The best that can be said about this last installment of “Spider-Verse” is that it isn’t as terrible as it could have been, if only because it’s too busy helping to sell the next wave of Spider-Man comic books. It is akin to entering a doctor’s office fearing a diagnosis of flesh eating bacteria and instead learning it’s a rash. While a relief, it is still painful and irritating.
As the cover stipulates, this is an “epilogue” to the overall “Spider-Verse” saga, although it may be easy to remember that there were preludes to it which date back to May 2014. The villains have been defeated in as absurd and underwhelming a manner as they appeared, and the remaining pages are hell bent on delivering on some sort of satisfying conclusion, whether it was earned or not. The surviving Spider-Men who didn’t get eaten or killed or seriously maimed all slap hands and go back home, making sure to promote their current or upcoming comic book series as they go. Anyone expecting any mourning despite the fact that many previous chapters drove home pages and pages of destruction and slaughter with all the bluntness of a sledgehammer on jello will be disappointed. Spider-Man and his various counterparts literally fought a war across reality for their very survival against enemies who were as powerful as gods which saw casualties and tragedies all around them, and their main reaction is essentially ignoring all of that and simply celebrating, as if it were a video game and they’d all just gained some levels. May “Mayday” Parker goes back to (what is presumably) the “MC2” universe to find that her mom’s moved on from her husband’s murder with sickening speed and is offering her a spare retro Spider-Man suit. Karn replaces the master weaver, who turns out to be a future version of himself. “Spider-Punk” is revealed as being Hobie Brown, which is such an awkward cliche that the only way it could be worse would be if he’d been called “Gangsta Spider-Man” instead. Julia Carpenter, who once was an interesting character as a superhero and a single mother, instead continues her jaw dropping turn as a vague and utterly useless precognitive. And finally, not even the epilogue can avoid feeling as repetitive as a game of “whack-a-mole” in offering the second (or third) seemingly “final battle” against Superior Spider-Man as well as considering it a “surprise” that Kaine has escaped death for at least the third or fourth time in his history.
It is always frustrating when one can seem to read the voice of the author himself trying to project a particular set of views or opinions through the mouths of the characters and the reaction of the world around them despite evidence within their own work which refutes it. An initially interesting idea, the “Superior Spider-Man” era has ultimately failed as a story due to the sheer insistence by the “voice of God” (in this case, writer Dan Slott) that Doctor Octopus isn’t simply a desperate megalomaniac who stole his enemy’s body and sought to steal his life and reputation just to serve his own ego and needs by any means necessary, but is a misguided “anti-hero” on a path towards redemption. It gets especially frustrating when Spider-Man himself seems to share this viewpoint, despite literally being a hostage in his own body, watching Ock use his form to murder, con, and rape (by deception) others. Not even Ock attempting to destroy all of reality to save his own skin (by cutting down the “web of life”) seems to sway Spider-Man’s opinion that he’s merely “a jerk” instead of someone monstrously (yet pathetically) evil. As satisfying as it may be to watch Peter punch Ock out (again), the words of the piece make it feel more hollow than it should. Despite Ock’s insistence, he was never a hero by any means. He is a figure who spent most of his life performing evil acts of super villainy and who sought to escape the death he earned for himself by burning the world out of spite before murdering his enemy and stealing his form. It was only through Peter’s tenacity that Ock did not succeed. As “superior Spider-Man”, Ock may have gone through the motions of heroism but it was all to serve his own ego or his own ends, where he violated nearly every moral Peter had while his “psychic ghost” often could only watch. To a degree this is all in character; Ock was rarely genuinely noble. The issue was how Peter, his supporting cast and even the story around them often reacted to or sought to justify Ock’s actions. When the Green Goblin manages to exploit Ock’s mania and take over the city, Ock does what most villains do – flee and leave someone else to clean up his mess. Rather than react to such a horrific experience as fans would expect, Peter seems to be little more perturbed than if Ock had simply disorganized his DVD collection or wrinkled some of his shirts. Having finally been rid of it earlier this year, it has been an unpleasant experience (not unlike acid reflux) to see this repeat in “Spider-Verse”.
