Let me talk for a second about why I enjoy writing for Blastoff so much. The comics industry moves at a breakneck pace, with the status quos of iconic characters constantly changing on a month to month basis. It’s impossible to keep track of everything going on, and for those who didn’t grow up reading comics, the idea of – just to throw an example out there – reading every Spider-Man comic ever made is daunting. While searching for content to cover for my pieces here at Blastoff, I often find myself looking back… and one of my absolute favorite things to do is to dive into the not-so-distant past. With older comics, when these legacies were just starting, the classic issues rise to the top. They become as iconic as the heroes they’re about. It’s the more recent history, the times from which we haven’t really gotten enough distance to assess, where some gems might get lost. It’s the exploration that I love, that moment when I pull up a comic I didn’t know existed and dive in, with no idea of what waits in those pages.
Such is the case with Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #1, written by Peter David, penciled by Mike Wieringo, inked by Karl Kesel, colored by Paul Mounts, and lettered by Cory Petit. I didn’t know that this series was a thing, nor was I aware of The Other, the current Spidey crossover that ran through this series and then continued through multiple Spider-Man titles. It ran during the legendary J. Michael Straczynski Spider-Man run, which I’ve enjoyed – so let’s see if this 2005 series is worth revisiting.
The short answer is… it’s good. It’s not Peter David’s most nuanced work, but the art is a pretty good mix of cartoony flair and the realism that would develop into the Marvel house style of the 2010s. We find Peter Parker at a time in his life when everything seems to be going his way. He and MJ are married, and living in Stark Tower rent-free. He gets motivation speeches and lessons about chi from Captain America, whose advice flies counter to Peter’s reactive methods of dealing with villains. Peter isn’t content, though – he’s haunted by a dream that makes him feel as if all of this is going to be taken away. I’m not sure if it’s just that the dream wasn’t particularly unnerving or effectively written, but it wasn’t the most effective way to add that patented layer of Peter Parker angst to the series. The dream, not even as chilling as a standard nightmare, just doesn’t seem like something that would make him uneasy to the extent that it does, which makes that entire part of the story difficult to empathize with. One of Peter David’s strengths has always been engaging and human characters that we can see as people, but Peter and especially this ear-pulling (literally) and neurotic version of MJ sometimes feel like characters going through the motions.
What does work is the scene with Tracer, a new villain who shoots bullets that follow their target until impact. Attempting to apply Cap’s advice, Spidey survives by outrunning the bullets and then turning around to catch them. Until this happens.
I originally thought that one of the bullets exploded into a gob of chocolate in Spidey’s hand, which instantly made me rethink my snap judgments about Tracer’s evil deeds, but it turns out that Peter’s blood is just especially rich in cacao.
This leads to the best part of the issue, which is Spider-Man’s session with Doctor Castillo, who I thought was an inspired character. In this scene, Peter feels like a person, gradually opening up to Castillo as he earns her respect and begins to see her as a hero in her own rights. This seems to be leading to a larger plot about something being wrong with Peter’s blood (Or “Bad. Very bad,” the actual real life doctor says), but what I liked best was that human interaction.
Overall, while not the best Spider-Man debut or Peter David’s strongest character work, it’s an enjoyable read. It does have – to me, at least – by far the best title of a Spider-Man comic ever. You can’t say that Amazing isn’t classic, but come on. Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man is exactly what Peter would call his life story, and I hope Marvel brings that back someday.