Beyond JMS: Concurrent Spidey Titles of the early 2000s

Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man: A hit or miss series of about 24 issues that was book-ended by two lackluster crossover events: The Other and One More Day. Within the constraints of those events, FNSM was written at the same time JMS’ series went into its steepest decline. Peter David, normally a very talented writer who has masterminded some incredible story arcs, including Spider-Man: Death of Jean DeWolff and the newly revitalized X-Factor series that kicked off with the under-rated gem: Madrox: Multiple Choice. Unfortunately, David’s writing on this series is not up to snuff, though the art by Mike Wieringo is solid enough. The influence of the JMS title’s decline is pretty apparent early on in FNSM, as the series struggled to find its place and delivered some weak arcs that seemed to masquerade as “untold stories” of Spider-Man but ended up just being off key. After The Other, they first had the weird, single-issue arc about a delusional web-blogger had potential but fell flat. Then there were stories about a Mexican wrestler and some weird futuristic timeline with a grumpy Hobgoblin, neither of which felt very Spidey-like. It all felt a little underwhelming.

The truly unfortunate thing about this series is that it did actually have some potential. Even though the writing on the actual title character was sub-par, there were some elements of the characterization of key supporting cast members and villains that made for some entertaining reading. The handling of Flash Thompson, Betty Brant, and a couple of interesting issues surrounding the Vulture and Mysterio were worthwhile on their own. The middle issues between #11-19 were actually ok. Not amazing, but solid enough to make them moderately enjoyable. The problem was that even the series’ strengths were often overshadowed by the gloom of JMS’ core title, as the unresolved story bits from The Other ended up finding their way into this series. FNSM had to deal with the fallout of those weird wrist spikes Spider-Man developed out of nowhere and spent most of the series developing a pretty weak case that the nurse, Miss Arrow, was actually that walking ball of spiders from the end of The Other, which wasn’t even a good lead when it happened the first time.

In the end, the Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man series was definitely skippable and only worthwhile for those middle issues if someone is really yearning to see some traditional Spidey characters that JMS has avoided in his own series. Rating: 4 of 10

 

Tangled Web of Spider-Man: (2001) The Tangled Web series is concurrent with some of JMS’ earlier and stronger work on the Amazing Spider-Man title. Though, according to the all-knowing Wikipedia, this series was intended to give newer, artsier creators the creative leeway for an anthology series only loosely in continuity. The idea was that the Tangled Web series would draw creators from DC’s Vertigo titles or other indie companies to dabble in a Spidey title without all of the messiness of continuity. The nature of a rotating cast of creators brought some big swings to the tone and quality of the series over time, so each mini arc has to be taken separately, as there is not really a central theme to the series beyond those.

First up, Garth Ennis, the mastermind behind a brutal revival of the famed anti-hero Punisher, took a turn on Spidey. His arc, “The Thousand” is weirdly grisly and involves a bully from Peter’s past becoming a disgusting host of spiders. It’s not a great arc and I didn’t like the concept or the art, as it’s highly cartoony and not nice to look at (art by John McCrea). The second “arc” was only a one-shot by Greg Rucka and Eduardo Risso, that didn’t show Spidey at all, instead focusing on the Kingpin’s code of conduct. The story was a solid entry into the series and showed an inside view of the extent of the Kingpin’s depravity, as well as the perceived honor among thieves from a doomed lieutenant’s perspective.

The third arc, #5-6, is listed on comicherald.com and many other serious comic sites as one of the better recent Spider-Man stories. Titled, “Flowers for Rhino,” the two-issue arc, written by Peter Milligan and penciled by Duncan Fegredo, is a retelling of the story “Flowers for Algernon,” but from the doltish super-villain, Rhino’s perspective. It is a well-written and enjoyable take on the story that is worth the read and should give a new appreciation for the inner thoughts of super villains.

After the Rhino arc, the series continued to change authors and pencillers, but the general tone as a Spider-Man-adjacent line that is barely within continuity remained consistent. The Tangled Web series is a fun but non-essential read for Spider-Man fans who want to see into the daily lives of super-villains, or neutral third-parties who are affected by Spidey’s adventures and shed different lights on many iconic characters involved in primary Spider-Man continuity. I recommend this series to die-hard Spider-Man fans who want to get their hands on everything Web-head-related, and for those who get sick of the inter-connectivity and barrier of entry to many in-continuity titles. Tangled Web is a refreshing change that highlights creator independence and a certain flexible creativity of storytelling. While rarely groundbreaking or iconic, these stories are consistently enjoyable and easily digestible reading. Rating: 7 of 10

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