Saturday, 4 February 2012

Why Did The Spider-Man Reboot Fail? Part 15: One Year On

It isn't difficult to see what Marvel were aiming for with the Spider-Man reboot. John Byrne's revamp of Superman's origin had by that point reached classic status, and with his undoubtable pedigree in the comic world he seemed an obvious choice to administer the same treatment to the Web-Slinger. Spider-Man's origin story was hardly in dire need of a retelling, but Brian Michael Bendis' success on Ultimate Spider-Man just a few years later proved that if done correctly there was certainly an appetite for one. The decision to relaunch both Amazing Spider-Man and Peter Parker: Spider-Man, while cancelling Spectacular and Sensational Spider-Man was on paper, a wise one too. For years, the Spider-Man titles had been under the shadow of the Clone Saga, an initially well received storyline that simply got out of hand. Although several of the stories immediately before the reboot were well received, a clean break from one of the most controversial storylines in comic book history could have been a refreshing move for the character. Cutting the number of core Spider-Man titles from four to two was also probably a good move - although there is arguably a demand for that number of Spider-Man series', it ultimately proved difficult for Marvel to make all four a 'must read' for fans of the character. Web of Spider-Man failed to find a niche throughout a 100+ issue run, and Sensational Spider-Man faced similar struggles after replacing the flailing series.

Of course there are always going to be those opposed to the relaunch of a much loved series, not to mention retconning his iconic origin story, but when looked at logically, the reboot was actually a pretty decent idea. So why was its first year such a dismal failure? Just to be clear, after recently having read the first year of the reboot, it isn't all bad. In fact, there are a handful of decent stories in there. The two part 'Perfect World' story arc was a fun elseworlds type story, and Venom's return was handled fairly well. For the most part however, the reboot deserves its infamy. The main problem was clearly the choice of Howard Mackie as writer for both the Amazing Spider-Man, and Peter Parker: Spider-Man. Mackie had always been a solid enough, if unspectacular Spider-Man writer up till that point, and his run on Peter Parker: Spider-Man immediately before the reboot was moderately well received. For such a momentous task however, he was a poor choice. Carrying on with Peter Parker: Spider-Man would have made sense, but handing a writer who was clearly burnt out on the character the reins of the most important Spider-Man title was madness. Even with the benefit of hindsight it's difficult to see who would have been a better choice, but J.M Dematteis would have made a lot of sense to me. Mark Waid would have been a fun choice too, particularly given the success that he had writing the series more recently.

Chapter One ultimately proved to be a mistake too. I chose not to cover it, but suffice it to say that it was a huge critical failure. Although it did not, for the most part, directly impact the two core series', it's understandable that Chapter One left a bad taste in the mouth's of several readers. Crowbarring it into mainstream continuity probably did nothing to help with the reboot's popularity.

As mentioned before, Mackie had been writing Spider-Man for a number of years and had probably run out of ideas by the time he was asked to write the reboot. Why he accepted both series' is beyond me, but he probably should have been removed from them long before he eventually was. Mackie's dialogue and long term plotting have never been his strengths, but given that he was responsible for the creative direction of an entire franchise the latter became a massive problem during the reboot. Although none of his subplots were resolved in its first year, it quickly become apparent that they were going nowhere. Although the stalker subplot actually started off very well, it quickly began to drag, not to mention stretch credibility. His handling of Spider-Man's supporting cast was poor too, once again, much more of a problem when writing both Spider-Man titles. It simply seems that writing both series' was a step too far for Mackie.

The art, however, was a definite high point for the reboot. John Romita and John Byrne are both top artists, and were welcome presences on Amazing Spider-Man and Peter Parker: Spider-Man. Both, particularly Byrne also benefited hugely from Scott Hanna's regular presence on inks. Hanna is one of the best inkers around, particularly for Spider-Man, and the effect that he had can be seen in Byrne's self inked work on Chapter One, clearly a notch below his work for the Amazing Spider-Man. To give Marvel credit, their choice of art teams was terrific, bar a couple of dodgy fill ins from Bart Sears.

As I said though, the first year of the reboot wasn't all bad, and there is certainly worse to come. What is apparent however, is a startling lack of truly excellent stories, with barely a handful of good ones. If you haven't already read them it probably isn't worth hunting down any of these issues, unless you're doing so for curiosity's sake. There is a chance that several of the stories would read better in isolation though, given that two of the reboot's biggest problems were poor long term storytelling, and irritatingly repetitive story beats. It isn't a coincidence that the strongest story from the reboot's first year was the one that took place largely within the confines of a parallel universe.

Not a wholly negative first year of the reboot era, but a pretty big disappointment on virtually every level.


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