‘Tis the season, and you know what that means: another best-of list! Once again, we’re choosing the ten series (or stories) that we think gave us something special this year. As ever, we make no claims to be definitive or exhaustive, but these are the books we enjoyed and the reasons why. The posts start today and will hopefully run every day until the end of the month, when we’ll reveal our favourite comic of the year. Enjoy!
Over the last few years, Amazing Spider-Man has been an incredibly consistent read with occasional stand-out moments and a tight grasp on the character. In particular, Dan Slott’s run has been at times powerful and at times hilarious. It’s safe to say that the character is enjoying a period of sustained high quality and creative confidence – so what better time to do the first ever Spider-Man-centric crossover than now?
One of main problems with crossover events is that a lot of the time, they forget to deliver an actual story. Sure, there’s a plot, and on a good day it’s even one that makes sense – but many of them lack a heart or moral centre. You can’t say that they’re actually about anything. This year’s Fear Itself is a prime example: allegedly about fear, but actually about magic hammers.
Spider-Island was one of the rare ones. Not only did it have an entertaining, coherent plot, it actually felt like it had a story to tell: about Peter Parker, and how it’s not his powers and costume that make him Spider-Man, but how he chooses to use them – a concept explored by putting him in a situation where everyone has powers just like him.
Of course, Spider-Island also crossed over into other books and span out several miniseries, and there’s a reason this entry isn’t for Amazing Spider-Man, but for Spider-Island: because those crossovers were almost universally fantastic. The Cloak and Dagger mini by Spencer and Rios was utterly sublime, while Avengers one-shot by Christos Gage was hilarious. Rick Remender’s Venom issues were a virtual masterclass in hooking readers. It wasn’t all gold (Heroes for Hire, in particular, felt rather tacked-on) but as far as crossovers go, almost every book had a place and purpose.
It probably helps that two of the main villains of Spider-Island were Kaine and the Jackal, and as a 90s Spider-Man reader I’m predisposed to loving anything that builds on the clone saga (even though it’s clear Ben Reilly’s never going to return when there’s so much mileage in Marvel merely teasing his return) but there was so much going on to enjoy. The identity mysteries behind the Spider-King and the Jackal’s master. The romantic interplay between Peter, Carlie and MJ. And, of course, the iconic final image of the Empire State Building. This was a classic story, crossover or not.
Even the fact that it brushed aside the weird identity-protecting spell that only complicated Spidey’s status quo can be praised. Technically, philosophically, artistically, there wasn’t a weak point anywhere. It not only sustained itself as an event, but as a Spider-Man story too. The story beats were character-centric, not plot driven, grounding the story around Peter Parker in ways that the recent Daredevil crossover, “Shadowland”, failed to do with Matt Murdock.
Ultimately, what we witnessed in Spider-Island was a story that’s going to set the agenda for the next year of stories and provide the benchmark for any future Spider-Man crossovers. For a story born from the ashes of the clone saga, that’s not just remarkable: it’s actively impressive.