Six months ago, Spectacular Spider-Man (Vol 2) was cancelled, leaving Spider-Man with only two regular titles. Of course, Spidey has far too many adventures in a month for just two titles, and so the aptly named Friendly Neighbourhood Spider-Man was born. Originally intended to be the next vehicle for Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo after their very successful run on Fantastic Four, Waid was forced to pull out. The writing chores were taken up by Peter David, whose previous track record with the character has been impressive to say the least. David has many fans; he is a gifted writer with a knack for comedy that suits Spidey perfectly. There is a hope, an expectation, that this is going to be something special.
In Amazing Spider-Man #524, Tony Stark said that medical tests had revealed some worrying abnormalities in Spidey's system. Spidey dismissed his friend's concern, but he has been having odd symptoms lately: black outs for no reason, uncharacteristic dizziness and disorientation; he's been clumsy and confused. What is the cause of all this, is it going to get worse... and how long will Peter hide it from the people who care about him?
It's late at night in Avengers Tower, and Peter is in bed telling Mary-Jane about a weird dream he had: a dream where the deadly yet deceased Morlun is wheeling a body into a morgue. Kraven the Hunter is there is a tutu. There are lots of frogs. And there is also Uncle Ben paraphrasing from Ecclesiastes: "Everything has a season, a time to live... a time to..." But Uncle Ben doesn't finish, everything goes black except for the pair of fluffy dice he is holding. The one-spots are glowing red. Snake eyes: you loose.
Peter is worried that the dream is symptomatic of the Parker luck. He fears that everything in his life is simply going too well. Something bad is bound to happen to bring everything crashing down. MJ listens, and she's patient, but there are times when Peter mithers a little too much. After all, there are much better things to be doing in bed with MJ than talking about weird dreams.
It's the following day and shiny new super-villain, Tracer, is holding up a bank. He's dressed like a high-tech gladiator, with a peculiar set of red glowing goggles. He obviously has some affinity for machinery, because he has taken control the traffic lights causing a massive traffic jam around the bank. This stops the police from getting to him, but it doesn't stop Spider-Man. Tracer sees Spidey approaching through one of the traffic lights. He informs the teller to remove the canister of blue dye she has inserted into one of the money bags, and coolly steps outside to meet our hero.
Spidey is cocky, and confident he can take out this new bad guy. He easily dodges the bullets Tracer fires, and webs up his gun arm. But Tracer isn't the pushover he looks. The bullets are now locked on to Spidey and they track him anywhere he goes! Spidey swings off chased by the two bullets, as Tracer calmly walks back into the bank. He shoots a security in the leg for the sake of it, and collects his loot from the teller who is now covered in blue dye. Pausing to draw a smiley face on her forehead he nonchalantly wanders off with his ill- gotten gains.
As Spidey swings through the city pursued by the bullets, he remembers an incident from earlier in the day. After hearing Peter's dream, MJ was worried about Peter's state of mind and asked Captain America to help him. Despite being cynical Pete joins Steve Rogers and MJ in a spot of tai chi. Rogers tell Peter that he shouldn't always rely on his instincts. Sometimes instincts can get you killed. He advises focus, planning and concentration.
Back in the present, Spidey takes this to heart. He drops to the ground and turns to face the pursuing bullets. As they race toward him, he holds out his hands and catches them from mid-air! The crowd of bystanders is suitably impressed as Spidey opens his right hand to reveal one of the bullets. Unfortunately, all that's in his left hand is a bloody smear. Noticing that he is bleeding from his shoulder, Spidey curses and topples backward, unconscious.
Time moves on and the scene cuts to a doctor's surgery where a (still masked) Spider-Man is being attended to by a Doctor Castillo. She was a classmate of Reed Richards who felt for the super-heroes that were wounded in the course of their adventures and offered her help. Richards vouched for her and word spread to others, like Captain America, who told Spider-Man. Not reporting the things she sees puts her career on the line, but she does so out of a sense of civic responsibility to the superhuman community.
Feeling that he owes Castillo something, Spidey reveals his name is "Peter". The good doctor takes a blood sample to send away for analysis, and tells Spider-Man that she'll forward him the results in a few days.
