CRT: Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man Review!
I’m hoping you fine folks are enjoying your summah! I, in particular, am busy not only soaking up the sunshine, but I’m also currently basking in a Spider-man resurgence. Spider-man: Far From Home released this week, and while I’ll save my in-depth review for the podcast, I will say it is really fun. It definitely is an extension of the spirit of Spider-Man: Homecoming. Homecoming and its youthful energy were so welcome in the face of the previous Sony Amazing Spider-man attempts.
I’m not going too far in depth in slagging that franchise, but it was a dark time for this Spidey fan. Any positives of the ASM movies (Emma Stone is rad) went right out the window because the creators didn’t understand the character of Peter Parker. You can’t have Peter Parker pledging to a dying Captain Stacy that he’ll stay away from his daughter, only to have him crawling through her window a short time later. Were they trying to make him hip and rebellious? Perhaps, but it was more Poochie than Peter Parker in my mind. That’s not how Spider-man works. We’ll just leave it at the movies were so bad, Sony Pictures basically gave the franchise to Marvel to fix. That simply doesn’t happen if the Mark Webb movies were anywhere close to quality offerings.
Meanwhile, in the comic world at that time, you were midway through the Dan Slott reign on Amazing Spider-man, which was not to my particular tastes. They were dark times, indeed.
But then Marvel pitched in and helped with Homecoming and all the Spider-man appearances in Civil Wars and Avengers films.
There are elements of the new Tom Holland Spidey that may not match my idealized Spider-man (I’m looking at you, junior Iron Man parts and ridiculously youthful and attractive Aunt May), but the spirit of the MCU version has consistently been in the right place.On the publishing side, Nick Spencer and Chip Zdarsky, two of my favorite writers eventually took over the Spider-man comic franchise from Slott.
Even the traces of that tragic green glowy spider-costume that plagued the first few Zdarsky issues was gone. Sony chipped in with the excellent Spider-man: Into the Spider-Verse animated movie. Things were looking up on all fronts. Heck, they still are. Spencer’s Amazing has been rolling strong, and Zdarsky has since jumped from Spectacular to Spider-Man: Life Story, a really interesting miniseries that highlights Spidey as though he’s lived in real-time since his debut. Then, almost out of nowhere, came Friendly Neighborhood Spider-man. I almost didn’t pick the book up because 1) I had no idea it was coming, and 2) the covers for the first two issues looked like covers taken from advertising art, not actual comic covers. It turns out, Friendly Neighborhood Spider-man is a really great series that fans of classic Spidey stories shouldn’t sleep on.
Written by Tom Taylor with art from Juann Cabal (issues 1-4,6), Marcelo Ferreira (1), Yildiray Cinar (5), and Ken Lashley (7-8), colors primarily from Nolan Woodard, and letters from Travis Lanham, FNSM is a monthly stand-alone title. It has a mission statement to tell “smaller, local, personal stories about the world around Peter, MJ, and May” if this Tom Taylor guy is to be believed in his letter columns. It really tries to hone in on those human elements that make those characters so appealing. Of course, there are ridiculous hijinx and crazy situations like the first arc where New York meets “Under York,” a subterranean civilization that no one has ever heard of. But the focus really is on those human-feelings and characters as opposed to overpowered superhero shenanigans.
Why is this book worth picking up?
Spider-man Cares; Peter Parker Screws Up: At the end of the first issue, we learn that Aunt May is going through some health issues. It’s a gut punch at the end of an issue that had Peter Parker helping a neighbor with groceries and sticking up for a kid who was bullied–and then hopping on the bus so that the bullies don’t end up traumatized and turning into super-villains. Taylor’s Spider-man is a character who cares about the people around him. Whether it’s the kids he’s saving or the kids he’s saving someone from–this Spidey takes time out for people. Of course, that frequently leads to him not being there for the people that matter most in his personal life, but that’s how Spider-man traditionally goes.
