You swear you've been bitten: Douglas reads three new Spider-Man comics and more

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN itself has had two skip weeks in a row, but we've gotten three other Spider-Man books instead--the new FAMILY series, a SUMMER SPECIAL, and a BRAND NEW DAY EXTRA. Reviews of all three, plus INVINCIBLE IRON MAN and FINAL CRISIS, under the cut.

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN FAMILY #1: The final page explains that this is the new identity of SPIDER-MAN FAMILY--the fat bimonthly title that includes vintage Spider-Man reprints and done-in-one new stories--now that it's been brought into the Stephen Wacker-edited Spider-Man group. Despite the Brand New Day banner on the cover, though, only one story here takes place in the current narrative--an 11-page Aunt May story. It's billed as "Aunt May, Agent of F.E.A.S.T.," which is a kind of promising idea (looking into what she does at the emergency-aid agency where she volunteers), but the story itself is a dire string of clichés. The lead story, by J.M. DeMatteis and Alex Cal, imagines what might have happened between AMAZING FANTASY #15 and ASM #1; setting aside the fact that it adds nothing but maudlin tedium to the original stories, there's the problem that there are already some perfectly solid comics about what might have happened in that period--the AMAZING FANTASY #16-18 miniseries that Kurt Busiek and Paul Lee did back in 1995. (It's also got an error that drives me bats: if something shows discretion, it's discreet, not "discrete.") Then there's a dozy little throwaway set in SPIDER-GIRL's continuity, and a five-page prologue to MARVEL APES that mostly consists of an unfunny riff on the famous Spidey-trapped-under-a-heavy-thing sequence from ASM #33 and makes me want to steer clear of the miniseries. (Maybe MARVEL APES was commissioned because MARVEL ZOMBIES did so well, but that at least had a funny premise; making Spider-Man Spider-Monkey doesn't appear to go anywhere interesting.) The issue's filled out by a reprint of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #300, which it's kind of alarming to realize was almost half the series ago. It hasn't aged well, and the new material is AWFUL stuff.

Meanwhile, a bunch of Nathan Cosby-edited material that I'm guessing was commissioned for SMF has ended up as KING-SIZE SPIDER-MAN SUMMER SPECIAL. I will happily read anything by the Paul Tobin/Colleen Coover team, and their collaborations here are as fluffy and charming as usual, starting with the six-word Spider-Man bio on the first page (reproduced by Chris Sims here). Their big story teams up Mary Jane, Hellcat, Marvel Girl, the Scarlet Witch, Clea, She-Hulk and Millie the Model, and also involves enchanted shampoo; they're also responsible for a two-pager about MODOK and his chair, which, you know, MODOK. The rest of the issue's filled by a Keith Giffen/Rich Burchett Spidey/Falcon teamup that seems to have been sitting in a drawer for a good long while and might just as well have kept sitting there forever, and a totally ridiculous but amusing Chris Giarruso Mini-Marvels story about Spider-Man and Venom as rival paperboys competing for the Osborns' account. Quite GOOD, on the strength of the Tobin/Coover stuff, anyhow.

On top of those, last week we got SPIDER-MAN: BRAND NEW DAY - EXTRA! #1, three stories that actually are set in current continuity, more or less--actually, they're evidence of how far ahead the Spider-team is planning. #567 comes out next week, but Joe Kelly and Chris Bachalo's gory Hammerhead story (which takes 18 pages to get through what could've been many fewer pages of exposition) is a prologue to a sequence that apparently begins in October, and Marc Guggenheim and Marcos Martin's rushed-looking piece (Spidey on trial--well, at a pre-trial hearing, actually--and being defended by Matt Murdock) is an "interlude" in a story that doesn't start until #582, which if my arithmetic serves me will be the first issue of 2009. Nice to know that they're taking the long view, and it's OKAY--Bachalo's art makes me wish he'd find some project he could really make his own--but still doesn't convince me that they're going anywhere special with BND, maybe because none of the writers has license to steer the franchise anywhere unexpected.

Surprisingly, that's not the case with THE INVINCIBLE IRON MAN #4, in which Matt Fraction is treating Marvel's third-most-overexposed character like he's solely in charge of him. There's a scene this issue where Tony Stark announces that he's buying (a very thinly disguised) Coca-Cola to distribute antiretrovirals (not "retrovirals," despite Fraction's dialogue) in sub-Saharan Africa, and I have no idea where that's going--but it's hugely entertaining anyway. And the core of this issue is a handful of conversations between and/or about Tony and Pepper that run with the way their relationship worked in the movie. I still don't think Larroca & D'Armata's photo-based faces, CGI-type backgrounds and heavily computer-modeled coloring work too well, even though they're more appropriate for this series than most others--it just ends up looking like a higher-tech version of SHATTER--but this is my idea of a GOOD time, and I'm enjoying the chutzpah of Fraction's approach.

And I'm continuing to adore FINAL CRISIS. My annotations to #3 are over here, but I think my favorite thing about this series is the economy of its death-metal attack--Green Arrow's personality nailed in a single line of dialogue, Supergirl justifying her cover feature despite the fact that she appears in two panels (not counting the death of her Nazi alternate-world analogue), the way every big plot development happens scarily fast and every visual gesture and line of dialogue seems to have some kind of thematic resonance. (Libra's hood viewed from behind in the swamp scene sure looks like some kind of monster with too many consonants in its name.) Plus: Clark Kent spouting self-pitying exposition like he's on a Mort Weisinger-era cover! EXCELLENT.