Events involving Mayday Parker and Anya Corazon initially appear “spontaneous”, but in reality merely continue editorial whims which began almost five years ago. The reasons for it are apparent by the comic itself; all serves the next sell. A page after Mayday Parker is handed her father’s costume to wear (so she simply looks like regular Spider-Man, only as a woman, visually), by sheer coincidence a very similar looking Spider-Girl (or Spider-Woman) appears in an ad for a new episode of Disney XD’s “Ultimate Spider-Man: Web Warriors” animated series. Meanwhile, Anya Corazon (who went by the more memorable “Arana” for her first six years of existence) manages to retain the “Spider-Girl” name as she’s set up to star (or co-star) in a “Secret Wars” mini series which drags some segment of “Spider-Verse” on like a dusty web which won’t be rubbed off. As Tom DeFalco himself stated back in July 2010, Marvel’s grand vision was to diminish the role that Mayday Parker had in the universe (despite having her own series for 150 issues of material since 1998) while elevating the role of Anya by having her obtain Mayday’s codename and Julia Carpenter’s costume. The intention may have been understandable (to elevate a heroine of color who was co-created by a colleague of J. Michael Straczynski), but in practice it merely implied that the women were interchangeable, and that only a few costume and name swaps would “fix” them. Since 2004, Anya Corazon has been allowed 2-3 ongoing series to establish themselves and none have lasted longer than a year; yet even now Marvel continues to be committed to elevate Anya while diminishing Mayday. It is a shame the company can’t be so tenacious about better things within Spider-Man’s franchise. And it is a shame that a crossover such as this which may have provided ample reason to reprint and resell Mayday’s long back issues of adventure has sought to handle her so woefully.
Despite having stumbled and bumbled his way through a war, the “genuine” Spider-Man tries to finish things on an upbeat note, swinging with confidence and recommitting himself to being a hero of the people (by thwarting a purse snatching). At no point does Spider-Man react to any of the atrocities he’s seen or suffered at the hands of Ock or Morlun beyond a few one liners or bombastic action movie lines here or there. Yet no matter how desperately this story tries to end things on an upbeat and triumphant note as awkwardly as only the most average action film, there is an undercurrent of something else which runs through this issue and in fact this entire work: fear.
There is a fear of allowing Spider-Man to be allowed to progress or develop as a character past some shallow and specific point, despite the fact that he’s become a global sensation during eras when he was allowed to do exactly that. There is a fear of what Marvel Comics’ owners may do if the comic books don’t tie the line a bit and help promote alternate media (such as the cartoon rights they haggled away from Sony) a bit. And there is even an old fear for the Spider-Man franchise, one which existed throughout the 70’s and early 80’s – the fear of a stable relationship. While Mary Jane of MC2 may act cheerful (for pure plot convenience), in reality she’s become a widower. The “dangerous” life of Spider-Man destroyed her home and her family, catering to every doubt she may have ever had about committing to Peter. Whether through “One More Day” in 2007 or “Spider-Verse” in 2015, the editorial board seems to be driving home the idea that fear is more powerful than love. That the fear of losing someone you love is worth denying the love you feel for another, or worth no longer allowing them to make their own decisions and risks to fulfill it. If every incarnation of the Peter and MJ marriage that audiences see ends in annulment or tragedy, it only reinforces that idea. And if Peter Parker truly lived in fear, he’d have simply used his powers to become rich and get he and his aunt out of Queens into some gated community where no burglars could ever intrude. Instead Spider-Man is all about responsibility, and there is no greater fuel for responsibility than love. Readers are truly in the midst of some interesting times when “Daredevil” (formerly the poster child for bleakness) is exploring themes of settling down and truly being a “man without fear” in terms of his love life while Spider-Man is caught in an endless cycle of increasingly shallow relationships out of the fear of tragedy ultimately befalling them. Sadly, these editorial decisions seem to be made more out of the need to fulfill desires of the pasts of a select few rather than what a modern audience truly wants, and so a schism between the fan bases is undoubtedly going to continue.
The art by Giuseppe Camuncoli is nice, even if not entirely best served by having to draw a few hundred variations of the same design. Justin Ponsor delivers on solid colors with two inkers in tow. And to give Dan Slott some credit, some of the one-liners are amusing, even if unintentionally.
This epilogue of “Spider-Verse” seems to cement what the franchise stands for right now. For the moment, Spider-Man is all about diminishing the individuality of both its’ star as well as many key connected characters in service to selling the next line of action figures, comics, video games and animated series. It is no longer about power and responsibility but is instead about convenient writing, unearned emotional beats and sloppy, uneven narratives. It is no longer about a hero not so far removed from the audience taking the good and bad with his amazing life (and the amazing people around him) and is instead about repeating the same cycles of stories from the Silver Age with a few modern details thrown in – under the belief that seeing the one millionth story of Peter missing a date with a different lady of the year because of being a superhero is suddenly more innovative if an iPad is shown within. Even as the plot to a video game, this would have been a mindless button masher. However, as a statement as to what Marvel’s top selling comic book franchise stands for right now, “Spider-Verse” couldn’t be any clearer.