Graphic Novel Review: Spider-Man: Symbiote Spider-Man, City at War

Symbiote Spider-Man

Symbiote Spider-Man - Credit: Archant

(Panini Books)

Spider-Man: City at War

Spider-Man: City at War - Credit: Archant

Now here's an eccentricity. Bearing in mind that the Marvel Universe has a sliding timescale in which it's always been approximately 17 years since the debut of the Fantastic Four, ensuring characters might evolve, but they never really age, then how exactly does this storyline work?

This mini-series is set in the middle of the Alien Costume Saga, in which Spider-Man returned from the first Secret Wars with a new black outfit that was later revealed to be an extra-terrestial symbiote. However, rather than date the narrative a couple of years in our past, Marvel has decided it takes place around the publication of the original comics, between 1984-1985. That means a very different New York, with the World Trade Center towering over a Manhattan devoid of mobile phones and internet, and a Broadway still enthralled by the novelty of Andrew Lloyd-Webber's Cats.

Peter Parker is still in a relationship with Felicia Hardy, aka the Black Cat, has recently quit college to the chagrin of his Aunt May, and has yet to discover the alien intelligence controlling his brand-new costume.

Missing from Spidey comics around this time, the main protagonist in this series is the master of illusion Mysterio, who stumbles across the secrets of the webslinger's threads and resolves to use the symbiote for his own advantage. This involves blackmailing Felicia to provide him with a sample, having discovered that she went to crime boss Wilson (The Kingpin) Fisk for his help in providing her with actual super-powers.

Even with the unusual dating, this remains an exceptional Spider-Man tale by two of the industry's most well-regarded creators, writer Peter David and artist Greg Land. With a sequel already on the way, this is a welcome return to a golden period in the web-slinger's history.

From the 1980s to the world of computer games, our second Spidey-book is a spin-off from the so-called Marvel Gamerverse. This is a continuity based on the 2018 game Marvel's Spider-Man, as developed by the comics company in partnership with Insomniac Games.

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In this reality, Mary Jane Watson is an investigative reporter for the Daily Bugle who knows Peter's secret and works closely with his alter ego. Meanwhile, Parker has a day job as research assistant for one Dr Otto Octavius...

This is a New York at war with itself, with rival criminal factions battling for control over the mysterious Devil's Breath, with the likes of Mr Negative, Kingpin and the Sinister Six hungry for power. Into this melee is thrust teenager Miles Morales, himself no stranger to tragedy, whose destiny is closely linked to the wall-crawler's own.

For a comic whose raison d'être is effectively the promotion of a video game series, this is actually a thoroughly enjoyable, self-contained Spider-Man story which ticks all of the boxes.