J.J. Abrams and Henry Abrams are teaming up to deliver a Spider-Man limited series. Of course, what this means is that Henry Abrams is doing 80% of the writing and J.J. Abrams is lending his name to the project so that Marvel would agree to publish his son’s story. Henry Abrams is 21 and has no experience in writing comics that I know of. In fact, I do not know of any screenplay writing or any other published materials by Henry Abrams. So, this should be interesting, to say the least. Maybe Spider-Man #1 will turn out to be a fun and creative issue. Let’s hit this review and find out.
Words: J.J. Abrams & Henry Abrams
Art: Sara Pichelli
Colors: Dave Stewart
Story Rating: 7 Night Girls out of 10
Art Rating: 8 Night Girls out of 10
Overall Rating: 7.5 Night Girls out of 10
Synopsis: We begin with New York City in ruins. Mary Jane runs over to some rubble and helps pull Spider-Man out of it. Spider-Man’s mask is nearly ripped off his face. MJ helps Peter stand up. We then see the villain, Cadaverous, and his henchmen appearing in front of Peter. The henchmen swarm Peter. Peter yells for MJ to run. Suddenly, Cadaverous impales MJ and kills her. (Damn!)
Cadaverous tosses MJ’s body towards the water. Peter breaks free from the henchmen and swings over to catch MJ’s body. Peter then dives into the water with MJ’s body and makes an escape.
We fast forward to MJ’s funeral. We see that Peter has lost his right hand in the battle. Peter and MJ’s son, Ben, is holding Peter’s hand.
We zip forward twelve years. We see Ben waking up in the morning and getting ready for school. We hop over to Ben’s high school. We see a big Flash Thompson looking bully manhandling a small black nerdy student. The bully tells the nerdy kid to pee his pants. The nerdy kid starts crying. The bully says he has a new plan and tells the nerdy kid to first cry and then pee.
Ben walks over and tells the bully to back off. The bully asks how Ben’s mom is doing. We then see Ben punch the bully through a classroom door.
We cut to Ben in the Principal’s office. The Principal says that the world does not need Ben’s kind of help. The Principal says this is the fourth time this week that Ben has been sent to his office. Peter Parker then walks into the office.
We shift to Peter driving Ben back to Aunt May’s house. Peter says that he is only in town for a layover. That his flight leaves town in a few hours. Peter says that the school must have called his cell phone when they could not reach Aunt May. Peter says that the Principal wanted to suspend Ben, but Peter begged him to just give Ben detention.
Ben says that he was protecting someone. Peter says that Ben was being selfish and stupid. That Ben has never tried to help anyone but himself. Ben says that he is not going to take lessons from a father who does not care. Ben says that Peter does not even know him. Peter yells that Ben could try behaving at least for Aunt May’s sake.
Peter slams on the brakes. Peter says that whatever is going on with Ben has to stop. Peter says that he is doing the best he can and he wants Ben to do the same. Peter says that sometimes trying to help only makes things worse.
Ben says that Peter needs to get to the airport and that he can walk home from here. Ben gets out of the car and Peter drives off. (Hey, Pichelli does a great job drawing what is clearly a late model Jeep Grand Cherokee. Nice detail.)
We see Ben trying to open the door to his house. Ben’s hand gets stuck to the door handle. Ben struggles to get his hand off the door handle and ends up ripping the front door of its hinges.
We cut to later that evening with Ben lying on his bed. Aunt May enters and asks if he wants to explain the new front door. Aunt May then says forget about the door and asks what happened. Ben says that he wishes he could tell her.
We hop forward to the next day at school. Ben is in class. A 1980’s styled punk-looking Asian girl sits in the desk next to Ben. Her name is Faye Ito. Ben notices the green paint on her face and asks her if she knows where he could get some green paint. Faye yells out if anyone wants to switch seats with her. The teacher tells her to be quiet.
Faye then tells Ben that Mr. Foster (a teacher?) is an explicitly sexist dirtbag and should be reprimanded. That Mr. Foster talks about women like they are things. Things that he touches. That the administration does nothing. (Where in the hell is all of this coming from? Did a page from a different comic book get slipped into this issue? This all seems so out of nowhere and totally random.)
