Six solo films, at least 11 television series, and One-Above-All knows how many comic series (let alone crossovers or event features) – Spider-Man is pleasantly prolific to say the least and staggeringly storied to say the most. Stories like Spider-Geddon lean into that historic past, piling on the lore and Spider-Verse altering ramifications in droves. But where are the others? The ones that try to take Spidey back to the basics of being a frighteningly busy kid with a superhero secret? Right here, a Comixology original collected for the first time in print – Spidey: School’s Out – a warm, endearing story from writer John Barber and artist Todd Nauck that picks and chooses the best bits from Spider-Man’s comic and film adaptations and stumbles only slightly in the execution.
What’s it about? Marvel/Comixology’s preview reads:
“For the first time in print! Peter Parker just survived his first year as the Amazing Spider-Man — as well as a year of high school! What is he going to do next? He’s going to Stark science camp! A week indoors with the coolest technology in the world is a dream come true for Peter — but it’s also a bonanza for one spider-foe who’s seriously upgraded his arsenal. Can Spider-Man keep the camp safe and keep his identity secret from his first dormmate, while Peter Parker makes new friends and finishes his project on time?”
Spidey’s Snappy Narration
Speaking largely to us, and to himself through us, throughout the runtime of the six issues contained here Barber writes a fantastically self-aware and quick-witted Spidey who is equal parts funny, nervous, and endearing. Lines like “So this wasn’t a Spider-Man adventure. Expect for the parts that were” read laugh out loud funny in context while others like “Other days I just feel like I’m spraying a bunch of webs at the problem” highlight the frustrations and fears of a budding hero well and honestly. It all ends up ringing true of the experiences Spidey is having on the page and in his own mind which we’re privy to more or less blow by blow in a really compelling way with the affability of the MCU Peter but an eye for the overworked, scared and sometimes serious one we find in the comics from time to time, too.
The Work-Life Balance
One of the quintessential tropes of a Spider-Man story is that Peter can’t just stop being Spider-Man. Nor can he stop being Peter Parker, however. How does a young kid with a higher calling to great power and responsibility balance wanting to attend a super cool science camp and protecting his classmates and aunt from supervillains lurking? Not very well! This story does a great job of throwing Parker and Spidey through the turmoil of keeping those things in homeostasis and what the ramifications are for failing to do so to often hilarious, and slightly stressing effect. I’d kind of forgotten what it was like to constantly be anxious that someone might discover our hero’s identity and blow the whole thing up at any given moment, and oftentimes I don’t want to retread those things, but the simplicity with which it’s done here – as well as the hilarity (Peter can barely keep who he’s supposed to be speaking as straight) – is truly endearing, fun, and straightforward.
The High Stakes Heroic Art
Todd Nauck is no newbie to drawing Spider-Man and it shows here. It’s kind of amazing how physical, kinetic, and sometimes frightening the fights in this book feel given the much higher stakes that Spider-Man (albeit, not this iteration) has come up against in other storylines. Villains like the Vulture crib visual cues and mannerisms from films like Homecoming and Spidey’s feels realized from his first high flying introductory page onward. It’s a fun, often dynamic affair that keeps things feeling free flowing but also surprisingly taut with tension at the right times in a good balance – every costumed character looks great thrown into the mix.
What doesn’t work
Naturally, not everything is perfect for Spidey’s first outing and the book does suffer in one or two places. Most notably, the non-costumed characters, and some set pieces really lack definition and attention and pale in comparison to the hero stuff going on elsewhere – it makes it feel like a book of compromised attention that really didn’t need to with just a little more focus. Secondly, the narrative, mostly through Spidey’s narration, frequently revisits plot points that readers will be more than familiar with if they’re reading this in a collected edition and would’ve been more than ready to check-up on in a digital format, too. It doesn’t drag the pacing or plotting down to a disastrous degree, but it is slightly grating to have Peter recap things only pages after they’ve happened.
The Final Word
Overall, Spidey: School’s Out positions itself very well. It’s accessible, free of the weight of a thousand and one Peter Parker adaptations but also cognizant of them and cribbing from them in a collaborative feeling way opening the doors of funny, endearing narrative to readers of all types with largely fantastic art to boot. Things could’ve been cleaned up ever so slightly to bring the thing all the way home, but this is Spidey’s first real outing and on those grounds? It’s a pretty stellar success that channels a fantastic back to basics energy.
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