WARNING: This article contains spoilers for Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #6.
Truly outstanding single issues of comics only come around every once in a while. The most popular and acclaimed storylines are usually serialized affairs stretched out over multiple issues, one of the reasons many readers find collected trade paperback editions more accessible than picking up individual floppies. You generally can't expect a new reader to be able to pick up an issue of the major superhero titles in the middle of an author's run without background knowledge and be able to follow along easily.
However, even those who don't buy individual issues or haven't read the first five issues of writer Tom Taylor and artist Juann Cabal's run on Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man are advised to pick up Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #6. This issue, released on May 10, was hyped up as the introduction of a new sidekick for Spider-Man named Spider-Bite, and while you might be justified in questioning why we need yet another Spider-person running around, Spider-Bite's story is something truly special.
Admittedly, Spider-Bite doesn't seem particularly unique at first; his powers and costume are identical to Peter Parker's, and his main identifying characteristic is that he's nine and a half years old. The young hero scarcely gets time to introduce himself before hand and Spider-Man are a team, no questions are asked why a little kid is fighting Doc Ock and The Vulture.
Once you accept that this is intended to be a more childlike adventure story, however, there's significant fun to be had. Taylor's writing is humorous, and Cabal's art makes particularly good use of two-page spreads. It presents a grand and joyous fantasy of supervillain punching and heroic posing. Why fight the Sinister Six when you can fight the Sinister Sixty? By the final battle with Stilt-Man, the backgrounds become increasingly stylized, as if scribbled in crayon on cardboard, preparing the reader for the issue's big twist.
When the adventure ends, Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #6 reveals itself to be something both heartbreaking and transcendent. It turns out "Spider-Bite" is a young cancer patient, and Spidey has collaborated with the boy's family and some sort of Make a Wish-type program to offer him the fantasy of being Spider-Man for a day.
And when Spider-Bite gets sad when his adventure is over, afraid he might not wake up to see another day, Spider-Man decides to take him web-swinging for real.
It's a tear-jerker, alright, and a beautiful story of down-to-Earth heroism. It immediately calls to mind the real life Batkid story, wherein thousands of volunteers helped Make-A-Wish transform San Francisco into "Gotham City" to give then five-year-old cancer survivor Miles Scott the opportunity to be Batman's sidekick, Batkid, for a day.
Now, this is the sort of story that would be hard to pull off in an actual Batman comic, or with many other characters. In another hero's book, it could run the risk of being too cheesy. For Spider-Man, however, it's just about perfect. In the context of the Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man series, it's even more perfect. Since Peter is currently dealing with Aunt May having cancer in the series' main subplot, it makes complete sense why he'd be working with a cancer charity to offer this kid an adventure.
Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #6 is an issue that rewards rereading. The inspirational dialogue in the fantasy scenes takes on much more poignant meaning after reading the full story and knowing the reality it applies to. Anyone with any love of Spider-Man who's in need of a good healthy cry will love Spider-Bite's story.
Turns out we did need a new Spidey sidekick afterall.