Abrams’ Spider-Man: Our Long National Nightmare Is Over
It may have taken 23 years, but J.J. Abrams and son have finally completed their much maligned Spider-Man series nobody gave a shit about. No one clamored for a conclusion to the long delayed mini, but here we are. It crept up on me, admittedly. Only when I looked at a shipping list did I notice a “Spider-Man #5” listing, and I had to jog my memory to remember, oh yeah, that series never did get completed. So what happened in the preceding three issues? Well, a no-name Abrams created villain of dubious value killed MJ, leaving Spider-Man to barely raise his son as a single father. It’s like if Spider-Girl had the sensibilities of grief porn. Which, I mean, sure. Who wants optimism? That got snuffed out of the public consciousness when Obama decided being a Spotify playlist was preferable to being a president. Now it’s all stabbing mothers through the chest and screaming “shove it up your ass, dad!” while slamming the bedroom door. I digress. Son-Man discovered he had spider powers, befriended a politically inclined graffiti tagger manic pixie dream girl, and tangled with the nobody who killed his mom all those many years ago. Spider-Man #4 and #5 would have to be really good to offset the shittiness of the previous issues, and if there’s one thing the Abrams line is known for, it’s sticking the landing. Think of all his famous great endings, from Rise of Skywalker to the time travel in Felicity Season 4. Abramses get shit done.
Cadaverous, the villain of this piece, further explains his motives and goals to his newly resurrected girlfriend. He has a stutter that makes his dialogue annoying to read. Everything reads like so: “I b-b-brought you b-back! I’ve d-done th-this for you!” Given that most of the fourth issue is dialogue from Cadaverous, it’s not a pleasant reading experience to say the least. Minka is not happy with being an undead abomination and says so in so many words. Cadaverous goes on to explain that Howard Stark fired him after he killed Minka and the project got into the hands of S.H.I.E.L.D., whereupon Peter Parker’s parents destroyed the resurrection key with the exception of the sample they implanted in a spider. Look, it’s all very stupid, it complicates Spider-Man’s origin for no reason, and it makes his acquiring powers a form of destiny instead of happenstance. The mysticism angle JMS introduced was much less stupid than Spider-Man coming from some Russian scientists creating reanimation. Minka is transforming into a spider-monster and requires more blood from Parker to stabilize her. Unfortunately, Peter’s tapped out so she needs some boy blood from Ben. What the fuck is it with Abramses and special blood?
What a piece of shit this kid is.
Meanwhile, the gang (Ben, Faye, Tony Stark and Riri Williams) are forced to contend with zombie versions of the Avengers. Riri suits up again as Ironheart to battle the zombie Avengers, which might have some weight if we cared about Riri or acknowledged her retirement as significant, but what can you do. It’s basically an opportunity to give Sara Pichelli something to draw that isn’t a disgusting creature screaming about blood, and by that metric it’s not too bad. It is, also, pointless and doesn’t move the plot forward one bit – it’s really just something for Ben et al to do while Cadaverous is explaining the plot and the dramatic stakes. There’s a lot of terrible moments but I think my “favorite” comes in the last page of #4. Minka has become a giant spider creature and absconded with Peter to the bridge–you know, the Gwen Stacy everything of importance bridge–in order to lure Ben out so she can suck his blood. As Ben is being overrun by Cadaverous’ “children” drones, whom Minka can order around for some reason, Peter yells out “MY BOY!”. In a series full of terrible dialogue that I will highlight at length later, this takes the cake for me.
One of the Abrams has a sexual fantasy that resembles this, I’m telling you.
