Much like the rest of the Marvel Universe, Spider-Man is due to go through some changes this year. He’s just wrapped up a crossover involving legions of counterparts of himself battling vampire knock-offs and is about to swing head first into “Secret Wars”, which promises to shatter the Marvel Universe as we know it and leave it forever changed. The web-slinger’s twenty year marriage to Mary Jane Watson is returning in a brief mini series, which is intended to energize the fan base which was claimed to truly desire the exact opposite when the marriage was undone in 2007. The idea that a progressive and complicated marriage between two people is considered just as garish an “alternate reality” as the “Age of Apocalypse” and “Marvel Zombies” says something about the priorities of those who run Marvel Comics, and that something isn’t good. Thankfully, before all of this hits the fan, historic Spider-Man scribe Gerry Conway is being given a chance to write one last tale with the hero before the cosmic reset button in the editorial bullpen is hit. To the pleasure of fans everywhere, the old stalwart still has plenty of gas left in his engine.
For the past two years, the main Spider-Man comic has seen the hero get his body possessed by Doctor Octopus and then become part of a reality bending crossover immediately after resolving it. Gerry Conway’s story, “Spiral”, instead gets back to the roots of what the hero is about by offering a story involving organized crime, another costumed vigilante from the supporting cast, and Spider-Man’s attempt to help her out while making sure she doesn’t “spiral” down too far to come back into the light. Police captain Yuri Watanabe has resurrected her costumed identity as the Wraith to avenge the murder of a fellow detective by the super powered mobster, Tombstone. Freed by legal technicalities which reeked of systemic corruption, Wraith has been willing to do anything to make sure Tombstone goes down – even accept leads from a rival gangster, Mr. Negative. Without either Tombstone, Green Goblin, or Kingpin heading up the underworld, the city is ripe for another gang war to chop up turf. In this issue, Hammerhead and Green Goblin’s latest acolyte Goblin King seek to divide some of that turf among themselves. Their means of settling disputes involve bare knuckled brawling matches akin to “Hard Times” rather than drive by shootings. As Spider-Man seeks to nab the villains, Watanabe faces her angered superior, a judge who may not be as dirty as he appeared (even if still guilty of crimes), and an eagerness to be manipulated if it provides her with information. Unfortunately, Spider-Man is beginning to realize that not even he may be able to save someone from getting too tangled into a dark web if they themselves don’t want to be saved.
Carlo Barberi does the art alongside inker Juan Vlasco and colorist Israel Silva, and the result is incredible. Complicated designs such as Goblin King’s armor and even Wraith’s outfit retain their details without looking too rigid, and all of the action sequences have a lot of pop and make even simple moments look more special. The showdown between Spider-Man and Hammerhead in particular is both quick and memorable. Besides the treat for the eyes, however, is Gerry Conway’s seemingly seamless transition back into a Spider-Man story utilizing characters and dynamics he’s been far removed from yet able to mingle with and capitalize upon for his story as if he’d never left. While “Spiral” may not reinvent any wheels, it doesn’t have to at this point in time. Instead, it is delivering a simple yet effective story in which Spider-Man himself is operating in character and within a situation which suits his franchise best. There are no mind swapping villains, no transports to other dimensions, and above all, no segments where the webbed hero acts like a completely different person than the one Marvel’s been publishing for over half a century.
To a degree it is obvious that Gerry Conway is more interested in fleshing out Yuri/Wraith than Spider-Man, and that may simply be due to politics. He’s not the main “Amazing Spider-Man” writer anymore, and this story is occurring on the side and on the eve of yet another crossover. There’s little he could do with Spider-Man which would have any hope of sticking, while a lower profile character like Yuri is fair game. At one point, Spider-Man mentions the Punisher (who Conway co-created), and it is an apt mention as it seems clear that he is eager to try to prevent his friend from falling into as extreme an avenue of vigilantism as Frank Castle did a long time ago. Yet unlike Dan Slott, who sometimes struggles to paint a character he favors in negative lights, Conway wisely is willing to showcase Yuri’s flaws while also following along her path. In theory her path to vigilantism makes sense given the corruption and political obstacles she faces as a police officer, but the reader also sees how she is becoming too narrow minded to see that law and order is not black and white. She believes her ends justify her means, and it seems clear that there will be a price to pay for this belief. Aside for being the title hero, Spider-Man naturally represents not going too far from the law even as a costumed vigilante.
In fact, the only demerit has nothing to do with the creative team, but for the numbering scheme which Marvel Comics have elected to pursue. This is another of their series published under the “point one initiative” plan which began over four years ago to figure out a way to sell extra comics in a manner which disguised their true purpose without simply selling side mini series or annuals (which typically sold less than regular issues of an ongoing series). Normally, these would follow a clear decimal point pattern, which even the resent “Spider-Man Year One” story did; for example, beginning in issue number 1.1 and continuing in issue 1.2 and so forth. “Spiral”, however, began with issue number 16.1 and as one can see above, sees its’ second issue as 17.1 and not 16.2 as logic would suggest. While Marvel Comics has proven that neither math or common sense apply with issue numbers anymore, this did add some needless confusion to a simple mini series. It suggests that Marvel Comics’ editorial regime is mindless of how many comics they actually publish and how easily they can compete against each other without clear directions or numbering. This column almost missed out on this issue due to this confusion, and one can imagine other readers or retailers doing so, as well.
Such would be a shame, as this is without question the best Spider-Man story of 2015, and one which should not be missed.