Spider-Man's newest ongoing is, to all intents and purposes, a modern reworking of "Marvel Team-Up." Telling stand-alone Spider-Man stories in which the character is joined by some of his Marvel Universe buddies, the premise of the book is serviceable, if not particularly exciting. It could go either way. Ultimately, it comes down to who the creators are and whether they can keep you interested. But with creators like Zeb Wells and Joe Madureira on board, it's pretty clear which way most people will fall on it.
With no disrespect meant to Wells' story and script, there's no doubting that this is an art-led book. Joe Madureira's legacy to the comics industry may have been half a decade of anime-imitators and an unfinished creator-owned series, but seeing him in action again reminds you exactly what the fuss was about in the first place. He simply gets superheroes. Big, expressive action. Pages so full of energy you lose your breath just reading them. Jameson has never looked so enraged, the Red Hulk has never looked so huge, the Mole Man never so cowed.
Of course, it's Spider-Man whose name is on the title, and Madureira doesn't disappoint with his interpretation: an ultra-expressive rendering of the character, all body language and slapstick, with shades of early Mike Wieringo. If there's any criticism of the book, it's that the there simply isn't enough Spidey in it, but even that is compensated for by some amazing splashes and spreads, particularly a double-page spread of moloids attacking the New York marathon.
It's also important to note that the coloring, by Ferran Daniel, is an integral part of what makes this book look so good. We saw, with "Ultimates Vol. 3," what happens to Madureira's artwork when he's paired with the wrong collaborators: a book that looks muddy and sluggish. Here, the pages are bright and bold, allowing Madureira's strengths to shine. It's all the more true on the included digital copy. If I didn't know better, I'd almost say it was designed to be backlit from day one.
As for Wells' contribution to the book, we can at least say this: he knows when to stand back and let someone else have the spotlight. There's plenty of comedy in the script, but the story is thinner than a Macbook Air. Wells has wisely packed the book with big visual moments and allowed his artistic collaborators to do their stuff. His contributions are perfectly fine -- there's a throwaway poster gag (which we can assume is Wells') that made me laugh out loud -- and he makes the best of a relationship between the lead characters that hasn't really fleshed out thus far, but Wells distinguishes himself as a good choice of writer because he never feels at odds with the artwork on what is, after all, an artist-driven project.
Usually, I think defending a star rating in the body of a review is a little too meta, but in this case I feel it's worth discussing. This isn't a 5 star comic in the sense that it's the next "Sandman" and everyone should have a copy on their shelves. It isn't. It's a pop comic. A firework, not an atom bomb. But with art this good and writing this entertaining, you can't fail to enjoy it -- and that's a 5 star experience however you look at it.