Monday, May 10, 2010

Review: Marvel Adventures Spider-Man, Vol. 1: The Sinister Six

Review Marvel Adventures Spider-Man Volume One The Sinister Six Kitty Fross Erica David Jeff Parker Patrick Sherberger Marvel Cover trade paperback tpb comic bookWriters: Kitty Fross, Erica David, and Jeff Parker
Artist: Patrick Scherberger
Collects: Marvel Adventures Spider-Man #1-4 (2005)
Published: Marvel, 2005; $6.99

In 2003, Marvel Comics launched “Marvel Age,” a line of comic books aimed at younger readers that retold classic stories in modern-day settings and with contemporary artwork. The comics were collected relatively quickly into small, digest-sized books, presumably to capitalize on the growing market for similar-looking manga publications in the United States. Bound to remain completely faithful to the original stories they were based on, there wasn’t much room for creative flexibility with Marvel Age and the comics simply weren’t too impressive.

The company took steps to improve that situation in 2005, when they canceled the Marvel Age line and revamped it as “Marvel Adventures.” The Adventures books are also suited for all ages, but their purpose is less narrowly defined; unlike Marvel Age, they often tell brand-new stories with the only mandate being that the stories can be enjoyed without an extensive knowledge of Marvel chronology. Since its launch, Marvel Adventures Spider-Man has gone on to become one of Marvel’s best-selling titles.

Unfortunately, the series gets off to a pretty rough start in this opening volume. Children’s author Kitty Fross writes the first issue, which concerns itself with retelling Spider-Man’s origin for the umpteenth time. I’ve probably read more than a dozen versions of this story, and none of them (with the possible exception of Brian Bendis’s Ultimate Spider-Man) has ever held a candle to the original. This particular version falls somewhere in the bottom half of all the ones I’ve read, since it lacks so much as a trace of the pathos that makes Spider-Man’s first appearance in Amazing Fantasy #15 so powerful.

The emotional impact of the original story comes from the death of Uncle Ben, an effect that’s completely absent here. There’s a half-hearted attempt to make it seem as though Peter took Ben for granted while he was alive (Ben wants to play cards at one point; Peter says he has to study instead), but there isn’t enough interaction between them to make Ben’s death sufficiently traumatic for the story’s purposes. I’ve read Amazing Fantasy #15 more times than I’ve read any other story in comics, and it still gets to me on a basic emotional level. This version, despite being derived from the same plot, does absolutely nothing for me.

The second and third issues, written by Erica David, are basically a stripped-down, drawn-out retelling of Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1 (1964), the first appearance of the Sinister Six. The plot is about as bare-bones as they come – Doctor Octopus & Friends break out of their jail cells, terrorize New York City, and do their best to get rid of “that pestilent pest” Spider-Man once and for all (and yes, Doctor Octopus actually says that). The villains’ characterizations are incredibly weak, and the subtleties that Stan Lee was able to give them nearly 50 years ago are nowhere to be found. Instead they scowl, shake their fists, and boast to one another about which of them is ultimately going to “destroy Spider-Man.”

You might think that with so many villains in one story there would at least be some fun action sequences, but that’s not really the case either. Their methods for attempting to defeat Spider-Man are uninspired, at best: Electro shoots electricity; Mysterio creates illusions of himself; Doc Ock, Sandman, and the Vulture try to pummel Spidey with their fists (mechanical or otherwise); and Kraven tries to capture Spider-Man with a handful of traps so lame they would make Macaulay Culkin blush. The story isn’t quite stupid enough to be offensive, but it is pretty boring.

If there’s any redeeming quality to this collection, it’s the fourth and final story. Written by Jeff Parker, this is the only issue to feature a completely original story – by this point, a godsend in and of itself. It deals with Spidey and the Human Torch teaming up to do battle with two little-known villains: Street, who is literally a living chunk of NYC asphalt, and Goom, a gigantic alien whose only knowledge of Earth comes from having watched way too much MTV.

I would be remiss not to mention the art of Patrick Sherberger in this volume, which is much more consistent than the writing. While he hasn’t fully developed his own style by the end of the book (he seems to be aping Humberto Ramos’ style most of the time), it’s still above average. But even so, consistent artwork and one good story out of four don’t make up for the fact that the majority of Marvel Adventures Spider-Man, Vol. 1: The Sinister Six is a derivative bore. The series continues with all original stories from here on out, though, and if they’re anywhere near as entertaining as the final story was in this volume, they could be worth a look.

Rating: 1.5 out of 5


  1. Wow, I really expected this to be good too. That's pretty lame, I guess I can stay away from it. Like you, I'm also tired as hell of hearing Spidey's origin, hell I know his life better than mine at this point. But really, seems like it had a lot of potential and missed the chance.

  2. I think a lot of people tend to give things like this a pass because they perceive "all ages" as meaning "for kids," but I don't see that as an excuse for poor quality. There are plenty of things out there that appeal to both children and adults (Pixar, anyone?), and they're able to do so without pandering to one audience or the other. Heck, there's proof in this very book -- the final story strikes that balance almost perfectly. That's what's ironic about the potential you mentioned...the book actually does live up to it, but only for the last few pages.

    I'm sick to death of Spider-Man's origin as well, and as a side note, I really hope that when they reboot the movie franchise in a few years they don't subject us to yet another origin story. For all its faults, that's one thing the animated show from the '90s actually did right: it didn't bother wasting our time with the origin, it cut straight to Spider-Man's life afterward.

  3. Definitely agree about the 90's show, which was my favorite until I saw Spectacular Spider-Man. I also hope they skip it in the reboot, I mean everyone knows it, hell the First one just came out 8 years ago, reboot or not we shouldn't have time wasted on the origin again.

  4. Ouch, this def won't be making it's way onto my "must buy" list! To be honest though, none of the Marvel Adventure comics have ever grabbed my attention. I tried a few MA Avengers comics hoping to get some classic Avengers action and they was extremely disappointing as well... I guess the lesson here is simple; don't read the Marvel Adventures line!

  5. I may not have liked the first volume, but I'm not willing to write off the whole line just yet. The next one is by Sean McKeever, who I like, and Peter David actually writes a book or two somewhere down the line. Zeb Wells and Fred Van Lente also wrote for Marvel Adventures Spider-Man, and since they write Amazing Spider-Man now it might be interesting to see some of their earlier work with the character.

    Sorry to hear Marvel Adventures Avengers wasn't your cup of tea...I haven't read it, but to me it looks more like an alternate take on the New Avengers than it does an homage to classic Avengers stories. I still kind of want to take a look at some point, but your warning is duly noted.

  6. I've finally made it!!! So, where do I begin. Well like most Marvel characters, I have NO idea of their origin nor roll in the comic world. But I do know a little bit about Spider-man and am sad to see that this didn't sound too good. I'm always interested in reading different writers interpretation of the origin of characters. Sucks this one totally bombed from the sounds of your review.

    Maybe the second volume will be worth the read. I'll be waiting for that review sir. :)

  7. Yeah, that's actually where I made my mistake... The MA Avengers wasn't a fresh look at the old school Avengers, it was just another look at an alternate version of the New Avengers, which was just weird... If I wanted to read New Avengers, I'd just read New Avengers!