In Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man, Tom Taylor and Juann Cabal are taking us on a journey. The solicits and interviews prior to the series' debut emphasized the neighborhood of its title, a more grounded series for the web-slinger, focusing on his relationships with those around him. Y’know, in his neighborhood.
To their credit, Taylor and Cabal leaned heavily into those expectations in the first issue, leading things off with a problem that one of Peter’s neighbors seems to have with local thugs. In steps Spider-Man, however, and not only can these local thugs punch like a train, but suddenly the neighbor is missing and she’s left Peter literally holding the baby. Babies, in fact, in the form of two bright orange alien children.
It’s a curveball, to say the least, but that leads us to this issue, and never has Spider-Man been more relatable than on the final page. After chasing a super-strong orange goon and then being confronted with a brand new superhero who tells him about a secret history, of something that “lies beneath,” and of an “agreement” with New York, Spider-Man simply asks, "What is happening?"
What, indeed? Despite the unpredictable (and frankly, bonkers) direction this book is going, it still maintains that second level, the one that we were promised all those (what feels like) years ago before issue #1. Spider-Man’s neighborhood will always be a little broader than most, and in this issue, Taylor and Cabal introduce a new police officer -- brand new, in fact, first week on the job -- and employs Peter’s longtime friendship with Johnny Storm to good effect, both elements that remind us that Spider-Man doesn’t, and shouldn’t, work in a bubble. By remaining tied to Peter’s life at home, the more outlandish aspects of the plot are emphasized in ways that they potentially wouldn’t be without that grounded context.
This is a compelling issue. Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man isn’t a slow series by any means, and that’s even more so in this issue, the events of which practically happen in real time. There’s almost a dizzying feeling to the revelations, especially at the end, because there hasn’t been any time for any of this to sink in. We’re not given anywhere near enough information to know what’s happening yet, or why, but the fact that Spider-Man is right there with us makes that ok.
In contrast to the plot twists, Cabal’s art is crisp and clear. While there are times when the figures can look a little stiff in the quieter moments, the dynamism he employs in the action scenes more than makes up for it. There are a few panels here and in the last issue where Spidey’s movements are depicted by a series of opaque figures leading you through his motions. It’s an old technique, but a goodie, and Cabal uses it to great effect. Nolan Woodard’s colors help accentuate the grounded nature of the book’s main conceit, with lots of natural colors and realistic shading. This choice also helps to make the orange faced characters and the final superhero reveal even more alien to Peter’s life. Combined, Cabal and Woodard are bringing the neighborhood to life in a realistic way that drives the book’s contrasting goals of the ordinary meeting the extraordinary.
Taylor’s script is sharp, and it makes you wonder why he’s not been writing Spider-Man up to now. The interactions between Peter and the cast are a delight, and while there’s not any real distinction between Spider-Man and Peter -- something other writers emphasize -- the characterization of the web-slinger is pretty spot on. His jokes are funny, his reactions to things are realistic, and the back and forth between him and Johnny Storm (something always worth looking out for) is gold.
Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man is not the book you’re expecting it to be, but in a lot of ways, it’s more. Taylor and Cabal are crafting a story that leads from the apartments in Peter’s building through the secret history of the Marvel Universe in surprising and unpredictable ways. There’s still an emphasis on relationships that ground this issue in ways that lean into the book’s premise, but don’t just think that means Taylor is confining himself to a few city blocks. If the final page of this issue is anything to go by, Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man is about to take on some high concept stuff, and while there’s no telling just yet where it will all lead, it’s a compelling ride.