The Abrams’ Spider-Man: At Least There’s No Lens Flare?
When I first got into reading comics on an addictive level, some 16-17 years ago, celebrity authors were a novelty. There were not many of them and when they deigned to write for Marvel or DC it was a seismic event. Kevin Smith’s Daredevil launched the Marvel Knights imprint; Judd Winick went from “that guy from The Real World to that guy from The Real World who fucked up Green Lantern”. Famous people writing comics is less of a novelty than it once was, especially as comic book heroes have become titans of the box office and the comics industry has more and more become a testing ground for intellectual property that can be later exploited in film and on television. Yet if ever there’s a throwback to that heady era of comics grasping for recognition from normal people, it’s the J.J. Abrams and son miniseries Spider-Man. It has all the facets associated with early 2000s Hollywood comics: an inflated sense of importance, a monster hype campaign and, last but not least, horrible delays that puncture any relevance the comic may have had. With this review I hope to establish Spider-Man’s connective tissue to a bygone era of comics as well as explain as plainly as I can why this as yet uncompleted comic blows chunks.
First of all, let’s bask in awe of the arrogance of the comic’s title. This Spider-Man doesn’t need an adjective like ‘Spectacular’ or ‘Sensational’; it’s simply Spider-Man. When you ask “I’d like the Spider-Man comic”, this is what you get. The first issue begins in what is supposed to be present day or close to it, and it’s the standard situation in which Spider-Man is getting his ass kicked. Only this time his wife, Mary Jane, is there, and the big robot man antagonist stabs her through the chest and tosses her off a bridge, leading to the approximate 1405th “homage” to Amazing Spider-Man #121 Gwen Stacy swan dive. Within six pages the female character is pushing up daisies. Before her ignoble demise, MJ makes an implication that their lives aren’t what they once were: “the rules are different now–you know that”, she says as she implores him to retreat from his fight. At the funeral the meaning of becomes apparent: they have a ginger son together. This is the classic Abrams mythos tweak: whereas the more popular alternate Spider-Man stories, like Spider-Girl, Renew Your Vows, Earth X, give Peter a daughter, this time he has a son. Goddamnit, J.J., you’ve done it again!
I’m glad HER OWN DEATH is enough to elicit A SINGLE TEAR.
Not surprisingly, Ben Parker is an annoying little shit who lacks a strong father figure, since Peter has decided to give up on being Spider-Man in favor of being a warzone photographer. (He also lost his arm, as opposed to in Spider-Girl where he lost a leg. Abrams is reinventing the wheel here.) Ben is raised by Aunt May, who is approximately 170 years old. One of the hallmarks of “Hollywood creator” comics is a shitty sense of pacing, so Ben only discovers he’s the son of Spider-Man at the end of the first issue. Before then he demonstrates elements of his powers – superstrength, sticking to walls – and also encounters the bully and meets the love interest. In the former, Ben is the cool kid intervening in a bullying attempt, and it’s his decision to do the right thing that lands him in detention. There he meets Faye Ito, a heavily pierced firecracker whose crime was dumping green paint on a sexist teacher. To call her a manic pixie dream girl would be an understatement. I was surprised she didn’t extol Ben to listen to a song by the Future Shins that will change his life. Faye is both his love interest and his confidant; she finds out he’s son of Spider-Man when he wears a Spider-Man to their agreed upon graffiti spree and demonstrates some abilities.
Why does she give a fuck about this kid? She’s turned on by his application of violence. “It takes major kahunas to kick some bully butt,” she says, but it’s evident that it’s the violence that gets her wet. No other explanation suffices when Faye shows up at Ben’s doorstep wearing a Goth Catwoman fetish costume. Taggers can obscure their identity with a fucking hoodie, they don’t need to go to these lengths. She is getting off to something. Maybe activism? She points to a market that doesn’t offer its employees health insurance, which she has smartly tagged “HEALTHCARE NOW”. A Goldman Sachs (?) stand-in receives “PREDATOR”. Showing that Bill DeBlundsio’s policies long outlast him, they’re soon surrounded by a half dozen cops. This prompts Ben to try some webslinging and scream his entire origin to his new friend. She’s his major encouragement to, you know, be a hero rather than sulk about dearly absent dad.
Expertly written secret identity admission.
This is a major problem with the comic and the character of Ben Parker. He’s entirely passive. Faye has to call him up on the phone to tell him he ought to go save people at the Oscorp explosion. She also has to explain to him what great power and great responsibility means. Okay, hearing it from Spider-Man I’ll accept. Even Aunt May. But some fucking random girl he met in detention restates the character’s ethos? Fuck you. It’s the equivalent of Bruce Wayne’s interior decorator telling him criminals are cowardly in addition to being superstitious. When he’s not ambivalent about what is obviously his destiny (this comic is titled Spider-Man, not Teen With Powers Who Doesn’t Use Them For Shit) he is all about hating his dad and Lord is it tiresome. Beyond that, the character doesn’t have a personality or interests or anything of that matter. Ben hates his dad and maybe he’ll end up gutting him like another Ben did in another shitty Abrams joint, who knows.
