This Is the Best Time in History to Be a Spider-Man Fan
Comic book fans love to complain. I know this because I am one, and I do.
The default state of comic readers is one of perpetual dissatisfaction; this month’s issue is not as good as last month’s; this year’s storyline isn’t coming together the way the previous one did; the current artist is missing deadlines and the fill-ins aren’t as good; the comics cost too much for too little entertainment and were better when they were cheaper and denser.
I’ve always suspected this has something to do with the ongoing episodic nature of comics; a medium built on a never-ending series of cliffhangers attracts a customer that is at least okay with — if not outright looking for — a small level of constant dissatisfaction. The default mood of a comics fan is to see the dark cloud hovering over even the shiniest of silver linings.
But even the crankiest, crotchetiest comics fan would have to admit this is a great time to be a Spider-Man fan. In fact, as an obsessive Spider-Man fan for over 35 years, I think right now is the greatest time to be a Spider-Man time ever in the character’s 55-year history. And really it’s not even close.
Granted, enjoying a lot of this modern renaissance depends on having a PlayStation 4 and being able to play the new Spidey game, which is simply titled Spider-Man. It blends together a couple different existing games — Infamous, Batman: Arkham Knight, Grand Theft Auto, and more than a bit of the tie-in game for Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 — it’s certainly not the most original video game ever created. And there is the minor issue of the extremely anti-murder Spider-Man being a little reckless with his violent attacks. (Spidey, if you throw an exploding motorcycle as a hoodlum, he is going to die.) Regardless, I don’t think anyone would dispute the fact that this is the best Spider-Man video game in history.
It really is a Spider-Man fan’s dream come true. You can swing anywhere in an impressively detailed (and surprisingly accurate) Manhattan, flipping and spinning and web-slinging your way over, around, and in between almost anything. The combat system lets you take on whole groups of baddies with a fleet of very spidery kicks, punches, and web tricks (my favorite is the “impact webbing,” a gadget introduced in the Spider-Man comics of my youth). As you level up your character you unlock more costumes. Though you start with the classic Steve Ditko creation and then quickly upgrade to the hideous “advanced suit” created especially for the game (the one with the giant white spider on the chest and back you’ve seen in trailers), it only takes a little bit of web-slinging to open up classic Spidey suits like the Scarlet Spider, the “Big Time” Spider-Man, and the Tom Holland suit from Spider-Man: Homecoming. Once a costume is unlocked, you can switch back and forth to it or any other at any time. Your sartorial preferences are even integrated into the game’s cut scenes.
Although the gameplay’s good enough to get by with no story at all, the game’s script (by Jon Paquette, Ben Arfmann, and frequent Spider-Man comics writers Christos Gage and Dan Slott) is an impressive distillation of years of Spider-Man stories. It includes tons of Spidey villains (Early missions land the Kingpin in jail, creating a power vacuum in the city’s underworld that is filled by Mr. Negative), and some classic push and pull between Peter’s alter egos (Spider-Man’s new nemesis just so happens to have a major connection to Aunt May). The dialogue is sharp, and so are the ways in which classic characters are reimagined; Doctor Octopus is now Peter’s boss at a cash-strapped laboratory, while Mary Jane works at the Daily Bugle as a top investigative reporter.
I can’t imagine a Spider-Man fan who wouldn’t get a kick out of tossing on the Avengers: Infinity War Iron Spider costume to swing through Central Park on the way to investigating a slew of Black Cat robberies. But if your storytelling preferences are less interactive or you just don’t have a PS4, there is great Spider-Man stuff available right now in whatever medium you like. If you’re a film fan, we’re just a year removed from the wonderful (and extremely rewatchable) Spider-Man: Homecoming. Earlier this summer, Holland’s Spidey stole Avengers: Infinity War, and his final scene was maybe the most emotionally devastating thing that’s ever taken place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Next year will bring a double dose of movie Spidey: Another Avengers and another solo movie, Spider-Man: Far From Home, from most of the same team that brought you Homecoming, including producers Kevin Feige and Amy Pascal, writers Erik Sommers and Chris McKenna, and director Jon Watts. And there are two more Spider-Man movies coming to theaters in 2018. In a matter of weeks, Tom Hardy becomes Spidey nemesis Venom in his own crazy-looking solo film. And later in the fall, comics’ Ultimate Spider-Man, Miles Morales, gets his own animated feature, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. I saw an advanced screening of some footage of this one a couple months ago and it looks like it could be the best of all of these movies — and the most interesting hybrid of movie and comic book visuals (like thought balloons and captions) since Ang Lee’s Hulk.
Spider-Man’s original home in the pages of Marvel Comics is currently in the midst of a creative peak as well. Spidey’s previous writer, Dan Slott, left Amazing Spider-Man on a high note after a decade-long run; his farewell issue, Amazing Spider-Man #801, is among the top five Spider-Man comics I’ve ever read. (And I have read more Spider-Man comics than any rational adult should.) His replacement, Nick Spencer, has started his work on the book with a timeless story about Peter losing his job at the Daily Bugle and going back to school (and hooking up with Mary Jane again after a long separation). The first five-issue arc, fittingly called “Back to Basics,” just wrapped up and from the literal battle between Peter and Spidey, to the snappy banter, to Ryan Ottley’s crisp, clear artwork, it’s got the vibe of classic Spider-Man comics.
If you prefer actual classic Spider-Man comics, it’s never been easier to read them. Hundreds upon hundreds of issues are easily available instantly; you can buy individual issues or complete runs from the past on Marvel’s store, or if you prefer subscription models, you can sign up for Marvel Unlimited, where $10 a month gets you access to 20,000 Marvel Comics, including most of Spider-Man’s most notable adventures. (If you prefer good old-fashioned paper, there are more Spider-Man collected editions than ever before. Might I recommend the first volume of Chip Zdarsky’s Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man?)
There’s seemingly no end to the ways you can express your love of Spider-Man in 2018. When I was a kid my Spider-Man toys looked like this; five points of articulation with no knee or elbow joints making it impossible to mimic any of his signature poses. For $20 these days you can get a Spidey that with multiple heads and hands that can contort in any conceivable direction — and if you’re willing to pay more, they get even more detailed and lifelike. Or maybe you prefer T-shirts? Or how about mini-plushes? It goes on and on and on.
If I wanted to be a stereotypical fanboy, I could still find some minor things to complain about. (And I don’t love paying $4 a pop for comics that sometimes take less than 10 minutes to read.) Still, on the whole, this is just about as good as it gets for fans of the Wall-Crawler. Times these great don’t come along often or last for very long. So it’s your responsibility to enjoy these powerful movies, comics, and games while you can.
Gallery - Every Spider-Man Movie Poster, Ranked: