When Marvel Comics announced J.J. Abrams and his son Henry would be writing a new Spider-Man miniseries, many were curious, surprised, and even confused. The Abrams family has never written a comic before, so why now? Editor Nick Lowe excitedly revealed at SDCC 2019 he had been trying to get J.J. Abrams to write a series for years. The series launched three months after the SDCC announcement, introducing readers to Peter Parker’s son Ben as the protagonist in a dark alternate universe where Spider-Man failed to save Mary Jane and quit being a superhero. It was an opening salvo to a series that was curiously similar to past stories, but also shockingly dark and overly edgy. For a character like Spider-Man who is typically hopeful and springing with life, it seemed the opposite of what we’ve come to expect. And that’s where the problems started.
Out now in trade paperback, Spider-Man: Bloodline is an incredibly strange project that doesn’t have anything to say. Maybe Lowe was after Abrams so long that the director relented and gave him half effort. Even though Henry Abrams is given co-writing credit, one might assume J.J. couldn’t give this work the attention it deserved as he was embroiled in pulling off Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker a few months later. The final fifth issue was finally released on December 9th, 2020 — a full 15 months after the first issue came out — which would suggest this project had some serious issues in development. That strangeness persisted.
Again, expectations for a J.J. Abrams written comic are immediately batted down by a story that seems familiar but also simplistic and not very cinematic. It’s a series that could have excelled in the richly cinematic point of view of one of the most famous film directors and producers of today but ends up feeling pointless. Its characters seem to be navigating a narrative they themselves can barely keep focused on and the plot can’t even stay the course in a short five issues.
The book opens by showing us a truly gruesome battle with a giant cyborg villain named Cadaverous. Peter Parker witnesses up close the death of Mary Jane seemingly for no reason at all. We aren’t given many details. The bad guy has decimated New York, Peter Parker is defeated, and escaping with her body is the best he can do. Smash cut to the funeral of Mary Jane and our protagonist Ben Parker watching on, a confused and angry three-year-old. The dark tone and gore are elements that make this story seem far off from what Spider-Man is all about. It’s shocking and, to a point, nihilistic, as if to coincide with the darker tone of DC Comics movies more than anything else. It also makes the narrative feel incredibly adult even though Ben Parker is 15 years old for the majority of this narrative.
Cut to 12 years later, and the narrative focuses on Ben’s rage towards his father for not saving a mother he never really got to know. Meanwhile, Peter travels the globe as a photographer and keeps his distance from his son, which seems wrong for the character — he seems to have misguidedly chosen to stay away on purpose to help him somehow. This choice somewhat falsely creates a sense of conflict between Ben and his father. Ben and Peter becoming closer as father and son is the backbone of what this book is about, but it is all built on unearned off-page moments. In a way, it gets there, but it never does the work to explain the complex feelings Ben has gone through his entire life, nor why Peter would abandon his kid. In fact, it seems to be a rather unjustified way of making Ben an orphan like his father was without removing Peter Parker from the narrative. Again, it’s a narrative we’ve seen before as the son of the father goes through the same conflict.
In between this arc, Ben gets to swing like Spidey, fight like Spidey, and even gets a love interest/sidekick of sorts in a cool girl at school (who has her own problematic elements). Outside of the climactic battle that involves saving Peter, this book has two main sequences. One involves Ben going out alone to save someone from a Cadaverous attack that aims to highlight how green Ben is at superhero stuff. The second integrates Tony Stark and attempts to reveal what happened to the world’s heroes while displaying Tony as some kind of wacky uncle. This comedic tilt on Tony Stark doesn’t fit the darker and gorier tone of the book. These elements feel like pointless scenes with no purpose other than to fill time, or at best were ideas that weren’t fleshed out enough to matter all that much.
From there, the narrative integrates zombie-fied cyborg superheroes, a giant spider end boss, and convenient deus ex machina. Ben has giant tubes sucking the blood out of his stomach one minute, and the next he is saved by a random drone of Cadaverous who enters the narrative at the most convenient time. By the end of this book you’ll find lots of things happened, but one after the other it didn’t seem to matter and you likely won’t care.
It’s also a shame this book doesn’t come together because it’s paired with some of the best artists in the business, with Sara Pichelli on art, Dave Stewart on colors, and Stewart and Olivier Coipel on covers. The art team is all-star caliber and it shows with the creepy villain design, detailed art style, and plenty of cool looking, but pointless scenes.
Ben Parker comes out of this book unaltered. He tried being a superhero and came out with no better understanding of what it means by the end. Any wins the heroes come out of this book with were thanks to dumb luck. Ultimately, Ben Parker just was. If you were to splay out the ideas in this book on a table you might be able to pick some decent ideas to flesh out, but as it stands Spider-Man: Bloodline is half-baked. It’s an incredibly strange project published by one of the biggest comics companies in the world with some of the best artistic talents in the business. For that, this book is deeply compelling and one many will ponder why it was made and what went wrong.
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