Because of the grounded nature of these stories, you see more human interactions with friends like Johnny Storm, neighbors, the homeless, people who run the hot dog carts, orangeish-purple kids who need babysitting… you really get a handle on the way Spider-man affects people in the city, and how the people in the city affect Spider-man.
At one point, Spider-man actually helps a kid steal a car because it’s the right thing to do. Maybe not the right thing to do, but the most humane way to handle the particular situation.
The Humor: Whether it’s situational gags like Peter’s roommate Fred (a.k.a. Boomerang) stealing and then sitting around the apartment in Pete’s underpants, or jokes about how “innocent bystanders used to do less bystanding and more byrunning,” everything fits with the fun and cheesiness of traditional Spidey stories.
Taylor really has a handle on the Spider-man character, poking fun at his friendship with Johnny Storm or the fact that the Spider-suit doesn’t have pockets.
The Emotional Impact: As fun as the series is, Taylor and company also know how to tug at the heart-strings. While re-reading through the series to write this article, I found myself tearing up multiple times. There’s the gut punch in issue one, Spidey’s new sidekick Spider-bite in issue 6, or Aunt May starting to try to control something positive in her new situation, only to have it all taken away from her in issue 7.
Taylor knows how to set the pins up and then knock you down emotionally–in a good way!
The Art: Juann Cabal has such a crisp style. He reminds me if Sarah Pichelli’s work mixed with a less cheesecakey Terry Dodson, and then managed to throw in plenty of homages along the way. Cabal’s Spider-man is a bit stiffer than some of the looser-posed Spidey artists. Basically, he’s closer to John Romita than Steve Ditko in classic Spidey parlance, but if you look closely (and sometimes not all that closely), you’ll see nods to both.
He really stretches on the double-pagers, and his art is great fun to look at. So even though it’s still grounded, it’s crisp and has that great energy of the best Spidey artists.
Because all Marvel books are apparently double-shipped now, there have been a handful of fill-in artists as well. Yildiray Cinar’s work on an emotional issue fit in perfectly with the tone Cabal has established. Cinar’s style trades some crispness for a bit more grit, but it’s still very clear and easy to read.
Ken Lashley handles the pictures on issues 7and 8, and his style is the biggest departure. He’s got more of a heavier-inked stylized interpretation that might take me a few more issues to warm up to. His MJ looks great; his Aunt May doesn’t fit my in my favorites though.
Finally, there are the Andrew Robinson covers. I also picked up the Joe Jusko version of issue 1. These are fine. There’s something about Robinson’s Spidey, whether it’s the more slender build or the big head that lends itself to a younger version of Spidey; it just doesn’t seem like they fit the book, if I’m being honest.
They’re not bad, but I would love to see Cabal get the chance to show what’s on the inside on the outside, too.
This is a book that’s in great hands. Tom Taylor, whose name I noticed first here before tracking down some of his Injustice run, seems like exactly the type of writer that comic books need right now. First, he took a video-game property and turned it into a really fun, crazy series that might get teens actually reading comics. He’s been able to run wild on books like DCeased, a zombie story which I haven’t read but have heard nothing but good things about. He’s hitting these emotional stories in FNSM out of the park. He’s now moved in my mind into a place currently occupied with writers like Bendis, Mark Russell, Chip Zdarsky, and Ed Brubaker–if his name is on a book, I’m going to check it out. I recommend, at least on Friendly Neighborhood Spider-man, that you do the same.
Final Grade: A–Some individual issues are A+ efforts (5-6) and the rest are all pretty solid.
Ultimately, as a fan, I feel like we’re in a really good place right now. Spencer on Amazing is solid. Zdarsky’s mini, which I’ll talk more about once it wraps, is really good, and Friendly Neighborhood Spider-man is also churning out top-notch Spidey storytelling twice a month. Plus, there’s that whole movie thing. So get out there and enjoy it, fellow Spidey-fans!
Until next time, I’ll probably be watching and re-watching all of these great Spidey movies and enjoying this renaissance of solid comic-bookery!