How many decent issues will it take for me to get over Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man #2 and #3? How long will it hang over ever panel, filling each page turn with absolute dread that a book that I’m warming up to will pivot back to the lows once seen? It’s hard to recommend this title when it’s on a hot streak, because it’s still too early to tell if #2 and #3 was a fluke or if Zdarsky was merely showing growing pains. Similarly, Kubert, who’s art I love and perhaps because of that have been a little too kind toward in these reviews, seems to have stepped up his game in this issue, offering some finely detailed work and enthralling panels. The reflection in Spider-Man’s lens of the Vulture escaping does wonders for visual story telling – it sells Peter’s frustration that the Vulture is getting away by freezing the moment where Peter knows he has to give up. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Like all of the issues previous to this one, Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man #5 is densely packed with plot threads and dialogue. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I think that’s one of the stand-out qualities of the title and #5 continues that trend. The Vulture fight wraps up, Hophni Mason moves in with Aunt May to open plot doors, Teresa and Peter argue, Flash is introduced while Betty makes headway in her investigation, JJJ sets up the A-plot for the next issue, and the spy plot moves forward to reveal the newest wrinkle to be added to Peter Parker’s life – all in twenty pages.
Zdarsky again shows restraint in his humor, relegating his wackier (for lack of better term) comments to editorial boxes. This allows for some more subtle jokes to slip through which actually land because they don’t shake the reader and demand to be laughed at; Peter’s Netflix innuendo isn’t a joke that gets you rolling on the floor laughing, but the set up and the joke there is more befitting of a smart witted adult. And the verisimilitude of that reaction in the face of the extraordinarily circumstance is what makes it funny and successful. In short, it’s a well crafted exchange that shows Zdarsky has the chops to write this character and write him well when he wants to. The same goes for Peter’s inability to come up with a better fake name than “Ben,” one he almost immediately realizes is both unoriginal and a really odd choice, given the circumstances of Hophni’s new roommate. It’s a way for Peter to screw up, but in a “he bombs a stand-up skit because he’s a screw up” kind of way.
The biggest, most monumental thing for this issue however, is that it actually made me excited for the next one. The promise of an on-the-record interview between JJJ and Spider-Man has so many different and interesting ways it could go, I cannot help but be excited for how it’s going to turn out. This is exactly the kind of plot I would want in a book that is supposed to focus more on Spider-Man’s side cast. And after this issue and the one prior, I think that Zdarsky can really pull it off as long as he keeps the more outlandish and brash jokes to himself and plays JJJ as the man seen in the elevator with Betty in #4 and not the blathering idiot in his pajamas falling for old pyramid schemes as we saw in #3.
Perhaps my only real problem with this issue was the inelegance of Flash’s exposition during his conversation with Betty. Hophni Mason is a creation of Zdarsky’s and I have no issue with Zdarsky using him however he sees fit. There are good and bad ways in corporate new characters into the Marvel universe at large and from Flash’s comments, it seems that Zdarsky is retconning Hophni into a bigger role in the superhero community than he perhaps deserves. It’s one thing to retcon in a minor side character that supports the metahuman community in a small way like Straczynski did with the mundane tailor Leo Zelinsky, but it’s another to introduce a character that can make all the heroes’ gadgets but better, and then imply that he’s always been there and that even people who were on the outskirts of the metahuman community like Agent Venom would know about him. Not to use the “f” word lightly, but it smacks of self-insert fanfiction when a new character immediately has such an important role to continuity at large. This is, however, a minor detail in this issue.
So, I guess it takes just two issues for me to get over two bad issues. I’m genuinely excited for #6 with only a little bit of wariness thrown into the mix. I may be counting my chickens before they hatch, but it seems like Zdarsky has settled into a more grounded approach to Spider-Man while also allowing his unique voice to peak through in some of the more subtle moments.
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Showing subtlety previously unseen in its humorous moments and promising focus on the Spider-Man/Jameson dynamic in the next issue, Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man #5 begins to transform into the comic it was marketed as during its relaunch announcements.