I do like to try a bold new Spider-Man direction. This one comes after the end of the Kindred story, which went on for about 12 years and finally finished last month in a confusing comic that was, as we say in Scotland, mince. Time for a palate cleanser.
The latest storyline is called Beyond, to be told in 19 weekly parts by a veritable committee of writers and artists. Things kick off with Petey having one of his patented guilt dreams following the death of Harry Osborn or his clone or a Mephisto creation… I dunno.
Needing to clear his head, our hero decides to go web-spinning, only to be rudely interrupted.
The two Spider-Men have a brief scuffle, with Peter assuming he’s facing a visitor from the Spider-Verse. Not quite.
The clone wants to join Peter as a second Spider-Man for New York, backed by the Beyond Corporation, which helped him get his head back together after his ‘latest resurrection’.
Lacking his usual spark, Peter doesn’t protest, allowing his ‘brother’ to walk off having said he wasn’t asking Peter for permission, he was telling him. Ben returns to the Beyond Corporation, which has equipped him with a hi-tech suit, equipment and quarters. There, girlfriend Janine is waiting
Back at Peter’s apartment, he’s also talking to his partner, and Mary Jane is worried.
He’s called away to an attack by C-listers the U-Foes on Empire State University. Ben is already on the scene – a Beyond team has taken to scanning the city for trouble – and soon it’s tag-team Spider-Men.
And while the U-Foes aren’t successful in completing their unspecified mission, one Spider-Man falls…
…. but why worry, even if Peter Parker dies – for it is he – he’ll be back. He’s been extinguished previously, he’s been cloned. And until he returns, the less experienced Ben is in the chair, with all the complications that brings.
Zeb Wells’s story is decent, but there’s no spark. The fight scene with two punning Spideys apart, the issue lacks joy. And it just screams ‘stunt’, setting up Ben’s taking over for Peter for at least five months’ worth of issues. And I know most comics have stunt storylines, but this doesn’t feel fresh in the least. Ben took over previously, in the Nineties Clone Saga, and we’ve had hi-tech Spidey with both Peter and Otto Octavius. The only surprise I can imagine is the Beyond Corporation not turning out to be evil.
Ben seems a bit of a jerk, selfishly putting his desires over Peter’s. OK, he has the memories and the motivation, but in the final analysis, it’s Peter’s life he’s steamrollering into. And if he really has the same emotions, how the heck can he countenance ‘heroing’ for big money… didn’t Peter learn his lesson in Amazing Fantasy #15? He’s even ripping off Peter’s signature moves.
And there’s #$%ing from Peter. I don’t like my Spider-Men effing and blinding. There’s just no need. Fancy assaulting talented letterer Joe Caramagna’s fingers with such horrors!
The art is by the great Patrick Gleason, who’ll also be writing issues as part of what editor Nick Lowe is calling ‘the Beyond Board’. He shines in the action sequences and it’s a shame writer Zeb Wells didn’t ask for the Peter/Ben conversation at the heart of the issue to take place as they swing across the city or something. Instead we get four pages of talking heads. Gleason nails the subtleties, but the pages are still pretty samey. The initial meet-up page, though, is lovely, with colourist Marcio Menyz providing a lovely ode to autumn. And I do like the attention paid to anatomy and haircuts, while the ‘acting’ is as good as I’ve come to expect from Gleason. A few times the black outlines of the mask eyes gets madly thick, it’s not a good look.
Wells knows how to craft a comic script, and I know I’ll enjoy his work more when the morose tone of this issue is boxed away… I assume that’s the plan. Certainly, when the Spideys are in action, the pages zing.
Other members of the Beyond Board also feature this issue, via a couple of back-ups set a fortnight before the main event. Short shorts so very short that they should really be subplots in the main tale. Zeb Wells stays on but artist Ivan Fiorelli is new as we check in with the boss of Marvel’s answer to Arkham Asylum, Dr Ashley Kafka.
And Kelly Thompson and Travel Foreman present a very fun fight scene starring martial arts experts the Daughters of the Dragon… only they’re not named as such, if you don’t know them, it’s just ‘Misty’ and ‘Colleen Wing’. I suppose you don’t need much more, they’re kick-ass types whom Spidey-Ben wants on the Beyond payroll, but in an issue designed to bring in new readers, proper introductions aren’t actually a bad idea.
Kafka gets a similar offer, and we see that she’s up to something naughty… intriguing!
The wraparound cover by illustrator Arthur Adams and colourist Alejandro Sanchez is a winner, but the new logo is seriously dull. Every now and then Marvel try a new Spidey masthead, and they always go back to the original. Why bother?
While the massive Nineties vibe of this comic isn’t what I was hoping for, I’ll give next week’s issue a try because I love the idea of a weekly superhero read, and there’s a lot of great talent involved. I just wish Peter was the star.