Ah, Peter Porker, The Spectacular Spider-Ham. Everyone’s new favorite cartoon/comic character thanks to Into The Spider-Verse with way more of a backstory and history than you would ever expect. A fabled, silly, and yet sometimes saccharine and serious character akin to none other than Howard the Duck with much more nuance than any spider-bitten pig deserves. And now, he his very own Spider-Man Annual issue split into two stories — the first of which is written by Jason Latour and illustrated by Jason Lafuente, the second written by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (of Into The Spider-Verse) and illustrated by Latour.
What’s it about? Marvel’s preview reads:
When Spider-Gwen’s dimension-hopping web-watch falls into the wrong hands, it’s up to everyone’s favorite wisecracking web-slinger, the wily waddler known as SPIDER-HAM, to save the day!
Is it good? Well…. Is it still fun? Oh yes.
After a very brief origin recap, Latour’s story leads the foray into Ham’s world — it’s a doozy. Ham helps Spider-Gwen and Miles Morales out of some mind control shenanigans (pre-Spider-Geddon), fights off boredom and chronic fatigue with “help” of J. Jonah Jackal, traverses through various nightmares and daydreams, and comes out on top. It’s a lot. Far too much to keep up with, unfortunately. While there are a number of very good ideas and one-liners here — “ant May” and “without you out there ruining the city, journalism is dying” for example — it’s hard not to feel like Latour had six ideas for every page, one for each of Man-Spider’s arms, and rather than cutting it down to a readable two or three, wrote them all in. It’s an endearing, but untenable attempt at being referential as well as refreshing that relies too much on knowledge of Spider-Ham’s vast backstory to work as effectively as it wants to.
Luckily, Lafuente’s art sets a stellar tone that carries the narrative when it gets overbearing. Walking a fine line between the visual motifs of Ham’s more cartoony, newspaper origins and Into The Spider-Verse‘s sleeker aesthetic, the look and feel of this story is dynamic, bold, and really authentically engaging. Joe Caramanga’s lettering, especially a joke about Peterman’s various hobbies, one for each arm, really helps accentuate the various visual gags, and further establishes the silly tone that the story is leaning hard into fantastically.
Dissimilarly, Lord and Miller’s story is a serious, somewhat sobering one. As Ham and Howard the Duck share drinks at a bar, ruminating not only on the end of their lives, but on the end of their worlds, and the circuitous nature of comics as a medium, they touch on the humanity and absurdity of the creation of characters such as themselves in a really unexpected, and ultimately inspiring way. Why can’t a radioactive pig and a talking duck be heroes, monoliths to their medium, after all? It’s a much less preposterous idea than one might think when a guy wearing an “A” on his head for “America” is fighting a god right behind them. This is the kind of balance between absurdism and seriousness that made Spider-Verse work and these two prove that they can deliver the same in a sleek, effective comics script here.
Latour meets the call perfectly. An insanely busy but impressive introductory page melts away to a quiet scene between Ham and Howard that is expressive and authentic, told largely by body language and framing in a way that plays up the humor but doesn’t diminish the message. When Meows Morales slams against the window, it feels both hilarious and poignant, and the design of Chewatu the watchdog is simply inspired.
All in all, this issue ends up being an experiment with diminished, but fascinating and worthwhile returns. The first story is flighty and frustrating, but also stylish and silly in a great, definitely intentional way while the latter is sobering in an unexpected but deserved and enriching way. I wouldn’t recommend this to fans hot off Into the Spider-Verse, but those who like Spider-Ham because of the massive backstory and history of the character will find a lot to dig into here.