Faye says that someone needs to stand up and say that this cannot continue. Faye stands up. The teacher tells her to sit down. Faye sits back down. Faye says that most people are afraid to do the right thing. Faye asks Ben if he ever notices that. Ben agrees. (Okay, I see where the Abrams wanted to go, but that was painfully forced and awkward.)
We cut to Cadaverous in his secret lair. He has a computer system with a ton of computer screens all around him. There is a large tube hooked up to the computer system. Inside of it is a woman who looks like MJ. Cadaverous says that subject B-901 did not make it. That it is another failure. That it is impossible without the key. Cadaverous says he will continue to search. That he will never give up.
We hop over to Peter boarding his airplane. Peter is on the phone with Aunt May. May says that Ben is Peter’s son and that Peter is not involved enough with Ben. Peter says that Ben is out of control. May says that she sees things in Ben that reminds her of Peter. Peter says that Ben is better off without him. Peter then says that they are taking off and he will call her back soon. May says that Peter has more power than he knows.
We shift to Ben having a nightmare of being in a pool of blood. He sees MJ covered in blood. The blood then covers Ben. Ben wakes up and we see that he is stuck to the ceiling of his bedroom. Ben screams out. Aunt May enters the room. May says that she will help Ben down.
May then says that there is something that Ben needs to see. May leads Ben to the attic. She tells him to go up in the attic and look under the floorboards. Ben finds a box under the floorboards. In the box are photos of MJ and Peter from their wedding and photos of MJ and Peter with Ben as a baby. Ben then finds Peter’s Spider-Man costume. End of issue.
The Good: Spider-Man #1 was a solid issue. This was a better read than I was expecting. I avoided any and all spoilers about Spider-Man #1. So, I will admit the Abrams definitely surprised me with this issue. This was not at all the type of story that I was expecting. I was not expecting MJ to get killed. And I was not expecting Peter’s son to be Spider-Man and the star of the story. But, that is definitely not a bad thing at all. In fact, I like both of the surprising decisions that the Abrams made with this issue.
Before we get into this review, I have zero way of knowing how much of this story was the product of J. J. Abrams and how much was the product of Henry Abrams. Maybe J.J. did the plotting and Henry did the scripting. My guess is that J.J. came up with the general idea for the story and then Henry helped flesh out the idea and then did the scripting. At any rate, I will just refer to the Abrams boys as a team when discussing the writing.
The Abrams certainly wasted zero time getting Spider-Man #1 off to an intense and shocking start. No doubt about that! The seven-page opening scene was fantastic. The scene felt quite cinematic. The Abrams begin with a large scale look on the scene with all the damage to New York City. Then they focus the view to a more smaller personal scale with the nice interaction between Peter and MJ. Then they pull back out to a large scale view with the dramatic introduction of Cadaverous.
At this point, the Abrams wisely shut up. We get the stunning death of MJ and then there is no dialogue or sound effects other than one “thwip” for five panels. There is no dialogue. That was a brilliant approach to MJ’s death scene. It helped to punctuate Peter’s stunned reaction to MJ’s death. It is as if the entire world falls out of Peter’s focus as all he can think, see, or hear is MJ. These two pages nail the reader square in their chest. This was a beautifully done moment that is quite powerful and easily captivates the reader’s attention.
I know that some people are going to immediately clutch their pearls and immediately start crying and bitching over MJ’s death. That is unnecessary. Look, there is probably no bigger MJ fan than me. I adore her character. Always have. But, not every single death in comic books is fridging. Sometimes a well-orchestrated death can open the door for a new character and for some incredible character growth in already established characters. That is most definitely the case for both Peter and Ben.
There is absolutely no way that MJ’s death was pointless or done for simple shock value. In fact, MJ’s death reminds me of Uncle Ben’s death. It is a death of great importance. MJ’s death is absolutely vital in the direction that Peter’s character takes. MJ’s death is absolutely vital for the entire formation of her son’s personality and outlook on life. In fact, through her death, MJ becomes an ever more powerful force on her son’s life than if she remained alive. The death of a parent to serve as the guiding force in the growth of a child is a common storytelling approach that has been used since the dawn of time.
