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Of course J.J. Abrams killed four Marvel icons in his Spider-Man book

Abrams and his son’s series aims to break everything

Spider-Man swings into battle against Cadaverous in the cover to Spider-Man #2 (2019) J.J. Abrams, Henry Abrams, Sara Pichelli/Marvel Comics
Matt Patches is an executive editor at Polygon. He has over 15 years of experience reporting on movies and TV, and reviewing pop culture.

In the rejiggered universe of Marvel’s new Spider-Man run, Mary Jane is a victim of the cyborg villain Cadaverous; Peter Parker is a grieving, one-armed hero who’s traded in his costumed career for a isolated job as a war photographer; and Ben Parker is the couple’s wayward spawn. Ben holds a grudge against his distant father, a man who seems to drown himself in work, but it’s all rattled when Peter’s superheroic past comes to light.

[Ed. note: the rest of this story contains spoilers for Spider-Man #2]

In Spider-Man #2, Ben slips into the Spider-Man spandex to assume the mantle, which fits him like destiny. He can’t resist. Like father, like son. The theme of the book is also metatextual: For his foray into comic books, writer-director-producer J.J. Abrams recruited his kiddo Henry Abrams to co-write, and co-obliterate, everything Spider-Man fans would expect from a book. As he did for Mission: Impossible, Star Trek, and Star Wars, the elder Abrams approaches Spider-Man like he’s the first person to ever write for Spider-Man.

Which may explain why the dialogue in Spider-Man #2 is Extremely Dialogue, corny to the point of stilted, and the story feels familiar. But the book unfolds with confidence, and after unspooling and re-knotting the mythology in #1, Team Abrams does the same thing to Spidey’s moral code with the help of Ben’s manic pixie dream schoolmate Faye.

ben parker spider-man and faye graffiti a bank J.J. Abrams, Henry Abrams, Sara Pichelli/Marvel Comics

The brazen quality of Spider-Man, even as it stumbles through the hollow mystery of Cadaverous and scenes of Spider-Man’s teen talk, makes this a book I know I’ll jump on each issue. There are no rules in place as J.J and Henry dig around the Marvel sandbox, and if there’s room for a world-building punch to the gut, they’ll take it. Like when Spider-Man #2 killed off Captain America, Thor, Black Widow, and Hulk.

Off-screen. They’re just dead now.

spider-man and faye sit in front of a billboard that says “remember the departed” with Captain America, Thor, Black Widow, and Hulk standing in a line J.J. Abrams, Henry Abrams, Sara Pichelli/Marvel Comics

Spider-Man #2 doesn’t have the heft of Abrams’ Star Trek or The Force Awakens. It’s not Spider-Man for a new generation — that still feels like Miles Morales’ continued place in the universe. But that seems to be the goal: a comic for people who vaguely know Spider-Man and would easily rile up any Marvel devotees. There’s a reason why actual Star Trek fans will always remind you that Abrams’ movies exist in the damning “Kelvinverse” versus the real timeline.

J.J. and Henry’s book should hold a similar status in Marvel universe history. There is what’s really happening in the ongoing Spider-Man universe, and then there’s what’s happening in Spider-Man, which is where regular Abrams cameo-maker Greg Grunberg lives, apparently.

spider-man saves greg grunberg and feels his spidey sense J.J. Abrams, Henry Abrams, Sara Pichelli/Marvel Comics

As dedicated as J.J and Henry are to shattering the Spider-Man universe, they’re still reliant on the past. The audience’s understanding of the status quo is required to feel those fractures, a crutch that keeps the book (along with Sara Pichelli’s lively portraits of Ben and Faye) from becoming anything of their own. Right now, Spider-Man is basically an explosive-demolition supercut on YouTube — entertaining, but fleeting. While the Abrams boys can break everything they want, I’m still waiting for them to build something of their own.

Spider-Man #2 is out now. Four issues remain in the six-issue miniseries.

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