This one’s for the Spider fans. Full of fun references and affection for Spiders across the Multiverse (RIP), “Spider-Verse” #1 makes excellent use of the Battleworld concept. Writer Mike Costa gives all of his characters strong voices, and artist Andre Araujo and colorist Rachelle Rosenberg create a lightly lined, mutedly colored world that feels like the hazy edge of someone’s memory. However, it’s tricky to figure out exactly where this is going. Spider fans should definitely check this out, but I’ll need to see more of its direction before I can give it the full thumbs up for other readers.
Though this issue includes Gwen Stacy (Spider-Gwen), Pavitr Prabhakar (Spider Man: India), Anya Corazon (Spider-Girl) and Billy Braddock (Spider-UK), Gwen and Pavitr are the only two narrators. Costa gives them strong, distinct voices. Gwen is full of jokey deflection and roguish joy, with lines like “Yeah, okay, so I’ve taken a job working for the man who might have murdered me” and Spidey banter like, “Seriously? Grave robbing? Why can’t I run into some guy snatching an old lady’s purse?” She finds herself in a world where she’s supposed to have died on the Washington Bridge, but Costa never has her mope. Instead, she masks it with humor, making these scenes all the sadder.
Pavitr, on the other hand, is earnest and methodical in his displacement. Using SAT vocab words like “interdict” and believing that “in science, we must always strive for accuracy,” the closest he gets to banter is assuring someone that “falling this distance into water is nonlethal.” However, Costa avoids the common pitfall of making ‘science’ characters into automatons. There’s a warmth and vital optimism to Pavitr’s narration; his belief in science is really a belief in his own problem-solving and in the potential of rational thinking to help him heal. It’s no coincidence that he is the one who successfully locates the other Spiders.
Where the voices are lively and clear, the overall plot lacks direction. It isn’t clear how these characters will intersect going forward, or what common problem they’ll be able to solve. Admittedly, these sorts of questions can keep a reader coming back if they create mystery, but Costa doesn’t drop any real hints; he simply establishes everyone’s status quo. While that’s no small task, a first issue needs to do a little more for the wider story in order to pique my interest.
Araujo’s work is clean. He has a lovely eye for scope that’s evident from the first graveyard scene onward, and all his establishing shots are fluid and elegant. When Pavitr is first introduced, every panel on the page changes perspective and scale, but it’s still immediately clear where everyone in the scene is situated. This skill will be put to great use in a book whose heroes sling their way through cities, and I’m looking forward to Araujo’s future scene work.
However, as for many artists, the skin-tight Spider suits are awkward for Araujo to draw. He sometimes struggles to proportion the crotch and thigh areas, making characters look occasionally bowlegged or half-squatting. His figures look best when they’re leaping, kicking and web-slinging; when they stand still, their body language and shapes are less natural.
Rosenberg’s colors are a soft evocation of other Spider series, reminding the reader that this is a composite world. For instance, the bluer teal in the graveyard evokes the “Spider-Gwen” palette, the orange-red sky looks like “Spider-Man,” and the city even has hints of “Superior Foes of Spider-Man.” It’s such a natural, subtle effect, but it adds to the atmosphere tremendously.
“Pig in the City,” the closing Spider-Ham story, is also quite amusing. Costa, Steven Sanders and Jim Campbell offer up a cartoonier world with a distinct narrator, and Spider-Ham’s rag-tag tale of survival made me smile.
“Spider-Verse” #1 is full of fun fights, strong characters and rewarding references. All it lacks now is purpose. Once it gets that going, “Spider-Verse” could be a great series for all readers but, for now, it will definitely make Spider-fans grin.