I loved the one-page funeral scene. There was so much subtle character work taking place on this page. There was zero dialogue between the characters, yet the Abrams are able to allow Pichelli to carry the moment and to deliver some great character work. The reader can see the foundation for Peter’s detachment from Ben. Ben is holding Peter’s pointer finger instead of Peter holding Ben’s hand in his hand. This shows how Peter has already begun to withdraw from his son and the world despite his son still reaching out for his father. Ben’s eyes gaze up at his father looking to make a connection. Yet, Peter’s eyes continue to gaze forward in that blank 100-mile stare that people suffering from trauma have. Peter never looks down to his son seeking to make a connection with him. This is just fantastic to see such excellent character work in just one page with zero dialogue.
The bully scene was absolutely nothing new or unique. We have seen this very scene numerous times in superhero comics. But, it was necessary to show Ben’s naturally heroic nature despite his outwardly sullen and troubled exterior. This scene let the reader know that despite all of his problems, Ben is basically a good person at heart.
I loved the scene with Peter and Ben in the Jeep. The Abrams are able to generate some quality tension between the father and son. The friction between Peter and Ben comes across as genuine. Both Peter and Ben are treated fairly. The Abrams avoid clearly making one of the characters the “bad guy” in this relationship. This was a wise move. I appreciate that the Abrams are letting the reader feel conflicted between who is more at fault in this relationship. Like most things in life, the fact is that relationships are complex and it is rarely just one person’s fault completely. The Abrams are showing the reader that both Peter and Ben play a role in their dysfunctional relationship with each other.
Ben is made out to be sympathetic in that it is understandable that a teenager would act out and get into trouble when their mother is dead and their father is absent. This is always a recipe for a troubled teenager. Peter is also made out to be sympathetic. It is obvious that MJ’s death crushed Peter to the point that he is just a husk of a man who is useless to those around him. MJ’s death has always made Peter change his view of being Spider-Man and helping out other people. It is understandable that Peter would blame him being Spider-Man as the sole reason why MJ died. If Peter has simply decided not to be a superhero and help other people then MJ would assuredly be alive to this day.
The scene with Peter on the phone with Aunt May was more quality character work. The reader gets a good sense of how defeated and withdrawn Peter has become since MJ’s death. Whatever heroic spirit that once resided in Peter’s heart has been completely extinguished. On top of that, Peter looks tired, weak, and broken.
The scenes with Ben breaking the front door and Ben waking up on the ceiling of the bedroom were classic teen hero learning that they have superpowers moments. I know that these scenes are the type that we have gotten countless times in superhero comics. But, I liked them. These scenes are necessary for any hero’s origin story. I liked that we get to experience the emergence of Ben’s powers alongside him. It helps bond the reader closer to Ben and makes his journey toward being a hero that much more interesting.
The Abrams end Spider-Man #1 with an excellent hook ending. Ben finding Peter’s Spider-Man costume was such a cool “oh, shit” moment. The Abrams did such a good job laying the foundation of the fractured relationship between Peter and Ben which helped to give this hook ending more impact. Ben’s revelation that not only does he have superpowers but that Peter is also Spider-Man is one hell of a moment. The reader is left hanging and excited to see how Ben processes this stunning new information.
The Abrams cram plenty of quality character work and dialogue in Spider-Man #1. Peter is absolutely haunting. The reader feels so much sympathy for Peter. It is clear that Peter is nothing more than a shell of the man that he used to be. It is tough for the reader to see Peter in this state. It certainly has quite an impact on the reader.
I really like Ben’s character. Normally, I do not like characters who replace established characters. And I often dislike teenage characters who assume the superhero mantle of their parent who is an established character. However, Ben is an exception to this and the reason is that the Abrams do an excellent job getting me invested in his character.
Ben is a fiery and angry character yet he still retains the heart of a hero. I love that Ben is named after Uncle Ben. That is a tribute to a classic and important Spider-Man character. I like that Ben physically looks like MJ. I dig that Ben has both his mother’s red hair and her fiery personality. But, Ben also has that troubled side of his character and the heart of a hero that is reminiscent of his father, Peter. The Abrams were able to successfully make Ben a fine combination of both MJ and Peter.
