After a two issue break, Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man returns to being the book it presented itself as with its first issue. Zdarsky shows more restraint, Kubert is able to draw both spectacular action pieces and lively talking heads, the plot jumps from scene to scene without causing whiplash thanks to a more compressed story telling style, and clear and real stakes are established. #4 is night and day different from its proceeding two issues and, for me at least, that’s a really good thing.
That’s not to say that it’s all sunshine and rainbows and all is forgiven – for a series that presented itself as a back-to-basics Spider-Man book, it’s still a little strange that the first story told is a spy-thriller. But other than that, the pieces fall together nicely. The side plots all build into the main story line, we get a little bit more about Rebecca London, and the sizable side-cast gets attention.
If anything, this issue shows that Zdarsky is at his best on this series when he’s focusing on characters other than Peter Parker. The exchange between Jonah and Robertson felt like two adults with long history coming to terms with a drastic reversal in the power dynamic that defined their professional relationships. That’s a solid foundation of dramatic storytelling and Zdarsky is able to deliver it without undermining the drama by inserting a wacky joke or editorial box.
I don’t want to sound overly pessimistic in my critique, but it’s been hard to tell just what this title is going to be like tonally from the first four issues. Even this issue starts with a groaner of a pun, delivered in a diagetic, 4th wall bending title card shoved into a word balloon. This kind of gag is alright in Deadpool or an old She-Hulk comic, but in a Spider-Man title, it just feels out of place.
But after the following fight, the comic balances out to a whole range of emotions. Jameson’s exchange with Brant follows the same basic structure as his previous encounter with Robertson; again what was once a longtime professional relationship has its dynamics tweaked and we see Jameson’s cold exterior warm just a bit in a genuine kind of way. It’s endearing, and earned, and demonstrates that Zdarsky does have the chops to write a dramatic, character-centric story that I feel like this title is going to demand, given its focus on Peter Parker first, Spider-Man second as implied by the title (even if the title graphic reverses the emphasis made by the punctuation).
Past that, the Theresa Parker plot continues to move along, with actual antagonists appearing on page and one last shout-out reference to Parker Industries before we see the company more than likely dismantled during the Marvel “Legacy” initiative. Theresa is quickly shuffled away to London’s comedy club where we see some of London’s set. Kubert fumbles a punch line, drawing a strange grimace on London’s face as she delivers a hammy self deprecating joke. But ultimately the quick intro establishes that London is a well-received comedian.
The next scene with Spider-Man is where SSM #2 & #3 Zdarsky starts to poke through as Spider-Man launches into a comedy set that ends in a strangely accusatory rant for the character. Clearly the joke is supposed to be that London is a good comedian Spider-Man is a bad one, but outside of that I’m not entirely sure what this is supposed to be establishing other than a long throw-away gag. Though, a doctorate leading to an octopus did get a small chuckle out me.
London refusing to harbor Theresa is a nice inversion of expectations, but the only thing surprising about the Vulture’s appearance is that it’s taken four issues for him to show up. I’m not the kind of person to get super bent out of shape from MCU synergy, but it does always kind of feel creatively dry to see the same villains from the films appear in the comics. I understand the reasoning, but it still leaves a sour taste in my mouth. The issue ends with new character Hophni Mason in peril and I can’t really find myself caring too much. He seems interesting, but the reader hasn’t really been given enough of a chance or reason to connect with him for me to care about his fate, dramatically speaking. They can’t all be “The Night Gwen Stacy Died” but so far Hophni has been more of a plot convenience than a character.
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It's hard to trust after two misses, but the more character focused Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man #4 shows that writer Chip Zdarsky is capable of curbing his jokes in favor of dramatic tension, leaving hope for future issues.