I won’t mice words — I fucking hate the games Marvel is playing with all the numbering on their titles these days. Issue numbers like “27.Now” are stupid enough, but when we’re getting books marked with big red “#1″‘s in the upper right-hand corner that then say they’re actually number 23 in the lower right-hand corner, well — things are getting pretty out of hand. Add in the constant relaunches of long-standing titles, the re-launches of less-long-running-titles that still make no sense (Wolverine ran 13 issues before starting over at #1 —with the same writer continuing the same storyline, while Daredevil ended its last run after 34 issues before starting all over again with the same writer and artist both), and one could make an argument that the situation isn’t just dire, it’s well and truly out of control.
Marvel’s argument is that the constant re-numbering is essential for providing new “jumping-on points” for the new readers they’re trying (and still largely failing) to attract, but I call bullshit on that. If you were walking into a comic shop for the first time, what would you be more likely to pick up? An issue clearly marked as being #46, or one that was marked as #46 and #1 on the same cover? The former, at least, you can understand — the latter will just confuse the hell out of you. Marvel provides a full-page recap of the ongoing story on the first page of all their books anyway, so this whole “let’s make a new number one every year so new readers won’t feel lost” line of “reasoning” is patent nonsense, anyway.
Still, allow me to offer a humble suggestion for a solution to this whole dilemma — rather than try to make it easy for new readers to “get into comics” by pumping the market full of endless phony “first” issues, bring in new readers by making sure each issue of every comic you make is good so that people actually want to buy it. What’s more likely to make a long-term reader out of somebody — a 53rd issue that’s got great story and art and hooks them for the long haul, or a horseshit issue #1 with a lame story and generic art that people feel ripped off for ever having bought? It doesn’t matter what the number on the front cover says to either a new reader or an already-existing one — if a book sucks, people will drop it, and if it’s good, they’ll be back for more.
Marvel’s outrageous $3.99 cover prices and the shoddiness of their physical product aren’t helping matters any, either — their books don’t even have glossy covers anymore and are printed on the same flimsy, barely-better-than-newsprint paper as the interior pages. I’d rather pay, say, $1.99 for a book with a glossy cover and newsprint on the inside than shell out four bucks for what amounts to a lower-quality, cheaper product. Seriously, these comics they’re cranking out now are more disposable-looking, and crummier, than old-school 50-cent newsprint books ever were.
But here, perhaps, I may have digressed a bit — let’s get back to this ongoing numbering fiasco. Hot on the heels of the newly-relaunched Amazing Spider-Man #1, a book which replaces the just-over-a-year-old Superior Spider-Man on the stands (and which wrapped at issue #31, for those keeping score at home) comes a five-issue min-series-within-a-series called “Learning To Crawl,” which takes Peter Parker (who’s just made his less-than-triumphant return in the “main” Spidey book after being kicked out of his own body by Doctor Octopus for the past year) back to his humble beginnings and purportedly gives us “new insight” into his formative years. The numbering for this series is guaranteed to perplex these largely-non-existent “new readers” Marvel is trying to attract, though, since it’s not numbered as The Amazing Spider-Man #2, or even as Spider-Man : Learning To Crawl #1, but is going out, for reasons I can’t even begin to fathom, as The Amazing Spider-Man #1.1, with subsequent issues being #1.2, #1.3, etc. Meanwhile, right next to it on the stands, The Amazing Spider-Man will continue to proceed with its standard increasing numbering, with issue #2 slated to arrive in stores next week, followed two weeks after that by #3, and two weeks after that by — well, you get the idea.
Just remember — all this is supposed to make getting into comics “easier” for new readers than it would be if they just had a book with numbering that actually made sense.
