This article was originally published at Comics Bulletin on July 9, 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 Robbie Thompson
Art by Andre Lima Arrujo
Colors by Jim Campbell
Letters by Travis Lanham
It is strange that the only approachable and kid friendly version of Spider-Man is completely disconnected from the rest of Marvel’s comics? Is it stranger that Marvel is publishing a series about young Spider-Man when they already have a young Spider-Man in the form of Miles Morales? Is the strangest thing of all that the series targeted at young readers reaffirms a white Spider-Man as the “real” one? The answers to all of these questions are yes and it’s something worth raising to the editing and marketing departments at Marvel Comics as a real problem. In spite of that strangeness though, Spidey #7 is a very entertaining comic and one I wish was part of Marvel’s “progressive” strategy.
One strategy Spidey #7 pursues exceedingly well is presenting an accessible superhero comic. Writer Robbie Thompson composes a complete story, including a moral lesson, superhero team-up, villain, and mundane sub-plot into 20 pages without any of them ever feeling overstuffed. There’s a breezy effect to his scripting as readers familiar with the genre will be able to see 10 panels ahead of each page. That’s a purposeful choice of tone and composition though. This is the shallow end of the pool designed for folks learning to swim or just wanting to get their feet wet. It is comfortable and finds its enjoyment in that tone.
That’s not to say this is purely a “kids comic” whatever that means. It strikes a tone that falls comfortably within the realm of all ages. I enjoyed the simple superhero fare aspect of it as a grown-ass man. Small sight and continuity gags are present for long-time fans of the characters. An early sequence of flashbacks includes some great references to classic Spidey villains including the very visually compelling D-lister The Spot. The plotting and pacing of Spidey #7 set a higher standard than many other superhero titles published for a more mature audience. Its different target appears to have set it free to focus on genre fundamentals, which it may not perfect, but understands quite well.
Artist Andre Lima Arrujo’s layouts are effective and could be easily read by those unfamiliar with comics without seeming redundant to those more familiar with the medium. Series of horizontal flashbacks are entertaining and both Arrujo and colorist Jim Campbell’s attention to detail help make them very effective. Readers can flip between pages and discover a consistent sense for geography both in and out of action sequences. Arrujo’s sense of physicality is off-putting when a teenaged Peter Parker fights alongside Black Panther, a grown man and king. Both characters bodies have proportions similar to those of a child, which makes their disparate ages difficult to discern and has the effect of altering how they are shown when their masks are off.
If there’s a central complaint regarding Spidey #7, it comes in missed opportunities. Simplicity does not necessitate a lack of innovation or challenge. In a fight with the super villain Klaw, Spidey realizes he must stop himself from hearing anything to win. A page turn is set up with an empty speech bubble tempting a silent battle, but it ultimately a let down. The very next page resolves everything in quick, simple fashion with this new mechanic providing only a Spidey-level (read: weak) attempt at humor.
Spidey #7 both lives and dies by its unique set of expectations. Its back-to-basics approach allows for streamlined, superhero storytelling. That selection of direct conflicts and resolutions is refreshing. However, it feels as though the comic doesn’t want to be more than a clarification of good tropes and genre motifs. There are opportunities to do more while maintaining this simplicity of story and approachable tone. With new readers must come new responsibilities, and Spidey needs to figure out what those will be.