J.J. Abrams predicted the Coronavirus
If the Ben/Peter relationship at all correlates to that between J.J. and Henry, I’d say family counseling is cheaper than producing this comic. Son hates his father correctly because after the mother’s death he withdrew and left son to be raised by the old family bat. The series tries to portray this as Peter being so sad about MJ’s death but it’s nonetheless a fairly offensive abrogation of responsibility that is a transparent set up for some sort of sacrifice later on. There’s also this weird element that I guess he’s using wartime photography to drown his proverbial sorrows, and it’s rather gross to use Somalia and shit to mask his pain. He’s also directly going to genocides and viewing them, not doing anything about them. What a voyeuristic asshole! “Say cheese, child soldiers! I have the power to make your lives immeasurably better butttttttt my wife died, so I’m gonna continue having sad.” He also doesn’t want Ben to be Spider-Man, nor has he any interest in explaining the process of super puberty to him. It’s annoying when Ben screams “GET AWAY FROM ME!” because he’s being a little shit who’s also right. Fuck Peter Parker. I’m glad he gets claws through the chest care of the Abrams’ dumbass invented villain.
Faye: “Have you ever heard of ADBUSTERS, man?”
It’s with the third issue that this gets really, really stupid. Like many celebrity authors, the Abrams seek to make their mark on the character in spite of the fact that this is an alternate universe. Oh, don’t tell J.J. he can’t do something moronic because he’ll take that as a challenge. Cadaverous abucts Peter’s corpse so Ben and Faye opt to visit the last living Avenger, Tony Stark. (Captain America, Thor, Hulk and Black Widow died offscreen some time ago. No one cares about Hawkeye as usual.) Not only has he aged twice as much as everyone else, he’s jumped off the wagon and is drinking straight from the bottle in the remains of a car. Here’s where the Abrams boys get to try out ‘humor’, as this Tony is a combination of RDJ at his most annoying and a senile grampa who can’t hold onto the plot for more than a panel or two. I guess because wasting page space on him signing Ben’s face and asking if they want to eat terrible pizza with him constitutes comic relief. Finally he reveals the truth, the stupid, stupid truth.
Cadaverous was/is two former Stark employees who sought to cure death, but when they brought back dead people in pods what remained was not human. (Oh, resurrection pods? I wonder how dead characters will come back and immediately rob this shit of any stakes or repercussions.) The project later fell into the hands of Richard Parker, Peter Parker’s dad, and he based the resurrection toxin on his own blood so OH FOR FUCK’S SAKE MAGIC BLOOD AGAIN?! Goddamnit. Abrams has some problems, man. Stark ominously intones that one of these scientists died almost a century ago, even though how the hell could that scientist also mentor Tony…none of it makes any sense. Maybe Tony is 200 years old. Fuck it, whatever. By the time Cadaverous has resurrected half-robot versions of the Avengers I’m beyond caring. I’m done. Yes, I reviewed this comic without it actually finishing. Well, blame Marvel, not me.
Don’t worry: the hissing speech patterns are immediately irritating.
The first issue came out September 2019. The second came out in October, whereas the third was delayed until the third week of December. As of this writng the final two issues have yet to materialize. Classic Hollywood comics move. See, none of these people treat comics like an actual job, and comics companies are too afraid of losing their “name” talent to enforce things like “deadlines”, so that’s how you end up with a miniseries that should last five months lasting a year. An infamous example of this would be Ultimate Hulk vs. Wolverine, written by Damon Lindelof of Lost fame. It started bimonthly in 2005 and ended monthly in 2009. Six issues over five years, and it was not even worth the wait. I have a feeling the same will be true of this Spider-Man; it’s unlikely anyone in the future will herald it as an underrated gem or a foundational text for those who want to enjoy Spider-Man or comics or words placed on pictures. It speaks to a cavalier attitude celebrities have towards comics, that it’s this trifle as opposed to a day job. Don’t get me wrong: people should think comics are dumb. But a Spider-Man comic is not much dumber than J.J. Abrams’ day job of underwhelming people with their favorite franchises.
“You’re a toxin, Ben”
Dissecting these comics is like dissecting gossamer and you don’t dissect gossamer because it’s stupid and a waste of time. Nonetheless, the authorship question persists. Marvel claims up and down J.J. Abrams is in fact involved in plotting and scripting this comic. It’s “J.J Abrams & Henry Abrams – Writers”, no weasel word bullshit ambgiuous credit like “Story by” or “Plotted by”. On the other hand, Marvel’s Editor-in-Chief literally pretended to be an Asian man to get jobs so why the fuck should I believe anything these finks say. That said, the magic blood bullshit does suggest J.J. had some degree of input into this comic series. The dialogue is amateurish and downright embarrassing sometimes, the plotting takes a long time to go nowhere, and the villain is one of the dumber to join Spider-Man’s rogues gallery, and that’s saying a lot considering Spider-Man has the likes of Judas Traveller, Freak and Scrier among his foes. In the end it doesn’t matter what the workload percentages boil down to, because Abrams is using his name to get his son a job in comics, the one industry more rife with nepotism than Hollywood. Time will tell if Henry gets plum assignments like the thirtieth reboot of Secret Avengers or Red Wolf.
I don’t have that much to say about the art, but Sara Pichelli draws Aunt May like Ben Franklin in drag and it is distracting.
Spider-Man exemplifies the flaws that come with uninspired Hollywood creator comics in the following ways: it festoons itself with unearned importance (Spider-Man has a kid….again!), shakes up the status quo, demonstrates a bad grasp of the medium of comics, is rife with delays and overall would be a forgettable filler comic if not for the name on the cover. I’m just glad that Marvel didn’t stupidly decide to tie themselves to this miniseries so it can be swiftly disregarded as soon as it finally ends, which I’m guessing will be sometime in September of 2020. Prove me wrong, Abrams: display basic competence like it’s the 90s and Felicity hadn’t cut her hair yet.