Well, after a number of delays, Spider-Island is finally here. And it’s…. decent! It manages to work as an interesting alternative continuation of the original “Spider-Island” event while appealing as a stand-alone story about a unique section of Battleworld. Christos Gage’s obviously deep knowledge of Marvel continuity and fan desires helps propel what could have been an otherwise bland idea for a series into a narrative that is unique and exciting.
If you don’t remember the wonderful, original “Spider-Island” event, the story went like this: Mystical lunatic The Queen enslaved Manhattan by giving many of its residents spider-powers while also putting them under her thrall. Spider-Man, Scarlet Spider, Agent Venom and many other heroes (and Mary Jane) worked together to defeat The Queen and free Manhattan. In the “Secret Wars” version of this world, however, The Queen was never defeated. She is the ruler of the domain, and the vast majority of its citizens are under her control. Worst of all, Spider-Man was killed during an altercation with her corrupted Avengers (despite his prominence on the cover).
Fortunately, a small resistance, led by Agent Venom (Flash Thompson), Spider-Woman (Jessica Drew) and The Vision, remains unaffected due to pre-existing symbiotic, genetic, robotic, or otherwise unique conditions. The Queen’s power is massive; she controls most of the island’s citizens, which includes Captains America and Marvel, a terrifying six-armed Hulk, Iron Man, and many more. The heroes are lured into a trap by the seemingly benign Jack Russell, Werewolf (and thus uninfected by the Spider-Virus) by Night, though Agent Venom has prepared for this and brought several items from Marvel Comics lore with which to infect The Queen’s Avengers. We are left with a cliffhanger, with the question “did Agent Venom’s plan work?” left unanswered until the next issue.
On one hand, the answer is kind of obvious: it certainly will or the series’ hook will be much less enticing. Part of the fun is seeing Captain America in his werewolf form alongside the Lizard/Hulk in a bizarre version of smashed together continuities. Gage’s writing is solid and honors the original “Spider-Island” storyline with nods to character transformations of Marvel’s past while suggesting that there may more in the series’ future. Paco Diaz and Frank D’Armata’s art is detailed and evocative of Humberto Ramos’s original “Spider-Island” work. The figures and line work are far more contained than Ramos’s work, or perhaps less stylized. I liked it, in any case, and I’m excited for more. I want to see more transformations of Marvel heroes and the inevitable showdown with the The Queen and her enthralled hench-heroes.
I haven’t said anything yet about the backup comic, which is Tom DeFalco, Ron Frenz, and Sal Buscema’s Mayday Parker: Spider-Woman (Or maybe just Spider-Girl, as it’s listed in the beginning of the book). I’m still scratching my head about this for a number of reasons. First, it doesn’t particularly “go” with Spider-Island at all, instead acting as an epilogue or continuation of Mayday’s story from the “Spider-Verse” crossover. This alone should place this in the Spider-Verse comic, rather than Spider-Island, but…maybe it was a space issue? Additionally, the comic doesn’t seem to take place in Battleworld: it’s a direct continuation of Mayday’s storyline from “Spider-Verse,” in the MC2 universe. It is an interesting conclusion that I’m finding hard to object to, but it seems to run counter to Marvel’s pervasive “Secret Wars” branding.
Moving beyond those issues, this backup is mired in continuity and seemingly unapproachable for readers not familiar with Mayday. I luckily know a fair amount about the character, and saw it as a continuation of her comic. The story worked in that sense, though its goal as a backup was perhaps not met.
Gage, Diaz, and D’Armata deliver an intriguing look at a potential future of Spider-Island, with enough hooks and ideas to keep readers interested. The first issue takes too long to establish the plot, but it promises to have interesting consequences. The art is great and the cast is exciting, and I can’t wait to read the next issue.
However, the backup story has some issues. While certainly pertinent and interesting to fans of Mayday Parker, is likely to confuse a majority of readers rather than entice them into reading more about the young heroine. Hopefully future installments will remedy some of these issues!