I understand that the calendar technically reads 2015 this morning, but I figured before I jumped into my next theme month on Chasing Amazing I would revisit the past 365 days of comics.
2014 was actually quite a polarizing year for Spider-Man – at least from my perspective. I don’t remember the last time I was simultaneously so impressed and so disappointed with the output. The year obviously marked the official end of the Superior Spider-Man era, which was about as inspired and enjoyable of a run of Spidey comics as we’ve seen over the past decade. But with the end of Superior came the return of Peter – a moment I thought I would celebrate, but instead I found myself bemoaning. Naturally I’ll get to all of the finer details of praise and criticism in a matter of moments:
Marcos Martin: One of my all-time favorite Spidey artists made a brief return to the character earlier this year in Superior Spider-Man #26, the prologue to the final “Goblin Nation” arc. Martin only contributed a handful of pages in the issue, which featured three different artists and had every right to be an artistic disaster filled with stylistic clashes. But it wasn’t and in addition to being a well done comic, Martin’s pages were an absolute revelation. His sequence depicted Peter in the Mindscape, a barren wasteland of Spider-Man’s greatest memories. I believe I said in my original review that Martin illustrates what my dreams look like. It helps that Slott’s script rises to the occasion of Martin’s beautiful pencils, lending the book a tone of hope and perseverance; truly one of the best Spidey scenes of the year.
A few months later, Martin provided cover art for an Amazing Spider-Man #1 (vol. 3) variant that depicted Spidey rising like a phoenix. While I’m not a huge fan of picking up variants, I absolutely had to own it and it was the only ASM #1 variant I dropped some (serious) coin on.
Spider-Verse: While only halfway through the main arc, “Spider-Verse” so far has been worth the hype and is shaping up to be the best Spider-centric event since 2011’s “Spider Island.” Dan Slott has clearly put a tremendous amount of energy and effort into crafting this huge story, but whereas I was initially concerned that the arc would collapse under the weight of its plethora of characters and its overall creative bombast, “Spider-Verse” has demonstrated some nuanced character work in unexpected places.
Spider-Gwen: Probably the most high profile character debut in Spider-book history came as part of Edge of Spider-Verse #2 with the introduction of an alternative universe Gwen Stacy who operates as the hero Spider-Woman. Oddly enough, there’s been a little bit of backlash about the character since her debut – namely from fans that I think complain for the sake of doing so. Because in my humble opinion, Spider-Gwen’s creators, Jason Latour and Robbie Rodriguez managed to tap into something beautiful and wonderful in her debut issue. Spider-Gwen is a totally unique kind of her – someone I think men and women should be able to identify with the way people first connected to Peter Parker during the Silver Age. I know I can’t wait for her new series in February.
Superior Foes Finale: Superior Foes of Spider-Man was one of the best series I’ve ever read – period. What Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber managed to do over the span of 17 issues is nothing short of amazing; taking a bunch of underused and/or forgotten about villains and developing a legitimately hilarious caper story about this cast of misfits. Boomerang (this guy!) is now an A-list Marvel character in my opinion, while Shocker very well might be the new kingpin of the criminal underworld (or not). Superior Foes #17 was a pitch perfect final issue, hitting all the notes in terms of humor, sentimentality and just a little bit of self-congratulations from the creators, for polishing off what appeared to be a turd of an idea and transforming it into my favorite book every single month.
The Return of Peter David: The reboot of Spider-Man 2099 had been rumored for so long, it almost doesn’t feel like the series just launched in July. However, the character’s original creator, Peter David, brought the book back with style, delivering to readers a smartly funny fish out of water tale about Miguel O’Hara in the present day. The main arc has hit a bit of a snag since “Spider-Verse” kicked off, but David is a total pro and it’s just great to see him back on a Spider-book again.
Axis Spinoffs: I was definitely hesitant to read dedicated Hobgoblin and Carnage miniseries, especially if the premise was that these two villains has been “inverted” into heroes, but both Axis books delivered in spades in terms of humor and interesting character work. Kevin Shinick, writer of Axis: Hobgoblin, demonstrated once again that he deserves his own ongoing somewhere in the Spider-book world, while the same could be said for artist Javier Rodriguez. Meanwhile, Rick Spears, writer of Axis: Carnage, took the character in an exciting new direction. Hopefully he and Cletus are paired off again in the near future.
Goblin Nation: A storyline that started with such promise quickly devolved into a demonstration of why so many comic book fans are burnt out on “events.” Dan Slott didn’t even script the majority of that series (though he did plot it) with those duties being assigned to Christos Gage. As a result, the final arc of one of the most ambitious storylines in Spider-Man history read like total filler. The reveal of the Green Goblin’s secret identity (it’s Norman Osborn, but with face transformation technology) was a total dud, while the return of Peter Parker (and the defeat of Otto Octavius) was as anti-climactic as it gets in comics. It’s just a terrible shame that after 16 months of build, the ending to Superior felt so rushed and didn’t even demand its creator, Slott’s, full attention.
Peter’s Return: I was so indescribably happy when news broke earlier this year that Peter Parker would be returning in April (just in time for a new movie, naturally). However, after a fun and spirited first issue, the third volume of Amazing Spider-Man was a major letdown, filled with bizarre character moments, a lack of focus on Peter, and a plot that carried on too long and was ultimately sandwiched between larger status quo shifts via Original Sin and “Spider-Verse.” If not for the initial success of “Spider-Verse,” I would seriously be questioning my dedication to this series right now based on the first six issues of ASM vol. 3.
Learning to Crawl: In the same vein, Dan Slott’s “Learning to Crawl” miniseries, which took readers all the way back to Peter’s earliest days (but was not a reimagining of his origin), was a colossal disappointment, primarily because there was no point to the whole thing. Slott’s script vacillated between having too much reverence and respect for the Stan Lee/Steve Ditko source material to take any real risks while also trying to present nuanced little character tidbits as earth-shattering revelations. The Clayton Cowles “Clash” character was irritating in a way that only Alpha could understand. Ramon Perez’s art was beautiful and channeled Ditko in all the right ways, but that didn’t help save the series as a whole.
Spider-Man and X-Men: It takes a lot for me to give up on a series after one issue, but Spider-Man and the X-Men might have achieved just that. It’s a book that feels completely disconnected, in all the worse ways, from the current Spider-Man status quo and seems like nothing other than a cynical cash grab by Marvel to put two of their best-selling properties in the same book.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2: While not a comic book, Sony’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2 undoubtedly had an impact on the Marvel Universe this past year (especially if you believe – as you should – that Peter was brought back explicitly to coincide with this movie’s release). Marc Webb directed a tone deaf movie that rarely captured any of Spider-Man’s spirit or fun. Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone had great chemistry together, but their onscreen/off-screen romance was only able to carry this film so far. And any time they had a great moment together, it was usually outdone by terrible cast/developed villains and the boring subplot of Peter learning about his spy parents. Like many other Spidey movie fans, I remain hopeful that Marvel Studios can get some semblance of creative control of the franchise, since Sony has now demonstrated three times in a row that they have no business making Spider-Man movies.