The next morning, a bandaged Peter is putting on his Spider-Man duds and getting ready to hit the city. He tagged Tracer with a spider-tracer (a fact Pete thinks is hilarious) and he's ready to track him down. MJ thinks that he is nuts to go out when he is still so badly wounded. Peter says that he has to do this. He feels afraid. He isn't sure why he has this feeling, but he knows that if he doesn't go out and keep being Spider-Man then he may never do it again. MJ can't really see a problem with this. Peter's recent moods and the risks he has been taking is making her more fearful for his safety than usual. But she knows she cannot stop him.
Spider-Man soon tracks down the spider-tracer to a limousine. He dismisses Captain America's advice. He is doing what he always does: following his instincts - and his instincts have led him here. Spidey quickly stops the car, rips open a hole in the roof and pulls out the passenger. Unfortunately, it seems that Tracer outsmarted our hero, because the passenger is none other than J Jonah Jameson! "Well, this is bad on just so many levels...." says Spidey.
Back at Avengers Tower, Peter is lying on his bed going over the disastrous events of the day and wandering if he can borrow some money from Tony Stark to pay for a new limo for JJJ. Then he gets a telephone call from Doctor Castillo; she's got his blood test results back, and the results are bad. Very bad.
Looking down on Peter from an adjacent building is Morlun returned from the dead! Reiterating the words from Peter's dream, he says: "Snake eyes. You lose."
This is a very strong opening for the new title. The synopsis above doesn't do credit to the humour in this book. From the opening dream sequence, to the conversation with Captain America to the hilarious scene where Spidey realises he has been shot and collapses the floor, it is apparent that Peter David is writing a very funny comic. But there is more to it than that.
During his run on the first volume of Spectacular Spider-Man back in the mid-80s, Peter David produced some seminal work. Chief amongst them was the fantastic Death of Jean DeWolff, which really is just as good as all the hype and the reviews suggest. The stories David wrote during that run dealt with some very serious subjects, they were darker in tone and did things that simply hadn't been done in a Spider-Man comic before.
There is evidence of this darker tone throughout this first issue. Spidey's description of his dream is quite amusing, but the dream itself and the visuals are actually quite disturbing. Kraven in a tutu aside, this is an ominous beginning. It is a warning that Peter takes seriously (at least, subconsciously) - why else would he admit to feelings of senseless fear? The talk of Spidey no longer being able to rely on the instincts that have kept him alive for years seems portentous in this context.
In every definition of the phrase, this has to be a set-up issue. It is the first issue of a brand new series, it is also the first part of a fourteen- issue cross-over. The remit Peter David had to work with for this story was challenging, but he pulls it off with aplomb. One of my complaints with The Other storyline as a whole is that it hasn't been foreshadowed enough in the other Spidey titles. Spidey's illness seems to have come out of nowhere in the last issue of Amazing, but here Peter David changes all that. Suddenly what is happening to Peter seems significant. It's only part one and already I'm worried for him. That has to be a good indication of what is to come.
In a way it's a shame that the launch of Friendly Neighbourhood Spider- Man has been lost in the hype for the cross-over. It would have been nice to see Peter David and Mike Wieringo get a few issues under their belt and establish the 'feel' for the title, before The Other began. But it was not to be, and there was no way this title could have stayed outside the events of The Other without being immediately marginalised in the minds of readers.
I have to confess that I wasn't a big fan of Mike Wieringo's art during his stint on Sensational Spider-Man back in the 90s. However, I have no reason to quibble here. The style may be slightly cartoony if compared to Mike Deodato Jnr, but it's perfectly suited to this title. Wieringo draws a mean Spider-Man, that is reminiscent of John Romita Snr. That's good enough for me.
This opening issue lived up to my high expectations. I'm hooked on The Other already. It could all go horribly wrong of course, but at the moment I'm optimistic. Here's a thought to leave you with, though: Avengers Tower is consistently depicted as the tallest building for blocks around. So what was Morlun standing on when he was peering through Peter's bedroom window?
Brilliant writing, fantastic art and a quirky new super villain. David and Wieringo tackle the first proper inter-title crossover for Spider-Man since that Sinister Six thing back in 1999, and they do it masterfully. Four and a half webs.
Marvel are approaching this cross-over slightly differently than they have in the past. Each of the writers on the three spider-titles are scripting a whole month's worth of stories, and the stories will have a certain theme in the context of the The Other as a whole. Marvel hopes that this will create a more coherent narrative and reduce the possibility of continuity errors between parts.
They are probably right, but what this means is Peter David doesn't return to this title until issue #4. Next month Reginald Hudlin continues Spidey's adventures.