With the eighth issue of Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man, writer Tom Taylor (All New Wolverine, X-Men: Red) and artist Ken Lashley (X-Men: Gold) find a stride that takes this story from one I have liked, but struggled with, to one I love unequivocally.
What’s it about? Marvel’s preview reads:
When things go nuts at the F.E.A.S.T. Center it leaves Aunt May FURIOUS, and no one rests when Aunt May is angry. So Spider-Man has to kick an investigation into high gear into the Prowler and what he’s up to! Peter has a lot of skills, but he is no Sherlock Holmes. The World’s Worst Detective calls on his new ally the Rumor to help him!
If that sounds less…disparate than the previous issues of Friendly you would be right, and that’s exactly what makes this so successful. When this book was conceived and pitched, I assumed (perhaps wrongly) that it was going to be a relatively streamlined story about Peter’s day-to-day life outside of the big A-plot events in Nick Spencer’s Amazing. While it is that ostensibly, it’s also a vast story about May’s declining health, Peter’s relationships with the city and people in it, a bunch of new heroes and villains in a new locale called Under York, and a whole lot more — it got too big too fast, outside of the scope of that city block pitch and I started to have doubts about the feasibility of telling this story alongside Amazing.
I never should have doubted Tom Taylor.
One of the best writers in comics today, Taylor takes the entirety of this issue coalescing all of these seemingly disparate plotlines into one seamless story that not only delivers a great story in the moment but enriches everything that came before it, too. The plot about May’s sickness? The introduction of a sinister villain preying on people just like her around the city wraps it into Spider-Man’s plot rather than just Peter’s exquisitely well. Same, too, for plots about The Prowler, Boomerang, The Rumor, and Spidey’s budding relationship with the local police force. It’s the kind of payoff you’d expect at the end of a trade paperback or significantly more involved story, but instead is delivered here in a way that illuminates intricacies that have been at play for a lot longer than have been apparent, and set up a good stage to build on. The latter half of the issue feels less like Spider-Man, the eponymous hero is explicitly involved, and implies his importance moreover, but it’s mostly forgivable in the effort to establish stakes for The Rumor, a character I’m growing to like quite a bit.
It helps that the dialogue is finally pitch perfect, too. Where previous issues have vacillated between overly comedic and emotionally raw, this one dances delicately between the moral ambiguities of Spider-Man’s world and dalliances with criminals, and the power and responsibility he’s known for (and that Taylor writes so well). Lines like “Working with the police force instead of fleeing from them, I could get used to this…I shouldn’t get used to this” — delivering a moral complexity that a young but upstanding Peter should and often struggles with played against “Every time I see a stakeout on TV, there’s always snacks. It’s like a creepy picnic where you watch people who don’t know you’re watching them” work perfectly.
Lashley’s art compliments this balance fashionably. While some of the backgrounds are static, and there’s a very confusing break-in segment, the rest strikes an immensely tonally pleasing blend of serious and silly, ramping up the intensity as the issue’s narrative escalates. I love the bold, dynamic lines of The Rumor when she’s masked — as well as how starkly different she appears on the page than unmasked — as this establishes a bit of inherent power and narrative to her costuming, as does a scene with Prowler brandishing his claws to Spider-Man’s surprise. Balanced, as it is in the dialogue, with a shot of Peter happily downing a slice of pizza, or sharing a moment of surprise with Hobie Brown’s wife, Lashley finds a mix of the dynamic, dramatic heroism, and the lighter moments here that I think serves the story well. Especially so when it all culminates in the reveal of a genuinely scary, gross new villain left on a cliffhanger that feels urgent and vital narratively but also artistically.
All said and done, this issue not only delivers what I want out of a single issue of a Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man, but it successfully renegotiates and revitalizes the entire premise. The balance between art and narrative shine lights on intricacies that have long been at work in a way that enrich this story and those before it well, and I’m not only excited but also slightly scared to see where we go from here — exactly where they want me, and exactly where I want to be.
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