Spider-Man: Spider’s Shadow kicks off Marvel’s revival of the What If..? line, and there’s never been a better time — with the animated What If..? series closing out earlier this month, there’s high demand for alternate universe tales. This is where Spider’s Shadow comes in to collect the five-issue miniseries that asks the question, “What if Peter Parker became Venom?”
Set loosely around the continuity of Amazing Spider-Man #258, this miniseries picks up at a darker point in Peter’s life. Powered by the black symbiote, he’s never been stronger and more capable, but his grip on reality is slipping. At night he’s plagued by nightmares of his past failures and tortured by the thoughts of not being enough to those he loves. This in turn leads him to becoming increasingly reckless and aggressive towards his normal rogues. It seems only a matter of time until he gets pushed too far and the symbiote begins to take over.
One of the strongest aspects of this series is its incredibly strong opening. By utilizing the context of surrounding symbiote stories and other What if..? tales, it’s able to work from that background information and get right into the meat of the story with minimal setup. Immediately, it establishes the series’ darker tone and tells you this is a horror story of a man overtaken by his emotions. The first issue puts us right into Peter’s head through his narration and dreams and allows us to understand his internal struggle before the big turn at the end of the issue. Zdarsky knows you’re reading it to see what happens when Spider-Man gives into the suit’s desires and wastes no time getting into it.
By giving the reader what they would expect at the beginning, it allows the story to breathe and develop past the usual into the compelling. We see Spider-Man become judge, jury and executioner, which is as brutal and shocking as you can imagine. This is where the story starts to bring in a large supporting cast to oppose our new big bad. Kingpin starts planning to save his city, the Sinister Six begin plotting, and Peter’s loved ones try to reach the man within the darkness. By getting the rest of the Marvel universe involved, the story begins to evolve into an entirely different beast.
From here, it pivots to following how the Marvel universe would react to Venom if Spider-Man wasn’t there to take him on. Alliances are formed and unlikely heroes emerge from the flames of adversity. It’s cool to see such a fleshed out alternate reality where it involves more than just a select cast. Though the story quickly gathers a large roster, it never loses sight of the central hero of Peter.
Zdarsky’s character work for Peter remains the heart of the story. By allowing Peter to give into his emotions, he is able to explore how far the hero would fall and if he could ever return. We relate to his struggle and are able to understand how he could get to the point of giving in. Then at the midpoint we are all the more invested as we see Peter come to terms with his actions. In one particular sequence between Peter and M.J., Zdarsky cuts to the character’s core. What makes Peter able to be Spider-Man is not being perfect but by embracing his humanity and overcoming his inner darkness.
The story is then fully realized by the art team. Pasqual Ferry and Matt Hollingsworth capture the narrative’s dark and eerie tone and add another level to it. There are a lot of haunting images here such as Peter unconsciously suspended above his bed by the symbiote, or the monstrous visage the suit begins to take on. These moments are striking and add to the grim tone. The colors work really well throughout especially in the darker sections. A nice touch throughout is the red and blue highlights around the symbiote’s edges that nods to the ’90s animated series.
In issue #3 in particular, there’s a great sequence where the Sinister Six team up to take on Spider-Man. Here they lure Spidey into a trap using Mysterio’s illusion technology and the art kicks it up a notch. It’s a brief sequence but it works so well as it blends psychedelic colors with bizarre layouts to create a disorienting scenario.
However, the art does not always keep the same consistency across the series. When it comes to the finer details such as faces, there can be some distracting inconsistencies. Also, the coloring seems washed out a bit in issue #5. This might be a result of the change of palette due to the final showdown’s setting, but it is noticeable. Thankfully, these inconsistencies are minor and do not detract too much from the overall experience.
Spider-Man: Spider’s Shadow delivers a tale that will keep you guessing. It’s at its best when it evolves past the basic premise, and Zdarsky’s use of the wider Marvel Universe allows the story to grow into this. Though the final battle wraps up a little too conveniently with a deus ex machina, it leaves the universe in a place where this continuity could be revisited. The visuals here are solid, too, if a bit inconsistent at times. It’s a quick read that doesn’t overstay its welcome, which fans of What If..? and Spider-Man alike can find some enjoyment in.
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