Amazing Spider-Man, Miles Morales: Spider-Man, Spider-Gwen: Ghost-Spider, Spider-Geddon, Superior Spider-Man, and more: the world has not been lacking for Spider-Man stories. It may, however, for the first time in a long time, be lacking for Peter Parker stories. That’s where Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man from writer Tom Taylor (All New Wolverine, X-Men: Red) and artist Juan Cabal (X-23) comes in. Binding Peter Parker to just his neighborhood, the same he one lives in Spencer’s Amazing Spider-Man, the book promises to keep stories local, believable, focused on the small things Spidey does for the people around him.
Sounds great! But, with the first issue here, does it succeed in setting up the premise for stories to follow? Yes…and no.
There’s no denying that the issue starts off stunningly well: Spidey swinging through a narrow New York alley, big events in his life (the death of Gwen Stacy, Venom, Miles, more) reflected behind him: “I’m your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. And this is my neighborhood.” As strong a mission statement for a narrative as I’ve ever seen. But things in the big picture, as striking as it may seem, are askew.
The issue? That the meat of this issue is focused on a lovable, earnest Pete who really shines in small moments like carrying groceries for his elderly neighbor or fighting with his supervillain roommate about underwear (great stuff! Both the breathable spandex and the plot!) playing catch up on too large and disparate a scale. Catch up with a falling moving truck, catch up with his neighbors, catch up with a sinister plot playing out right in his apartment. It’s not so much detective story as it is a game of Clue where Pete’s late to the party, so we don’t know any of the players. There’s no weight to any of it, no complexity or character because we simply don’t know the people at hand well enough yet. Not necessarily fun to read, even if it is important to establish a new setting or status quo, and not as original as it may think — despite a strange little plot twist almost literally falling into his lap at the end of the issue.
Luckily, Cabal’s art is anything but status quo: proficient in detailing, but knowing when to be reserved, fluid and with a great eye for form and anatomy, this Spidey is a lot of fun to behold. Back to back panels of the aforementioned reflections as well as a scene where Spider-Man stops a falling moving truck with various shadows of his self dancing around the frame demonstrate the heroic points well enough but earnest, believable character expressions and a dynamic energy to oftentimes droll dialogue scenes seal the deal.
That’s only the first story, however.
Contained within this debut is a second backup story also written by Taylor and illustrated by Marcelo Ferreira. Earnest and sorrowful, it tells a sweet, sad story from Aunt May’s perspective that spares no punches in pulling the heartstrings — it’s undeniably more concise and captivating than its predecessor. The problem? It’s been done before (no spoilers!), ad infinitum, and without a serious shock or twist to reinvigorate the stakes, I can’t possibly see the end result being new or noteworthy enough to strike an honest chord with longtime Spidey readers. Time will tell of course, but the narrative effect is marred by the direction in all results, not unlike its predecessor at all.
And that’s really the bigger picture here. This Spidey, as earnest as Gabby and Laura and all the greats under Taylor before, is lovable and sincere, heroic and honest, but there’s just no denying that Pete’s block feels a little too big and unwieldy even for him right now — here’s hoping that the sidewalk gets even a little shorter in the future. The premise is built around it, after all.