This article was originally published at Comics Bulletin on July 5, 2016.
When you talk about Marvel Comics, you often talk about franchises. You don’t just discuss the Avengers or X-Menbook, but the Avengers or X-Men line as a whole. It’s how the publisher has organized their IP in order to better manage and sell it. This year, Comics Bulletin Co-Managing Editor Chase Magnett has been diving down the rabbit hole of these franchises in review series. So far he has tackled classic teams like The Avengers and X-Men as well as Marvel’s push to make the Inhumans happen. Now he’s looking at a franchise based not on a team, but a single character: Spider-Man. Is the massive proliferation of Spider-books resulting in quality or just quantity? Let’s find out.
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Sara Pichelli and Gaetano Carlucci
Colors by Justin Ponsor
Letters by Cory Petit
Brian Michael Bendis is a comics writer who finds absolutely no shame in showing off the things he loves, andSpider-Man #5 is a comic where those favorites are on full display. From preferred collaborators (e.g. artist Sara Pichelli) to characters (both Goldballs and Jessica Jones make an appearance) to style (that Bendis dialogue), this issue is Bendis at his most Bendis.
“Bendis at his most Bendis” is inherently neither a good nor bad statement, but simply an apt description. He has been working in comics long enough for veteran readers to know what to expect and Spider-Man #5 will deliver. The work delivered by Pichelli is certainly a boon to the story. Her depiction of expressive faces and bodies enhances the dialogue-heavy comic a great deal. Pichelli specializes in not overselling emotion. A slight look of discomfort from Ganke at being interrogated by Miles’ mother is just that, a slight look of discomfort. Her ability to vary faces is just as valuable, making these characters into distinct, recognizable figures. You can see your own interactions within them, which makes them much more relatable. Colorist Justin Ponsor’s grasp of light sources and varying skin tones elevates all of these qualities as well.
The one point in Spider-Man #5 where Pichelli’s work falters is in a climactic action sequence featuring Spider-Man, Black Cat, and Hammerhead. The failings of this scene in particular are not solely hers though. This particular moment is the only occurrence of action in an issue heavy with scripting, and only takes approximately four pages to unfold. Action is not so much delivered as it is summarized. A few key things must occur and so they do as predictably as could be expected. Miles escapes, Hammerhead is defeated, and Black Cat escapes. There are no special twists to the action and no exciting moments of violence. Miles defeat of both Hammerhead and a lacky are surprisingly low key.
This summarization of story is the most consistent flaw within Spider-Man #5. You can make a laundry list of what occurred within the issue once it is read, but connecting how each scene led to another is a more difficult task. Ganke talking to Miles’ mom, the fallout of Goldballs discovering Miles’ identity, and the escape sequence all float in a storytelling vacuum with nothing capable of impacting anything else. This is partially a consequence of serialized storytelling, but their absolute disconnect still begs the question of why these things matter within the context of a single issue.
Bendis’ unique approach to dialogue in superhero comics helps to cover the cracks of inconsequence to some degree. While his effectiveness varies, here he is on point. Ganke’s conversation with Miles’ mother is genuinely funny and each conversation contains some combination of exposition, charm, and characterization. He even limits the space-wasting trick of repeated panels to only a single pair in this issue, saving the readers the agony of something like the facial hair bros scene in Invincible Iron Man #1.
Spider-Man #5 is a perfectly ordinary issue of the series and of Bendis’ oeuvre. It will seem familiar to those who are familiar with the writer. Pichelli’s artwork and a few good gags give it a boost, but the former does not find opportunity to stretch her skills and the latter do not make up for very real narrative failings. It is exactly what one would expect based on its cover and credits, a normalized level of enjoyment from consistent storytelling in this medium and genre. No less and certainly no more.