Written by J.J. Abrams and Henry Abrams
Art by Sara Pichelli, Elisabetta D’Amico and Dave Stewart
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
‘Rama Rating: 3 out of 10
There’s a theme in the sophomore issue of Spider-Man that this isn’t dress-up - that wearing a costume is a way of revealing the hero you truly are underneath. Yet it feels like young Ben Parker is still trying to wear his father’s ill-fitting webshooters in this issue, as father-and-son writing duo J.J. and Henry Abrams and artist Sara Pichelli grapple less with supervillains and more with nebulous motivations, underdeveloped personalities, and a story that can’t quite pick up speed against some of its more inorganic elements.
Part of the problem with this series is that despite having a young co-writer at the helm, there’s very little of the organic joy or fear that comes with being a super-empowered teenager. Despite discovering he has super-strength and wall-crawling abilities, Ben Parker doesn’t seem particularly excited or concerned about these powers - which in turn robs audiences of the ability to be vicariously thrilled on his behalf - but instead comes across as petulant and unempathetic regarding the truth behind his traumatized and disabled father’s history.
Yet where the Abrams’ story shows the most potential - and at times, the most disappointment - is through Ben’s subplot with Faye, a girl at his school who he has a crush on. While giving this story a romantic twist is a tried-and-true method of earning readers’ endearment, the way the Abramses get there feels particularly convenient and clunky - not only does Faye just show up and ask Ben out, but she picks him up from his aunt’s house in what can only be described as Catwoman cosplay… in order to take him out on a graffiti trip. It’s a sequence that can only be seen as weird, especially with Aunt May standing right there watching - and quickly gives up on any pretense of a secret identity subplot as Ben winds up webbing away from the police with Faye in tow. It’s the sort of sequence that tries to be edgy, topical, rebellious and endearing, but feels so forced that it winds up being none of these things. By the time we get to four pages of actual superheroism, it feels like we’ve missed some clear motivation behind Ben’s leap into the family business - despite what the dialogue might tell you, if this is really just about being egged on by a high school crush, is this really any more than dress-up of a different sort?
Artist Sara Pichelli is given some time to ramp things up in the back half of the issue, but there’s a listlessness to many of the pages here that only saps Spider-Man’s energy further. Much of this is due to the script itself - there’s a lot of talking, a lot of sullen looks, and a lot of standing around, none of which lends itself particularly well to capes-and-tights comics - but at the same time, as a former Bendis collaborator, it’s not like Pichelli hasn’t had experience with talky pages before. The result is that the visuals are jogging in place for much of the series, with even energetic colorist Dave Stewart being able to give much of these static characters much in the way of additional bounce.
The idea of motivation behind superheroism has defined the genre since the days of, well, “with great power must also come great responsibility” - why these heroes put on their masks and tights matters just as much (if not more so) than their actual superheroic exploits. But that’s where Spider-Man stumbles - there aren’t actors’ performances to liven up or elevate Ben Parker’s actions or dialogue, and thus his shift into his father’s clothing feels shallow. It can’t help but feel like dress-up, because there’s no real reason behind it. With two issues already down, Spider-Man is going to have to work double-time in future issues if it wants to stick the landing.