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.
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 #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.
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.