Spider-Man: Spider's Shadow Advanced Review: "What If?" Done Right
Spider-Man: Spider's Shadow is the first of Marvel's new "What If?" stories, introducing fans to a Peter Parker who keeps his Venom suit too long.
In , Peter Parker is tired. Crucially, Peter is already exhausted as the story begins, having grown more and more reliant on the black suit that fans know is actually an alien symbiote - one which, in Marvel's mainstream timeline, eventually bonded with Eddie Brock and became the hulking, sharp-toothed villain Venom. In this version of the story, Peter chose to keep the suit a little longer, and it's starting to get to him. Nightmares, dark impulses, and an addiction Peter has yet to admit are clouding his judgment, promising even greater power while encouraging even less responsibility.
Taking place around the events of 1984's Spider-Man #258, this title is the first in Marvel's revamped What If? line, telling versions of the comic giant's famous stories where things went just a little bit differently (at least at first.) Fans have seen evil Wall-Crawlers before - from Venom himself, to Peter's clone brother Scarlet Spider, to a swarm of arachnids play-acting as the young student they once consumed, countless writers have experimented with the idea of a Spider-Man gone wrong. But writer Chip Zdarsky (Daredevil, The Silver Coin), artist Pasqual Ferry (Thor, Ultimate Fantastic Four), and color artist Matt Hollingsworth (Catwoman, Hawkeye) are asking a slightly different question - what does it look like when Peter Parker surrenders to his darker impulses?
Spider-Man's alter ego is, like Chip Zdarsky's prior work with Marvel, infinitely concerned with kindness and humanity. Much mocked as 's "Emo Peter" was, this similarly Venom-corrupted version of the character embodied the idea that there isn't much malice or evil lurking within Peter Parker waiting to get out. Zdarsky's writing embraces this concept, imagining Peter's relationship with Venom as one of small concessions. Peter is tired, physically and morally, and taking less and less responsibility for his actions. Wearing the suit is the only easy thing left, so he keeps doing it, and its darkness manifests not in the urge to sprout teeth and tear off a villain's arm, but in the temptation to keep taking the easy option. The problem is, for someone as strong as Spider-Man, the path of least resistance can run through other people.
Pasqual Ferry and Matt Hollingsworth's art complements this sense of Peter losing himself to frustration over compassion. Flames lick at the pages, and true to a story filled with nightmares, panels vary in shape and size, communicating an underlying breakdown of order and control. The artistic team would be a strange choice for Eddie Brock's Venom, all teeth and monochrome edges, but Peter's transformation is taking him in a different direction, placing him behind the wheel of a juggernaut that's gaining momentum faster than he realizes.
As in Spider-Man: Life Story and The Spectacular Spider-Man, Zdarsky depicts Peter with moments of exceptional truth, such as when he asks Black Cat not to call him "Tiger" - the nickname MJ coined for him. But unlike in those series, which asked what bold, kind choice Spider-Man would make in any given moment (such as exposing his identity to comfort an old enemy), Spider's Shadow asks what Peter Parker would allow to slip once he grew tired, and what would slip after that, and after that. Likewise, Hobgoblin is an inspired (and era-appropriate) choice of villain; the foe who most embodies petty, small-minded villainy, catching Peter at the wrong end of a string of bad days.
Spider-Man: Spider's Shadow promises to be a horror story about a monster, but at least in this first issue, it's a horror as much about becoming a monster as facing one down. Whatever era it's set in, the central conceit of a good but exhausted person embracing easy choices is one that's not going to stop being relevant anytime soon. With four issues to tell this story, Spider-Man: Spider's Shadow has plenty of room to maneuver, and a creative team who can be trusted to make unexpected but satisfying decisions that stay true to Peter Parker, even on his worst day. Look for Spider-Man: Spider's Shadow when it releases April 14.
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