In 1962, Stan Lee and Steve Ditko told an 11-page story about a boy named Peter Parker, who got bitten by a radioactive spider in Marvel Comics’ Amazing Fantasy #15. That boy would go on to become the most iconic superhero under Marvel’s belt, paving the way for not only numerous comic book titles, but jump into multiple media from films, television and video games. Four years after that character’s inception, Jeffrey Jacob Abrams was born and would go on to create numerous television series and become one of the most successful film directors that would relaunch well-established franchises. So what happens when these two titans of pop culture come together?
In June 2019, Marvel announced that J.J. Abrams has co-written a Spider-Man comic book with his son Henry, and with Miles Morales co-creator Sara Pichelli doing the art. This is not the first time that someone who had worked on film and television making a brief transition to comics as Kevin Smith wrote Daredevil and Joss Whedon wrote Astonishing X-Men. However, this announcement caused much backlash, largely from the fact that this comic was co-written by Henry Abrams, who hadn’t done anything prior. If you thought this was a case of nepotism, you would be right. The first issue was published in September 18th, 2019, and three months later, came the release of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.
For the purposes of this article, I want to look at the films that J.J. Abrams has directed and how they inform his approach to Spider-Man: Bloodline. If you know a J.J. Abrams project, there are at least three things you will notice throughout his work. One of which is the mystery box, because we all know he loves giving out questions that will most likely not get answered, or at least pass the questions to someone else so that they will give the answers. The other is characters who are at odds with their parents, particularly their fathers. And finally, protagonists torn between two paths in life. One of, if not all three of these themes, ring through Abrams’ work.
The three themes do appear in Spider-Man: Bloodline, such as the mystery centering on the new villain Cadaverous. Meanwhile, the main character Ben Parker has a conflicting relationship with his distant father, Peter – both of which are still grieving over the death of their beloved Mary Jane – whilst Ben must choose between the life of normalcy or to carry on the legacy of his father’s heroism as the new Spider-Man. In fact, another theme that is common in most of Abrams’ movies is legacy, with his heroes trying to live up or perhaps escape from the impact that their predecessors have left on their worlds. This brings me on to how Abrams approaches popular franchises through his directorial films.
This isn’t much of a case in Mission: Impossible III, where Abrams takes ideas from his TV show Alias and makes a $150 million action spy film starring Tom Cruise. Abrams’ recurring themes are more apparent in Star Trek and Star Wars. Trek, in particular, was not a property that Abrams was a fan towards. Based on Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci’s script, which cleverly rebooted the franchise by placing the classic crew of the USS Enterprise into an alternate timeline, Abrams directed the 2009 blockbuster that felt classic to its roots whilst paving the way for these iconic characters to go off in new directions.
As for Star Wars, Abrams has acknowledged throughout his own work as being a huge fan. So his approach to the galaxy far, far away is to embrace what came before as 2015’s The Force Awakens is the ultimate legacy sequel, taking place thirty years after the original trilogy and focuses on new characters that interact with the original ones still present in the plot. It may be re-tread a lot of the same beats of A New Hope, the film works best when it does something new, such as the new characters and Abrams’ mystery box, all of which will carry on in the new trilogy.
However, when Abrams makes his second mark on these well-loved sci-fi franchises, this is where the issues truly come in. Having immersed himself in the bright future of Star Trek, Abrams thinks he knows what the fans want. Despite some interesting ideas, such as Kirk realizing his own responsibilities as captain whilst the Federation is becoming more militarized, Star Trek Into Darkness ends up being a poor re-enactment of The Wrath of Khan, a film that is so powerful in its emotional beats that Abrams’ film never reaches, because it hasn’t earned the right.
I have no problem with fan service, but it shouldn’t be the number one priority, because it could round up being empty. After Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi, which took risks, wasn’t giving obvious answers and taking Star Wars into an exciting new direction, Abrams’ The Rise of Skywalker concludes a nine-movie saga by not taking risks and ran on pure nostalgia with many of its story decisions are basically stuff that you’ve seen before in previous Star Wars outings. As well as Abrams wants to answer questions he established in The Force Awakens, he also piled on a lot of new elements, leading to a climax that doesn’t build on the foundation of its predecessors and thus not giving the most epic and satisfying ending this new trilogy deserves.
At its best, The Rise of Skywalker is… solid, but at its worst, it feels half-baked, which is how I would describe Spider-Man: Bloodline. I don’t know how much of either J.J. and Henry Abrams contributed to all five issues, which feels like a rehash of Abrams’ recurring themes, but without the attention to really care about any of the characters, who all seem too gloomy. Marvel is no stranger to publishing dark future stories featuring their popular characters, but the depiction of Bloodline’s future reads like fanfiction, compiling stuff we have seen before in other Marvel titles. Also, since this was co-written by first-time comic book writers, the comic falls into the trap of “fridging”, as the first issue kills off Mary Jane in order to torture our hero. In a time where comics should be more forward-thinking, this is a comic that takes a few steps back.
The central narrative of Bloodline is about a father and a son learning to reconnect after losing someone they loved dearly, but J.J. told that story better ten years ago. The only film he directed that is not based on an existing franchise, Super 8 remains Abrams’ best film as unlike his other films that tend to move on a rapid pace, this actually slows down. There may be a mystery going on, regarding the mysterious monster that terrorizes the town of Lillian, the film takes its time and wants to spend time with the characters, particularly the central children who are making a Super 8 zombie movie. No doubt Super 8 is nostalgia for those who grew up watching Steven Spielberg’s cinema, but there’s tenderness and affection towards its people without the spectacle getting in the way of such.
It took fifteen months for all five issues of Spider-Man: Bloodline to get published, so not only did it not seem a priority from Marvel, but the miniseries hasn’t much of an impact. If you didn’t like Bloodline, there are plenty of new Spidey media that might peak your interest. As for J.J. Abrams, who is in a position to do whatever he wants with a television empire that produced new shows, and whether or not he can escape his nostalgic sensibilities, whatever film he directs next, he should follow a new path without having to carry on someone else’s legacy.
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