(W) Nick Spencer, (A) Ryan Ottley, (I) Cliff Rathburn, (C) Laura Martin
While longtime Amazing scribe Dan Slott has his fans, his decade-long run as the driving creative voice for Spider-Man has caused a big contingent of comics readers have been eagerly awaiting this Free Comic Book Day issue. Offering readers their first honest glimpse of everyone’s favorite web-swinger under the new creative team of Nick Spencer and Ryan Ottley, the title’s future looks bright. Spencer and Ottley’s new direction for Amazing Spider-Man looks to keep some of the stronger elements of Slott’s run while giving the character an earnest return to form.
Free Comic Book Day issues have a bit of a spotty track record, at least where the Big Two are concerned. Much of the time, they’re just glorified advertisements or reprints of older comics. But on rare occasions, they actually are a fully realized, new stories, and that’s exactly what Spencer and Ottley are allowed to do here. After a very brief introduction, we see Spider-Man doing Spider-Man things. In costume, he swings through the streets of New York while commenting that his abilities offer unique views of the city that no one else gets to experience. It may not be much, but it’s a a great character moment that quickly sells Spencer’s understanding of Spider-Man as a superhero. Once out of the costume, Spencer sells us on Peter Parker, as he has Spidey’s civilian identity go through one of the most mundane and relatable experiences in life: apartment hunting.
It is easy to dismiss this new status quo as another tired, “back to basics” approach. But ten years after Marvel editorial forced One More Day to happen in order to make Spidey a more “relatable” hero, this soft relaunch actually succeeds in doing just that. Sure, Mary Jane isn’t in the picture (yet), but struggling to find a decent apartment at an affordable price is a much more universal experience than being the multibillionaire head of a global tech company and then running said company straight into the ground. With those struggles comes comedy, and Spencer delivers that in spades. While Spider-man’s in-battle banter comes off as a little forced, the situational humor is well-executed.
One thing that Spencer and Ottley emphasize in this issue is that Spider-man is a competent hero on his own. Forced into action, he is takes on four of his rogues (Boomerang, Electro, Rhino, and Big Wheel) on his own. There’s no assist from Human Torch, Ant-Man, Iron Man, Silk, Agent Venom or any other character in the Marvel Universe. This is a Spider-man story through and through. He is alerted to the danger on his own. He take on the bad guys on his own. And he saves lives on his own. A Spider-man that is able to do something with relative competence is something we have not seen for a long time.
Of course, this issue also marks the debut of Invincible artist Ryan Ottley, and it does not disappoint. Let’s get the criticisms out of the way: some characters have weird-looking teeth, and Ottley gives characters strangely big feet – the “anti-Liefeld.” Aside from those minor quibbles, the artwork feels… iconic? I’m aware that’s a pretty hefty label to slap on an artist’s first go-around with the character, but it does fit in when placed alongside the works of Steve Ditko, John Romita, and Todd McFarlane. This is how a Spider-man comic should look.
Ottley certainly has the look down, but his layouts and composition is where the artwork can truly impress. The action, as Spidey takes down multiple villains, is smooth and fluid. To that end, Ottley channels the best elements of past Spider-man artists, such as McFarlane’s webbing, Ditko’s poses, and Romita’s expressions. The combination of these, combined with the bright, vibrant colors by Laura Martin makes for an engaging and stimulating experience.
Though the story lasts only 10 pages, it is an instantly memorable story that should have readers salivating for more. Amazing Spider-man #800 does release this month (with a whopping $10 pricetag), but this freebie is definitely the book to check out. Though the new ASM is only a couple months away, knowing what readers can expect under this new creative team will make the wait all the more excruciating. But if this issue is anything to go by, the wait will be more than worth it.