Book of the week: Spider-Man 2099 #1
If it's the change of season, that means it's time for a new "Spider-Man" spin off. Overlooked as a major franchise spawning no end of spin-off's in recent years due to the domination (and exploitation) of "X-Men" and "Avengers" comics, the wall crawler has long been captain of his own comic book shelf unto himself. Often commanding anywhere from three to five ongoing titles at various lengths of time (not including runs of "Marvel Team-Up" or any random mini series or one-shots), this history was part of the editorial justification for making "Amazing Spider-Man" a title which had three creative teams and shipped thrice a month in 2008 (before shifting to a biweekly series headlined by Dan Slott and three regular artists from fall 2010 to this spring). Yet despite this shift in the shipping rate of "Amazing Spider-Man" (or "Superior Spider-Man"), there have often been stabs at having one or two Spidey spin-offs for the past few years. With "Morbius the Living Vampire" crashing out of the gate and both "Superior Spider-Man Team-Up" and "Superior Foes of Spider-Man" heading for an end, a relaunched "Amazing Spider-Man" brings with it a new shot for more spare series.
Yet this time around it offers a chance for a long time creator to return to a franchise he helped create. Back in 1992 (before the "big crash" and creation of the smaller modern direct market), Marvel Comics sought to begin a new imprint of comics based in the far off future of 2099, and did so with one character getting a solo series at a time. Originally created in "Amazing Spider-Man #365" by Peter David and Rick Leonardi, "Spider-Man 2099" was the first of these late 21st century marvels to emerge. Miguel O'Hara lived in a world dominated by omnipotent international corporations, advanced technology and a populace which was a mix of desperate, corrupt, nostalgic or apathetic. The debut issue remains David's best selling comic to date and the series sold north of 100,000 copies per issue for a run of nearly four years (1992-1996). The entire "2099" line, like most fads, got stretched thin with spare entries like "Ravage 2099" and mostly ended - albeit with a fair shake at a satisfying conclusion - by 1998. Since then the character of Miguel O'Hara has been seen here and there in cameos (including some written by Peter David himself), but by and large the start of the actual 21st century hasn't been kind to the "S-Man". Now, Peter David gets to return to the web-slinger he helped build, alongside artist Will Sliney ("Fearless Defenders") and colorist Antonio Fabela.
Spinning off of events from "Superior Spider-Man" last year, Miguel O'Hara has found himself stranded some 85 years in the past due to events which risked the end of his entire timeline. This has tied back to the corrupt company of his era, "Alchemax", due to events in the present which led to its' initial founding. Trapped in the past, Miguel is forced to look over the ancestor of his old enemy Tyler Stone in order to make sure both he and the reality he called home still exist - which often means aiding in some pretty corrupt stuff. Despite the massive text balloons to summarize events from "Superior Spider-Man #31", David seeks to keep things simple and set up his central cast and status quo for the series to work with. Miguel is now going under the alias "Mike O'Mara" and has used his knowledge of the future to earn enough via a lottery to purchase a suite in Manhattan not far from where he works at Alchemax. The super of his building, Tempest, is an aggressive young woman with pink hair who isn't fond of men in sunglasses, muggers, super heroes, or nearly anyone. Both Tiberious Stone and Liz Allen round out the cast as Miguel's terrible bosses, although which is worse will likely vary with time. This opening issue is capped off with a battle against another time traveler, an armored super-cop seeking to arrest Miguel for the crime of meddling with the time stream.
As could be expected, Peter David's voice for Miguel is as reliable and steady as a reunion with an old friend. While he naturally shares the wit and optimism of the original Spider-Man, he has faced a far harsher world as well as the extreme evils of corporate power. Although he is saddled with a fair deal of exposition, the real crux of the story is in reintroducing his hero, having the supporting cast appear on panel as well as deliver enough action and one-liners to amuse both new and old readers. As for the art, the quality of Sliney's pencils and narrative flow have increased greatly since his early issues of "Fearless Defenders" last year, while colorist Antonio Fabela seems to add more pop to the lines than Veronica Gandini did. Despite a premise which involves a corrupted future and a hero with a skull on his costume, the tone of the issue is positive and even borders on action/comedy at times.
