On the heels of one symbiote-centric storyline reaching its conclusion last week, another begins with the launch of Chip Zdarsky and Pasqual Ferry’s Spider-Man: Spider’s Shadow! The four-issue alternate reality series begins a new line of What If…? titles from Marvel — does it get off to a strong start?

We’ve got a review of Spider-Man: Spider’s Shadow #1, along with a Rapid Rundown of other new Marvel titles for the week, all ahead in the latest installment of The Marvel Rundown!

Spider-Man: Spider's Shadow #1 Cover
Spider-Man: Spider’s Shadow #1

Spider-Man: Spider’s Shadow #1

Writer: Chip Zdarsky
Artist: Pasqual Ferry
Color Artist: Matt Hollingsworth
Letterer: VC’s Joe Caramagna
Cover Artist: Phil Noto

I have a particular fondness for Marvel’s old What If… stories, particularly the series that ran from 1989 until 1998. The series was my introduction to a lot of the major events of the Marvel Universe, and at a time when collected editions were scarce and the best I could do if I wanted to know more was to scour back-issue bins, the possibilities of the series, and of the stories on which it riffed, inspired a lot of imaginative wondering.

One of the first issues of that series that I read was What If… #4, “What if…the alien costume possessed Spider-Man?” Written by Danny Fingeroth and illustrated by inker Keith Williams and a still-relatively-up-and-coming penciller named Mark Bagley, the story saw Peter Parker unable to rid himself of the symbiote that had bonded itself to him, ultimately being consumed by the alien, which moved on to more powerful heroes like Thor and Hulk before finally being killed by Black Cat. The story introduced me to the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, Doctor Strange, and, most importantly, Spider-Man’s black costume.

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From Spider-Man: Spider’s Shadow #1

The announcement of Spider-Man: Spider’s Shadow and the return of the What If… line had this reviewer excited for several reasons. For one thing, writer Chip Zdarsky’s run on Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man was one of the best Spider-Man comics of the past decade-plus for the character, and Spider-Man: Life Story, the alternate history series by he and Bagley was equally entertaining and innovative in its approach to Spidey’s history. For another, Pasqual Ferry has a dynamic, fluid style of art that fits the web-slinger beautifully. Mostly, though, Peter’s time with the costume was brief, but I’ve been fascinated by it ever since reading that old issue of What If…, so I was excited to revisit the alien costume storyline outside of the confines of yet another lackluster Venom-related event storyline.

I’m pleased to say that Spider-Man: Spider’s Shadow #1 doesn’t disappoint. Zdarsky seems to pick up right where he left off writing Spidey, and Ferry and colorist Matt Hollingsworth bring the tale to life beautifully. You can feel the weariness of Peter Parker emanating off of the page, even when he’s in his full black costume, as his body language speaks volumes. Zdarsky does a great job easing readers into Peter’s status quo at the time of the story, and even if some of the narration is a little exposition-heavy it goes by quickly and reads smoothly.

And as for the black costume itself, Ferry and Hollingsworth’s rendition of it is immediately striking, with Spidey often appearing as a mass of flat black with only partially discernible limbs/anatomy. It’s an incredible effect that nicely represents the amorphous symbiote’s influence on Peter, and the addition of more physical detail to the look as the issue progresses and Peter embraces the suit fully is also a great visual rendering of the changed relationship between human and alien. Joe Caramagna’s lettering throughout the issue is also particularly on-point, especially when it comes to the varied sound effects, which feel evocative of the original storyline’s ‘80s time period without looking dated.

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From Spider-Man: Spider’s Shadow #1

I was also pleased to see that the point at which Spider’s Shadow diverges from Spider-Man canon was very distinctly different from the previous What If… issue from 1989. The way Zdarsky and co. set up the issue, and the way Peter is portrayed in the scenes leading up to the twist of events, makes what ultimately happens feel like a perfectly natural progression, and all the more tragic and brutal. 

If there’s anything to complain about here, it’s a minor complaint: the issue, as the first of a four-part miniseries, lacks something of the manic energy of the old What If… series. As single-issue stories, those tales had to establish their setting and then change things up quickly, with events often spiraling out of control in completely insane ways before wrapping up within the span of 20-odd pages. Of course, the benefit of the slower pacing of Spider-Man: Spider’s Shadow is that readers get to spend more time in Peter’s head, so that the aforementioned twist does land as well as it does, and it sure seems like things are going to get pretty crazy as the series progresses. But I still missed that breakneck pacing that most issues of the old series had, largely out of necessity.

Still, as a launch for Marvel’s new What If… line, Spider-Man: Spider’s Shadow #1 is a fantastic debut. Zdarsky, Ferry, and team deliver a strong first issue that sets up the direction of the series clearly, and that grounds everything firmly in a familiar, if slightly askew, characterization for Peter Parker. Now that things are moving I can’t wait to see what dark direction this series heads.

Final Verdict: BUY.

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From Spider-Man: Spider’s Shadow #1

Rapid Rundown!

  • Children of the Atom #2
    • Vita Ayala and Bernard Chang set up an interesting premise with their debut issue, and I was curious to see if the general mystery of these kids would carry me over to the next issue. The team creates such a unique world within the X-books that we would never have seen explored. The aforementioned mystery is still not answered (and I suspect not for a while), but there’s a different POV character behind the narration that keeps things fresh. My eyes still glaze over a bit when it comes to the action scenes, and I could have gone without the very connective Marvel Universe references, but Ayala’s character writing really brings the whole thing home for me. —HW
  • Wolverine #11
    • Dracula wants Vampires to form a nation like Krakoa, and become a world superpower. To overcome their weaknesses, and become daywalkers like Blade, he needs Logan’s blood for this next stage of the Mutant/Vampire Cold War. Of course Logan and X-Force, the Krakoan Black Ops team have other plans, including using a Mutant as a trojan horse. Between this book and X-ForceBenjamin Percy is building a shadow world of espionage and Mutant back alleys that will make any Tom Clancy fan happy. This issue is a solid setup for the next escalation of their war. —GC3

Next week, the X-line expands once again with Way of X!