I am totally invested In Ben’s character. I easily relate to him and the Abrams have gotten me ready to root for Ben’s character. I am excited to see Ben eventually become Spider-Man. Outside of Peter Parker, Ben really is the only other character I have been excited to see wear the Spider-Man costume.
The Abrams also do a nice job with Aunt May’s character. They give us a classic version of Aunt May. As always, May is there to serve as the conscience for the Parker boys and to supply them with love, wisdom, and confidence. By the way, you want to know what a real strong female character looks like? It is Aunt May. Not Carol Danvers.
Spider-Man #1 is excellently plotted and paced. With the exception of the two-page scene with Faye and Ben, the story never wanders or gets bogged down. The Abrams move the story forward at a crisp pace. The story progresses in a logical fashion with each scene building organically off of the prior scene. It is clear that the Abrams have a clear direction in mind with this story.
The Abrams do introduce an interesting mystery in Spider-Man #1. In the scene in Cadaverous’ secret lair, we see a woman in a tube. This woman looks like MJ. Cadaverous mentions how another one of his test subjects has failed, but that he will not give up. The Abrams do not give us much information, but it certainly seems that Cadaverous is attempting got clone MJ for some unknown purpose. This is a neat plot wrinkle and I am curious to see where the Abrams go from here.
Sara Pichelli does a great job with the artwork. I run hot and cold with Pichelli’s art. But, I found that Pichelli turned in such a strong job with Spider-Man #1. What really sold me with Pichelli’s art in Spider-Man #1 were the excellent facial expressions that she gave the various characters. This really helped to bring the Abrams’ story to life. Pichelli’s Peter Parker reminds me of Keanu Reeves in the very beginning of the first John Wick movie while he is mourning his wife’s death. As I mentioned before, Pichelli absolutely carries the story in scenes like the funeral and the telephone conversation between May and Peter.
Pichelli also does an absolutely brilliant job with MJ’s death scene and the page after MJ’s death. That is some flat-out amazing artwork. Pichelli is able to give true power and heft to the Abrams’ writing at that moment. There is no doubt that Pichelli carried the story during that moment, too.
The Bad: Spider-Man #1 does have a few hiccups here and there. It is nothing major but is noticeable. There are moments where the writing seems a bit juvenile. There are also moments where the writing is a bit awkward, clumsy, or forced. You can tell that the Abrams want to go in a certain direction and simply force the scene toward their goal rather than organically developing the moment.
The scene with Faye and Ben was a total swing and a miss. This scene was a good example of awkwardly shoving in random dialogue just to set up the moment where Ben can agree that sometimes someone has to have the courage to stand up and do something. I guess another explanation could be that the Abrams just wanted to engage in a bit of virtue signaling out of nowhere. But, this was so clunky and awkward that it seemed more like bad writing attempting to set up a specific moment for Ben’s character.
I found Cadaverous to be a rather unimpressive villain. Now, to be fair, Spider-Man #1 was all about Ben, Peter, and Aunt May. Cadaverous is barely in this issue at all. However, what we did get was not that impressive. Cadaverous has an uninteresting look. His look is generic and one that we have seen before. Cadaverous’ character and personality come across as dull and bland. The Abrams give the reader no reason at all to be interested in or invested in this villain. And that is a problem. Superhero stories rarely rise above the quality of the main villain.
One odd and very minor quibble. Peter is shown with a metal hook style prosthetic right hand. This seems unlikely given that the established Marvel Universe is full of mind-blowing Sci-Fi technology. Peter’s own inventions show a level of tech far beyond what we know in the real world. Beyond that, Peter also has access to amazing tech and is friends with brilliant inventors like Reed Richards and Tony Stark. With all of this easy access to brilliant inventors and fantastic technology we still see Peter with an old school prosthetic? It just makes no sense and lacks internal logic within the Marvel Universe and Peter’s position in it.
Overall: Spider-Man #1 was an enjoyable read. The Abrams kick this new title off with an intense issue full of emotion. The strength of this issue is clearly the character work and dialogue. I believe that the Abrams have the ingredients for what could be a special story. If you are a Spider-Man fan then I would certainly recommend giving Spider-Man #1 a try.
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