The second entry into Marvel’s evergreen Original Graphic Novel program, “Amazing Spider-Man: Family Business,” written by Mark Waid and James Robinson, is a continuity-light adventure that gives readers everything they need to know in one compact dose. With almost ninety pages of original, painted story, this graphic novel focuses on Peter Parker discovering his long-lost (and heretofore unknown) sister is in the family business as a C.I.A. agent, like his parents, Richard and Mary Parker.
Pete and his newly-discovered sister, Teresa, are half of the dramatis personae in this adventure. There are other characters on hand, sure, such as super-criminal-for-hire Cyclone and Emile Chigaru, the elder Parkers’ mission controller, but the other half of the major players is rounded out with Wilson Fisk — the Kingpin — and Marvin Flumm, better known as Mentallo. Fisk does away with the “tabloid names” on page one, choosing to address Mentallo as Mr. Flumm. Unfortunately, halfway through the book, for no apparent reason, Fisk begins to refer to Mentallo as Mr. Frumm. I paused at that point, went back to make sure I’d read it correctly earlier, but lost no interest in the story.
While I may never know how Robinson and Waid broke down the writing assignments, this duo contains the only two writers in comics today who can pull off a character saying, “Tut, tut.” Whatever the case, the duo delivers a story filled with fun and adventure, intrigue and excitement. This is a healthy blend of Peter Parker and Jason Bourne, a team-up between Spider-Man and Modesty Blaise. The bad guys are bad, their goals clear and their threat to Peter and Teresa, quite real, thank you very much. There is no need to bog readers down with the “Daily Bugle” or the other ancillary cast of Spider-Man’s life, the focus here is on Richard and Mary and their secrets, and that’s what Robinson and Waid provide all the way through.
The one piece that threatens to date this publication is Peter Parker going to the corner store to pay his power bill. Yes, that provides the impetus for the action of this adventure, but Pete’s smart enough to pay bills online, isn’t he? After all, my sixty-six-year-old dad is the only person I know who pays his bills in person any more. I may be picking nits here, after all, it plays right in to the ol’ Parker luck that so often drives Peter’s problematic existence. From that one bill payment, problems persist and the story spins through Tunisia, Cairo, New York, Monte Carlo and Switzerland before drawing to a close.
Gabrielle Dell’Otto layers in masterful painted artwork over top pencils attributed to Werther Dell’Edera. Robinson and Waid have selected foes and conscribed situations that play to the painted work wonderfully. The story would work with more “traditional” looking comic book art, but comic book stories seem worthy of snazzier formats (like this oversized original graphic novel) when the art inside is painted. One complication arises in that the standard-issue squiggly mane that symbolizes Spider-Man’s spider-sense is consumed by the painterly nature of Dell’Otto’s work. Once readers recognize the appearance of that alarm, the artwork is less troublesome, and Dell’Otto makes further amends by giving the entirety of the Parker family distinctly familial features. Teresa Parker mentions that Peter has his father’s eyes, but she does as well, without looking like Peter Parker in a wig. The artwork is topped off with fitting lettering from Joe Caramagna. The veteran letterer doesn’t overdo any of the lettering, keeping things simple and straight-forward, clean and sharp.
This book has much more than a standard-issue Spider-Man story: Nazi gold, Kirby crackle, Kingpin wearing patterned, Hawaiian shirts, Spidey costumes both classic and black, a flashback appearance from the Parkers and other little nods throughout the Marvel Universe. The book is a nice package, with a simple, Marvel-centric color scheme. I’m not keen on the excessive kerning used in the typography, but the black, white and red is a nice, solid combination that immediately equates to Marvel Entertainment. “Amazing Spider-Man: Family Business” ends with a final page that leaves readers hanging and opens up possibilities for future adventures for the world-famous wallcrawler. Most importantly though, this book is new reader and younger reader friendly. The book itself is a nice package, slightly oversize from the standard comic, but not overbearingly so. There are script to pencil to final art samples in the back, but they’re barely more than samples. It’s nice to see, but a little depth or rationale attached to those pieces would be greatly appreciated. Overall, “Amazing Spider-Man: Family Business” is very solid, and will easily welcome multiple reads without losing quality or impact.