J.J. Abrams and his son Henry Abrams make their ways to comics joining Marvel for the high-profile launch of Spider-Man (a 5-issue miniseries). They team with artist Sara Pichelli for an issue that is not what most were expecting, and that fails to deliver the quality one might expect from the talent involved. The issue opens with Spider-Man in the midst of a battle with the mysterious new villain Cadaver. Mary Jane Watson shows up an gets caught in the crossfire. She dies and Peter Parker becomes a widower and single father to their son, Ben Parker. The issue then jumps 12 years into the future to find Ben a troubled teenager living with Aunt May with Peter an absentee father.
If this all sounds like a lot, that’s because it is. And it's all thrown at the reader fast enough to ensure it's disorienting. It doesn’t get any better after the time jump as we’re then left with a thinly-written lead character in Ben Parker: a bag of archetypal tropes. He has his father’s sense of justice—which Peter seems to have lost along with his wife—and it lands him in trouble at school. Lucky for him, he’s seated next to a manic-pixie-dreamgirl type who is as lacking in distinct characterization as Ben. It must be love.
A powerful showing from Pichelli might have made this bizarre story worthwhile, but that's not to be found. Pichelli’s artwork is fine and she doesn’t commit any cardinal sins in storytelling, but it all feels flat due in part to Dave Stewart’s too-muted colors. Pichelli is at least able to imbue these characters with some personality in facial expressions, despite their too-broad characterizations. Otherwise, there’s no energy to this book beyond the manic storytelling in the script.
Despite the unexpected opening of the comic, it’s easy to see where this is all headed once the time-jump occurs. With Peter Parker shirking his superhero duties to play at being a big-time journalist, someone has to step into Spider-Man’s shoes—a convenient outlet for Ben’s teen angst. Then there’s the mystery of Cadaver, which the book seems to think is more intriguing than it actually is. This wouldn’t be an Abrams production without a mystery box, but this one fails to leave any impression.
Spider-Man #1 is especially ill-timed, coming so soon after the conclusion of Spider-Man: Life Story. That miniseries dealt with similar material—an aging Spider-Man becoming disillusioned for a time and watching legacy affect his family—but Chip Zdarsky and Mark Bagley delivered some of the best work of their career with those issues. In Spider-Man we have an all-star creative team, including Abrams, Pichelli, and Stewart, but they’re all turning in some of their least impressive work to date.
It all feels too thin, as if the team was hoping the big "twist" of the story being about Ben instead of Peter would be enough to hang their hats on. But it's not. Killing off Mary Jane to motivate Ben feels cheap. The way Peter and Ben respond makes them less interesting versions of themselves. The story somehow feels both confounding and predictable; it doesn't offer a single hook that doesn't encourage rolling one's eyes.
Spider-Man #1 is an inauspicious start to what might be the biggest Spider-Man comic of 2019. Fans of Spider-Man, Abrams, or Pichelli may hope to find something to love here. Unfortunately, the poor storytelling, bland characterizations, and less-than-memorable visuals combine to make Spider-Man #1 hard to recommend.
Published by Marvel Comics
On September 18, 2019
Written by J.J. Abrams and Henry Abrams
Art by Sara Pichelli0comments
Colors by Dave Stewart
Letters by Joe Caramagna