Spider-Man's Tangled Web Vol. 1
Written By:
Garth Ennis, Greg Rucka, Peter Milligan
John McCrea & James Hodgkins, Eduardo Risso, Duncan Fegredo; colors on all by Steve Buccellato
Included in series:
Spider-Man: Tangled Web #s 1-6

History: I'll give you the cheap and dirty rundown on Spider-Man books. Spidey was popularized in the early 70s with the title 'The Amazing Spider-Man', which proved so popular that a few years down the road, Marvel Comics brought out a second title for the wall-crawler: 'The Spectacular Spider-Man'. There came a point in the 80s where the comics market had expanded and grown more complicated, and it struck some editor that they needed to differentiate the two Spidey books. So the name was changed to 'Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider Man', and the focus of the book was geared towards the wonderful cast of supporting characters that had been built up in Peter's personal life over the years…whereas 'Amazing…' focused more on fighting costumed super-villains and such. This reflected the twin dichotomy that Spider-Man had been founded on: the conflict between Peter's complicated personal life and his responsibilities as Spidey. Unlike many super-heroes, there had always been an equal emphasis on Peter's regular life and on showing how his heroics cost him personally. This was a great idea, but ultimately 'Peter Parker…' gave in to the demands of the 80s, which were for lots of costumed action. The idea was revived with the launch of third Spider-Man book going into the 90s: 'Web of Spider-Man'. Spidey is a bit tougher than say, Daredevil or The Punisher, but his powers don't rank up there with the Hulk or Phoenix, so there's always been a fair emphasis on the more human opponents he fights, namely gangs, mobsters, and petty criminals. While these became the bread and butter of the more human heroes previously mentioned, Spidey spent a fair amount of time fighting them too; let's face it, you're straining credibility by having him involved in every 'Secret War' and fight against Galactus just because he's the company mascot. So by the time 'Web of Spider Man' came out, Spidey had a well-developed cast of regular criminals he was involved with, and this was the focus of the new book, as well as his personal relationships. This worked quite well for a while and Spidey continued to get new books and more spin-offs throughout the 90s until the market reached saturation and imploded. Lots of books got sacrificed, and 'Web…' was one of them. A few years have gone by, and the time has come again to focus on the cast of characters around Spider-Man. And the book to do it is 'Spider-Man's Tangled Web'. This book takes the idea to the extreme, frequently not involving Spidey at all for issues at a time. Instead, it focuses on his villains (both super-powered and crime syndicate types) and on the lives of the regular people he touches through his actions.

Stories: This first collection of the 'Tangled Web' stories brings in some big names. It launches with a 3-parter by the team of Garth Ennis and John McCrea called 'The Coming of the Thousand'. Some grisly covers by their 'Preacher' friend Glenn Fabry. These guys have done some great work in the past (Hitman, for instance) but personally I don't think they're suited to tell a Spidey story. Essentially, this takes all the elements we know about Peter's life and shows them at an extreme. We see Peter was tortured and beaten mercilessly by a high school bully other than Flash. This bully finds out Peter is Spidey and tries to duplicate the experiment but ends up disastrously different. He blames Peter for having a life he sees as filled with fame and glory that he feels was owed to him. We witness Peter dating a model other than Mary Jane and not fitting in with her life. There are some little scenes that are enjoyable such as J.J. Jameson telling Peter close-ups of fighting superpeople are page four news now, and a couple enchanting moments with Aunt May. Ultimately this isn't terribly original though, and like most of this story, has been done before. McCrea's art is a distinct style some would call sloppy. I've like it on many projects, but it just feels out of place in a Spidey story. This isn't helped by the choice of coloring here, which is to tint the whole story in more of a pastel look, though this could've been helped by thicker inks. Overall, this isn't a bad story, just not really a great fit for Spidey, and the moments that do fit aren't anything new, really.

A lackluster beginning is MORE than made up for by one of the best Spidey stories ever written, and it's one that doesn't have him in a single frame. The team of Greg Rucka and Eduardo Risso bring us 'Severance Package', a story of the Kingpin's right hand man getting "the call", the one every mobster fears. Private meeting with the big boss. What he does will surprise every reader. If you've ever liked a mobster story, ever, then you need to read this. Wonderful art by Risso, very dark, very fitting for the subject. Buccellato's colors here hearken back to a Miller Daredevil feel. Probably the single best issue of a comic I've ever read.

Finishing off this collection is the 2 parter 'Flowers for Rhino' by Peter Milligan and relative new-comer Duncan Fegredo. Milligan worked on 2000 A.D. as well as having stints on Animal Man and Shade the Changing Man before doing the recent revamp of X-Force. He's an accomplished writer, whether you care for his stuff or not, but I think it really works here. Anyone familiar with the story of 'Flowers for Algernon' may find this unoriginal, but instead of combining derivative ideas like some writers, Milligan is obviously paying tribute here, and does it in a way which is inventive and enjoyable. Basically, Spider-Man's long time villain, the Rhino, (who has long been little more than an annoyance thanks to his nearly sub-human intelligence) gets fed up with one too many embarrassing defeats at Spidey's hands. He escapes and goes to one of the far-too-numerous science experiment warehouses known for giving super-villains their powers in the Marvel Universe. Except when they ask him what he wants, he says "dignity". He wants his irremovable Rhino hide that gives him his powers…removed. Well, despite technological advancements, they can't do it. There's a whole subplot with a mobster he's working for hiring him to protect the mobster's gorgeous daughter. Other mobsters taunt Rhino and goad him into making stupid decisions. After a tell-off from the mobster's daughter, Rhino goes back to the doc to see about another way to get dignity…make him smarter. The aforementioned readers familiar with 'Flowers for Algernon' will have a clue where this is going to end up, but let's just say that getting everything you want can be less than satisfying. This story is loaded with tributes to various media, it's witty, and charming. It's got a moral, and works as a character statement for a long-standing character with little ever done on him in the way of development. Milligan shows why it's good to be simple and true, like the Rhino. Fegredo's art is heavy on the inks, but it works wonderfully here combined with Buccellato's colors. Fegredo's expressions are great, and go a long way to selling the emotion of the story. Additionally, he paints some charming covers of a quality I would love to have in my living room. Overall, this is a great story, one of the best you'll read. With equally wonderful scripting and art, it's good for comic lovers of all kinds.

The Total Package: A mediocre 3 parter, an exquisite single issue, and a wonderful 2 parter. There are a couple pages in the back of the book showing cover concepts from the various artists. No intro, outro, or anything of the sort, but for $16 this trade paperback is a great buy based just on the material. Spider-Man has been around for a long time, and a lot of the stories being written about him are less than original these days. If you're a casual fan looking to get into Spidey's universe, this is a great introduction. If you're a longtime fan looking for something new and different, this will make a great addition to your collection.

- - Jeff Light

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