All that aside, I guess the main thing folks want to know about The Amazing Spider-Man #1.1 is whether or not it’s actually any good and whether there’s really anything to be gained by going back and revisiting Spidey’s origins one more time. After all, Steve Ditko (and, I guess to some extent — though not nearly as great an extent as he’s always claimed — Stan Lee) did a pretty good job of things back in issue #15 of Amazing Fantasy, and this is definitely a story that doesn’t, in any way, need to be told again, does it? But comics going “back to their roots” has been positively de riguer ever since Frank Miller and David Mazzuchelli’s Batman : Year One nearly thirty years ago, and while that still remains the “gold standard,” in my book, for revisionist origin stories, the fact is that, much as I hate to admit it, some fairly decent yarns have been spun by other creators who see value in taking yet another look at a super-hero’s formative years. Usually, strangely enough, these tend to be Batman stories — think of Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s seminal Batman : The Long Halloween and Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s currently-ongoing (and really pretty damn good) Batman : Zero Year — but hey, there’s no reason why it won’t work for other characters if the right folks are driving the bus, right?
Unfortunately, it’s Dan Slott at the wheel of this “Spidey Year One,” and you pretty much know what you’re going to get from him — mediocrity, angst, and clumsy dialogue. All of which is in evidence here in the first chapter of “Learning To Crawl,” which largely focuses on Peter Parker’s efforts to make it in the world of show business in order to financially provide for his ailing Aunt May now that her husband is out of the picture thanks to our guy Pete’s cowardly and egotistical inaction. How can he juggle school, freelance work for the Daily Bugle, being a super-hero, and being the man of the house, all while feeling sorry for himself for letting the guy that would go on to murder his uncle escape?
Dear God — who cares? We’ve seen seen this done before, we’ve seen this done better, and we’ve seen this done in 15 pages. What’s there to be gained by shoe-horning into continuity some “story that’s never been told” over the course of five issues (or five .issues as the case may be)? So far, nothing that I can see. Our opening chapter ends on a cliffhanger that shows some confused rich kid who’s been “inspired” by his new idol, Spider-Man, into donning a mask and costume himself in order to join the “war on crime,” but it’s not enough to keep the average reader on pins and needles waiting for the next installment. I guess it’s a “new wrinkle” and all, but it comes after 20 pages of Uncle Ben’s funeral, Peter blowing off a party at Liz Allan’s because he’s got to perform as Spider-Man on TV, Aunt May making breakfast, Peter getting in trouble for missing classes — the usual shit. All played out against a backdrop of “I’m the most lonely, confused, misunderstood teenager in the fucking world, and no girl is ever gonna like me.” We’ve been hearing that one for, what? 50-plus years now?
Still, things are at least better on the art front here. Penciller/inker Ramon Perez absolutely knocks it out of the park as he presents this story in a heavily revisionist, Ditko-esque style that pays homage to what’s gone before while adding a pleasing, but hardly overbearing, modern twist. This book looks like it would be just as at home in 1964 as it is in 2014, and Perez has, not to sound too grandiose, produced some genuinely timeless imagery. I may not ever want to read this comic again, but it sure is fun to look at over and over. Wrap it all up in a cover by supposed “living legend” Alex Ross that I actually like (I can’t say that about a lot of Ross’ work. although I know that puts me in a tiny minority), and you’ve got a visual feast on your hands here, people. It’s just too bad it amounts to little more than putting lipstick on a pig.
All in all, it’s fair to say that events in the “Spider-verse” in general are leaving me cold lately. While I actually enjoyed The Amazing Spider-Man 2 more than a lot of folks seem to have, and frankly more than I was expecting to, the printed-page exploits of everyone’s favorite wall-crawler are definitely headed in the wrong direction. We’ve got Peter Parker back just as things in Superior were threatening to make the character interesting again, a totally unnecessary (if lavishly well-illustrated) “previously untold” origin story with stupid issue numbering, another relaunch of the main title that probably won’t last two years before they do it all over again, and Dan Slott still in place as the franchise’s chief “caretaker.” Honestly, it’s hard to imagine a more depressing scenario.
And that, I think, is my cue to wrap this review up. I’m whining so damn much that I’m starting to sound eerily like Peter Parker.