#5 reorients Peter’s decision to abandon his son in adolescence as a means of protecting him; see, Cadaverous wanted him and killed MJ in the process. By sticking around he’s a danger to Ben’s safety, so he takes assignment with the Bugle’s foreignland desk. I dunno, wouldn’t an undead monster man be able to follow you onto a different continent? It’s stupid, much like everything else in this godforsaken comic. Cadaverous has made a vial of blue stuff (meth) that can heal Minka, which Ben postulates can also cure Peter of not having blood. Suddenly, one of the children–think red Xenomorphs–starts helping Ben. Ben rips a cord out of the back of its head because that will stop mind control. Whatever. This skinless freak reveals itself to be Mary Jane Watson, somehow surviving a spike through the chest, somehow a mindless reanimated corpse in an army that somehow developed independence, a fucking twist that is given NO foreshadowing or justification, somehow…Christ it’s dumb. Even dumber is Peter stabbing her with the blue stuff and thereby restoring her to her human self. With spider powers. I think I’d need to start drinking for any of this shit to make sense.
You’re not making “The Marker” happen, Faye.
Before Minka can kill anyone, Cadaverous decides he’s fed up and sics the children on her and that’s how the villain of this piece goes out, almost as an afterthought. One could argue that Abrams squared makes the Cadaverous/Minka relationship more complex by establishing that they’re less star-crossed lovers and more an unappreciated nice guy and a woman who treats him like a doormat. Actually, no, it’s still bad and the characters fucking suck. Literally any villain would be better. White Rabbit. Big Wheel. That version of the Green Goblin who turned out to be a dissolving clone of no one. Thankfully, given this miniseries went over like a bucket of otter guts at a germophobic support group, the chances of these things recurring is remote at best. Maybe there’ll be a followup that brings them back, but I doubt it. No one has affection for “Bloodline” and the Abrams have better things to ruin than an out of continuity Spider-Man. Anyway, the bridge explodes for no apparent reason and Peter pushes MJ and Ben off before that can happen. (I thought he was drained of spider powers? Oh, whatever.) Keep in mind Tony, Ironheart and Faye are totally fine despite also being on the bridge and the art never showing them departing. It would’ve been funny if they were just unceremoniously killed in a random explosion, so that’s why it doesn’t happen.
Post-funeral, Ben and MJ are mourning. But good news: Tony left them something. It’s a briefcase with two spider suits and fucking finally the series is starting to resemble the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Classic Spider-Man mentor Tony Stark is at it again, giving high tech suits to people when Spider-Man subsisted off a 15 year old’s sewing abilities for several decades. Again, this reads as a “not the end!” sort of ending, but I have a hard time believing anyone clamors for a sequel, on the creative side or from the readership. I will say the status quo of a Mary Jane freshly resurrected from a decade of monstrous subservience, getting to know a teenage son whose life was shaped by her absence, while also grappling with her newly developed superpowers, would be more viable material for a comic than whatever the hell “Bloodline” constituted. But that would require writing a woman well and Abrams ain’t interested in that, Felicity Porter be damned. He and his dumbass son would rather wallow in poorly developed teenage boy angst. Never is Ben a relatable or tolerable character; the best focus he receives is some of the worst dialogue in the series, like when he takes an opportune moment to explain how he’s always hated spiders.
“No, Minka won’t eat your face. She just likes to say that…”
“Whiny punk who’s important because of what’s in his blood rather than any aspects of individual character” does fit into the Abrams wheelhouse, admittedly. Compare him to Mayday Parker and Annie Parker and the difference is stark. Those characters emphasize the fun and wonder of being a superhero instead of the indescribable angst that Ben feels. “Angsty joyless shit” is a valid approach to tackling the question of what a child of Spider-Man would be like, but that doesn’t mean I have to enjoy it. He’s a complaint-ridden little shit from page 1 to the final page, and nothing in this makes me want to read more about him. With any luck, one of those multiversal Spider-crossovers will unceremoniously off him.
