Editor's Note: Spider-Man and the Secret Wars #1 arrives in stores tomorrow, December 9.
I wasn't sure what to expect from this opening issue of Spider-Man and the Secret Wars. As many of my fellow ComicsBulletin reviewers already know, I'm a big defender of the original Secret Wars as one of the most downright enjoyable superhero crossovers ever produced by DC or Marvel. However, I'm also acutely aware that my affection for the series is rooted in a certain sense of nostalgia for the book (and for the Marvel Universe of the 1980s in general), and I'm sure that if I had only recently encountered the book for the first time -- and applied my (dare I say) slightly more sophisticated adult critical faculties to the story, rather than viewing it through rose-tinted spectacles -- I would probably find it wanting in more than one respect. After all, this was a series that was conceived as a way to sell a new line of Marvel action figures, first and foremost, and the erratic plotting, shallow characterisation and dodgy internal logic of the series would all probably irritate me if I were to encounter them in a superhero comic today.
So with this in mind, why am I giving the first issue of a new book that revisits the series a slightly above-average bullet rating? Well, writer Paul Tobin manages to pull off a reasonably tricky balancing act here, allowing Spider-Man and the Secret Wars to stand as both a nostalgic revisitation of the forerunner of the modern superhero crossover event, and as a slightly more tongue-in-cheek examination of some of the series' sillier elements.
Rather than simply rehashing the story that we saw in the original Secret Wars, Tobin expands Spider-Man's role in the crossover somewhat. We see Spidey interacting with characters in ways that we didn't see in the original series, and making a few more cracks at the expense of his fellow superheroes (and, occasionally, taking hypertextual pot-shots at the logic of Secret Wars itself) -- making it a sort of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead to Secret Wars's Hamlet. This notion that the series is set behind the scenes of the story that we already know gives the book an enjoyable sense of mischief and playfulness whilst also preventing things from getting too staid and predictable, and the everyman that is Spider-Man makes for a perfect "gateway" character for any readers who might need bringing up to speed on some of the details of the original story.
Despite having some fun with the invention of new "unseen" moments from the Secret Wars story, Tobin doesn't completely avoid an overlap between his book and the original series. In fact, one of the central scenes of the issue revolves around the famous moment from Secret Wars #4 in which the Hulk holds an entire mountain above his head in order to prevent it from falling on his friends. It's a moment that Tobin treats with a certain amount of respect, playing up the grandeur of the moment (and adding a few extra details to the scene in order to make our heroes' escape seem slightly more plausible). However, he never feels as though he's being so reverential to the source material that he's above making a few jokes at its expense, or adding a couple of amusing wrinkles to the character relationships. To whit, we get fun moments like Spider-Man questioning exactly why Captain America wants the heroes to explore the dangerous terrain of Battleworld on foot when they have an entire base full of monitoring technology, and some simmering tension between Spidey and the Hulk that pays off in a pleasing manner (and one that actually enhances the original story, too).
In addition to all of this, Tobin manages to write this first issue in such a way that it can be appreciated both in its own right and as an adjunct to the original series. There's a brief recap of the Beyonder's plan towards the start of the issue, and some reasonably compelling cliffhangers throughout the issue that should keep things reasonably interesting even for those readers who don't have a prior investment in the Secret Wars saga.
Patrick Scherberger's artwork suits the story well, with an occasionally exaggerated quality that feels like a slightly toned-down Humberto Ramos, and an ability to capture the larger-than-life quality of the Secret Wars concepts without being seduced by cartoonish excesses that might render the story completely ridiculous. It's bright, colourful and dynamic without ever feeling too serious or po-faced, and I'm sure that readers who enjoyed the original Secret Wars will get a kick out of seeing concepts from that book given a fresh lick of paint -- and that goes for this first issue as a whole, too.
This isn't going to blow anyone away, but it's a fun romp with a link to one of Marvel's most defining crossovers (for good or bad), and as such I'm sure it'll find more than a few appreciative readers.
What did you think of this book?
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