Marvel’s What If? series was a pretty fun set of one-shots from back in the day, focusing on cool thought exercises of “what if one thing in the Marvel Universe went differently?”. From big questions to small wonders, we took a look at the small details and larger implications of such things as “What if Captain America was unfrozen today?”, “What if Elektra had lived?”, and “What if Spider-Man had joined the Fantastic Four?” among other scenarios.
I always had a soft spot for these as they were always a cool story to read about how much or how little the Marvel Universe would change if an event went one-way. Books like “What if Atlantis Attacks?” where the heroes lose. weren’t all the best as they were frequently testing grounds for new creatives at Marvel, or just fun “one-and-done” books by the creators of the original stories like Frank Miller with the aforementioned Elektra story or Brian Michael Bendis with “What if Jessica Jones joined the Avengers?”
While I am fan of these stories, something that always bothered me about them was that they were fairly short, cramming the idea of a “What If?” scenario into a single issue. There were a lot of cool ideas proposed but wrapped up too quickly or left with no time to develop.
Enter today’s recap and review of the triumphant return of the “What If?” format with Spider-Man: Spider’s Shadow by Chip Zdarsky and Pasqual Ferry. This book is a new look at “What if Spider-Man kept the Alien Symbiote?” where we get to see how Spider-Man would have ended up if he kept the black suit and this time it’s explored over four issues instead of one. Let’s get to the story at hand, shall we?
The issue opens up with Peter Parker having nightmares. Not the “I’m delivering my thesis in my underwear” nightmares either. This is more along the lines of “I’m running from my greatest fear of letting down those I care for” nightmare packed with talking heads of Black Cat, Mary Jane, Aunt May, and dead Gwen Stacy’s skull all taunting and guilting him. Nightmares like these were pretty constant for Spidey during this time (read any mid-80’s Spider-Man title). Aunt May not talking to him because he dropped out of grad school and juggling his love life with both Mary Jane and the Black Cat can do that to a guy. The only reliable thing in his life is his superhero career and his snazzy new black costume made by alien technology. It makes crime fighting so much easier with a sleek look, unlimited webbing, and it responds quickly to his thoughts and commands. It might be adding to his anxiety and stress though as we see him go off on some muggers a little too hard before he catches himself and leaves them for the cops.
Peter tries again to get some more sleep but it just leads to more nightmares which leads to him absentmindedly lashing out at MJ, who came by to check on him after their infamous “I know you’re Spider-Man” talk. She’s genuinely worried about him and came to help in his hour of need. She gets Pete to stop being stubborn and admit something’s wrong and convinces him to stop putting off a long overdue meeting with Mr. Fantastic so Reed can study the suit. On the way there his suit runs out of webbing. Let me rephrase that.
His unlimited web producing suit runs out of webbing. How strange...
He tries it again and this time it succeeds but it lands him within ear-shot of the Hobgoblin which distracts him from his original mission. Much like his earlier encounter with the muggers, his quippy, fun attitude fades to a much more serious demeanor leading him to unmask Hobgoblin as Roderick Kingsley and leaves him with a message to spread the word to the rest of NY’s villains that “Spider-Man is playing for keeps now”. He meets up with Black Cat and confides in her about what happened. She also reminds him of his meeting with Mr. Fantastic, which he says he’ll go to tomorrow.
The next day Spidey finally meets with Reed at the Baxter Building to study the suit. Reed runs some tests and one more of Pete’s nightmares (this time Aunt May tells him it’s okay to hurt people to save people) later, the results show that the suit is alive and bonding with him. Reed suggests that he take the suit off before things get bad but Spidey isn’t having it. He convinces himself that it’s better for him to have the suit because he can help more people and that the suit chose to bond with him. He also calls Reed out for wanting to treat the suit as a science experiment instead of a living being before leaving.
Still feeling pretty crappy, Pete heads to Aunt May’s house even though the two are still not talking. May invites him in and they make amends and talk. May explains how she was only worried about him dropping out of grad school because she knew that it was within his potential, and only wanted him to be successful. Hobgoblin shows up and attacks Peter as he found out his secret identity by following him. A fight ensues and Kingsley complains how Spider-Man crossed a line by unmasking and threatening him. Peter really doesn’t care and beats him up. Unfortunately, one of Kingsley’s pumpkin bombs goes off and sets Aunt May’s house on fire. Spidey attempts to save May but the suit, which is weakened by fire, stops him as the house and Aunt May burns.
Peter and the suit justify vengeance against Hobgoblin and with rage in his eyes, transforms into a more “Venom” looking Spider-Man. He webs up Kingsley, and then caves his head in. The issue ends with Peter walking away from the scene, with a new sense of purpose: to use the power he has without restraint.
I. Frikkin. Love. This. Issue!
It's a hell of a starter issue for both the story being told here and as a relaunch for the What if? format of books. Chip Zdarsky has already proved himself a fantastic writer that understands Spider-Man back when he was writing Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man and the fantastic Spider-Man: Life Story, so it’s no surprise that he absolutely killed it here. He’s able to play with the continuity of the era, depicting what was up with Spidey at the time accurately and uses it to his advantage to spin a tale both familiar and brand-new. It’s all pretty great. The classic Spidey-patented quips, the suit affecting his personality, slowly and increasingly less subtly turning him to the dark side, the Hobgoblin’s early unmasking and retaliation, is all just spot-on. The art complements the story very nicely and adds an air of nightmarishness with a comic style that furthers Peter’s descent into Venom. By the way, I have to mention the Peter Parker Venom design is Amazing! I’ve always loved the original Black Suit Spider-Man design. It’s a sleek and simple design: black with white eyes and the big white spider logo making for a deep void of darkness with a bit of light feel. Ron Frenz and Mike Zeck both drew the suit well. Now Pasqual Ferry joins their ranks not only drawing the black suit well but making for a cool new updated design that is less steroid Spider-Man and more dark, somewhat bigger skeletal arachnid. It’s great I love it! Also, the Phil Noto covers are breathtaking.
The book moves a little quick in places but otherwise has a fairly consistent pace, giving Spidey the proper time to be Peter and Spider-Man as well as moving the story along at a digestible rate. This was a really good first issue and I’m really excited for What If? to return in a more limited series format instead of one-shots. I can’t wait to see what else Chip and the gang have in store for Spidey in the next issue and I can’t wait for more alternate universe books from Marvel.
Verdict: 8.5/10 Alternate Universe Spider-Men