Editor's Note: Spider-Man 1602 #2 arrives in stores tomorrow, November 18.
"The Web Complete: Chapter 2"
For some reason, mainstream comics have an obsession with alternate versions of popular superhero characters. This might have been most prevalent during the heydays of DC's Elseworlds line, but it's true for Marvel as well, whether it's Ultimate versions or ape versions of their characters, or something else. That's certainly the case for the 1602 version of their continuity, which was originally started by Neil Gaiman in what seemed like something new and interesting at the time, but turned out to be just another version of the Marvel universe, with the same characters showing up, only with their names spelled slightly differently and with some variation on their origins to fit the time period. The problem with this whole idea is that while it might be fun to reimagine beloved characters in different settings, coming up with new versions of their costumes and maybe giving them some old-timey speech patterns, it's a dead end when it comes to storytelling; the only thing that can be done is to retell the same stories that have already been told.
Given that limitation, Jeff Parker actually does make this issue fairly enjoyable, with Peter Parquagh, known as the Spider due to the powers he gained from a spider bite (although presumably not one that has been dosed with radiation or genetically engineered), makes a voyage across the Atlantic (on the May Flower!), accompanying the criminal Norman Osborne to England for trial (for killing Peter's girlfriend Virginia Dare, who is apparently the 1602 version of Gwen Stacey). Along the way, the ship's crew is manipulated by Osborne into distrusting him, thinking he's "witchbreed" (1602-speak for mutant), but before they can throw him overboard, they're attacked by a pirate ship, commanded by Wilson Fiske, the King's Pin, of course. He's also accompanied by a tattooed fellow named Bull's Eye, who is quite the marksman with a cannon or crossbow. The predictable fighting ensues, but Parker is a good enough writer that it makes for a nice action scene, with some good old-fashioned banter from Peter. And then it's back to England and the rest of Europe, with more adventures in store for this version of Spider-Man, and plenty of other Marvel characters to happen across in future issues.
Ramon Rosanas' art works pretty well to make this all come to life, with the shipboard action being especially effective, along with some nice work on facial expressions, although some of the movement is a bit awkward and occasionally confusing. It's kind of surprising to see such a level of quality work on a throwaway miniseries like this, but hopefully Rosanas will be able to get some work on higher-profile titles at some point. He's certainly better than some of the artists who regularly get work on big-name Marvel books, so why not give him a shot?
So really, if you're dying to see what your favorite Marvel superheroes and other characters that fill out the line would be like in the Elizabethan era, it's not a bad read. The question remains, however, why the comic exists at all. If writers want to tell a story set in the 17th century (even one with superheroes), why does it have to be about Spider-Man? Can't we come up with an original idea, or do we have to keep parroting familiar stories we've all heard before, dressing them up in frilly Olde English drag? Jeff Parker has been shown to be an idea machine, and he can make stories work even under ridiculous constraints, but wouldn't it be better for everyone to let him really use his imagination and come up with something unique? I suppose we'll have to take what we can get for now, but hopefully one day he'll be free of these silly corporate shackles and able to express himself fully. I know I'll be looking expectantly toward the horizon, waiting for that day to come.
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