In honor of the season premiere of Mad Men, I’ve decided to review a comic which has an inexplicable reference to the series.
Actually, The Fantastic Spider-Man was on my list of comics to get to eventually, but I need a break from the gargantuan Captain America: The Captain trade. I was holding back on this particular trade because it ties into Jonathan Hickman’s run on Fantastic Four and its sequel series, FF. At this point, I haven’t decided whether to go back and read Hickman’s Fantastic Four or just go ahead and start with volume one of FF, which I already have.
So how does The Fantastic Spider-Man fit in with that title? Well, as the cover shows, Spidey has joined up with the Future Foundation, the current incarnation of the Fantastic Four [... Fantastic Four, Inc.? -- ed.].
Mind you, I say current, but I’m a little confused as to the team situation as it stands in March 2012 since the Human Torch has come back. I don’t consider that a spoiler; did anyone really think that Johnny Storm was going to stay dead for more than a year? Still, it seems that Spidey will hang around with the Fantastic Four, and I’m all for that. These are the issues of Amazing Spider-Man tying in to FF and Avengers Academy, amongst some other stories.
With Amazing Spider-Man on the table, the matter of One More Day has to be brought up. I don’t think it’s controversial to say that I didn’t like that story, and The Fantastic Spider-Man hasn’t changed my mind. When Spidey interacts with the Fantastic Four, the Avengers, the Academy students, and even Ghost Rider in a later story, all seems well; you can see how much Spidey has grown up when he fills in at Avengers Academy. It’s when the details of the current era of Amazing creep in that I find the story lacking. Carlie Cooper, Peter’s new love interest, isn’t nearly as interesting as Mary Jane or others. Her most humanizing detail is ... that she plays rollerball. It seems to me all the same stories could have been told here while still preserving Spidey's marriage.
After the two main stories are three short ones. Paul Benjamin does a cute, silent story about how hectic Spidey’s life must be between the Future Foundation, the Avengers and his own solo adventures. The second, by Frank Tieri, tells the tale of Magnetic Man, a small-time crook who is dissuaded from going back to his old life when Peter invites him to work with him. It’s reminiscent of an early Astro City story, or the time when Batman bought off Mirror Master by donating to his orphanage, but it’s a fun little story.
It’s the Ghost Rider back-up story, written by Rob Williams, that loses me. Spider-Man is the Marvel Universe’s premiere quipper; that’s an indisputable fact. But there’s a line between “quipping” and “pointless babbling”, and Spidey crosses it by the third page. At one point, Spidey compares Ghost Rider to Don Draper just because he orders a whiskey (which is Don’s favorite beverage, but that’s still a huge stretch for a gag). As SF Debris once said about the episode “The Outrageous Okona,” “If there’s a joke in there, we need a team of archaeologists with those little brushes to go in there and look for it.”
I’ve been reading The Captain for so long that I’ve forgotten how off-putting it is when the art switches mid-story. Mind you, none of the artists are bad, but there’s a massive, jarring shift between the cartoony art of Javier Pulido and more standard art of Stefano Caselli. From Caselli it goes to Mike McKone in the next issue, whose art I still enjoy, even if everyone’s face looks the same. Only two issues, the Avengers Academy story, have a consistent artist, Reilly Brown. Pulido does get a second artistic turn in the silent story, “Just Another Day.” One writer in the book—Frank Tieri—wrote three of the “Nuff Said” silent event comics ten years ago; I wonder if they got any advice from him.
Would I recommend The Fantastic Spider-Man? Unless you want to know more about FF or Avengers Academy and want to do it through the eyes of a more familiar character, then there’s nothing really compelling. The story and art are nice, but inessential, and the Ghost Rider story really left me cold.
I might check out Spider Island, and New Ways To Die was a pretty good Thunderbolts story which also introduced Anti-Venom, but otherwise, Amazing Spider-Man isn’t impressing me. The biggest problem is that the title is coming out three times a month, making them need to come up with more padded stories at a quicker pace. Despite the varying quality, I actually liked the option of multiple Spider-Man books with numerous stories. With Avenging Spider-Man on the market, we might be seeing a return to that.