Saturday, September 24, 2011

Storytelling Engines: Web of Spider-Man

(or "Spider-Man, Part Four")

When you read the first eighteen or so issues of "Web of Spider-Man", there's a very real sense that this is a title in search of a direction. You can hear the different writers (and there was something of a revolving-door creative team at the time, as writers shuffled off of other Spidey books and onto "Web") struggling to find out what makes this Spider-Man series unique, what sets it apart from the other titles featuring Peter Parker and makes it a series that people will buy for its own sake.

It's really about half-way through that they seem to figure out the answer to that is, "Nothing much, really."

This isn't to say that the series is bad by any stretch of the imagination. There are a couple of issues in there that I would probably put up in the first tier of all-time Spider-Man stories (there's a great one where Peter finally gets fed up with Jonah's harassment of him in print and gets ready to beat him to within an inch of his life.) There are good Spidey stories, indifferent Spidey stories, goofy Spidey stories (Peter gets arrested on a vagrancy charge and winds up in a "Most Dangerous Game" pastiche...) But there's nothing that couldn't have been told in any of the other books. New villains like the Vulturians, old villains like Doc Ock, these are all the kinds of stories anyone could tell in any Spider-Man book. It uses the exact same storytelling engine as "Amazing", which in turn uses the exact same storytelling engine as "Spectacular".

And you know what? That's okay. It's okay because Spider-Man is one of those characters with a particularly amaz...um, spect...well-designed storytelling engine, one that generates large numbers of stories very easily. His supporting cast is large and interesting in its own right and can sustain lots of subplots, his job and his personal life provide him with lots of entry points into new stories, and he has a wide and varied Rogues Gallery that can easily hold an audience's interest over multiple appearances. This storytelling engine is so good that it can generate three good story ideas a month without any real difficulty, and the character is popular enough that there is a demand for three Spider-Man stories a month.

Although not exactly equal demand; for some reason, despite offering plenty of good stories, and plenty of crossovers and tie-ins, "Spectacular" and "Web of Spider-Man" never had quite the same level of sales as "Amazing". Which is why, eventually, they just decided to start publishing "Amazing" three times a month. Different titles, but the principle is pretty much the same...the more Spider-Man audiences get, the happier they are.

And because it's Spider-Man and not, say, Brother Voodoo, we're just fine with that.

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