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Spider-Man #1 Review: JJ & Henry Abrams Chart a Bold, New Direction

Spider-Man #1 cover

WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Spider-Man #1 by J.J. Abrams, Henry Abrams, Sara Pichelli, Elisabetta D'Amico, Dave Stewart and VC's Joe Caramagna, on sale now.

Saving the day for over 50 years, Spider-Man has gone through all sorts of variations that reimagine the classic superhero. For Spider-Man #1, prolific filmmaker, J.J. Abrams, and his son Henry have teamed up with celebrated Spider-Man artist Sara Pichelli to craft a new comic book miniseries for their own bold vision of the flagship superhero outside of the continuity of the main Marvel Universe. In doing so, the team have created a solid, original approach to the tried-and-true web-slinger that promises a more personal kind of Spider-Man story.

Opening with Spider-Man facing a devastating new villain in Cadaverous, Peter Parker is brought back into the fight by his wife Mary Jane Watson before the wall-crawler endures a personal tragedy in the face of this unrelenting new enemy. From there, the perspective shifts for the majority of the debut issue to the young son of Peter and Mary Jane, Ben Parker, raised by Aunt May in Queens as he undergoes the trials and tribulations of high school and absent parents while having his own surprise brush with the superhero legacy of his father.

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What makes this new take on Spider-Man from Abrams and his own teenage son Henry especially poignant is that it quickly becomes clear that this new miniseries will be a meditation on the dynamic between fathers and sons. There is a lot of raw, unresolved emotion between the two Parkers in how they each cope with personal loss in their own respective -- and, at times, conflicting -- ways.

The web-slinging, requisite superhero action is there at the beginning and certainly promised to return in a big way as the story continues to unfold but the focus here is definitely on familial dynamics as Ben finds his own way through the expected turbulence of teenage life while managing to have some mischievous fun along the way.

Much of the senior Abrams' film work has used fantastical premises as the backdrop for exploring the ennui and inner workings of family life. Mission: Impossible III explored spouses and romantic partners learning to trust each other with their deepest secrets. The first two rebooted Star Trek films were about an unlikely family coming together and navigating their interpersonal relationships while boldly going where no one had gone before.

But the Abrams' film that informs this new superhero story the most is Super 8, following a young boy discovering an extraterrestrial visitor shortly after the tragic loss of his mother. And, of course, it is hard not to ascribe J.J. and Henry's own potential dynamic, with Peter often on the road for work during Ben's most formative years, not unlike the career demands of the senior Abrams potentially keeping him apart from his son.

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Pichelli, one of the most acclaimed artists in Marvel Comics' bullpen and the co-creator of Miles Morales, is no stranger to bringing superhero action sequences to explosive life and more than delivers on that count, joined by inking assistant Elisabetta D'Amico and color artist Dave Stewart. However, here, Pichelli really focuses on selling the emotion of the story's leads as the true nature of the miniseries comes to the fore following tragedy and a time jump. Pichelli delivers the heartbreaking alienation and teenage frustration constantly simmering under the surface in Ben, while this vision of Peter Parker is a broken man, inside and out. And there is a menace to Cadaverous that is unlike Pichelli's previous work, making him a particularly terrifying and personal villain to this side of the Marvel Multiverse.

The Abrams' take on Spider-Man is off to a strong start in this surprisingly emotional and bold approach to the iconic superhero. With the father-son dynamic and exploration of familial loss serving as the raw heartbeat of the story, the material is truly elevated by the work of Sara Pichelli and the rest of the art team to blend teen drama and superhero action into a coming-of-age story unlike any other Peter Parker and the familiar supporting cast has seen so far.

In doing so, the miniseries promises to be a fresh take on the venerable character, with plenty of heart to propel it to new heights.

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