With the recent release of Marvel Legacy #1, Marvel is attempting a half-hearted rip-off of DC Rebirth. Before we begin a new era for Marvel, I ask the question: are the books really bad enough to warrant a back-to-the-basics soft reboot?
Well, the books aren’t horrible. They’re generally pretty mediocre with a few standouts.
The Spider-Man line has seen an expansion since the end of Secret Wars (the one written by Hickman), so I’ve only had the dough to buy comics involving the web-slinger or doppelgangers or clones or whatever. My gauge for current Marvel is therefore restricted to the Spider-Man realm, which alludes to the problem of oversaturation in the market.
Still, I read these MANY Spider-centered books monthly as they were released, and I also recently reread them all (it was quite an endeavor) to refresh my memory. With my opinions fresh in mind, I figured I’d rank the books because everybody loves a good list with which they will undoubtedly agree. I’ll also include miniseries in my list.
20.) Amazing Grace (Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 4) #1.1 - 1.6)
I’m beginning with an awful story. Usually, there are a few redeeming factors in plots, but Jose Molina and Simone Bianchi’s “Amazing Grace” is absolute garbage. I dare to call it the worst story since One More Day.
The general plot revolves around Peter as he investigates a regular guy’s resurrection (and everyone acts as if it’s a big deal in comics). This gives Molina the chance to cast Peter as a bull-headed, obnoxious doubter of religion. When Spider-Man isn’t constantly cracking unfunny jokes in inappropriate situations, he complains about Christmas and blames God for Uncle Ben’s death (which essentially contradicts his entire origin).
The pacing is messy, the plot takes weird twists that make no sense, and an obscure group called the Santerians make an appearance with no real purpose other than to point out Peter’s “racism.” Bianchi’s art is as sloppy and nonsensical as the story. His covers and spreads look phenomenal, but he really needs to work on his storytelling skills. His characters are often indiscernible and facial expressions are confusing.
If you yearn for more of my complaining about this train wreck, read Amazing Grace: Worst in Years.
19.) Civil War II (Civil War II #1 – 8)
In this lackluster summer event, at least the art is excellent. This is David Marquez’s big break, showing he can handle superhero slugfests with the likes of Oliver Coipel and Steve McNiven. He gives the book heart, depicting amazing facial expressions with a fantastic attention to detail.
Unfortunately, this perfectionism doesn’t carry over for the writing. Brian Michael Bendis has been able to seamlessly pull off exciting events, especially during his Avengers run with Secret Invasion and Siege. The formula for success isn’t replicated here. While the earlier events I mentioned were tightly-plotted, Civil War II moves at a snail’s pace with one group fight scene in eight $5 - 6 issues of procrastination and reexplanation. Characters have no real investment in the fight, and events like Banner’s death feel hollow.
The basis for Civil War II is a weak replication of Minority Report’s concept of a superhuman viewing future crimes. The first Civil War was an insightful analysis of post-911 America (at its best), and Bendis attempts to make Civil War II topical with references to profiling and police brutality. Unfortunately, he fails to make any deep points about either, and there aren’t any repercussions like the original series. The Inhuman with predictive powers disappears, and everything more or less goes back to normal besides Captain Marvel’s transformation into a one-dimensional government stooge.
The event fatigue is so real here that even Bendis seems fatigued writing the story. Civil War II is an overpriced, slow mess with beautiful artwork.
18.) Venom Space Knight (Venom: Space Knight #1 - 13)
Sending Flash Thompson into space was a bad move, especially since Guardians of the Galaxy writer Brian Michael Bendis proceeded to neuter the symbiote and inspire a truly awful new costume. Once the damage was done, Marvel launched Venom Space Knight by Robbie Thompson, perhaps the blandest Venom series to date.
The entire book feels wrong. The symbiote is just a stale uniform, and Flash is no longer the broken drunk looking for redemption. This is a “fun” space romp, but nothing really makes it a Venom book. If Flash was replaced by any other “everyman character” in the first arc, the story would remain the same. Thompson’s plots are predictable, while the scripting is overly light and cute.
Later, once artist Ariel Olivetti’s overly-processed, bright style is replaced with a grittier tone by Kim Jacinto and Gerardo Sandoval, the title begins to feel more like a Venom book. Flash begins fighting with the symbiote again while picking up plot threads from Venom (Vol. 2). These issues are more interesting, but the damage was already done, as the title was soon cancelled.
