has been somewhat relentless of late. Let’s hope Big Time equals a good time for the wallcrawler. Peter’s earned it.
Bye then …
What’s that? Book’s not over? Oh yes, it’s Arana, the Amazing Trademark – sorry, Spider-Girl. Writer Paul Tobin and artist Clayton Henry showcase their take on Arana, who bursts into her own book this month Because No-One Demanded It. On the basis of this short, in which Arana helps Spidey battle the ‘bots from the lead strip, I’ll certainly give it a shot. It’s a nicely written, sharply drawn little diversion, demonstrating Arana’s pluck, if not her powers.
The Twitter narration has to go, though. Can you say #moderncliche ?