One of the great things about Spider-Man is that you can fit him into any type of story. He typically cleans up the streets, but he can swashbuckle with the Avengers or even go interdimensional with Spider-Verse.
So why not an international spy story? Sure! Peter’s parents were CIA agents, after all.
That’s what classic comic scribes Mark Waid and James Robinson have concocted in Spider-Man: Family Business, an original graphic novel first published in 2014, due out soon in paperback. We should remember, of course, that the CIA thing is technically a retcon (not that there’s necessarily anything wrong with that), and this story hinges on another.
The entire thrust of Family Business is that Peter Parker has a sister he never knew about, one who’s returned to save him (Puny Parker!) from evil criminals who want to use the son of Richard Parker to uncover buried treasure in Egypt. See? Classic spycraft!
Spider-Man’s had lots of superpowered counterparts pop up in recent years, from Silk to the returning Scarlet Spider, so a “normal” relative is a welcome change of pace. Of course this is comics, so “gallivanting, rogue CIA agent” will have to pass for normal. It’s nice she went into the family business.
The pair end up overseas, where Waid and Robinson have to struggle to find excuses for Spider-Man’s presence. Maybe he’s a franchise! Seriously though, that’s something no one would bat an eye at in the Silver Age, but is tough to address with modern audiences, and the writers do the best they can with it. The super smart CIA agent is only mildly oblivious.
Counting more against Family Business are what should be “big” moments (you’ll know them when you see them) that don’t have the attendant impact because you know this is a side story that won’t get referenced anywhere else (Spectacular Spider-Man notwithstanding). And the way the book’s villain is left is decidedly irresponsible, very un-Spidey, though a fitting trope for the story.
The plot is structured well enough, but for these reasons and more, despite his great genre breadth (and a Dan Slott foreword to the contrary), Family Business doesn’t really feel like a Spider-Man story. It doesn’t help that Waid and Robinson can’t quite get the humor to land, either. If there were one thing uniting Spidey stories across settings, it would be that.
And the painted art by Gabriele Dell’Otto certainly doesn’t help. Painted art is fine, even great in its place, but that place is not here. The typical “static” criticisms apply, which could maybe be overlooked if the figures were more distinct. Instead, the muddiness somehow can’t connote movement and just makes the whole thing unappealing.
Editorial tried to combine talents and make something special with Spider-Man: Family Business, but a decent story is dragged down into that mud with the out-of-place art. The ending is typical of the format, leaving the story open for later exploration, as Chip Zdarsky has taken advantage of. Without that, Family Business would feel like an alternate universe romp that hits some old notes and does nothing to move things forward. A book shouldn’t rely on the later actions of someone else to be relevant.