The problem is that the early press releases left us with the impression that Spidey would be a revisitation of Untold Tales of Spider-Man. The latter title was a cult hit from the late 90s by master of continuity Kurt Busiek. UTOS was successful not just as a good, fun title, but also one that paid detailed attention to the Lee/Ditko source material from the early issues of Amazing Spider-Man. UTOS was intended to be, among other things, a supplement to the Lee/Ditko stories, written so effectively that one could read UTOS seamlessly between the original stories. UTOS artist Pat Olliffe also made a point of drawing Peter and his friends in their original 1960s clothing despite it being a 90s title, effectively capturing the “feel” of those comics.
I had to go back and reread one of the early interviews with Spidey writer Robbie Thompson, and I was still left with the impression that this new book is intended to be another UTOS-style supplement. It’s not, or at least if it is, it’s taking dramatic license with Spider-Man history. The first noticeable change is stylistic: artist Nick Bradshaw portrays young Peter and his friends and family as more modern and less nerdy than Ditko and Olliffe. Doctor Octopus also has a decidedly modern look, rather than Ditko’s overweight mad scientist. I’d say that if anything, Bradshaw is drawing a mixed inspiration from the 2000s Sam Raimi films and the current Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon. (To his credit, Bradshaw’s Spider-Man seems to channel Ditko’s original look.)
Even more dramatic are the story changes which make it impossible to pin this at a definitive point in the Lee/Ditko stories. Despite Peter being in high school, Thompson includes Harry Osborn and Gwen Stacy in Peter’s supporting cast (they didn’t appear until Peter was in college), and has Spider-Man have an early fight with the White Rabbit (who first appeared in 1983, when Peter was in graduate school).
In other words, Spidey is irreconcilable with Lee/Ditko and Busiek/Olliffe’s stories. Certainly a modernizing of Spider-Man’s stories from a fashion and technology perspective is acceptable, but there’s some wholesale rewriting going on here. So either Spidey represents an official tweaking of Spider-Man’s past, or else it’s intended as a modernized, alternate take on Spider-Man which doesn’t represent the character’s official backstory.
This is all fine–Marvel has done alternate, rejuvenated Spider-Men before with stories running independent of the main Spider-books. Among others, we’ve gotten Ultimate Spider-Man, Spider-Man: Chapter One, Spider-Man Season One, and Marvel Adventures: Spider-Man, along with any number of animated series and their comic adaptions. The problem is that such stories are often rendered “secondary” by the main title and are eventually forgotten, the Bendis/Bagley Ultimate Spider-Man being the big exception.
In substantive terms, Spidey is a fine book, though perhaps a little heavy on Peter Parker’s running head-commentary. I’d say that the plot is a little unfocused: Peter is falling behind in his history studies, so his teacher assigns Gwen Stacy to be his tutor. This could be a comical and romantic development, but not much comes of it in this issue. The plot turns in the issue’s second half to a field trip where Spider-Man has an early battle with Doctor Octopus. Still, maybe Thompson will revisit the tutoring point in future issues, as the comic’s last page shows that there may be some long-game plot developments here.
Spidey is probably an acceptable book if you’re looking to introduce a young reader to Spider-Man in a manner unburdened from continuity. Older readers may find it a welcome diversion that hearkens back to early Marvel as well, but I’ll caution again that it’s working very independently from the source material. A fun, youthful title is probably something we need, so Marvel’s challenge will be to keep this book relevant where so many other “young Spidey” books have fallen into the discount bins.
Rating: Three and a half out of five Ditkos.