Peter Parker has never met an old lady he won’t help. It’s the Aunt May thing. So it is that he’s a sucker for the entreaties of neighbour Marnie that he carry her shopping upstairs, even though it’s just two tiny bags, she’s able bodied and is one of those people who nick supermarket trollies. As it turns out, she has an ulterior motive.
Sure enough, Peter goes knocking and finds a very frightened young woman.
Later, after sharing lunch with street people paid for by a grateful man he rescued earlier that day, Peter finds that the woman was right to be afraid.
Having been caught offguard by the unexpected strength of one of the Thirties-style thugs, Peter is knocked unconscious. On waking, he rushes down the hall to his own apartment, where he encounters current flatmate Boomerang (how desperate are he and Randy Robertson for rent?).
Blimey. That’s a rather obvious example of a supposedly straight man trying to seduce another supposedly straight man. Seriously, there’s a whole school of film-making, look it up… or maybe don’t.
This new series, which re-uses an old title, reminds me of DC’s Private Life of Clark Kent. That’s where we’d meet the residents of 344 Clinton Street for cute, short strips. It was a nice way to show what the superhero and Daily Planet reporter did when he was off-duty. The difference here is that it’s the whole book, not an eight-page back-up. In the text page, editor Nick Lowe tells us he commissioned this series because there wasn’t enough Peter Parker in Amazing Spider-Man. To me, the obvious response would be to remind the Amazing Spider-Man writer what it was that made Spidey such a hit in the first place – a compelling mix of superheroics and soap.
Writer Tom Taylor does a pretty great job of capturing Peter’s voice via the still-fashionable narration tool, and the new neighbours have promise, but I don’t want a whole book – well, almost, there’s that token rescue at the start, which is nicely done – of characters who aren’t even the classic supporting cast. I want to read about a superhero, not a superintendent. Taylor adds interest with a little weirdness at the end, but if every neighbour is going to have a fantastic secret – what are those intriguing etchings on Marnie’s blackboard? – this will get old really quickly.
I’d far rather Taylor, and his excellent artistic partner, Juann Cabal, were given a revived Marvel Team-Up, with a brief for a bit of the everyday along with the exciting exploits of Spider-Man and AN Other. Taylor has shown elsewhere that he has a great handle on the Marvel Universe and I bet he could come up with some classic single and multi-part tales, but a series devoted to the few blocks around Peter’s building? I strongly suspect it’ll prove too niche.
The first three pages of Mother of Exiles, with Peter talking about being scared while passing buildings reflecting, for the reader’s eyes only, his troubled past, is hugely effective, and cinematic in the best sense – it’s not just a stack of horizontal panels. There’s real engagement etched onto Peter’s face as he passes time with friends old and new. And the everyday folk look convincingly real in their expressions and how they carry themselves.
Caball and colourist Nolan Woodard show spider-sense in a fabulous way I’ve not previously seen, while letterer Travis Lanham uses colours and fonts to complement the story with his usual style.
There’s even fun with branding… what I wanted, though, was a supervillain who makes Peter nervous in ways other than through a tendency to flaunt himself in skimpies.
I’m not keen on the cover – Andrew Robinson has impressed me hugely in the past, but while background and buildings are gorgeous, speeding Spidey looks like a Stretch Armstrong style figure, too skinny and pliable. Those feet!
This being an extra-sized debut, Taylor supplements the 20-page main strip with a 10pp Aunt May feature; it sets up a ‘what’s up with Peter’s usually cheery best gal? ‘ mystery early on and delivers, but doesn’t exactly surprise… many people will get it from the first panel.
This is Aunt May, of course this would happens. May doesn’t get all the pages, there are three devoted to Peter and MJ having brekkie on the Chrysler Building, which are sweet. The untitled story is nicely illustrated by Marcelo Ferreira and Roberto Poggi, but I’d rather the pages had been given to the lead strip, and a run-in with the (Whatever Colour He Is This Week) Goblin or Mysterio, or heck, even the bleeding Hypno Hustler… anything but more misery for dear old May Parker. But that would be outside the remit of this series, sadly.
For what it is, Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man is really rather good; I simply wish this fortnightly book were something slightly different – less supporting act, more main event.