A better writer would draw parallels between Cadaverous wasting his life trying to bring back Minka from the dead and Peter and Ben’s strained relationship in the wake of MJ’s “death”, but unfortunately J.J. and Henry aren’t up to the task. “Grief can make you do stupid, crazy things” may not be the greatest story hook in the world, but at least it’s something. Instead, not only do father and son repair their relationship via some sacrificial heroics, the object of their grief comes back to life with no negative repercussions. She heals from being a skinless drone! They’re basically rewarded their wife/mother for nothing. Sure, Peter sacrifices himself at the end, but that’s less necessity and more the Abramses couldn’t think of an ending so might as well have Spider-Man die when a bridge explodes for some reason.
The saving grace would be the art. For Sara Pichelli, making bad Spider-Man comics look good is right in her wheelhouse. It looks pretty, and it’s apparent that Marvel wanted to pair the Abramses with a top flight artist in order to goose sales. (This didn’t work? Spider-Man #4 was 36 on the September 2020 sales charts. Not bad, but not great either. I’m sure Marvel expected better from the guy who wrote Jim Belushi’s Taking Care of Business and his lunk son.) There’s only so much you can do with this, though, and the designs for the new villains are not particularly inspired. They’re simultaneously hideous and annoying to look at, one of them a hodgepodge of cybernetics and the other basically a football with spider legs attached. It reminds you that the person responsible for the downfall of Spider-Man was not Norman Osborn, not Doctor Octopus, not even Electro, but instead a stuttering cyborg who needed a quart of Spider-Man blood to resurrect his boss/object of obsession.
Just what I want from a Spider-Man series: beloved Spider-Man character Iron Man.
I think what galls me is that this story is so shitty that the only way it was published was J.J. Abrams’ name. Nepotism is alive and well in the comics industry, starfucking even more so. I’m reminded of the bad old days when Marvel would roll out the carpet for anyone who even sniffed a movie or television production. It occasionally led to good comics, but oftentimes it resulted in the likes of Ron Zimmerman writing the likes of Get Kraven. (This will be a forthcoming column, I assure you.) Make no mistake, expectations were high for this, which makes it all the funnier that “Bloodline” fell flat on its face critically and commercially. This may not be the most glaring of Abrams’ failures, but it’s a public one and cannot be inoculated from criticism with “it made a load of money!!!”. This did not make a lot of money, not relative to other Spider-Man comics; Amazing Spider-Man and even Venom sell better and come out on something resembling a normal schedule. I would put this failure on par with the one season wonder Undercovers, since unlike most of his executive produced dreck he wrote and directed episodes of it. It stings even more because this was a transparent effort to get his son over with the Marvel people and by all perceivable metrics it failed. His shitty son won’t be writing Avengers anytime soon. C.B. Cebulski may be a George Costanza-type who faked being a Japanese man to get a job, but he knows Henry Abrams is a loser.
Of course, it’s not Henry’s fault who his dad is, and having a famous father should not preclude him from trying any field he wishes. (I mean, he’s white.) However, I might advise that going from nothing to writing a Spider-Man miniseries with your creator of Felicity dad is an incorrect usage of the Peter Principle. Comics fans may not have real standards, but they’ll ferret out the unworthy eventually. Like Greg Land. He nearly doesn’t have a career anymore, except for all the stuff he does. My suggestion to young Henry: lose the Abrams. Climb the ladder at Marvel the traditional way: post incessantly on Brian Bendis’ messageboard. Wait, shit, that doesn’t exist anymore. Well, I’m sure I’ll think of something.
I feel like stopping drinking and breathing just out of spite now.
Then again, maybe I do hate Henry Abrams. Fuck him. He’s the worst director’s son out of them all. I mean besides Max. Obviously. Yet Max is the better writer of comics, as shown by Superman: American Alien. I would read that 10 times out of 10 over this shit. Maybe Henry should take up sexual assault to improve his writing. (Henry should not take up sexual assault to improve his writing.) But he’s gotta do something, because this is one of the worst, most pointless pieces of shit I’ve read in a while. The saving grace, again, is that this won’t be remembered except on “worst ofs” lists for this year. It is very easy to ignore the miniseries and it will have no larger repercussions. The damage is contained.