It's really hard to read superhero comics now.
Like Wolverine? Which one? Because there are a few versions running around in the comics now. Same with Captain America. And Spider-Man. And, oh, Bruce Banner isn't Hulk anymore. And Thor is a female. And, well, you get the point.
And you can't just pick up an Avengers book anymore. You now have to pick between New Avengers; All-New, All-Different Avengers (seriously); Uncanny Avengers; A-Force; and a host of other books that boast Marvel's favorite super team.
But in this endless sea of complex continuity and backstory and the never-ending reboot, Marvel very quietly released a new Spider-Man book this week. And it might be the perfect alternative for the lapsed fan.
Simply titled Spidey, this all-ages book strips the Wall Crawler down to his bare essentials—Peter Parker is back in high school, surrounded by a supporting cast that everybody can recognize: Flash Thompson, Harry Osborn, Gwen Stacy, etc. It's the Spider-Man most fans envision when they close their eyes, and it's the easiest superhero read on the shelf.
Written by Robbie Thompson and illustrated by Nick Bradshaw, the debut issue also saw another rarity for a modern superhero book: the entire story was told in one issue.
Here, Spidey's world is established, he beats up a bank-robbing she-rabbit, tangles with Doctor Octopus, has an ominous encounter with Norman Osborn and crushes on Gwen Stacy, all while an inevitable showdown with the Green Goblin is teased.
Marvel may need nine 40-page issues to try and tell its nearly impenetrable Secret Wars story, but Spidey gives us action, drama, humor and romance in a mere 20. Even better, Peter's origin is retold yet again—in one simple page. The spider bite, the wrestling career—everything. Hell, it takes him nearly an hour just to get his mask on in the movies, but here it's distilled in a few lines of narration.
Everything about Spidey is exactly how you remember the Wall Crawler. Thompson's script is sharp, funny and incredibly efficient, and Bradshaw's art manages to feel contemporary while paying homage to Spider-Man's past, especially with the Ditko eyes. Instead of relying on complex continuity and history to make this issue "mean" something in the grand scheme of the Marvel Universe, the creative team has enough confidence in the basic elements of the Spider-Man mythos to drive the story forward.
Unfortunately, Spidey can't escape all of the pitfalls of the modern comic biz. At $3.99 for the first issue, there might not be enough meat on the bone for longtime fans to give it a shot, and lapsed fans might simply look at that price tag and decide to wait for the first movie to air on TNT for their fix instead.
If you're willing to pick it up, though, Spidey is a lot like slipping back into that old, worn-in Ramones T-shirt you've secretly kept in your drawer since high school (and I know I'm not the only one). While Marvel is trying to make itself All-New, All-Different, this book proves that a few things are best left unchanged.