A group of immensely talented creators send Peter Parker on a surprisingly brisk globetrotting adventure that only barely manages to overcome its shoddy foundations.
What do you do with a backstory that’s just plain awful? A storyline so ill-conceived that writers have typically just kind of ignored that it ever existed? Well, right there, you have your answer – often, those sorts of things just kind of… disappear. They’re still canon, technically, but they rarely ever get brought up. One notable early example of such a misstep was the decision to make Peter Parker’s dead parents secret super-agents, a decision that misunderstands Spider-Man’s basic appeal on a fairly fundamental level – and a major element in the upcoming Sony film The Amazing Spider-Man 2. So, with it on everyone’s mind, it’s time for Spider-Man to tackle the issue again in his comics.
All of which is to say, The Amazing Spider-Man: Family Business, the new Marvel OGN (‘original graphic novel’) that focuses heavily on that particular story, is fighting something of an uphill battle from right around page one.
The Amazing Spider-Man: Family Business finds Peter Parker’s life turned upside-down when a group of masked mercenaries attempt to kidnap him from his apartment in the middle of the night, not realizing that he is secretly Spider-Man. During his escape, he crashes into someone who shouldn’t exist: A CIA agent claiming to be his long-lost sister. Someone is after the Parkers, looking for a lost treasure discovered by their parents and locked by their genetic material, and so the Parker children go on a globe-trotting adventure that puts them in direct conflict with a vicious Kingpin of Crime looking to rebuild his power base.
On a moment-to-moment basis, Peter and Teresa’s overseas adventure is quite a bit of fun, albeit far too brief. Most of the plot’s various twists and turns make precisely no sense whatsoever, but that only sporadically matters. At its worst, it is dry and meaningless, with silly super-spy half-logic sketching in the Amazing Secret History of Peter’s Parents, Who Were Just the Best, Really – but the story is very rarely at its worst. Typically, it finds Peter and his mystery sister racing across the globe as Teresa does secret spy stuff and Peter gets in way over his head. The highlight is almost certainly the Parkers’ trip to Monte Carlo, which finds Peter starting off trying to play Bond, failing, and finally resorting to bantering with villains in a language he doesn’t speak.
And not for nothing, but The Amazing Spider-Man: Family Business is a seriously gorgeous book. Like, unbelievably so. I typically don’t love the painted, hyper-realistic style (popularized by Alex Ross in superhero comics), but when it works, it works well – and painter Gabriele Dell’Otto (alongside penciler Werther Dell’Edera) knows how to make it work. The panel layouts are solid, and while the hyper-realistic art lacks energy, Dell’Edera and Dell’Otto have a talent for crafting instantly iconic images. Whether it is the vibrant colors, the gorgeous location scenery, or the way the art team manages to suggest power and dynamism in his characters despite their overly posed figures.
I think what really makes its worst decision work for me, however, is the way writers Mark Waid (Daredevil) and James Robinson (Starman) flip our expectations on their head. We instinctually tend to have very little emotional reaction to ‘long-lost sibling’ plots – read Film Crit Hulk’s piece on convoluted blockbusters for a great analogy as to why that is – but Waid and Robinson manage to make her story just a little bit heartbreaking. Really, they find a lot of great character beats to pepper here and there. My only real complaint is that the pacing feels way off, with a climax that feels more rushed than I’d like and a detour to Switzerland that never coheres.
Look, this is a clear tie-in with the upcoming The Amazing Spider-Man 2 this summer, which also prominently features the really dumb “The secret past of the Parkers” plotline. And that’s fine. I didn’t complain about the inferior Avengers: Endless Wartime (an OGN featuring Cap, Iron Man & Thor that came out during a string of films featuring those exact characters) or that the upcoming X-Men: No More Humans will be released just before X-Men: Days of Future Past. And while I typically prefer my crass commercial tie-ins mildly less crass, it wouldn’t matter if they were good. Amazing Spider-Man: Family Business meets that criteria, and despite its connection to the abysmal Amazing Spider-Man films and their worst plot elements, it overcomes most of its hurdles and just has a good time, warts and all.
That Waid, Robinson, Dell’Otto and Dell’Edera make it work at all is a testament to their skills as creators. There’s a lot to like here, despite the silliness inherent in almost every plot decision they make, and it is a gorgeous book. There are problems, but the creators are all pros and they largely sidestep the flaws in the book’s necessary tie-in nature thanks to a not-inconsiderable of talent. The Amazing Spider-Man: Family Business won’t go down as one of the webslinger’s all-time great stories… but it’s an enjoyable, brisk adventure story that, like its hero, charms against all odds.
Written by: Mark Waid, James Robinson
Pencils by: Werther Dell’Edera
Paints by: Gabriele Dell’Otto
Letters by: VC’s Joe Caramagna
Published by: Marvel Comics
Published on: 4/1/14
Includes a brief introduction by writer Dan Slott and a selection of script excerpts and pencil art pages.
Prices (as of publication)