Robbie Thompson is a very stylized writer, specializing in light, feel good stories with thin plots. While this approach works in his other two books (which are later in the list), it ultimately isn’t right for Venom. This series lacks the dark, gritty tone required for any good Venom story, and it will likely be forgotten quickly by even the most die-hard fans.
17.) Spider-Man (Spider-Man (Vol. 2) #1 – 21, Spider-Men II #1 - 3)
Miles Morales shouldn’t have joined the mainstream Marvel universe. The Ultimate universe used to be a sandbox for Bendis to be creative in isolation from the constant fluctuations and chaos of regular Marvel. Now, fans are experiencing the many ugly consequences of the switch.
The largest problem with the transition is Bendis’s affinity to join crossovers at any opportunity available. After barely one arc, Miles is thrown into Civil War II for five issues, abandoning building plot threads. Bendis uses most of his tie-in space with exposition of Civil War II or, even lazier, full issue summaries of the events in the main series. One cover boasts a fight between Miles and Venom while the two characters don’t appear at all in the actual story. After this, Spider-Man crosses over with Spider-Gwen, a weak, editorial-driven story by discordant creative teams.
Further, Bendis insufficiently bridges Miles’s transition from the Ultimate universe to the mainstream universe by simply not addressing it at all. We don’t fully understand how the previous universe’s continuity fits with the new universe’s timeline, and nobody seems to even remember the transition. How did Miles’s origin transpire if there was already a mainstream Prowler before his Uncle Aaron took the role? Did the two Prowlers exist simultaneously for a period? Is Miles still motivated by Ultimate Peter’s death even if 616 Peter is still alive? How did the Venom arc transpire if his mother is back to life with no memory of the events? These continuity holes are always festering in my mind whenever I read this book.
This volume of Miles’s journey follows his difficulty in managing his superhero and personal life, and Bendis has the same problem with his scripts. He spends too much time on conversations between Miles and his supporting cast. Some individual scenes are decompressed to fill up about half the comic’s length. The use of this cast, particularly in regards to Ganke and Miles’s grandma, is fun and interesting, but their interactions often feel like distractions from a lack of plot in regards to Spider-Man. The first five issues, which used to be a typical arc length for Bendis, barely set up a story with Hammerhead and the Black Cat, characters he didn’t even need to develop from scratch.
And don’t even get me started with Spider-Men II, one of the most lackluster comics I’ve read. Ultimate Spider-Man used to be Bendis’s strongest book, even while the quality on his others dropped. But, Miles’s switch to mainstream Marvel has diluted his title to resemble most of the writer’s modern work: uninspired and uneventful.
16.) Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man (Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man #1 – 5)
This series started recently with a promising first issue. Writer Chip Zdarsky and artist Adam Kubert promised a back-to-basics approach to Spider-Man. The book was firing on all cylinders with new supporting characters and a Human Torch team-up.
Then, the second issue hit readers everywhere like a brick. Zdarsky writes Peter Parker like an idiotic man-child. His jokes are immature, and he’s absolutely annoying. I genuinely face-palmed when I first read Spidey ask for an autograph from Ironheart (which epitomizes the problems with pre-Legacy Marvel). The plot has also deviated from the back-to-basics concept with a S.H.I.E.L.D. conspiracy that Spider-Man could easily be dealing with in the main series. The series takes Dan Slott’s bad habits in Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 4) (Peter’s immaturity, S.H.I.E.L.D. shoehorned with Spider-Man) and exacerbates them.
With its momentum gone and fans collectively turning on it, the book has been limping forward. At times, it’s aggravating. However, it occasionally captures that classic Spider-Man vibe, especially concerning the old Daily Bugle cast. The subplot involving the Tinkerer is also promising.
Going forward, the main Amazing Spider-Man title is returning to a more classic status quo, seemingly filling the demand Spectacular was originally created to satisfy. This leaves me wondering what will happen with Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man. Will Zdarsky manage to course-correct after a few lackluster issues? Will the book find and settle on its niche in the Spider-Man line? Unlike many, I haven’t given up on this title yet, so hopefully, fan feedback and Legacy retooling can save this b-title.