When you think of Spider-Man visually, what comes to mind? Red and blue and web patterns? Big, expressive white eyes ringed in black? Webs, webs, webs everywhere—from New York to Canada? All of these are Spidey. So too is motion. The way Spider-Man moves has been a key part of his aesthetic from Amazing Fantasy # 15 on. Be it his sensational twirling or his spectacular web-slinging, the way Spider-Man goes about action (aside from being his reward) is an essential part of his character.
With the recently released-in-trade miniseries Non-Stop Spider-Man, artists Chris Bachalo (joined by Cory Smith and Gerardo Sandoval) and Dale Eaglesham; inkers Tim Townsend, Wayne Faucher, Al Vey, Livesay, Jaime Mendoza, Cory Smith, Victor Nava, Victor Olazaba, and Gerardo Sandoval; colorists Marco Menyz, Jim Charalampidis, Chris Sotomayor, and Morry Hollowell; and writer Joe Kelly spin a tale dedicated first and foremost to Peter Parker on the move—so much so that the first issue opens with him leaping out of a window:
Bachalo’s Peter Parker is a bundle of energy and drive throughout Non-Stop Spider-Man‘s five issues. He’s almost always on the move, almost always in action. As the story progresses, the nature of that energy and drive mutates—Peter grows steadily more and more ragged, more and more desperate as the twists of the tale push him to his limits and past them. Consider this page:
Compare Spider-Man’s body language on the above page (from late in the series) to the series’ first page. Bachalo maintains Spider-Man’s bendy kineticism, but whereas the Peter Parker who leaps out of a window is cooly confident, the Peter Parker brawling with hooded Nazi dweeb Baron Zemo is powering through injury, exhaustion, and rage. He’s a genius and a scrapper par excellence, but the events of the story have taken a clear toll on him. When he gets hit, Bachalo makes it clear that the hit hurts, but Spider-Man being Spider-Man it will not keep him down. He bounces back, just barely a half-step ahead of his increasingly-agitated Spider-Sense.
It’s really excellent character work from Bachalo and the inking and color teams he’s working with, and it’s rather subtle work in a comic that is, by design, capital letters LOUD and INTENSE. The LOUD and INTENSE give Bachalo space to have fun and spotlight the inimitable pleasures of Spider-Man in action—pitting by pitting the web-slinger against a monster truck, for instance:
Or seeing him duke it out with Zemo in the open cargo bay of a superjet moments away from going supersonic:
These setpieces provide space for Bachalo to work with both superheroic-scale action/incident and his quieter physical character work. It’s consistently thrilling to read.
Joe Kelly’s script is less successful than Bachalo’s illustration work, but there’s a great deal to like in it. Non-Stop sees Peter in a dark place due to the sheer vicious cruelty of the villainous plot, but as angry as he gets, he’s not a one-note ball of wrath. He quips with a friend who’s been pulled into the thick of things and reaches out to a pair of hired goons who don’t know the full story of what’s going down. He’s angry, but not blinded by rage, a champion of the good. His fury is reserved for Baron Zemo.
Kelly’s take on Zemo, incidentally, is the strongest part of Non-Stop Spider-Man‘s writing. He’s a hateful Nazi, and as dangerous in a fistfight as ever. But he’s also preening, twerpy, and ultimately pathetic—in other words, a rather astute portrait of a fascist. His narcissism and wanton disregard for life make him a fine foil for Spider-Man, a vain fop whose quipping is sociopathic and hollow vs. the man with the worst luck in the world who steps up for everyone because it’s who he is and whose quipping is built into him. It’s an excellent matchup.
But the relentless forward drive of Kelly’s script, while thrilling, also means that the folks Spider-Man is fighting to protect are sketches more than they are characters—and the same is true of a group of villains introduced late into the story who draw inspiration from Zemo’s insipid ideology while having no use for the callow twerpery of the man himself or his beloved Nazi. There’s space there for an interesting investigation into ways the rancid nonsense of “racial purity” might mutate, but the players come to the stage so late in Non-Stop Spider-Man that they don’t get a chance to do much—and with this hunk of the story brought to an end rather abruptly, they’re more an interesting idea than a developed idea.
Non-Stop Spider-Man‘s script might have benefitted from a bit of space to ease off the throttle a bit and breathe. A story can still be zippy and take the time to investigate its interesting corners.
As it stands, though? This is a good comic with great art, and Kelly gives Bachalo the space to create a wonderfully energetic Spider-Man. I’m looking forward to its follow-up.
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