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Spider-Man (Peter Parker) and Spider-Man (Ben Reilly) swing across the city on the cover of The Amazing Spider-Man #75 (2021). Image: Arthur Adams, Alejandro Sánchez/Marvel Comics

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Marvel’s brand new Spider-Man comic promised a fresh start but delivered a clone

The ‘bold new age’ of Marvel’s Amazing Spider-Man series is bogged down in old continuity

Traditionally, the 75th issue of a comic book series isn’t much of a big deal, although these days, it’s admittedly rare to see a superhero title from Marvel or DC make it that far uninterrupted.

The Amazing Spider-Man #75, however, breaks from tradition by launching what the publisher is describing as both “a new era” and “a bold new age” — one marked by a new creative team and a new publishing schedule, as the series goes back to a thrice-monthly release program for the first time since 2010.

It’s being called “The Amazing Spider-Man Beyond,” but does this new period for the beloved hero go far enough beyond the just-completed run by writer Nick Spencer?

Who is making Amazing Spider-Man #75?

There’s a whole gang of creators behind the first issue of “Beyond”: writer Zeb Wells and artist Patrick Gleason are the creators behind the main story in the issue, but there’s also a brain trust of writers credited, featuring Kelly Thompson, Cody Ziegler, and Saladin Ahmed in addition to Wells and Gleason. Additionally, Thompson and Wells each write a back-up strip for the issue, illustrated by Travel Foreman and Ivan Fiorelli, respectively.

What is Amazing Spider-Man #75 about?

Peter Parker/Spider-Man sights a mysterious other Spider-Man (Ben Reilly) swinging through the city. “Excuse me,” he says to himself, “Who the #$%& is that?” in The Amazing Spider-Man #75 (2021). Image: Zeb Wells, Patrick Gleason/Marvel Comics

There’s a very basic hook to the first installment of “Beyond”: the traditional dichotomy between Peter Parker and Spider-Man — where, if one of them is having a particularly good time, the other is having a bad time just as strongly — has been transferred to Peter Parker and his erstwhile clone Ben Reilly. Peter’s life is going to pieces after the death of his childhood best friend Harry Osborn, but things couldn’t be going better for Ben, who’s signed up with a mysterious new corporation that has, as unlikely as it seems, purchased the intellectual property rights to Spider-Man.

As the two attempt to come to terms with the idea of sharing being Spider-Man — surprisingly, no one mentions Miles Morales, who’s also a Spider-Man — something happens that suggests that, in the near future, there won’t be any reason to share. I won’t say what exactly, but it’s worth noting that the cover of the next issue features Peter Parker in a hospital bed...

Why is Amazing Spider-Man #75 happening now?

With former Amazing Spider-Man writer Nick Spencer leaving mainstream comics to head up Substack’s comic program, Marvel needed someone to take over what has been a best-seller for decades, and one of the company’s most reliable successes in recent years. That it’s gone back to the “writers room” model — and publishing schedule — of the “Brand New Day” era, which ran for just under two years from early 2008 through mid-2010 — feels like a sign that the company is retreating to a tried and true formula for a while as it prepares for the character’s 60th anniversary next year.

Is there any required reading?

Here’s where things get difficult. Theoretically, anyone can pick up Amazing Spider-Man #75 and, for the most part, understand what’s going on; there’s no small amount of exposition and editorial notes, at least in the main story, to spell out the information that readers absolutely must know in order to understand what’s going on. But one of the big problems with “Beyond”’s opener is that it feels trapped in the immediate past — in a way that’s somewhat off-putting to anyone that hasn’t been reading the book recently.

Nick Spencer had no small amount of ambition for what he could do with Amazing Spider-Man, but a lot of that — especially in the second half of his run — was focused around shifting the tone of the series towards something approaching continuity-obsessed superhero horror, with characters returning from the dead to rewrite past storylines from years and years ago for seemingly no reason other than authorial bias. ASM became a strangely self-referential, grim read that ended with the death (again) of Peter Parker’s old best friend, Harry Osborn.

A depressed Peter Parker lathers up to shave as he thinks “Harry’s dead. And I’m still alive. Even if I don’t look like it,” in The Amazing Spider-Man #75 (2021). Image: Zeb Wells, Patrick Gleason/Marvel Comics

“Beyond” opens with Peter still very much wracked with grief over Harry’s death, and the events of the final issues of Spencer’s run. It’s an approach that is likely welcome to fans who’ve stuck with Spencer’s storyline and wanted to see it resonate moving forward; for everyone else, though, it makes “Beyond” feel like the latest chapter in an ongoing story they weren’t reading, as opposed to a new beginning, even as Ben Reilly shows up to take things in a different direction.

Reilly’s very presence, and the “Beyond” story in general, points to even more required reading: it’s just taken for granted that readers know who Ben Reilly is, or that there was once a Parker Industries that was actually created by Dr. Octopus during the period when his brain was driving Peter Parker’s body, but that was later sold off by Peter when he was driving his own body again, and… you get the idea. And that’s saying nothing about the back-ups, which rely on the reader having some idea who characters like the Daughters of the Dragon or Ashley Kafka are.

Sure, Amazing Spider-Man #75 is new-reader-friendly in theory. In practice, it might be a harder sell than Marvel is hoping.

Is Amazing Spider-Man #75 good?

What’s so frustrating about the way in which Amazing Spider-Man #75 is beholden to the past is that, for the most part, “Beyond” looks like it’s going to be a fun story, told with a balance of humor and melodrama that feels classically Spider-Man. Ben Reilly’s more upbeat Spider-Man is clearly headed for a fall — the mysterious Beyond Corporation that’s helped outfit him is, almost certainly, going to turn out to be a problem before too long — and it’s unlikely that Peter Parker is in quite as much trouble as it seems. When it can escape the debts it holds to old comics, the story zips along nicely, and the art is appealingly cartoonish and dynamic, especially when Gleason is drawing.

Tellingly, an editorial from Nick Lowe mentions that the issue begins “a nineteen-part epic,” which suggests that there’s a slow transformation underway from what Amazing Spider-Man has been over the last few years to whatever lies six months away in the future. Reading the issue, it does feel as if there’s an exciting new era for Amazing Spider-Man on the horizon — it’s just that it feels as if we’re not quite there just yet.

One panel that popped

“How’d you get here so fast?” asks Peter Parker Spider-Man of  Ben Reilly Spider-Man. “I have a team,” he replies, while shrugging off some heavy debris. “They monitor the city. Tell me where to go. It’s awesome.” In The Amazing Spider-Man #75 (2021). Image: Zeb Wells, Patrick Gleason/Marvel Comics