Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

12 October 2013

Spider-Man: The World's Greatest Super Hero

Collects: Peter Parker: Spider-Man #156.1, Sensational Spider-Man #33.1-33.2, and Web of Spider-Man #129.1-129.2 (2012)

Released: November 2012 (Marvel)

Format: 112 pages / color / $14.99 / ISBN: 9780785165729

What is this?: Anniversary cash-in for Spider-Man’s fiftieth anniversary.

The culprits: Writers Roger Stern, Tom DeFalco, and Stuart Moore and artists Roberto de la Torre, Carlo Barberi, and Damion Scott

Is it a shameless cash grab, or is it an inconsequential, harmless story?

That’s the question I ask when I see a prominent hero headlining a limited series or trade paperback that is not part of the hero’s regular series. Is this something I might enjoy, albeit in a continuity-light manner, or is it something designed to sucker in the completists and unobservant?

I don’t think Spider-Man: The World's Greatest Super Hero is a cash grab. The numbering of the issues in the collection — continuing cancelled Spider-series with decimals — suggests Marvel wants people who don’t understand what “anniversary story” means to think of these tales as a continuation, as somehow important. Still, I can’t see anyone falling for that trap. I mean, decimals? That screams desperation.

Spider-Man: The World’s Greatest Super Hero coverThe stories in World’s Greatest are helpfully arranged in order of quality, so if you’d like, you can read the first story, then toss the book aside or resell it. (Note the “re” in “resell”; do not sell this book if you have not legally obtained the book through purchase or barter or as a gift. You will likely be disappointed in the results anyway.) The first story, “Old Haunts,” is written by highly regarded former Spider-Man writer Roger Stern. The second, the first of two two-parters, is “Monsters,” written by veteran Spider-Man writer Tom DeFalco. The second two-parter, “The Brooklyn Avengers,” is written by Stuart Moore, who has written a few miscellaneous Spider-stories.

Stern’s story revisits the old Acme Warehouse, which is where Spider-Man confronted the man who killed Uncle Ben. Reporter Norah Winters asks Peter to accompany her while she pokes around the old place; Peter senses something fishy and pushes Norah to give up her questioning before he investigates the place as Spider-Man. The criminals are tied to the Brand Corporation, Spider-Man rescues innocents while punishing those who try to cover up the illegal operation with explosives, Norah learns a lesson; it lacks a bit of heft, but not in a bad way. Spider-Man gets to be a hero, an old Stern-era baddie shows up to remind us about how bad it is, and life goes on. There are many worse ways to mark an anniversary …

And one of those ways is telling a story that has absolutely nothing to do with the anniversary. DeFalco’s “Monsters” is another modern Spider-tale, set in the period before Peter Parker’s fall from grace as a photog and the beginning of his romantic relationship with Carlie Cooper. (“Old Haunts” probably falls into the same time period.) “Monsters” makes no reference to the past, evokes none of Spider-Man’s dominant themes, and is as much a Carlie Cooper story as it is a Spider-Man story. That last is the most damning, given this collection’s goal.

Of the three stories in World’s Greatest, I can most easily see “Monsters” fitting into the regular series; it seems just about perfect for a Web of Spider-Man v. 1 two-parter, although ironically it was published in Sensational #33.1 and 33.2. The story is terribly earnest about human trafficking, which is better than being flip about it, but Carlie seems to be randomly chosen to be the one who cares so much. The title refers to the parallels DeFalco makes between mobster Balik Vorski, a corrupt FBI agent, and the physically mutated Vulture. If Vorski deals in human trafficking, and the FBI agent shields him from the law, then who is the real monster? The answer is all of them, of course.

“The Brooklyn Avengers,” however, is the worst kind of anniversary story: the continuity implant. The Brooklyn Avengers aren’t one of the countless current Avengers teams; they are a group of no-hopers, worse than the Great Lakes Avengers at their worst. The GLA would probably laugh at the Brooklyn Avengers, especially as one Brooklyn Avenger’s power is to generate paintballs. Spider-Man allegedly joined up with the BA early in his career and dropped them after a few missions proved they weren’t at his power or competence level; in “The Brooklyn Avengers,” a couple of members have died, and Spider-Man reunites with them to investigate their old foes.

Unfortunately, the BA don’t rise above one-note jokes, never quite gaining the humanity necessary for me to care whether they live or die. Given the team’s reactions at the end of the story, the survivors aren’t too broken up over the deaths either, even though one member had a sibling die. By the end, like Spider-Man, I don’t wish the Brooklyn Avengers ill. I just want them to go away.

The quality of the art matches the quality of writing. Roberto de la Torre gives “Old Haunts” an atmospheric look vaguely reminiscent of Michael Gaydos or Michael Lark, although de la Torre’s work is not as polished or detailed. Still, it’s exactly what a story about a fight under a warehouse calls for. Carlo Barberi’s work on “Monsters” is pretty to look at, and I like how he draws the new Vulture, but his Peter Parker is a pretty boy who looks nothing like other artists’ Peter, and I’m not sold on his portrayal of characters’ emotions. I’ll admit Damion Scott’s extremely cartoony work for “Brooklyn Avengers” fits the humorous tone Moore was going for, but I don't enjoy looking at it. The characters have cramped torsos and faces and distended limbs; something about the vivid colors and exaggerated proportions puts me in mind of graffiti, but not in a good way.

World’s Greatest is missable. If you read it, you might get a few moments enjoyment. Most likely you’ll forget it almost immediately, as even the best story rises slightly above the sea of mediocre. Save yourself the time: skip it in the first place.

Rating: Marvel symbol Half Marvel symbol (1.5 of 5)

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