There are some demerits, however. One could argue that Tempest herself borders on a "sassy black woman" stereotype to the point that David perhaps came up with her name and then worked backwards from there. This criticism will likely be smoothed out over time, as Tempest has only had a few pages to introduce herself and interact with Miguel, and with development should emerge from her shell. A less defensible criticism is that the threat of the month is a bit generic, as there have been no end of "time travel cops" who have come and gone in Marvel Comics lore. However, even the straight forward nature of the armored "T.O.T.E.M. adjuster" proves to be the ore for the issues' funniest moments. There are also plenty of minor details that long time fans of the character might enjoy, such as Lyla the "digital assistant" or the fact that Miguel's light sensitive eyes require him to wear shades in daylight.
Long limited to "X-Factor", this series represents the first major branching out of Peter David's work schedule in years, which is amazing considering he suffered a major stroke less than two years ago. Despite his previous popularity, it may have been a stretch to price this series at the same level as "Amazing Spider-Man" is, as Miguel is long from his prime in terms of recognition. Regardless, this is easily the best new Spidey spin off since "Scarlet Spider" and hopefully will last long enough for David to allow his creation to swing to new heights.
Amazing Spider-Man #1.3: As a clever ruse, this take on "Spider-Man: Year One" has essentially replaced a second issue of "Amazing Spider-Man" for the time being, even if it still is written by long time solo writer Dan Slott. As the story has played out across two issues, behind the retroactive continuity and the random supporting cast invented from whole cloth, the mini series has become about two men destined for different paths. The young Peter Parker is still mourning the murder of his uncle and trying to keep his home with aunt May financially afloat, as well as dealing with being Spider-Man (who at the time was considered, at best, a weird novelty act who has dabbled into vigilantism). Rising alongside him is Clayton Cole, another genius outcast whose initial adoration and imitation of Spider-Man is leading him into his own costumed identity, "Clash", becoming more and more dangerous. Naturally, the angle is that while Peter will ultimately rise as a hero, Cole will succumb to being a villain seeking revenge, despite how similar they are and how linked their paths have been. Some of the same faults inherent within the run remain; the new cast and additions to old lore are drastic enough to call attention to how new they are. Cole's major contribution is being the man who "made Spider-Man go viral" in his wrestling debut, despite this story taking place in a time when MySpace, Facebook, and YouTube did not yet exist and the concept of "viral videos" was at best in its' infancy. The artwork by Ramon Perez with Ian Herring's colors is worth the cover price alone, existing as a nod to Steve Ditko yet becoming something of its' own. The action gets quite tense in this issue and the voices of the characters work, even if the story is at times too blunt for its' own good.
Daredevil #5: After wrapping up the first arc with a change of venue, Mark Waid, Chris Samnee and Javier Rodriguez offer a done in one tale chronicling the latest developments of Foggy Nelson. While unmasking before open court and the world may have ruined Matt Murdock's reputation and endangered his life in New York, his best friend was placed in even more danger as not only an oft imperiled civilian friend to a superhero, but one attempting to survive cancer to boot! It was known that at some point between moving from Manhattan to San Francisco, Foggy's death was faked and he is living in hiding, under an assumed name (and some tacky disguises). This issue chronicles his "final" adventure before the move, where a tense walk through Central Park finds them fleeing for their lives against an all new, and armored, Leap-Frog. The villain serves little purpose than being a designated threat, but as always the art and dialogue more than make up for it. A cameo by Ant-Man is always an appreciated pleasure. The quality of this run continues to be as consistently reliable as gravity, and continues to be one of the shining jewels of Marvel's library.
Superior Foes of Spider-Man #13: A dead book walking, Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber (with Rachelle Rosenberg on colors) continue to bring their madcap look into the life of mid level costumed super villains in Marvel's Manhattan to something resembling a satisfying conclusion. Unfortunately, the fact that this seems to be a bridge issue leading to bigger stuff seems apparent with fewer solid gags and energy than previous issues. Boomerang is still manipulating what is left of his gang while the Shocker (and the head of Silvermane) huddle down from a showdown with Hammerhead and his mafia flunkies. Elsewhere, Mach VII's armor is as clumsy as ever. Leiber's artwork is as solid as ever, albeit with some fewer visual gags this time around to set up the finale. And while Spencer's script is full of solid comedy, Lady Beetle has the best line of the issue at the midway point ("My life is failing the Bechdel test"), and from there the rest underwhelms. In a landscape quickly becoming full of action/comedy comics ("Archer & Armstrong", "Quantum & Woody", "Big Trouble in Little China"), the final issues will have to be better than this for this run to end on a memorable note.