For several months, Marvel has distributed free comics to tease significant upcoming events or titles. I haven't collected a Marvel comic in at least a year, so I appreciate the glimpse into what's going on, even if it doesn't entice me to make an actual purchase. A few months ago, a Spider-man preview comic revealed that the web-head would soon be up against some of his most classic foes, some of whom had been revamped with a modern look (I guess Electro's mask is a little dated -- like it was "cool" back in the '60s!), and I admit a tug toward the wallcrawler, a hope that the return of villains like Vulture and Mysterio would hearken a simpler age . . .
Of course, I was wrong.
Apparently, Spidey's foes returned as agents of Kraven the Hunter's family, seeking revenge for their long-dead patriarch. In the latest free offering, Spider-man: Grim Hunt, Peter Parker experiences a hallucination via a captured Madam Web, as she tries to show him the Kraven family's scheme. While Michael Lark's art is clean and dramatic, this teaser chapter only inaugurates another unnecessarily dark chapter in the web-head's life. Okay, yes, Stan Lee decided to make Spider-man a hard-luck superhero that faces every day problems like his young readers. Parker's world was never meant to be as cheery as, say, Superman's, or even the Fantastic Four's. Still, ailing aunts and bouts of unemployment are a far leap from tackling identity-threatening clones and deals with the devil. I can't relate to a Spider-man battling forces on a spiritual level, or that falls victim to intricate ancestral conspiracies. Where's the "neighborhood" for that "friendly neighbor Spider-man" -- hell?
Spider-man's ongoing problems, while heart-wrenching, shouldn't dominate the otherwise wise-cracking hero he was intended to be. If the problem is too dark for a quip, it's too dark for Peter Parker, period. It doesn't jive with his world -- and if it ever did, he'd never face it without the help of a mystical partner, like Dr. Strange. Also, those original tales never choked the life out of months' worth of story. Sure, Aunt May was in and out of the hospital -- but at least she made some pies in between! How long did that "clone saga" last? Years?! Now, how long has the Kravens' plot been brewing under our noses? How long will we be subjected to it before "everything you knew about Spider-man will change -- again?!" It's a tiresome, unimaginative circle. For this True Believer, the grimmest hunt of all is a modern, effective single-issue Spider-man story. You know, something I can show the kids -- the kids that inspired Peter Parker in the first place.
Marvel Comics has made Spider-man: Grim Hunt available on-line, too.